Because I'm Your Mother
I wasn't doing much of anything, sitting around in the Halls of War, looking over a scroll Hephaestus sent me, full of pictures and descriptions of some new weapons he was working on, when Hera called.
My first instinct was to ignore it. My mother suddenly paging me to pop up and visit her is usually not a good thing. I thought, briefly, over what I had done lately and couldn't come up with anything that would have particularly pissed her off when she called again.
This time, there was something about the call that made me sit up and listen. She didn't sound mad. Or annoyed. Or aggravated. Or any of the usual emotions I associated with her. Instead, she sounded sort of pleased. Or concerned. Or something I didn't recognize.
So I dropped the scroll and headed up to her palace. I found her, not in her great throne room, where she usually summoned me when she wanted to ream me out about some failure of mine but in her private sitting room. As I came in, I could see her face and realized she was listening, very intently, to a petition. Now I was sure something odd was going on. Mom wasn't much for actually paying attention to the prayers directed her way.
Summoning up what little patience I have, I waited, looking slowly around the room. I hadn't been in here in years. She had changed the color of the walls, now they were more apple green than emerald, and there were a couple of new statues. One of them, I realized with a start, was of me as a child. I was about to go hollering for the old man to ask him if the Furies were up to no good when Hera said, "Ares."
"Huh?" Not one of my better moments but damnit, the old bitch does that to me.
If my distraction annoyed her, she gave no sign of it. Instead, she lifted one pale hand and said, "Listen."
She meant for me to hear the prayer she had been listening to. I waited a moment, then saw it through her eyes, what had actually occurred a few moments before.
A bedroom, plain but tasteful, belonging to a minor noble from the looks of it. There was a single occupant, a woman, kneeling before an small altar dedicated to Hera. The woman reflected the room, plain but tasteful, dressed in a severe grey gown, her hair under a widow's veil.
"Great Goddess," the woman intoned. I could see why Mom liked her. She sounded very reverent and adoring all that. "I have prayed to you all my life." Fat lot of good it probably did you, I thought. "And while I have not always received the answer to my prayers that I wanted, I know that you did what was best for me." There was one way to justify being ignored by a god. "Now I ask of you the greatest boon ever."
The woman stood up, pacing around the small room, speaking to Hera as if my mother were in the room with her. I've known a few worshippers like that. They pray so much they start to think you actually listen. And, to be honest, most of the time they are just thinking out loud but they like to imagine they have a god's ear.
"As you know, since the death of my husband, I am struggling to hold my family's lands until my nephew is of age." My mother sent me a quick overview of the whole story. The woman was Xanathippe, she was the guardian for her brother's heir, a boy of ten. Her husband--and here I got a distinct impression that my mother had not liked him--had died a few months before. Some neighboring noble had his eye on her property. Nothing interesting there.
"I have tried to rally my family, my retainers, my serfs, to defend the lands but have failed. I am only a weak woman and they will not follow me. So, I ask you, Great Hera, to intercede for me with your son, the Noble Ares."
Hello. Now this was interesting. The Noble Ares. I liked this woman. She had the right attitude towards her gods.
"As mere woman, I dare not pray to the God of War myself, which is why I beg you, if you have any love for me and mine, to ask Ares to send me a champion, a man who can lead my people, inspire them to defend our lands, give my people the will to fight. Please, Oh, Hera, Queen of Heaven, I beseech you, hear my prayer."
Mom was looking at me. I almost blanched. There was a look in her eyes I didn't like. I straightened my tunic, which only made the old bitch smile. She knew when I was nervous. I could bluff Zeus but I could never get anything past her.
"So," I said, sounding casual.
"So, I am interceding with my son. I want you to help Xanathippe."
I raised an eyebrow at her. "What's so special about her?"
Hera smiled thinly back. "You heard her. She is devout. I like to reward mortals who know how to properly worship me."
I suspected there was more to it than that but I'm wasn't stupid enough to ask. "Fine, I'll find someone. . ."
"You'll go to her and tell her that."
Folding her hands in her lap, so as to look demure, my mother smiled more sweetly, tilting her head girlishly. There were moments when I could see what Zeus saw in her, a few thousand years ago.
"I mean it, Ares. The Fates have been very unkind to her and she deserves better. Go and tell her that you will answer her prayers."
