This story is not intended to violate any copyrights held by MCA, Universal Studios, Studios USA, Renaissance Pictures or any other entity involved in the making of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys or Xena: Warrior Princess.
This story contains scenes of m/f sex, non-consensual sex, and/or extreme violence. If you are disturbed by this type of scene or if you are underage, please read something else.
Many thanks to Alex R. for beta reading this story and his comments on it. Many I used, many I didn't. :-)
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The Lion and the Lamb: Part One
They were getting closer. In the looming darkness, she could hear them hollering behind her. Wanting her child. All those that would judge her child. She kept moving in spite of the sharp pain in her very pregnant belly. She had to. If she didn't, her child would die. Around the corner of the bushes, she saw a break in the branches. Quickly she darted inside and held her breath against the building contraction.
The pain was great and getting greater as she inhaled, then exhaled as quietly as possible. Just outside the realm of her pain, she heard the noise of feet and men shouting to each other.
"She can't have gone this far. That demon child was about to enter our world when she took off."
Another voice spoke. "Well, if you hadn't've scared her like that, she wouldn't've taken off."
"I didn't mean to scare her," the voice whined. "I love her." Tarmenous. Always he claimed he loved her, always he tried to get her to marry him - even to the point of compromising her, but never before had the village believed him. Until now. She still recalled the day he pointed a finger at her and accused her of laying with a demon. Since then she had been snubbed by her village.
Love her? Marlysa sadly looked at the dark ground that she sat on and thought of his attitude. No, he couldn't love her. If he did, he would have accepted that her child was indeed a gift from the gods. That her child was from her now-dead husband. Not a demon or demi-god. And then there was the matter of his first wife to think of. Dead by Tarmenous' own hand. Beaten in the town square and left to die. She shuddered when she stopped to think of what her fate could be at his hands.
She saw one of the men pause just in front of her hiding spot. "Altimius, you did explain that it wasn't her that we want. That she will be unharmed." True concern issued from the voice in the semi-darkness.
"Of course I did," Altimius retorted. "Marlysa has always turned to me in times of trouble since the death of her parents. Why she was chosen to carry this child to term, I don't know. Why she keeps claiming that it was from her dead husband, I don't know. The gods know I've tried to talk her out of keeping it. Perhaps it's because she has been lonely so long and she was willing to accept any company. Even that of a demon child."
Tarmenous spoke again. "She didn't have to be lonely. I have always been willing to marry her and raise a family with her but she would have none of me. Why I don't know."
Altimius turned to him abruptly. "You know very well why. Beating your first wife to death certainly does not make you the perfect candidate for marriage even if she did cheat on you. I, myself, recommended to Marlysa that she turn you down. Better she remains a widow and lonely than to chance losing her life to your temper." Marlysa watched Altimius turn away from Tarmenous in disgust. "If the laws hadn't stated that you were in your rights to do so at the time, I'd've killed you myself for killing her. What your wife did was wrong. What you did was worse."
Altimius motioned for the others to gather around him. "Spread out and search for her. If you find her, don't attempt to move her. Just yell for everyone else. And remember, above all, she is not to be harmed."
Marlysa watched as everyone moved away from the bushes. She knew that she was moving in the correct direction. The temple wasn't far away. She had traveled this way before to make her offering in her late husband's name. She knew the route. But she had never traveled at night before. Always was the way well-marked. If she could just see the marks...
The clouds that had been hiding the moon parted slightly, shining softly on a marker in front of her. Marlysa's heart leapt with joy. She was on the correct path.
A stab of pain caused her to slow her attempt to rise after the men had moved away. She grasped the sapling next to her and let it bear her weight as she fought down the nausea that came with the pain. Again she panted lightly to try to alleviate it. As it passed, she turned in the deepening gloom, depending on it to cover her escape.
Minutes passed as she continued on her perpendicular path away from the men. The sounds of the night had settled in as full darkness blanketed the forest, readying it for its' nightly sleep. Marlysa concentrated on putting one foot in front of another to avoid the pain that came in constant waves over her now. The water surrounding the babe had broken long before, a step in her body's way of beginning the birth process. Soon, she knew that she would have to stop if she didn't come to the temple. She hoped that he would not turn her away. She hoped that she would find shelter there. Always he had accepted her offerings in her husband's name. Always he had made sure that she had food enough to eat, a roof over her head, and that she was safe. She prayed that he would not turn his back on her now.
Behind her she heard a shout. "There she is!" Her heart dropped. This could not be happening. Again the men had found her. She had to make it. She had to. Her child's life depended on it.
Darkness closed in on the edges of her mind as her body fought off the next wave of pain.
Ares stood in the center of his temple watching three of his young priestesses gently take the woman to one of the rooms in the back. She had managed to make it to the edge of the temple before collapsing in great pain and totally exhausted. Recognizing her immediately, he had taken action to take her out of harm's way. The village midwife had been summoned earlier when he had felt Marlysa's terror and the pain of her coming childbirth. Now he awaited those who would cause harm to one of his best followers in the region.
Ares didn't have to wait long. He softly talked with his head priest, Darius, giving instructions to him to move the remainder of his priestesses out of harm's way, asking how soon the midwife would get there. He felt the call of battle in his blood, his heart sang of the carnage that he loved so. If trouble had managed to come to him, he would deal with it as he always had. Hopefully, someone would pay with blood.
After Darius bowed and left his presence to carry out his lord's orders, Ares mentally prepared himself. Marlysa was one of the few people that remembered that battle with a warlord that had brought peace to the valley almost 20 years ago. She had been a very small girl then and one of many that had lost her father that fateful day. At first she had caused her mother a great deal of trouble, refusing to accept that her father was now in the Elysian Fields; blaming Ares for her loss. But time and Altimius' attentions had proved a great healer.
Deep in the forest that Marlysa loved so much, with the approval of Altimius, she had built a small altar of the rocks that she could find in a clearing that seemed to be made for her use. She cleaned the area of weeds, planted the wild flowers that she could find, and eventually was satisfied that she had done all she could. He remembered watching her silently from his hiding place high above her in the trees as she took the remainder of the flowers and laid them on the makeshift altar. Why he had done this, he couldn't remember. Usually it was blood or flesh of some kind that called to him. But not this time.
Marlysa knelt, put her small, chubby hands together and closed her eyes. "Lord Ares, God of War," she began hesitantly, "I don't know what to say to you. Altimius says that I should just say what's in my heart. So, that's what I'll do."
Ares had listened as a little girl poured out her grief over her father's death, saying that she knew now that she had blamed the wrong person. That it was a warlord and not Ares that was responsible for her father's death. "I just wanted to say that I'm sorry and to thank you for the peace that you have given us ever since." When she had opened her amethyst-colored eyes, she found that her wildflowers bloomed in great abundance about her and a smile came across her face. Ares had left her then, feeling in his own heart a joy that was almost foreign to him.
Now this same girl faced a different kind of threat. One that, in his effort to leave her something of her husband, he had inadvertently caused.
Sounds of men talking amongst themselves echoed in the previously quiet temple. "Now remember," Ares heard a man say, "we try to regain her without disturbing the temple."
Ares smiled in laughter. Yes, this just might provide an amusing evening, providing that Marlysa lived. If she didn't then it would prove to be both amusing and heartbreaking.
Flashes of the torches that they carried bounced off the weapons and shields that lined the walls casting shadows over them, making them appear larger than they were. Ares watched a now quiet procession led by Tarmenous enter the main chamber. Out of the corner of his right eye, he saw the midwife scurry along the wall led by a priestess. Tarmenous stopped short when he saw Ares standing in front of his throne.
"My Lord!" he said in surprise, "we were not aware that you were here." Quickly he knelt, the others following suit.
Ares grimaced, very much aware of the fact that Tarmenous' hopes had been dashed. His eyes narrowed at his displeasure of Tarmenous' behavior.
"Oh, but I am. I do make the rounds on occasion." Darius stepped up on the platform and waited just behind Ares. Neither Ares nor the men spoke for a moment.
"Was there something you wanted?" Ares finally asked in a goading tone of voice.
Tarmenous stood quickly. "I...I...." he began then faltered before the God of War. He looked around at the others, hoping for someone to rescue him. When no one did, he squared his shoulders quickly, knowing that he dare not show any cowardice. Finally, with Ares' black eyes silently staring hard at him, he bowed and spoke quickly, as though he might forget his words. "Forgive us for disturbing you, my lord, but we believe that a young, very pregnant girl may have entered your temple. We simply wanted to take her back home to have her child in peace. Women do many strange things when they are with child."
Ares stared hard at the mortal man before him. The full-length tunic that Tarmenous wore did not disguise the fact that he was a big man, almost as big as Ares himself, yet Ares could feel the man's discomfort. And it pleased him greatly. Although he knew he could easily wipe Tarmenous from the face of the land with a single wave of his hand, somehow making this creature bow and simper before him would be much more amusing.
Ares allowed Darius' presence to finally intrude and he motioned to his priest to come to him. "The situation?" Ares asked him quietly. Ares could see Tarmenous straining to hear.
"The priests, priestesses, and all others are all out of the main chamber, my lord."
Darius hesitated a second before replying. "It is not good. According to the midwife, between the running and the imminent birth of her child, she is totally exhausted. The midwife does not expect her to live."
"And the child?"
"Unknown. She is still in labor with it. But the birth could happen at any moment."
The black of Ares' eyes glinted as anger shook him to his very core. His Marlysa. The only little girl that he had protected and watched grow into womanhood. One of the few things he had done that hadn't been done for the sake of war. He had felt her triumphs and failures over the intervening years. He, himself, had chosen her husband, a strong, yet gentle man who would love her. He had blessed everything that she had done since that fateful day. He knotted then unknotted his large, strong hands, bringing his anger under control, ever mindful of the rule that one should not let anger have control. "Have the priests and priestesses retire for the night. Clear everyone else but this group of men out of the temple. Then lock the doors. None of these men are to leave here without my permission."
He turned to address the men. "Understand this," he said in a tone of voice that left no doubt about the truth of what he was about to say. "If the woman dies, you die."
With that, he strode from the throne room as Darius bowed.
Tarmenous looked at the others with the same fear and astonishment in his eyes that they felt. Altimius simply bowed his head in supplication as Ares left, hoping that the god would help the young girl he had called his daughter.
Marlysa was drifting between the world of Morpheus and the conscious world of the pain within her, mumbling to herself the whole while when Ares entered the chamber. The three priestesses moved to do the midwife's bidding, bringing her clean cloths and hot water. On a small table beside the bed sat a dagger, ready to cut the cord after the birth of child. The midwife, upon seeing Ares, moved to bow, but Ares simply waved her back to her task.
"Darius tells me she might not live."
The midwife answered him as she moved Marlysa's legs apart to prepare her for the birth. "That is true, my lord. Darius told me that she had been running just before she came here. She is totally exhausted. With the coming of the child, I don't believe she has enough strength to make it." Ares watched as she gently cleaned Marlysa with the cloth and hot water.
Marlysa's eyes opened with the next wave of pain and she silently screamed, not having the strength to give voice to it. Her eyes closed as her chest fell momentarily. Ares thought for a moment that she had breathed her last, then she took a deep breath and her eyes again opened as another contraction shook her.
"It's coming," the midwife said as she moved between Marlysa's legs to maneuver the child. Ares glanced between Marlysa's naked legs and saw the bloody, but dark-haired head begin to emerge. Another contraction shook Marlysa, causing her to bear down instinctively.
Two strides took Ares to the head of the bed. There, he allowed his hands to glow faintly with energy before touching her. "There's the complete head," he heard the midwife say. He began to stroke Marlysa's body, infusing her with the needed strength. As Marlysa watched him dazedly, his strong hands rounded her own, small shoulders and the midwife announced that the shoulders were appearing. At every part of her anatomy that he touched, that part of the child appeared out of Marlysa's body, as though he were pushing it out. Finally, the feet slipped out and into the hands of the midwife. Quickly the child was transferred into the waiting arms of a priestess holding a clean cloth. The midwife swiftly tied off the cord and cut it. She began to gently stroke the child with the cloth, cleaning blood from its' body as it gave small cry at the indignity of its' entrance into the world.
"A girl," she said softly. "A fine, baby girl."
The midwife looked up into Ares' dark eyes as she presented the child to him. He took her in his arms and examined her small, puckering mouth, the still-closed eyes, the tiny, shell-shaped ears and the fingers that flexed slowly. A small smile grew on his face as he gazed upon her.
Finally, Ares looked at the midwife quizzically as moments passed as the midwife watched the birth canal expectantly, but said nothing. A single contraction shook Marlysa one last time and the afterbirth came out. The midwife smiled with relief as she deposited it in another cloth then began to clean Marlysa.
Marlysa's eyes opened wearily and her arms stretched silently outward toward Ares. He placed the child in her mother's arms, then placed a kiss on her forehead before his disbelieving priestesses. "You have done well," he said before turning away.
As he turned away, the hint of something faint and white caught the corner of his eye. An arm reached toward Marlysa. He knew who it was without having to ask.
"No, Celesta. She is not for you to take," he said fiercely. She stopped her reach toward Marlysa to look at him.
"You know the rules, Ares. I can't change that. Neither can you. Her name is on my list." Again Celesta reached for her.
"Not this time." Celesta hovered above Marlysa, uncertain as to what to do. Ares solved it for her. "Tell Hades I want to see him now. And tell him to bring his scroll. He will have his soul."
Celesta nodded reluctantly then disappeared as Ares strode out the door.
Ares entered the main chamber. The men, once a boisterous group, now sat on the floor silently, wondering what their fate was going to be for challenging the God of War in his own temple.
Darius approached him, scroll in hand. "All is as you have ordered, sire," he said.
"Good." Ares approached his throne and draped himself over it unceremoniously to wait for Hades. "Darius." Ares spoke loud enough for all in the temple to hear him. Darius approached. "Which one of these 'fine fellows' should we give to Hades in exchange for Marlysa?"
A gasp sounded in the stillness of the temple. Ares could feel the fear and it felt wonderful.
Darius smiled knowingly and surveyed the men like a cat with a juicy morsel of a mouse in front of him. He had been watching them closely while Ares had attended the birth. "I would venture to say any of them for going after Marlysa and her child, my lord."
Huge eyes looked at them, throats gulped. Not a man moved. Each stared at each other wondering if it would be him. Ares laughed silently, feeling the fear, reveling in it.
Finally, a single man, older than most of the others, came forward and knelt just below the platform. "I will go with Hades, my lord. I will take Marlysa's place."
Ares' eyes fell on the kneeling old man and a slight smile played on his full lips.
Altimius stopped and looked at Ares. "I- am old. Marlysa has been my life for the last few years. She has brought me great pride and joy. I want her to continue in life." He paused and Ares looked at him expectantly. "May I ask a question, my lord?"
"Has she had her child? Is she well?"
Ares smiled. "That's two questions, Altimius. But in answer, yes, she had a girl. But Celesta did attempt to take her. In return for keeping her here, I've got to give Hades a soul. Zeus' rule. But it won't be you, Altimius. I can't let you do that. Marlysa and I depend on you too much. You have cared for her all these years. I ask you to continue to do that. No, who shall it be?"
Ares perused the group as Hades appeared on the platform, scroll in hand. Men visibly blanched and recoiled at the sight, trying not to see him. Hades was handsome by anyone's standard, but it was a known fact that anyone who touched him died.
"My sister said you wished to see me, Ares. She also told me that you refused to give Marlysa to her."
Ares nodded in the affirmative.
"Zeus' rule then applies. You have another soul to take her place?"
Ares smiled predatorily at the group huddled together for support. "Yes, indeed I do," he said softly to Hades. He held his hand out toward them. "Any or all. Your choice."
Altimius stood up and faced the group on Ares' left as Hades opened his scroll and perused it. "Remain silent," Ares told him. Altimius nodded sadly.
Not wanting to deny Ares his fun but knowing that he still had too many souls to judge yet this day, Hades faced the mob and found names mentioned his writings. He went through only a few of them. "Hector?" He looked toward him. The man visibly blanched and paled. "Paolin?" Eyes looked down at the floor and stayed there. "Barancus?"
Barancus threw himself on his knees before Hades. "No, please!" he begged. "My wife and children need me!"
"You should have thought of that before you decided to help destroy Marlysa," Ares snarled at him, filled with disgust at the man's showing of cowardice.
"Forgive me, Lord Ares!!" Another approached on his knees as well. Others swiftly followed suit, begging for their lives. Even Tarmenous was on his knees, Altimius noted.
Hades eyed Ares but Ares only had eyes for the men kneeling before him. He laughed delightedly at their pitiful displays for mercy.
Hades turned to him and spoke. "There is one here who stands out above the others. Great will be his time in Tartarus for the murder of his innocent wife. She now resides happily in the Elysian Fields. The man is a craven coward. All others have responded to you when the call has gone out for warriors. All others have sacrificed to you. He has given unto himself only." Hades paused. "He is also the one that began the rumor that the child was a demon when Marlysa turned down his offer of marriage."
