Apologies to regular readers for the delay in posting part 6, I’ve been busy with work and stuff, I’m sure you know how it is. Part 7 is pretty much ready and should appear soon & I’ll be working on part 8 while I laze by the pool in France over the next week or so. Probably.
The smell of roasting salted boar brought Micon back to the clearing after an afternoon of aimless ambling and half-hearted sling practice. Philippus looked up from the fire. “Nice of you to come back and help with dinner.”
Micon shrugged. “You’re better at that kind of thing. I’d only end up making us ill.”
“Well you’re never going to learn if you keep wandering off.” Philippus nodded at the orange frog sat on Micon’s shoulder. “Has it said anything else?”
“No,” said Micon as he sat down next to the softly crackling fire, “it’s been two days since it said ‘Hera’…”
“Hmph,” grunted Philippus, who wasn’t at all sure whether he believed the frog had said any such thing.
“… and now it won’t even say ‘hello’. I think it might be ill.”
“I reckon it’s depressed.”
Micon frowned. “Why would a frog be depressed?”
“Hanging around with you all day is enough to do anyone’s head in.”
“Sod off. Anyway,” continued Micon after a short moment of contemplation, “you’re the grumpy one. You’re almost always in a bad mood.”
Philippus raised his eyes to the darkening sky. “Of course I’m in a bad mood. I’m trapped on an island with a simpleton and his silent talking frog, the only food we have is the remains of a supernatural wild boar, we’ve killed two gods and we’re being toyed with by some local deity who says she knows what we’ve done then buggers off for a couple of days doing Cronos knows what. I’d rather have her here so I can keep an eye on what she’s up to, even though she scares the Begorgans out of me.” He paused and adjusted the spits of meat and then looked at Micon. “If anything, I’m surprised you’re taking things so well.”
“Well, you know, if you can’t do anything about things, why worry about them?”
“Because we’re going to either starve to death or find ourselves in the worst pits of Tartarus. And probably both.”
“You’re always so negative.”
“And another thing,” Philippus sidled closer to Micon and spoke quietly into his ear, “if the frog did say ‘Hera’, have you considered the implications?”
“Erm…,” said Micon, his eyes roving the clearing for clues.
Philippus sighed. He was going to have to spell it out. “Who is Hera?”
“The wife and sister of Zeus.”
“Yes, Zeus. The fella we killed and ate a couple of days ago.”
“Ah. But it was an accident.”
“I’m sure she’s a very forgiving wife. Actually, she’d have to be with Zeus for a husband. But is she a forgiving mother?”
Micon looked blankly at Philippus. Philippus pointed at the slowly roasting remains of Ares, god of war (in boar form). “That’s her baby boy.”
“So, if Hera is sniffing about, what’s she going to do when she finds out we’ve killed and eaten her brother, her husband and her son?”
Micon felt his stomach tighten in trepidation. “I hope she doesn’t take it personally.”
Hera had decided that the best way to deal with Zeus’s absence from Olympus was simply to carry on as normal, except she would have the power of regent and consort in his name. She had realised that announcing his death would lead to upheaval and uncertainty, neither of which would assist her in ascending to the throne. The most likely outcome would be major conflict as Poseidon, Hades, Apollo and the Titans tried to seize power. No. Much better to gently slip from one role to another and she would have total control before anyone noticed what was happening.
She saw Eris stomping up the marbled pathway towards her and sighed inwardly. It wasn’t that she didn’t love her daughter, it was more the fact that Eris was the personification of strife and discord. Favouring the physical appearance of a fifteen year old girl, Eris’s default expression was a disdainful pout and she was always only a wrong word away from exploding with indignation. Her hobbies included poisonous gossip and general shit-stirring. Hera could handle most of the other inhabitants of Olympus with the skillful application of reassuring words and kindness, but any conversation with Eris could have complex and unforeseen consequences.
“Yes, Eris, so nice to see you. How are you?”
Eris ignored the greeting and launched a question of her own. “Have you seen father or Ares yet?”
Hera smiled warmly. “Not recently, my child. Why do you want them?”
“Huh. I bet they’re off starting a war or something without me. I’m always left out.” She crossed her arms and glowered at some cherubs cavorting a short distance away.
“Eris, I’m sure that your father and brother are not doing anything to intentionally slight you,” although she knew that that was precisely what they had done in the past. “It’s just that they have their lives and you have yours.”
Eris continued to pout. “They’re probably doing something really destructive somewhere and I’m missing all the fun.”
Hera’s patience began to wear a little thin. “You know that Zeus and Ares are not able to stand each other’s company for more than a short while. Why do you think that they would be together?”
Eris swung her gaze back to her mother. “Because I heard that Ares was going to help Father seduce a queen. That was a few days ago now. Perhaps,” she continued, looking Hera right in the eye, “they both decided to stay with the mortal queen instead of coming back to you.”