"Me? Why not go yourself and impress her? She's your follower, you know. She doesn't dare pray to me."
The smile faded. "Because I want you to. And I have my reasons. Go."
Fine. The woman did address me as "Noble Ares." And she was asking for me to stir some mortals up to face a battle, which I was more than happy to do.
Xanathippe was kneeling in front of my mother's altar again, sending up a general plea to Hera for help. I noticed she had a small icon with my symbol on it propped up next to the miniature bust of my mother.
I hesitated before appearing before her. Normally, I like to impress a mortal, but this wasn't some warlord or general used to dealing with the God of War. This was a nice widow lady who didn't even have the nerve to pray to me directly. If I scared her shitless, Mom would be mad and I had no doubt she was watching. So, I toned down the divine radiance a bit.
"Xanathippe." Kept my voice quiet, too. I still startled her. She did think she was alone in the room, after all, but I didn't actually frighten her.
She half rose, turning, her eyes wide. For a heartbeat, she stared at me, astonished. I suppressed my usual grin and tried to look wise and caring and all that bullshit. It must have worked. She recovered enough to kneel again, bowing deeply.
"My lord." Her voice was breathless with awe.
"Xanathippe." This wasn't turning into much of a conversation. I'd better get to the point. "My mother heard your prayer and asked me to grant your request."
She raised her head and stared at me. As women go, the poor thing really wasn't much to look at. She was too skinny for my taste, with a long, narrow face and eyes a pale, unattractive shade of greenish gray, too light for her coloring.
"Thank you, my lord," she breathed, radiating worship and adoration. Oh, yeah. Not much to look at but I could see why Mom liked her.
"Let's see if I have this straight. You need someone to lead and inspire the locals against. . ."
"Anameander. He is the Count of Volos. His family has been trying to steal my family's land for generations. My father and brother were able to lead our army, such as it is, but with my husband dead, there is no one to protect us now." From the way she said 'husband,' I could tell she hadn't liked him any more than my mother did.
Right. Anameander. He worshipped Athena so kicking his ass wasn't going to be a problem. Now I just had to find someone to lead Xanathippe's forces.
"My brother, Xenocles, was fine warrior. If he hadn't died. . ." Her voice trailed off. I must have been frowning but her mentioning her brother's name suddenly put everything in it's place.
Xenocles was a fine warrior, and one who worshipped me. Which made Xanathippe's late, unlamented husband Aristarchus, not one of my favorite people, either. He never gave more than lip service to the gods, me included.
Realizing I was frightening her now, I tried to look less threatening. "I remember your brother. Do you know why he died?"
She blinked. Those pale eyes of hers gave the impression that she was blind. "He died in battle, serving you, my lord."
"No, he was wounded in battle serving me. If the man who fought at his side had made the effort to rescue him, he'd be alive today."
Now Xanathippe was the one frowning. She knew who had been at her brother's side that day. Her husband.
"I suppose," she said slowly, through tight lips, "that he hoped to replace my nephew with his son. My inability to have that son at least served to defeat his plan."
I don't know why I said what I did. Maybe my mother nudged me. That's possible. For whatever reason, I found myself saying, "It wasn't your inability."
"What?" The change of topic had puzzled her. It puzzled me a little, too, but as I was already heading down that path, I might as well see it to the end.
"You aren't barren. Your husband wasn't delivering fertile seed."
"But, his concubine had a child by him . . ."
Now I could see why mother was probably pushing the conversation in this direction. Mom was a stickler for marriage vows, when it came to the husband, anyway.
"His concubine had a child." Since I was sure my mother was behind it, I blatantly asked and without being the slightest bit embarrassed by her behavior, she gave me the answer. "The father was a blacksmith named Colvis."
I watched that sweet innocent widow get a very nasty smile on her face. I liked the expression. What can I say? I like bad girls.
"He flaunted that boy," she muttered. "Told me how he would have him named legitimate. Spent a fortune on him and his whoring mother. Accused me of poisoning the boy when he died of the flux at before his first birthday." Her voice went hard. "It's a pity he died without ever knowing that."
"He's in Tartarus. He knows."
"Really?" That seemed to please her. Then she took a deep breath, obviously focusing on the matter at hand. "My lord, those who are dead are beyond my concern. I care only about the living. Can you find a man who will protect my nephew's lands?"
