When she married, there wasn't much of a ceremony.
She went, first, to the hairdresser's shop, a small, bright room crowded with young, giggling girls. She had her hair plaited and caught up over and behind her face in endless dark coils, and watched the girls as their hair fell about them, cut shorter and sleeker and just like the magazine cut-outs they clutched.
She had memories, held somewhere deep and vague, of someone, a mother? Herself? Someone, anyway, telling her that life only began once a woman married. In a manner of speaking, she supposed this was true.
After she'd paid the hairdresser, she walked slowly home.
The town was clean and bright, with cobbled streets and tiny, old houses that sat above the sea, all whitewashed and neatly thatched or shingled in bright tiles. Her home was at the edge of the village, where the plateau spilled over toward the shore.
Di was waiting there, frock in hand.
"Come on, then," she said, red lipstick perfect despite her pursed mouth. "Into this."
She nodded, worked her shirt free button by button, and pulled it up and away from her skirt. She stepped free of the skirt, a closely cut affair, and kicked off her shoes.
Di held up the dress and she drew it over her head. The fine folds of it fell softly about her, almost shear in the early afternoon light.
"Here we go again," she said quietly, and Di laughed.
They went out the back door, through the airy kitchen, and down to the garden. It was a glistening collection of fruit trees, freshly watered shrubs and bright blossoms. It was set out in a perfect grid, patches of sand and smooth pebbles bordering each plot.
Her bouquet was waiting here, apple blossoms, made golden by the dappled light through the trees. She picked them up, held them cradled in her arms. Her husband was waiting, too.
After the ceremony, he turned to her and said, "I suppose we ought to consummate this sooner, rather than later."
"That's how we got into this mess to begin with," she replied, and brushed past him to put her bouquet in a vase of water.
Inside, she sat on a stool at the kitchen counter across from Di and loosed her hair, one pin at a time.
"It isn't fair," she said, after a moment. "He's gone already, off to another bed. Used to be, he'd wait a day or four, tell me he was going to change and things would be better. This time, I told him not to bother pretending."
Di pursed her lips again, beautiful and regal in her slip of a dress. It was violet, deep and rich against her pale skin.
"Honestly, what is it about me?" She asked. "I always tried to be good for him."
Di exhaled harshly. "It's got nothing to do with you," she said, and her voice was flat. "Come on, you know you're not to blame."
"Yes," she said, slowly. "Well."
Later, she took a train to the old shrine.
It was early evening, and the train clattered along roughly, jostling her back and forth as she gazed at and through her book.
The air was thick, humming as the train squealed against the track. She was alone in the car.
She slept a little, fitfully, and when she awoke it was dark, and her husband was there with her, tall and proud in the seat across from hers.
He leaned forward, hands on his knees. "What're you doing?" he asked. "No one's gone to this place in years."
"Some people still honor the old ways," she said smoothly, and pulled the elastic out of her hair so it fell thickly about her.
Her husband stayed just like that for the rest of the ride, the top button of his shirt undone, and his tie loosened slightly, as he frowned over the crossword puzzle in the Times. He had it delivered specially, from overseas.
She kicked off her shoes, which she knew annoyed him, and tucked her calves up under her thighs, stretching out. It was odd that there was no one else on the train, she mused, and probably not an accident.
He brushed his hair out of his eyes, thick and dark and glossy with oil. It waved as it fell over his temple, and she saw again the man that appeared to her every so often, strong and beguilingly handsome.
She knotted her hair neatly at the base of her neck, and sighed.
When they exited the train, the sky was dark, but still soft with the weight of the sunset.
She stopped to strip off her stockings and tuck them into her handbag, along with her shoes.
They walked along the path that they'd walked a thousand times before, silent.
Some people said that this was the oldest path in the land, that the Gods had walked this road before any man found it. Whenever she walked it, she still felt like she was the only person in the world.
Before the old shrine, there was another, almost as old, a small, delicate structure with a smooth, round stone set into the center of the floor. She stopped here, to place an apple upon the stone.
"Aphrodite's temple?" Her husband laughed from behind her. He was still on the path.
"Yes," she murmured. "Aphrodite's."
