The beaches of Troy were finally quiet, as the sun’s last light gilded the rows of tents and ships. Warriors lounged before fires with wine cups, dining on fish and roasted goat. Slaves attempted to keep their masters comfortable, especially those recovering from wounds. Achilles sat alone in his tent, gazing in despair at the body of Patroclus, his childhood companion. In the city itself, Hector enfolded his wife in his arms, trying to ease her worries of the morrow with kisses. Olympus would decide his fate, but not just yet.
High above, the many-pillared halls of Olympus were well-lit. In the center of the throne room sat a vast marble table, almost an altar. Fine gold plates held a few remaining squares of ambrosia; half-filled goblets of nectar stood beside the place of each god. Three sat on each side tonight, with keen-eyed Zeus presiding from his throne at the head of the table. In the center was an exquisitely drawn map of the world, with mountains, cities, and oceans rendered in fine detail. Every immortal’s attention was riveted on the Aegean coast.
Since the Trojan War began, every night was game night on Olympus.
Zeus gathered the six-sided dice, and the faint clink caused the whispered conference of the gods to cease as effectively as a shout. The corners of Zeus’s lips turned up and he prolonged the moment, before releasing the dice with a practiced flick. They rolled to a stop, showing a three and a two, not enough to beat the previous eight. The gods on Team Troy groaned. Aphrodite gestured to the hulking Ares and golden Apollo, and they drew together, discussing how they could recoup Troy’s losses before the next toss.
Gray-eyed Athena traded smug looks with Poseidon and Hermes, the other members present from Team Greece. Poseidon said, “Achilles will receive special armor, then.” His tone was bored, but amusement lurked in his sea-green eyes. He was as quick to erupt in anger as the sea itself, but Greece’s latest gains had restored his good temper.
Aphrodite’s own blue eyes narrowed. Troy had nearly beaten Greece, driving their warriors back to their ships over her brilliant argument between Achilles and the Greek king. Now Achilles, a piece she’d gone to great lengths to neutralize, was back in the game.
“We could always try another side bet,” Athena said. The willowy brunette’s tones were soothing, keeping all traces of excitement from her voice. Athena’s side bets had so far scraped a lead for Team Greece from what had been a losing position.
“What an excellent idea,” Apollo responded, without missing a beat. It was time Troy got something from these side wagers. “How about a new demigod? Athena or Aphrodite can choose the father, and he will henceforth lead a charmed life.” It was a brilliant strike at Team Greece’s weakness. Aphrodite had already undergone pregnancy cheerfully, but Athena had never lain with a man in her life.
Athena shot back a steely gaze filled with barely-contained anger. “Sex is hardly worth the inevitable complications.”
Aphrodite laughed. “You have no idea what you’re missing. That’s taking wisdom entirely too far.” A pleased smile, one that mortal men would cheerfully kill for, curved her lips as her hip shifted forward and she smoothed back a lock of blonde hair. All the male team members sighed.
Apollo grinned. “And just think how great the make-up sex will be later.” Aphrodite hadn’t been getting along well with her husband, Hephaestus, since the game began. He rarely bothered to show, and when he did, he often sided with Team Greece. It was an insult really, considering all the work Aphrodite put into setting this game up. They’d need great sex even to be on speaking terms again.
“That will be enough,” rumbled Zeus. If his queen showed tonight, sex would be an unfortunate topic. He’d fathered enough demigods that it was a subject best avoided.
Aphrodite batted her eyes one last time at Poseidon to annoy Athena, but then subsided. It was enough that she’d shown her rival that battle strategy wasn’t everything. Again.
Poseidon stepped forward, attempting to head off yet another confrontation between the two goddesses. The battle between Hector and Achilles tomorrow was far too important to cancel because of squabbling. “We could pick a hero to have a charmed life regardless.”
Athena gave Poseidon an appreciative glance. “An excellent idea. I want Odysseus.” The wily charmer had just the right sort of guile to appeal to the wisdom goddess.
“Then I want Paris.” Aphrodite smiled as she saw that bolt sink home. Athena would never forgive Paris for choosing Aphrodite over her. It was a pity the prize–the golden apple–was sitting on a table at home. It would have been the perfect time to pull it out and polish it in front of Athena.
Poseidon sighed and Apollo took a turn at peacemaker. “Perhaps we’ll even throw in that his wife will be faithful to him while he’s been away.”
He met Aphrodite’s eyes and she nodded. Paris living a charmed life would be the perfect victory over Athena. Besides, Odysseus’s wife was head over heels in love with her husband anyway.
Zeus laughed. “It’s more than the king of Greece will get.” All the gods present, even Athena, joined in. The hubris of Agamemnon had angered them all, especially team Greece. Whether or not the king conquered Troy, he was sailing home to an extremely unpleasant surprise. It had taken several evenings to work out the details.
Zeus picked up the dice. “A two through a six, and Troy’s champion lives. An eight through a twelve, and Odysseus returns safely home.”
“What if you roll a seven, brother?” asked Poseidon, his eyes sparkling with mirth. He had a good idea what the answer would be.
“If I roll a seven, then I get to choose who will live.” Team Troy and Team Greece traded glances and shrugged. Zeus had to get the occasional reward.
Zeus rattled the dice and threw, and all eyes followed the dice until they displayed a four and a five. Athena broke into a pleased smile─Odysseus would live. She should have specified more details about how he would return home, but that would’ve opened the discussion to the same protections given to Paris. And Paris was going to die. Unpleasantly, if she had any say in the matter.
“Are we ready for the main event?” Aphrodite asked, trying to move past her loss. “The outcome of the battle tomorrow between Hector and Achilles.”
Apollo said, “Hector has always offered us sacrifice, but Achilles’s piety is lukewarm at best. And Hector fights to defend his city. He should get the advantage.” Team Troy often let silver-tongued Apollo speak for them.
“Achilles fights to avenge his slain comrade, Patroclus,” Poseidon reminded him.
“Only because Hector was defending his city from him,” countered Apollo. Athena assumed an angelic expression. It had been one of her best strategies, driving the Trojans back from the ships and getting Achilles back into the war in one fell swoop.
“Achilles wouldn’t have been out of the war at all if it wasn’t for King Agamemnon’s pride,” added Aphrodite, with her most winsome expression. Team Troy needed this victory.
“We’ll give you a one roll advantage, for a return consideration,” said Poseidon. “If the Greeks win the overall contest, I get to choose the trick to get inside the walls.” He was tired of Athena getting all the concessions for Team Greece.
“Only if they’re warned,” Apollo insisted. “Give the women and children a chance to get away.”
Poseidon shrugged. It wasn’t as though the Trojans had believed any of their seer’s other prophecies.
A hush fell as Zeus picked up the dice. He glanced around the table. “For total of two through seven, Hector wins. All other throws and the victor is Achilles.” Several gods exchanged exasperated glances; they knew which throws would win for their team. Zeus could be insufferably pompous at times.
All the gods craned forward as the dice tumbled to a stop. A five and a three. Team Greece erupted into cheers, and Team Troy exchanged rueful looks.
The next morning, Hector kissed his wife and son before meeting his wife’s eyes. “It is in the hands of the gods now,” he said gently, with a parting caress. She lifted her chin and blinked back tears.
Hector squared his shoulders and signaled to the guards to open the gate. It was time to face Achilles.