I tilted my head, studying her more carefully. I admit, I had only glanced at her before, judged her ugly and of no interest to me, only my mother. Now, as I felt her strength, her anger, I began to change my opinion.
"You could lead them," I suggested.
To my surprise, Xanathippe laughed. When she realized she had made such an insulting sound, she immediately looked contrite. "Forgive, great Ares, but as God of War, you no doubt deal very little in the world of women."
Well, no, not exactly. I spend a great deal of my free time with women. The women I spend my time with, however, are not timid widows.
"I forgive you. Are you afraid that the men will not listen to you? They respect you more than they did that fool husband of yours."
She shook her head. "They will listen but I cannot lead. I cannot inspire. I have never held a weapon but I know that a man must be inspired to risk his life in a cause, must be willing to die for his leader. No man would die for me. For my nephew, perhaps, but they still need someone to follow."
She was right. For a moment, I looked beyond the room, at her bloodline and that of her nephew, at her neighbors and allies, searching for someone to fulfill her needs. After a moment, I saw him. When I looked back at Xanathippe, she was still gazing up at me. She was good at adoration.
I walked across the room to look out the window. The lands she so cherished were meager, the title she wished to protect of little importance. Still, the view out the window was pleasant, of a small, bustling town, surrounded by fields of grain and grazing animals, a vineyard on the terraced hillside above. This was Greece, my homeland, the place I had been created to protect.
"You have a distant cousin, the great grandson of your great grandmother's brother, a man named Hecton."
"Yes." I could hear in her voice how seriously she was listening to me. I wished she could give lessons to some of my followers. "He lives in in Thessalonika. I met him once, years ago, when he came to give his respects at the tombs of his ancestors."
"He is traveling near here. He had business in Athens." I turned around. Xanathippe was still kneeling. She looked very comfortable on her knees. "I will give him an urge to visit those tombs again. I cannot guarantee that he will take up your fight and that if he does, you will be victorious."
She nodded. "I understand. There are no guarantees. The Fates weave the tapestry. All we can do is hope our thread is strong."
I wish every warlord, every general, every damn soldier I ever had pray to me could be like this woman! They all wanted guarantees, promises, assurances that I would give them exactly what they wanted. I suddenly found myself envying my mother for having such a follower.
I didn't let my feelings show on my face. I was sticking with the wise and all-knowing look. Instead, I nodded solemnly.
"Hecton will be here within three days. You may tell him that you have my favor." I gestured towards the little shrine. The icon of my sword began to glow red. As a soldier and follower of mine, he would recognize the meaning.
Xanathippe bent forward, supple and graceful, until her forehead touched the tile floor. "Thank you, Great Lord, and thank your mother, Great Hera, too."
I managed to keep the sarcasm out of my voice as I said, "I will."
Then I popped back up to my mother's sitting room. She smiled, a pleasant sort of smile that I hadn't seen on her face in centuries. I was so surprised it took me a minute to say, with the proper amount of sarcasm, "Well?"
She regally inclined her head. "Well done, my son. I am pleased. I will keep an eye on her, though, and let you know if she needs more of your help."
"Fine," I replied and left.
I had a couple of interesting wars in the works so I focused on those for the next several days. I almost forgot Xanathippe and her little problem. Being a god, I can't actually forget anything but I can stick it aside and ignore it. With some major warfare going on, I stuck my mother's devoted follower aside.
There was a spectacular battle on the Thracian plain near Edirne between my Greek forces and some idiot tree-worshipping barbarians from the north. A major engagement, with thousands fighting on each side, the balance of power of all of Thrace was in contention. I fought on the field personally, killing dozens of the enemy, my sons Deimos and Phobos at my side.
It was glorious, positively orgasmic. I don't get a battle that good but once every mortal generation or so. The orgy that followed wasn't as pleasurable as the fight itself, although it was fun. And the worship wasn't half bad, either, with hundreds of sacrifices in my name.
When I finally got back to Olympus, I was in a better mood than I had been in a long time. I was actually singing to myself as I sat in my throne room checking up on some other battles.