"You used to hate anyone more beautiful than you," he said slyly, and he was just behind her, now, but still not in the shrine.
"I was much younger," she replied, and stepped back onto the path.
They walked for a time, as the air slowly cooled around them. Her husband looked almost merry, yet still composed, contained.
He had a temper, but it was only ever his lascivious nature that caused him to lose it. The anger came when his desire was thwarted, usually.
Then they were at the old temple, and she couldn't help but feel a little short of breath. It always made her this way, amazed by the age of it all, by the way in which something could have been this way for so very long.
"This is the first place," she said softly, and entered the temple.
When she was younger, she'd thought this place to be enormous. It was constructed of perfect, solid stone columns, open to the warm night air. Inside, the floor was smooth beneath her bare feet, and there was a bit of a breeze here that never seemed to change. Now, she found the building small, ancient, but no less strong. There was something very deep and old in this place, something she often fought to recall but could never truly capture when she wasn't here. It felt like home.
She made for the central alter, which was placed deep in the bowels of the structure. It was a simple slab of marble, but the hue of it still glittered brilliantly out from amidst the sandy stone of the columns. She was certain that it had once been painted, but preferred it like this, bleached like bones in the sun.
The bones were what remained of this, she thought, Hera's ribcage, the first place.
She sat on the altar, legs swinging above the ground. She was still wearing her wedding dress, and the hem drifted and twined about her legs, above her pale ankles.
"What're you doing in there?" her husband called. He wouldn't come in here, either, didn't like these places. He said they stank of decay, of old women.
I'm an old woman, she thought, and didn't answer. He'd have to come in here if he wanted to talk to her.
She sat for a time, swaying a little with the breeze. She knew she ought to stay, though she wasn't yet certain why. After all this time, things were still never perfectly clear.
An indeterminate amount of time later, spanned only by the breeze and the slow rise and fall of her chest, she heard soft footsteps.
It wasn't her husband, of that she was sure. His shoes would have clicked upon the stone, and his pace was always tight and measured. This sound was quieter, a little hurried, but still careful. She looked up. It was a woman.
The women of the nearby village still wore the old clothes, bright scarves at their foreheads, and soft, airy shirts under embroidered vests and miles of skirts. This woman was older, a bit of a shake to her step, but her long hair was still dark, and her skin gleamed chestnut, soft with oil. Her eyes were large, and dark.
"Hello," she greeted the woman, and smiled at her. "What brings you here?"
The woman was silent for a moment, gazing at her, then she fell forward to press her forehead upon the smooth stone of the floor.
"You're back," she said softly, and her voice was deep and full, her dialect rough and wild.
She smiled. "Sometimes I have to go away for a bit, start things all over. I always come back, though. Now, get up, please. Tell me what you need."
The woman stood, and after a moment, sat beside her on the altar, eyes wide.
"It's my daughter," she said, and her voice caught. "She was to have a baby, but she lost it. She hasn't stopped bleeding, since. More than is usual. She's lost too much, and still she bleeds."
"How long?" she asked.
"Three weeks," the woman answered. "The doctor says she won't last much longer, says he can't do anything."
"Bring her here," she said softly, and the woman ran out into the night.
She returned later, with a girl whose hair was matted with sweat. She looked small and tired, her face sunken in.
"Come here," she said, and gestured that the girl be lifted up onto the altar, into her embrace.
"I'm sorry for your pain," she whispered in the girl's ear, and placed her hand just below her navel. She felt the girl shift and whine as she pressed inward, reaching for shattered veins and urging them to come back together, to grow where they had been lost, and to fill with rich blood.
Then she was whole again, healed and replenished, and there was already a bit more color in her face.
She helped the girl off the alter, and looked down at the two. "Thank your mother," she said quietly, and the woman and her daughter kissed her fingertips and pressed the backs of her hands to their foreheads, murmuring her name into the night, exultant and thankful.
"Tell your people that Hera doesn't abandon them," she said, and sent them away and home.
Outside, her husband was seated neatly upon a rock, his heels a careful inch away from the platform of the temple. She extended a hand to him, and he took it, standing and drawing her back onto the path to the train.
