The events in this chapter occur before the second chapter of "Leaps and Bounds."
Chapter 2: Hera
"Someone should go check on 'er. And by someone I mean you, Zola."
"You're her brother, why don't you go check on Diana?"
"You're her friend and a girl to boot. It makes more sense for you to go."
Hera rolled her eyes. The back and forth nonsense between Lennox and Zola had been going on for the larger part of fifteen minutes. She used to hate them both, wanted nothing more than their slow, painful deaths. Once she'd moved in with the brain dead floosy and the stoned-faced fool, her hatred of them intensified and she really wanted to see them dead.
Yet time . . . and mortality had a way of mellowing even the most righteous of misunderstood women. So her hatred had morphed into intense dislike and that had changed into depressed acceptance until she felt only mild annoyance at having her fate and future linked to theirs. It was a most humbling experience. A fate not fit for a queen.
But I'm no longer a queen, am I? Apollo made sure of that, exiling me from my home, my family and stripping me of all that I was.
She ran a hand down the front of her green silk dress - Hera's favorite color. It was a lovely gown that clung to her every curve, showing her ample bosom to best advantage, and it should have made her feel beautiful, made her stand out above all others. Yet it was just fabric, incapable of creating in Hera all that she'd used to be and would unlikely ever be again.
No longer Queen Hera, goddess of marriage and women.
She missed her peacock cloak though, no green silk garment or any other would ever do.
"Perhaps," she said, turning her gaze and body away from the open balcony and the London landscape and onto Zola and Lennox, the duo sitting beside each other on the couch, "I should inquire after Diana."
They stared at her, their wide eyes saying they'd forgotten she'd shared the same room as them, had been privy to their asinine, circular conversation.
Then they looked at each other and burst into the type of mocking laugher Hera neither liked nor appreciated. They were raucous and gauche and she wanted nothing more than to strike them both with the palm of her hand.
It was times like this Hera missed being a goddess. No one dared mock her then. And if they did, the penalty was swift and fitting.
Like a flogging or the removal of an impertinent tongue.
"I may be made outta stone, but your heart is made of ice." Lennox considered her, his eyes squinting in the midday light streaming in from the open balcony doors. "You're not as frosty as you used to be but you and Diana aren't exactly mates."
Hera glowered at Lennox. Who was he to comment on the state of her heart? Just because she tried to kill him, Zola, and Zola's baby, that didn't make her cold and unfeeling. It was called embracing one's passion. And what would a stone man know of passion? Of hurt and betrayal that burrowed so deep within a woman's heart it became a living breathing dragon of scorn and revenge that scorched all in its path?
"Yeah, you're the last person Diana needs to talk to. No offense, Hera, but you lack a little something called empathy."
"And what do you know of empathy, Zola? Where was your empathy when you bedded my husband?"
The girl had the good grace to blush with embarrassment before her face heated red with anger.
"I told you," she gritted out, "I didn't know he was married."
"You also told me it most likely would not have mattered, which means you've knowingly taken married men to your bed before. That makes you both stupid and a whore."
Hera waited for the waif to sputter some human vulgarity at her. Zola knew plenty and wasn't one to hold her tongue. To her surprise, Zola did now. Although her low growling and baring of teeth told Hera the girl was holding on by a thread.
Hera smiled, then frowned when Zola admitted, "It was wrong of me to sleep with married men. I knew it then but I didn't care. I know it now and I'm ashamed. I had little respect for myself back then, which meant I had even less for others."
Zola relaxed back against the cushions of the couch, the anger having drained from her during her bad-girl reformed speech.
Hera watched Zola and waited for her typical snide remark, letting her know she hadn't meant a thing she'd just said. But there was nothing; she was just a small, blonde girl who, when not blustering, was nothing more than a babe.
That simple fact grated. Hera didn't want to view Zola as a victim of Zeus. Like all the others, he'd come to her in the guise of a human male, his godly magic and pheromones making it difficult for most women to resist. Then he would disappear, leaving a child in far too many wombs.