I was so engrossed in a nice little skirmish along a very pretty beach in Corfu that I didn't even notice Hera when she entered. It was only when she was standing almost next to my throne that I realized she was there. I stopped singing, an obscenity slipping out because I was so startled. She frowned. I remembered she didn't approve of much of my vocabulary.
"What?" Oh, well. I was still in a good mood. Even the old bitch showing up couldn't completely destroy the last several days. Although her coming to me was odd, I wasn't going to worry about it.
"I'd almost forgotten what a beautiful voice you have. You never sing at the banquets any more."
So much for my good mood.
"I'd almost forgotten what a beautiful voice you have. You never sing at the banquets any more."
So much for my good mood.
"I can't imagine you are here to discuss the entertainment at one of Zeus' excruciating banquets are you?"
She was looking at me, a contemplative, probing sort of look. I resisted the urge to sit up straight. "No, not really. I'm here to talk about Xanathippe."
"What? Her cousin not working out?"
"No, Hecton has agreed to lead the battle. He is a decent soldier."
"Yes, he is." If she started questioning my choice now, my mood would be shot for the next hundred years. "But he isn't a very inspired leader. He isn't charismatic."
Ah. Well, she had me there. Competent but a bit stolid was old Hecton.
"Let me guess," I said. "You want me to direct a little blessing his way, inspire his followers into a major bloodlust to help insure his victory."
Hera smiled, looking satisfied. I thought of a cat that had just eaten a prize canary.
"And some of the others say you're not too bright. I say my son has brains, he just doesn't use them as often as he should."
Thanks, Mom. Nice backhanded compliment there. Never give without taking back. You'd think after all these ages I'd be used to it. Inwardly, I sighed. I hadn't sighed out loud in centuries.
I waved my hand so that Hecton's image appeared before me. He was stomping through the armory, a boy at his side. I had to admit the old bitch was right there. Hecton was the least charismatic mortal I had ever seen. Stocky, thick necked, with thinning pale hair on his square head, he walked as if he were a sailor on a rolling deck. He looked as if he should be slow and awkward but I knew he was actually light on his feet, with fast reflexes.
The solemn faced boy with the dark hair and pale eyes was Xanathippe's nephew. He had a bit of a spark but was half the age he needed to be. Hecton dropped a meaty hand on the boy's shoulder as he pointed out which weapons were properly stored and which weren't.
"The battle isn't for a couple of days." The scene vanished. "I'll send along some inspiration."
"You'll take it. In person."
Rolling my eyes, I snarled, "War is my department, remember. You and the old man decided that a long time ago. So leave bloodlust to me."
"I want. . ."
"I know this woman is important to you but the God of War does not show up for puissant little fights over nothing. When I take to the field, it's for something major, like the battle in Thrace. You know, the one where I kept the barbarians from storming into Greece and converting temples to worship their gods."
Nobody on Olympus had said one word to me about that, except Athena, who sent me a grudging note of thanks along with several pages of criticism. Anger flared in my mother's pale eyes. We stared at each other. I was prepared to go a few of usual rounds when she turned away, shaking her head.
"I understand protocol. I know you can't be on the battlefield. But I would appreciate it if you could go and offer some support."
Mom being polite unnerved me again. I didn't trust my voice so I nodded.
"I'm sure you know how to handle it." She smiled. I was looking forward to this whole thing being over because Hera being nice was making me really uncomfortable. She vanished in a flash of green light.
Hecton was speaking to the troops, such as they were, in a few hours. I called in a couple of priestesses to distract me from my mother's odd behavior, until it was time to pay Xanathippe a visit.
The rain was pouring down, grey and cold, when I popped in. Hecton had the soldiers gathered around my temple. He was standing, protected, on the porch, the boy at his side. I thinned the rain to a drizzle, knowing if I stopped it completely, the old man would be sticking his nose in and having Hera talking to me nicely was bad enough. Then I stood behind Hecton.
The man was not an orator. He mumbled, head down, chin against his chest, saying something unintelligible about the late Xenocles. I put my hand on Hecton's shoulder. He raised his head, sensing, if not my presence, then inspiration.
He looked out on the crowd gathered in front of him, noticing how few were paying attention to him. Clearing his throat, he took a pace forward, my hand still resting on his shoulder.
"My friends," he said, more loudly, more clearly. I put the ring of strength into his rather reedy voice. "Please!"