On the way back, the train car was filled to the bursting with young people, rosy-cheeked and cheerful in the warmth of the night.
She was seated next to her husband, one shoulder just touching his, and raised her eyes to his.
"Things are going to be different this time," she said, standing, and stepped off of the rumbling train.
When she came back into her kitchen through the back door, Di was still seated at the counter. She raised one eyebrow in greeting, then stood, silkily, and reached for her little cup of water.
"Join me," she murmured, and slipped out into the garden.
Outside, they walked down off the terrace and into the fruit trees. The air was heady with the scent of blossoms, a crowded, solid odor that drew Hera's eyes nearly closed.
Di picked an apple tree, of course, still bearing flowers, and sat down beneath it, patting the ground beside her.
The grass was dew wet and clung unpleasantly to her skirt. She swatted at the fabric, pushed it free of her calves.
"Things are going to change," she said, and leaned back on her damp palms.
Di shifted, stretching luxuriously, and plucked a blade of grass. "That's already clear."
She pulled it taut between her fingers, scoring it with her fingernails. "Thanks for the gift, by the way. It's too early for apples, but it was delicious."
"Well," Hera said, and laughed. "Seasons aren't so much a problem for me."
Di dropped the shredded bit of grass and clasped her hands together. "Things have always gone the same way. It's been like this for as long as I can remember." She paused. "For forever."
"I was here before you," Hera said, softly chiding. "I remember a time before all this, before him. It was a better time."
"That's blasphemy," Di responded slowly, but didn't disagree.
"How will you do it?" She asked, after a period of quietly picking at the lawn.
"Well," Hera said softly, and closed her eyes. "I'm going to find my children."
Dionysus was always the easiest to find. Some time ago, he and Apollo had cleared up their various petty squabbles and become quite close. It had been rather an unbeatable combination, and traces of their work remained wherever youth met revelry, mixed in the flow of liquor.
Tonight Hera found them both in a particularly dodgy pub.
It was raining, here, a slow, steady drip that was somehow far more irritating than a true storm. Hera spun on the spot for a moment, disoriented.
She could find her children by looking inward, just as she could anyone. The trouble was that being responsible for originating everyone made it somewhat difficult to narrow in on a particular person. Generally, they all rested somewhere at the base of her skull, manifesting themselves in a sort of mass of finely pointed, buzzing particles. With effort, she could choose a spot on which to focus, and her children were easier than most. They were brighter, larger, and sometimes left her with a heavy migraine in times of great emotion.
Still, it always took a moment to figure out exactly where it was that she'd been drawn. She sniffed at the air, wishing for an umbrella. Britain.
Yes, she thought. Definitely Britain. Cornwall, from the look of it, and faint tinge of salt in the breeze.
Inside, the pub was dark, lit only by low, oily lamps. It was built around a massive bar counter of thick, heavy oak that was pitted with age. The patrons seated here were all older, sailors and farmers who shared a complexion roughened by the constant, salted wind. Hera passed them without a thought, and slipped into the back room.
Her sons were there, holding court over a rowdy group of clearly local youths.
Dionysus had a presence that still always filled a room. He was broad and hearty, with thick, dark corkscrew curls and a figure that had over the years become a testament to his culinary indulgences. His cheeks, as was generally the case, were flushed with drink. He was lounged back into a booth, gesturing madly with his glass of dark wine.
Apollo was perched next to him, tall and slender and elegantly encased in gray Dior. He was always perfectly coiffed, spotlessly dressed and trim and tidy of body. Though he was far more reserved, Hera knew it was he who'd chosen this pub, for while Dionysus preferred the sinuous bodies of the Mediterranean, lithe and fragrant with olive oil, Apollo loved these strong, solid Celts, so different from his slight, golden presence.
He was quietly engaged with one of the men, his head turned gracefully so that he could focus his gaze completely upon what looked to be a pleasantly flirtatious conversation. Still, it was he who noticed Hera first.
Apollo rose smoothly, in a single fluid motion, and stepped toward her, brushing non-existent wrinkles from his trousers.
"Mother," he said warmly, and drew near to kiss her cheek. He smelled of a dark, bitter wine.
