“We’ve got to tell Dad.”
The response wasn’t a unanimous “No!” but it was a resounding one, echoing off the marble floor, off the polished granite ceiling, filling the Great Hall.
“Oh, come on,” Eris said with a mischievous smile. “Do tell Dad. That should be fun.” She elbowed Dionysus hard in the ribs. “Tell them.”
The handsome, olive-skinned god opened his eyes and rubbed his side. He looked around the room, burped delicately, then lowered his chin to his chest and resumed snoring.
Hephaestus grumbled through his copious beard. “You don’t get a vote.”
Eris batted her eyelashes. Aphrodite rolled her eyes, and kissed her husband softly on the neck.
Hephaestus cleared his throat.
“You don’t get a vote,” he repeated. “You or that drunken sot sitting beside you.”
“Hear, hear,” said a striking, severe woman with a longbow draped over her shoulder. “About time someone put you in your place.”
An older man rose from his aqueous seat in the corner, approaching the woman who had just spoken. “This is your fault.” He poked her with a dripping finger, hard enough that she stepped back. Briny water splashed. “Giving her ideas.”
“Ideas?” Artemis reached for her bow, but checked herself. “Pray, Uncle, what manner of ‘ideas’ do you speak of?”
“Just look at you! Running around dressed like a man. Riding a horse like a man. Running wild in the woods. It’s not proper.”
Artemis dropped her gaze to the seaweed draped strategically around Poseidon’s loins and raised her eyebrows. “And that is?”
“I think,” Eris said before Poseidon could formulate a retort, “what she’s trying to say is showing off works better if you have something to show off.”
Poseidon seized her throat, dangling her from his thick fist. She giggled and clapped her hands, even as her face grew red and mottled.
“We are forgetting why we are here.”
The voice was soft, but commanding. Athena laid a cooling hand on Poseidon’s wrist. Cursing, he released his grip, letting Eris drop, gasping, to the floor.
Athena crouched next to her sister. “This is why you don’t get invited to parties, dear.”
Athena stood. She glowed softly. Elegantly.
“We’re here to solve a problem. Preferably without involving Father. He’ll be angry enough as it is, even if we manage to solve everything without his help. If he has to intervene, heads will roll, and it won’t just be Demeter’s.”
Athena’s twin brother spoke up. “We have to find her. And if she won’t listen to reason, we must force her to take up her duties.”
Athena narrowed her eyes. “You can’t force someone to do something she doesn’t want to.”
Persephone bit her lip, turning her face away.
Apollo banged his fist on the wall. “Well, we can’t just go on without a Goddess of Fertility, now, can we? Who here wants us to be the Gods of the Desert? Leave that for Yahweh, and see where it gets him, a couple thousand years from now. I hate to say this, but we need her.”
“Perhaps someone else could do it?” Athena looked around the room at the assembled Olympians. None would meet her gaze. The room filled with the sound of nervous throat-clearing. “Just for a while, until she comes back.”
Apollo looked at his sister. “Brilliant idea. You should volunteer.”
“Hello? What part of Virgin Goddess don’t you understand?”
“That,” said the quicksilver boy in the shadows, “is a curable malady.” Hermes elbowed the blind boy sitting next to him. “C’mon, back me up here. Maybe your mom can help.”
“No.” Athena’s tone held indisputable finality.
She turned to Apollo. “Brother, who was it that suggested that Demeter would come back to us on her own?”
Apollo looked at his shoes.
“What’s that? I can’t hear you. Who was it that said it was just a phase she was going through? That she didn’t know how lucky she had it, and this was just the thing to teach her to be happy with her lot? That ‘women just get this way sometimes, and you just have to wait it out until they come to their senses’?”
Apollo bit his lip. “I didn’t…”
“You did. No, Brother. You let her go. You take her job.”
Apollo glared. “Harvest? Fertility? Marriage?”
Athena nodded, an odd smile on her face.
“You tread on dangerous ground, Sister.”
“You’d have me do women’s work? I am both god and man, and—”
“That’s also curable.” Hermes grinned and shrugged. “Just sayin’.”
Eris shook Dionysus. “Wake up, you’re missing all the fun!”
“I’ll not do women’s work, and I’ll not be made a mockery of by the likes of you!”
“Bit too late for that.” Eris’ eyes glittered.
Apollo’s fists clenched. “The answer is no. If one of us has to do it, it should be Persephone. After all, it’s her mother that caused this mess.”
“Oh, right. Pick on the girl who won’t defend herself.” Hermes leaned back in his chair, tipping it back on two legs. “C’mon, Athena, be my fertility goddess.”
Athena rolled her eyes.
“You don’t know what you’re missing, babe. My rod has wings.”
“I think Persephone is the perfect choice.” Poseidon’s words crashed like the surf against rocks. “Let Demeter’s daughter suffer for her crimes.”
“Oh, brilliant,” Artemis said, but before she could continue, Hades stood.
“I will not allow this.”
“But think about it,” Apollo said. “She’s already got the fertility goddess genes, and she’s already married, at least half the time. It’s a perfectly logical choice.”
“I find myself in reluctant agreement with my brother,” Athena said. “She is a good choice. With her consent, of course.” Athena turned to Persephone. “You do see how this is really for the best, don’t you, dear?”
“It’s not your choice, Hades,” Athena said.
