The man stood quietly gazing at the incandescent Being with sad wise eyes. His body was young and athletic, both masculine and sensual but the face, while beautiful, reflected a wealth of hard won experience that seemed at odds with his apparent youth.
“Well, little god, your time is up. That was your last lifeline. You can now go back to your backward corner of the universe and play your simpleminded games.”
The man said nothing, still thinking of the wife and children he had left behind as he had died his last death. The pain of loss was intense, all the more for knowing they were the ones who were truly dead, long ago in some obscure planet in a distant corner of another galaxy. But he remembered them. As he remembered all the other loved ones he had lost in the hundreds of lives he had lived. Husbands, parents, lovers, wives, children, each and everyone of them indelibly etched in his mind and in his heart. All of them lost to him over the centuries, the millennia he had been reincarnated again and again.
He sighed wearily and looked at his task master, his tormentor who had made him live those hundreds of lives and forced him to remember them all. He still didn’t know why this had been done to him and he suspected he would never know. He had given up asking after the fiftieth life had come to an end. As he recalled, he had been a female that time round.
“I’m not a god. Not without the sword.” He had not been a god for so long now he could scarcely call up the feelings associated with that distant time. He had only known immortal mortality for the past three thousand years. Endless birth and death, and rebirth over and over, always remembering.
“Ah yes, your sword. I’m afraid it’s been so long that I’ve seem to have mislaid it.” There he paused. Well, that was that. He couldn’t find it in himself to care. He would be glad of one final death that would grant him rest. He was so very weary.
“Not that it matters anyway.” The immanent Being continued. “Now let’s see, one god coming up. First of all immortality.” There was a release of power and the man felt something in the fiber of his being shift and change irrevocably.
“Then there is invulnerability, energy and therefore matter manipulation, that will allow you to create objects, use energy to destroy other matter, translocation of yourself and any object, living or inanimate, the usual godly thing” the being confided to the slowly emerging god.
“Then there is telepathy and mind control, manipulation of the space/time continuum, invisibility, perfect memory but you already possess that don’t you?” The immanent Being radiated a spectrum of light that could be interpreted as amusement.
Yes he already had that. More memories than anyone could ever desire of want. Forgetfulness would be a real gift. But he knew that would not ever be granted.
“Let’s see, what else. Ah yes, your kind sets great store in outward appearance and sexual attractiveness though why a god should need that puzzles me. Oh well, it seems the mortals in your world expect it of their divinities.” The man who was now a god stood silent. What could he say to that? He didn’t really care one way or another at this point.
“There you are, a god again.” The Being waited for a reaction but received none. Finally he asked, “Is there any attribute I’m forgetting or that you desire?”
The god was about to disclaim any interest when he remembered his dog Gravv so dear to him in his last but one incarnation” I would like to be able to communicate with all living things, not just humans.”
The being had obviously followed his thoughts for he seemed amused judging by the shifting of his sound/colors. “Done. Anything else?”
The god remembered his son Arke dying painfully of the Grke fever. “I would like to be able to heal.”
“You can do that already. Matter and energy manipulation. Anything else?”
The god slowly shook his head. He didn’t really want any of this. Just rest and forgetfulness. “No, nothing else.”
“Well then, off you go. Wait, take this. It has no power but I suppose you won’t feel complete without it.” The sword appeared in the god’s hand and he regarded it with detachment. “It’s a perfect replica down to the last atom. No one will know the difference, until they seek to use it of course. Then they will find it’s just a sword, but a very sharp one,” the Being added helpfully.
“Now you are complete.” Those were the last words the god heard before the world disappeared and then reformed around him. He was standing on a hill, overlooking a scene of carnage and destruction. The stench of death hit him first, then the awful sounds of agony and violence. It took him a while to realize he was standing on the exact same spot as that fateful day three thousand years before, before his odyssey. It was totally familiar and totally alien.
“ARES!” Some one was running towards him. The face seemed familiar.
“H-hercules?” the god said in a wondering voice.
The man had reached him now breathing hard and obviously burning with fury. “ Are you responsible for this slaughter?” he shouted at the staring god.
The god took a step forward and to the man’s amazement wrapped him in a tremendous hug.
“Hercules, my brother Hercules. Gods, I’m so glad to see you. You don’t know how long it’s been” The god had his face buried in Hercules’ neck who stood as if turned to stone with the unexpected behavior of his half-brother. He had been braced for a punch and was totally unprepared for the loving embrace the god had enveloped him in. He was further shocked to feel the wetness of what could only be tears on the side of his neck.