Children like Lennox and Zola's kidnapped baby. Children like the Amazon Princess.
"I'm sorry," Hera heard the soft voice say. "I never said it before, but I am sorry."
Stunned, Hera could only watch as Lennox draped his arm around Zola's thin shoulders and hugged her. He whispered something in the girl's ear that had her nodding her head and giving a wan smile.
She turned away from them. The scene taking hold of a heart everyone believed to be nonexistent. It wasn't. Of course it wasn't. For if it were, the easy way Zola, Lennox, and Diana interacted with each other wouldn't hurt so much.
She cursed that wretched organ for betraying her, too. Why should she care if they thought her a burden to be born rather than a friend to be hugged, to be trusted?
It shouldn't have.
But it did.
Damn them both to Tartarus.
While Lennox and Zola spoke quietly to each other, Hera left the living room in search of Diana.
Two minutes later, she stood in front of Diana's closed bedroom door, hand on the knob and ready to push it open.
She paused. Took a deep breath, and knocked.
Diana glanced up from where she sat on the floor, a myriad of sharp weapons surrounding her.
Hera gulped, reconsidering the wisdom of approaching an armed Diana. Maybe Lennox and Zola were correct. What did she know of empathy? And the unwelcoming way Diana looked up at her did nothing to squelch her fear or firm her resolve.
She closed the door and stepped closer.
"What are you doing?"
"Sharpening my blades."
Of course she was, because that's what all women did on a Saturday afternoon. She's an Amazon, what did I expect?
"Why are you here? What do you want?"
There was an angry bite to Diana's tone Hera hadn't heard since the day Diana had brought her home. Back then, a rabid Centaur would've received a more cordial welcoming. Yet Diana had softened toward her. Hera wasn't fool enough to believe the woman actually liked her, but they had settled into a somewhat comfortable co-existence. And she keeps me in fine gowns and expensive shoes, indulging me if not liking to do so.
Today was different, however. Back were the hostile glares and long silences. Lennox and Zola thought Diana upset. She'd disappeared for hours yesterday and when she'd returned her mood was as foul and as dark as the River Styx. They worried for her; hence, their overlong debate about which of them should seek Diana out. They had every right to be concerned, for Diana, while sensitive, didn't give in easily to melancholia or even unguarded hostility.
And while Lennox and Zola thought Hera the last person to approach an out-of-sorts Diana, she knew herself to be the perfect person. Because Diana's anger, for whatever reason, was subtly directed toward her. They would have realized that if they hadn't been so relieved to see that she had returned.
But Hera had caught the way Diana had glared at her when she'd first entered the house. And she had known, in that indescribable moment, a terror greater than her own mortality. Amazon hatred had glittered in Diana's too blue eyes and the brutal waves of her hardened gaze had slammed into Hera, crashing in with a fierce momentum that nearly sent Hera to her knees.
Then Diana had smiled down at Zola, her stern body relaxing into the bear hug Zola had wrapped her in. But those eyes, they had remained the same.
The same way she is looking at me now. What have I done to wrong her?
"The others are worried about you. I thought I would come up to see if there is anything you need."
Diana picked up a short sword, and, not for the first time since entering Diana's lair, Hera questioned her sanity to remain.
She retreated a step.
Diana began sharpening the blade with some kind of grit stone.
"Tell them I'm fine." She gestured with her chin to the door behind Hera. "You can go now."
Hera wanted nothing more than to extricate herself from Diana's volatile presence, but something in the way she reverently sharpened the blade reminded her of someone.
Without moving, Hera watched as Diana silently tended to her weapons, treating each fine piece as if it were a craftsmen's masterpiece. Hephaestus would be proud.
Then Hera recognized the sword. And while she couldn't be certain, she thought it to belong to Hippolyta. Her eyes shot around Diana's sparsely decorated bedroom, her eyes falling on a marble planter on a windowsill. Inside the planter was a rare plant that only grew on . . . Themyscria.
Hera's gaze swung back to Diana. She hadn't moved.
She's been home. No wonder . . .
