Nike looked at me for a long moment and then pulled me to the couch against the far wall. When I started to protest, she stood firm. “You said we should get comfortable, Lady Hera, and the couches are more comfortable than the tables.” I couldn’t fault her logic, so I just patted her hand and sat in the corner while the girls settled next to me.
“I’m afraid I don’t really know where to start.”
Nike looked at me like I’d grown a second head. “Start at the beginning, obviously. Why do you hate him?”
Moxie brought a hand to her face and giggled.
“Of course, little one. The beginning.” I trailed off and attempted to gather my thoughts. “I hate him because he never should have been born.” The girls gasped in surprise. “None of Zeus’ extra children should have been born. Unfortunately, by the time he’d married me, he was already used to having affairs. It took so many, many, many painful years to get him to finally stop sleeping around. I might have given up on him if I wasn’t so stubborn.”
I waved one of my hands dismissively. “But the story of my marriage is not the story I will tell today. Suffice it to say that while we were working through the kinks, several children were born that should never have been. Alcaeus was the worst of them.”
Nike blinked. “Whoa.”
Moxie gasped. “But, but you love children, Mamá.”
“I love my children, of course. Zeus’ mortal children are not mine and will never be my children. Thus, they never should have been born.”
Nyx walked into the room, her silver braids bouncing against her shoulders. “That’s unfortunate to hear, Hera. All children are precious and should be protected.”
Moxie canted her head to the side and listened. Nike nodded in agreement with Nyx.
“I don’t expect you to understand, Nyx. Can I continue my story?” Nyx bowed her head slightly in my direction and sat on the couch next to Nike. I wrapped my arms around myself. “Regardless, I blame Athena for this also.”
The confusion on Nike’s face was going to become a permanent fixture. “But why, Lady Hera?”
“Because she tricked me, little one.”
“Oh, bad move.” Moxie hissed under her breath.
Nike gasped. “How?”
“I knew Zeus had been with the mortal Alcmene, but she had twins and I couldn’t be sure if one or both were Zeus’. I had prayed that neither would have been, but that prayer was ignored. So I put two snakes into their crib one night to kill them. Iphicles started crying at the very sight, but Alcaeus strangled them in an instant. This confirmed that, yet again, I had to live with another reminder of Zeus’ uncontrolled passions.”
I rubbed my hands roughly over my arms, reminding myself that Zeus was no longer unfaithful. “It was around this time that Zeus and I started going through a particularly good period, so I wasn’t paying much attention to the mortal world. I don’t know if he was distracting me on purpose or not, but not too long after the snake incident, Alcaeus’ mother set him in the woods, apparently hoping to avoid my wrath. Had I known about it, I would have taken his life and been done with him.”
Moxie leaned forward a little, nodding. Nike just blinked. Nyx sat as still and silent as the night. It was unnerving to say the least.
“Athena, that treacherous heifer Goddess, found him and brought him to me to protect, knowing that I was fond of protecting innocent children and wouldn’t want one to just die. She didn’t tell me who he was and I nursed him at my breast.”
Moxie inhaled a sharp breath, her eyes wide.
“Soon after he started nursing, he bit my nipple. Angry and in pain, I jerked him away from my body by his ankle, spilling my milk into the sky. I think the mortals call it the Milky Way now.”
Moxie reflexively covered her breasts with her hands and winced.
I sighed. “Unfortunately, even though it was a small amount, the milk that he ingested gave him even more strength and power.”
The girls nodded to each other. “Because you’re strong.” Moxie said.
“And powerful,” Nike added.
“Still not knowing who he was, I gave him to Athena and told her to bring the fool child back to his mother. It wasn’t until many years later, I think during one of his trials, that Athena was drunk and laughing with another God about how she tricked me into nursing one of Zeus’ mortal children.”