"Apollo," she responded, and then Dionysus was bounding toward her to engulf her in a hug.
They sat down together, at the booth in which Dionysus had been seated.
"You're far from home," Hera said, and tried to pretend she really felt reproachful about it. "Why can't you stay in Greece with your mother like good boys? Everything's so dreary, here."
Dionysus chuckled, of course, but it was Apollo who responded.
"Dreary is living with one's mother. Or it has been for the last few centuries, at least." His slight smile softened the barb.
Hera returned the smile, ruefully. Her name had long been connected with vengeance, though lately that had become confused with spite.
"Things are changing," she said quietly.
Dionysus chuckled, twirling his wineglass by the stem. "You do seem different."
Apollo ran a hand through his smooth, golden hair. "So what is it that you want, Mother?"
Hera stared down at the table. It looked as though it'd weathered centuries. She still sometimes wondered that she feel more like this table, but the waters of Greece were kind to their own.
"My birthday's next week," she said finally. "We've not all been home together in years."
Apollo quirked an eyebrow in what was probably interest.
"It's just," Hera continued, "Perfumes and sweetmeats and exotic pets are all very nice, but I've had them all, many times over. This year, what I'd really like is to be together with all of my family."
"Oh Mum," Dionysus said, "You've gone all sentimental. 'Course we'll come, as long as you mean step-children too."
"You're all my children, in one way or another," Hera replied. "Shall we say my home, in a week?"
She lingered there, for a time, listening to Apollo's soft, elegant voice as he told her a collection of stories from various centuries, things he'd never thought or remembered to say, before.
Dionysus, not one for meaningful conversation, had returned to the locals, and had convinced one to take up a fiddle and play a lively reel. They were all dancing, laughing and sometimes whooping as they slurred through the steps. Apollo leaned close.
"They won't all be this agreeable, you know."
Hera reached out to tuck his honeyed fringe behind his ear. "Of course not."
"I could help, he murmured. Artemis and I get on well. And Heracles, maybe."
She smiled. "I think I've got to do this one on my own. But thank you."
When she left the bar, it was still raining, but it felt just a tiny bit more pleasant.
Ares had always been a bit mad. Hera and Aphrodite had fought for ages after Di had let Ares seduce her, but it had always been more about how dangerous Ares was, and less about his being her son.
She knew where Ares was, even without looking within. The newspapers had made it quite clear that he was currently living in America. Though he moved rapidly, that nation's involvement in conflict said that he'd found some sort of comfortable resting ground, and Hera wasn't surprised. Ares loved power.
He was holed up in a little cabin atop a mountain somewhere in the Midwest.
It was at the top of a little, winding trail, and Hera wished for a moment that she'd worn more appropriate shoes. She should have known he'd choose a place like this.
She knocked, out of courtesy. Ares was terribly jumpy.
It took him a very long time to answer, and when he did, she had to restrain a gasp.
He looked awful, all scraggly beard and bloodshot eyes. In the past he'd taken great pride in his appearance, but then, the spilling of blood had become so much less about physical prowess than it had once been.
"Mom," he said briefly. "Come in."
Inside, it was the same old Ares. The place was filthy, crammed with old take-away boxes and plastic pop bottles, layered over in maps and diagrams and bits of wire and rotting string.
Ares cleared off a bit of a bench for her, but she declined it and stayed standing in the doorway between the tiny kitchen and the den.
"Come home for a bit, won't you?"
He grunted, rooting through the debris on the table for a crumpled packet of cigarettes. He struck a match, then tossed the pack back down on the table.
"What will Dad say to that?" he asked around a mouthful of smoke.
"It's no good trying to pick a fight with me," Hera answered smoothly. "I made you. Think of all the discord at home, though. Everyone'll be home at once, even Aphrodite. Plenty of conflict for you."
Ares gazed consideringly at her. "Will Hephaestus be there?"
"Of course," she replied. "He's always easy to convince."
In the end, Ares was always easy to convince of things, too.
Hephaestus was in Romania. This Hera already knew, for he was one of the few of her children who she still frequently visited.
