Son of Zeus: Chapter One

After I wrote Helen of Sparta, all my betas were CLAMORING for more Pirithous, but at the time, I was absolutely CERTAIN there was no way he could support his own book. He's fun in small doses as a secondary character, sure, but as a protagonist? No way.

Until my mother made an off-hand comment wondering what had become of him--was he just left to languish in Hades's Chair of Forgetfulness forever, or did he ever slip free of the bonds?

Suddenly, I saw Pirithous emerging from the dark into the modern world, and Son of Zeus was born! 

...Which is really just a long way of saying I'm about to share the first chapter with you all, with more to come, because I'm FINALLY READY to share this story with the world--and YOU, my Patrons, get to read it first! 

  

Chapter One
Pirithous
Pirithous stumbled out of the cave, pushing through the scrub before falling to his knees under the weight of sunlight. He hadn’t felt it in so long, its bright heat pressing into his skin. His eyes ached, and even closed, they burned, pierced by the light. He covered his head with his arms, shading his face, letting his entire being readjust to life above ground. Sun and fresh air, warm and sweet. The smell of grass and earth and living things.
He wept. Not just because his eyes hurt from the sun they no longer recognized, but for the dream of seeing sunlight at all. He didn’t know how long Hades had kept him trapped in that chair, but his body was still stiff even after the eternity of endless night it had taken him to find the surface again when Persephone had freed him. 
Persephone. He would build her a temple, and sacrifice a full hecatomb in her honor. A golden temple, filled with pomegranates and flowers and sheaves of grain heaped taller than a man. He would beggar himself to do it, if he must. But the Lapiths, his people, would never object. They would see no fault in honoring the goddess of spring and fertile fields. And she had freed him. She had freed him, when Hades had sworn he would never see the surface again.
When the light had faded from a glaring brilliance to a muted glow behind his eyelids, he opened his eyes a slit, waiting for the pain. None came, and he opened them fully, drinking in the sight of rich green hills, wooded so thickly he could barely see the earth below. And strange, without the gray-green of olive trees, or the rocky scrub-covered hills so common to Achaean lands. No cork oaks, no myrtle, and no hint of laurel scenting the wind. Even the cypress seemed wholly absent, and the air was far too thick, lush with moisture and lacking any tang of salt and sea. 
Wherever the goddess had led him, these lands were not his own, and now her words echoed again in his ears, as they had rattled about the labyrinthine tunnels and caverns with every step he’d taken since his release: Your prayers are worth more to us than your penance, now. Go and pray, Pirithous. Remind others to do the same, and I will see you made safe.
The sun was setting with a red blush, lengthening the shadows, but a dark road snaked starkly through the valley, odd markings visible even in the fading light. Pirithous frowned. Black cobbles? Volcanic rock perhaps, though he had never seen it used for paving. It was much too brittle. 
He toed at the dead hawk and two song birds, fallen before the cavern’s mouth, considering his options, such as they were. Remaining near the entrance to the underworld was too great a risk, even with Persephone’s favor. The goddess had given him back his sword and knife, but he had no bow, nor rope for snares, and he would have to move quickly if he wanted to make progress before nightfall—which he must, if only to secure his freedom more firmly. The more distance he put between himself and Hades the safer he would be, even if it meant venturing into a strange and unfamiliar land. 
Uneasy all the same, Pirithous set off toward the road, glancing back only once to see the slit through which he’d escaped become a last wink of darkness before healing into solid stone. If only a goose or a duck had fallen, he might have had one less worry later and taken it for a meal, for he had not eaten since before he’d first entered the underworld with Theseus, so long ago—how long, he did not yet know. 
He would simply have to seek shelter for the night from someone along the way, assuming he was near any kind of village or sheepfold. Even the company of a goatherd who might be persuaded to share his bread and cheese would be welcome after so much time trapped in his own mind, his body starving. 
The chair of forgetfulness was not kind, leading his thoughts to create their own torture. Over and over again, he had battled the centaurs, striking them down, climbing over the mountain of their corpses in order to reach his bride. Over and over in the nightmare, he arrived too late. Hippodamia lay bleeding, her body destroyed for the centaurs’ pleasures, used to slake their desire, and trampled in their wake. Dead.
