"The best of things, beyond their measure, cloy;
Sleep's balmy blessing, love's endearing joy;
The feast, the dance; whate'er mankind desire,
Even the sweet charms of sacred numbers tire.
But Troy for ever reaps a dire delight
In thirst of slaughter, and in lust of fight."
-The Iliad, Book 13
Chapter 1: The Trojan War
It was a cloudless day in Greece at the base of Mount Olympus. A young man sat against the trunk of a laurel tree, leaning back so that his golden hair cascaded against the bark. His eyes were closed and he was humming a tune that he had undoubtedly just composed. When the last note fell from his lips, his eyes opened, revealing a startlingly shade of sapphire-blue. He caught sight of a crow, perched on the uppermost branch of the tree. The beady eyes of the bird returned his stare. A smile graced the features of the young man. "Come here, my friend!" he said in a melodious voice that would break the heart of any mortal. For this person was not just an ordinary young man; though he had the appearance of a man and the personality of a man, he was one of the twelve immortal Greek gods that resided above the peak of Mount Olympus.
The crow, sensing a friend in the god who had spoken, immediately flew down to the slender finger that the blonde had extended. With his other hand, he stroked the jet black feathers which covered the crow's head. The bird leaned into his gentle touch, and the god, happy to have made a new acquaintance, began to sing a new tune. He sang of the beautiful world and of all the wonderful creatures that roamed it. At the sound of his voice, animals began to creep out from the shelter of the woods. A wolf settled itself on his lap, a deer nuzzled his neck, and a swan waddled by his feet.
"A charming song," said a new male voice. "Why not play along to it on my lyre?"
The blonde looked up to see a second immortal hovering several feet above him, wearing winged sandals, a winged cap, and a wicked grin.
"It isn't 'your' lyre, Hermes," the first male said grumpily. "We traded fairly."
"I had just been born! I knew not what I was trading!" the one called Hermes contradicted, though a smirk was beginning to spread across his face. "I was told that angering the mighty Lord Apollo would lead to misfortune…"
"Well, you had just stolen my cattle."
"You know it was funny!" The winged god did a graceful flip in midair, grinning from ear-to-ear.
"I will not grace that nonsense with an answer. Don't you have messages to be delivering?"
Hermes winked cheekily, and with a flap of his wings was gone.
The blonde called Apollo sighed warily. Gently removing the wolf from his lap, he climbed to his feet in one graceful movement – only to realize that his bow and arrow, previously resting against the tree, was missing. The angry growl that emitted from his chest shook every tree in the forest to the very roots. "Hermes!" Apollo bellowed, and almost immediately he heard a musical laugh. Turning around, he caught sight of the young god peeking out from behind a bush, silver bow clutched in his hands, infamous mischievous grin twisting his lips. Quick as a flash, Apollo snatched a silver arrow from the quiver slung across his back and hurled it at Hermes, who dodged it quickly. "Fine!" conceded Hermes, instantly handing over the weapon. "You don't have to be so mean."
"You can't help yourself, can you?" questioned Apollo, swinging his beloved bow over his shoulder.
"I am the God of Thievery."
"Is there something you want?"
"To answer your question, Zeus has called a meeting." The thief stilled his wings and descended to the ground gracefully. His white tunic fluttered in the breeze.
"About what? Are the Cyclopes refusing to create thunderbolts again?" The question was sarcastic, but Hermes grinned. "Exactly. I forgot you had the gift of foresight."
Apollo was bathing in a nearby river, not very far from Troy, a city that he was a patron of. He was gently stroking the head of a swan, his favorite bird, when Hermes appeared. He sat, legs crossed, on top of the water. Apollo merely glanced up at the young god before resuming his task. "You need a haircut," the messenger announced.
"That's an interesting message," was the answer. "Did Zeus send you all the way here just to tell me that?"
It was true that Apollo's hair was very long, stretching down to his lower back, but he would never consider cutting it. It was one of the things he was famous for, something that set him apart from the other gods. No one else in Olympus had hair that was a shade brighter than the sun itself.