Tarmenous' face grew red with fear when he heard Hades list his crimes. Quickly he threw himself on the floor before the two gods. "Please, my lords," he pleaded. "I am not worth your time or effort. Please don't take me!!" His eyes rolled in genuine fear.
Ares felt disgusted by the man's behavior. He shook Tarmenous off of his leg then nodded in confirmation to Hades. "Take him. And may he suffer for a long time."
Hades turned and touched Tarmenous.
"NO!" Tarmenous cried, but to no avail. He disappeared in puff of smoke.
Hades held out his hand to Ares and Ares took it. "Before I go, I do want to remind you that I am going to have to take Marlysa at some point. But not for several years unless something unforeseen happens." He put his scroll into the reserved pocket in his outfit. Ares nodded his acknowledgment of the fact. It was a day he was not looking forward to. "Thank you for letting me remove this creature."
"I assure you, the pleasure was mine," Ares replied, smiling. "I do so like to see people cower before me." Hades laughed, knowing the truth of Ares' statement, and vanished also.
Ares surveyed the now-silent group before him. "Listen well. Marlysa is special to me. My reasons for this are my own. But know this. She has always been under my protection and will continue to be. You are lucky I do not destroy all of you today.
"Marlysa's child is not a demon. It never has been. I sent her husband back to her just before the battle to allow them one last time together. Hades had said that he would be taken in the upcoming battle." The doors of the temple behind them clanged open, causing all of them to jump. "Except for Altimius, the rest of you may leave. But NEVER cause this again. If you do, I will destroy all of you." Ares turned away. "Altimius, come with me."
Altimius followed in Ares' wake.
Marlysa lay peacefully in the arms of Morpheus when Ares and Altimius entered. Altimius smiled when he saw his foster daughter with the child in her arms. To the right, a priestess and the midwife talked in low tones. Both turned to bow to Ares, but he shook his head 'no' and sat beside her.
The midwife spoke first. "She will most likely sleep for quite a while, my lord, but I believe she is out of danger."
A priestess entered toting a wicker basket full of soft cloth. She placed the basket next to the bed, picked the baby up and gently put her in it.
Altimius smiled at the sleeping baby and gently moved the blanket to see the rest of the child for himself. "A beautiful child. She will grow into a wonderful woman, hopefully the same as her mother." He gently tucked the blanket back around her.
"That she shall," Ares promised himself silently. "Do you have any idea what she had planned to name the child?" he asked Altimius.
"Yes. She wanted to name the child after you, Lord Ares. Beings this child is a girl, we had discussed the name Arianne."
"A good name." Ares picked the child up. "Arianne is your name," he told her.
He looked up as light flashed behind him, startling the midwife.
"I'd heard there was some excitement here tonight."
Ares sighed. What had started out as a decent night was about to go downhill. "Hello, Dite," he said in a tone of voice that said he lied.
"Hello, big brother." She spied the child, her eyes grew wide and a big smile came lit up her face. "Oh-h-h-h-h-h!!! Tubular!! A baby!!!" She held out her arms for Ares to put the child in them. "Oh, I love babies!! They're such a wonderful expression of love!!" Ares grimaced at her words and reluctantly gave Arianne to her. "Oh, you're adorable!! Such a cute nose! And small ears and hands!!"
"Sis, I have warned you about that crap around me!"
"Oh, pooh on you!" Aphrodite stuck her tongue out at him then continued to mouth her platitudes and gaze fondly at the baby. Trying to ignore the sticky sweetness that his sister was throwing around him with her cooing, Ares noticed that Marlysa was watching him.
"How you feeling?"
Marlysa looked into the deep black eyes for a moment, trying to remember where she was and who he was but he didn't look like any of the men in her village. He didn't look like anyone she knew. "Tired," she said softly. She gazed at everyone around her, not recognizing anyone until her eyes beheld Altimius. A smile crossed her lips as she looked upon him fondly. Then another thought hit her and she quickly wrapped her arms around her belly. "My baby!" she cried, beginning to panic. She tried to rise only to be forced back down by Ares' strong hands.
"Is currently learning the wrong language from my sister," Ares said dryly and heard Aphrodite snigger at him. He ignored her attempt at bating him into an argument. "You and your child are safe here. The villagers have left."
Aphrodite's voice rose slightly in volume, knowing her brother was hearing her plainly, knowing that he was ignoring her. She heard him retort under his breath, "As I'm going to be if she keeps this up." His voice then rose loud to be heard over Aphrodite's. "Sis, that's enough!"
Arianne screwed up her face, opened her mouth and let out a yell loud enough to match Ares'. "Now look what you've done," Aphrodite scolded. "You scared her. There, there, that's alright. Don't let the big, bad man scare you." She held the child close and rocked it gently to and fro.
Ares looked at her with mock quizzicalness. "How did I get to be the villain in this piece?"
"Because it usually is you," Aphrodite said and gently laughed at him as Ares scowled beneath his dark, hooded eyes.
"You do something different..." he muttered then sighed. He rose from his seat and gently ran a rough finger over the child's soft cheek. "She's going to make a good warrior, though. That was a heck of a battle cry from her."
It was Aphrodite's turn to scowl at him. "She will not be," she informed him, holding the baby just out of his reach. "This child is going to be a wonderful lover."
He laughed at Aphrodite's protectiveness. "Nah. She'll be a warrior. A leader of men, leading her armies into battle for my greater glory. I can feel it."
Altimius watched the bantering between the sibling gods and smiled. "If I may say, my lord, this room seems to have become a ladies' sanctuary. It's always that way where babies are concerned. I suggest we go elsewhere for a while." Altimius turned to lead the way out. "Marlysa, get some sleep."
Ares simply sighed in defeat and followed him as Aphrodite continued to coo over the baby.
The tavern that Altimius and Ares retreated to provided them with a cover of muted darkness in a corner. There, at a wooden table over a couple of mugs of ale, the Greek God of War and a mortal man discussed the situation of the new mother. Some tavern patrons looked at them with curiosity, but did not approach them.
"How did all this come about?" Ares asked as he set his mug down.
Altimius sighed gently, trying to form his thoughts into the words that would explain without angering his companion. Ares waited expectantly, looking through him with black, penetrating eyes. Finally Altimius spoke slowly, regretfully.
"I'm not certain as to the exact start of it. Marlysa has been very pleased about her baby. She has gone through a tough time with the death of her husband, but the baby gave her a reason to live. Then Tarmenous started bothering her. I didn't think too much of it at first - he's always bothered her off and on all of her life. He has even claimed to have loved her, but I tend to doubt it.
"But these last few weeks have proven to be almost intolerable for her. Tarmenous started talking about where the child came from, claiming that she had lain with a demon. She had been telling everyone for months that the child was her husband's - that he had returned home for that night only, just as you said in the temple.
"Finally the villagers listened to him. I kept telling them that they shouldn't listen to him, but they didn't heed me. I was left with very few options when they began to leave to find her. So, I at least managed to convince them to wait until the baby was born. At least until Tarmenous started his yapping again. That happened today. About the same time that her water broke. You know the rest of the story."
"Why was I not informed of this sooner?" He watched Altimius' reaction to the question closely. Until now, he had never had reason to doubt the old man's loyalty.
Altimius thought long and hard about question before answering. Ares was not a god known for forgiveness and Altimius felt the weight of Ares' disapproval on his arthritic shoulders. "Until today there seemed to be no need. She repelled his advances time and again with no problems until tonight, even his initial ramblings that the child was a demon. I had been out in the fields all day. When he started in talking at the tavern tonight, I don't know why people listened to him, but they did. I joined the chase en route and managed to at least convince them not to hurt her." Altimius sighed. "I'm sorry, milord. I just didn't think to call you. I was worrying about her too much. She is so much the daughter I never had. I thank you for the years of joy she has given me."
Ares nodded but didn't say anything more on the subject except to say that he wanted no one to see Marlysa until he gave his leave, letting Altimius to think what he would.
The sun shone brightly in Marlysa's eyes, waking her with its' golden rays. She tried to turn over to go back to sleep but the movement caused her pain in her abdominal region, rendering that useless. She curled up into a ball tightly, willing it to go away. She felt a light, soft touch on her cheek and heard someone talking to her. "Drink this. It'll help the pain."
She managed to raise her head enough to drink the herbal tea down. Drowsiness ensued shortly thereafter, rendering her back into peaceful oblivion.
Dusk was descending when Morpheus gave her back to the living. Shadows lurked in the corners of the room, chased there by the candles' glow. In a chair next to her sat a priestess rocking Arianne and humming a quiet tune. Silently, Marlysa watched the young girl as she gazed fondly at Marlysa's newborn child. Clad in a short, off-white gown that revealed more than it concealed, Marlysa determined that she was approximately sixteen or seventeen, twenty at the most. Dark brown hair, possibly black in the dim light, highlighted a fragile, friendly face with full lips and small ears. Dark eyes finally noticed that she was awake.
"How are you feeling?" she asked as she put Arianne by Marlysa's side.
Marlysa slipped an arm around her baby then replied, "I've been better. Weak, but alive, thanks to Lord Ares."
The girl smiled. "Thanks to Lord Ares is right. We're all trying to figure out why he did it. It's not his usual thing. I'm Leda, by the way." She moved toward the door. "I'll be right back. Darius wanted to know when you awoke."
Marlysa dozed for a few moments, only to be awakened by Darius. He was a big man, almost as big as Ares himself but he looked older with greying hair and a fatherly twinkle in his eye. Around his waist was one of the longest, deadliest looking swords Marlysa had ever seen. "How are you feeling?"
"Tired but okay."
Leda came back in with a tray of good smells that made Marlysa's mouth water, so hungry was she. "She had some pain earlier this morning. I gave her the tea as the midwife told me to do and she slept until now."
"Excellent. Lord Ares will be pleased to hear this." He sat himself down in the rocker after helping Marlysa to sit up then wrapping the blanket around her waist. After putting Arianne in her basket, Leda put the tray in her lap and bade her to eat. She inhaled the odors of meat broth, bread, and tea and realized how hungry she was. "Slowly, child, slowly," Darius bade her as he saw how fast she was eating. "Now then, what happened to cause you to run from your village to here?"
Between mouthfuls, Marlysa relayed the same tale that Altimius told, only starting from her home. "As you can see, I had no choice but to run. I had to protect my child."
Darius nodded. "Well, then, you will be pleased to know that Tarmenous will bother you no more. Hades took him last night."
Marlysa's mouth dropped open as the spoon clattered in the bowl, spilling broth over the edge. Tarmenous dead? "But I didn't mean for anyone to die!" she protested. "I just wanted to keep myself and my child alive."
Darius' calloused hand touched her face gently. "I know. So does Lord Ares. But Lady Celesta came for you and Lord Ares told her that she couldn't have you. That's when Lord Hades chose Tarmenous instead. Both gods agreed that it was a good thing." He picked up the spoon she had dropped, dipped it back into the bowl and brought it up to her mouth. "Now eat." She took the spoon and diligently obeyed him.
He got up to leave. "Leda, Lord Ares desires you to remain here for as long as Marlysa and Arianne need you. After you are no longer needed, then we'll see to it that you get safe passage to Lord Prometheus' temple." He left, closing the door behind him.
Marlysa noticed a droop to the young girl's shoulders. "I probably shouldn't be nosy, but what was that all about?"
"It's alright. I don't mind talking about it. The whole place knows that not everyone works out here and I'm amongst them." She sat down in the chair. "I'm just not much of a fighter. If someone got hurt, I was always the first one there to care for their injury. Lord Ares decided I would be better off elsewhere. So he made arrangements for me to be a priestess at Lord Prometheus' temple." Her tone had brightened, but it hadn't reached her face. "At least, I'm not a total failure. Most of us that didn't make it are being sent back to our villages in shame."
"Why would it be a shame? You tried your best."
"I'm the daughter of a warlord. My brothers and sisters have all served Lord Ares with many honors. Me- I'm the family failure. I'd rather heal people than hurt them."
She dipped her bread in the remainder of the broth. "So what's wrong with that?"
Leda sighed in anger. "Don't you get it? I've dishonored my family."
"No, you haven't," Marlysa said. "Someone's got to patch them back up. Besides, maybe if you ask Darius, you can still serve Lord Ares in the role of doctor once you've gained your knowledge at Lord Prometheus' temple."
"I like your idea, but I don't think my parents would agree to it. They're convinced that women all have to be warriors or someone's brood mare."
"If they love you, it won't matter to them."
Leda simply nodded, knowing that Marlysa, being a villager, really had no idea what it was like being the daughter of a warlord. She picked up the empty tray. "Go to sleep. I'll be back to check on you."
Marlysa gingerly scooted down and readjusted her clothing and the blankets. She leaned over the edge of the bed and gazed at her sleeping child, not hardly daring to believe that Lord Ares and Lord Hades had favored her life over Tarmenous'. Gods were hard to figure out, she decided.
It was several days before Leda and the other two priestesses would allow Marlysa to leave her bed for any real length of time. Constantly they looked after her and Arianne, each one bringing a gift for the child. Even Aphrodite showed up to check on her and coo at Arianne. But the longing to leave the room hung heavily on her. Darius looked in on her every now and then but would not allow her out. "Lord Ares' orders," he kept telling her. Still, she could see the people coming to and from the temple from her window, talking and laughing amongst themselves as they paid tribute to Ares in hopes of keeping the peace in their valley. Some were people from her village and she wished that she could speak to them. Other times she would watch the priests and priestesses practice with their weapons and kept wishing that she could at least be outside.
Two weeks had passed since Marlysa had given birth. By now her child was a healthy pink color with wide open baby blue eyes that watched everything. A thatch of dark brown hair crowned her little head and she often waved her tiny hands enthusiastically at each new face. Marlysa held her child in her arms and watched the people go by, some bringing baskets of fruits, vegetables, and other assorted goods. "Look at them, Arianne. So many people." Arianne happily blew bubbles at her mother's words. Marlysa gently wiped them away.
Darius stood at the doorway to her room, watching the scene tenderly, yet with pain. It reminded him so of his own wife and child many years ago before they were killed by The Horde. He knew well of Marlysa's longing. Today, he would grant her wish for a short time. Ares had given his permission.
A few short minutes later found Marlysa and Arianne sitting under a tree on a blanket watching the priests and priestesses working with the new recruits, showing them how to fall properly to avoid injury. Marlysa studied the clear, blue sky and the green of the plants around them, feeling the light breeze ripple through the air.
"Beautiful day," a deep voice commented next to her.
She shrieked slightly in surprise then recognized the owner of the voice. Lord Ares. He grinned, pleased with himself that he had managed to startle her. Just in front of him, as he sat on the blanket, Arianne let lose a shriek of her own. Marlysa moved to pick her up but Ares beat her to it. Gently he cradled the child, the size of his large hands dwarfing her, examining her minutely before gently resting her in the crook of his left arm.
"Indeed it is," Marlysa replied as she watch Ares nudge Arianne's tiny hand with his forefinger. Arianne curled her minuscule fingers around it and Ares smiled at her. "I've been wanting to thank you, milord, for saving me and Arianne. Without your help, I have no doubt we would not be here today and Tarmenous gone. My child and I owe you our lives."
Ares smiled, his predator instincts sharpening. "Be warned, Marlysa. I collect on all debts."
She sighed inwardly. "Of that I have no doubt. I will gladly pay the bill."
"Don't say that until you know what the price is," he warned. "My price is often quite steep."
"It will still be worth it if Arianne has chance in this world."
Ares nodded. "Then we understand each other."
"Yes, milord. We do."
"We do what?" they heard behind them. Aphrodite adjusted her sheer pink gown. "Give her here, big brother."
Ares looked at his sister with her outstretched arms and turned away from her. "What are you doing here? Planning on teaching this kid some more bad language?" he snarled.
"Yep," she said, smiling. "Especially if it makes you mad. Now give!"
"Buzz off." Ares turned his attention back to the group of trainees attempting to fall, roll, and get back on their feet in one swift motion. Behind him he could feel Aphrodite's eyes narrow in anger, see her sitting there with her hands fisted on her hips and he smiled in amusement. She could be such fun sometimes and a pain other times.
Marlysa looked at the two of them, wondering if she shouldn't take Arianne out of the line of fire. But Aphrodite said nothing more for the moment, simply put her head in her hands, leaned forward and glared at him. For his part, he ignored her, instead choosing to concentrate on the trainees. Every now and then Marlysa caught Ares nodding his head as he studied someone in particular, or shook his head 'no' when someone couldn't perform to his standards. Only a few of the new recruits would become part of his personal guard. In his arms, Arianne yawned and finally nodded off to sleep, her hands tucked under her chin.
