So this is how it goes, she thought, as the mast of the ship faded into the distance and she bent to vomit in the bushes. Odysseus, having had his fill of carnage, was gone to sharpen his ego on another unsuspecting creature's flesh. And she, Circe, was, as she had suspected, carrying another little swine.
She should dispose of the little beast before it became too late, but that would require pain, and she was never one for unnecessary pain. Better to hope against hope it was another indomitable, crotchety little sorceress after her mother's own congealing heart. In truth, she did not know what she would do if her parasite of nine months arrived with his father's face, her foe's cold black eyes.
Circe wiped her mouth, and the thought of him brought a fresh, bilious burn to her throat. What would he have been if Hermes hadn't interfered? (Oh, would she ever kill that dirty little midget now…He would be no match for her later, grown big as Olympus thanks to his incessant practical jokes.) An arrogant golden lion, Odysseus would have been, perhaps, one who cowered with his tail between his legs at the mere shadow of a mouse on the wall? The filthy hypocrite.
He had had her supplicated, at his mercy. He knew as well as she did that she would have given him anything in exchange for her life. And what did he choose? Sex and feasting. In the name of valor and victory over the evil forces of her feminine wiles, feasting and sex. At least pigs and asses were honest about their intentions. She much preferred their company.
She was not even sure he knew the difference between sex and engorging himself. As a matter of fact, there wasn't much difference to him. He salivated over her, cut into her carnivorously like he would a raw steak. The only difference, she supposed, was that not even Odysseus would presume to ask his meat if it had enjoyed being consumed.
And what a horrible, egocentric wuss he truly was. Brandishing one or both of his swords in her face and spouting nauseating, heroic clichés at one moment ("Beg for mercy, witch!" So terrifying, she thought, and so sexy. Might as well say, "Prepare to be coerced, bitch!" She had always appreciated candor.) And in the next moment, he was sobbing over his stinking Ithaca and his companions' curly tails. ("By all the Gods," she thought. "It's not like the enchantment is irreversible. Or, by any means detrimental to anything but the eyes.")
And there were the fights between them, stentorian and seething. There were the times when she had cried in pure exasperation, "Oh, honestly, put it away and go find another fawn to slaughter."
And then there was that nasty incident involving one of Odysseus's drunken ignoramuses taking an untimely swan dive off her roof. Very bloody, that was, and such a mess. And then Odysseus got it into his fat, handsome head that she, Circe, had encouraged this degradation of her island.
"Don't be a fool," she had growled, dancing out of his reach. "Even if you had allowed nature to take its intended course—" (She wove her wand through her fingers affectionately in that way she knew drove him crazy.) "—there would have been no wings on that sloth." Odysseus did not take kindly to her goad, once he had figured it out.
But the truth was, she was afraid of him, and she hated him vehemently for it. After all, she had never almost died before. The enchantment had never failed to rend the illusions of humanity all those primitive beasts wrapped around themselves. But at that moment, his hand unforgiving in its vice grip on her hair, pulling her face heavenward in penitence, his sword painting a thin line of blood across her exposed throat… she was helpless. She was the one robbed of her illusions, and she tasted her servitude in the wine they shared, the bitter alloy of fear and hatred. Blood-red, it stained his lips, which she tasted secondhand. Blood-red, like the fever and the agony that swam before her eyes, as, thirsty and lustful, he carved his presence into her white flesh, blood-red.
In distaste, Circe caught her hand curving the slight swell of her stomach, the first intimate gesture of maternity. She tore it away. She would not be maternal.
Odysseus would be pleased. She smiled bitterly to herself. He was gone, but he had left one imprint that no amount of time or healing would erase. He had penetrated her defenses. He was forever and irrevocably inside her.
A resentful dizziness stole the strength in her legs. Gritting her teeth furiously, Circe grasped the headboard of her bed for support. She began to sit on it, but thought better of it. She pulled away as if burned and glared at the painstakingly made bed. In her mind, it was a repulsive tangle of sheets and sweat, a battlefield still.
A gaggle of pigs and game birds weaved drunkenly past her, snorting and clucking in a drugged slur. Their smell of unwashed flesh sent a fresh wave of nausea over her, and Circe fled again for the bushes. A nymph stopped to giggle at her undignified position.
"Oh shut up," Circe said, retching. "You just wait until an epic asshole comes along and impregnates you."
Being a pregnant sorceress was most inconvenient. She would have to remember to never again repeat the experience. At nine and a half months, she was as bloated as an overripe fruit. She only had the energy to hum absently at her loom, as a ship of men raucously approached her shores. Clearly, this small temptation was enough to detain them. Pigs.
The baby revolted at the sounds of the newcomers, kicking her squeamishly. It was official. The baby was like his father. A self-obsessed little coward. Already half a month late, never mind how much agony he caused his poor mother, and frightened by the shadows of the voices of idiots and drunkards echoing in her womb.
The pack of men came close enough for their words to become intelligible.
"Lo, what is that glorious sound!"
Likely the last sound you'll ever hear, you perverted little wretch, Circe thought, and hummed louder.
Finally, the men were upon her. The leader, a handsome man, (of course he was), fixed his small, sharp eyes upon her. She watched the progress of his gaze, starting at her face and traveling quickly to her stomach, where it remained. Typical.
The baby kicked again, this time with a painful urgency. It took every shred of will she possessed to restrain herself from chastising the monster with a hand. This was not the time to show weakness.
"Dread goddess Circe," the leader addressed her navel. "My men and I have traveled long and arduously and fought many fierce battles and desire only a place to lie for the night."
Yes, that's what they all desire, isn't it. Her full lips curled cynically. Boredly, she twirled her wand between bloated fingers.
But before she could silence his nonsense into a more tolerable braying, the leader did something that surprised her. He drew closer to her than she ever tolerated and put a thoroughly uninvited hand over hers on her swollen stomach. Circe was so disarmed she did not at first protest. She was frozen.
"In your delicate condition, of course, you require protection, which my men and I would gladly exchange for your hospitality."
Delicate, protection. She sneered. She told herself his sympathy was nauseating. How dare he patronize her, the swine, the ass, the man. Her wand waited just beside her. She began to reach for it, to snatch her hand away from his light touch. But in that moment, Odysseus's son finally stopped fighting her from within. And it was relief, and peace, serene surrender and cages gilded with delicate words of protection. Her hand twitched beneath his, then was still. His sympathy was demeaning. And she did not move.
"It has been a long, solitary journey," he half-whispered, as the sirens wailed their sweet nothings in the distance.
Yes, it has, she thought, a sweet, shallow echo, a shadow of promises. He looked directly in her eyes now, and she saw herself reflected in their sea-blue glass. She saw herself as he saw her, the awkward, weighted stance, the swell of her heavy breasts, the body commandeered by fertility, both sensuous and uncomfortable, her vulnerability. His mouth, which had seemed so earnest before, lusted for her, the ripe fruit ready to fall from the tree with a single caress.
Disgusted with herself, she unleashed her rage, and glared at the liquid, imploring eyes of the basset hound wagging his tail beside her until he growled and showed his teeth, as they all will do eventually, she knew.
Out of pure foul temper, she stumbled fiercely to her feet and turned all his men into animals as well. After all, her ankles were swollen, her eyes were heavy from the baby's doubtlessly inherited unwillingness to let her sleep, and her back ached in envy of Atlas's load. She had every right.
It was then that the first wave of labor pains came.
Later, prostrated on the bed, legs spread, brow damp with sweat, with every wracking contraction, Circe wondered how Odysseus progressed with his conquest.