The change brought a few men heads around. Another nudge from me and Hecton stood up straighter, drawing a proper breath. I found his jumbled thoughts and ordered them, tossing in a few inspirational phrases I always find work well. As Hecton spoke, with me behind me, the men began to pay attention.
I sent a quick blessing out across every man gathered there, seeking any other warriors who weren't there, finding them and giving them some inspiration as well. The crowd began to focus on Hecton's words as they became more impassioned. Some of the men started to call back encouragement, urging Hecton on to greater heights.
Now to send him out among his men. Nothing the common soldier liked more than having his commander down in the mud with him. Hecton stepped out of the protection of the porch to address a man he knew. I gave him a couple of other names. He'd met these men before but didn't remember them. I dug in his memories and yanked the necessary information out.
The men were cheering. The boy was gazing at his kinsman in admiration. I was very pleased with myself. Since Hecton was now talking to the men one at a time, which he could do without my help, I decided to check on Xanathippe.
I found her, not surprisingly, in her bedroom. For a change, she wasn't kneeling at her little altar. She was sitting, head bowed, over a scroll. I leaned over her shoulder. The scroll was a list of freeholders over which her family had responsibility. She was making notes on another sheet; who had sons of fighting age, where a widow lived with an aged father and an unmarried daughter, that sort of thing, doing it all from memory.
Stepping back, I let her sense my presence an instant before I appeared so that she wouldn't be frightened.
Xanathippe raised her head, as if she heard a sound, then turned. At the sight of me, she leapt out of her chair, then dropped to her knees. Not dropped, exactly. That was too crude a description. She folded herself gracefully, like a dancer. Skinny and homely as she was, she still had some good qualities. I could almost hear my mother laughing as I thought that.
"My lord." I loved the way she said that, her voice low, throbbing with adoration.
I inclined my head slightly.
"My lord, I cannot begin to express my gratitude to yourself and your mother! Hecton is a fine man and was outraged to learn of what has happened here. He has volunteered to lead our troops against Anameander. He has taken Lysander to inspect the armory. His own sons are grown so he is glad to have another young boy to take under his wing." She stopped, blushing, which improved her appearance since her skin was otherwise pale. "Of course you know all this, great Ares."
"Of course." Not really. If I had made the effort, I could have known it but, to be honest, I hadn't bothered. "Hecton will have the troops ready for battle in a few days. With all the rain we've been having. . ." I suddenly wondered if Hera had actually gone and asked Zeus for help, too, but dismissed that as impossible. ". . .it will be several days before the ground is dry enough to fight."
Xanathippe's cheeks went pale again. "I hate the thought. Forgive, my lord, but I am only the woman who stays behind to wait and worry and weep beside the funeral pyres when it comes time."
"Or rejoice, when your loved ones return victorious."
She smiled weakly. I smiled back in return, watching her eyes widen, the pupils dilating. She hadn't gotten laid in ages and an erotic fantasy involving yours truly passed through her mind. Had she not been such a sweet creature--and under my mother's protection--I might have turned my smile into more of a lover's grin but I restrained myself.
She looked away, suddenly uncomfortable. I touched her thoughts. Well, well, skinny little Xanathippe wanted to do more than just worship me while she knelt in front of me. She had never actually done that to a man before, though, or I might have suggested she go with her impulse.
Putting my best sensual rumble in my voice, I said, "Xanathippe."
Her eyes came back to mine. Her lips parted. I could feel her desire, her need, her hunger. I had a sudden inspiration. I held out my hands. After a moment's hesitation, she took them. I pulled her to here feet.
"You will have victory," I promised. She would. Anameander wasn't taking the threat of her followers seriously. He didn't know about Hecton--or me. "There will be sacrifices, deaths, but anything worth having is worth fighting for." That cliché had always worked for me and, from the look on Xanathippe's face, it was working again.
I bent down, kissed her lightly on the forehead, then stepped back, releasing her hands. She thought I disappeared. Actually, I was still standing there, invisible to her mortal eyes, as I watched her sink to her knees again, moaning, her hands sliding between her thighs. She pressed her fingertips against herself, biting her lower lip. I touched the fantasy in her head, corrected a common beginner's mistake, and waited until her body shuddered in orgasm. Then I headed for Cupid's temple.
