Chapter Fifteen: The Gifts
The sun peered shyly above the Long Island Sound. High in the sky flew the early birds, whistling a good morning tune to the waking world. Their high sopranos chorused with the chirp of the crickets and the gentle breaking of waves; it was as if the beauty of the day had come to life in sound. A delicate breeze filtered through the trees, cooling the warmth of the mid-summer day.
It was August third.
Camp Half Blood was notably calm that morning. The demigods slept soundly in their beds, at peace, for once, as nobody had suffered from nightmares. It seemed that Morpheus had treated them kindly that night. And now, as Hyperion awoke with a stretch, a yawn and the wink of a sunrise, the demigods slept on, cherishing their rare peace.
Quiet and tranquil, it remained this way for quite some time. The pegasi dozed gently in their stables; the nymphs napped comfortably in the branches of the woods and the naiads floated at ease in the canoe lake, resting their watery spirits.
And Olympus was glittering, of course, for its Queen was very excited.
Hera sat on the balcony of her chamber with a smile on her face. It was very rare that she felt excitement: having lived for many millennia, she had seen and experienced almost everything. She had never before, however, had a demigod child – let alone twins – and so she found herself often very excited by things that were happening in their lives.
The sunshine in the heavens shone like the love in her heart – bright and unconditional. Her eyes shone with pride as she watched the Seer Cloud, watching her children as they woke. Everyday she watched this and she never grew tired of it. Oh, how she cherished these twins.
How much longer must you wait?
"I am unsure," Hera said thoughtfully. "Perhaps I should wait until they retire for the evening…"
My lady, what of Zeus?
Now Hera turned sharply to face her peacock. "What of him?"
What will happen when he hears about your gift? He will know that you did it to spite him.
"Me? Spiteful?" A cold laugh escaped her lips. "I am never spiteful."
Lysander's tail feathers twitched.
"Oh, well, alright, perhaps I am a little spiteful on the odd occasion… but that is irrelevant. Zeus has his-"her lip curled, "-children… plenty of them, I might add, and now I have my twins. My children and my husband have nothing whatsoever to do with one another. Zeus may think whatever he wants about my gift to them. I find his opinion to be completely unimportant."
Lysander chirped softly. You are wise, my Queen.
"Zeus has convinced himself that he is the only one on Olympus of any importance. I, however, face greater powers."
Ouranos, he whispered.
"Exactly." The Queen of the Heavens reached out her arm and caressed the emerald tips of feathers, turning back to her Seer Cloud with an elusive smile. "Not long now, my prince and princess," she murmured as the images in the cloud shifted. "Not long now."
"I think I ate too much," grumbled Jacob. "I shouldn't have had that last plate of ribs."
"I told you you'd regret it," Thea chided.
"I really like ribs, though."
"I know. You eat about a hundred every day."
Jacob raised his eyebrow at his twin. "That's probably the worst insult I've ever heard."
"Give me a break," she muttered.
Jacob shook his head. It was roughly seven o'clock and they were sitting in a large group on the Long Island Sound, basking in the warmth of the evening sun. The day had flown by in a blur of heat, presents, training and food – the type of day that Jacob could live forever.
He looked down at his feet and smiled. Gone were his battered blue Vans, torn at the edges and stained with mud; now he wore a brand new pair of black and white Converse, the gift Thea had given him for their birthday. Being an orphan, Jacob had never really had a good birthday present and now he couldn't stop admiring his footwear.
Chiron had organized Jacob's present for Thea: a thick, leather A-Z of the gods and their stories. Jacob had sought his advice on where to find one two weeks earlier and Chiron had promised it would be in their cabin on the morning of their birthday, and it was. Thea had practically cried when she opened it… out of respect, Jacob had tried his hardest not to laugh.
"I could get used to all of this sunshine," voiced Lyra from behind the pages of a book called 'MOCKINGJAY'. "I was so hot before lunch that I skipped archery completely and headed for the canoe lake."
"Damn, I hadn't even thought to take a dip in the lake… I just sat in the shade and sweated. Next time I'm going swimming."
"The naiads were loving it, having so many boys around with their shirts off." She rolled her eyes. "They were flirting like mad. My sister and I just steered clear."
"Is your sister British, too?"
"No, she's from Michigan."
Lyra slipped back into 'MOCKINGJAY'. It was nice to talk to her again – ever since her boyfriend had returned from a quest she'd been spending a lot more time with him and less time relaxing on the Sound. Lyra was good company: she didn't talk too much and she didn't ask too many questions.
