๐‚ล“๐ฎ๐ซ๐ฌ ๐›๐ซ๐ข๐ฌรฉ๐ฌ [Percy Jackson] - 134 (2024)

 

Annabeth came back limping from the edge of the hill.

"Are you hurt?' Jason asked her.

Annabeth glanced at her ankle. "It's fine. Just the old break from the Roman caverns. Sometimes when I'm stressed... That's not important. I signaled Leo. Frank's going to change form, fly up here and carry you back to the ship. I need to make a litter to keep you stable."

Hadrian remembered how Frank had plucked them in dragon form in Camp Jupiter. Better than dying he thought.

Annabeth set to work. She collected scraps left behind by the suitors โ€“ a leather belt, a torn tunic, sandal straps, a red blanket, and a couple of broken spear shafts. Her hands flew across the materials โ€“ ripping, weaving, tying, braiding.

"How are you doing that?" Hadrian asked in amazement.

"Learned it during my quest under Rome." Annabeth kept her eyes on her work. "I'd never had a reason to try weaving before, but it's handy for certain things, like getting away from spiders ..."

"Met Arachne by the way," Hadrian told her, "Tried to kill me, Percy killed her"

"Thank the gods you both survived"

She tied off one last bit of leather cord and voilร  โ€“ a stretcher large enough for Jason, with spear shafts as carrying handles and safety straps across the middle.

Hadrian whistled appreciatively. "The next time I need a shirt altered, I'm coming to you."

"Shut up, Hads," Annabeth said, but her eyes glinted with satisfaction. "Now, let's get him secured โ€“"

"Wait," Jason said. His eyes scanned the ruins past Hadrian.

"A bed," Jason said. "There was a special bed in this palace."

Hadrian raised his eyebrows. "Jason, you've lost a lot of blood."

"I'm not hallucinating," he insisted. "The marriage bed was sacred. If there was any place you could talk to Juno..." He took a deep breath and called, "Juno!"

Silence.

Hadrian and Annabeth exchanged looks.

Then, about sixty feet away, the stone floor cracked. Branches muscled through the earth, growing in fast motion until a full-sized olive tree shaded the courtyard. Under a canopy of grey-green leaves stood a dark-haired woman in a white dress, a leopard-skin cape draped over her shoulders. Her staff was topped with a white lotus flower. Her expression was cool and regal.

"My heroes," said the goddess.

"Hera," Hadrian said.

"Juno," Jason corrected.

"Whatever," Annabeth grumbled. "What are you doing here, Your Bovine Majesty?"

Juno's dark eyes glittered dangerously. "Annabeth Chase. As charming as ever."

"Yeah, well," Annabeth said, "My best friends just got back from Tartarus, so my manners are a little rusty, especially towards goddesses who wipe memories, and make people disappear for months and then โ€“"

"Honestly, child. Are we going to rehash this again?"

But Hadrian turned towards Annabeth, "I'm your best friend? That's sad for you"

"Aren't you supposed to be suffering from split-personality disorder?" Annabeth asked, ignoring Hadrian, though she smiled a little. "I mean โ€“ more so than usual?"

"Whoa," Jason interceded. They had plenty of reasons to hate Juno, but they had other issues to deal with. "Juno, we need your help. We โ€“'" Jason tried to sit up and immediately almost fell down again.

Hadrian kept him from falling over. "First things first," he said. "Jason is hurt. Heal him!"

The goddess knitted her eyebrows. Her form shimmered unsteadily.

"Some things even the gods cannot heal," she said. "This wound touches your soul as well as your body. You must fight it, Jason Grace ... you must survive."

"Yeah, thanks," Jason said, "I'm trying."

"Juno, your excellency, I've just come back from Tartarus and gods help me, I'm not the most patient person." Hadrian almost shook from anger and fear, "What do you mean, the wound touches his soul?" He demanded. "Why can't you โ€“"

"My heroes, our time together is short," Juno said. "I am grateful that you called upon me. I have spent weeks in a state of pain and confusion... my Greek and Roman natures warring against each other. Worse, I've been forced to hide from Jupiter, who searches for me in his misguided wrath, believing that I caused this war with Gaia."

"Gee," Annabeth said, "why would he think that?"

Juno flashed her an irritated look. "Fortunately, this place is sacred to me. By clearing away those ghosts, you have purified it and given me a moment of clarity. I will be able to speak with you โ€“ if only briefly."

"Why is it sacred... ?" Annabeth's eyes widened. "Oh. The marriage bed!"

"Marriage bed?" Hadrian asked. "I don't see any โ€“"

"The bed of Penelope and Odysseus," Annabeth explained. "One of its bedposts was a living olive tree, so it could never be moved."

"Indeed." Juno ran her hand along the olive tree's trunk. "An immovable marriage bed. Such a beautiful symbol! Like Penelope, the most faithful wife, standing her ground, fending off a hundred arrogant suitors for years because she knew her husband would return. Odysseus and Penelope โ€“ the epitome of a perfect marriage!"

Even in his dazed state, Hadrian was pretty sure he remembered stories about Odysseus falling for other women during his travels, but he decided not to bring that up.

"Can you advise us, at least?" Jason asked. "Tell us what to do?"

"Sail around the Peloponnese," said the goddess. "As you suspect, that is the only possible route. On your way, seek out the goddess of victory in Olympia. She is out of control. Unless you can subdue her, the rift between Greek and Roman can never be healed."

"You mean Nike?" Annabeth asked. "How is she out of control?"

Thunder boomed overhead, shaking the hill.

"Explaining would take too long," Juno said. "I must flee before Jupiter finds me. Once I leave, I will not be able to help you again."

"What else should we know?" Jason asked.

"As you heard, the giants have gathered in Athens. Few gods will be able to help you on your journey, but I am not the only Olympian who is out of favor with Jupiter. The twins have also incurred his wrath."

"Artemis and Apollo?" Hadrian asked. "Why?"

He remembered how the oracles no longer seemed to be working and Apollo was unusually quiet.

Juno's image began to fade. "If you reach the island of Delos, they might be prepared to help you. They are desperate enough to try anything to make amends. Go now. Perhaps we will meet again in Athens if you succeed. If you do not ..."

The goddess disappeared, and a giant eagle circled high above.

"Marriage bed?" Said Hadrian, a little grossed out about why Juno would mention that. "You mean like for doing the nasty?"

๐‚ล“๐ฎ๐ซ๐ฌ ๐›๐ซ๐ข๐ฌรฉ๐ฌ  [Percy Jackson] - 134 (2024)

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