“Ares? Are you all right?” This was not the god of war he knew and hated. This was the loving brother he had dreamed of having but never really expected, given their history. Was this some convoluted trick that Ares had devised to torment him with?. Taking firm hold of the god’s shoulders Hercules held him at arms length. He scanned his brother’s face and saw an unfamiliar expression in the well known face. It was sorrow and joy intermingled. It was love and pain, and such weariness that Hercules felt an stab of pity in his chest.
“What happened to you?” Who or what could have brought about this change in his violent and hating brother. He could not imagine anything that could achieve this reversal of character so suddenly and so completely.
Ares leaned his forehead on his brother’ shoulder and murmured tiredly. “So much has happened Herc. So much.” He let his body rest against the other man. “I’m so tired. I just want to rest. Just rest.”
Hercules automatically wrapped his arms around Ares, completely lost as he tried to adjust to this utterly unexpected situation. What was going on with his brother. He was obviously not interested in the slaughter taking place below them. Wait, that was the reason for his presence here.
He turned his brothers face towards him and looked at the beautiful face now etched with tiredness and sorrow. “Ares, you have to stop the killing. Now”
Ares wearily opened his eyes dark as the night, brilliant with godly power and so full of pain. “ What?” Then he seemed to register where and why he was standing there. Slowly he turned in his brother’s embrace and gazed at the killing fields. “They never stop. Wherever you go the killing goes on.” He knew this, oh he knew this well. So many world he had lived and died in and war in some form or other had always been a constant. Chaos was ever present.
“You’ve got to stop them Ares. They will destroy everything.”
He looked back at Hercules and smiled sadly. “They will just start somewhere else you know” But he saw that his brother did not understand. He still seemed to believe that war, that killing was something imposed on humans rather than their creation, their own desire. He still had so much to learn, his little brother.
“Very well. I’ll stop it here and now. But I can’t really change men’s hearts. I would have to change their very nature and then they wouldn’t be who they are” Hercules absentmindedly held his brother while he did something only a god could do and thought about what Ares had said. Could he be right? Were men and not the god of war responsible for war?
Ares entered the minds of each warrior and drained away their hate and their fury, changing it to sorrow and regret. Slowly the fighting died down as each man confronted the true consequences of his actions and stood still looking into each other’s eyes, seeing the same emotions reflected back. It would not last but at least there would be no more killing that day. However, men’s memories were short and soon they would tread the path leading to the same situation. History would indeed repeat itself again and again.
God and demi-god watched as the men who moments ago had been trying their best to annihilate each other, moved away from the battlefield carrying or dragging their wounded and dead with them. “What did you do to them?” Hercules asked his brother. Ares smiled sadly as he replied.
“I made them see exactly what they were doing and why. But they will soon forget or pretend that they were justified in their actions and do it again”
“But you can stop them. You can do it again.” Hercules insisted
Ares looked at him with sorrowful eyes “For how long Hercules? Do you think that that is the solution? Isn’t it just a manipulation of their lives and thoughts, something you claim to abhor. You don’t want the gods to interfere in men’s lives. Wouldn’t that be the worst example of gods managing the lives of humans?’”
Hercules looked at him helplessly. “But it would be for their own good.”
Ares gently caressed his brother’s cheek with a fond smile. ”Would it really little brother? How would they ever learn to control their basest emotions if I controlled them instead. How could they ever grow?” Hercules gazed into his brother’s fathomless eyes, drowning in their wisdom. He had no answer for he knew Ares was right. He realized at that moment that he had got it all wrong. His brother did not create war, he simply controlled it. All the hate and violence that he had thought came from his brother was simply a reflection of the emotions Ares had found in the hearts and minds of men.
“Ares, what happened to you. You don’t seem like the god of war I have known all my life.”
Ares released his brother and sat on the yellowed turf. After a moment Hercules sat cross-legged opposite him and waited as his brother gazed into the darkening sky lost in thought. Eventually his gaze returned to Hercules and dark eyes met blue in the first moment of connection that would mark the beginning of their future relationship. It would eventually deepen into love and an eternal bond possible only among immortals.
“ A few minutes ago which for me became three thousand years, I was standing on this hill watching this very battle when.....” ___
Hercules sat watching his dark brother absently toying with a cup of wine. They were back at the inn he was staying in as Ares did not seem interested in going to any of his temples. Hercules was fascinated by the radical changes he could perceive in his godly brother. He had tried to imagine how it would feel to live hundreds of lives from birth to death, sometimes male sometimes female sometimes both or neither depending on the species of sentient being his brother had been. Remembering each and everyone of them. Life experience piled upon life experience, and the weight of all the mistakes, frustrations and regrets carried over along with all the triumphs and joys. He could not grasp the immense weight of all those memories. He found it hard enough to deal with one lifetime, and not a very long one at that. How would it feel to have lived hundreds of them. The very thought made him shudder .