Ares didn't protest as Marlysa reached across him to get her child. She adjusted the blanket as her arm slid along the length of his, accidentally brushing his manhood in the process. Marlysa didn't notice the quick intake of breath as she pulled her daughter into her arms, but Aphrodite smiled in quiet interest.
Ares made a quick getaway before Marlysa could see the effect she had on him. Behind her Aphrodite started giggling. "Oh, brother," she said, staring at his fleeing form. "Have you got it bad."
"Got what bad?"
"Later." She set off to follow her brother into his temple.
Marlysa only shook her head in bewilderment at the actions of gods and goddesses.
Ares approached a table laid out to represent Greece and its' surrounding borders. In different places on the three dimensional map were small catapults, soldiers, horses, and other implements of war. Here, in the privacy of his temple, the God of War worked out the various plans that made him the great warrior that he was.
Ares moved several pieces from one point to another then walked around the map, studying it from all angles. As he looked at the top of the Parthenon, he noticed that it had a pink background that bespoke of creamy skin underneath.
"Something you wanted?" he said gruffly.
Aphrodite leaned over the table, affording him a good view of her assets, then smiled with all the warmth of a cat on the prowl. "Yeah. You to 'fess up."
"To what?" He put a soldier down on the board to divert his attention from her.
"To what?" she repeated, amazed at his density. "Like you didn't have a reaction to Marlysa out there. I saw what happened. You couldn't wait to leave. Didn't want her to know how you really felt, huh?" She dangled her words before him, certain he would bite.
He turned a scowl on her that had sent generals running for their lives but Aphrodite only smiled in return. "Maybe I just wanted to get away from you."
"Ha! I think you find Marlysa interesting."
"What would you know about that?"
Aphrodite felt her temper rise, but attempted to get it in check. It wouldn't do to ruin what she knew could be a victory over her brother. "What would I know about that? I'm just the Goddess of Love is all. Like I just deal with it everyday."
"So go deal with it elsewhere. I've got things to do." He moved a catapult to another part of the map in an effort to ignore her.
"Yeah. Like playing with your little toys."
Ares let out a deep breath in an attempt to keep his own temper. "Dite, give me a break. I'm the God of War here. I don't love anyone. I can't love anyone."
"Why not? Your soldiers love various people all the time and they still go out and kill for you."
Ares set the soldier in his hand down hard and approached his sister so rapidly that she barely had time to straighten up to face him. "Aphrodite, for once and for all, I DO NOT LOVE MARLYSA. I DON'T LOVE ANYONE. I CAN'T LOVE ANYONE." He pounded the map table with his fist in anger, causing pieces to jump and scatter, then turned away, breathing heavily, trying to control his temper. "I lust after a woman. I'll take her and use her then I dispose of her. You know that." He turned to straighten his map from the mess he had just made.
Aphrodite stared at him, not knowing what to say. She knew he was capable of love. She had seen the signs before. Always it ended because they were mortal. He refused to let them partake of ambrosia, the one drink that would guarantee that he had a partner for the intervening centuries. Instead, he had captured that part of him and locked it away, burying it beneath the bloodlust that ran in his veins. Still, it did have a way of surfacing. Like now.
She considered her options carefully. Because of his responsibilities as the God of War, it wouldn't do to have him falling in love indiscriminately. That could create more havoc in the long run. Besides, he was already in love. He just didn't want to recognize it.
She could let things go as they were. But where would the fun be in that? And, then too, neither he nor Marlysa would ever get together as they should, not if Ares had his way. He'd take her to his bed and simply use her then cast her out when he was finished. She would return to her village a husk of her former self, her love wasted on him like so many others.
Or, she could simply nudge him further along the path that he had already chosen.
Aphrodite mused over the last possibility. It seemed to be the correct choice to make. Worked properly, it wouldn't interfere with his duties as the God of War. He was attracted to Marlysa, his reaction to her had already proven that. He just wouldn't admit it. He claimed it was lust. So, the problem was getting him to admit he was capable of loving someone, even if it was just to Marlysa.
Knowing that Ares wasn't paying her any
attention on purpose, Aphrodite took the opportunity to cast her spell.
She spoke softly, almost lovingly as she looked at her handsome older brother.
Ares, Ares, God of War
You claim you love no more.
To this I cite,
Love is light.
Love is true.
Love is right for you.
Trained to hate,
Determined to kill,
Your love lies deep
Give it a chance
Give in today
Feel what your heart has to say.
Bury it not
Bury it deep
Do not let it go to sleep.
This spell will only release ya
When you admit you love Marlysa.
Ares felt a very light tingling sensation that ceased in seconds. He looked up to see Aphrodite begin to sparkle. "Oooh! I'm so good!" she reveled and then blew a kiss, smiled, winked and waved at him as she disappeared.
Anger shook him to his very core. She had done something to him. But what? "Dite, get back here!" he bellowed to no avail. "Dite!"
His only answer was the sound of her musical laughter echoing in the quiet room. Ares felt fear gather in the pit of his stomach.
It had been a good morning, Marlysa thought as she left her room after changing and feeding Arianne. It had felt wonderful to be outside again in the warmth of the sunshine.
She passed by small groups of people, warriors, warlords, and commoners alike, some waiting with their tribute to him, others having completed it. Some smiled warmly, others ignored her, yet others inquired politely but curiously about Arianne.
It was quite a tale to tell, she knew, yet she didn't know how much of her story Ares would want known to the general populace. So, in deference to his reputation, all she would say was that she had been away from her village when the labor pains began and that Ares had allowed her to take refuge in his temple. It was truthful enough that she didn't tell any lies, yet it satisfied the questions.
As she passed by the lines of people, she saw Darius talking to a woman from her village. He shook his head 'no' and the woman obviously refused to take it for an answer. Marlysa turned in that direction only to find her path blocked by Ketlin, one of Ares' personal temple guards.
"I'm sorry," he said as she looked up into his weathered face, "Lord Ares said you are to have no contact with anyone from your village."
He shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know, milady. We were simply told to keep them from you. Ask Darius."
Her neighbor turned away from Darius and, waving at her, left the temple.
Marlysa waved back then watched Darius as a warlord approached him with several of his men in attendance, anger clearly evident on the man's scarred face. Darius listened politely as the warlord voiced his problem. Curious, Marlysa edged forward to hear what was being said.
"I paid the tribute to win and I was assured that I would win." The warlord paced with his annoyance.
"Did Lord Ares say that he would guarantee it?" Darius inquired, watching the man's movements carefully, knowing full well that Ares would never guarantee a victory. The most he could guarantee was peace when the battle was done.
The warlord stopped pacing and stared at him incredulously, not believing his ears. "I have always paid my tribute before a battle and always have I won."
"Tribute paid is no guarantee," Darius told him. "Lord Ares has never guaranteed anyone a victory and he never will."
The warlord's face grew red as his temper soared. Darius turned to walk away, leaving him to his problem. Swiftly, the warlord's sword appeared in his hand and he let out a piercing battle cry. Around him, villagers screamed as they trampled each other in their haste to get out of the way. The warlord's men drew their arms in readiness and moved to their lord's side.
Drawing his own sword, Ketlin ran to protect Darius' back but it proved unnecessary as light faded and high winds heralding Ares' temper filled the temple. Marlysa moved with the villagers away from the altar throne where Ares now appeared, face darkened with rage.
"You dare to defile my temple by drawing your sword here and threatening my priests!" Ares rose slowly in height, filling the temple to the ceiling, allowing the warlord to see and feel the power facing him. Fear replaced wrath as the warlord dropped his sword hastily on the floor and knelt quickly, trying to appear humble, motioning for his men to do the same.
"Forgive me, my lord, Lord Ares!" the man said, trembling beneath the dark, hooded gaze. "I lost my temper. It will never happen again."
As he knelt, praying that he would be spared, Ares' personal guard positioned themselves just behind them, swords drawn. "Indeed it won't. You have violated the rules of the temple and questioned my divine right of granting victory. Kill his men and take him to The Master of The Chamber."
"NO! No, please! I beg you!" The warlord inched forward on bended knees in supplication. His personal guard raised their swords to the throats of the unfortunate men, grabbed their hair roughly and cleanly slit their heads off. Blood spewed out of the bodies as the writhed for a moment, then collapsed on the floor. The guards held up the heads for all to see. Ares groaned in delight at the sight. The warlord and Marlysa gazed at it in horror then she saw the warlord being dragged down a corridor. A large, wooden door opened revealing steps going downward then it closed behind him. A hand went up in front of her mouth as she attempted to keep the contents of her stomach where it belonged.
Ares watched her reaction closely, wondering why he felt that, of all the people here, she shouldn't have seen this take place.
A knock sounded on the door to Marlysa's room. Quickly, she took a deep breath and ordered her rebellious stomach to settle down before bidding the person to enter. Leda, cup in hand, opened the door and snuck in.
"I thought you might be having a problem dealing with that little scene," she said, referring to what had happened in the main temple moments before. "It doesn't happen often, but when it does..."
"It- does," Marlysa finished lamely, thinking of the blood that was spilt.
Leda nodded in agreement and handed her . "I brought something to settle your stomach. You looked rather sickly after that display." Marlysa gratefully took it and swallowed the herbal tea.
"Does this kind of thing happen often?"
Leda shook her head no. "Not really. The last time was several months ago. It's rare if someone challenges Lord Ares like that. Usually, they end up going to visit The Master of The Chamber."
"Who- or what- is The Master of The Chamber? I've heard the words bandied about around here. It reminds me of something my mother used to say to make me behave." She sat down on the bed, put her cup down on the table and picked Arianne up to feed her.
Leda sat down in the chair, looking uncomfortable with the subject. "It's worse than that. He's real. He's the guy that runs the torture chamber here. He never comes above stairs. The only ones who see him are Lord Ares' personal guards, who only take prisoners to him and Darius, other than Lord Ares, of course."
"So very few people have ever seen him?"
"I wonder why."
Leda shrugged her small shoulders. "I've heard all kinds of things. I've heard he's insane, that he's too ugly to look upon, that he was captured from a warlord in battle and he's a prisoner down there doing Lord Ares' work now - well, you know how rumors fly."
"Yes, I do."
Leda picked up the empty cup. "I do know, however, that I've heard some of the screams that come from that place. And I've never seen any prisoner return from there alive. Well, I've got to go see if anyone needs me."
Marlysa watched her go, thinking about what Leda had told her. Half of her wanted to go see the chamber that Leda had spoken of. The other half, common sense, told her to mind her own business. She didn't need to be risking the God of War's wrath or she would end up there.
Stars dotted the skies above his temple that same night as Ares stepped outside into the coolness of the starry night. He paused on the main step of the enclosed courtyard, leaned against the column and took a deep breath. Around him the music of the night had begun its' symphony. Frogs bellowed out their brass tones, soothed by the reeds of the winds and the soprano voices of the birds and insects. He had to admit, Demeter did a beautiful job. Even with the pressure of his responsibilities he managed to feel peace steal over him every now and then. Tonight was one of those rare times.
He closed his eyes wearily and listened closer to the sounds surrounding him. To his left he heard a young girl giggle and a boy shush her. A faint smile passed over his face. He mentally wished them the joy of their liaison and found himself wanting to join them. Perhaps he'd find himself a woman tonight. Someone that he could satisfy his lust with. His libido jerked to life at the thought and he grinned. Yeah, that's what he needed. Something to take his mind off Marlysa.
He could still see her sitting on the ground holding Arianne today before his sister had rudely interrupted. All curved in the right places, a bit more than what she had been before pregnancy but she'd lose the weight soon enough, the fullness of breasts peeping out over the top of her gown, the long length of her sleek legs...gods, his hands ached to feel them. The brightness of her eyes, full of love as she gazed at her sleeping child, the fullness of her kissable lips... Ares swore silently to himself. Damn Dite! What did she do to him? He hadn't had these thoughts in centuries. It was non-committal lust he should involve himself in. Not love. Never love. After all, he was the God of War. Love and caring wasn't his department. It shouldn't even be in his vocabulary let alone his life.
To his right came the muted tones of people talking. In the distance came the sound of Arianne crying but only for a moment. A beautiful contralto voice filled the air singing a soft lullaby in time to the creak of a swing.
Ares opened the gate to the small formal garden that lay to the inside of the temple walls. He had resisted it at first, but eventually came to see the potential of having it. The garden provided, not only sustenance and medicines for the temple clergy, but also a place to clear his mind when he was in residence here. Many a time he had come out here wrestling with a problem only to have the answer present itself after he had relaxed. Perhaps tonight it would provide him with the answer of what to do with this curse Aphrodite had laid on him.
He found her rocking Arianne, still humming the tune she had begun to sing. He said nothing as he sat beside her watching the moonlight cast shadows on her face. He knew he shouldn't be here with her, but it felt right. Knew that it would only bring both of them heartache, but he couldn't stop himself. Companionable silence passed between them while Arianne dropped off to sleep. Presently she stopped the swing long enough to put Arianne in her basket. Ares resumed the rocking motion of the swing after she sat back and, absentmindedly, his arm stole around behind her. Not a word was spoken between them as jasmine swirled the air with its' sweet scent. Ares thought to remind Darius to remove it. Jasmine was more suited to Aphrodite than him.
It didn't surprise him when Marlysa's head finally plopped gently against his bicep. It had been a tiring day for her. He scooted her a little closer to him and felt rewarded when she snuggled against him in her sleep. Yet he was also troubled by his response to her. This was not normal for him. Again, he wondered exactly what Aphrodite had done to him. How it would affect him during coming battles. Would he be able to keep his mind on his work? Would he be able to clear the air? Or would a lack of concentration cause them to run on longer than they should?
Had he seen the peacock's eyes behind him, he would have felt even more troubled. For Hera was watching her son and this female intruder.
Far above in Mount Olympus, Hera raged. The unthinkable had happened. Her Ares, the child that she had raised so carefully, taught every unscrupulous value that he had at her knee, was behaving like someone love-smitten for the first time.
She paused in reflection. Her own thoughts caused her to examine her words carefully.
It had to be her.
Little Miss Love Child.
Forever meddling where she shouldn't be.
Well, this time she had gone too far.
And her bearer of love sitting next to her son would do the paying for her goddess's interference. No one would take her son from her, especially her. Hera suspended her rage momentarily, thinking. Perhaps this unfortunate change of events in her plans could be used to her advantage. Perhaps the lesson she was attempting to teach him could be implanted even deeper into his mind. And what a lesson it would be. One he would remember for centuries to come. She would yet teach him again what he had forgotten.
All she had to do was bide her time and wait for Aphrodite's spell to complete itself. Then he would remember the final exam.
Marlysa wandered through the temple a few days later, Arianne's basket in hand, learning her way around the four sided, court-yarded building. The right side of the temple housed the priests and priestesses in the upper floors, the kitchen and its' required storage area, dining area, with bathing and laundry facilities just below that. On the left side were the spacious personal quarters of Ares and Darius. Just below that was the small arms armory and the planning room that belonged to Ares alone as well as several small reception rooms for meetings with warlords and other various VIPs. Other doors to small rooms containing tribute that had been brought resided on this side. Here, too, was Marlysa's room and just down the hall was the locked door to The Chamber, according to Leda. She couldn't get the door open and no one wanted to tell her anything more about it. They all said the same thing. Go ask Darius. When asked, he would simply ignore her question and change the subject, much to her annoyance.
The center front of the building was the most interesting, Marlysa had decided. It contained the vault-ceiling throne room and altar for everyone to visit. Pictures depicting past battles lined the walls, always with Ares leading the warriors to victory. Each battle ended with a portrait of carnage in vivid detail. Beyond the large, dark doors lay the beautifully landscaped courtyard with its' fountain showing Ares drawing his sword and the swing she used quite often to rock Arianne. Several small sheds and a cottage dotted the back of courtyard, almost making it appear as though a village lived within the temple walls. To the back of it, stables and storage for major pieces of military equipment lay hidden behind a brick wall. The front and sides of the temple grounds were pleasantly landscaped to welcome visitors while the back provided space for training.
Although the past few days had passed pleasantly enough with no sign of Ares in residence, several things gnawed at Marlysa from that dreadful day in the temple leaving her with more than little bit of curiosity and a touch of horror when she remembered it.
Even though she had the information that Leda had supplied about The Chamber and The Master who ran it, curiosity continued to eat at her. Who exactly was The Master? And why was it so feared? Someday, Marlysa vowed, she would find the answers.
"Take a fourth of your men and the catapult to the far end of bridge," Ares told the commander amidst the smoke. "We take this town by nightfall."
Around him Ares felt the hatred in the air and heard the screams of the wounded and dying. He felt tired yet exhilarated - the blood of the battle sang in his veins lifting his spirits to new heights. Yes, this was his heart, his life. There could be nothing else. Here, he knew he would continue to serve Hera.
To his left, a second catapult continued to pound on the now weakened defenses of the small city. To his right, archers launched more arrows skyward.