Being his father, I could always sense where Cupid was with very little effort. I arrived to find an orgy in progress, the floor and couches of this temple covered with heaving, sweating bodies. It was at an orgy like this that I finally realized why his mother had given him wings. Out of the hundred or so bodies surging around me, only one had wings.
I stepped over my son's enthusiastic worshippers until I was standing over Cupid. Reaching down, I tugged on one of his wings. Officially, I hated them but, deep inside, I had always liked the way they felt under my fingers, soft and warm. My life was full of cold steel.
Cupid looked up, his face slack with lust. When he saw who had interrupted him, the intelligence came back into his expression, although the steady rocking of his pelvis never stopped, nor did the moans coming from the body under him.
"I need to talk to you," I said, "when it's convenient."
He nodded and went back to his fucking. I worked my way over to another heap of bodies that I also recognized. Every minor godling, nymph, satyr, naiad, dryad, mortal and god available was in that room and Deimos and Phobos were fucking each other, as usual, with their cousin Strife in the mix for good measure. Very convenient.
I stuck a boot in-between them. All three looked up, their sweating faces as vacant as Cupid's had been. Their control wasn't as good as Cupid's and it took all three of them a little longer to register my presence.
"Uncle Ares," crowed Strife cheerfully, pulling his cock free of his cousin's mouth. "Join in!"
"No, thanks." Definitely, no thanks. I knew the three of them too well. I'd take them on one at a time but not the trio together. "I need to talk to all of you. . ." I let them all look at me with nearly identical, unhappy expressions. "When you're done."
I went back to one of my temples, feeling very pleased with myself. I didn't stay long. The memory of what Xanathippe had been thinking, the sight of the orgy, had distracted me. I sought out Aphrodite, who was happy to see me. That's what I like about 'Dite. I show up with an erection and she's delighted. Drops whatever she is doing and let's me fuck her senseless. Well, she fucks me senseless in return but she is the Goddess of Love. It's her job.
The day of the battle dawned clear and cool. I had sent my quartet ahead. Officially, Deimos, Phobos and and Strife thought I wasn't so much supporting Xanathippe as pissed with Anameander. He had spent a small fortune sticking gold leaf all over a statue of Athena. Wouldn't do him any good. 'Thena wasn't impressed with followers trying to buy her favor. She liked results and thought Anameander was a coward and a fool. He was doomed.
Discord, who knew Hera better than the boys, had given me a look when I gave the orders. She suspected something, sensed our mother's involvement, at any rate, but let it go. I had given her free rein in Anameander's life so she was happy. I almost felt sorry for him. He wouldn't be able to get so much as a decent meal with Discord stirring things up.
I didn't make an official appearance on Xanathippe's side but I sent blessings out to every one of her soldiers. Hecton had been making a big deal out of my support. I had been getting some serious worship out of his forces so I returned the favor. By the time Hecton gave the order, my symbol on a band around his right arm, Hera's peacock on his left, his troops were screaming for blood.
It was good. Not up to the battle at Edirne but nice. I did drop in to watch a few fights, keeping myself invisible. Then I went off to attend to some other matters, some warlords I was stirring up, a couple of other battles that were part of ongoing conflicts. My side was going to win and I wasn't worried,.
The next morning, Hecton, Xanathippe, the nephew, and the major commanders were gathered in my temple. The adoration radiating off Xanathippe was downright arousing. I stood in the back for a few minutes, enjoying the feeling.
The temple was small, with no throne for me, just a icon of swords crossed over a shield hanging on the wall above the altar. Hecton was promising me considerable improvements. He must have listened when I was inspiring him. His voice was firm, his head up, he even used a couple of my phrases.
Lysander, standing next to his aunt, gazed up at his uncle with near adoration. That attitude must run in the family. When Hecton finished his piece, he smiled down at the boy, giving him a pat on the head. Xenathippe looked over at the two, also smiling.
"You don't really need me," whispered Cupid, nudging me. "Those two are already falling for each other."
"Yeah, but if I just let them fall in love on their own, the sex will be lousy."
Cupid frowned, his expression distant, as he looked into Xanathippe and Hecton. "Ugh. You're right. Her husband was a creep and his wife had no imagination."