There had been fights between them, long ago, but Hephaestus' stubborn nature was ultimately a link to Hera's own personality, so they'd managed to find some sort of accord that saw itself out mainly in coffee-bar chats and walks along the banks of the Argeş.
He was still lame, although lately he'd taken to walking with a heavy, gnarled cane carved by one of his local friends. He hadn't yet told her the story of that gift, though Hera had no doubt that someday he would.
In the afternoon, when she stopped by to visit, they went to a tiny restaurant to eat tiny cabbage rolls and mămăligă, and small, spicy sausages, after a shot each of Ţuică.
"I've often thought of brewing this," he said, tapping at the little glass. "Everyone does it, here."
Hera just smiled and nodded. Hephaestus was filled with these little notions and sudden, thoughtful observations that never ceased to amaze those who saw him as merely a blacksmith. He rarely chose to disillusion those around him, apparently preferring to be thought a simple man.
"It's almost your birthday," he said later. "I'll come see the garden, of course."
"Everyone will be there," she said carefully. "Aphrodite, of course, but even Ares."
"It's your birthday," he said slowly, as though that explained everything, and perhaps it did.
"Baklava?" she asked hopefully, and Hephaestus just grinned. He could always be counted on to eat dessert.
Artemis lived in Greece. She had a strong sense of propriety, though Hera was never quite certain where it had come from, as Artemis had been raised by her father, who wasn't exactly known for such things.
Her home was large and spacious, and filled to the bursting with books. Hera let herself in, knowing already that Artemis would be in the library. She opened the vast door carefully, slipping through and closing it gently behind her.
Artemis was seated at the long table in a high backed chair, her dogs sprawled out at her feet. Her hair was honey brown, caught up in a loose braid, and a pair of stylish, square rimmed tortoiseshell glasses perched upon her nose. She was the very picture of Apollo. Despite her darker hair, they shared a slender, fey sort of grace that always manifested itself when any other person would have been so at ease as to be lax and uncouth. She was always straight and tall, even more so than Apollo.
"I've been expecting you," Artemis said, and closed the book she'd been reading, a finger keeping her page.
"Apollo told you?" Hera asked, stepping around the table to sit across from Artemis. One of the dogs roused itself and pressed its nose into her palm. She stroked it behind its ears, absentmindedly.
Artemis chuckled, wryly. "He can't keep anything from me. He seemed to like your idea, though."
"What, a birthday party?" Hera asked, "Who knew Apollo would approve of something so crass?"
"Oh stop it," Artemis said briskly, and reached for her fountain pen to scrawl a stream of elegant notes on a legal pad. "Apollo adores you, really. His devotion is like the sun, as it were."
"Well," Hera said. "That's very nice. But I thought I was here to see what you thought of the idea."
Artemis pressed a fingertip to her lips, wet it, and flipped over a page in her notebook.
"Why now?" she asked, and her voice had gone conversational. "I get the feeling this isn't just about a birthday."
Hera considered. "I think it might be time to change some things that have been wrong for a long time."
"So wrong that even the old stories cast you as awful?" Artemis asked innocently.
"Even more wrong," she countered calmly. "But I think this is the time for setting straight the balance."
"I can hardly argue with that," Artemis said, in a voice that made it clear that she could, if she wished to. "But good luck with Heracles."
She hadn't seen Heracles in centuries. Longer still since she'd seen him of her own volition.
Even after she'd finished with the original pain of realizing that he represented everything that she loathed about her marriage, guilt and hurt had come together to whisper in her ear that they were better off far apart.
Now, returning to him felt terribly momentous, a moment that she'd not even imagined until perhaps yesterday. It was a clicking into place of something large, something that hung all around her like a veil and filled her lungs thick and heavy and warm. Destiny, maybe.
Heracles lived in Southern Italy, along with his wife. It was close enough to feel a little bit like home, but not really. The climate wasn't quite right, nor the sand or the sea. She imagined the self-imposed exile rankled most in that it was so almost, but not quite, right.
His home was the sort of vast, sparkling palace that was generally associated with film stars. A sullen maid answered the door in unintelligible Italian, but showed her into the kitchen anyway.
Hebe was there, loading glasses into the dishwasher. "Mother," she said warmly, and wiped her hands off on a dishtowel before embracing her.