His involuntary movement brought his brother’s eyes back to him. It was such a profound gaze that Hercules found it hard to meet it for very long. This was how he had imagined a god’s gaze would feel like before he had met his godly relations and learnt how far short they fell from the wise gods of his childish dreams. But now the very last god he had expected to ever display any kind of wisdom at all seem to personify his long abandoned ideal.
Ares seemed to read his thoughts for he gently smiled as he asked teasingly, “ Do I come up to your expectations?”
Hercules blushed with embarrassment at the naiveté of his youth but felt a twinge of resentment at the intrusion of his private thoughts.
“Are you reading my mind?” Ares stopped smiling and looked at him with sadness. “No, I’m reading your face. I have had a great deal of practice dear brother. I would not invade your mind without your consent.”
Hercules felt terrible. “I’m sorry Ares, I’m just not used to you being nice to me. I’m more used to the wargod who delights in beating the shit out of me.” Hercules suddenly realized the import of what he had just said. “You are not the god of war any more are you?”
Ares sat back looking at his brother with his depthless gaze.
“I have not been the god of war for three thousand years. Nor will I ever be one again. The power of the sword is gone” He held it out in front of him then threw it on top of the scarred inn table and the men sitting around them looked at it with hungry eyes. It was a beautiful piece of workmanship, one of Hephaestus’ greatest creations. Fit for a god of war.
Seeing their gaze Ares smiled sardonically and raised his voice. “anyone interested in a slightly used sword? You are welcome to it” Before any of the men could touch it Hercules instinctively grabbed it off the table glaring at the others. No one approached the great Hercules. After all what was the point. He would simply throw them off as he would a fly.
Hercules had braced himself for the jolt the sword would give him on grasping it. But nothing happened. It really was just a sword as Ares had said, nothing more.
Once again Ares knew his brother’s thoughts. “I told you, it’s just another sword, nothing more. There is no more sword of war.”
“But you are a god all the same”
Ares sighed and sat back on his stool. “Yes I am a god but not like before.” At Hercules questioning look Ares explained, “ I was made a god in a different manner as the rest of Olympus. Not the same power base at all. In fact I have no longer anything in common with the rest of the family. “ As Hercules continued to look puzzled Ares tried to make him understand. “ I was remade from the most basic level of existence outwards. The only thing I retain from my previous life is my outward appearance and the memories of my previous incarnation as a god.” He paused to see whether Hercules had understood. Then added with amusement. “in fact, strictly speaking we are not related any longer. It all depends how you measure family connections. Whether by blood or social ties.”
Hercules frowned at the last statement. This man, this god was his brother. No way was he giving up that link. He had never realized how important that connection was to him until he was threatened with its loss.
“You are my brother. I don’t care what has been done to you, nothing can destroy that.” He stated firmly. Ares’ face lit up with the sweetest smile Hercules had ever seen. He found it impossible not to respond to it. The two men sat smiling at each other the link between them growing stronger all the time.
Eventually Hercules had to ask. “ So what will you do now?”
Ares frowned and looked away. “I don’t know. I don’t really fit in this world any longer. In fact I don’t really fit anywhere at all.”
Hercules stared at this. It was true, Ares was not like the other gods any longer. They would probably resent him even more now, try to destroy him. He grasped his brother’s arm firmly and met his gaze with determination.
“Well until you decide what to do you can hang around with me. I’ll be happy to have your company.” A sudden doubt made him add uncertainly, “If you want to that is”
Ares’ face lit up with that sweet smile of his again. “Thank you little brother, I would be happy to hang around with you. It will give us a chance to get reacquainted so to speak. It has been a long time for me and we never really spent all that much time together did we?”
Hercules recalled the many and varied encounters with his brother and a series of fights, arguments and yelling matches passed before his mind’s eye. No, theirs had been more a meeting of bodies rather than minds. But looking at the god sitting in front of him Hercules knew with certainty that this time it would be very different. This Ares was utterly uninterested in fist fights and trading insults.
He was suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of excitement and anticipation at what the future held. All his life he had searched for a being that would be wise and far seeing. Someone who knew the secrets of men’s hearts and minds and felt compassion and a desire to help rather than to manipulate and exploit. Perhaps his search was at an end and he was this very moment gazing into the countenance of his very own hero, his own god.
“All right, then let’s plan where we are going tomorrow. How do you fancy a trip to Macedonia? I haven’t been there for a while and its definitely been a long time for you.”
The new god and his brother put their heads together and began to plan the rest of their lives.