Jacob was just leaning forwards to brush some dirt off of his new shoes when he caught sight of a blonde head in the distance. He craned his neck for a better view but stopped when a small chuckle made him frown.
"What?" he said.
"You," she replied.
"What about me?"
"Oh, never mind," she smiled slyly.
"Um, okay." He turned to his sister and hesitated. "Thea… is it alright if I-"
"Yes but don't be out late," she told him.
"Hey, you're not my mom."
"I'm as good as. No, seriously," she lowered her voice. "Don't stay out late. I don't like being on my own in the cabin."
With that Jacob hopped to his feet and started to walk towards the blonde figure. As Ellie Raymond grew closer he saw that she was carrying a large Tupperware box. When she saw him she waved.
"Hey!" she grinned. "I was just coming to find you."
"Because-"she handed him the box, "-I made you a birthday present."
"You made me a present? Seriously?"
Ellie plopped down onto the grass and Jacob followed. He peeled the lid off of the box and opened up the foil inside, revealing what could only be described as a perfect mess of a chocolate-chip cookie. It looked like the mix had been enough to bake fifty individual cookies but instead it had been cooked as one giant heap. It was misshapen and resembled a heap of chocolate-chip Minotaur dung, and it was possibly the best thing Jacob had ever seen.
"Ta-da!" chimed Ellie, holding out a pink wax candle and lighting it with a match. Her smile made her eyes crinkle: she was proud of her handiwork. "So? What do you think?"
"It's awesome!" Jake smiled honestly. "Nobody's ever made me a birthday cookie before." He blew out the candle and broke off a piece of the heap, gesturing for Ellie to do the same.
Truth be told, the cookie tasted like heaven.
"Tilley from the Demeter cabin helped me bake this. She's really sweet, you know. I think she likes to help people. This would have been a disaster if she hadn't stepped in… I didn't have a recipe. I was just going to throw a bunch of ingredients together and hope for the best."
"It's a good thing she turned up, then."
"So what have you done today? 'Sweet Seventeen' and all that."
"Not a lot, really," he shrugged, "but it's been great. I woke up, Thea gave me some Converse, we ate breakfast, trained, lunch, trained, dinner, the Sound, and now I'm here."
"Sounds like a sweet day," Ellie praised. "Did Hera get you anything?
The idea of his mother getting him anything for his birthday hadn't even crossed his mind. "No. She's never got me anything before."
"No, my dad has never got me anything, either. It must be a god thing."
"Yeah, I bet it is."
For a while they sat in silence, eating cookie and watching the sun go down. Soon enough the conversation began again and they started talking about cookies and cakes and all things delicious.
They stayed blissfully like that for a long time.
Darkness had fallen suddenly. Thea Harman shuffled through the quiet campus, grumbling to herself about the humidity and what it would be dong to her hair. Her world was draped in a thin layer of negativity, for Thea was annoyed. Annoyed with Jacob because he'd left her to talk to that Ellie girl; annoyed with Matt Finley for not wishing her a happy birthday, and annoyed with herself for getting annoyed so easily.
Where was Jacob? She hadn't seen him for at least an hour since he'd disappeared with that blonde sissy. That was at least an hour ago and gods knows where they had gone.
Urgh, she thought. It was late. All she wanted to do was go back to the cabin and curl up with her new book. Maybe there would be a-
Thea froze. She didn't move. A sudden sound had disturbed the gloom of her thoughts – a sound she recognized and associated with panic.
"Zeus?" she shouted. "Zeus? Where are you, boy? Zeusy?"
Like a small golden bear, Zeus bolted around the corner of the forge and rammed straight into her, his bark loud like thunder.
"What's wrong, Zeus? What is it?"
"Is it Riley? Is he okay?"
"Show me where he is, boy. Come on, Zeus."
Zeus was a clever hound. He started running at full-pelt, Thea struggling to keep up with him, her chest tight with fear and lack of breath. They burst into the Olympian cabins and she looked around, frantic.
"Riley? Hello? Are you there?"
She jumped at the sound of his voice. She could see him now in the shadows of her cabin, waiting for her.
"Are you alright?"
"Yep, I'm fine. Did Zeus freak you out? Sorry. He gets a little over-excited sometimes. I swear he's just a pup inside."
Thea wheezed as she caught her breath and made her way towards him. "I thought you were in trouble or something."
"Me? In trouble? Never."
"Well then why did you send him to get me?"
