“Shall I continue?” I waited for everyone to settle down. “Now, Alcaeus’s second trial was to kill the Lernaean Hydra! You’ve all heard of this nine-headed monster, right? Its heads grow back double if you cut off one, and it’s so poisonous just the breath or a drop of blood would kill you.”
Everyone nodded, and I saw a glint of happiness in their eyes. Surely Alcaeus would fail this trial.
“Definitely heard of it.” Nyx smirked.
Moxie looked over at Nyx, nodding. “This ought to do him in.”
Nike looked ill. “Gross.”
I smiled. “I raised this beautiful creature for the sole purpose of killing Alcaeus. This is why I told Eurystheus to make it the next labor. It was amazing, and I loved it. I knew it would kill Alcaeus one day, and I looked forward to it.”
“Was the hydra mean, Nana Hera?”
Moxie smiled wickedly at Dinlas, who squirmed uncomfortably. “It didn’t have to be mean to be deadly.”
Nike shivered. “I’m just glad it can’t fly.”
“Alcaeus was worthless on his own, and he couldn’t do anything without help. To prove that, before he went to find the Hydra, he met with his nephew, Iolaus. When they got to the Hydra’s lair, Alcaeus covered his face with a thick cloth and shot flaming arrows into the cave to draw the Hydra out. My beautiful creature came out and roared, spewing its poisonous breath everywhere. I still haven’t figured out why, but Alcaeus’s face covering protected him. It had to be magic. I looked for a long time to find out who gave it to him, but no one would admit to giving it to Alcaeus.”
I paused, looking at the children as they sat transfixed.
“I heard my pet crying in pain and ran as fast as I could to save it! I got there too late to save my precious Hydra. Alcaeus was cutting off its heads, and Iolaus came behind him to seer the necks with a torch so they wouldn’t grow back. I saw that Alcaeus was going to destroy it, and I got so mad that I sent a giant crab to gobble him up! Nobody hurts my babies.”
I paused at the hateful memory.
Urania shivered. “Yuck, crabs.”
“But Alcaeus had other gods looking after him. Specifically, Athena and Zeus.” I curled my lip at the memory. “The traitor, Athena, gave Alcaeus a sword, and he used it to slice off the head of my beautiful creature. Well, it was more that he climbed atop a rocky outcropping, jumped off of it to land on top of my crab, and stabbed it with the stupid sword he got from Athena.”
Nike frowned. “Wow, he was smart. Did Athena tell him to do that?”
Moxie shook her head. “This is why we can’t have nice things.”
Urania giggled at Moxie.
“Yes, Nike. Alcaeus wasn’t smart enough to have come up with that idea on his own.” I sighed. “I was so sad about my beautiful monsters dying that I put them into the sky as constellations.”
Urania smiled. “Yay, constellations.”
Nyx sat a little straighter in her chair. “They are beautiful, Hera.”
“I think so too, Nyx.”
“Now, because Alcaeus had help from Iolaus in killing the Hydra, Eurystheus and I agreed it wouldn’t count as one of his labors, so Eurystheus assigned another one.”
Moxie and Nike both nodded while Dinlas mumbled, “He did seem to have a committee on this one.”
“The next day, Eurystheus had a grand banquette and announced the third trial for Alcaeus. He was to capture the Ceryneian Hind, a creature that was sacred to Artemis. Again, we got excited because when Artemis found out that a mortal was chasing her hind, she would murder him without hesitation.”
Urania peaked up and fanned her face a bit. “Oh, I do love those golden antlers.”
“He chased it for a full year, all over the lands. Through Greece, Thrace, and Istria.”
Nike leaned forward slightly. “Where’s Artemis? Did she know about this?”
“Wouldn’t she know the hind is being chased?” Nyx echoed Nike’s question.
I addressed Nike. “I don’t know, little one. I don’t think she took the chase seriously because the hind certainly didn’t!” Everyone laughed. Why would a goddess take anything a mortal does seriously? “At one point, fairly early on, Alcaeus fashioned a net of sorts to try and catch the hind. It was only out of sheer dumb luck that one night, while he slept, the hind stumbled across the net and got trapped. Its cries woke Alcaeus.”
Nyx mumbled under her breath, “Nets. How thick can you be?”
Nike looked concerned. “He’s going to catch it, isn’t he?”
I continued. “It was as Alcaeus was leading the hind to Eurystheus’s kingdom that he encountered Artemis and Apollo out playing in the woods.”
Nike rubbed her hands together. “Finally!”
Dinlas sat up straighter. “Oh, hell yeah! I bet Artemis was pissed.”
“Artemis saw that Alcaeus had her hind bound up and, yes, she was very upset. It took Apollo a few seconds to comprehend what was going on. We all know he’s a little slow on the uptake. Anyway, once he figured it out, he couldn’t decide if he should let his sister kill Alcaeus or stop her. I’m telling you, that bastard had someone looking out for him.”
Nike nodded. “Bet Dad did something.”
“Just as Artemis was knocking an arrow in her bow, Alcaeus hurriedly explained why he had her favorite hind and that he planned on returning it as soon as his labor was finished. Artemis let him tell his story. She felt bad for him when she heard that he was trying to atone for killing his family in a fit of madness. So the traitor, Artemis, let him live and keep the hind.” There was a chorus of surprise and disdain from everyone.
Dinlas mumbled, “Artemis is not a traitor.”
Nike looked at him. “No, she just didn’t know Lady Hera was involved, so she gets a pass.” Moxie snorted in response.
I slit my eyes at Nike. “That would be a false assumption, little one.” I straightened my posture and continued. “Eurystheus wanted to keep the hind in his menagerie, but Alcaeus knew he had to return it or suffer the wrath of Artemis. He told Eurystheus to come out of the palace and get the hind. Once Eurystheus was close enough, Alcaeus let the hind go. Free from its bonds, it turned and ran back to Artemis. Eventually, Eurystheus had to agree that the labor was completed but was mad that he didn’t have an animal. I told him to have Alcaeus go to the land of the Centaurs and capture the Erymanthian Boar.”
“How many trials were there, Lady Hera?”
“Originally, there were only ten, but Alcaeus cheated with two of them. So we added two more trials, thus bumping the total to twelve.”
“Okay, I couldn’t remember.”
“Now the events of the next labor are a little vague as I was otherwise occupied at the time, but essentially it boiled down to this…”