Pirithous shook his head, forcing himself to think only of the ground beneath his feet and the path through the trees before him. He was no longer trapped in that world, and Hippodamia had lived. He and Theseus and Antiope had saved her. The centaurs had been driven away, hunted down for their betrayal. Hippodamia had born him a son, a prince of the Lapiths, and her death had come years later. Not the result of drunken beasts, but Apollo’s arrow—her life traded for Pirithous’s own in a pact she had made with her Horse Lord to protect his people. And all of it rested safely in the past. 
Now he had only to find his bearings and make for the nearest city. Wherever he arrived, he would be made welcome; no one would deny a king his rest, or a meal, and Pirithous had earned both. Then he could ask for a horse or passage on a ship, and make his way to Thessaly, his son, and his people. He would build Persephone her temple at once, and celebrate his return with a feast in her honor, to be held every year on this day. If that was not prayer enough for the goddess, he did not know what would be.
He hesitated at the edge of the road, studying the white and yellow lines. Such strange divisions. The broken yellow line seemed to mark the center, but the solid white lines on either side left a good armspan of road along each edge. For single horses to travel around chariots? Or perhaps for those traveling on foot? And the stone looked as though it were a solid sheet. He kicked at a broken piece, loosening it and then pulled it free. Not a solid sheet, then, but thousands upon thousands of pebbles pressed and held together with some kind of… substance. Pitch or tar?
Light flared, blinding him, and the roar of wheels spinning and the rush of air filled his ears, punctuated by a strange trumpeting sound. Pirithous leapt back, drawing his sword on instinct, but the immense form, larger than a bull and reflecting the last of the sunlight, flew by him  too quickly for anything more. 
The sword fell from his fingers as the silver creature barreled on. Square red lights flashed, brighter red than any ruby he had ever seen, and he thought he saw wheels, but the thing, whatever it was, did not slow and before he could give it a name, it disappeared around a bend in the road, leaving nothing in its wake but a crush of wind and noise and light.
Pirithous grabbed for his sword, his heart racing in his chest. Whatever came, he would face it down. It would not take him without a fight. He would run it through, as soon as he learned its weakness. He was a son of Zeus, not some craven peasant’s boy. Monster, beast, or construct of Hephaestus, if it returned, he would triumph. 
But even a hero did not sleep beside a lion’s den if he did not need to. Better if he found shelter before night fell than face a herd of those creatures in the dark.
***
Wary now, Pirithous left the road, traveling within the tree line and keeping himself hidden. Immense metal torches rose into the sky, lighting by magic as the sun disappeared behind the hills. At least it allowed him to keep sight of the road without being seen, but it was so much metal. A small army of weapons could have been forged out of just one of the poles bending over the road. It must have been a very rich country, to waste metal so strangely—all the more reason to find the palace and build a guest-friendship with the king before he returned to Thessaly. 
The woods showed sign of deer and other game animals, even in the semi-dark, and Pirithous wished again for a bow. Where there was game, there were usually wolves, bears, or cats to hunt it, and he had no desire to be turned into a meal himself, sent back to the underworld as a shade before he’d had an opportunity to live at all. 
Persephone, guide me.  There must have been a reason the goddess had set him here. The trees gave out suddenly, narrowing into nothing where two roads converged. He crouched in the shadows, studying another of the monstrous creatures where it stood on the second road, glittering silver beneath the torchlight and purring softly.
A voice burst forth, and Pirithous’s fingers tightened on the hilt of his sword, then relaxed again when he recognized the sound. Laughter. The laughter of women. The sound wrenched his guts and he closed his eyes, listening, trying to remember the last time he had heard a woman laugh. Two of them, he thought. They whispered at one another between the outbursts, though he didn’t understand the language. It certainly wasn’t Achaean, nor Egyptian or Hittite. He crept closer, trying to see around the monster, to catch some glimpse of the women. There had to be some kind of guard on them. Or was that the purpose of the metal beast?
