"You are certain of this?" Caligula asks with more than a hint of malice in his voice.
"Yes, my lord," Macro replies. The two of them are hidden away in a dark corner of the temple. Caligula's eyes are fixed on the statue of Vulcan, Roman god of fire, and the altar before it. "The priest who informed me of her visitations is a devout man not given to lying."
"Everyone is given to lying Macro if it suits their purposes," Caligula informs his subordinate.
"I would not lie to you," Macro retorts. "I have seen her myself. She appears before the altar and stands there staring at it. Then she vanishes."
"And you are certain it is her?" Caligula asks feeling his patience wearing thin. They have been here since nightfall and it is now nearly dawn. And it is the third night of such waiting. His patience is wearing thin.
"I am positive." Macro shifts his weight from one leg to another. They have been waiting a very long time and have been standing the whole time. "She is the very image of her statues in the temples."
"This had better not be a waste of time." Caligula turns his gaze from the statue to settle it upon Macro. His underling shrinks back from the glance. "I have far more important things to do than to …" His voice trails off as the temple interior is illuminated by a faint, ethereal glow. Both men turn their attention back to the statue and altar.
"There. You see my lord." Macro points at the woman dressed all in black who stands before the altar where a moment before there had been not a living soul.
"Silence," Caligula hisses. He watches the woman enraptured. For he can see that Macro was not lying or exaggerating. The woman is indeed the very form and face of Venus, Roman goddess of love. "Wait here and do not move." He points to the floor at Macro's feet to emphasize his point.
Cautiously Caligula moves out of the shadows at the back of the temple to make his way towards the altar and statue. His sandaled feet barely make a sound as he strides across the tiled floor towards his quarry. He is within mere feet of her yet she still takes no notice of him. Her head is upturned gazing into the scarred face of the statue of Vulcan. He takes a deep breath gathering his will to speak. "Why do you linger so , my lady?" The words flow from his lips and resonate within the confines of the area before the altar and statue.
The woman in black turns her attention from the statue to stare at the man before her.
She is even more beautiful than he could have imagined. Truly she is a goddess. And he can feel that godly presence and power humming around her. Suddenly he can feel that power gathering as she no doubt prepares to leave now that her vigil has been interrupted.
"I meant no offence, Lady Venus," Caligula intones the words suffusing them with understanding and sorrow. He kneels before her. "It is my shame to disrupt your lamentations. But you seem so sad."
Aphrodite stares down at the man kneeling before her. A moment ago she had been prepared to leave. But now something seems to compel her to linger. Something in the kindness of his words. She looks from the man back to the statue of Vulcan, the Roman personification of her love Hephaestus.
"What ails your heart, goddess?" Caligula says with the voice of longing and desire. "I crave your indulgence great Venus. It is just that I can feel your pain."
Without thinking Aphrodite answers his question. "I mourn for my lost love. Hephaestus. All temples in Greece are falling into disrepair. Statues and altars destroyed for their stone. I come here to gaze upon his face."
"I am sorry for your loss, my goddess." Caligula remains kneeling but turns his face up towards her as he speaks. "One as radiant as you should never know pain."
Aphrodite turns her gaze to the man once more. His words ring true to her. There is something in what he says. Though she cannot understand why, she trusts this mortal implicitly. "I thank you for your words. Rise." She beckons him with a gesture of recognition.
Caligula stands and even takes a step towards her. He is close enough that should he wish he could reach out and touch her. "My words hardly seem adequate for the grief of a goddess."
Aphrodite opens her mouth to reply but as she does so Caligula inhales sharply. A golden strand of vapor flows from the parted lips of the goddess of love into the waiting mouth of the ruler of Rome. It is so quick and sudden that Aphrodite does not even notice it. She feels momentarily weak and takes an awkward step backwards only managing to keep herself from falling by placing a hand on the feet of the statue.
Caligula gasps as the very essence of Venus flows into his being. It surges through him like fire. Never has the essence of another felt so powerful. But he has never tasted the essence of a god before. He recovers quickly. "My goddess. Are you well?"
Aphrodite regains her footing and balance within seconds. What was that? For the briefest of moments she felt so weak. She hears the concern in the man's voice and feels the desire to reassure him. "I am fine." She knows that isn't exactly true. What could make her feel that kind of weakness? But she doesn't want to show weakness to this man who shows her such kindness.