“I think you’re outvoted.” Ares’ mocking sneer reflected in his voice.
“There is no vote.” Hades took a step toward the God of War. “She’s my wife, and that’s it.”
“Only for half the year.” Ares leered. “The other half…”
Hades’ fist connected squarely with Ares’ jaw, knocking him backward. Ares came back with sword drawn. Eris leaned against the wall, smiling contentedly. At least, until Ares’ sword vanished mid-swing.
“Looking for this?” Hermes dangled the great blade between two fingers.
With a roar, Ares launched himself at the God of Thieves. Had he reached where Hermes stood, he would have found himself clutching empty air, but he never made it that far. Hades and Hephaestus tackled the God of War to the ground. Coming to Ares’ rescue, Poseidon grabbed the two gods by the scruff of their necks, but his hands were slick with algae, and they slid free.
Scrambling, Hephaestus lost his footing in the puddle that accompanied Poseidon wherever he went. He grasped Hades and Ares for support, and all three tumbled against Poseidon’s legs, spilling him to the slippery-when-wet marble floor. Poseidon’s flailing arms caught Apollo and Athena, who went down with an offended shriek.
Artemis, reliving her tomboy youth, waded into the fray, punching anything that moved.
Eris grinned and clapped. This was more fun than Troy.
Aphrodite frowned as she watched the melee, then jumped when she realized someone stood uncomfortably close behind her.
“Hey, babe,” Hermes said softly in her ear. “Let’s blow this joint. If you ask nicely, I’ll even let you play with my sword.”
Aphrodite pursed her lips. “That’s not your sword. It’s Ares’, and it’s the one he uses for sticking boys. I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’m not a boy.”
She ran soft, electric fingers up Hermes’ spine, and knotted them in his curly brown hair. Hermes’ breath caught. The wings on his feet curled with pleasure.
“You’ll have to get your hands on his other sword,” she whispered in his ear. Her breath upon his ear brought goosebumps to his flesh. “It’s in there somewhere.”
With her fingers still twined in Hermes’ hair, Aphrodite pulled sharply and pitched him into the middle of the scuffle, where gods wrestled and slipped and beat each other bloody.
Aphrodite smiled and leaned back against a wall, safely out of harm’s way.
“Oh, Aphrodite,” Eris called sweetly from off to the side where Dionysus still snored.
“What now?” Aphrodite turned to face Eris, and found herself blinking through a thick, creamy foam. She wiped sticky meringue from her eyes.
“Oh look!” cried Eris with delight. “An anachronism! Eep!”
Hades hath no fury like a goddess pied; Aphrodite tackled Eris like a born wrestler. They rolled over Eros, who groped blindly at anything he could reach, and broke Dionysus’ chair, nearly spilling his wine. Bits of lemon meringue flew everywhere. Dionysus found another chair, pulled it away from the bulk of the fighting to the corner where Persephone sat biting her nails, and promptly fell back asleep.
Only to be woken abruptly by a fierce thunderclap. Spots floated in front of his eyes. “I was in Sparta!” he cried. “I’ve got witnesses who’ll back me up!”
Eris sat up, wiping blood and pie from her lips. “Hi, Pops,” she said with a gap-toothed grin.
Zeus towered over the Olympians. “What is the meaning of this?” Each word was tinged with lightning.
Everyone answered at once.
Eris rubbed her thumb and forefinger together, making cricket chirping sounds until Aphrodite slapped her hands. Zeus scowled at the assembly. “Athena? What’s going on?”
“It’s all Demeter’s fault. You see, she…”
“Demeter isn’t here.”
“Exactly. That’s why it’s her fault. You see…”
“If she’s not here, it can’t possibly be her fault.”
“No. You’re the oldest. You should know better. You’re responsible. Whatever the problem is, you take care of it.”
Athena’s spine stiffened. “There’s nothing in my job description…”
“YOUR JOB DESCRIPTION IS ANYTHING I SAY IT IS!”
“And that’s the last I want to hear about it. If you say another word, you’re going to be so sorry you’ll wish you were back in my head.”
Athena opened her mouth, then shut it.
Zeus nodded his head in dismissal. He turned away, grumbling into his beard. “Why did I ever let Edith talk me into writing job descriptions? Nothing good can ever come from job descriptions.” He took a deep breath, and turned to face the older Gods. “Hades. Poseidon. My dear brothers… If you are ever involved in anything like this again, we will have a brief lesson about why I’m in charge, and you’re… well, we won’t go there in front of the children. Let’s just say that a very hungry eagle has hatched some very hungry chicks.”
And then Zeus was gone in a haze of ozone, leaving the assembled gods and goddesses in stunned silence.
Athena straightened her helm and adjusted her clothing.
“Don’t worry,” Hermes said, the quicksilver boy sidling a little closer to Athena. “It’s a quick and easy fix, and I’m really good at quick. Yes, it’s a sacrifice, I know, but we all must do our parts for the greater good, and I’m here for you in your time of need.”
“You’re right,” Athena said, after a moment’s concentration. She stepped back to assess the quicksilver girl, Goddess of Thieves and Messengers, and now of a few other things. “That was quick and easy.”
Hermes’ hands moved in hesitant self-discovery, tracing unexpected curves. “Oh. Well. I suppose this could work, too.”