"No, actually," Hermes said, ignoring Apollo's sarcasm. "Zeus has called another meeting."
"What does he want now?" Apollo generally made it a top priority to stay out of his father's business.
"Greece has declared war on Troy."
Apollo sighed and wrung the water out of his hair. He had known that this day was coming, of course, but that didn't make him any more excited about it.
"There's one more thing," Hermes said, adjusting his winged cap. "Ares said something about wanting archery lessons."
At this, the blonde god snorted with laughter and finally looked up at the messenger. "Did you tell him to ask Artemis?"
Hermes smirked and cocked an eyebrow. "Ares learning archery from a girl? I don't think so."
Apollo smiled. "There are some who say that she can outshoot me."
As it turned out, it wasn't so much a meeting as it was a terrifically loud argument between the gods.
"We will not participate!" Zeus roared at the top of his voice, and on Earth a flash of lightning cut its way through the sky.
"Why shouldn't we?" demanded Poseidon. "This war has been destined to happen for years. Is it not your duty to carry out the will of Destiny?"
Zeus sputtered in his rage. "No! It is my duty – our duty – to ensure that destiny runs its course! It is the duty of the mortals to do the actual carrying-out!"
The other gods looked at each other in confusion, none of them being entirely sure what the king was trying to say. It was the eldest male god that finally spoke up. "Don't be ridiculous," Hades snapped at his brother. "They're mortals. How do you expect them to know what the will of Destiny is?"
In a flash, Zeus drew a thunderbolt from somewhere within his robes and threw it at the Lord of the Underworld. When the smoke cleared, the moody god was gone. Hermes chuckled.
"Don't be so immature," Athena spat at him. Hermes immediately sobered, for Athena was the favorite child of Zeus, and to anger Athena was to anger her father. But the messenger needn't have bothered, because it soon became apparent that Athena was already quite upset.
"This is entirely your fault!" she seethed, whirling around to face Aphrodite.
"My fault?" was the response, as the speaker examined her nails in a lazy manner. "I can't be blamed for knowing how to please men."
It was the prince of Troy that the goddess of love spoke of, a mortal who went by the name of Paris. Upon finding a golden apple at the wedding of Zeus' grandson, into which were inscribed the words "To the fairest", Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite asked the young, witless prince to judge which of three deserved the apple. Athena offered the prize of a soldier's skills; Hera, the status of a great emperor; Aphrodite, the love of the most beautiful woman on the planet. Aphrodite was the immediate winner.
"As far as I'm concerned, both of you are to blame." Apollo, normally quiet during arguments, decided to speak up. At his words, both of his sisters rounded on him with rage painted across their lovely faces. "You didn't have to claim the apple," he continued in a logical voice, for he was also the god of reason.
"What's done is done," Zeus interrupted, bringing silence to the room. "And I refuse to take any part of it." He turned to face his wife, Hera, who sat next to him in stony silence, and his daughters, both of whom continued to glare at Apollo. "Apollo is right. This is your mess," he declared. "And I will not clean it up. If you must interfere, do it yourselves." And with that, he stalked from the room.
Seven of twelve gods opted to remain in the room to watch the developments on Earth. Apollo had left immediately after the departure of the king, preferring not to take part in the activities of his family. Hermes had went to visit Odysseus, a Greek meant to be a hero in the upcoming Trojan War.
"The Greeks will set sail in ten days," Poseidon said.
"Not if I have anything to say about it," Artemis, Apollo's twin sister and the goddess of hunting, said in a grumpy voice. Agamemnon, the commander-in-chief of the Greek army, had prayed and made sacrifice to eleven of the twelve gods. Artemis was the sole goddess that was left out. "Aphrodite, what is the dearest thing to Agamemnon's heart? What is that which he loves the most?"
A half-smile made its way onto Aphrodite's lips. "His daughter," she replied simply. "Who goes by the name of Iphigenia."
"The Greeks will not sail until a sacrifice has been made in my name," the hunter goddess declared, and with that said she dove from the heavens down to Earth.