"Pull!" he heard the catapult's commander yell. The neck of the giant slingshot was tugged into place and secured. Quickly, ammunition was loaded into its' maw.
"Aim it there, at the wall's weakest point," Ares shouted to him, pointing at the spot where he wanted it to land. The commander nodded then reeled off the orders to his men. "Troops stand at the ready," Ares shouted and readjusted his position for a better view of the town below.
Around him, mortal men hoisted their shields and swords. Soon, soon they would capture the city and the spoils of war would be theirs. Soon, too, Ares thought, he would leave peace behind him.
He knew that people would initially suffer from this battle. Innocent men, women, and children would die from wounds, slavery, and starvation. There was no way to prevent it. He had tried to once upon a time. He had discovered, to his dismay, that he was unable to. Time had eventually hardened his heart until he was thought of as evil. It didn't really bother him anymore. If anything, it was kind of fun being known as a dark god. Women threw themselves at you, often offering their very delectable bodies (which he sometimes took advantage of). Village men tended to avoid you.
But mortal men didn't know the ways of the gods. Yet he also knew that this battle might be able to bring peace to the area for another 20 or 30 years if he was lucky. This was his hope. And the secret that he kept from Hera.
Yet always he knew there would be another battle someplace until time ended. This was his curse. A curse that fed his powers and gave him life. The same curse that brought peace in its' wake. His hope. His only reason to keep going.
The rock crushed the section of the wall that Ares had pointed out, leaving behind a crumpling defense. Men inside rushed to fortify it as Ares' troops ran to overwhelm it. Sounds of clanging swords and grunting men caught in the frenzy of fighting, women and children screaming as they were dragged from their burning homes registered in Ares' brain. He didn't try to stop the slaughter - he knew there was no way to do so. Inside him, energy burned deep in his soul. His powers felt charged, renewed with the blood of so many dead.
Somewhere behind him, he heard the sound of a baby crying and a young mother pleading with a soldier not to kill her child. For a fleeting moment, he thought about Marlysa and Arianne. For a fleeting second, he let his guard down. Instantly his senses were assaulted by the sheer force of the carnage around him. Too much power trying to pass through him too quickly. He stumbled backward for a step or two with the force of it then shored up his mental defenses and pressed onward, hacking another hapless soldier in several parts.
"Move inward!" he shouted above the din. "Move inward!"
He slew the man in front of him then stepped on him in his haste to redirect the battle. Behind him he could hear the cry of the men as they continued to force their way over the breach.
Time lost all meaning for him as he and his men continued to pillage the city around them. Ahead lay the castle. It would be easy, now that the walls had been breached. Soon he would sit on the throne of the old king. Then he would put the loyal warlord that commanded with him this day on the throne as king. This would become one of his cities. One of his greatest, he vowed to himself. Here he would build another temple. Here they would worship him and the peace he had brought, that only he could bring.
Marlysa exited her room, grateful that she could leave the crying Arianne to Leda's ministration for a while. All night the baby had fussed, making Marlysa irritable herself. As she passed down the hall toward the courtyard, she noticed that the door to The Chamber was opened. Curiosity again peaked her. Who was The Master? What was The Chamber? Leda had said that it was the torture chamber, that The Master was an evil, insane person.
But she didn't know for sure.
She'd never been down there even though she'd explored just about every other place in the temple with the exception of everyone's personal quarters.
And Leda had said that no one, other than Lord Ares, his personal guards, and Darius knew what was down there or what went on for sure.
Light filtered up the stairs, just barely showing the in crack of the door letting it beckon her in the semi-dark corridor. A faint hissing sound echoed up the rounding corridor followed by a bellow of pain.
I really shouldn't, she thought. If Lord Ares wanted me to know, he'd tell me.
She turned away from the door but it continued to call to her like the Sirens' song to Ulysses.
Well, maybe just a quick peek from the stairs and then I'll leave, she told herself as she swung the door open enough for her to slip through. That can't hurt anyone. And I'll not interfere, no matter what. She held her breath as she opened it, but no sound came from the well-oiled hinges. Only the snap of something and a scream echoed from below.
The air smelled dank and musty at the top of the stone steps. She hesitated at the sound, but curiosity drove her on. With each increment of descent, it took on a rotting flavor so deep that soon she could taste it with every breath. The light shone a touch brighter with each step she took. The first step, the second, the third - down she went following the curve of the staircase, seeing nothing but high stone walls, the steps, and the light. The sounds continued rousing her curiosity to new heights.
She paused at the last few steps before the floor and tried to peer around the corner but found herself too far from the edge. With every step that she took, she knew that she could be placing herself in danger. Even the priests and priestesses didn't come down here unless they had to.
Finally, she was on the ground level. She clung to the wall and looked around the corner.
Chains hung from the ceiling in a room as large as the main temple room, dangling like the spider webs that crowded around them. Whips of various sizes and strands, some with large spikes on them, were lined up against the walls along with other instruments that she couldn't name. Cages were scattered throughout the room, some occupied by skeletons and rotting corpses. Except for one, several large tables with buckles and leather straps were waiting for an occupant. She immediately recognized the warlord that had created the scene in Ares' temple room. Or, at least, what remained of him. He was naked on a table, his body crisscrossed with welts, burns, cuts, and other open, oozing wounds. Parts of his flesh had been cut away down to the bone and now lay on the table next to him. He turned his bloody head in her direction, silently pleading for help before she saw him draw a deep breath and the light of life leave his eyes. She stared at him in horror.
Leda hadn't been kidding, she decided. This was no place for her. Best she leave now before she was discovered and never return.
"Marlysa you must be," said a nasally, hissing voice next to her right ear. She turned swiftly to run up the stairs, but found her wrist caught in a cold, clammy, misshapen hand. "Be afraid of me not. Harm you I will not. Ares' orders."
"Let me go!" She attempted to pull away from him but her captor stepped in front of her. Hideously deformed on the right side of his face, he made no attempt to hide it from her. It was a sharp contrast to the left, more human side of his face. Bone shown through patches of skin around an almost closed eye. The cheekbone was totally caved in and the nose was broken. His mouth drooped at the corner, saliva dripped from it onto the black robe that he wore, mingling with the fresh blood staining the front of it. Brown hair grew sporadically around half of his head. His right ear was gone. Only the hole remained where scar tissue had formed around it.
"Knew you would come down here, he did. Knew curiosity would win you over. Come see what you have come to see. More than Ares knows I about this place. My domain here. Create this for me did he. For The Master of The Chamber am I and serve only Lord Ares do I." He spread his arm wide showing her what he was most proud of.
He pulled on her arm, leading her away from the stairs and closer to a rotting corpse only to pass it. The stench was so bad that it was all she could do to keep from expelling the contents of her stomach. "So long has it been that a visitor has come." He pulled her quickly around another table that had red coloring permanently etched into the grooves. "Once upon a time, to see me many young women came. Handsome as Ares was I. Young, strong, and as fearless was I. King of many lands. Called Greece now was my many lands. Centuries ago." He paused, reminiscing within his mind, all the while leading her someplace that she couldn't fathom. As she looked here and there on their random flight, she felt herself trying to curl away from the instruments of torture in front of her only to find herself close to another one.
"What happened?" She couldn't help asking, so morbid did he look, trying not to think of all the apparatus and the suffering it could inflict.
"Defeated me in battle he did. Told me not to fight him he did." He stopped their flight and touched the side of his face. "Did this to me, he did. In retribution for fighting him." The Master sniffed for a moment as a tear came to his eye. "Hates him I do. Yet loves him I do too."
She started at his words, hearing the truth of them. She, herself, had felt that way about different people at times.
The Master suddenly held his chin up high proudly with regal bearing and Marlysa noted that the tear had disappeared. "Many things about Lord Ares can I tell you. Many things know not others. High priest Darius does think himself. High Priest am I. Darius not." He let her arm go and swirled around in front of her. "Here! True realm here. Not there up." He pointed skyward. Evil and dark Ares is."
He stopped in mid-twirl. "But darker yet is another god. Beware, little one. Protect you not able to, will be Lord Ares." He stepped away from her and cackled his laughter, the sound of it enhancing the fear growing in her heart.
"Who? Who is the other god? Hades? Zeus? Who?" She tried to get him to settle down and answers the questions that were pulling at her. But he would have none of it.
He took at her arm again, continuing to lead her around his domain on the grand tour, never pausing at any particular object. Finally, he stopped in front of an overly large arm chair. A table with several glasses filled with different liquids and spoons was nearby.
"Sit!" he hissed, pointing to it with a red-stained finger. She perched herself on the edge, watching him warily, ready to run at an instant's notice. Before she could react, he crooked his finger and a an unknown force pushed her all the way back into it.
She attempted to move and discovered that she could not. Panic and regret for not heeding Leda's advice filled her. What would become of her now? What would become of her child?
"Told you no harm would come to you did I. Ares' orders," he reminded her. "But not come here should you have." He picked up two of the glasses and emptied just a little bit of each liquid, one red, one blue, into a third, empty glass. He mixed them together and stirred gently, watching the color change to a deep purple. He approached her with it.
Torch-light glinted through the violet-colored liquid. Benign it appeared, but her panic rose even higher. Poisons were often clear and had no taste to them. "No harm you will I. Sleep only will this do. Bad dream all this becomes," The Master attempted to explain as he swirled the contents of the glass. "Never again come here will you. Sure of it this is. Drink and sleep peacefully."
"No!" she said. "I won't!"
He smiled, revealing rotting teeth and putrid breath. "So say they all. All the priestesses and priests that come here unbidden. As curiosity brought you so it brings them. Never harmed any of them have I unless orders it does Lord Ares."
He brought his face very close to hers, his breath hot and foul against her face. "So beautiful," he whispered softly, regretfully. She thought he was going to attempt to kiss her but he turned away from her and swiped at a tear with his bad hand. "Belongs to Lord Ares do you. Not mine. Never mine."
He turned swiftly and grabbed her by the nose, closing her nostrils. She opened her mouth to breath and he dumped the liquid in then closed her mouth also, forcing her to swallow to breath. She started to choke as it fed a fiery trail down her throat into her esophagus into her stomach. He picked up another glass of a clear liquid. "Water is this. Fire away will it take."
Marlysa shook her head no as her vision became fuzzy. She had trouble holding up her head as darkness closed in. The last thing she heard was the maniacal laughter of The Master of The Chamber.
Marlysa moaned in her sleep, deep in the throes of her nightmare. Nearby Darius sat, waiting for her to wake up. Leda had taken Arianne outside to the courtyard swing to the enjoy the sunshine.
He knew her sleep was caused by The Master of The Chamber. Too many times had he seen the same symptoms caused by the liquids that he gave.
With the priests and the priestesses, it would not hurt them for they were strong enough to manage its' effects. But a new mother? Darius hoped that Marlysa would be able to do the same. It would devastate Lord Ares to lose her now.
She had been warned to stay away from that door.
Why hadn't she simply done as she was told? Darius wondered. Villagers. Women in particular. Never ones to do what you told them.
She turned in her sleep and started mumbling. "Lord Ares...darker god...." She turned again. "No...Ares protects..."
Darius started as he managed to catch the more coherent words she was saying. He got up and sat on the edge of her bed. He had to know. Did The Master of The Chamber know the truth about Ares?
But Darius was doomed to disappoint for no further words came from her as she settled into a deeper, truer sleep.
"So, The Master of The Chamber knows," Ares said, startling Darius from his thoughts. Ares stared hard at the sleeping figure before crossing to her. He rested a hand gently against her soft cheek for a moment before speaking again. Darius knew he had entered her dream to see for himself what she knew. "She doesn't know for sure who it is or any details. To her, it'll only be a bad dream. Let's keep it that way."
Darius nodded his acknowledgment of the orders. "And The Master?"
Ares face grew dark with anger then thought twice about what he wanted to do. "It matters not. He'll never come above stairs. I've already seen to that. And anyone who would see him will think he's mad."
Ares turned to go then stopped. "One question. How did she get down there?"
"The door was left unlocked and I believe I know who did it." Darius thought that it must have been Leda and so informed Ares. She had been going down to study the anatomy of the human body on a fairly regular basis, even more so since she had learned of her transference to Prometheus' domain. He would have to talk to her. If Ares wished, he would turn Leda over to him for punishment. If Ares declined, which seemed likely, then he would get the enjoyment of her body.
"Good," Ares said. "Carry out the punishment you deem necessary. Just don't be too rough on her. Then she leaves for Prometheus' temple immediately. Right now I've got a battle to direct." He motioned toward Marlysa. "Don't worry about her. She's going to be fine."
He sparkled into nothingness.
The Punishment Room. It was not a place the priests and priestesses liked, but it was not the horror that The Chamber was. A handful of torches burned here since no windows existed to let in light, giving it the same dark, somber mood of The Chamber. A couple of long padded tables complete with leather straps to hold a person in place were near the far end of the room. A set of stocks were in one corner. Like The Chamber, it contained whips, chains, and other instruments of torture but it also had a small amount of medical supplies in one corner. Unlike The Chamber, though, none of it was designed to permanently maim the recipient. No scars were left on the body, only on the mind. Here Darius ruled while Ares ruled The Chamber. Here, with Ares' blessing, he often decided the punishment.
He knew what her punishment would be and he was looking forward to it. For sometime now, he had wanted to feel Leda beneath him. Today, it would happen. Too long had he watched her hips sway, tantalizing him. Too long had he wanted to feel her helpless beneath him as he thrust in and out. Too long had he wanted to pinch the nipples of her young, tender breasts and watch her squirm trying to get away while his large hands molded them to his liking.
Ares had enjoyed her body. Ares enjoyed many of the young priestesses here.
Of course, Darius also enjoyed many of them. And they, him.
But Leda was different. He simply couldn't bring himself to simply call her to his bed. Not when he wanted her truly helpless beneath him.
He couldn't exactly say why he wanted her this way. He just did.
He had waited several hours before calling Leda to make sure Marlysa would be okay. Now it was in this room that he awaited Leda.
He didn't have to wait long. He checked the leather straps that would hold her in place for her punishment. They were soft on the side that would touch her skin, backed as they were by lamb's wool, but tough enough that Darius would have a hard time breaking them off the wooden stand they were attached to.
The solid oak door, several inches thick, opened to reveal Leda moments later. She stopped at the door apprehensively. She knew what was coming. One heard stories about the things that went on in here also. But, at least everyone returned from here, she reasoned.
"Close the door and lock it," Darius commanded.
She quickly and quietly did so, her heart thudding in her mouth. Punishment was coming. For what she didn't know.
Well, maybe she did.
Darius sensed her discomfort and decided to get to the heart of the matter. "How long have you been going down to The Chamber without permission from Lord Ares?"
She hung her head. Yes, it was what she thought it was.
"Quite a while evidently," Darius continued to lecture her as Leda remained silent. "Did you know that Marlysa went down to see The Master today?"
Leda's head jerked up. "Is she all right?" she asked, horror in her voice.
"Yes, thank Zeus. But do you realize that she could have been killed? What of the villagers that come here on a daily basis? What would happen to one of them if they had gone down there or, Zeus forbid, The Master had come up to the main level?"
Leda stared at the wooden floor. "I'm sorry, sir," she mumbled, her voice choked with tears. "All I wanted to do was to look at the bodies, to see the muscles, bones and other things that make people up. I never meant to cause anyone any harm."
Darius moved closer to her and tipped her chin up with his hand to look into her tear-filled brown eyes. "I know that and so does Lord Ares. But facts are facts. You never should have gone down there in the first place without Lord Ares' permission. That is one of the rules of this temple. Lord Ares himself made that one. The Master is dangerous. He's capable of anything. And young girls are a favorite of his to work on. That is why none of the priestesses go down there. Lord Ares absolutely forbids it."
Darius watched the pupils in Leda's eyes contract as she realized what could have happened to Marlysa and to herself. He nodded slightly, knowing that his lecture had made an impression on her. Punishment, though, would complete the work. "Take your clothes off."
Leda's eyes went wide with terror but she obeyed without question. Never did she want her parents to hear that she was a coward. Darius' smile made his eyes but not his lips as he watched her standing there, naked but trembling. Small but high pert breasts greeted him. Those slim, swaying hips that he had watched these past few months were finally exposed to him. A cute, firm derriere atop seemingly endless legs completed the picture. She had yet to gain her full womanly curves, but she was ripe with promise.
He gestured to the small table beside him. "Bend over the table, put your breasts into the holes and put your arms into the shackles."
She moved to do his bidding, her heart up in her mouth at not knowing what was to come yet knowing it would be extremely painful, so great was her crime. He buckled her wrists in place then nudged her legs apart and secured them also. A belt came across her at high hip level.
Darius let the smile reach his lips behind her back at her apprehension and knew that he had gotten the message across. Leda wasn't stupid as some people were. A couple stinging whacks with the belt, no worse than most parents might do with a wayward child, and pleasure for both of them afterwards, he decided.