"Is there anything I can do to help, my goddess?" he asks. He emphasizes the word my each time in order to strengthen the connection. "It pains me to see you distressed."
With each syllable he speaks she feels herself more inclined to trust this man. It is almost as if he is a friend. But she has no friends. Except for Gabrielle. The thought of the bard saddens her more. Her gaze goes back to her love's face cast in stone. "I should go."
"I understand," Caligula says saturating his words with sympathy. "But perhaps you will return. Might we speak again? Next time of your love? Perhaps it will do your heart good to share the ache it feels." He smiles with kindness.
Perhaps it will at that, Aphrodite thinks. Yes. His words are true. It will indeed aid her heart in healing to speak to his man again. "I shall return this time tomorrow. Will you return to speak with me?"
Caligula smiles with unuttered glee. He had worried that his power would not work on the goddess. That his ability to persuade with his voice would be ineffectual against an immortal. Bu the powers and abilities passed to him by his father are apparently without limit. He bows deeply. "Of course, my goddess."
"Might I know your name?" Aphrodite asks.
"I am your humble servant Caligula," he replies while remaining bent over with his bow.
"Stand up straight," Aphrodite requests. He does as asked. "You are no servant. You are my friend." She feels an instant kinship with him as she says the word friend. "Good bye for now." She vanishes in a shower of light.
Macro rushes from the shadows to find his lord dancing like an ecstatic child. "It worked?" he asks incredulously.
"Yes Macro!" Caligula shouts and soon breaks into laughing. "It worked! I can feel her essence coursing through me."
"A goddess." Macro stares at the place where moments before Venus had stood. "You told me before how strong the essence of men made you. What then will happen as you take the life force of a goddess?"
"We shall see Macro. We shall see." Caligula continues to laugh as the sun rises on a new day in Rome.
It takes four men to drag the woman into the tent. She is still shouting and fighting against her bonds as she is thrown at Ares's feet. Ares pretends to be indifferent to her arrival, continuing to study a map on the table before him. But more than anything he wants to question her. To ask , no demand, she tell him where to find that he seeks. But that is not something the god of war would do. No. That is something a mortal in despair and anguish would do. He cannot show that kind of weakness to his men. Not if he expects to retain his command of them.
The four soldiers step back from the woman awaiting the command of their god.
"Is she the one?" Ares asks still not taking his eyes off the map but finding it harder and harder to contain his desperate attitude. The campaign against the Amazons has taken him far longer than he would have thought. And the troops are perplexed. He is constantly having to placate them with screaming tirades about how this is all a test of their faith in the god of war. But it is becoming more and more difficult. Many look askance at him as he rides his horse at the back of the army. Since when does the God of War ride a horse? One of them had asked the other day. That thought makes him aware of the pain in his backside and he becomes angry. Angry at his weakness, his mortality. He uses that rage.
"Yes Lord Ares," one of the soldiers replies. "She is the queen of this tribe."
"My name is Marga!" the woman shouts standing to her feet. "And what gives you the right to …"
Her protest is cut short when Ares turns and backwards her back to the ground. "Leave us!" he bellows. He is utterly disappointed by the sound of his own vehemence. Once that voice would have boomed across the land like thunder. Now it barely resounds in the confines of the tent.
"Yes my Lord Ares!" The leader of the soldiers salutes then leads his compatriots from the tent
Marga ignores her bloody lip and stares at the man before her in confusion. She knows he is a man by the way he carries himself. His posture and body language scream of an insecurity that no god, of war or otherwise, would have. "What gives you the right to invade our lands? Burn our forests? Kill my sisters? Just who do you think you are?" She continues her interrupted tirade.
Xena leans in close to whisper in Ares ear. "You gonna let her talk to you like that?"
Eve slams her hand onto the tabletop. "How dare she speak to the God of War like that."
Leaning against one of the tent posts Gabrielle chuckles. "Well Ares. Going to man up or let her brow beat you like a bitch?"
"Shut up." Ares growls.
Mistakenly assuming he is talking to her Marga goes on with her protest. "I will not be silent! You will tell me why you have done this!"