"This will be one of the greatest wars in the history of time," Ares, the god of war, said in a solemn tone. Before anyone could reply to the statement, Hermes appeared in a whirl of feathers and gold.
"Odysseus is on his way to Scyros," he announced with a grin, emerald eyes flashing with glee.
"That's cheating!" Aphrodite, who was on the Trojan's side in order to protect Paris, cried out in anger.
"You know that Achilles is destined to fight in this war," Hermes retorted impatiently. "We and Odysseus are among the only people who know that he is in hiding. How else is he supposed to participate?"
Aphrodite scowled but remained silent, much to the pleasure of the second youngest god.
Achilles' mother was Thetis, a water nymph. She foresaw that her son was destined to die in the great Trojan War. In order to prevent this, she sent him in to hiding, disguised as a lady-in-waiting at the Court of Scyros. Only she and the gods knew of the scheme. Hermes, knowing that the scales would tip greatly in favor of the Greeks if Achilles were to join the war, passed the secret on to Odysseus. The war was progressing rapidly.
Exactly ten days later, the Greeks set sail in the amount of one-thousand ships. Artemis had claimed Agamemnon's daughter as her own, and the girl was now working as a servant in her temple. All twelve gods watched as the Greeks reached the shores of Troy. The fight for the beach didn't last long, and soon the Trojan army was retreating behind their walls.
"The Greeks will never be able to get through those walls," Poseidon said proudly. "I built them myself."
"We know," Zeus responded in a dry tone. "It was I who ordered you to do so."
Just as the gods were getting ready to leave the room, Ares caught sight of a group of soldiers heading towards Apollo's temple, which was only a few leagues away from the ocean. "Uh oh," the god of war said, effectively catching the attention of his family members, who doubled back to see what was happening.
Apollo watched, stunned, as the Greeks ransacked his temple, taking several priests as slaves.
"I think the Trojans just gained another ally," his twin sister murmured to Ares with a small smile. As they spoke, Apollo took up his bow, his face set in an expression that meant horror for those who fell beneath it.
Indeed, that night Apollo descended to the highest hill that overlooked the Greek campground. His beauty was terrible in the moonlight. Golden hair and blue eyes were as bright as fire. He nocked his bow with a poisoned arrow and let it soar directly into the center of the camp. Satisfied with his work, he perched on top of a boulder and waited for the sun to rise.
Wretched coughing was the first sign that the camp was beginning to wake. Immortal eyes zeroed in on the first Greek to crawl out of his tent. Sand ran between his grasping fingers and coated to his sweating legs. He heaved another cough, and blood sprayed the ground.
Within the hour, Agamemnon called a meeting. "What is this plague that has been inflicted upon my army?" he roared. "What sorcery is this?"
Calchas, an oracle, was the one to step forward. His eyes were wide with fear. "My Lord," he called. "This is the work of the gods. They are angry with us." A rumble of murmurs was aroused at this statement. Before Agamemnon could reply, Apollo lifted himself from the boulder and made his way into the camp.
"Agamemnon," he called forth to the platform upon which the king stood.
The man's squinty eyes focused on the man before him. "Who are you?" he snapped.
Apollo's eyes narrowed and he fingered the silver bow slung over his shoulder. Behind him, the soldiers were silent.
"You allowed your men to go through my temple as if my treasures were ordinary spoils of war. You have taken my loyal priests as slaves and have disrespected everything I stand for. I have cast a plague upon your army. Tomorrow, I expect my priests to be returned to their families and my treasures to be returned to the temple." And without waiting for a response, the god turned on his heel and made his way back to Mount Olympus.
The following year passed quickly for the Olympians, but for the Greeks and Trojans it was the polar opposite. Casualties resulting from Apollo's plague ran high. The beach was filled with rotting bodies, blow flies, and the stench of death. Nearly half of the once-massive Greek army had fallen victim to the illness. Finally, exactly a year later, the curse was lifted.
Apollo was sitting in his temple, leaning against a statue that depicted his own likeness. He didn't look up when Hermes appeared, but merely tilted his head in greeting. Hermes took this as a sign to begin talking.
