"What took you so long?" Zeus did not look behind him as he spoke; he knew who approached.
"I am here at your word, Zeus Keranos. Command me."
Zeus drew breath to berate Hecate for her tone, then let it out in a long sigh. The Daughter of the Stars owed him no allegiance, and they both knew it. "I require your advice."
"Do you?" She helped herself to the wine in his glass. "Had I known you wished to kiss my ass, I would have ordered a bath first. Ughhh," she made a face at the sour blend, but drained the glass and filled it again from his krater. "What is this crap? I'll have you sent something better from Thrace."
"I'm worried about Persephone."
"Ah." Hecate joined the Master of Olympus at his window on the world. "You've reconsidered, then?"
"It's not that simple." He pressed weary hands to his eyes. "And thank you for not reminding me that you told me so."
"What is done is done, Zeus. Persephone will change – and change is inevitable. Had it not been Hades, it would soon have been another. Innocence is too great a temptation to a certain – acquisitivity inherent in our culture."
"'Acquisitivity?'" he snorted. "Is that even a word?"
"It is now. So," she said, eying the god she had assisted to his place of power. "What do you think you should do?"
"Tie him down to the same fucking rock where we put Prometheus, annul the marriage, and - "
"Stop." Very few among the dwellers on Mt. Olympus could cut Zeus off so precipitously with impunity. "I didn't ask what you would like to do, I asked what you think you should do."
"Oh, I see – well, in that case, I think we should nail his balls to the Styx-side dock before we tie the rest of him to the rock."
"Oooh, now there's a pretty picture. Think again."
"Isn't that why I keep you around?" The King of the Gods had the good grace to smile at his own weaknesses. "To think for me?"
"As you wish," she said carelessly. "But you will not like what I have to say. And I'm hungry," she said, draining her second glass.
He waved his hand with casual command, and the wine table in the middle of the triklinum expanded, spreading itself with the latest offerings – mounds of fresh bread and smoked meat, honey and olives, cheese and fruit. The gates of the great hall sealed themselves with an echoing clang.
"Sit – eat – no one will interrupt us," Zeus said. "Speak as freely as you will."
Zeus watched the last of the Titans set to her task with fascination. Hecate always seemed so normal compared to the other old ones – he often forgot that she had ever been part of any other pantheon – but she consumed with a primitive voracity that betrayed her origins.
Alone among the Titans, Hecate retained her place and power in the new Olympian order, and while Zeus had grandly (and publicly) declared that it should be so, that power was not actually his to give. At first it had troubled him, to know that there existed within his house a creature of greater might and reach than his, a power that could topple his at a word. How could she not, someday, seek to rule in her own right? And yet, over many long years, Zeus had reached an uncomfortable realization – to rule, even over Gods, was not all it was cracked up to be.
At last, his guest belched politely, leaning back against the silk cushions of the kline. She poured the last of the wine. "Do nothing against Hades," she said abruptly. "He's a rather simple thing, for a god," she raised her glass in tribute. "He thinks he's pulled one over on you, and that'll hold him for centuries. I doubt he'll ever figure out that he's just ceded his entire sphere of influence to Persephone. I expect Hades will screw himself just fine without any help from you."
"Demeter won't like that," he admitted, "but you make a good point."
"Demeter is notoriously single-minded, boyo," Hecate said, sweeping the bones from the table to her dogs. "Let Nature rail against Death – how can that be anything but beneficial to you?" she asked. "I expect you will see their feud result in gradually increasing yields world-wide until starvation becomes a thing of legend. Of course, that will be long after our time is past," she said off-handedly.
Zeus drew himself up. "Well, I don't know about that," he huffed. "Last I heard, we gods are what they call 'immortal', Hecate," he said snidely.
"And so we are," she responded, unphased. "We do not die – nor do we actually live, but I don't want to get into that right now. We have a time, my friend, a time of ascension, and of zenith, and of fall, and of fade - as the gods from whom I sprang have fallen, and those who bore them have faded. But that is long from now," she said with a wave of dismissal. "You will only know when your time has passed by looking behind you."
Zeus did not know quite what to make of that, but he let it pass. "Fine," he shrugged, "whatever. My greatest concern right now is with my daughter."
"Your daughter – I trust you mean Persephone? Isn't it interesting to you at all, Zeus, that we use the language of our followers to describe our own, very different, relationships?" she mused. "Daughter, sister, husband, father? It's not like any of us actually reproduce," she added, "not physically, at any rate. Otherwise, with all of you married to your own siblings, Olympus would be even more desperately in-bred than it already is."
