I know you probably have a lot of requests with the gods and monsters - but would you ever do an Ares based one?
Zeus’s mistress Io remains in her form of a cow, guarded by Hera’s servant Argus, and Hera is content.
She will remain in that form until her death. Hera hopes that lying with her husband was worth the sacrifice.
Zeus won’t speak to her, unwilling to admit the cow is actually his lover and ensure her death, and equally unwilling to stand against his wife to try and rescue her. Hera has him just where she wants him, and it can’t last, it never does, but she intends to enjoy it while it does.
Then Artemis comes to her, gold and fierce. She never flinches away from her queen, staring her in the face as if she is nothing more than another of her huntresses. If Hera did not hate her for being her husband’s daughter, she thinks she might actually like the girl. “Io has a destiny,” she says, “you must let her go.”
“I don’t care for her destiny,” Hera says idly, “especially when that destiny involves getting with my husband’s child.”
“She is to give birth to a new line of kings,” Artemis hisses, “to be the wife of a death god, to be mother goddess of a whole new people. She is not meant for us. You must let her go.”
“I am Hera,” she says, “I am Queen. I must do nothing.”
Artemis growls, hand twitching for her bow, but Hera only raises an eyebrow. Let the girl try. There are few that can stand against her, and the huntress is not among them. Artemis lets out a low breath and says, “Do it, my queen, and I will grant you what it is you most desire.”
“Some peace and quiet?” Hera asks.
“A child,” she answers. “Let Io go, let her fulfill her destiny as a goddess of the Black Land of the Nile. If you do that, I, the patron goddess of childbirth, will personally use every ounce of power I possess to ensure you conceive and deliver a child of Zeus.”
Hera’s eyes narrow, “Neither my power nor his has ever been able to achieve this. What makes you think you are any different?”
“We all have our domains,” she says, “just as you cannot command the sea, just as your husband has no power over the art of weaving, so can I ensure a healthy child when you could not.”
She taps her fingers against her throne. They call her a mother goddess, though she’s raised no children. Hephaestus may be her precious son, but he doesn’t know that it was not her that threw him from Olympus. Very few people know that. And she didn’t raise him regardless, that honor belongs to Hecate.
A child, of her and Zeus. A child she can raise.
“I accept,” she announces. “You may take her, and Zeus may fulfill her destiny.” She leans forward, brings the oppressive weight of her power to the fore and lowers the pressure of the air until Artemis is left shivering. “Know this, Patron Goddess of Childbirth. If Io births a son of Zeus before I do, I will travel to the Black Land of the Nile and slay her and her children with my own two hands. Not even Hades will be able to put her back together again.”
“Yes, my Queen,” Artemis says, unable to keep her teeth from chattering.
Hera is true to her word. She allows Hermes to think he’s tricked Argus and to steal Io away. She pretends to be outraged at the audacity, at the pure white cow traveling to the sands of the Nile.
Artemis is true to her word. Hera lies with Zeus, like she has so many times before, and a child grows inside of her. One day she stands before her husband and brings his hand to the swell of her stomach, “This is your child.”
Something almost like happiness steals across his face. She forgets, sometimes, that they hate each other only as much as they love each other. After so much time together, many would think it would be one or the other. They simply opted for both.
Artemis is there during the birth, her easy confidence more comforting then Hera will ever admit. Delivering Hephaestus was easy compared to this. She screams and cries and Hestia’s hands on her shoulders are all that keeps her from collapsing and begging someone to just cut the child from her. She doesn’t think she can die in childbirth, not with Artemis between her legs. She wishes she’d thought to ask before this began.
But she does not die. Her son is born, just as healthy and beautiful as Hephaestus was. “Well done,” Artemis says softly, placing the squirming child into her arms.
Zeus touches her hair and kisses his son’s forehead. “We shall call him Ares.”
“Very well,” she agrees, so tired her eyes struggle to stay open.
She hands her son to Hestia, and finally allows sleep to take her.