A wing extended from one side of the monster, a woman’s legs and bottom sticking out from inside some cavity. A door then, or a window perhaps. She called something, triumph in her voice, and emerged the rest of the way. The clothes she wore—
Pirithous smothered a groan. She was barely covered, and what was seemed to make her body even more inviting. She would have been less alluring standing naked than in the short pants she wore, barely reaching to her mid-thigh. The cloth of her tunic fit to her form, the neck cut low to accentuate her breasts. Black hair fell in loose curls over her bare shoulders, stopping half-way to her waist, and her smile flashed brightly with another peal of laughter that sounded like wind-chimes to his ears. 
His body ached, his fingers imagining the softness of her skin, the tickle of her hair against his chest. He clenched his teeth and tamped down the desire which swelled up inside him. He’d seen women in less and not responded so violently. It had been much too long since he’d seen a woman, that was all. Much too long since he’d held a woman in his arms, warm and willing. But until he understood the language, or even knew where he was, he needed to keep his wits. 
She called something to her companion, waving a small hammer over her head, but it wasn’t until the second woman called back that he saw her beneath a metal post on the far side of the road. Dressed much like the first woman, her head was hidden behind a painted sign of some kind. A hand with a thumb sticking up, inside a red circle with a line slashed through it. Whatever it meant, he’d never seen its like before. The first woman joined her there and the laughter was drowned out by the ring of metal on metal.
Perhaps they were some kind of Amazon, then. Either way, they could point him on his way if nothing else. They had no swords about them, no knives, just the single hammer between them, and that a tool more than a weapon. The more he looked at the machine that guarded them, the more he thought it must be some kind of chariot, though he’d never seen any enclosed in such a way. Armored, perhaps. Did it have some kind of beast in its front to pull it, hidden beneath the metal? He ducked his head, trying to catch a glimpse of hooves, but it was too dark and all he could see were the black wheels. No better way to find out then, but to ask. He brushed leaf and twig from his tunic, checked the golden cuffs on his arms, and prayed he did not appear too wild or worn from his harried journey through the caves into the living lands. Please Hermes, let one of them understand me.
Pirithous rose and stepped into the light. “Can I offer my aid?” he called over the song of the hammer against the post. 
The banging stopped at once, and the black-haired girl spun, her eyes wide. Her companion ducked her head beneath the sign, hammer quickly hidden behind her back.
He smiled as kindly as he could, crossing the road to them. The surge of their fear at his appearance tasted bitter in his mouth, but he was committed now. “You will not find a stronger arm than mine, but for Heracles, and it would be my pleasure to give you the use of it.”
Behind the sign still, the second girl spoke in her strange tongue. The first nodded, frowning.
“You speak less fast?” the black-haired girl asked, her accent odd but understandable at least, thank the gods. 
Relief dried his mouth and he cleared his throat. “I offered to help you.” He nodded to the strange painted symbol. “You seem to be struggling with the sign.”
“Oh,” she said. The woman behind her hissed something, and she murmured a reply. The second woman relaxed, even smiling, and the hammer dropped to her side. The black-haired girl’s forehead creased. “Forgive me…” the rest of what she said was too garbled for him to follow. Something about his accent, perhaps, though hers was much the stranger.
Pirithous shook his head, circling around the two women to look at the back of the sign. The second girl pointed to a nail of some kind. More metal. Everything seemed to be made of metal in this land. She spoke, showing him what she was trying to do. It seemed she meant to shear the head from it. He took the hammer from her hand and waved her away.
“Tell your companion to step back,” he said carefully to the black-haired girl, so he would not need to repeat himself. “And you, as well.”
Both women moved away, and he tested the hammer in his hand. The wood was strong, but the head felt light for their purpose. Iron should have been heavier. No matter. If it had not dented yet, it should stand up to his use.
The first swing he used only for practice, stopping before he struck. The second swing scraped with an almighty screech and a shower of sparks as the head sheared off. 
