The orange frog looked up at Micon before turning its gaze very deliberately to Philippus. The two sailors found its penetrating stare distinctly unnerving.
“Where in Hades did that come from?” said Philippus.
“I don’t know. One minute you were telling me about the rules we have to obey and the next thing I know there’s a frog sitting between us. I suppose it just hopped out of the water.”
“I would have seen it move. It must have been hiding here all the time, listening in to my conversation with the nymph.”
Micon raised an eyebrow. “Listening in? Don’t you think that’s a bit unlikely? It’s a frog.”
Philippus let out an exasperated sigh. “Normally, I’d say yes. I’d say that it sounds utterly absurd, but the fact remains that not only were we expressly told by a minor deity to avoid talking to orange frogs but it has also greeted us with a cheery ‘hello’. I’m pretty sure that’s not normal behaviour for frogs so eavesdropping isn’t so hard to believe either.”
Micon looked down at the frog. It stared back. “Perhaps we misheard. Perhaps it’s just the particular croak of this type of frog and we think it sounds like ‘hello’.”
“Hello,” said the frog again, with perfect clarity and diction.
Philippus winced. “I wish it would stop doing that.”
Micon leaned down on an elbow and to aid a closer examination of the amber amphibian. “I wonder if it can say anything else.”
“Don’t tempt it. With our luck it’ll start reciting epic poetry about pond life.”
The frog adjusted its position and looked directly into Micon’s eyes. From the way it held its head and puffed out its chest he had the feeling that the frog had an important announcement to make.
“Hello,” said the frog.
“Yes, you’ve said that. Hello to you too,” replied Micon, a slight frown creasing his forehead. He thought that it looked somewhat surprised and, as he’d never been particularly good with animals, he wondered how he was able to tell the emotional state of a small frog. It pattered its feet on the floor as it shifted its posture and tried again.
“Hello!” replied Micon
The frog’s mouth fell open and now a look of horror slid across its face. It tried once more. “Hello!”
“Greetings!” exclaimed Micon.
“Shut up,” muttered Philippus.
The frog began to look more and more distressed and started hopping about between the two sailors. “Hello! Hello! Hello!!”
Micon chuckled. “He certainly is a friendly chap. He seems a bit excited though.”
Philippus turned and looked at the frog as it leapt about. “What have you done to it? Did you poke it with something?”
“I certainly did not!” exclaimed Micon indignantly.
“Well why does it look so upset?”
Micon stared at him. “Why do you think it looks upset?”
Philippus met his gaze. “I… I don’t know. It just does. I can somehow feel that it’s unhappy about something.”
“Yeah, I think you’re right. I got the feeling that it was trying to say something to us.”
“Something other than ‘hello’?” He looked down at the frog which had ceased its panicky jumping and sat staring at the pair of them. It took a deep breath.
“Heh…” Its eyes bulged.
The sailors leaned closer, willing it on.
It tried again. “Heh…”
“Come on, little froggy!” whispered Micon.
The frog’s eyes shut tight as it uttered a new, raspy syllable. “Raaahhh!” It sat back and looked pleased with itself.
Philippus frowned and looked at his friend. “What was that? What’s that supposed to mean?”
Micon bit his lip before answering. “I think it said ‘Hera’.”
Hera had left her chambers within Olympus in a foul temper. Zeus had gone too far this time, slinking off to ‘seduce’ another mortal. And by ‘seduce’, he really meant ‘rape’, not that the oaf would realise it. She’d even been a victim herself and she was his sister! She could never quite understand how this boorish sex pest had become the Ruler of the Gods. But then again, her other siblings weren’t much better: Poseidon could start an argument in an empty room, Hades was a greedy recluse and her sisters Demeter and Hestia were tedious little homebodies who wouldn’t say boo to a goose. It was annoying and blatantly unfair that her brothers had divided the universe between the three of them when she was just as important, just as powerful. And a damn sight smarter. She was the one that held Olympus together, cleaning up Zeus’s embarrassing messes. But not this time.
She’d learned of his secret little island where he kept a beautiful nymph and so decided to make his life difficult. She had visited the nymph on several occasions and steadily increased the poor girl’s guile and independence so that, rather than some compliant sex slave, the nymph would appear to Zeus as a headache-inducing harpie with a wit as sharp as a dagger. Hera left her beauty intact to cause maximum frustration to her unfaithful husband.