He picked a longwhip up from the rack directly behind him and snapped the air with it a couple of times. He saw Leda jerk involuntarily as though it had touched her. As he snapped the air again, his hand came down sharply across her buttocks leaving a red spot behind. Gently, his fingers began exploring her womanly virtues as she writhed beneath his touch. Soft she was, he decided as his fingers delved behind the hidden folds. Moisture had begun to develop and Darius raised his eyebrows in surprise.
"So you like this, do you?" he murmured. "Wish I'd've known sooner. We could've been enjoying each other all this time."
Leda felt her face grow flushed with heat at his discovery of her secret. Darius simply laughed as he put the whip back into the rack and took out a long, wide strap. Soft, supple brown leather caressed his fingertips as he folded it over once, taking the free ends in his hand. He knew this particular belt could be extremely painful if he chose it to be. But, he decided, he would start out fairly softly and see how she responded. If she wanted it harder and more of it, he would oblige her. "Very well, then," he said slowly, pacing the words to entice her further, "you're going to love this."
He raised the belt and brought it down across her exposed flesh. Blood rushed to the surface showing where it had heated the skin and Darius heard her cry out. Again he brought the belt down and Leda moaned and jerked with the pain of it.
"Those, my dear, were for going down to The Chamber against Lord Ares' orders." He put the belt back and walked around the table, bidding her to look at him. Tears shown in her eyes and he wiped them dry with a kerchief. "You understand the importance of obeying temple rules, do you not?"
"Yes," she answered softly. "I do. I never meant to get anyone hurt."
"Lord Ares and I know that. Your medical curiosity won out over your common sense. But we still have to enforce the rules."
She nodded in understanding. "I am sorry," she said softly.
"I'm sure you are. Perhaps next time, you'll think things through first."
He picked up the belt again. "This one," he informed her as he brought the belt down once again, "is to help prepare you for me. This is the second part of your punishment." He again felt her secret place and found it swollen and moisture-laden. She moaned and strained against the shackles as he thrust his fingers in and out of her.
Her eyes widened as she watched him remove his robe. Everyone had hedged their bets as to whether he wore anything under it, but no one had ever said for sure. Now she was sure. He wore nothing except an expanse of muscle that covered his chest and back, a stomach that was as hard as nails over tapering hips that could rival the God of War. Legs the size of small oak trees completed the tower of strength. His manhood stood out straight as hard, long, and thick as the rest of his body. Leda swallowed at the thought of being at its' mercy, of enjoying the pleasure or pain it could give her.
He approached her with the knowledge that she would still be as helpless before him as she was right now even without the shackles. He thought about undoing them then decided against it. Not because he thought she might fight him. Oh, no. He saw the need and longing in her brown eyes. But because it would heighten her experience. She needed to know she was helpless to justify her own pleasure in her mind.
"Open your mouth," he ordered. She did so and he slowly eased his cock inside her warm artifice, stopping when it bumped against the upper cleft of the back of her mouth. "Lick it. Make it feel good."
She gently moved her tongue against the underside then wrapped it around the thickness of him. He closed his eyes and gently moaned with the sheer pleasure of it. Gods but it felt good. It was a shame that she was going to Lord Prometheus' temple. He would've loved to continue to punish her in this manner in the coming months.
While she continued on, he leaned over her and wrapped his long arms around the table until he found her breasts. Gently he kneaded them and pinched the nipples, eliciting a groan from her. Soft they were. Soft and small but definitely pliable. He reached back further and touched the curls covering her blossoming womanhood. He parted them deftly and continued to trail his fingers back until it reached moisture.
He withdrew his manhood from her mouth and prepared to enter her from the rear. He forced her hips a touch lower, positioned himself at the opening and thrust hard. He heard a scream escape her and he felt like vocalizing his reaction, too. Instead he moaned again and partially withdrew only to thrust again. She pulled against the restraints in mindless abandon as her body accepted his domination.
As Darius thrust again and again to bring both of them to climax, he found his only regret was the fact that she would be leaving for Lord Prometheus' temple as soon as he finished with her punishment and he would have to find someone else to enjoy this with.
Well, she'd really done it this time. Now she'd not even be able to come back as a doctor to serve Lord Ares. He had ordered her gone. All because she'd gone and left the door open to The Master's chambers. Darius and Ares both knew she'd been going down there without permission. Leda savagely cursed her stupidity, wiped away the tears with a swipe of her hand, and shoved the remainder of her belongings into the bag. Outside, Junhar was waiting to escort her to Lord Prometheus' temple.
"Leda?" A soft voice sounded behind her.
She froze, wondering where she was going to get the courage to face Marlysa, knowing she now had no choice. She had hoped to leave quietly.
"I want you to know I don't blame you for what happened to me. I had been warned not to go there. What happened was my own fault. I'm the one who should be punished."
Leda turned and saw Marlysa standing in the doorway, Arianne's basket in hand. She smiled at Leda. "No," Leda said, "I knew better. I never should have gone down there to begin with. It was against Lord Ares' rules."
"Guess we're both to blame then. And Altimius would have said that we are both old enough to know better."
"Yeah, I guess so." Silence fell between them, the moment awkward as they tried to gather their own thoughts.
"I wanted to thank you for taking such good care of Arianne and myself. If not for you and Lord Ares, I doubt either of us would have lived." Marlysa finally said, breaking the silence. "You'll do good at Lord Prometheus' temple. Bet you'll be a high priestess some day."
Leda smiled through the tears. "Yeah. Maybe I will be at that."
"Of course she will," came the sound of Darius' voice just behind Marlysa. Marlysa started at the sound of his voice, so quietly had he come upon them. "Not everyone is meant to be a warrior. Many people do better in other positions, no matter what the family says. I believe Leda is one of them. I fully expect her to one day be my counterpart there." He moved into the room and picked up her bag. "I want you to understand, you are not being sent to Lord Prometheus' temple as punishment for what happened, but rather because it is the best place for you. With your interest and ability in medicine, you'll go far in helping people. You are far better suited for that. Lord Ares has also asked me to speak with your family about the situation and ease your way there. Now, since Lord Prometheus prefers to start his new recruits in far off places, you'd best get going. You have a long trip ahead of you."
With those words, he guided Leda toward the door, but she stopped long enough to hug Marlysa goodbye and take one last look at Arianne. Then she was gone.
Marlysa paused in the doorway and wished her the best of luck.
Another battle was over, the kingdom won by Ares. The warlord was sitting on the throne. The air around him felt calm, its' frenzied condition exhausted by the God of War. Now the healing of this region could begin.
Ares stood on top of the battlement of the castle and looked down at the gutted village below. He could make out people huddled together, trying to avoid the soldiers that went in and out of the unburnt buildings. Every now and then he heard the scream of a woman as a soldier took his bestial lust out on her body. Ares' own body twinged at the thought of holding a woman beneath him, thrusting into her, feeling her surrounding him. He smiled wolfishly. There were several good looking women here but they were not Marlysa.
He started at the intrusive thought. Marlysa? Now where had that come from? Save for that one moment he hadn't reflected upon her all day. Why start now? He snorted when he recognized the answer. Aphrodite's spell. This is what she had done to him. Ruined him.
Another, more chilling thought went through his mind. Hera. What would she do to Marlysa when she found out? Aphrodite he wasn't worried about. Zeus would protect her. But Marlysa and Arianne? He was the only protector they had.
And Hera pulled his strings.
Morning found him with two lusty women in his bed, one of them awakening him with her mouth upon his cock, the other nibbling at his chest. He laid back in the furs still moist from the night's lust, reveling in the warmth and feel of lips and teeth gently stroking him, long, soft hair against his dark olive skin. He brushed one hand over a nicely formed set of buttocks then delved his fingers into the cleft presented to him. For an instant, the woman forgot his cock and took in a deep breath at the invasion.
"Continue!" he commanded her. As she resumed her work, he chastised her. "No matter what I do to you, you are to keep your mind on what you're doing. You are here strictly for my pleasure. And whatever I do to you, I do for my pleasure and my pleasure alone. Understood?"
"Yes, milord," she whispered respectfully. "It won't happen again."
"Good." He turned his vigilance to the other girl as he suppressed a groan. It wouldn't do to show them how much he enjoyed their attentions. Better to make them work harder to avoid any punishment. Besides, he was the receptacle upon which they devoted themselves. She licked at the hard nibs of his nipples enthusiastically, trying not to let her fright overcome her. Ares smiled at her emotions, knowing the reaction that he was causing her, reveling in it.
She rested her forearms on the bed, letting her breasts dangle enticingly. Ares grinned and reached out to gently hold one in his hands. He stroked it as she readjusted her position to not only allow him better access to her but to pay attention to his left nipple. He let out a groan, thinking how soft Marlysa's lips would be on him, how pink and inviting her--
He sat up suddenly, angry with his thoughts, pushing the women away. "Be gone!" he roared. The women grabbed their clothes and ran. Again Marlysa had invaded his peace of mind. Every time he turned his thoughts away from war, Marlysa was there. He knew that she was not responsible for this. He knew who was. It was time to pay Aphrodite a call and have her remove this spell before Hera got wind of it.
Aphrodite's rooms at Mount Olympus were quiet when Ares knocked on her pink door. Her personal servant let him in and informed him that she had asked not to be disturbed. Ares' anger grew and the servant took a step back. Ares pushed past him, not about to be put off by a servant. "Dite!" he yelled angrily. "Get out here now or I'm coming in after you!"
In the mirrored pink bedroom with the round bed, Aphrodite was enjoying the attentions of one of her "boy toys" as she called them when she heard Ares bellow. She suppressed a groan at the thought of her brother interrupting her now. Why couldn't he wait until later? What could be so urgent? "Aphrodite!" she heard again, loud enough to shake the roof.
"What do you want?" she yelled back angrily. She had almost been ready to come. On the pinnacle of explosion and he comes along and ruins it.
"Get out here!"
"Hang on to your balls! I'm coming." Disentangling her legs from around him, she motioned rather reluctantly for her lover to let her up. He didn't look any happier than she felt. Gently she touched her lips to his and stroked his long, thick cock for a moment causing him to close his eyes in pleasure. "Keep it warmed up for me, lover. I'll be right back." She planted a kiss on it then picked up the top sheet, wrapping it around her like a sarong, on not paying any heed to the warm liquid that trickled down her leg.
She didn't get as far as the door when Ares came thundering through. He paused and surveyed the scene in front of him then grinned. "This is cozy. One of your 'boy toys'?" The grin grew wider as his own body reacted to the images running through his mind.
"None of your business," Aphrodite told him, upset that he had the audacity to come into her bedroom. "I said I was coming."
"You sure were," Ares said, referring to her love scene.
"Get your mind out of the gutter."
Ares turned on her, his grin gone, anger replacing it. "Wish I could. But you have made that impossible."
Aphrodite gathered her dignity around her as best as she could under the circumstances. "I did what?" she said spritely, picking up the mirror from her vanity and running her fingers through her long tresses. Her boy toy watched her and listened avidly.
Ares turned to the young man on the bed. "Leave!" he growled. The man turned and ran out the door. Ares slammed it behind him.
"What did you do that for? You had no right!" She almost slammed the mirror down.
Ares turned and swiftly pinned his sister between his arms with the wall right behind her. She tried to wiggle out and he simply tightened his grip. "Listen to me. You've got to remove that spell you put on me."
"Why?" she asked coyly. "I like it on you." She plucked at the silver ornamentation on his leather vest to avoid looking at his rage-filled eyes. "It suits you."
Ares took a deep breath to get his anger in check. Sometimes his sister could be so dense. "If you don't, chances are very good Marlysa will die."
Aphrodite laughed and kept laughing. Someone dying because of a love spell? Her big brother had gone around the bend on this one. "I haven't had anyone die from love yet," she announced with glee when she caught her breath. "Besides, you're immortal. And I didn't put the spell on Marlysa. Only on you. Why would she die?"
Ares sighed the sigh of the long suffering, released her, and counted to ten slowly. She studied him quizzically as he tried to find the words to make her understand the danger of what she had done but found himself failing. Concern replaced her flip attitude. "Hey, you're really upset about this."
"As you would say, duh!" Ares stared hard at the granite floor with a new understanding of his baby sister. She truly didn't know. All these centuries and she hadn't put the connection together. Maybe it was just as well. She wasn't tough enough to handle Hera. "Just answer my question. Can you remove it?"
Aphrodite shook her head no slowly, suddenly feeling guilty for her actions. Ares felt his heart go down into his stomach. No, it couldn't be happening. He stood up and grabbed her arms so fast that he startled her. "There has to be a way," he said in desperation. "Think, Dite. Think!"
Her face showed her concern for the plight she had placed on her brother. "I'm sorry. But there is no way. It's one of those spells that has to be completed."
Ares' breath left him. No! He thought. This couldn't be happening to me. "Has to be-?" he barely managed to croak.
She nodded. "Yep. But I don't see where it's going to be a major problem. You're half in love with her already. You just keep denying it." She ran her hand over her brother's broad chest flirtatiously. "Besides, I made sure it wouldn't interfere with your work. You can still be your mean, old manipulative self with everyone except Marlysa. This applies only to the two of you."
He snorted. "You don't know what you're fooling with." He stared hard at the floor, almost boring a hole through it.
She smacked her brother hard on the chest and was rewarded with his grunt of pain. "I do so! I am the Goddess of Love, you know."
"Yeah, I know. But there's another element involved. And that's the one that has me scared. Not your little spell. Now, how does this damn thing work?"
Aphrodite stared at him in horror. In all the centuries that she had known him, he had never used the word 'scared' in reference to himself. And what element was he talking about? What in Tartarus was going on? She held her questions in check and answered him instead. "Simple solution. Just tell her that you love her."
"That's it?" Ares let out a laugh of relief. "Just tell her that I love her? That's no problem."
Aphrodite walked a few paces away from him before completing her thoughts. "But you have to mean it. It has to come from the heart." She waited for his bellow to shake the walls.
Ares groaned in dismay instead. Nothing ever came easy for him.
Has to be completed. Simple solution. Just tell her that you love her. But you have to mean it. It has to come from the heart.
The words echoed over and over in Ares' mind as he paced the length of his temple map room, trying to figure a way out. Thousands of battles he had won over the centuries. Millions of lives lost in Hera's name. For her greater glory in the long run.
And one simple spell cast by his Love Goddess of a sister could be the undoing of all his careful work of hiding his heart from Hera over the centuries. Of learning to hate and kill and not letting it bother him. Of learning to manipulate people just as Hera wanted him to. Of learning to be her bad little boy.
How did these things happen to him?
Why did they always happen to him?
The answer was there. All he had to do was tell Marlysa that he loved her.
So what was the problem?
He had to mean every word of it.
He had to say it with his heart on his sleeve.
Only then would the spell be broken.
Damn that meddling Aphrodite.
Damn her to Tartarus.
He sighed and ran a hand through his black, curly hair as he dismissed that thought. No, she meant well. She just didn't understand.
Above him Hera watched.
Darius watched Ares as he passed the main temple room. By his posture and the way he walked, Darius could tell something was bothering the God of War. Something major.
He sighed and put aside the accounting work that he was doing and went to get two glasses and a bottle of wine. Sometimes he had trouble getting Ares to talk about what was bothering him but most times, Ares vented his anger on Darius. He didn't mind. Everyone needed someone, even gods, and Darius was his confidant. If truth were to be told, access to secrets was one of the best things about being Ares' High Priest. The other was the fact that Ares considered him to be a friend worthy of his trust and Darius had no intention of betraying that trust.
Darius knocked then entered the room without waiting for permission. Ares glanced his way but said nothing. He set the glasses down on a nearby table, popped the cork and poured two glassfuls of Dionysus' best wine.
Ares stared out the window as Darius handed him his glass then looked at Marlysa sitting on the grass with Arianne. They were watching the priests and priestesses learning how to fall properly. "Now there's a welcome sight. Not everyday that you see a mother and her child on the lawn of the temple of the God of War. Kind of helps to show that you're not the destroyer that many people have mislabeled you as."
Ares still said nothing as he sipped the wine.
He sighed. It was going to be one of those times.
He hadn't had many conversations with himself lately. Looked like today might be one of those days because usually a line like that opened up the faucet of anger that stayed close to the surface in Ares' personality. And he really wasn't up to holding a conversation with no one.
Okay. Let's go for the obvious then, Darius thought, then said, "Whatever has you so upset has something to do with the woman and child, doesn't it, milord?"
Ares turned and stared at Darius for a moment then looked back out the window. "That obvious, huh?"
Darius smiled. "Only to me, milord. Only to me. After all, I've known you for the last couple of centuries." He put the glass down and faced Ares like a father with a wayward child.
Ares laughed. "So you have, old friend. So you have." He sighed and stared at the half-empty glass in his hand. "Usually it's empty," he said to himself. "Very empty. No one there. Not for Ares. Even this much is because of a spell."