The second girl ran back to him, and he could see now her hair was some shade of brown, but the richness of it was lost in the pale light. It was pulled back tightly to fall straight from beneath the crown of her head, like a horse’s tail. She grinned and gestured to another nail, higher up. 
He nodded, waiting for her to step back before lining up the hammer. It seemed a terrible amount of trouble to go through, just to take down a sign. And a waste of whatever metal this was. He’d have to look for the bits he’d broken off when he was through—perhaps they would be worth something in barter. The second head snapped off as easily as the first beneath his blow, and another thick spark flared before falling into the grass. He smothered it under his sandal before it caught, though the ground here was exceptionally damp.
The brown-haired girl appeared before him and yanked on the metal sign with two hands. It barely moved. From the tone of her voice, he was certain she was muttering curses. He grinned and knocked her hands away, pounding his own fist against the sign on either side of the post, instead, and easily loosening it. “Go on, then.”
She may not have understood his words, but she caught his meaning. She grasped the sign again and pulled. It scraped free and she tumbled back, laughing as she landed on her backside in the dirt. Pirithous chuckled with her, stepping around the post to offer a hand up. Any woman who could laugh so easily at herself was one worth knowing—that much he was certain of. He only wished he could understand what she was saying to her friend as she clasped his hand and he pulled her to her feet. She smelled like flowers, he thought, and sweet nuts. After so long in Hades scenting nothing but death, it fogged his head more easily than uncut wine.
“My friend says… riding…” the black-haired girl began. He only made out half of her words. Whatever dialect she spoke, it was one he had never heard, though he and Theseus had traveled as widely as Heracles.
The brown-haired girl squeezed his hand, and he realized he was still holding it, and staring besides. He forced himself to turn his gaze to the black-haired girl. “If you could guide me to the nearest settlement, I would be grateful. I’m afraid I do not know this land but I am eager for something to fill my stomach and a bed to sleep in after wandering for so long.”
“You… lost?” she asked.
“I’ve been following the road, hoping it would lead me to a palace or a village of some kind.”
Her forehead furrowed, her lips moving as if she were repeating his words silently. The brown-haired girl called something to her, and the black-haired girl answered unhappily. 
The brown-haired girl smiled and caught him by the arm, pulling him toward the strange chariot. She pressed her hand to her chest. “Thalia,” she said.
He smiled at her strange accent and touched his hand to his own chest. “Pirithous.”
“Pirithous?” the black-haired girl repeated, as if to be certain. 
“Pirithous, son of Zeus,” he assured her. “And you?”
“Nikki.”
He should not have been surprised that a woman speaking so strange a tongue would have so odd a name. But Thalia—she might have been named for a nymph, mangled though it was. “What land is this, Nikki?”
“Land?” She frowned again as if the word he’d used was strange to her. “Oh. New York. The United States.”
The names were unfamiliar to him, but they had reached the chariot and he was saved from having to respond. Thalia tucked the sign away and waved him forward. He ducked his head to look inside. A long bench looked as though it might seat three, but it had more padding than anything he’d ever seen before. He pressed his hand into it, marveling at the give. Two more seats, like thrones, in the front, but still no animals he could see to pull it.
Thalia and Nikki had opened two more wings at the front of the chariot and were climbing inside, settling into the seats and pulling ropes across their chests, which snapped into fittings at their hips. He’d never seen a chariot built so large, but to carry only five people? He could fit three in a large chariot without trouble, and the bucket would have been only a third the size of this, and much lighter. Armor, he thought again, but if they required such protection, it made no sense that they would travel alone.
Removing his sword belt and tossing it inside first, he did not climb so much as he slid, fitting himself inside with his knees pressed against the back of Thalia’s chair. Odd to have such upholstery and padding for comfort, but make the space so cramped. He pulled the hinged wing closed as the girls had done and the machine growled, the vibrations traveling through his bones. His fingers curled around the edge of the padded bench, digging into the material as the machine shot forward and the scenery flew past, the torches lighting the road before them. 
Thalia turned back to look at him, smiling and talking in that strange language of hers. He would have to learn it, he decided, to speak with her if no one else. 
