“Where was I? Oh right. Poseidon’s white bull was creating havoc on Crete. Now, Eurystheus had heard about this bull and that, being a creature of Poseidon, it could walk on water. I, of course, had nothing to do with the idea for this labor. If I had, it would have been planned and executed better. Anyway, for the seventh labor, Eurystheus sent Alcaeus to Crete to get the bull and bring it back. King Minos was glad to be rid of the fool thing and wished Alcaeus well.”
Nike looked confused and asked, “But wouldn’t Uncle Poseidon be upset?”
“If he was that worried about it, little one, he would have just taken it back. As it was, the labor was exceedingly easy even for an idiot like Alcaeus.” I stretched a bit and then took a sip of my tea.
“Wait, is that it?” Moxie crossed her arms.
“It is for that labor, Moxie-mou. As I said, it was painfully easy.”
“That’s a bunch of bullshit.” Dinlas smirked at his pun, smiling wider as a collection of giggles and laughter followed his clever comment.
I smiled and let everyone settle before continuing. “For the eighth labor, I told Eurystheus to have Alcaeus steal the mares of Diomedes. A clever move on my part, as no mortal could get close to them. You see, the feasting on human flesh caused them to go a little mad. Not as mad as I made Alcaeus when he killed his family, but pretty close to it. Now Diomedes kept these horses in a very special area, fenced off by bronze, so they couldn’t escape.”
“This story is getting weirder and weirder.” Dinlas rubbed his neck.
Nike nodded. “It’s definitely not the Disney version.”
Zeus snorted. “Disney. Nothing but pansies.”
Moxie hid a smile behind her hand and giggled. “He said panties.”
“Did you just call Disney, pansies?” Dinlas attempted to stare Zeus down, but when they locked eyes, he quickly turned away.
Zeus took a long drink from his mug. “Pansies, not panties.”
I looked around at everyone. “Do I need to give you all a few minutes to worship His Royal Story Interrupter?”
“Lovely pet name, dearest. Please continue, I am sorry I intruded.” Zeus got up to get another mug of ambrosia.
“What Alcaeus didn’t know was that Ares had imbued the bronze with special properties to keep the horses from escaping. Alcaeus knew that he would need help with this labor, so he collected a few young men he found along the way. They hid just outside the city, watching the horses. Thick iron chains tethered the beasts to the bronze fence. After three days, Alcaeus’s men decided they didn’t want to risk their lives by capturing the horses for someone they barely knew, even if he was a hero. All but one of the men left, and he was just a mere boy who didn’t know any better.”
“Who stayed, Nana?”
“I don’t know, Dinlas, but it doesn’t matter.”
He nodded and waited for me to continue the story. “Alcaeus broke the iron chains, and as he and the boy were attempting to escape the city, the mares got loose.”
Nike scooted to the edge of her seat. “Oh, no!”
“The mares ran to higher ground, so Alcaeus and the boy dug a trench. They started from a nearby river and turned the area the horses were in into an island of sorts. Now, as soon as the mares were trapped, Diomedes came running out of the city to kill Alcaeus and free his favored animals. As you can imagine, the theft incensed him.” I paused and watched the younger gods move to the edge of their seats and lean forward. My eyes caught Demeter’s, and she winked at me. I paused a little longer for dramatic effect.
“Alcaeus ran to meet Diomedes on the road, and they fought. It was one demigod against another, and the battle was brutal. Obviously, I love Ares so much that I didn’t want any harm to come to his son. So I may have helped Diomedes with a little extra strength and speed.”
Moxie nodded. “Seems fair since he didn’t get the good stuff from the tap like Alcaeus.”
“The battle was one that would make Ares proud, but somehow Alcaeus managed to overpower Diomedes and slip a poisoned arrow between his ribs, killing him.” I shot a death stare directly at my husband, acknowledging his involvement. “Alcaeus then grabbed Diomedes by the ankle and dragged him over to the horses. As he came upon the herd, he saw that the boy had crossed over the river and had been partially eaten by the mares.”