Darius' brow knotted in puzzlement at the statement but kept quiet. Experience had taught him that Ares would explain when he was ready.
Ares held up the glass in the sunlight. "Think of this glass as my portion of the love in this world. Usually, it's empty and I like it that way. But, because of my meddling sister who has decided that, after all these centuries, I shouldn't be living without love in my life, my glass is being filled. By a spell that she cast on me." He drank the wine down in one swift gulp. "This is what it should be."
He refilled the glass and added more to Darius' then lifted it in a toast. "To my sister, Aphrodite. She has proven herself to be the better general. I ought to turn my godhood over to her."
"Do you really want the world to fall in love with itself?"
Ares started at Darius' statement then laughed without amusement at the image it presented. "Yeah, that would be Dite. Major strategy would have to be enacted to make warlords fall in love with each other, that's for damn sure. I can just see them now, hugging each other with one arm while the other holds a dagger."
Darius could tell it was going to be an all-night bender if he let it. Not that Ares would regret it in the morning. He never got drunk. And, even though Darius had been gifted with immortality by Ares, he hadn't been gifted with the powers and stamina of a god. No, he was very much mortal in every other respect.
"Suppose you start at the beginning of this tale." Darius sat down at the table and motioned for Ares to do the same.
Ares sighed and then smiled at Darius as some of his anger let go of him. "I can always count on you, can't I, old friend?" he said as he sat down. "Of all the people in this world, it seems to come down to you and I. Very well." He proceeded to tell Darius the whole tale, ending with his sister's bone-chilling words.
"This is not good," Darius said softly. "What are you going to do?"
"What can I do? Because of me and my sister, Marlysa's in more danger now than she was before. And I can't protect her. That's the Tartarus of it."
Darius thought hard on a possible solution, even if it was temporary. "Hiding her would do no good. She'd be found in a hurry." The tabletop seemed a safer place to seek than Ares' face at the moment. "The only solution that I can see is for you to fall in love, declare it, and break both your hearts as quickly as you can and send her back to her village."
"Unless Dite comes up with something, that's the only conclusion I can come to as well." He set his glass down.
"So what strategy are we going to use?"
Ares snorted in amusement. "You're asking the wrong person. That's Dite's field."
"Who says it has to be? In my experience, the only difference between the wars you run and the ones she runs are the weapons and the goals. Your weapons are daggers, swords, maces, catapults, armies, and so on. Her weapons are flowers, words, small gifts, kisses and other gentle sexual advancements and so on. Your goal is to dominate and destroy the enemy. Her's is to make the enemy come under love's influence. Same basic idea of domination. Just a different form of it."
Ares started at his friend's words then laughed. "I never realized Dite and I were so much alike."
Darius laughed at Ares' reaction. "How do you think we mortals have survived all these centuries? Because we've had to. Love and war aren't opposites. They're synonymous. I do suggest, however, that you let Dite be the general in this war." He raised his glass high.
"To love and war."
Ares raised his glass also. "To love and war."
The glasses clinked.
"It is a pleasure doing business with you, my lord," the warlord said as he bowed low before Ares then departed the map room with Ares' blessing.
Darius watched him depart before approaching his god. "Too oily for words," he said softly. He waved his hand in front of his face as he sniffed the air. "He needs a bath as well."
Ares' sharp ears picked up Darius' voice and he smiled, then laughed softly. "Correct on both accounts. And he's in for a big surprise come the day of battle." Darius' eyebrows raised slightly as he waited for Ares to continue. "The king has already paid me far better tribute." He picked up a horseman and placed it in a different line around the kingdom in question. "But the battle still must take place."
"Air needs to be cleared in that region, sire?" Ares nodded. "And the tribute the warlord paid you? What do you wish to be done with that?"
Ares paused for a moment, thinking about what it could be used for. More weapons? No. Had plenty. Needs of the temples? No. Didn't seem to need anything. Tributes were coming in regularly. What then? How about something unexpected? "Make it an anonymous gift to the Orphanage of the Sisters of Goya. Better yet, sign that irritating blond's name to it. The one that's ruining Xena." Wouldn't do to have his name on it. Ruin his reputation for sure.
"As you wish, my lord." Darius bowed to leave as Ares continued to move figures around the map but came up short at the door as Ares spoke again.
"Where is Marlysa?"
"Currently in the old armory, sire. She's been working on cleaning the weapons and such for the past week."
Ares leaned over the width of the table and placed a catapult at the far end. "What's she doing that for? It's stuff we'll never use again. Not with Hephaestus' new metal." He picked up a soldier and placed it near the catapult.
"Bored most likely. While little Arianne requires looking after, she doesn't take up all of Marlysa's time. I didn't see any harm, milord. I also took the liberty of moving her and the baby to the small cottage that is out back in the courtyard area."
Ares simply nodded as he thought hard about the figures he was moving.
"Will there be anything else?" Ares shook his head no, lost in his maneuvering. Darius closed the door behind him.
In the quiet of the room, Ares concentrated hard on the areas that required his special touch. Always there was an area in turmoil. Small fights often broke out in and around it over things that normally didn't matter to the villagers. Then things would begin to escalate. Families would begin to fight amongst themselves and it would extend over into family against family, region against region, kingdom against kingdom. And where there was fighting, barbarians and warlords were generally found - usually the activators of the negative friction. He sighed. Two areas restored last week. Three more popped up this week in addition to the five already on the board. He was going to have to give careful consideration to finding someone good enough to manage a battle without him. Then all he would need to do was to be there long enough to clear the air. But only one person came to mind and she wasn't interested anymore. It was a shame that she was being so mislead by his half-brother and that irritating blond. She really had been a big help in making his job easier. He was going to have to try harder to bring her back into the fold.
"What 'ja doin'?"
Ares started at the sound of the voice, dropped the figure that he was holding, and drew the sword that hardly left his side in one smooth motion.
Aphrodite laughed loud and long at her big brother's reaction as Ares stepped down from a fighting stance and sheathed it. He retrieved the figure from the floor and turned his back on his sister. "Gotcha!" she exclaimed.
"You're lucky I didn't use it, Dite," he said as he placed the soldier. "What do you want?"
She draped her long, lithe body across the lounge chair that he kept. "Been thinking about your problem, big brother, and I might have a solution."
"My problem?" he said, looking straight at her. "I did not cause this. I have found myself in this position because of you and your meddling."
Aphrodite grimaced. Every word he spoke was the truth. "I know," she said softly. "And I'm sorry." She sat up, repentant and in tears. "I just wanted you to be happy for once in your life. All you ever see is fighting, death, and unhappiness around you. Day in and day out."
"That's what makes me happy," he said under his breath, knowing Aphrodite wouldn't understand. "Not this mush of yours."
She walked to the window and stared out, not really seeing what was there. "I care about you, big brother. I saw that you were attracted to Marlysa and I thought she could make you happy."
He walked over to her, his anger dissipating and put his arms around his little sister, holding her close. His heart felt both pain and joy at this moment. She snuggled back into them. "Dite, I appreciate your concern for my well being. I enjoy the fighting and the death. But you don't understand what it is that you're messing with."
She turned to face him. "Then tell me so I'll know."
He remained silent for a long moment, holding her. Should he tell her? Would she truly understand what it was that he faced? What his place amongst the gods really was?
And what of Hera? Only two people really understood the relationship between him and Hera. Zeus and Darius. He knew that Aphrodite often only appeared to be unintelligent. He knew that she wasn't - she just wanted everyone to be happy and get along, unless there was something in particular she was after. She just didn't stop to think of the consequences in pursuit of that goal. Could she be trusted with it? All his instincts said yes.
He stared at the floor between them, the silence lengthening, Aphrodite watching him expectantly. "Very well," he said quietly. He led her over to the lounge chair and bade her to sit.
"What I have to tell you, Dite, is never to go any farther than us. It is never to be used in any way or mentioned ever again. Only Father, Mother, myself and one other person currently know this information."
She raised her right hand. "I swear it. But if it's gonna to hurt ya-" Her soft hand brushed his whisker-laden cheek.
"No, Dite. I- think it's right for you to know." He paused, trying to form the words. "You know, of course, that I cause wars - that I orchestrate battles. Do you know why I do that?"
She shrugged. "You just told me that you like it. I know you're forever going on about it."
"Well, yes and no. I do like battles. I like the way they make me feel. Full of life and in charge of my life. Every death increases my powers." He turned away from her sadly, the weight of his secret stooping his broad shoulders. "But it's not only my powers that it increases. It increases Mother's as well. She literally gets her powers from me. She drains it from me, forcing me to fight in order to survive, to maintain that euphoric high that I get from it. I'm addicted to it and she knows it. She uses it to create the friction and hatred that she enjoys so much amongst the mortal population, to get them fighting with each other and leaves me to do her cleanup work." He pointed at the table. "Every spot on that map is where Mother has been. I go in and drain away the evil she leaves behind into me, leaving peace where chaos reigned." He drew a ragged breath. Pain and loathing filled his deep voice. "Unless I kill myself, I can never get out of it. It's a cycle that will never end. I'll be at it for eternity."
It was difficult to think of her big brother being controlled rather than being the controller. He had always been so strong, so able to take charge of everything. It seemed as though there wasn't anything he couldn't solve or do. "Big time bummer!" she whispered in shock. "There's no way out? Can't you become mortal or something?"
"The one time that I became mortal, when my sword was stolen, people began to fight amongst themselves everywhere. If I die as a mortal, there is no chance for mankind. Without me to convert the energy, mankind will destroy itself. I can't let that happen." His voice dropped to a whisper. "I'd rather be thought of as a coward."
"And if Horsey-face were no longer around? If you killed her?"
He smiled at Aphrodite's pet term for their mother. "I wonder what Zeus would do if I did kill her," he said thoughtfully. "Despite the fact that he despises her, he'd probably destroy me. As for the mortals, no difference. The energy is still there. It'll just find another way to congregate. It's the nature of the beast. But at least I wouldn't be attached to her. I could handle things my own way."
It would make a difference, he thought. Not that any mortal could really see, perhaps. But it would to him.
"And you don't now?"
"Well, I do as long as I'm staying within Hera's rules. And the only true rule that exists with her is that she approves everything. I can't tell you the number of times that I've wanted to do something that didn't require her approval." Ares paused and closed his eyes, ran his hands through his hair, trying to get his emotions in check. Doing this for eternity was so difficult to think of.
"Dite, you know how jealous Mother gets. Look what she did to Hercules' family and he wasn't even attached in any way to her. I'm the source of her powers. She has done her best to make me into her image. She's tried to make sure that I don't care about anyone or anything. I learned centuries ago to bury my heart deep. So deep that I can't even find it sometimes. What do you think she's going to do Marlysa if she finds out that I even just care for her, let alone love her? These many years, I've purposely avoided seeing her directly." He stopped, searching for the words to convey his feelings for Marlysa. "Watching her grow into a young woman was a dream come true for me," he whispered. "One that I thought would never happen. One that I made sure Mother never found out about. It's one of the few things I've done without her approval."
Aphrodite remained silent, shocked by his words, feeling his pain. A tear trickled down her smooth, pink cheek. "I never knew," she said softly, wiping it away. "Oh, Ares, I'm so sorry. I never knew the pain you were hiding, what they've done to you." She stood up and hugged her brother tightly. "And stupid little me, I've only added to it."
Ares gently writhed out of the hold Aphrodite had on him. Sniveling sisters weren't his forte. "You didn't know. Now then, you said something about a solution? A way to break the spell?"
Ares waited expectantly while Aphrodite gently blew her nose. "Yeah, I did." The handkerchief in her hand disappeared. "I know I told you the spell has to be completed; that I can't break it. I've got a couple of ideas that I think will make things easier on you and make this go faster. I have just one question, though? How good are you at courtship?"
His head turned slowly in her direction in astonishment. Courtship? She actually expected him to act the courtier? "Seduction to outright rape is my style."
Aphrodite let out a sigh. She should have known better. He was going to get his revenge by not making this easy. "Okay. Think of courtship as the 'clothes on' foreplay to sex. Getting to know each other."
"Is this a strategic maneuver?"
She glared at him.
Ares drew a straight backed chair out from the wall and straddled it, willing to try anything at this point. He'd play the fool if he had to. "I'm all ears, sister," he said, sighing in frustration.
"Just remember, you've got to be the next person through that door," Aphrodite reminded her brother as she attempted to straighten his vest and comb back that errant curl. He swatted at her hands in annoyance. "Oh, you look so handsome."
"Just get on with it," he snapped impatiently, "before someone sees me. I do have my reputation to maintain."
"You're reputation as a seducer of women?"
"Works quite well." He grinned, knowing this was going to be his best and easiest strategy to use, especially after hearing her talk about all the steps involved in courtship. To Tartarus with it. "Now get going!"
"Yes, sir!" She stood up straight, thrust out her ample bosom, saluted, giggled, and disappeared.
Ares walked into the main chamber, past people coming and going with tributes, past his clergy and into the old armory, locking the door behind him. Darius noted his movements, but continued to dictate his orders to a priest.
The room felt cool but comfortable as Marlysa knelt amongst the various styles of swords, rag in hand, wiping away the dirt and grime that had accumulated on one. Around her shields, maces, and other instruments of war gleamed even in what little light existed there. Ares found himself impressed with her industriousness as he examined the weapons. Even the rust on the shields was gone. To his right lay little Arianne fast asleep in her basket. Behind Marlysa, Ares saw Aphrodite hover for a moment then blow a kiss in her direction. It hit her with all the potency of Cupid's arrow. Marlysa glanced up at his entrance, felt something strange, but was unable to pin it down. Aphrodite mouthed, "Good luck!" then faded from Ares' view.
Ares grimaced. He was going to need it.
"Good afternoon, my lord," Marlysa said, bowing her head respectfully.
"Good afternoon." He made a show out of looking around the room. "You've been busy, I see, instead of resting." He picked up a shield, examined it closely, then returned it to its' place.
"I just couldn't rest any longer. This needed to be done, so I did it." She put the sword back into position, dropped her rag into the bucket, and wiped her reddened hands on her dirty apron.
Ares sat down on a wooden crate marked ARROWS. "It was not necessary for you to do it. It's the job of the priests and priestesses to care for the equipment."
"I didn't mind it. It felt good to do something. Besides, they've been busy with other things." He noted that she still hadn't looked up at him. "Feeling shy?" he asked as he put a finger under her chin and forced her to look at him.
With her soft skin, delicate cheekbones, and long neck that flowed into well-rounded, pert breasts haloed in the faint, flickering light, the sight almost took Ares' breath away. Her eyes sparkled violet as she let him remove the handkerchief that her golden hair was wrapped in. She was even more beautiful than he remembered. Or was it Aphrodite's spell that was causing him to feel that way?
"I- I- No, my lord," she stammered, trying to catch her breath. Good, Ares thought. Dite's spell was working. Maybe he could pull this off and bury his heart again before Hera noticed.
But burying it was going to be tough to do, he thought as he appraised her more thoroughly. Small hands, roughened and red from the water she used, rested lightly in his bigger ones. Well rounded calves and small ankles peeked from under the brown peasant dress that she wore.
Maybe Aphrodite should be the Goddess of War. After all, one young mother and one love spell were going to be tougher on him than any army ever could be, Ares thought. He'd hate to be on the receiving end of Aphrodite's urge for revenge if this was her idea of helping.
"Good," he said. "I don't want you to be that way around me. Better yet, don't think of me as a god at all." She looked up at him, puzzled, but remaining silent.
Usually never at a loss for words, Ares found himself wondering what to say next. He was saved by the small cry of Arianne waking up from her nap. "Finally, I get to see her without 'bad language' hanging around." Ares caught Marlysa smiling at his choice of words and laughed himself.
Up in a dark corner of the room, doing her best not to be seen by her big brother, Aphrodite stuck her tongue out at him and crossed her arms, sulking.
Arianne stretched and kicked her chubby legs against Ares' forearm before she let loose with a howl. Marlysa smiled at the tiny version of herself and gently took her from him. "She's just wet and hungry. After I've changed and fed her, if you like, you can have her back." She held Arianne a bit away from her to avoid being soaked. "If I may be so bold, my lord-"
"As you wish, Ares. I'd recommend you change as well." She nodded toward him and he glanced down at his clothes. A dark streak ran the length of his wide chest down his panther-lean body. He glanced down and sighed as Marlysa attempted to hide a smile. "I've also learned the hard way to keep her away from me when she first wakes up."
"Changing isn't a problem for either of us, is it, Arianne?" Arianne stopped in mid-howl as she realized one of her reasons for it was gone. The dark streak also disappeared. "Feeding I can't help you with."
"That is one of my pleasures." She moved to leave the room as Arianne realized that she was still hungry.
I'd be happy to make it one of mine, too, Ares thought.