Ares grows into the spitting image of his father. Same copper-red skin, same silky black hair. Her husband keeps it short, but her son lets his grow long. The minutes Hera spends every morning brushing his hair are among her favorite.
He has an eager smile and a soft heart. Hera doesn’t know where he got it, since it’s certainly not from her or Zeus. Demeter tolerates his bumbling after her, though any time Kore attempts to meet her cousin Demeter’s temper frays. Poseidon allows Ares to explore the depths of the sea with a minor sea god acting as his guide. Apollo plays for him, and Artemis teaches him to hunt. Zeus’s lightning doesn’t burn his son, and when storms rage he takes Ares to the top of Olympus and teaches him to throw lightning bolts.
Hera selfishly does not allow Ares to go to the underworld. She knows he would be safe there, that Hades would protect him as he protected Hephaestus, but that’s precisely why she won’t allow it. They got to raise one of her sons already. It pains her to share Ares with them now.
He is happy, and kind, kinder than anyone would expect a child of her womb to be.
“He must choose a domain,” Zeus rumbles, watching Ares shoot arrows with perfect accuracy.
“He is a child still,” Hera says, “let him remain so for a little longer.”
“If he does not choose a domain,” Zeus warns, “one will choose him. We are gods. We must be gods of something.”
She flickers her gaze at him, and he scoots an inch away from her. “He is a child, and for now a child he will remain. We are not Demeter. We shall not thrust the responsibilities and power of a deity on a child who is not prepared for it.”
Zeus disapproves, but says nothing more.
Her son will be the god of something patient, something soft. The god of lost children, of heartbroken suitors, of forgiveness. Something where his gentle heart will aid him instead of hurt him.
She traded her happiness for power. She doesn’t regret it. But Ares doesn’t need to do the same – she’s the most powerful goddess that still walks the earth. He’s her son, and he’ll want for nothing she can provide.
Ares is almost fully grown, long hair reaching his hips even braided, and the strength of his limbs is such that he can keep up with Artemis on her most vigorous of hunts, that he can throw his father’s lightning bolts halfway across the world.
He’s been to every place, and met every god of the earth, sea, and sky.
Except for one.
It’s not hard to find the volcano. He’s strong enough and old enough to take care of himself, and his mother does not worry when he says he’s going to the earth. But he did not tell her where, precisely, on the earth he was going.
He has strong legs. It’s easy for him to climb to the top of the volcano. He’s almost made it there when something grabs his shoulders, stilling him. He turns, and stares into a single large eye. “What are you doing?” the cyclopes growls.
“I’m looking for Hephaestus,” he says, “He’s my brother.”
“My master has many brothers,” the cyclopes says.
Ares shakes his head. He is not the product of his father’s fling with a sprite or mortal. “I am Ares, son of Zeus and Hera. Just as Hephaestus is. I came here to meet my brother.” The cyclopes hesitates. He asks, “What’s your name?”
“Brontes,” he answers, surprised.
“Brontes,” he smiles, “I just want to meet him. I’ve never met him before. I won’t linger.”
There’s a moment where Brontes looks conflicted, and Ares tries to look as unassuming as possible. “Fine,” he huffs, “but don’t get angry at me if he dips you in lava.”
“That would be fun,” he says brightly. Lightning doesn’t burn him. So far the only thing hot enough to cause him pain is Hestia’s fire. He probably could go swimming in lava.
Brontes looks at him as if he’s slightly unhinged. He just keeps smiling.
There are more cyclopes underneath, and bright glittering machines that Ares can’t even begin to wrap his mind around. “Who are you?” someone demands, and a hand grabs his wrist and yanks him away from a boiling vat of lava that he’d been peering into.
He looks up at a man taller and broader than he is. He has skin almost as dark as the obsidian of his volcano, but lighter eyes. They are the color of dark amber, of molasses. “We have the same eyes,” he says happily.