"Hecate, if this is part of that whole 'willing suspension of disbelief' thing, I'm really not in the mood. My daughter, my Child of Spring, the embodiment of innocence, has been re-classified from an agricultural deity to a chthonic, and I don't like it!"
"And neither does she. However, she is doing the honorable thing by working to live up to her commitment and I suggest you honor her for that rather than trying to rescue her from it," Hecate snapped. "Every man, woman and child she welcomes at the end of the Death March will honor her, and believe me, there are a lot more of them than there are of us!"
"Humans?" Zeus looked taken aback. "What do they have to do with any of this?"
Hecate rose, lifting the heavy amphora easily and pouring more wine into the krater. "Everything, actually," she said, raising one hand in the air to call the rain to water the wine. A brief, almost adorably little thunderstorm cracked about her fingertips. "You, like my father and mother, and their parents before them, hold firmly to a certain construction of truth," she said. "The idea that you have created Humanity in your own image."
"So?" Zeus asked uneasily. "We did – I mean - didn't we?"
"No." Hecate raised her eyes, gray as the clouds in her hand, raw and harsh as the lightning she flicked from her perfectly manicured nails. "No, sorry punkin', but no. Quite the opposite, actually."
Zeus rose, an unfamiliar feeling of agitation rising in him like bile. He opened his mouth to speak, and then closed it again, turning abruptly to the window that looked over the vast valley of the earth.
"Gods - all gods - are the product of fear, brother; fear of the unknown, and the desire to make sense of it all. Worshipers may clothe it in a veneer of love and admiration, but you and I, my friend, we know it for what it is."
The relentless voice pounded in his ears. He did not wish to hear this.
"There will come a time when the unknown is not so unknown, and when fear becomes less – well, less frightening," she continued. "And our time will pass. We will be replaced, Zeus; that is an inevitability."
He could feel that she had drawn closer, smell the ozone that always surrounded her. He clenched his hands on the beaten gold of the sill.
"And the gods that rise while we fall?" she went on, relentless as rain. "They, too, will fade. We will all be legends someday, Zeus - stories that mothers tell their children, moldy old books that nobody reads," she laughed. "And that is as it should be, for that is as it will be."
"You are right, Hecate," Zeus looked back over one shoulder, fixing her in the fierceness of his gaze. "I do not like what you have to say. And yet – " he paused, and could not continue.
"And yet," she echoed in agreement. "And yet you see this, too. And that fact – that fact alone - is why I threw my support behind you, Zeus Kronides, and took your side against my ancestors, my peers - my entire world. When the time comes, I believe you, too, will have the strength to walk away. Have you ever noticed," she asked, gnawing on an olive pit, "that there are rarely more than two or three generations in any given pantheon?"
Zeus turned, blinking. "No – no, I hadn't," he admitted. "But now that you mention it..."
"Got any more of these?" she interrupted, momentarily distracted.
Sensing the presence of a full crock of well-brined fruit at that moment upon his alter in Ithomatos, Zeus swept it from the smoke with an impatient gesture before the flames of sacrifice had done more than add a hint of warmth to the seasoning. "Are you saying that we only have another generation or two before – do you actually have the gall to stand before me and predict - "
"Your fall? And mine? Sure," she said, plunging both hands into the crock. "All those children you've been so busily fathering are part of the next generation, and their children will bridge into other legends, other myths," Hecate said, neatly stripping flesh from seed, chewing, swallowing, reaching for more. "And someday you, too, will be hungry for any offering, Zeus," she said, licking the oil from her fingers, "and hating yourself for it.
"You see, my Astrapaios, we're all on the same Death March – Human or God. Ours is just a much longer path." She wiped her hands on her leather tunic. "There will come a time when you'll reach your own River Styx," she said, "and once you cross it, you'll have to find another way to feed your soul."
"Oh, go to hell," he muttered irritably. This is not what he'd had in mind when he'd sent Athena's owl to bid Hecate attend him.
"Good idea," she said, whistling for her dogs. "And it'll be good for me. It's time I took my own advice, while I still have a few old women willing to burn a bit of bread in my name. I'll kick Hermes out when I get there," she lifted a torch in each hand. "He's spent nearly the whole winter trying to help Persephone adjust, and the poor kid's made himself completely lovesick. If he's going to be any good to you at all, he needs to back off. I'll take his place," she added, one hand on the door. "I'm used to working in the dark."
Author's Note - This story is the result of a challenge write. I contacted AugieToaste with less than half a day remaining until the deadline for the February writing contest on the forum Labyrinth and dared him to beat me in a writing race - which he did, by about an hour and a half. It was a fabulous exercise in just letting it go from the mind to the word without a lot of thinking or planning in between, and I'm pleased with what we both came up with. - TanteLiz