Xanathippe said a few words, a prayer directed to both Hera and me, thanking my mother for sending me to help. Good stuff. Then she gave her nephew a little nudge in the middle of his back. He stepped forward, his child's voice clear, as he told me how he would pledge his life in my service.
My cue. I appeared, with flashes of blue lightning and the sound of trumpets, letting my divine radiance shine. When I do impressive, I do it well. There was a collective gasp as I emerged from the air and everyone dropped to their knees. Cupid gave me a grin from the back of the room, two arrows held loosely to his bow.
"Xanathippe," I said, throwing a little echo and reverberation into my deepest, most impressive voice, "Hecton. Lysander. Let this victory be a sign that the gods show their favor to your family. As long as your blood rules here, I will be watching over you." Xanathippe raised her face. Oh, yeah. "As will my mother, the Great Hera." I knew Cupid was snickering but I ignored him.
I made myself invisible, with the same flashes of light and sound, moving to the back of the crowd beside my son. As I disappeared, Cupid raised his bow. His aim was true. Xanathippe and Hecton glanced at each other, their eyes locking. I could feel the arousal rising over the adoration.
I gave my son a nudge in the ribs. "Nice work."
"He's hung like a horse," Cupid said conversationally, "and she'll be a screamer. "
The crowd was shouting my name. "Ares! Ares!"
I stood there enjoying it when Cupid, his lips so close to my ear I could feel his warm, ticklish breath, whispered, "You owe me," as he vanished.
My first impulse was to go pay back Cupid but before I could, I heard Xanathippe's voice adding a chant of "Hera," under my name.
I showed up in my mother's sitting room, telling her I was there. She wasn't so I sat down, propping my feet up on her table, and started munching on some baklava she had. B attle is great, sex is great, but my mom's baklava with ambrosia is even better. I was licking my fingers, looking around for some more, when I heard her laugh.
"I knew you'd eat it all."
I sat up, grinning. Her voice sounded almost fond under the annoyance. She wasn't in major goddess mode. No peacock feathers and her hair was loose.
"I figured you out, you know," I said pleasantly as she sat down, pushing my boots off the top of her table first. "You wanted to find some nice man for poor Xanathippe but didn't want to approach Cupid or Aphrodite yourself."
"Actually," replied my mother, conjuring another plate of baklava and setting it between us, "I only wanted Xanathippe's prayers answered and she didn't pray to me for a new husband. It was only when you brought Hecton into the picture that I thought they would be good together." She smiled again, around a piece of pastry. "I thought you'd come up with some bloodthirsty pig for the job. I'm very pleased with Hecton."
I waited, wagering with myself. To my astonishment, I lost.
Hera reached over and patted my arm. "I am very pleased with you." I must have looked as stunned as I felt because she started to laugh again. "You make a very good God of War."
"Well, thanks." I had no idea what to say. I was about to leave, if only to give myself a chance to collect my thoughts, when the old bitch leaned over and laid a soft kiss on my head. My jaw dropped. I felt it. I yanked my mouth shut, trying to figure out what she was up to.
"I'm not up to anything, dear. I only wanted to make Xanathippe happy. You felt her worship. A goddess will go to considerable effort to keep worshippers like that. I don't always have an ulterior motive."
"Um, yeah." How did she do it? Even after all these years, my mother could still reduce me to confused silence. "And I got Hecton and Lysander." Right. Some of that quality worship was coming my way.
"Go do something perverted with Cupid."
I stood up, towering over her. "This won't last, will it? We'll be tossing fireballs at each other in a day or two, won't we?"
"Oh, no doubt. You'll start some idiotic war and get some favorite of mine killed or just do some stupid guy thing and we'll be snarling at each other as usual in no time."
She looked up at me, her face serious. We both regretted the tension, the anger, that existed between us but we both knew why it had to be that way. I was what she and my father made me. A God of War who is at peace with himself and his family wouldn't be very good at his calling. The conflict in my life defined me. I knew it. She knew it.
"Thanks for the baklava."
"You've still got some in your mustache. Men."
I left before she started wiping my face. Gods of War do not like to be tidied up by their mothers. Cupid was waiting. I could sense his anticipation. And some warlords of mine were praying up a storm in Thrace. Plus I had to start making plans for Lysander. I licked the flakes of baklava out of my mustache and got on with my life.