Nike cried out. “No!”
Demeter reached her hand over to comfort Nike. “Mortals are fragile, especially young ones.”
“They are indeed, my sister. This will cheer you, Nike. Alcaeus chopped up Diomedes into many pieces and tossed them to the horses. Eventually, they got so full and sleepy that they laid down.”
“I am so done with this guy, Lady Hera.” Nike crossed her arms in a huff, and Dinlas nodded in agreement.
“When the horses fell asleep, Alcaeus tied their mouths shut. He looped them together, and took them back to Eurystheus.”
“But, Lady Hera. What about that kid?”
“Who cares, Nike? He was just a mortal.” Dinlas leaned back in his seat and stretched, completely unaffected by the child’s death. Unlike Nike.
“Alcaeus broke the horses. They were no longer mad, and I was very upset by that. Eurystheus sacrificed them to Zeus, which was ridiculous. He should have sacrificed them to Ares.” I caught Dinlas’s eye roll when I mentioned his father. “Thus ends the eighth labor.” I looked over at the clock, and saw that several hours had gone by.
“It’s late in the day. I hope I’m not keeping you all from anything important.”
“What’s more important than your stories, mama?” Moxie smiled at me.
“Please continue, Lady Hera.”
Demeter squeezed Nike’s hand and leaned back in her seat. “Continue, sister. I love listening to your stories.”
I looked at Zeus, who just shrugged and continued drinking from his mug. “Okay then. Is everyone familiar with Ares’s daughter, Hippolytus, the Queen of the Amazons?”
I laughed. “Yes, little one.”
Dinlas nodded. “Yeah, she’s my half-sister.”
“Well, this one I had fun with. You see, Eurystheus’s daughter wanted Hippolyta’s girdle and had been begging her father for it for months. So I told Eurystheus to have Alcaeus retrieve it as his ninth labor. I thought a child of Ares would finally slay Alcaeus.” I took a breath to continue but was interrupted when someone new walked into the room. I curled my lip and looked down my nose. She definitely wasn’t someone I was expecting to see today.
“Athena.” The room got so quiet you could almost hear a heartbeat. “Why are you here?”
“Here in general? Or here occupying this space? You’ll have to be more specific.”
“Why are you interrupting my story?”
“Oh.” She leaned against the door frame and crossed her arms. “I thought I’d come by and listen to your story since it does include me.”
“That’s because you kept helping that idiot.” I did my best to remain calm.
“Every story has two sides, and the truth is somewhere in the middle. Not all storytellers are the hero…some are told by the villain in disguise. Remember that, children.”
Urania sat upright. “Oh snap.”
Athena continued to address everyone but me. “To mommy dearest, anyone who doesn’t further her agenda is a traitor. No matter how much they try to change her mind, you can’t get blood from a stone.”
“Of course they are. Everyone knows this, Athena.”
She turned and locked eyes with me. “You consider anyone Zeus sleeps with as the enemy, and their children are morons for being born.”
“What is your point, Athena?”
Nike attempted to break the tension and addressed Athena. “Sister, let her tell her side. History paints this story differently, and it would be nice to know Lady Hera’s side of it.”
She ignored Nike. “Why is the husband, the true traitor, not punished? Why should the children get the wrath intended for their father?”
“Have you been living under a rock? Of course, I punished my husband for his affairs.”
“Those women and children were innocent, Hera, and you know it. They did nothing to you other than commit the crime of being born. As one of those who was discarded and raised a traitor, I should know”
Nike crosses her arms, stares at Zeus, and mumbles. “Great. Soapbox time.”
Zeus attempted to stand but fell down in a drunken stupor. He let out a loud belch and laughed. “If you say my name slowly, it sounds like The Seus.” He laid down on the floor and sighed.
I chose to ignore Athena, and when I didn’t rise to her challenge, she walked out of the room. I cleared my throat. “Now that we are no longer being interrupted, shall I continue?”