Hera remained calm and composed although her smile tightened. “Darling daughter, please remember that I could, if I so desired, have you banished to the bottom of the River Styx.”
Eris dropped her gaze to the ground, but her pout remained glued to her face. “Yes, mother, you could. I apologise for my outburst.”
Hera ignored the faint trace of sarcasm that was woven into every apology Eris had ever uttered. “You may go.”
Her truculent daughter remained where she was. “Didn’t you once say that Father had a favourite place? An island?”
“Eris, your father has as many favourites as leaves on a tree. Why don’t you go and torment some mortal instead of your poor mother?”
Eris grunted a typical teenage sigh. “Yes, there’s a prince of Troy that I’d like to play a little game with.”
Hera raised an eyebrow. “Don’t let me keep you. But try not to start a war without Ares; he’ll only get cross.”
“Good,” said Eris as she stomped off.
The Queen of Olympus watched her daughter go and decided that she needed to start tying up some loose ends. She had to return to Zeus’s island and observe the two mortals. Somehow, they had killed Zeus and she needed to know how.
Micon shambled out of their cave the following morning and stretched. The orange frog clambered out of the freshwater pool and hopped nearer to him. “Hello, froggy,” he said. Have you seen Philippus?”
The frog seemed to consider the question and then shuffled around to stare at a small copse on the edge of the clearing. Micon walked towards them and could see his friend examining one of the slender trees. “Morning. What you doing?”
“Trying to figure out how to build a raft.”
Micon looked surprised. “Come on, we’ve disussed this before. There’s not enough dead wood we can use. And rope to lash it together is going to take weeks to make.”
“Best get started now then,” replied Philippus, still examining the young tree.
“Are you thinking of cutting that down?”
“With your knife?”
“Right. I’ll probably go for a walk with the frog.”
Micon shrugged and, picking up the frog, wandered off.
A white dove in the branches above Philippus observed him planning and measuring and checking other trees. Eventually he began to saw into the base of the tree and strip away the bark. The dove launched itself into the air and set off to find Micon.
The bushes rustled as Micon’s stone missed its target by ten paces. He grimaced and looked at his sling accusingly. “I thought I was getting better at this,” he muttered. He turned and glanced at the orange frog as it watched him from under a tree. He couldn’t quite work out why he felt so appalled at his skill with the sling when the frog was watching him. Why was it so important that he impressed a bloody frog? He selected another stone and began winding up for release.
Away to his left, the dove was also watching Micon practice. Hera had decided to avoid her preferred familiar form because a peacock would have been too conspicuous. The dove suited her purpose perfectly, the white feathers highlighting her regal nature, her purity and goodness. She could sit in the branches and wait to see what this pair of peculiar mortals got up to, although so far things had been incredibly dull. The only point of interest was the presence of the orange frog that the sailor she considered ‘the simple one’ carried around the island. She supposed it was only to be expected; that’s the way mortals worked. Tell them not to do something and they immediately go and do it as soon as your back was turned. The frog appeared to be fairly passive though, so perhaps everything was still under control. The only thing Hera really wanted was to discover if there was some unusual skill or power these shipwrecked sailors possessed, something that had enabled them to kill the greatest god of Olympus. Perhaps, she mused, she ought to set some kin of bait, entice another immortal to the island and observe the results. In which case, Eris may yet have her uses…
Micon’s next effort was appallingly bad. He’d released far too late and on an oblique trajectory that shot away into the trees on his left. He heard a slight thud and winced at how that would have gone down with his amphibious friend.
Hera never saw it coming. One moment she was in full Olympian scheming mode, the next she was half brained by Micon’s wayward stone. She was knocked off her perch, tumbled down into the undergrowth and lay still. A few white feathers gently drifted down through the branches.
Scouring the rocky woodland floor for more stones, Micon was in a little world of his own. He turned and wandered back towards where the frog sat under its tree, scuffing at the loose soil and pebbles as he walked. He became aware that something was moving in his peripheral vision and looked up to see a bronzed body slowly unfurling from the floor. It was on its knees, face hidden by long copper hair. The head lifted and he was confronted with incredible beauty. Eyes of fire pierced his heart which jumped around his chest erratically. The figure gracefully stood up and his mouth fell open. Breasts, belly and long legs swam in a luscious mirage in front of him.
“Hello, Micon,” the beautiful vision said. “I’m Nadina, nymph of this island.”
Micon boggled at her. His mind raced but ran straight into a wall. His mouth wobbled and eventually he stammered out, “Where’s my frog?”
She stepped fowards and brushed past him, making him tremble. “Come. We need to get back to Philippus. We have much to discuss.”