"Hello, darling," Hera replied. She looked good, in cream cashmere and a pair of tiny shorts, high up on her long, slender legs.
"Here for Heracles, is it?" She glanced away, then moved to the counter to pour three glasses of water from a glass pitcher.
"Yes, last on my list unless I've got to argue with you as well," Hera said, and leaned against the chrome counter.
"Of course not," Hebe answered, and took a sip of water. "You can take that to him, he's out exercising, by the pool."
"Seems a bit warm for that," Hera said, reaching for the water.
"Oh." Hebe laughed. "The pool boy's out there. Quite handsome."
Hera raised an eyebrow. "That doesn't bother you?"
Hebe laughed again, a full, honest sound. "No, I've got pool boys of my own. Go on, now."
So Hera went outside, through the sliding glass doors to the back yard, which was dominated by a massive swimming pool. On one side, Heracles sat, absently flexing a dumbbell as the pool boy, a youth of perhaps 20, swam slow, lazy laps. She picked her way over the concrete, perching beside Heracles on a folding lounge chair.
He was quiet for a time, eyes half closed and sweat beading on his brow and above his parted lips.
"Hera," he said finally, flatly.
"You were named for me," she said, softly. "Glory of Hera."
He nodded, but didn't look away from the teenager in the water.
"I never gave you a chance to be that," she continued, quietly. "I tried to prevent your birth."
"I know all this," he replied sullenly. "I've always known."
"Yes," she said patiently, "but I've never told you I'm sorry. Not until now."
His head turned fractionally.
"It was never your fault, of course," she continued. "I thought if you weren't here, I wouldn't have to face any of the truths about your father. I thought I could keep pretending we were happy, that we were good people. I made myself into a really awful person, in search of that."
She knelt beside him, and the concrete paving was hot upon her knees. "Come back to me, now. It's not too late. Let me be your Mother, like I am a Mother to all of you."
"Are you fixing many things, now?" Heracles asked, and he was no longer sullen.
"I am," Hera said firmly. "I think I finally am."
"We'll be there with the rest," Heracles said, and as Hera turned to go, he smiled, just a little.
Back at home, she and Di prepared for the celebration. By this time it was just days before everyone would arrive, and Hera found herself possessed of a strange nervous energy.
They spent their time trimming the apple trees and pulling weeds, shining countertops and dusting off stacks of books. The house had been Hera's for so long, she'd nearly forgotten the strange conglomeration of things she'd acquired throughout the years. She found herself holding little icons and lumps of stone and bits of charcoal drawing, staring at them for long moments and remembering the thankful people from whom they'd come.
On the morning of her birthday, Hera was insufferably tense all day, rewashing cups and inside the refrigerator and sweeping under the table until Di finally tired of it and sent her into town to the hairdresser.
There were no children in the shop, this time, just old ladies with curlers wrapped tight about their heads, chuckling to each other over the tops of their magazines.
"I'd like to keep it down," Hera told the plump stylist, who clucked approvingly. "Just curls."
She felt strangely peaceful during the walk back. She'd worn sandals, soft brown leather that clung delicately to her ankles. Her dress was the color of sand, and it flowed behind her as she walked, light in the breeze.
"Everything is going to be different, now," she said to the wind, and its answer sounded just a bit like a chiming of bells.
They were all already there, except for her husband, when she arrived at home. Di was effortlessly keeping them all entertained, sipping cocktails and laughing and talking to one another upon her patio. She declined a glass of wine and stepped out to greet them.
"I'm back," she said, and her voice cut through all of the conversations and clinking of glasses. "I'm home."
"I'm glad you're all here," Hera began, and the words were only occurring to her as she spoke them, but she knew they were right. "I've missed you all."
She drew closer, standing in the center of the patio. "You're all my children, in one way or another, and I'm so happy for it. I know we've all had our quarrels, and I'm to blame for those," here she glanced at Heracles with a little smile, "and now I'd very much like to make amends. I fear I was quite asleep for a great many years. I'd forgotten a great many truths about myself."
She sucked in a breath. "I fear I'd been made to believe that your father came first. That he made all of us, all of this. In that, I was incorrect."