But now it appeared that he had moved on to yet another of his ridiculous seduction scenarios where he turned into an animal and forced himself on some poor woman. This time the victim was Queen Leda and even though Hera pitied her, she knew that deep inside herself there was a bitter flame of jealousy that would never be extinguished so long as Zeus maintained his infidelity. The problem was that he didn’t just maintain it, he cherished it.
Hera had just learned that after violating Leda (in the form of a swan, for Cronos’s sake!) Zeus had apparently disappeared. There was a high probability that he was lazing about on his island, trying it on with his nymph. Well, she was going to see about this. She was Hera, Queen of Olympus, Goddess of Marriage, Protector of Women and she was bloody livid.
Philippus had grunted something to Micon about salting the remains of the wild boar (the corpse formerly know as Ares, God of War) and stomped off to the larder cave.
Micon was still a bit spooked by the events of the last couple of days but was coming to terms with interaction with immortals, even if the main themes had tended to be death, decapitation and barbecued swan. Philippus, on the other hand, was clearly struggling to accept the actual existence of the gods, never mind the fact that they’d made a tasty meal of the King of Olympus. When the frog had said “Hera” (quite distinctly in Micon’s opinion), Philippus had dismissed it as nonsense animal noises.
Micon picked up the orange frog and carefully popped it on his shoulder. “Let’s go for a walk,” he proposed, “and we’ll see if you can say anything else.”
Hera stood on the cliff top of the island deep in confused thought. She’d expected to find Zeus and his truculent mistress but instead saw two ragged sailors eating what appeared to be the roasted carcass of a large white-feathered bird. She had made herself invisible to mortals and walked closer to the pair, at which point they had turned to look directly at her! Suddenly it all fell into place. Zeus had landed on his island still in the form of a swan. These two starving idiots had somehow – and she wasn’t entirely sure how it was possible – killed Zeus and eaten him. And this in turn had bestowed upon them the ability to see things that mortal men could not.
Despite the turmoil she was feeling, she was grimly self-satisfied that she had read the situation so well and adapted so quickly. While it was unlikely that the scruffy mortals could cause her harm, it was advantageous that she did not alert them to her real identity and so had pretended to be the nymph of the island. At least, for now.
Her main concern was the death of the King of Olympus and the repercussions that would obviously follow. A power vacuum was never a good thing and it might cause Poseidon and Hades to think that they could step in and assume leadership. Hera shuddered at the thought. Zeus had two powerful sons, Apollo and Ares, and they might think they had a claim to the throne. She briefly wondered where Ares was, but being the disagreeably violent brute that he was, he often went missing for days on end, usually starting wars in distant lands.
Then there were the Titans. They might see the loss of Zeus as an opportunity to reclaim their pre-eminence amongst the immortals.
“Oh, Zeus,” she whispered, “this is the biggest mess you’ve ever caused.” He had been difficult to live with, but he was still her husband. And brother. She frowned at that thought. He had never been one to let ethics and morality get in the way of base desires and it had been her decision, after the intimate event, to force him into a more respectful form of union. She had hoped that as his wife she would be able to exert more control over him. It had proved beneficial in securing more power and influence for her, but as far as moderating his behaviour was concerned it had been a less than stellar success – his sexual appetite was almost limitless. Trying to steer Zeus towards respectability and responsibility with subtle suggestions was like trying to move a particularly bloody-minded cat by giving it a hard stare – you were just asking to be ignored. It didn’t help that if Zeus was like any cat it was an unpredictable, randy lion who was as likely to rip your head off as try to copulate with you. Or both, if you were particularly unlucky.
And now he was gone and all she had were her memories. They were interesting memories, certainly, and usually revolved around sex and thunderbolts which proved how exhilarating, tedious and dangerous Zeus was, depending on his emotional state at the time. This was important to understand because he was also prone to startling mood swings, being jolliness personified one moment and possessed with raging anger the next. His constant wandering eye also brought out the worst of her own jealousy but even she had to admit that he was surprisingly inventive when it came to weird ways by which he seduced his victims. She herself had been taken in by Zeus pretending to be a sick bird but he had also adopted the forms of eagles, bulls, the husbands of his targets, and even a ‘golden shower’ which Hera considered to be the most extreme and literal way of taking the piss.
She looked out at the setting sun, face held high, lips in a tight, bitter line. “Forget him,” she said eventually. “The King is dead. Long live the Queen.”