Up in the corner, Aphrodite bounced slightly with horrified anticipation that he would let Marlysa walk out of the room and mouthed the words, "Keep her here. Talk to her," hoping that Ares got the silent message.
"Why don't you do it right here? There's only the two of us." Aphrodite silently clapped her approval.
"It won't bother you?"
Tartarus yes, it'll bother me, he thought heatedly, but said instead, "No. Not at all."
Almost reluctantly, Marlysa sat down on the crate that Ares had vacated and pulled down the front of her dress exposing one luscious breast. Ares drew in a quick breath as she positioned Arianne and enticed her into feeding. Jealousy coursed through him and his libido responded, tightening his black leather pants. "Down, boy, down," Ares mumbled under his breath, watching the serene yet faintly erotic scene before him. He hoped that Marlysa wouldn't see what she was doing to him. He was definitely going to need a woman...or five...before this day was over. Okay then. Find something to take your mind off of what she's doing. Any subject will do.
"Darius was telling me that he moved you to the old cottage out back."
"Yes, he has. It's a very beautiful little place. Your priests repaired the roof and the priestesses helped me to clean it and furnish it." She faltered for just a moment and Ares could hear the unspoken "but" behind it and decided to supply it.
"But-" He waited patiently.
"But I'm wondering when I'll be returning to my home in my village." She spoke as though she were afraid she would offend him, especially after all he had done for her. He wished that he could return her, now that he knew it was safe to do so. But, thanks to Aphrodite, he couldn't.
"When I decide that you can and not until then."
She nodded her acknowledgment at his pronouncement and an uneasy silence fell between them. He felt it but didn't know how to explain his situation with her. Better not to explain at all. Still, he didn't want to see her unhappy.
"If you'd like, I can arrange for you to visit the village, though. Pick up whatever you need from your house," he offered.
A smile lit up her face. "I'd like that very much."
"Done." He got up to leave and paused near the door. "One more thing. I was wondering if you would have dinner with me tonight?" He didn't see Aphrodite giving him the thumbs up sign in approval.
She looked at him with surprise written on her face. "I would be delighted, Ares."
"I'll send someone for you then. And someone to look after Arianne as well." He left her at the same time Aphrodite vanished leaving Marlysa to speculate over the evening to come.
"Dite, I'll do fine with her," Ares said as Aphrodite attempted to straighten his clothes once again. He pushed her hands away and turned back to the set table for two in his private suite of rooms. He had to admit, Aphrodite did know what she was about. Plates and small bowls filled with water made from the best marble granite available sat across from each other on a wooden round table. Golden goblets encrusted with jewels waited patiently for the wine Dionysus had made to be poured into them. Dishes full of hot and cold food waited their turn to play their part in the scheme of things. Squares of cloth waited next to the plates to do their duty. Candles had been carefully placed about the room and lit by Aphrodite to heighten their effectiveness.
Aphrodite paused and studied her older brother. "You've got seduction on your mind, don't you?" she asked, almost accusingly as she bit into a strawberry. "These foods aren't what I ordered and they aren't for a simple dinner."
He scowled at her, almost ashamed of being so obvious. "So what if I do?"
"You like it rough. The rougher the better." How to put it so he would understand his way of handling sex would not be a good idea. "She's not one of your priestesses or a whore. She can't handle that kind of thing. She's the kind of girl you have to be gentle with and take your time."
"I can do that," he said sarcastically. "Just because I like it rough doesn't mean I'm not capable of gentle seduction. I've done it before. Many times without your help. Give me some credit here."
She sighed. There was going to be no way around her big brother on this one. He'd been wanting Marlysa too long to give up on it now. It was too bad that sex couldn't be love. This mess would probably be over with. But then if it were, she reflected on second thought, Ares would be the God of Love as often as he brought women into his bed. She cut off the line of thought in a hurry. "I'll go check on the bedroom then."
Ares scowled all the harder. "It's just fine!" he practically shouted at her. Meddling sister. If she hadn't've cast this spell in the first place... A hesitant knock on the door interrupted thoughts of revenge once this was over.
Ares took a deep breath to get his emotions in check, grabbed a scroll off a nearby shelf and pretended to be deep in thought with it. The anger at his sister changed swiftly to thoughts of lust as the door opened and he beheld Marlysa framed in the doorway. Behind her, Darius stood silently. She truly was a vision, he thought as he beheld her, undressing her with his eyes, wishing it was with his hands. Soon, he vowed to himself, soon he would hold her body and satisfy his lust for her. Her off-the-shoulder amethyst, floor-length gown was an exact match for the shade of her eyes. Her sun-drenched blond hair was pulled loosely around her head, the length of it braided with a matching violet ribbon and laying over her shoulder. The long, flowing lines and soft fabric gave her the illusion of greater height than what she had. Barely covering her lush breasts, the dress revealed more than it concealed. Ares stared hard at her, knowing that if she had been a priestess, she would've been undressed by now and beneath him, matching him thrust for pleasurable thrust. "Beautiful!" he spoke under his breath, not sure whether it was for her in front of him or his thoughts of her under him.
Behind her, Darius gave a gentle push and closed the door. Marlysa started for a moment, not realizing that she had been examining him as much as he had been examining her. Wearing his usual black boots and leather pants, he had decided to wear his ceremonial vest. Shot through with black threads against a silver background, it outlined his massive shoulders and broad arms. A deep V rippled down the length of his long torso and, where the vest fronts strained to meet, revealing even more brawny muscles dusted with black hair all the way to a slim waist. It was held together by a black leather belt with the temple symbol of Ares in the center, allowing the rest of the fabric to flare slightly over narrow hips leading into long, powerful legs. She found herself wondering what that body would feel like, clasping her close. Would it be as strong and warm as it looked? She took an involuntary swallow as her common sense bade her to think of something else. The God of War was waiting and one should not leave a god waiting. Her breath left her as she looked up into onyx-colored eyes that glittered. She felt as though she were being devoured whole.
"I- I thank you for inviting me," she said almost lamely, trying to catch her scattering thoughts. He smiled at her, aware of the effect he was having and reveled in it, then bid her to sit down. He put the scroll back on the shelf.
"You're more than welcome. I don't often eat mortal food but when I do, I hate to dine alone."
"I can understand that. I've done a lot of it since my husband passed on." She broke the sentence off abruptly, knowing that he had died in one of Ares' battles. Quickly she stored her grief away in her heart, knowing it would not serve her to let him see it.
He said nothing about her discomfort and proceeded to pour the wine while she uncovered the dishes. The succulent smells of roast quail, venison, and pork vied for attention with the bright colors of different vegetables, breads, and relishes and jams and other foods she couldn't begin to identify. She reached across the table, picked up his plate and began to fill it.
Ares felt a little like a newcomer at this particular game of love himself, in spite of his brash words to Aphrodite. It had been so long since he had attempted a gentle seduction. Even the art of simple conversation with her wasn't going to be easy. He wondered if she felt the same. But he had to try something. Get things going somewhere.
"Talk to Darius about going to your village and retrieve whatever you need from your old home." He set the wine bottle aside. "He'll make the necessary preparations."
"Thank you. It'll be nice to have some of the clothes that I made for Arianne." She set the plate down in front of him and filled her own, then noticed the odd utensil on the left side of her plate. It had a flat handle, much like that of a knife, but the top of it had four tines that looked more like a sieved shovel. "What is this?" she asked, holding it up. "I've never seen anything like it."
Ares grinned at her question. "It's from the late 20th century. It's called a fork. I picked up some of those during one of my many trips in time long ago. I prefer it to the way this century eats. It works like this." He demonstrated the proper position to hold it and use it. "Now you try it."
Carefully, she rested the back of the handle against her the middle finger of her hand, then tried to grasp its' neck between her forefinger and thumb. "It feels so awkward," she said, laughing at her own attempt.
Ares shrugged then laughed also as she attempted to skewer a piece of venison. "You'll get used to it. Darius did."
"I'll never get used to it!" Her pitiful attempts at picking the piece of meat up shattered the tension that lay between them as they laughed together. Finally she managed to get it into her mouth.
"See?" Ares said. "I'm never wrong."
"That sounds like a challenge." She took a sip of the wine and found it smooth but heady against her palate. "Excellent wine. And the food is delicious."
"Dionysus only makes the best. And if you want a challenge, so be it. Prove me wrong on anything and I will gladly admit it to you."
"Will you now? That's a challenge I can't afford to pass up. I will keep my eyes and ears open."
"Let's do it for a fortnight. And the stakes?"
She shrugged her small shoulders, not knowing what to say. "You've done so much for us already."
"This has nothing do with that. You'll pay the debt, have no doubt about that."
"Then we'll leave it open for now," he said, taking another sip of his wine. "As for the forfeiture to me, we'll make it something you can handle and I would love." His face grew thoughtful for a moment. Then a twinkle took hold in his eye. "I know. A full body massage with both of us naked."
She almost choked on her drink and her face grew red under his scrutiny. Naked?
He grinned at her devilishly. "Careful, my dear. I wouldn't want to lose you and miss out on this. But I do guarantee that it will be private and very, very delightful." His voice grew dark and whispery at the thought.
"I'm sure," she said hesitantly, then looked into his laughing eyes. He was taking great joy in seeing her blush. Correction, she thought. To being in control of the situation. She lifted her chin up and decided to face him. He may be a god, but his actions were pure mortal male. And that she could handle. Ares acknowledged her decision by raising his glass in salute before taking a swallow.
As the evening progressed, Marlysa found her expertise with the fork increasing with every bite. As they continued to talk about the village, her husband, Arianne, and Altimius amongst many things, Ares made sure that her wine glass never emptied. She thought about telling him enough, but it tasted so good. And she felt better than she had in quite a while. The soft fabric of dress she wore seemed to stroke her skin with every flutter of wind through the window as she looked at his full lips and wished it was them caressing her instead. Warmth seemed to penetrate throughout her body and centered on her womanhood.
A slight smile played on his lips as he recognized her reaction to the wine. Good, he thought. Dionysus' seductive elixir worked every time on a mortal. By the time she finished another glass, she would be ready for him to continue. Plus there was the added benefit of no after effects, unlike mortal wine. She would never know unless someone told her. And he sure wasn't going to do that. For right now, though, he would keep her talking and drinking.
"I remember," he began as he filled up her glass again, "when you were a child, being very angry with me and telling me so."
Marlysa smiled with embarrassment. He remembered it after all. "I admit, I was hoping you'd forgotten about that." Gods, he was sexy. She couldn't remember being this attracted to him the other times they'd met. She had trouble keeping her mind on his words.
"Never!" he said, leaning back in his chair. "Your creating that altar by hand, putting the wildflowers around it- it's been a highlight. Usually when someone gets mad at me they stay that way."
"They don't truly recognize what you do?"
He looked at her with curiosity, then decided to see what she knew about him. "What do you think I do?"
"Leave peace where you've been." Ares started for a moment. Just how much did she know about him? She was quiet, yes, but she paid attention. Intriguing.
Marlysa didn't notice his reaction, caught as she was trying to formulate the words to express her feelings. Gods, the words themselves were hard enough to say even after all these years. "I know there is usually a lot of resentment and anger after you leave. I was one of them."
"You were only a little girl. All you knew is that I took your daddy from you. I hear that crap all the time." Marlysa heard the bitterness in his words and knew that there would be no way for her to sooth them. It ran too deep.
"I don't know what to tell you. People begin to try to pick up the aftermath of what is left behind. Families, homes, crops- everything they've worked so hard for is destroyed and they resent it." She ran her finger around the rim of the goblet. "In some ways, I can't say I blame them."
"Are you asking me to defend myself on this?"
She started at his insinuation. "Of course not!"
"Good, because I'm not going to do it. I do what I have to do. People die. Homes are destroyed. That is the way of war." He turned away from her.
Marlysa took a deep breath and realized that his anger wasn't directed toward her but rather toward the situation in general. "Yes, it is. Altimius explained it to me. At least as much as a little girl can understand. That's why I built that altar when I was a child. To apologize. If needed, I will do so again. I did not mean to offend you. I was merely making an observation."
Ares was silent for a moment, thinking about all the blame that unfairly was laid on his shoulders. At least here was a mortal who had a better grasp than most of his situation. It wouldn't do to make an enemy of her. "I shouldn't've lost my temper. I was wrong and I apologize." He took a swig of the wine to wash the taste of his words out of his mouth. This was not going well. Playing the part of the courtier as Aphrodite wanted him to do wasn't just hard, it was downright impossible. He made a mental note to thank Dionysus for the wine. At least with that, the night wouldn't be a total disaster.
"Apology accepted." Marlysa smiled with glee and watched his mouth drop open a moment later. "However, I win. You just said that you were wrong. And the bet said anything."
Ares choked on his drink then glared at her through hooded eyes. "You should be a damn general. I've never lost a bet that fast before."
She laughed and he found himself eyeing her long neck, wanting to see if it tasted as good as it looked, his anger replaced by lust. Oh, yes. Tonight. Tonight he would bed her. Then he would be the winner. But for now he would be patient. Let the wine do its' work.
"I don't think I could ever be one."
"You'd be surprised how many mothers become generals when their kids get older. Sometimes you'd think they were marching off to war, the way they order them about."
"Sometimes it's a necessity. Kids have a way of trying to get around what's best for them."
"Think Arianne will become one of those?"
"If she doesn't, I'll be surprised. She's already trying to establish her authority. If I put her down, she cries to be picked up. That's one good reason for us to have moved out to the cottage. I can let her cry on occasion. Good for her lungs."
"Reminds me of somebody else long ago," Ares said, his eyes twinkling with mirth as he stared straight at her.
Marlysa put her fork down. "You simply can't mean me."
Ares laughed. "Can't I?" he said, knowing he did mean someone else.
"You know too much about me. Besides, I swear you enjoy making me blush." she protested as she again found herself looking at her plate. She thought of all the things she did that she shouldn't have as a child. She hadn't been known to be the well-behaved young lady her mother thought she should have been. All too often she had been told to get out of trees, stop playing with weapons, get her chores done, and all the other things she simply didn't like to do.
He laughed in delight as his hand caught her chin, forcing her to look at him. "Indeed I do, my dear. Indeed I do. You do it so beautifully." His hand brushed the side of her face then captured the back of her head. Leaning over the table, he drew her to him and their lips met in the age old dance of symbolic love. Sparks flew faster between them than any did from the sharpening wheel for Ares' weapons.
The table between them disappeared and Marlysa found herself sitting on the lap of the God of War, her arms around his neck. His solidly muscled left arm supported her back leaving his right free to touch her wherever he pleased. To his right on a small table sat the bowl of strawberries that Aphrodite had enjoyed along with a bowl of sweetened whipped cream.
Ares grinned at her gasp at the sudden change of venue. He gave her a moment to adjust to the quick transposition then allowed the back of his right hand to stroke her soft skin from just under her chin to the "V" of her breasts. He was rewarded with a second gasp, only this one reflected the heat that he was creating. Fire trailed his fingers over the tops of her breasts. What lovely breasts they were. Even half hidden by the dress, he could tell that they were begging to be touched by him and him alone. Soon, he promised himself. Very soon. She was almost ready. He had been ready days ago.
He picked up a strawberry, twirled in the cream and held it just barely over her mouth by the stem. As her mouth opened to eat it out of his hand, he pulled it just a little higher out of her reach. As she strained to reach it, his mouth captured hers, forcing it open, forcing her to surrender to the onslaught of his tongue intertwining with hers. Together they frolicked, molding to each other, forming a fireball of heat that threatened to consume them both. Finally, reluctantly, he tore his lips from hers. Her head rested against his broad shoulder while she tried to gain control of her ragged breathing but seemed to be unable to. She shifted position in his lap and her shapely bottom touched the tip of his manhood. It strained upward against the black leather pants, searching. Ares drew in a long breath and swore under his breath. To Tartarus with Aphrodite. To Tartarus with being the courtier. He wanted her naked beneath him and he wanted it now.
He stood up with her locked in his arms against the length of him. Swiftly he moved toward the bedroom when he noticed a pot of pink roses cowering behind a shield on the credenza. Pink roses in a temple of war? He smiled in grim amusement. Aphrodite. So, she wanted to be nosy, eh?
"Pick a pink rose," he said to Marlysa. As Marlysa reached down, the plant trembled then disappeared in a shower of silver dust. He laughed beneath his breath. "So long, Dite," he said silently. "So glad you won't see the rest of tonight."
Marlysa started at its' sudden disappearance, drawing her hand back quickly, but the God of War allowed her no time to dwell on it as he seized her mouth ruthlessly.
As they entered the room, a warm, golden glow cast itself over chairs, chests, and smaller pieces of furniture, edging the walls in shadows. Everywhere you looked, shields and other armaments glinted and bent the light. In the center stood a huge, four-poster bed surrounded by candles. But Marlysa saw none of this as Ares set her down, never breaking the contact between them. He eased himself on top of her, pinning her beneath him. Exactly where he wanted her. Now all he had to do was get himself where he wanted to be, between her thighs and thrusting vigorously.