Gabrielle kneels down next to the bound queen. "She's pretty uppity for someone bound and helpless. Don't you think?"
"Agreed." Xena walks around Ares to look down at the Amazon queen. "But then what does she really have to worry about? Him?" She thumbs over her shoulder towards Ares.
Eve laughs loudly. "She'd be in more danger from a pussy cat. I mean look at him standing there." She hops up onto the edge of the table.
Screaming in rage Ares dashes forward and kicks Marga squarely in the chest as hard as his mortal body can. The queen tumbles backwards into the dirt feeling broken ribs as she does so. "I said shut up!"
"Impressive." Xena steps out of the way of the rolling queen. "He can kick a woman when he's down."
"I liked the scream." Eve dangles her legs swinging them back and forth like an amused child.
Gabrielle looks from the prone form of Marga back at Ares. "That all you got?"
Ignoring the taunting trio Ares strides forward and grabs Marga by the hair. He hauls her to her feet with rage fueled determination. "Do you know who I am? I am Ares. God of War."
Marga spits in his face. "You are no more a god than I am."
Enraged Ares forms his free hand into a fist and proceeds to repeatedly hammer it into Marga's gut.
Xena feigns cringing. "Ouch. Ouch. Ouch."
"You know you might want to question her before you kill her." Gabrielle stands by Ares watching him batter the woman.
Ares ceases the assault but then slings the nearly unconscious woman towards the table.
Eve leaps off just as Marga lands on the table. "Oops a daisy."
Ares looks down at his hand to find a bloody fistful of hair and scalp. He tosses it aside then walks over to where the queen lies. He draws his sword and lays it against her throat. The feeling of the cold steel on her throat draws Marga's full attention.
"Now. I want you to tell me." Ares stares hard down into her eyes and spits out every word. "Where. Is. The. Ambrosia."
Marga looks appalled at the words. "Ambrosia?" she croaks. As she does blood drools from her mouth. "You slaughtered my people and burned our lands for that. Are you mad? The ambrosia was lost long ago."
"What?!" Ares shouts pushing the sword tighter against her throat. Tight enough to draw a rivulet of blood that runs along the length of the blade's edge.
"It was found and used by queen Gabrielle to revive the warrior princess Xena." Marga tries to talk as softly as possible to keep the blade from further cutting her.
Ares turns his stunned gaze from Marga to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle shrugs. "Sorry. Did I forget to mention that?"
Xena stamps her foot on the ground. "Damn. I knew there was something I meant to tell you."
Eve leans over to examine the blade pressing into Marga's neck. "Oh well. There's always the next village."
Ares roars then draws back his blade. With all his hate and rage he drives the blade back down. Marga screams but the sound is abruptly cut short as the sword severs her windpipe before becoming lodged in her spine. Her nearly decapitated head lolls off to the side as blood begins to pool beneath it.
Eve takes a casual step back as the blood runs off the table. "Eww. Now that is messy."
Xena puts her hands on Ares's shoulders and rubs them. "Bet that feels better."
Gabrielle kneels by the table to stare into the lifeless eyes of the Amazon queen. "What now god of war?"
"Artais!" Ares exclaims as he pulls the sword free of the corpse.
His general enters the tent and is taken aback by the scene before him. "Yes Lord Ares."
Ares wipes the sword clean on the queen's garments before sheathing the weapon. "We are moving on."
Artais looks from the bloody corpse back to Ares again. The confusion is apparent on his face and Ares sees it.
"Is there a problem Artais?" Ares steps up to his general. "You and your men have done well here. But there are other conquests to be had. Raze the village to the ground and set the forest ablaze. Then we move on to the next. And if need be to the next then the next. We won't stop until they give me what I want!"
Now overjoyed with the idea of further bloodshed Artais salutes. "Yes my Lord Ares!" He runs from the tent already screaming orders to his men.
Ares follows him out to watch his army begin to move. He doesn't give the three women remaining in his tent a second thought. Which is fine with them. Xena, Eve and Gabrielle look at each other then begin cackling madly. In the next instant , their flesh and clothes melt away to reveal the forms of Alecto, Megaera and Tisiphone. The Furies laugh giddily at their handiwork for a few more seconds before vanishing.
Return to the Academy