The breeze picked up a little, drawing her hair away from her shoulders. "I am the first," she said quietly. "I am the beginning. Life springs from me, and always shall. I am the reason that we return, time and time again, live our lives countless times, give gifts to these people, and to our great and beautiful home. Though while I was blinded I was selfish, sometimes hateful, now I am repaired, returned, and I love you all and ever shall. But do not forget, that I am the first." She gazed around her at all her children, slack and silent.
"I am the first place."
Then her husband was there, handsome and perfectly dressed, bearing a bouquet of apple blossoms.
She turned to him, slowly. "You know everything I've said. It's all true, of course."
He was silent for once, and completely still.
She looked away from him. "Will you all come to me, and love me as your mother?"
There was a great stillness for a time. She moved to the top of the stairs, and looked out over the garden and beyond, to the great old volcano that had been there for nearly as long as she had.
Then Apollo was before her, kneeling below her on the stairs and kissing her hand, and Hephaestus lowered himself awkwardly upon his cane to do the same.
Dionysus was next, escorting Hebe, stopping to give a faintly mocking curtsy before they both dropped to her feet in earnest.
Ares came gruffly, and sat stiffly against the railing, and Artemis was smooth and graceful, and gave instead a handshake that was somehow more forgiving than any other embrace. Aphrodite kissed her upon the cheek before seating herself at Hera's right side.
Then it was just Heracles, and Zeus.
"My son," she said softly, still gazing out at the horizon line. "Please come to your family."
Heracles did, then, and they were all seated before her, flanking the ornate stone railing and facing away but all still close and solid and loving.
"Zeus," she said finally. "Hear me." His intake of breath was harsh.
"Zeus," she said again. "Long you have told me that all of your ways are your own because you made all this, because you are the creator and the father and the owner. But if you are all of this, then why do you fear my temple? Why do the old ways hurt your head and your heart, and why do you fear me? Don't speak, I'll tell you why."
She closed her eyes. "Hera is not my only name. I have been many names. Ma Gu, Gaia, Ninhursag, Hathor, Isis, Spider Grandmother. I am Tiamat, Inanna, Ninsun, Asherah, Ashtart, Cybele, Danu. I am Frekka, Holda, Frau Holle, Potria Theron, Erda, and Umai, Mahimata, Shakti. I am all of these and more. I am the beginning, the first, the place from which all the rest is born. I am the mother of it all, and I love all of it."
The breeze was now something of a real wind, and her skirts were caught close about her legs.
"From this point forward," she continued, "I intend to be all of these names, and all of these ideas. All of it. It is I, and you shall no longer wear it as your own. I know you can't, for in the naming, I've found all of the power I didn't before know was mine. Now, you have a choice. Come here."
He came to stand to her left at the top of the stairs.
"Zeus," she said softly, and his name was a caress. "You've treated me poorly. You've treated a great many people poorly, in fact. But I've loved you for almost as long as I've lived, and I believe there's something good in that."
She turned to him, a little. His face was more open than she'd ever seen it, fearful.
"Now, if you cannot accept this, I'll show you a mercy that you never had. I'll allow you to exile yourself to a place far from this one, where no one knows of you or cares, and where you'll have nothing but yourself. If you choose this, you'll never see my Greece again, but you will live, and you will live again and again. But," at this she reached for his hand, took it lightly.
"But, if you will accept the truth of my self, of my love and my power and my beginning point, then you may lay before me and you may love me, and perhaps this time, as our love is faithful and ours alone, perhaps this time it will be that right sort that we've been searching for for so many years. Are you willing, or shall I send you away?"
Zeus was very still, his hand heavy in hers. For a long moment, she thought he would protest, and she could feel the tension in the air all around her, the clouds gathering overhead.
Then, in a moment that was so sudden she barely saw it occur, he was kneeling before her upon the stairs, his hand still clasped in hers.
"I will have it, if you'll have me" he said quietly, and his voice was broken, just like the clouds in the sky. "I will have it ever more, and I'll not harm you ever again, if you'll have me. You're the first place."
"Yes," she replied quietly, but with a smile. "I am the first place, and I will have you."
And so she did.