Hephaestus releases him instantly. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“Why not?” he asks, “The mortals talk of you. No one else will. But you’re my brother, right?”
“You shouldn’t be here,” he repeats, “Does Zeus know where you are?”
He shrugs, taking a step closer. His brother takes a step back. He wonders if he’ll have to treat Hephaestus like a spooked horse. “Father doesn’t keep track of where I am. Mom know I’m on earth.” Hephaestus flinches, small enough that he almost doesn’t notice. “We have her eyes, you know.”
He can’t stop starring at Hephaestus’s skin. They do not work like mortals – Demeter, Hestia, Zeus, and Hera are all different shades despite coming from the same parents. But – Ares looks so much like his father. Kore looks like Demeter. Yet Hephaestus looks nothing like their father. He can see their mother in him, in the eyes and shape of his jaw, even in how angry he is right now. He looks like Hera does when she’s about to lose her temper, lips pressed into a thin line and the careful stillness of his shoulders.
“I wasn’t trying to make you angry,” he says plaintively, “I only wanted to say hello.”
Unlike their mother, Hephaestus lets out a deep breath and seemingly all of his anger along with it. “I’ve been avoiding you.”
“Why? You don’t even know me.”
Hephaestus kicks him lightly in the shin, the pretty gold and copper of his metal legs catching his eye. “You have legs, and I do not. Hera did not throw you from Mount Olympus as she threw me.”
Ares looks hard at his brother’s face. The stories say his mother threw her son away for being ugly, but he seems just as handsome as any other god Ares has seen. His features are strong and chiseled, and he supposes that could have looked unattractive on a baby, but –
– his mother loves him. Hera loves him with a ferocity only matched by her temper, she loves him at his most mischievous and irritable, loves him when a stray thunderbolt sets Demeter’s hair on end, loves him when even Artemis and Apollo have grown tired of his antics, loves him when Athena can tolerate no more of his questions. He is her son, and so her love comes without conditions.
He doesn’t think Hera would have loved his brother any less just because of how he looked.
He also knows that if he tries to say that, it’s likely Hephaestus will push him into a lava pit.
“Well, that’s not my fault,” he says, “If you don’t want us to be brothers, can’t we at least be friends?”
Hephaestus’s face softens. He looks like their mother then too. He crosses his arms, “You can’t tell your parents.”
Our parents, he thinks but doesn’t say. “Obviously. Where did you get so many cyclopes?”
The last remnants of his brother’s stern façade shatters as he throws back his head and laughs.
Ares is very near maturity, more adult than child, and his father constantly pressures him to choose a domain. He usually quiets with one sharp glance from his wife, but the fact remains that it is time for Ares to take his place among the gods of the pantheon, to have temples in his name and worshipers like a proper deity.
He doesn’t really want any of that. He wants to continue hunting with Artemis, learning with Athena, building with Hephaestus.
His brother lets him help out in his workshop sometimes, if he’s very careful and does exactly as he’s told. Otherwise he sits on a table, legs swinging, and watches his brother work and tells him about what he does in the time in-between visits. He talks about their mother enough that Hephaestus doesn’t flinch at her every mention, which Ares can only consider an improvement. Sometimes Brontes will stand beside him and they’ll eat sweet buns together.
Unfortunately, all things, good and bad, must come to an end.
There are two giants, Otus and Ephialtes, who grow tired of hearing of the golden boy of Olympus, who grow jealous of his kindness and his beauty.
These two giants sneak onto Mount Olympus in the middle of the night, sneak into Ares’s room, and kidnap him. They’re not stupid enough to attempt to kill him. Instead, they stuff him into an urn, and seal him inside. Ares rages and fights, uses every trick he can think of to break out his prison, but none of them work.
Stuck at the bottom of the urn and seething, he can’t help but think that if he’d listened to his father and chosen a dominion he might be strong enough to free himself. But he didn’t, so he can’t, and instead he waits.
