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Hera fell backwards into the sea, the cold water stunning her as much as the improbable shove of a skeletal hand that had toppled her overboard. Her eyes glazed over as she stared up at the shimmering surface which gradually moved further away as she sank deeper into a darkening blue-green world. Her mind was full of the wrongness of recent events and her less-than-successful attempts to control the fates.
She’d tried to foil Zeus’s cavortings with Nadina and created a resourceful and rebellious enemy. Zeus had fallen victim to a pair of shipwrecked sailors who, having eaten his animal form, were now benefiting from supernatural senses. She’d tried to contain the two mortals on the island while she uncovered how they had managed to kill the King of Olympus, but had somehow been knocked out cold while observing the hapless fools and in the meantime they had allied themselves with the cursed nymph. It didn’t bear thinking about but she couldn’t resist combing through recent events to try to make sense of it all.
The last thing she remembered before being rendered insensible was watching the idiot sailor practising with his sling. Her eyes twitched and she reached up to her left temple and felt the bruised lump that still marred her normally perfect face. She’d been seriously hurt by the stone that struck her face and just moments ago the blasted simpleton had whipped another stone at her that had crashed into her shin. The memory of the pain made her wince and she absent-mindedly rubbed her injured leg. This was all completely unheard of; impossible. Gods could not get hurt by mortal men. There had been rare instances of deities injured by mystical weapons but all the fool had done was let loose a stone from a sling. They also possessed a bronze knife with which they had dispatched Zeus while he was in the form of a swan, but the other sailor had assured her that it wasn’t magical.
Images sparked in her head as she suddenly made the connection. Zeus had been a swan when he’d been killed. She had been in the forms of a dove and a gull when Micon’s missiles had struck her. Of course! The gods were somehow vulnerable when they took the shape of birds. She vowed that she would avoid such risky behaviour in the future. But it was apparently too late for her son, Ares, who she now knew had been the mortals’ second victim. He must have flown to the island in the form of his favourite bird, the vulture, and then been struck down somehow by the hungry sailors.
Her fists clenched as she thought about her son. He hadn’t been a particularly loving boy and he was never one of the brightest lads, but once a mother, always a mother and she simmered with the desire for revenge. But there was something else bothering her. That skeletal hand that had toppled her from the boat into the water, where had that come from?
The thought of being manhandled by mortals was ludicrous, but an animated corpse wasn’t your run-of-the-mill mortal. Someone – some thing – else had joined them in their escape and it would be foolish of her to go immediately chasing after them without due consideration. If it wasn’t mortal then it was, by default, an immortal. And the odds were beginning to stack against her.
She adjusted her position in the water until she was upright and then drifted along with the current. Microscopic sea creatures floated around her, chased by a couple of silvery fish that kept a wary distance from the Queen of Olympus and her billowing white gown. Hera considered her options. She needed to find out who this mysterious crew member was, and whether he – it – was a serious threat. A scouting mission was required but she was wary of calling on her daughter, Eris, once more. Perhaps a passing nymph of the Nereid or Oceanid variety could be called on to spy on the boat’s occupants. But, she pondered, would that be a wise choice when Nadina, a smarter and stronger nymph, was already on board? There was a chance that the mortals would detect the intruder and Nadina would despatch her to the dark depths of Hades. What she needed was someone a bit stronger, with a bit more presence if things went wrong.
“Why sister, it’s you,” boomed a voice, startling her out of her reverie.
She turned her head and stared into the frowning face of Poseidon, god of the seas. “Dear brother, how good to see you.” She managed to summon a polite smile.
He continued to stare at her for a few seconds more. The Olympian gods rarely entered the domains of Poseidon or Hades, prefering to mess about on Mount Olympus or interfere with the lives of mortals on dry land. And frankly, Poseidon liked it that way. He was never wholly at ease in the presence of other gods and tended to avoid inviting them over to his underwater palace. And that suited the other gods just fine too because Poseidon was a terrible host with anger issues and a sullen countenance. Plus, his palace was submerged in cold, salty water and the servants were a mix of nymphs, squid and crabs which sometimes led to unfortunate misunderstandings over what was the food and what was the servant.
Poseidon grunted an acknowledgement to Hera’s greeting. “What brings you down to my watery home, sister? You hardly ever come to see me.”
