Hermes, the Messenger God, was in no hurry to deliver the urgent missive he'd just received. It was to Zeus, and Zeus could be such a tyrannical bully sometimes. Hermes was far too sensitive to want to face Zeus when he was irritated, which seemed to be most of the time. So, Hermes tried to, instead, enjoy as many hours in his golden palace as possible, play his lyre, make his deliveries when called upon and, above all, stay under the Father of the Gods' radar.
And, in fact, he was doing just that, savoring a leisurely sip of nectar while strumming his lyre and humming, when suddenly he was hit with a barrage of communications coming through so many oracle shrines from below, he couldn't tell them apart or exactly how many there were. These communication portals were the most direct way that humans could contact the gods when they needed something. And it sounded as though something of major importance was happening in the mortal world. Hermes tried to piece together what he could understand.
"Whosoever can hear us, please heed our plight! Alas, we are in the midst of the longest drought of our history!"
"Oh, Mighty Gods, hear us! Our crops are failing so that we can no longer spare any of the harvest, or surely we shall perish!"
"Please, take pity on us, Omnipotent Ones, and hear our pleas. The animals are skin and bone. There is little left for us to sacrifice now!"
"Do not forsake us, we beg, Almighty Gods! Oh, why have we not yet felt your presence?"
"Dear Gods, when are we to witness your mercy? Please let our suffering not be your will!"
"As we remain your faithful servants, we beg you, do not desert us in this, our greatest hour of need!"
Uh oh. Hermes looked at his cloud-dial and frowned. Has it really been almost 300 years since his last contact with the oracles? Well, maybe they'd gone to the others but now Hermes was in a fix. He'd put off seeing Zeus and it sounded like things had gotten out of hand down there. He had no choice but to face what he'd done, or not done. He swigged his last bit of nectar, grabbed his caduceus, checked to see that the snakes were in their proper positions, and was then through his palace gates as fast as his winged sandals could take him.
Meanwhile, Zeus was in the Golden Throne Room nursing a wicked headache. His wife, Hera, who was charged with the protection of the sacred institution of marriage, had caught him eyeing one of the other goddesses - again. She had maintained her modest, measured composure while making it clear to Zeus that she knew what he was up to, and he knew that she knew how to bide her time for just the right moment to exact some form of artful revenge. Nothing irked Zeus more than one of Hera's greatest attributes: She possessed patience.
Zeus carefully lay down his lightning staff and sank back in his throne. The last time he had experienced a headache as bad as this one was the day he and Metis had their little goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare, Athena. That was an entire other story, that day, thought Zeus, but when it came to creative strategic warfare, Athena couldn't hold a candle to Hera. Oh well, Zeus thought, nothing to be done.
There came a familiar knock on Zeus' gate. Zeus' faithful attendant, and son, Hephaestus appeared. "Hermes says he has a message to deliver. Will you see him or should I make your excuses to the arrogant little prig?"
Zeus waved impatiently and boomed, "A social visit would be ..."
Then, because the throbbing in his temples had dramatically increased, Zeus lowered his voice and closed his eyes. "... one thing; a message quite another. Send him in."
Hephaestus nodded and disappeared. Hermes flitted before Zeus as though he were skating on ice and smiled broadly. "Why, Zeus, such a long swath of time has passed!"
Zeus rubbed his temples. "Hermes, I am not at all disposed to any sort of levity at the moment. Show me your wares and be done."
Hermes stood up straight, inhaled and spewed the words out as forcefully as he could: "I have a message from the oracles that they are in dire need of some water on earth down there, something about a 300 year drought. And they would appreciate if something could be done about it asap."
"300 years? Why did they wait so long to say anything?"
Hermes shrugged and grinned. "I deliver only the word. I am none the wiser . . ."
"Be gone, be gone," Zeus held his head with one hand, waved Hermes away with the other.
A secretly grateful Hermes skated gracefully backwards, mumbling a thank you and it was nice to see you again, until he passed the gates. Then he zipped away.
Hephaestus watched as Hermes sped away, frowning.
"What did our 'thinks-he's-so-very-clever messenger' have to deliver this time?"