"I thought it would be faster than me finding you."
"Oh, right." Thea sat down on the steps outside her cabin, feeling hot and stuffy. She fanned herself with her hand, which made no change.
"Where's your brother?"
"I don't know. Out with Ellie Raymond, I guess."
A silenced fell between them. The humid air became cooler and more comfortable, softened with a gentle breeze. The stars emerged from behind the clouds, winking at the moon with sly white eyes while Zeus rolled playfully on the grass.
Riley Hart cleared his throat and stepped out of the shadows, his hands behind his back and an unusual shyness about him.
"What?" Thea asked eventually.
Riley fidgeted and cleared his throat. "I've got you a birthday present."
He brought his arms out from behind his back: what he held was quite exquisite – a plant pot containing one blossomed flower. It was four inches tall and a magnificent shade of silver, orb-like and glowing, with its wide petals open and facing the moon. The plant shone and seemed to emit a glow of peace, for when she looked at it all of Thea's negativity disappeared. She took it gently in her hands like a child.
"You got this for me?"
Nodding, Riley scratched his ear and looked vaguely to her left. "It's called Lunalace. It blossoms at night and removes negative energy so that you have peaceful dreams. I figured, you know, being a demigod and everything, it might help you to sleep better…"
Thea gently touched one of the petals. "Riley, this is beautiful. I can't believe you got me this…"
"Thank you," she said sincerely.
Thea placed the plant pot on the steps and sat down again. "Are you okay?" she asked.
Riley rubbed his eyes. "I'm alright," he said. "Where are you?"
"Sitting down. Here-" She reached out and took his elbow, guiding him to sit beside her.
"Thanks," he said. "Had a nice birthday?"
"Oh, yeah, it's been great. My dads sent me a necklace."
"Is it nice?"
"Oh, yeah. It's long and gold with a little emerald gemstone shaped like a heart." She pulled the necklace from her blouse and placed it into his hand for him to feel. "The chain's really thin which is how I like my jewelry. It's very pretty."
Riley's hands moved delicately as he felt it before handing it back to her. "Pretty," he commented. "That's a nice present."
"My dads have a good eye for gifts. They only ever buy me one on my birthday but it's always something I really like. What about your parents?"
"… What about them?"
"Do they get you presents?"
"No, not really. The only time I've ever had contact with my mom was when she claimed me and – well, you know." He tapped his eyes. "Yeah."
"What about your dad? Doesn't he get you presents?"
Riley paused, looking out in Zeus' direction. "My dad doesn't, no."
A longer pause. "He's not around anymore."
Thea could have slapped her own stupidity. "Oh, Riley, I'm-"
"Don't say the 'S' word, please. It doesn't do any good." He sighed heavily. "You can't change the past. It's done."
Thea leant her head on his shoulder. "I'm sorry for bringing it up. I don't really think before I speak."
"If you ever want someone to talk to," she offered, "I'm a pretty good listener."
A humorless chuckle broke Riley's smile. "Thanks but I'm not much of a talker. Not like you."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Oh, nothing, nothing…"
Thea nudged him with her elbow and they both smiled. The night was warm and the topic of Riley's dad evaporated, leaving behind a gentle flow of thoughts and comments. It was a strangely comfortable place, sitting together with the Lunalace lighting their night.
They were at peace together.
By the time Ellie and Jacob had left the Long Island Sound, only a quarter of the cookie heap was left. Both of them were tempted to eat it but Jacob insisted that they didn't so that he could take it home for his sister. Coming from Jacob, that was dedication – nothing usually stood in the way of him and his food.
The two of them had spent most of the night at the lava wall, of all places, having races to see who could reach the top first. It was easy to determine who was the fastest since they were both running for their life, (it wasn't hard to do that when a fireball was aiming for your butt), and more often than not it was Jacob who won. He was, however, the most liable to get burnt.
Now Jacob was heading to his cabin and Ellie was heading to hers. He looked back into the distance but saw that she was already out of sight. Jacob sniffed the cookie tub and smiled.
It had been a very good birthday.
When he turned into the Olympian cabins, Jacob saw Zeus digging up a flower patch. Thea and Riley were sitting on the steps of cabin two. Apparently Riley was only there whilst Jacob wasn't because, as soon as they saw him, Riley called Zeus and they said goodbye to Thea.
As Riley passed him he said, "Happy birthday, man," and clapped him on the shoulders.
"Thanks, bro," Jacob returned, confused but not questioning.