Well, thought Hera, this is a stroke of luck. All I need to do is sweet-talk my grumpy brother into tackling Nadina and her crew of misfits and I’ll be able to relax. She engaged full charm mode and embraced Poseidon, narrowly missing stabbing herself on the prongs of his trident. “Do I need an excuse to visit my favourite brother?”
“Yes,” replied Poseidon almost instantly, “but if you’re implying that I am your favourite brother, why did you marry Zeus? And what will our brother say to that?”
Very little, seeing as he’s dead, mused Hera. But she smiled and bowed her head in what she hoped was a sufficiently demure fashion. “I haven’t seen my husband for several days and, frankly, I have stopped caring about what catastrophic chaos he may be unleashing on the world.”
Poseidon grunted once more and tugged at his seaweed-strewn beard. “I agree that our brother’s exuberance can be hard to stomach at times. The last time I spoke to him he was planning to seduce some mortal queen in a most preposterous manner.” Poseidon wasn’t the most empathetic of gods but even he noticed the way that his sister’s jaw clenched and lips tightened at this information. All things considered, Hera was not looking her usual composed, regal self. “Has he treated you badly in recent weeks, sister?”
“No worse than normal. Why do you ask?” said Hera, self-consciously turning her head away slightly to try and hide her bruised face.
“Hera, I have known you for aeons and I cannot recall you ever looking quite so distracted. In fact,” he said, slowly reaching out to her chin and turning her face to meet his, “I would go as far as saying the you do not appear well. This bruise, for instance.”
She gently removed his hand. “It is nothing. A mere mis-hap with a tree.”
He said nothing but his stretched eyebrows suggested a distinct lack of belief. “So what brings you to this particular spot of gloriously empty ocean?” His lips betrayed a hint of sardonic smirk.
She smiled sweetly back at him. “I was hoping for little peace and quiet, if you must know, dear brother.”
“And you must have found it. This is a very remote location that rarely sees the presence of men.”
“Normally, yes. Even I, the Lord of the Sea, hardly ever have need to visit this secluded corner of my realm.”
“And yet here you are.”
Poseidon grunted once more. “I don’t have to explain my business to you, sister.”
“Nor I to you.”
He acknowledged this with a small bow of his head.
“But,” he conceded, “I will say that I came here looking for something. And possibly someone. Something has happened and I’m not yet sure what.”
Hera raised an eyebrow. “I’m intrigued.”
“It’s probably nothing. I had provided Zeus with a supernatural guard creature and it appears that it has been activated. But I am unable to contact the beast. I was on my way to where it had lain hidden when I came across you.”
“Would it have been a very large shark?”
He looked at her with a serious, questioning expression. “What do you know of it? Are you the reason it was triggered?”
Hera placed a hand on his muscular shoulder. “No brother, I was not.” At least, not directly, she thought. “I believe the poor creature was overcome by a wayward nymph and some tediously unruly mortals.”
“A nymph?” exclaimed Poseidon in disbelief. “That’s impossible! What kind of nymph could kill such a fish?”
“The one that Zeus kept on his island.”
The Sea God winced. “Oh, so you know about that, then?”
“Brother, I have known for years.”
He shook his head and grimaced. A thought struck him. “What do you mean, ‘kept’?”
It took Hera a second to understand. Of course, seeing as he was dead Zeus could no longer keep anything but she couldn’t tell Poseidon that. Not yet. It would trigger a war of succession and she wasn’t ready. She thought quickly and replied as smoothly as she could, “I mean ‘kept’ in the sense that she is no longer on the island.” She smiled as a plan bubbled up from the depths. “She’s currently on a boat, heading away from here with the two mortals and,” she paused to select the right words, “some creature that may have escaped from Hades.”
Poseidon’s eyes lit up. “Really? Well that is interesting. On a boat. On the sea. My sea.”
“Perhaps you should go after them, have some words about the damage to your creature?”
“Indeed I should,” said Poseidon. Hera could clearly see her brother planning to capture Zeus’s sexual plaything for his own pleasure. Nadina may find the experience less than enjoyable. Good.
“One more thing, brother,” she said as he prepared to set off after the boat. “Don’t transform yourself into a bird. I suspect that they are using magic of some kind.”
The King of the Sea just smiled a shark-like grin. “Now why would I need to turn into a bird?”