“Thalia’s…” Nikki used a few words he didn’t know. “…you can sleep. Tomorrow we’ll ride you to town.”
He grinned at the suggestion of being ridden by either of these women, though he suspected it was less invitation and more the result of Nikki’s poor Achaean. It couldn’t have been Nikki’s first language, and the words she’d been taught were very strange, but the fact that she’d been taught at all suggested that she was well born. Farmers and shepherds did not bother to have their daughters tutored. They were lucky if they could afford to teach their sons. And yet, it was to Thalia’s home, if he understood Nikki correctly, where they were bringing him. Thalia who had accepted his help. Thalia who had introduced herself first. Perhaps Nikki was her servant, a slave raided from some neighboring land who had once been some kind of princess.
“Thank you,” he said to Thalia, infusing his voice with gratitude. 
Perhaps after he’d eaten and slept he would have the strength to reach her thoughts. If the woman was already interested, it was nothing to fan the flames of her desire with a little divine persuasion. And at least if he knew her emotions, he could communicate more clearly with her. 
He’d never tried to steal a language from the mind of another, but he’d seen Jason do so, while he sailed with the Argonauts. If that pup could accomplish it as only the great-grandson of Hermes, Pirithous was certain he could do the same with Zeus’s blood in his veins. There was no harm in trying, either way, and perhaps an offering to Hermes would ease his way. But he did not have much to offer, and he could not go to the king of these lands looking like a beggar without any jewelry on his person, nor would he give up the band of gold on his head which marked him as king. Some kind of food would have to do, and if his stomach stayed empty in sacrifice, it would be all the more meaningful.
“Where… you from?” Nikki asked.
“Thessaly. I am king of a people there, the Lapiths.”
Nikki’s head turned to look at him, and the chariot jerked. Thalia snapped something at her and she faced forward again, but he could see her eyes in the reflection of a small mirror in front of her. They darted up from the road to look at him. 
“Forgive me,” Nikki said. “I... King? Chief?”
“Yes.”
Thalia asked her a question, and Nikki answered. It must have been about him, because Thalia twisted back to look at him again, eyes wide and searching. He’d rarely met a woman who did not find laying with a king to be an honor, and from the way she looked at him, he thought perhaps she could be encouraged to think the same. All he needed was a moment alone with her to steal a kiss. He wet his lips, anticipating the softness of hers, the warmth of her skin…
“A king, lost… trees?” Nikki asked.
Pirithous reluctantly dragged his gaze from Thalia back to Nikki’s eyes in the mirror. “I was taken hostage some time ago and only recently freed here.”
Nikki shook her head, as if she could not understand. The chariot turned, and the torches it carried lit a dirt road, the wheels crunching over gravel as they followed the path through the trees to a building nestled against the hill behind it. Much too small to be a palace, and no walls besides, but too large to be the home of some poor farmer, and constructed in ways that left him in awe. 
The chariot stopped and fell silent, the girls freeing themselves of their restraints and bounding out. After a push against the wing yielded nothing, Pirithous studied the door, looking for some kind of handle or latch. A lever about the size of his hand. The door popped open when he pulled it, just as Thalia’s had.
“This is where you live?” he asked, climbing out. He refastened his sword belt around his hips, staring distractedly at the—he wasn’t certain even what to call it, it was so unlike any house he had ever seen.
“Thalia’s mother…” 
Pirithous didn’t bother trying to parse the rest. It was all too strange. Thalia waited for them on a balcony above, and he followed Nikki up the stairs. The windows he’d thought open were filled with some kind of clear substance. He tapped against it. Glass? But the sheets were immense. Even forming sand into enough glass for beads took artistry and concentration. To form it into something like this was beyond imagining. 
“Pirithous?” Thalia called, holding the door. Nikki was already inside, lighting lamps that burned brighter and higher than torches.
“Thalia.” He caught her by the hand, kissing her knuckles.
Her fingers tightened around his, just for a moment, and he smiled. 
With any luck, his sacrifice to Hermes would lend him the power he needed to communicate more clearly, for he had no shortage of questions or desires—and he wished very much to persuade Thalia to answer both.

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