Then again, I was not Apollo. I was Lester Papadopoulos. Back at camp, despairing of my puny mortal abilities, I had sworn an oath on the River Styx not to use archery or music until I was once again a god. I had promptly broken that oath by singing to the myrmekes—for a good cause, mind you. Ever since, I had lived in terror, wondering when and how the spirit of the Styx would punish me. Perhaps, instead of a grand moment of retribution, it would be a slow death by a thousand insults. How often could a music god hear that he had a decent voice before he crumbled into a self-loathing pile of dust?
“Fine.” I sighed. “Which duet should we sing? ‘Islands in the Stream’?”
“Don’t know it.”
“‘I Got You, Babe’?”
“Dear gods, I’m sure we covered the 1970s in your pop culture lessons.”
“What about that song Zeus used to sing?”
I blinked. “Zeus…singing?” I found the concept mildly horrifying. My father thundered. He punished. He scolded. He glowered like a champion. But he did not sing.
Calypso’s eyes got a little dreamy. “In the palace at Mount Othrys, when he was Kronos’s cupbearer, Zeus used to entertain the court with songs.”
I shifted uncomfortably. “I…hadn’t been born yet.”
I knew, of course, that Calypso was older than I, but I’d never really thought about what that meant. Back when the Titans ruled the cosmos, before the gods rebelled and Zeus became king, Calypso had no doubt been a carefree child, one of General Atlas’s brood, running around the palace harassing the aerial servants. Ye gods. Calypso was old enough to be my babysitter!
“Surely you know the song.” Calypso began to sing.
Electricity tingled at the base of my skull. I did know the song. An early memory surfaced of Zeus and Leto singing this melody when Zeus visited Artemis and me as children on Delos. My father and mother, destined to be forever apart because Zeus was a married god—they had happily sung this duet. Tears welled in my eyes. I took the lower part of the harmony.
It was a song older than empires—about two lovers separated and longing to be together.
Calypso edged toward the griffins. I followed behind her—not because I was scared to lead, mind you. Everyone knows that when advancing into danger, the soprano goes first. They are your infantry, while the altos and tenors are your cavalry, and the bass your artillery. I’ve tried to explain this to Ares a million times, but he has no clue about vocal arrangement.
Abelard ceased yanking at his chain. He prowled and preened, making deep clucking sounds like a roosting chicken. Calypso’s voice was plaintive and full of melancholy. I realized that she empathized with these beasts—caged and chained, yearning for the open sky. Perhaps, I thought, just perhaps Calypso’s exile on Ogygia had been worse than my present predicament. At least I had friends to share my suffering. I felt guilty that I hadn’t voted to release her earlier from her island, but why would she forgive me if I apologized now? That was all Styx water under the gates of Erebos. There was no going back.
Calypso put her hand on Abelard’s head. He could easily have snapped off her arm, but he crouched and turned into the caress like a cat. Calypso knelt, removed another hairpin, and began working on the griffin’s manacle.
While she tinkered, I tried to keep Abelard’s eyes on me. I sang as decently as I could, channeling my sorrow and sympathy into the verses, hoping Abelard would understand that I was a fellow soul in pain.
Calypso popped the lock. With a clank, the iron cuff fell from Abelard’s back leg. Calypso moved toward Heloise—a much trickier proposition, approaching an expecting mother. Heloise growled suspiciously but did not attack.
We continued to sing, our voices in perfect pitch now, melding together the way the best harmonies do—creating something greater than the sum of two individual voices.
Calypso freed Heloise. She stepped back and stood shoulder to shoulder with me as we finished the last line of the song: As long as gods shall live, so long shall I love you.
The griffins stared at us. They seemed more intrigued now than angry.
“Tots,” Calypso advised.
I shook half the packet into her palms.
I didn’t relish the idea of losing my arms. They were useful appendages. Nevertheless, I proffered a handful of golden Tater Tots to Abelard. He scuttled forward and sniffed. When he opened his beak, I reached inside and pressed the Tots on his warm tongue. Like a true gentleman, he waited until I removed my hand before swallowing down the snack.
He ruffled his neck feathers, then turned to squawk at Heloise, Yeah, good eatin’. Come on over!
Calypso fed her Tots to Heloise. The female griffin butted her head against the sorceress in a sign of obvious affection.
For a moment, I felt relief. Elation. We had succeeded. Then behind us, someone clapped.
Standing at the threshold, bloody and battered but still very much alive, was Lityerses, all by himself.
“Well done,” said the swordsman. “You found a perfect place to die.”
Son of a Midas
You, sir, are a stupid-head
Here, have an ostrich
IN MY FOUR THOUSAND years of life, I had searched for many things—beautiful women, handsome men, the best composite bows, the perfect seaside palace, and a 1958 Gibson Flying V. But I had never searched for a perfect place to die.
“Calypso?” I said weakly.
“If we die here, I’d just like to say you aren’t as bad as I originally thought.”
“Thanks, but we’re not going to die. That would deprive me of killing you later.”
Lityerses chuckled. “Oh, you two. Bantering like you have a future. It must be hard for former immortals to accept that death is real. Me, I’ve died. Let me tell you, it’s no fun.”
I was tempted to sing to him the way I had with the griffins. Perhaps I could convince him I was a fellow sufferer. Something told me it wouldn’t work. And alas, I was all out of Tater Tots.
“You’re the son of King Midas,” I said. “You came back to the mortal world when the Doors of Death were open?”
I didn’t know much about that incident, but there’d been some massive Underworld jailbreak during the recent war with the giants. Hades had ranted nonstop about Gaea stealing all his dead people so they could work for her. Honestly, I couldn’t blame the Earth Mother. Good cheap labor is terribly difficult to find.
The swordsman curled his lip. “We came through the Doors of Death, all right. Then my idiot father promptly got himself killed again, thanks to a run-in with Leo Valdez and his crew. I survived only because I was turned into a gold statue and covered with a rug.”
Calypso backed toward the griffins. “That’s…quite a story.”
“Doesn’t matter,” snarled the swordsman. “The Triumvirate offered me work. They recognized the worth of Lityerses, Reaper of Men!”
“Impressive title,” I managed.
He raised his sword. “I earned it, believe me. My friends call me Lit, but my enemies call me Death!”
“I’ll call you Lit,” I decided. “Though you don’t strike me as very lit. You know, your father and I used to be great friends. Once, I even gave him ass’s ears.”