"Ares wants you to come home. The Greeks plan to lay a siege on the Trojan wall and he thinks their archers may need you."
Hermes paused before venturing, "Did you know that it was Achilles who led the raid on your temple?"
At this, the blonde god looked up. Hermes continued, "They say he has no faith. He believes that no one, not even the gods, can kill him."
"Then it would teach him a lesson if he were to be killed by a god, wouldn't it?"
Every day thereafter, the Trojan War was closely observed by Apollo, who was now in favor of the Trojans. He guided their archer's arrows, and his work was aided by Ares, Aphrodite, and Hephaestus.
The day came when Hector slew Achilles' lover, thus sealing his fate to die at the hands of the Greek warrior. Hector fought and died bravely, but Achilles shocked both the Trojans and the gods when he stole the prince's body.
"What is he doing?" Athena finally demanded. She had always been fond of Hector, and this act of brutality was hard for her to stand.
Zeus, despite his self-proclaimed neutrality, decided to take charge. "Hermes," he said in his loud voice. "When night falls, I want you to go to Priam. Lead him to the Achilles' tent. When he collects the body of his son, make sure that he returns to Troy safely."
Hermes nodded that he understood the orders, and when darkness enveloped the city of Troy, he appeared inside the king's chambers. "My king," he whispered, for the elderly man was asleep. When he jerked awake and saw who was hovering over his bed, his eyes widened to the size of saucers. "I am here to take you to your son's body," Hermes said softly, grasping the man's hand and helping him out of bed. Not a word was spoken during the entire journey. When they arrived at the flap of Achilles' tent, Hermes nodded for the king to go inside. "I will wait out here."
As soon as the king was inside, Apollo appeared next to the messenger god. Although he was among the wisest and most respected of the gods, he looked at that particular moment like the temperamental, eternally-youthful teenager he was. "I wish I could kill him now," the blonde hissed, staring at Achilles' tent like it had done him a great wrong. "He is a speck of dirt upon this beautiful planet."
Hermes sighed. "Apollo…" he began, but the blonde interrupted.
"He disrespects the gods, he disrespects our custom, he rapes and pillages and –"
"That's what war is, and he is a war hero," Hermes snapped.
Apollo glared at the younger god for a second before sighing to himself. "I curse him, and that from which he came." As he spoke, Priam and Achilles himself appeared from within the tent. Achilles spotted the two gods.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
Apollo's beautiful face was contorted with hate. "I am the one whose hands you will die at."
Hermes laid a hand on his friend's arm. "I am Hermes, messenger herald of the Olympian gods, and this is Apollo, bearer of light and master of archery. You need not introduce yourself; we know who you are, Achilles, hero of war." Deciding to ignore Achilles for now, Apollo turned to Priam. He held out one of his hands. "It is a pleasure to meet you, great king. You are greatly admired by the gods. It is with pride that I protect your city." Tears filled the old king's eyes, and he laid his hand in Apollo's, who covered it with his remaining hand. "Your archers will always shoot straight and true, and your people will stand strong and healthy," Apollo promised, and the king clutched his hands tightly. After these words were spoken, a third person appeared from within the tent. This time, it was a young girl, donned in the virgin robes worn by those who served Apollo. When she saw said god standing directly before her, she froze. Hermes buried his youthful face in his hands, knowing that she had just evoked Apollo's wrath.
Apollo stared at the newcomer. "You claim to be my servant, yet you lay beside this Greek, enemy of your people?" he asked incredulously, blue sparks flying from his eyes. Turning to the king, he said, "No longer let this girl serve in my temple. She will bring bad fortune to your city." Dropping the king's hand, Apollo gave his full attention to the servant. "Explain yourself!" he demanded. When she didn't respond for fear, he pointed at Achilles and coldly declared, "You will die upon his grave."
He turned on his heel, dragging Hermes with him.
"Nobody asked you to come," Hermes muttered, wrenching his arm out of Apollo's iron-like grip.
"Hera and Zeus were fighting again," Apollo said by way of explanation. "It was starting to annoy me. I had to get out of the palace."