Days turn to weeks turn to months. He knows they’re looking for him. He knows his mother will tear apart the whole universe attempting to find him if nothing else. But – what if they can’t? What if he’s stuck in this urn for the rest of eternity?
In his darkest moments, his sorrow turns to rage. He is a god, son of Hera and Zeus, how dare they do this to him?
Then, one day, the urn opens.
Hermes peers down into it, then his face splits into a grin. “We’ve been looking for you!” He reaches down and hauls Ares out, and for a moment all he can do is blink at the glaring sun. Then his vision clears, and he sees they’re in the midst of a battle. The giants are fighting against the gods, against his parents, against the twins, against his brother. It’s bloody carnage, but – he can’t help but feel touched that all these people came looking for him. “Almost everyone offered to help find you,” he says, “but Hera didn’t want to draw too much attention to ourselves trying to sneak into their territory.”
No sooner has Hermes finished speaking than a giant barrels into his mother with sickening snap. Her shoulder slopes at a grotesque angle, but it hardly even slows her down.
“I have to help,” he says, a desperate urgency filling him. They came to help him, and now they’re getting hurt. That’s never something he’d wanted.
“Ares, wait!” Hermes calls out as he goes hurtling toward the battle. He doesn’t wait. Fighting on the ground can only do so much good, they’re strong but they’re outnumbered one hundred to one. He darts to Artemis, twisting around the bodies she’s throwing over her shoulder. “I need your bow!”
“Ares!” she says joyously, then, “What?”
“Trust me,” he says, “give me your bow.” A giant comes running towards them. Artemis flips him over her shoulder while continuing to stare at him in confusion. He’d be impressed if he wasn’t so worried. “Artemis, please!”
She hands over her bow. She moves to give him her quiver of arrows as well, but he’s already moving away from her. Next it’s to his father, who’s hurtling lightning bolts towards the swarm of giants crowding him. They’re deadly, but only so effective at close-range. He grabs a sizzling lightning bolt right from Zeus’s hand, the only being on the planet who could do that and survive, and keeps running. “Get clear!” he calls out over his shoulder. “Everyone move!”
He runs up past Hermes, needing to get to high ground for this to work. “Get everyone off the battlefield,” he says to Hermes. “Now.”
Hermes pulls a face, but by the time he makes it to the top of the mountain, the gods have shaken off most of the giants, are far enough away that he doesn’t have to worry.
He can do this. He’s Ares, the son of Hera and Zeus. He’s been trained in archery by the great huntress herself. He breaths in, and strings his father’s lightning bolt like an arrow. He pulls it back, breaths out, and lets the lightning bolt fly.
It lands in the middle of the battlefield full of confused giants. With a great clap of thunder and a burst of light, they’re all gone.
All that remains of the traitorous giants is a crater.
The gods are approaching him, his mother at a limping gait that makes his chest ache. Zeus gets to him first, grin stretched wide as he grabs him by both his shoulders. “My boy! That was magnificent!”
“Thanks,” he says. The smell of charred flesh is in the air, and it makes his stomach roll.
They kidnapped him. They stuffed him in an urn for over a year. They hurt his mom.
That doesn’t mean he enjoyed it. He never wants to do anything like that ever again.
“This was destiny,” his father says enthusiastically, and Ares has no idea what he’s talking about. “This is what you’re meant to do, son.”
He stares. He hopes it’s not.
The other gods are still at the bottom of the mountain. Artemis and Apollo each have one of his mother’s arms slung over their shoulders and are helping her up the mountain. Hermes and Hephaestus aren’t far behind.
He’s never seen his father look so proud of him. There’s a leaden pit in his stomach he can’t explain.
“In honor of my son’s great feat,” Zeus booms, his voice carrying across air, speaking with the voice of the king of the gods so his words become law, so they spread to every corner of the world, “I declare him Ares, God of War.”
Ares can’t breathe.
This isn’t what he wanted.
gods and monsters series, part xvii