"Something rather serious, I am afraid. I shall have to delegate this matter directly and have it resolved immediately. Apparently they have been suffering drought conditions down there for, well, according to that self-righteous little twit, 300 years."
"What is it with mortals? Why wait so long to ask for our help? They should know by now . . ."
"Save the lecture, Heph. I have a blinding migraine and it's difficult to think, much less decide how to handle this."
"Would you like me to fetch Asclepius? I spoke with Apollo the other day and he's nearing the end of his training in medicinals. Pollo's the one who's been teaching him, so undoubtedly he would know if he's worthy."
Zeus thought for a second. "No. I happen to know that Apollo also teaches my nine daughters music, the nine lovely little muses that I share with Mnemosyne? I don't trust him and what he may know, and I definitely am not in need of further headache."
"How about Dionysus?"
"Dion? Hmm. Yes. Tell him to produce a giant golden goblet of his strongest grape and honey. Let us drown this sorrow!"
Following a short, yet delightfully successful, visit from Dionysus, the God of Wine, ritual madness and ecstasy - a palace favorite - Zeus felt that he could finally give his full attention to the task at hand.
"Water. Water. Hmm. Who should I assign this to? I've had to deal with so much war and drama around here lately, I truly cannot remember who we used the last time."
"Why not call on Poseidan? He's already down there and he is the God of the sea, after all."
Zeus shook his massive head, now comfortably numbed from the mystical powers of Dionysus' grapes, though still delightfully sharp and steady. Dion really knew his stuff. "No, no. Remember, all Poseidan is capable of is creating floods or perhaps a tsunami. And I would doubt that the opposite extreme is what is called for here. It is bad enough that we are, as they say, late to the play. I want this handled properly!"
There was a loud knock at the gate. This time, Hephaestus didn't have time to approach the unannounced guest before Demeter, Greek Goddess of Agriculture, stormed into the Golden Throne Room.
"Zeus, a word!"
Hephaestus raised an eyebrow, looked questioningly at Zeus. Zeus smiled brightly at Demeter.
"Of course, Demeter! Do please come in. You know you're always welcome. Thank you, Hephaestus. That will be all. I'll call you if I need you."
Hephaestus narrowed his eyes and shook his head with stern disapproval at Demeter's back before leaving the room. He could hear Demeter's shouts before he was away and, of course, he noted that she had begun to speak before being granted permission. What was Mount Olympus coming to?
"Zeus, do you have any idea what is happening down there? There is a catastrophic drought that has gone on and on! My trees and plants are dying! You know how I covet my grain. Well, there's hardly any left and if the trees and plants die, there won't be any left at all!"
"Now, now, Demeter, that is the very matter that I am presently attending to. I do so appreciate you coming in to report to me the current status of the ... er, situation that, yes, I have been fully briefed on and, yes, I am planning to resolve as swiftly and as efficiently as I am able."
"Well, don't let me keep you from it then. Just do something and do it quickly! The future of my grain depends on it! And, by the way, this is not something that you can blame on the mortals, Zeus. They cannot make it rain themselves!"
Demeter bowed, but only slightly, and turned to leave. She was mumbling under her breath, "Father of Gods and humans. Some father. I'm just glad I don't have to depend . . ." She stopped and turned back around to face Zeus.
"You know, Zeus, you put us all in charge of these different aspects of mortal life but you did not think to make us independent. Thus, we need to be able to depend upon one another. At least when we are not at odds or at war, that is. But I cannot manage this myself. I need help. I need water. They need water. It is time for you to take care of your responsibilities."
Demeter stopped then, and took a breath. "And I would implore you to excuse me for my blunt posture. I would not resort to such directness if I did not believe with all my soul that it was necessary."
Once Demeter left, Zeus felt a twinge of his headache return. He slouched again in his throne and closed his eyes. And to think I had to fight armies of Titans and Giants to get here. He groaned.
Hephaestus was back.
Zeus sat up. "We shall not dally any longer! I am Zeus and I am the Father of the Gods and the Father of mortals! I command the Universe, the Cosmos and the Heavens! This is what I direct shall happen and without further delay . . ."
"Oh! Excuse me?"