"Oh great," Hermes groaned, emerald eyes rolling towards the heavens. Apollo understood his dilemma. Hermes was often a tool used by both Hera and Zeus – Hera sent him on errands to find out which lovers Zeus was meeting, and Zeus had Hermes device elaborate lies to tell his wife about where he had been.
Several moments passed in silence before Hermes suddenly smacked his forehead. "I was supposed to make sure that Priam got home safely!"
"He will." There was nothing but certainty in the archer's voice, and Hermes immediately relaxed.
Apollo suddenly stopped in his tracks, tilting his head up towards the sky so that his blonde hair nearly reached his thighs. "The stars are beautiful tonight," he said in the softest of tones. His voice, no longer angry, reminded Hermes of how it sounded when the older god sang in his temple. Animals and people alike would come to listen.
"I swear on Zeus that you are bipolar," Hermes said under his breath as Apollo sat down, settling himself in the sand.
"Do not swear upon our father," Apollo teased, a smile forming upon his lips. "'Tis bad luck."
Hermes sighed and took a seat next to his best friend. Apollo lay back, still gazing at the clear sky. Hermes followed suit, making sure not to lie down on any stray strands of his friend's hair. As they watched, a quick flash of lightning, invisible to the human eye, flashed across the sky. Underneath them, the ground rumbled slightly. "Poseidon must have joined the fight," Hermes murmured.
"What else is new," Apollo replied sleepily.
Within the hour, the two gods were sound asleep.
When Apollo awoke, the first thing he noticed was that his chest was warm – very, very warm. His nostrils were flooded with the earthy scent of saffron. Wait. What?
"Oh, look how adorable," a familiar voice crooned, and the god of light finally lifted his head. He cried out in pain when his face was smashed into something hard. He instantly leapt to his feet, holding his bleeding nose. He found himself standing next to a laughing Aphrodite. The sound of groaning drew his attention to the ground. When he saw who was lying there, he realized what had happened.
Hermes had fallen asleep on his chest, and now Aphrodite was laughing at them both.
"Don't you ever take that ridiculous thing off?" Apollo asked grumpily, referring to the winged cap that the messenger was still wearing and that was responsible for his aching face.
"I didn't know you liked to cuddle," Aphrodite added.
"What are you talking about?" Hermes asked, rubbing his eyes. Even though his hair was full of dirt and his tunic was filthy, he still looked beautiful in the morning light.
"You dented my face," Apollo said dryly, attempting to hide the fact that for the first time, he was admiring the sight of the young god in a less-than-innocent manner.
Aphrodite, trying (and failing) to smother her giggles, said, "Father was looking for you, Hermes. He has messages for you to deliver."
"Fine," was his groggy response, and with another giggle she turned around and disappeared on the spot with a flash of red light.
Apollo scowled at the spot where she had been standing before turning around and seeing that Hermes was climbing to his feet. Apollo flashed a smile at him. "I suppose you should probably get going."
Hermes grinned back, suddenly looking like the malicious imp that had stolen Apollo's cattle. He disappeared with a beat of his wings. Apollo looked around warily. That infamous smile of Hermes' usually meant that something of his had gone missing. His bow and quiver were still strapped to his back. He patted his robes, feeling for his lyre. It was still there.
Apollo raised an eyebrow. This is unusual.
And then, before he knew what was happening, a fistful of sand was being hurled into his face.
Apollo cried out in fury, desperately rubbing at his eyes. He didn't have time to prepare himself for the next assault, which was directed at the back of his head. "You insolent brat!" Apollo screamed, clutching at his hair with both hands. The golden tresses were full of sand.
The messenger appeared directly in front of him, laughing so hard there were tears in his emerald eyes. Apollo glared at him, his beautiful eyes reddened from the gritty sand.
Hermes instantly sobered under that icy look. "Sorry," he mumbled.
Apollo, seeing that his friend was contrite, visibly relaxed. "Just don't do it again, or I might have to kill you."
"I sincerely doubt that," Hermes snorted. "You love me too much." And with those words and one last malicious grin, he vanished.