The Rite of Succession
Metas, personal guard to King Iphicles of Corinth, was not a learned man. He didn't have to be. He was tall, strong and broad of back. A clever mind would have been a bigger impediment to a career centered around the need to NOT ask questions but to do as one was told. But the last couple of days had strongly tested even his normal lack of curiosity. Leaning back against the doorframe, he spied the royal librarian making his way through the drafty hallway leading to the King's private chambers. Shaking his head, Metas almost laughed as the old man stopped to pick up several of the scrolls he had dropped, so overladen was he. Royal request after request for archival scrolls had kept old Pythias running back and forth for two days now. And in spite of himself, Metas was really starting to wonder what the king was up to. As old Pythias recovered his burden and quickly strode the remaining distance to the king's chambers, Metas shrugged off his unaccustomed interest in the King's private business. If it was important, he would find out anyway. He crossed his arms and nodded in greeting to the now very familiar librarian.
"I have the next load of scrolls for his Majesty. If you would be so kind as to announce me?"
Not bothering to reply, Metas turned to the door and knocked lightly. "King Iphicles, Pythias is here."
The king's voice penetrated the door, giving permission for entry to the weary librarian. Obeying as always, Metas opened the door, standing aside for the burdened Pythias. The librarian sighed and pushed through the door, only dropping one in his haste. Without looking up, he deposited the scrolls on the nearest table and returned to pick up the stray. Turning to place it with the others, he gasped. The room was littered with scrolls. They covered the royal bed, the floor, the desk, there was scarcely a space not occupied by an a scroll, open or closed. It was going to take forever to return them to their proper places in the library. Pythias stroked his whitened beard in puzzlement and searched the room for his monarch.
"Over here, Pythias."
The old man followed the direction of the voice and stepped carefully over his beloved scrolls. He found King Iphicles on the other side of the bed, sprawled on his stomach on the floor. Propped up on his elbows, a scroll lay open before him and he was obviously intent on its subject matter.
"Majesty, I placed the new ones on the desk. Can I help you in any way?"
Iphicles glanced up at the librarian, frowned a bit and gnawed at his bottom lip. Shaking his head lightly, he looked around the room at the chaos he had created. "No thank you, Pythias. This is something I need to do myself. Don't worry, we'll get the scrolls back in one piece, I promise." Iphicles smiled at the aged man. "And I don't think I'll need any more scrolls."
Pythias smiled back a bit nervously. "Thank you, majesty. I was afraid you were intent on emptying the library."
Iphicles laughed at the man. "Not quite, not quite." He waved him off. "You may go now, Pythias, I need to be alone."
Pythias bowed to his king and backed carefully out of the room and through the door, which was quickly secured by the duteous Metas. Hearing the door shut, Iphicles sighed and returned to his scroll. He was getting closer to finding the passage he needed to be sure of his facts. He had to be sure.
"Be sure of what?"
Iphicles sucked in a gasp of surprise. Certain he hadn't voiced his concern, he twisted around to face the source of that well-known voice. Staring up at the dark form there, Iphicles gathered up his self control with a simple statement. "Ares."
Ares smiled and nodded at Iphicles. "That's the name, don't wear it out. Now, what is it that you've got to be so sure of that you would stand me up." The God of War had materialized in the middle of Iphicles' bed and a few of Pythias' precious scrolls were now a little the worse for wear.
Iphicles rolled over to a sitting position and frowned. Stand him up? The frown gradually turned into a look of remembrance.
"Ah, I see it's all coming back to you. " Ares pushed the scrolls out of his way and scooted to the edge of the bed. "I'm not used to that you know. I should punish you for reneging on your promise and neglecting me like that."
Iphicles fidgeted, feeling foolish. The one thing he didn't need to do right now was upset Ares. This was entirely too important to risk that happening. How could he have forgotten they were supposed to meet at the temple?
"I'm sorry, Ares. I'm more sorry than you can know. I just completely forgot." Iphicles shifted his weight, intent on standing. He never made it. Ares was off the bed and beside the king on the floor in a breath, holding Iphicles in place. Iphicles felt his heart speed up in response to the nearness of the God of War. It wasn't fear; Iphicles was long past any sense of fear in the presence of Ares. All he felt these days was rapture, sheer rapture.
Wrapping one strong arm around Iphicles' shoulders, Ares leaned over, placing his mouth against Iphicles' ear. "You want to tell me what is so damned important that you could forget ME!" Ares raked his eyes around the room and the devastation of paper. "You studying for your final exams or something, hmm? Don't lie to me, Iphicles, if you don't want to see me anymore you ought to have the balls to just tell me."
Iphicles shifted in the grip of the War God, stunned by those hurt words. "Why would you think that? I've only ever forgotten this once! Ares, I love you, you know that! I've told you often enough." Iphicles squirmed around to face Ares. "Look, I know you've had your share of bad relationships. You don't talk about it, but I know. I'm not like that. I fall in love and I fall hard and I stay there until..." He looked away, embarrassed by the emotion on his face. Ares seemed equally embarrassed. He was very unaccustomed to hearing speeches of loving fealty; his vocabulary was ill equipped for response. In truth, he wasn't sure how he really felt deep down about the king. Taking a deep, calming breath, Ares ran his hand carressingly down Iphicles' arm.
"Then why did you forget me? I waited for you because I know you don't want me to come here like this. What's wrong?" Ares needed an honest answer to that question more than he wanted anything else. It was then that he spied what Iphicles had been so avidly reading when Ares had popped in.
"IPHICLES! Why are you reading that?"
Iphicles felt a bit panicked. This wasn't how he wanted to do this. But Ares was forcing the issue and he knew there was no turning back now. "This is the best reference I could find, I had to know if it was possible!" He tried to put a bit of distance between them. It didn't work. Ares' hand tightened on his arm. The expression on the godly face was dark.
"Why?" The question was quiet.
Looking back at the betraying scroll, Iphicles was also quiet in his response. "Ares, you know that since my family is dead, I have no...no heir."
Ares frowned. "Yeah, so, we'll find you a nice woman and get you a few, no problem."
Iphicles frowned back. "I don't WANT a nice woman. I want you." Taking Ares by the hand, Iphicles met the War God's gaze unflinchingly. Gathering his resolve, Iphicles took a deep breath and asked the all important question. "Ares, would you have my baby?"
The sound of silence was deafening as a stunned God of War felt his jaw slacken and his eyes widen. What a day this had turned out to be.