It was Hephaestus' wife, Aphrodite. She was, by far, the most beautiful goddess that had ever existed and Hephaestus could never find himself cross with her. Neither, in fact, could Zeus.
"My Love, I have asked you time immemorial not to bother me when I am in conference with Zeus."
Aphrodite appeared contrite and shamefully lowered her eyes.
"Oh, I beseech you both forgive me."
Indeed, they both already had.
Zeus suddenly had a thought. "Young Aphrodite, is the tale true that you were born of the foam of the sea?"
"Why, yes, Father Zeus, it is. The ocean is akin to my parentage and so dear to me because of it."
"Tell me then, how would you suggest that life-giving water be brought to the land of the earth in measure to sustain the life there?"
Aphrodite put her delicate hand to her porcelain chin and pondered.
Hephaestus eyed Zeus, who appeared to seriously consider what Aphrodite had suggested.
Aphrodite continued excitedly. "Oh, I do enjoy fountains immensely! The sound of water trickling all about! The large majestic fountains that spout water from sculpted fish pouts into pools that I can dip a toe or my whole self into. Oh, yes, and when the dolphins surround me dancing and spraying water in all directions! And, you know, it does seem to go whatever way they point!"
"Come, Love. Let me escort you out so that you may share with me what it was you came here to tell me."
"Oh? Very well. Though I do hope I was able to be of some service?" Aphrodite glanced back at Zeus.
"You were indeed, My Dear. You always are."
Aphrodite appeared pleased, grabbed Hephaestus' arm and squeezed.
* * * * * *
Zeus had been swooning, just a bit, while awaiting Hephaestus' return. When he heard Hera's voice, he came to full attention, by instinct. Wait, thought Zeus to himself, Am I not a God? Am I not THE God, by fight and by right?
"Not now, Hera. I have work to do."
"Yes, so I have heard. I come seeking a response as to why the matter is not yet resolved. Why has water not yet been restored to the mortal realm? Is your mind not where it should be?"
Zeus was beginning to smolder. Hera pressed on, as only she knew that she could.
"Well, never mind that. I believe I already know the answer," Hera hesitated for a brief moment before moving on to why she was there. "Zeus, I came here to remind you of something that I believe you will find of utmost importance."
Zeus was looking away, his mighty arms crossed in front of him, his gaze steady and serious.
"Now, Zeus, I am your wife. I remain faithful. And I am strong enough to admit weakness when jealous demons invade my heart's province."
Weakness, thought Zeus, what weakness is this?
"And, so, I have brought you a gift."
Zeus then turned to face Hera.
Hera glided to where Zeus stood, laid a loving hand on his magnificent chest as she leaned forward to kiss him lightly. Then she turned.
"I will leave you now to your business. And do not forget to recover your staff, God of my heart."
Zeus watched her go. He felt his heart start to swell but then caught himself. Not so fast, he warned. He looked around.
The lightning staff still lay next to the golden throne.
He walked deliberately to the staff and bent to retrieve it. Just then Hephaestus appeared through the gates.
"Stand back! And BEHOLD!"
Zeus raised the staff high up over his head. Bolts of lightning flew in all directions with crashing thunder and growing blackness all around. After a few brief moments of thunderous display, Zeus made an unusual gesture with his free hand. The lightning bolts the staff had just emitted appeared to reverse course and come back and into the staff with a zipping sound accompanying each returning bolt. The darkness also quickly dispersed and it was soon light again.
"Ahhhhh," exclaimed Hephaestus.
Once the staff was lowered, wisps of smoke escaping its tip, Zeus brushed his hair back with one hand, resting the staff at his side. He smiled confidently at Hephaestus.
"But what happened at the end, Zeus? I've never seen you do that before!"
"Oh, I merely decided that the mortals could use just the rain this time. It must be dry as sand down there and they need not contend with any more damage than has already occurred at this time in their world. And, besides, tomorrow is another day."
"One more question, Zeus, if I may. When did you decide to take this one on yourself? I confess, I was about to recommend . . ."
"Oh." Zeus reclined comfortably back in his throne. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of a slight blur that he recognized as Hera, as she quickly retreated behind the gate.
"I came to realize who is truly in charge."
Susan Erickson Catucci
August 23, 2022