Thea stood waiting for him by the steps.
"I saved you some birthday cookie that Ellie made. It's really good. It took a lot of effort to save. What's that plant?"
"Lunalace," Thea smiled as he handed her the cookie box. "It blossoms at night and helps you sleep peacefully. I was thinking about putting it on the bedside table between our bunks, so that it helps us both."
"Does that mean I'll stop having nightmares about marshmallows eating my head?"
"Then that's fine by me."
Jacob was just shaking off the memory of his odd nightmares when Thea opened the door of the cabin and squeaked in shock. "Jacob! Look, look!"
On each of their beds was a long, shiny golden package. For a moment they simply stood there frozen in the doorway, staring at the packages as if they were aliens. Then, suddenly, Jacob leapt at his, shouting, "There's a note! There's a note, Thea!
It was a small golden piece of paper with an inscription in emerald green. He peeled it off of the wrapping paper and held it to his eyes, taking a while for his dyslexic eyes to decipher the calligraphic, feminine writing.He read it aloud.
"Seventeen years you have lived undefended, though now the time has come for change. Protect yourself with this mastery, Anax, for only to you will its true powers be revealed. Treat it as a friend, for a friend will be ever faithful. – H."
"Mine doesn't say Anax," Thea frowned. "Mine says Bios."
Jacob looked at this sister and smiled. Seconds later he was tearing away the golden paper and was staring down at an exquisite birthday present.
It was a sword.
Oh, and it was such a handsome piece of weaponry… handsome but dangerous. A double-edged celestial bronze long-sword with a golden handle, encrusted with one large emerald green jewel. He lifted it and gasped at how perfect it felt in his hands, weight and balanced to his exact needs. The metal shone, glittering with beauty: Jacob's own reflection stared back at
"Damn…" he murmured.
"I know," Thea echoed quietly. In her hands she held a deadly spear, also fashioned from bronze and gold, encrusted with an emerald jewel. The spear literally looked perfect in her hands as if she was born to hold it.
"Damn," he repeated.
"It looks like Hera went out of her way to forge these. This crafting… it's immaculate. It has to be Cyclops-made."
"This is the best thing ever," Jacob whispered. He looked up at his sister with honest eyes. "No, seriously. I have my own sword. This is so – damn – cool. Wait, what's that?"
He looked at the base of the hilt where one small word was engraved into the gold: Anax.
"Bios," murmured Thea.
The twins stared at their gifts for a long time. "Thank you," Jacob murmured. "Thank you, thank you, thank you."
Thea stroked her hands along the streamline metal as if she couldn't believe she was really holding it.
"What do you think she means? In the note – 'only to you will its true powers be revealed'?" wondered Thea aloud.
Jacob thought briefly, turning the sword from side to side. "I think," he said conclusively, "that it means we've got a hell of a lot of training to do tomorrow."
They shared a sly, elusive smile that was reflected in the Heavens.
"My babies," whispered the Queen.
HELLO, I HAVE MISSED YOU.
I hope that this chapter is enough to satisfy your long (and unfair) wait for updates. I know I am a terrible author for being so inconsistent with this story, but I want you to know that even though there have been periods where I have not updated, I have never given up on this story. I have always known that chapters will be updated, even if it is an eventual updating, and that this story will be completed. I love the characters too much to abandon it. I can't promise you that I'll be updating every week or something like that, but I can promise you that I will not give up. I will not be able to rest until this story can be labeled "Completed".
To those of you who haven't noticed, I have removed the previous chapter. (It was the one where Riley and Ellie were sneaking out at night.) This was a difficult decision but one that I had to make in order to continue the story: I was making it too complicated for myself as a writer. This is a sub-plot I have been forced to remove. However, I can tell you that Riley and Ellie were not nor have they ever been romantically involved. It was a very small sub-plot – it would have only lasted a couple more chapters. If anybody wants to know where this was going to go, feel free to inbox me and I'll gladly tell you. (It's nothing special which is why I chose to remove it).
Also, thanks to reviews I have received it was brought to my attention that I had been using the Roman spelling Uranus instead of Ouranos. This horrified me as I always criticize people for confusing the Roman and the Greek gods… (Unfortunately I haven't read Heroes of Olympus yet, though it is on my 'TO-READ' list.)
Please review or message me on your opinions on this story and where it is going. It would be so lovely to hear from my dedicated readers again! I love y'all so damn much I can't even say! XD
*Minotaur-poop cookies to all of you*