Nike looked at me for a long moment and then pulled me to the couch against the far wall. When I started to protest, she stood firm. “You said we should get comfortable, Lady Hera, and the couches are more comfortable than the tables.” I couldn’t fault her logic, so I just patted her hand and sat in the corner while the girls settled next to me.
“I’m afraid I don’t really know where to start.”
Nike looked at me like I’d grown a second head. “Start at the beginning, obviously. Why do you hate him?”
Moxie brought a hand to her face and giggled.
“Of course, little one. The beginning.” I trailed off and attempted to gather my thoughts. “I hate him because he should never have been born.” The girls gasped in surprise. “None of Zeus’s extra children should have been born. Unfortunately, by the time he’d married me, he was already used to having affairs. It took many, many painful years to get him to stop sleeping around. I might have given up on him if I wasn’t so stubborn.”
I waved one of my hands dismissively. “But the story of my marriage is not the story I will tell today. Suffice it to say that while we were working through the kinks, several children were born that should never have been. Alcaeus was the worst of them.”
Nike blinked. “Whoa.”
Moxie gasped. “But, but you love children, Mamá.”
“I love my children, of course. Zeus’s mortal children are not mine and will never be my children. Thus they never should have been born.”
Nyx walked into the room, her silver braids bouncing against her shoulders. “That’s unfortunate to hear, Hera. All children are precious and should be protected.”
Moxie canted her head to the side and listened. Nike in agreement with Nyx.
“I don’t expect you to understand, Nyx. Can I continue my story?” Nyx bowed her head slightly in my direction and sat on the couch next to Nike. I wrapped my arms around myself. “I blame Athena for this as well.”
The confusion on Nike’s face was going to become a permanent fixture. “But why, Lady Hera?”
“Because she tricked me, little one.”
“Oh, bad move,” Moxie hissed under her breath.
Nike gasped. “How?”
“I knew Zeus had been with the mortal Alcmene, but she had twins, and I couldn’t be sure if one or both were Zeus’s. I had prayed that neither would have been, but that prayer was ignored. So I put two snakes into their crib one night to kill them. Iphicles started crying at the very sight, but Alcaeus strangled them in an instant. This confirmed that, yet again, I had to live with another reminder of Zeus’s uncontrolled passions.”
I rubbed my hands roughly over my arms, reminding myself that Zeus was no longer unfaithful. “It was around this time that Zeus and I started going through a particularly good period. I don’t know if he was distracting me on purpose, but I wasn’t paying much attention to the mortal world. Not long after the snake incident, Alcaeus’s mother set him in the woods, apparently hoping to avoid my wrath. Had I known about it, I would have taken his life and been done with him.”
Moxie leaned forward a little, nodding. Nike just blinked. Nyx sat as still and silent as the night. It was unnerving, to say the least.
“Athena, that treacherous heifer goddess, found him and brought him to me to protect, knowing that I was fond of protecting innocent children and wouldn’t want one to die. She didn’t tell me who he was, and I nursed him at my breast.”
Moxie inhaled a sharp breath, her eyes wide.
“Soon after he started nursing, he bit my nipple. Angry and in pain, I jerked him away from my body by his ankle, spilling my milk into the sky. I think the mortals call it the Milky Way now.”
Moxie reflexively covered her breasts with her hands and winced.
I sighed. “Unfortunately, even though it was a small amount, the milk that he ingested gave him even more strength and power.”
The girls nodded to each other. “Because you’re strong,” Moxie said.
“And powerful,” Nike added.
“Still not knowing who he was, I gave him to Athena and told her to bring the fool child back to his mother. It wasn’t until many years later, I think during one of his trials, that Athena was drunk and laughing with another god about how she tricked me into nursing one of Zeus’s mortal children.”
I paused and smiled as my favorite grandson, Dinlas, stepped into the room. “I hope I’m not interrupting, Nana. I heard you talking in the hall and had to come in. I haven’t heard one of your stories in so long.”
I waved him to a spot on the couch, but he pulled up a chair next to Nyx instead. “Of course not, sweet boy. You are always welcome.” He smiled at me, and I saw a sparkle in his black eyes.
Moxie turned back to me and whispered, “Athena.”
I sighed. “Yes, Athena. I couldn’t do anything to her at that time because that was when my foolish son, Hephaestus, locked me in that chair.” I saw Nike open her mouth and raised my hand to stop the question I knew was coming. “A story for another time, little one.”
Moxie nodded. “I bet he was put on restriction for a very long time.”
“I almost smote him from existence. Hephaestus is lucky I love him.”
Moxie whispered to Nike, “I got smote once. Learned my lesson.” Nike gasped and stared at Moxie in shock.
“Anyway, I tried to put Alcaeus out of my mind and attempted other activities to keep me occupied. Eventually, though, I heard Alcaeus had become a local hero and had even won a wife—a mortal woman named Megara. She was a lovely woman, always putting up offerings for me.” I smiled fondly at the memory. “It was such a sad day when Alcaeus killed her.”
“Wait. What?” Moxie and Nike looked at each other. Dinlas glanced over to Nyx and saw her grimace, but didn’t look particularly surprised at my revelation.
“Why did he kill his wife, Lady Hera?”
“You see, Alcaeus was becoming quite conceited and full of himself. He was rude and arrogant and demanding. He refused to pay for things, claiming that he was a demigod and a hero, worthy of worship. Megara and two of their three sons were always so embarrassed and tried to pay for things, making amends where they could. But their oldest son was just like his father, just without the strength and power.”
Moxie looked disgusted. “Pfft, mortals.”
Nyx tsked. “What an embarrassment. That poor woman.”
Urania stumbled into the room, carrying a stack of papers and looking a little disheveled. “Oh, I’m sorry, Lady Hera. I’ll find another place to work.” She turned to walk back out, but I called out to her.
“Please, Urania, stay. Do your work or listen to my story. Regardless, we appreciate your presence.”
“S-story? What story?” She held her papers tighter to her chest, and Nike turned and motioned her over.
“Lady Hera is telling us the story of Herakles. Come, Urania, sit with us. Please?” She batted her lashes sweetly, and I could tell Urania realized she had no choice but to join us. She picked her way around Dinlas and Nyx and sat on the couch between Nike and Moxie, still clutching her papers to her chest.
I waited for everyone to settle again before continuing. “Alcaeus was rude and refused to worship the Gods. I even heard Athena complaining about the lack of sacrifice to her.”
Dinlas whispered to Nyx, “I bet Grandpa was pissed.”
Nyx frowned. “Bold of him to assume the gods wouldn’t visit him one day.”
I just looked at Dinlas and said, “Your grandfather, Zeus, thought that Alcaeus could do no wrong and just brushed it off as boys will be boys. Zeus said that as long as Megara and the rest of the family gave good offerings, then there was nothing wrong.”
Urania frowned. “Boys Club. Figures.”
Nike hissed under her breath, “No, just Daddy’s club.”
Moxie grumbled, “Always the women who have to do all the work.”
“So I punished Alcaeus. I set upon him a terrible madness.”
“Like Papaw Cronus?” Moxie perked up.
I grinned wickedly. “Worse, Moxie-Mou. Much, much worse.”