The six year old urchin with the wild blonde hair sped through the market place, several cart-lengths ahead of the pursuing constabulary. He felt the familiar mix of exhilaration and fear in the chase. Not daring look over his shoulder, he darted between stalls and around shoppers, trying to lose himself in the crowd.
Turning to look over his shoulder, he ran headlong into a solid but softly silky object and bounced backward.
"Careful!" said a sweet voice as gentle hands caught him before he could fall.
He looked up into the beautiful face bending over him. Instead of the contempt and scorn he was usually confronted with, in her expression he saw concern and compassion. She wore a simple blue dress, large around her ample middle heavy with child.
"Sorry, miss," he puffed, catching his breath. When she placed a hand on her belly, he felt a twinge of guilt. "Did I hurt--?"
"No. No, he's fine," she assured him. "See?"
Before he could protest, she caught his small hand in hers and laid it to her bulging waist. Against his palm, he felt a small jump, like a tiny fist. At the same instant a strange feeling thrilled through the whole of his body from head to toe, as if he were a metal rod grazed by lightning.
The mother-to-be smiled at the look of astonishment on the child's grime-streaked face. "I think he likes you."
"MAKE WAY!" roared a not-so-distant voice, accompanied by the rapidly approaching thunder of booted feet.
"Gotta go," exclaimed the boy, darting around the startled woman and running as fast as his small legs could carry him down the street.
"I think I see him!" bellowed the voice. "This way, men!"
The child thief dodged into a shop, plowed his way between the startled merchant's legs, then bounced up and out the open window into an adjoining street.
"In here," hissed a dark-haired man who quickly stepped aside to let the boy pass. As he sped into the alley, the stranger moved smoothly back into place in front of the entrance. When the militia appeared moments later, he pointed further down the street and said helpfully, "That way, officers!"
They followed his false lead without question.
"Amateurs," he murmured with disgust.
"Enjoy your fun while you can, Hermes," said Ares as he materialized beside his half-brother. "The boy is mine."
"His father was one of my best generals. The boy will grow up to be one of my warlords." The God of War sneered. "Not a common thief."
"Hardly common," replied Hermes with a thoughtful expression. "He has a natural talent for it. With a little tutelage, he could become King of Thieves."
"Dream on, flyboy! His father dedicated him to War at his birth."
"So? His mother and uncle dedicated him to Artemis."
"Who in their right mind would choose to be a Hunter when they could become the most powerful Warlord in the world?" demanded Ares. "Look somewhere else for your King of Thieves, Hermes." His expression darkened in clear warning. "The brat is mine!" With a flick of his wrist, he vanished.
"Is he? We'll see what the Fates decide," shrugged Hermes as he, too, disappeared.
Turning the street corner, Alcmene gave a little gasp as a strong wind from the alley buffeted her, tugging at her clothing and tangling her long blonde hair. She dropped her basket and placed her hands protectively on her swollen belly, as if the wind might harm the child sleeping within. A kick of protest made her wince.
"There, there," she whispered soothingly. "It's only a bit of hot air."
She could feel the babe shift in her womb then settle, as if in understanding. Her baby. Her son. For a boy it would be, of that she was certain. He was the son of Zeus, after all.
"You will do great things," she told him. "Good things."
So Alcmene believed with all of her heart, just as she believed that, one day, her son might change the world and those within it for the better. Only the Fates understood that he had already begun his journey with the simple touch of a small, blonde-haired urchin racing down the path to self destruction.