But he found himself in agreement with Aphrodite; Marlysa wasn't a woman to simply be taken and used. Then too, there was the fact that she had a baby just barely four weeks ago. She should be healed by now but fast and rough, the way he preferred, could be detrimental to her health. Slow and easy it would have to be until he knew for sure how much she could take. He broke the kiss abruptly, staring into Marlysa's passion-filled eyes and took a deep breath to control his need. Although the light was dim for a mortal, Ares watched as tiny sparks of blue blazed trails outward from the black centers. His own eyes wandered downward past her full mouth to her neck and he bent to nibble on it for a while making her gasp at the sensations he produced. Up around her ear's swirl his tongue left tiny shivers in its' wake as her warm hands found their way inside of his vest. Soft, her hands were so soft. Fingertips caressed each proud, strong muscle and Ares groaned with the ecstasy of it. Slow was going to be difficult, especially when each touch sent messages throughout him.
He laved his way down her neck and slid the fabric off of her breasts, molding its' way around them, to offer them to him. He accepted the offer and licked the warm fullness of each before settling on the tip. A drop or two of milk appeared, stimulated by his ardent attention. He lapped it, tasting the sweetness that only Arianne had known until now.
Continuing to suckle at her breast, he looked up and saw Marlysa gazing at him with glazed eyes, her hands still moving over him, going further down the long torso toward his straining manhood. He closed his eyes to savor the feeling as her hands grasped the spot where leather provided a barrier between flesh meeting flesh. Long fingers stroked him, her nails gently raked him across the tip of his phallus and his hips involuntarily jerked towards her. He saw a small smile of satisfaction cross her lips at his reaction.
A moment of hesitation followed as clothing disappeared then Marlysa felt the contact of naked flesh against naked flesh then she molded her hands around him and lightly skimmed the length. So well endowed, she thought. Long and thick with pulsating veins like tiny, pleasure-giving ridges wrapped around it. Ready and able. Her skin flushed warm with thoughts of the God of War taking her prisoner with his body.
Ares raised himself up on his knees for a moment then spread her thighs. Soft, he thought as he caressed her. The skin of her inner thighs was so very soft. She would cradle him magnificently.
She reached for him, trying to unite their mutual needs. He waved an arm and Marlysa found her hands tied with silken scarves to the posts of the bed. She strained against them, trying to escape them to force him to end her torment. "Patience, my pet," he whispered. "It will all be yours soon."
He leaned over her and, unhurriedly, his full lips met hers. His tongue teasingly traced her upper and lower lips before moving eagerly into the warm, inviting cavern. Again he thrust and parried with her, a reminder of the pleasure to come. He felt himself growing harder, feeling the want of her depths, but knowing she was not ready yet. No, he would have her truly helpless before him. His body and arrogance demanded that.
He parted the nest of curls that kept her womanhood secret from him. He trailed a single digit up and down the length of the slit, setting the nerves on edge, making her squirm to the tune that he played. He then licked his finger and smacked his lips. "Everything about you tastes good, especially down there. Time to feast."
He began to gently nip her skin, around each breast, including the nipples, then immediately licking them. He worked his way down her slightly rounded stomach, pausing only to put himself between her spread legs. Watching her carefully, he parted the folds and ran his tongue the entire length of her womanhood. He found himself rewarded when she gasped and jerked, almost screaming her pleasure. A low laugh at her helplessness before him escaped him before he returned to his pleasure. He buried his face between her thighs, inhaling the sweet muskiness of her, a perfume that only a god could appreciate fully. After several moments of playing his music on her body, he took pity on her and allowed her a moment's respite.
But no true respite was forthcoming for her. He had pushed her body to the point where it knew nothing beyond the music that issued forth from it. Every little breeze, every point that her body touched something had become a point of painful pleasure. She had to find release or she would go mad with the wanting.
"Please!" she pleaded, lifting her hips.
He laughed deep and low, knowing that she had given herself, body and soul, over to him with that single plea. "No, not yet." The ridges on his fingers scraped the tiny penis that granted her pleasure. As he moved it back and forth, Marlysa pulled tighter and harder against her bonds, trying to relieve the mounting pressure.
Ares inserted two fingers into her and moved them back and forth only a time or two. Dry. She was too dry. Aphrodite said to expect this. Her body hadn't had time to readjust itself from the birth of Arianne. Oil, scented with pleasure-inducing aphrodisiacs, appeared in small bowl next to him. Ares dipped three fingers into it and coated her tunnel well. Then he coated the full length and width of his manhood. The bowl disappeared as Ares lowered himself on her, guiding his tip to the outer edges of her then rubbed it against her minuscule one. Marlysa strained hard to force him inside her. It made him feel heady to have this kind of power over her.
While he waited at the opening, teasing her with his body, he asked questions that he knew the answers to. "Do you want me, Marlysa?"
She strangled her reply at first, then managed to get out a simple, "Yes!" between gasps.
"Do I own you, Marlysa?"
"What do you want me to do about it?" She gasped again as his tip found her's on its' circular travels and was unable to reply for a few seconds. "Marlysa, I asked you a question."
"Take me now! Please!" She lifted her hips toward his member, trying to slip him inside.
Ares, delighted at her responses, laughed deep in his throat then drew back slightly and thrust forward. A scream of combined pain and pleasure escaped her as he filled her completely, taking her to her first orgasm. Although he wanted to do nothing more than continue thrusting hard, he held himself in check for a moment. He wanted this to last all night. He wanted her to continue to scream her pleasure beneath him and he didn't care who heard.
By the time he got a semblance of his own control back, he noticed that her breathing matched his. Her impudent breasts reached for him as he drew back to thrust and thrust again. He grasped them reverently as he continued. Good. She felt so good. Warm and inviting. She writhed beneath his merciless onslaught, matching him as they reached the pinnacle together. He thrust hard once more as he held her hips in place so he could reach optimum orgasm.
It had never felt this good, he decided as her muscles continued to milk him dry. Not in all the centuries he had been enjoying women. Finally, he collapsed against her, her breasts pillowing his head. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, still feeling sparks running up and down the length of him, passing between their connected bodies and returning to him. No, never this good. He lay against her for several moments more, trying to gain control over his body while she did the same.
Finally, he rolled off of her, released her hands, pulled her against him, kissed her deeply, and they slept in each other's arms. Neither of them noticed the peacock's eyes fluttering in the dark shadows of the room.
"So, how'd it go after I left?" Ares started at the sound of his sister's voice, dropping the towel he was holding around his mid-section. Aphrodite wiggled an appreciative eyebrow and wolf-whistled at the sight of the naked God of War. "I'm dropping in unannounced more often if this is going to keep happening." She licked her lips in mock satisfaction.
He grinned at her obvious liking of his body, flexed his powerful muscles just for her benefit and she wolf-whistled again and clapped as he showed off the breadth of his shoulders. Disappointment, though, shown on her face as one of his black leather outfits covered his body a second later.
"Aw-w-w-w. I was enjoying the show," she pouted prettily.
"I know you were." He picked up his sword and put it in its' sheath.
"Well, be grateful that I find you handsome. I don't do that with just every man, mortal or god."
"Most of the time I would be grateful. But right now, I've got a warlord waiting on me to begin a battle. I'll do it again some other time just for you." He winked, then turned to go, hoping she would get the hint and leave.
"Okay. Just answer the question, though. How'd it go after I left?"
He paused at the door and looked back at his sister. She was both cause and help. She deserved some kind of answer, but not all of it. "Better than I had hoped."
"Think you're ready to break the spell?"
He thought hard for a moment. He had enjoyed last night. Enjoyed Marlysa's bantering. Enjoyed touching her. Holding her. Being deep inside her most of all.
But ready to admit he loved her?
Not yet. It was too soon. He wasn't ready to risk putting his heart out for her to see.
"No," he said slowly, almost reluctantly.
Aphrodite approached her brother and looked deep into his dark eyes, finding the window to his soul. "Truth be told, you don't want to give her up, do you?"
"No," he said almost too softly to be heard. "I don't."
Aphrodite nodded in understanding and sympathy. "Just keep things simple with her, brother. The rest, including a way to get around Mother, will come."
He nodded then paused. "Dite, one question. I've noticed that most people who end up with your spells tend to fawn all over each other. I admit, I was expecting it with Marlysa."
She giggled. "Oh, that. I didn't think you'd like that. So I cast one that would make her interested in you rather than love at first sight like I usually do. It's a quieter type of spell although it does have the drawback that it can lead to permanent love if not removed soon enough. I also thought that it would be less conspicuous to Horsey-face. Don't need to draw her attention."
"Thanks, Dite." He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.
"You're welcome, brother. Well, I'm off
to make my temple rounds and read petitions. Good luck with your battle."
She sparkled into the distance, leaving a thoughtful Ares at the door.
"So beautiful," Ares murmured as his full lips found hers. He positioned himself above her, ready to thrust. Marlysa's hands ran down the length of him to cup his firm buttocks, guiding him inside. A cry escaped her as he brought his hips forward, impaling her-
Arianne's cry woke Marlysa from her dreamful slumber. She sat up in bed for a second then lay back down, trying to clear the sleep from her eyes before realizing she was in her own cottage. She glanced around as sunlight poured in the window of the three-room house. Last night seemed like only a dream. But it wasn't, she reminded herself. The proof was her dress lying across the chair.
Across the room, Arianne set herself to crying again, only louder. "I'm coming," Marlysa muttered as she threw the covers off. She wasn't surprised to find her nightrail on and her slippers at the side of the bed. Ares was thorough.
As she stood up, she felt every muscle that her body had cry out in soreness. Yet she felt complete and serene, something she hadn't felt since her husband had died.
She sleepily walked over to her crying child, stifling a yawn. Quickly she changed Arianne's diaper, put a clean blanket around her and sat back down on the edge of the bed to feed her. As she placed her teat in her daughter's mouth, she noticed darkening spots around the aureolas. Gently she touched one. It didn't hurt but she knew it hadn't been there before last night. Hmmm, she thought sleepily, I must've been more caught up in feeling what he was doing than I thought not to notice something like this. Wonder if it's the same all over.
A startling awareness that thoughts of the night before intruded upon her pleasant interlude. As she rocked Arianne gently while she fed, Marlysa felt wanton at the rush of feminine heat building in her, her body still feeling the strength of Ares' arms around her and his manhood deep inside, touching the core of her being. She took a deep breath, held it to get her emotions under control, then exhaled slowly.
It would have been wonderful to wake up next to him. For all of his strength, he really could be quite gentle. She knew that it was a side that he didn't really show much of anyone. And she had been privileged not only to see it, but to feel it. She was aware of all the stories about him - the wars he orchestrated, laughing at others' misery, and manipulating people were reputed to be amongst his evil crimes. And probably they were true. But it wasn't the whole of him. There was that other side to him.
Arianne withdrew her mouth from Marlysa's breast and licked her lips. "Taste good, hmm?" Marlysa asked as she wiped the milk from both of them. Arianne simply blew a bubble at her mother's words.
Marlysa had no sooner set Arianne back in her basket when Darius, after swiftly knocking, came through the door holding a goblet full of a milky substance. "Good morning," he said cordially as he placed them on the table in the outer room before coming into the bedroom. Marlysa returned the greeting as she tucked Arianne's blanket around her. "I trust things went well last night?"
Marlysa nodded as she put Arianne's rattle in her tiny hand. Darius caught sight of a smile on her lips as she thought about the evening, how wonderful it had been. "Ah. Better than I had hoped, evidently." He let Arianne grasp his forefingers with her tiny fists. "Such a beautiful child." He leaned over and gently kissed her on her forehead then brought her out into the main room and set her on the table. "I'll watch her while you change," he offered.
"Thanks. I'll just be a moment." She closed the door behind her.
So much like my dear departed little one, he thought as he gazed at Arianne. He amused the child for a moment, making various faces at her. Arianne watched him, fascinated with the way his face convulsed into one different clown face after another. He stuck his tongue out at her, rolled his eyes, and wiggled his ears while being rewarded by her attention and smile.
"What is it about babies that turns otherwise sane adults into babbling idiots?"
Darius started at the sound of Ares' voice and Arianne shrieked her loudest approval for this last face he made. Ares stood behind him, grinning from ear to ear at Darius' embarrassment at having been caught.
"My- my lord! I- I was just-" Darius stammered, flustered at being caught.
Ares just grinned and patted him on the shoulder. Then he noticed the goblet and picked it up. "You and Aphrodite working together?"
"Sire?" Darius' confusion was evident on his face. "I don't know what you're referring to. But I have been told that the first time after having a child can leave a woman sore so I thought it might help."
Ares nodded and set it down. "Always looking out for the women. That's you."
"Part of my job."
The door to Marlysa's room opened and she appeared, dressed for a day's work in her brown peasant's outfit, her hair tied back in her kerchief.
"Ares," she said in surprise. "I didn't hear you come in."
"A person never does," Darius muttered under his breath. He ducked the friendly swipe that Ares attempted for that remark and laughed at his discomfort. Ares glared at him.
Marlysa ignored their lighthearted banter and moved past them to the pots and pans hanging on the wall near the fireplace and took down a frying pan. "Have both of you broken your fast?" she asked as she opened a small door. Inside, kept cool by the running water that flowed just underneath the edge of the cottage, were the foods that would spoil. She reached in and pulled out three eggs and a pitcher of milk.
"No, I haven't," Darius said.
"Join me then. I hate to eat alone."
"I would greatly enjoy it. I've heard you're quite a cook."
Marlysa smiled at the compliment and retrieved three more eggs and the butter. Working quickly, she emptied the shells of their contents in a large crockery bowl, added milk, and proceeded to whip them thoroughly.
Ares shook his head to indicate he wasn't interested. "I've got to get going. Got a warlord waiting on me. Just thought I'd see how you were doing." He eyed her critically, looking for any sign of any damage he may have inflicted upon her the night before. He noticed that her movements were a touch stiff, a sure sign of muscles being used that hadn't been used for a while but no marks remained on her wrists from the scarves. Still, it would be better to check.
"Darius, take Arianne into the bedroom," Ares ordered. Darius picked up the basket, making faces at the baby as he closed the door behind him. Marlysa looked at him quizzically, wondering why.
In response to her unasked question, he waved his hand. Her clothes disappeared, leaving only her hair in her kerchief and sandals on her feet.
"Ares!" she exclaimed, mortified at his actions. She turned away from him as she grabbed a nearby towel in an attempt to cover herself. It, too, disappeared.
"Turn around. You have nothing to be embarrassed about. You certainly weren't last night," he said. "Your body is beautiful."
She started at his words as she obeyed, but inside she was smiling. So he thought she was beautiful. It had been so long since she had felt that way, large as she was while carrying Arianne. She certainly had never felt beautiful. And it made her feel as much wanted today as he had made her feel last night.
Ares approached her, examining every detail of her, running his hands over her to check her for any damage he may have caused, wanting her even more this morning than he had the night before, noting her erotic response to his touch. As he glanced at the ivory tone of her skin in the light of day, he also noted the bruises that were beginning to darken around the aureolas of her breasts and hips. Her lips were still swollen from his kisses although that only added to his wanting of her. It would be so convenient to simply lift her onto the table, spread her legs and thrust deep inside. He also took note of the fact that she stood there, eyes closed, breathing irregular, her own small fists clasping and unclasping, and he knew that she felt the same way he did. It would be so easy.
He almost shivered with the need, then pushed it aside roughly, cursing himself. Aphrodite was right. In spite of his efforts, he had been too rough. He would have to learn to control his strength and take his time in preparing her better. They both wanted each other now, but he didn't think she was physically ready to take him inside her again so soon. Better she drink the elixir and allow it to work to relieve her soreness and pain throughout the day. Tonight would be better. Besides, he did his best work when edged with sexual tension. And today's battle should be incomparable to any others he had fought if his reaction to her was any indication.
He trailed his warm hands up the length of her to cup her breasts and caress the silken skin. A drop of milk formed on one of the teats and he licked it off. She grasped his shoulders to remain upright as the electric sensation he sent coursing through her threatened to knock her legs out from under her. "Mmmm," he purred as he smacked his lips. "Now I know why Arianne likes it so much."
He continued to lick his way up from her breast to her ear then to her lips, leaving her shivering with need. Oh, so badly he wanted to have her and she wanted him to, but duty called. Regretfully, he tore his mouth away from her and touched her shoulder, covering her body with the dress he had removed.
He approached the door to the bedroom before she could find enough air in her lungs to speak "Will you join me here for dinner tonight?"
Ares nodded, happy at the invitation. "When the sun goes down." He opened the door to let Darius and Arianne out. "Make sure you drink all of that." He indicated the goblet on the table then disappeared.
Darius simply slid it toward her.
Continue on to Part 2