Memories flooded her- memories that came far too often in nightmares of regret, nightmares of shame.
She was dressed in her exquisite cloak of peacocks and nothing more. She was hurt and angry and intent on revenge. Hippolyta had betrayed her. Zeus had needed no disguise with the Amazon Queen. He'd come to her as the god he was. Hippolyta had knowingly chosen to lay with him, to cast aside her fidelity to her goddess in exchange for congress with a male who knew not how to be faithful. Not to me or any other.
"You have offended me," Hera had said to Hippolyta.
Eyes cast down, the betrayer appeared genuinely repentant. It had mattered not to Hera.
"That was never my intention, goddess."
"Respect? Now? Please, Hippolyta . . . after what you've done?"
"I did it to protect my daughter."
Unable to countenance any excuses, Hera had screamed, her rage palpable and all-consuming. "My husband's daughter! My husband's! I am Queen of the Gods . . . The Goddess of Women . . . Ultimately yet, a woman." Her voice had softened but never her heart, her pain. "Your intentions . . . I could care less. It follows a fact, and that's what angers me. Why Hippolyta? Why would you do this to me? To another woman? What did he say to make you love him? What can I do to make him . . ."
The other Amazons had appeared then, practically soundless in their approach. Even at her lowest, Hippolyta still garnered the loyalty of the warrior women. Hera had never known such loyalty, not from her husband or even her children.
And when Hippolyta prostrated herself on her hands and knees before her and asked for Hera's forgiveness, she felt powerful and justified and unaccountably sorrowful.
Stepping around Diana and to the potted plants, Hera fingered one green leaf. She knew this plant well. It prevented conception.
She glanced over her shoulder at a still-seated Diana. The young woman was mourning her loss all over again. And Hera had seen it the first time. From her throne, she'd watched as Diana dropped to her knees and begged her mother for forgiveness. But Hippolyta could no more grant forgiveness than Hera could. Stone doesn't speak. And a stone heart can't forgive.
Then there was Diana, a woman without a mother.
"I did it to protect my daughter." Hippolyta's words gripped Hera in a vice. She'd also tried to protect her child. My first born. But she couldn't keep him. There had been forces bigger than Hera that was at work. I had to let him go.
But Hippolyta had managed to keep her child, her first and only born. Because if I had known, I would have killed her. She knew this to be true. She'd done it before; she tried to do the same to Zola's baby. But Diana was there to protect her. Always there. But not for her mother. How that must burn. Too late. You were too late to keep me from my revenge.
That thought no longer held the same sweet taste, not when the only remaining Amazon sat on a wooden floor sharpening her dead mother's sword. Even now, even as she probably had the lingering image of her mother turned to stone and sisters turned to snakes in her mind, Diana permitted the woman who'd taken so much from her to remain in her dwelling, to stand behind her and trust she would do her no harm.
That was the kind of woman Hippolyta had raised. Hera had never felt much pride in her own children. They were far too much like her and Zeus. But staring down at Diana, her back erect and hands moving with practiced ease, Hera couldn't help the pride that washed over her.
She knew she should apologize. She owed Diana more than that and knew not how she could return what she'd taken. She should be the one kneeling in supplication to a woman far wiser than she'd ever been in her thousands of years of existence. She knew. She. Knew.
But she couldn't do it.
She couldn't do something as simple, as mortal as apologize. The way Zola did. Perhaps Lennox is right. My heart must be made of ice.
Turning back to the planter, Hera lifted it into her hands, walked passed Diana, and exited the somber room.
She might not yet know how to apologize, but she did know how to make tea from a plant.
Somewhere there was a man whose affection Diana held in such regard that she'd braved a dead and desolate Themyscria to retrieve the herb. The least Hera could do was help the romance along.
Maybe, just maybe, Diana and her lover-to-be will get it right. Be better than me. Than Zeus. Than Hippolyta.
Smiling, Hera walked down the steps, wondering who had captured the Amazon's heart and would soon reap the benefits of her god gifted body.
Maybe I should contact Eros. Surely, he must know.
Chapter 3: Lennox