There was a bright flash of light, then Ares was standing in the bustling encampment, just outside the mortal plane of awareness, watching the new king's army preparing for the coming battle. The army was the same of mix of industrious soldiers and auxiliaries that had been ruled by the previous king -- a small matter of patricide making all the difference. Patricide, Ares grinned. Perhaps he'd drop by the forge tonight and try to get Hephaestus drunk enough to re-enact the splitting open of Zeus' skull. It was such a damned pity he hadn't existed when Heph had wielded the axe that first time to aid in the birth of Athena; he would have loved to have seen the expression on his father's face as it was cleaved in two to allow his daughter to emerge fully formed. But watching his lame brother chase the Mighty Zeus in the axe waving, drunken conviction that he was only trying to help, almost made up for that loss. Almost.
His grin now rueful, Ares weaved his way through the busy camp towards the king's tent. His path avoided those mortals engaged in the tasks of stew making and bandage rolling, winding by the sword-sharpening, storytelling warriors instead. Time was pressing, yet Ares still paused to soak up the weltering waves of anticipation emanating from a group of seasoned soldiers. He heard the praise of war in each metallic rasp of their sharpening blades and felt the glory of battles past in each ingrained bloodstain.
War energies buzzing from the thrum of mortal expectations, Ares made a physical effort to calm his rapid pulse and purge the flush from his cheeks before entering the king's tent, and the mortal plane of existence.
The attention of the three men gathered around the large, map-strewn table immediately snapped to the tent's entrance at the sudden thunderstorm pressure of Ares' presence. General Andraemon, a capable if ageing soldier, was the first to drop to his knees, closely followed by his son, General Telchius. At thirty summers with long dark hair and intelligent brown eyes, Telchius had grown well into the broad frame he had inherited from his father. He cut a striking figure in his family's stork embossed black armour even while kneeling. By contrast, the last man to kneel, King Dascylus, bore little resemblance to his late father, Echemon, in either body or deed. Where Echemon was swarthy, Dascylus was fair. Where Echemon was wise, Dascylus was rash. Where Echemon sowed peace, Dascylus hoped to reap the spoils of war. Looking down upon Dascylus' bowed blond head it was difficult to believe that this boy of barely twenty summers harboured the kind of bloodthirsty ambition that had resulted in his father's murder.
Considering the kneeling mortals, Ares walked around behind the three men to stand against the centre tent post.
"Lord Ares!" Dascylus, flanked by his two generals, scuffled around until they faced Ares once more. "It is an honour to behold your magnificence," he spoke in a breathless rush with a fluttering blue gaze.
Ares inclined his head in acknowledgement. "My condolences upon the death of your father, Dascylus. Echemon was a fine warrior, a great leader of men."
"Thank you, my Lord." Dascylus licked his lips and shifted uneasily. "My father will be sorely missed. I will endeavour to rule as he would have wished."
"Really?" Ares looked over the heads of the kneeling mortals to the battle plans littering the table behind them. "Why are you here, Dascylus?" He cocked one hip and folded his arms across his chest, his eyes closing briefly against the immediate tide of arousal sweeping over him from the kneeling men. "You are a long way from home."
"I come to avenge my father's untimely death, by your grace, Great Ares." Dascylus' gaze flitted greedily over Ares' face, his pupils widening to twin black pits of desire.
"Oh, of course you have." Ares leaned forwards to pick up the final battle strategy from the table and the fanned out hair of Dascylus' fringe brushed his leather-covered groin. "Echemon's death will not go unpunished."
"No it shall not, my Lord." Dascylus cleared his throat and shuffled after Ares who returned to his position against the tent post. "I humbly beseech thy favour in this undertaking, Most Righteous Ares."
Ares glanced over the battle plan before letting it drop to the floor without comment. Still ignoring the increasingly nervous generals, he continued to address their oblivious king. "Tell me, Dascylus, when did you last perform a deed to earn my favour?"
"Lord Ares," Dascylus hoarsed, inching perpetually closer as if being in Ares' very proximity was addictive. "I have given praise, built a--"
"But what have you done for me lately?" Ares cocked his hip again and the whisper of hair against leather was almost lost in the rush of a satisfied mortal breath.
"Resplendently Lethal Ares, I am of your most faithful servants. By your leave I have worshipped you all my life." Dascylus brought up a beseeching hand to hover by Ares' hipbone. "I will--"
"Yadda, yadda," Ares sighed, nudging his hip against the pale mortal hand. "You talk, and talk and say nothing." He watched Dascylus' fingers gingerly outline his hip. "What would you do to prove your allegiance?" He leaned harder into the cool fingers.
"Anything." Dascylus gulped, his feverish attention briefly leaving his hypnotic stroking of the taut leather to meet Ares' gaze. "Anything, Great Ares."
"Anything?" Ares replied. "You're sure?"
"Yes," Dascylus answered thickly, bringing his other hand up to caress Ares' thighs while his generals averted their eyes.
Ares looked from Telchius to Andraemon then pulled away from Dascylus' insistent touch and nodded towards Andraemon. "Kill him."
Dascylus glanced back at his stricken general then blinked. "Andraemon?"
"Andraemon," Ares confirmed.
Telchius' armoured form tensed, only to be calmed from action by a look from Andraemon's bleached face.
"But why, my Lord?" Dascylus asked Ares while meeting Andraemon's hollow gaze. "He is an honest servant. He served my father well."
"He will not serve you as well. His time has come, and you did say you'd do anything." Ares turned his back on Dascylus to walk around and lean against the other side of the tent pole. "Don't you mean what you say? That isn't very kingly of you." Biting his bottom lip, he shook his head sadly. "Now your father always kept his promises." Ares sighed. "He'd be so disappointed in you."
A deep flush crept up Dascylus' neck. He suddenly stood to look down upon Andraemon. Andraemon's hand shot out to firmly grasp Telchius' shoulder, stopping his son from objecting as Dascylus spoke. "What you do now, you do for your King and the glory of Ares."
Andraemon nodded once, firmly patting Telchius' shoulder before unsheathing his dagger and handing the trembling weapon to Dascylus, hilt first. "For my God," he whispered. "My King. My family."
Dascylus wrapped his fingers around the offered hilt. Keeping his gaze trained on Ares' face, he then moved behind Andraemon.
"Telchius, my son." Andraemon looked up from his fumbling attempts to remove his breastplate but could find no more words for Telchius' tear bright eyes.
Silently, Telchius moved to kneel before Andraemon. He untied the lacings slowly, then fiercely clasped Andraemon to his chest as the armour fell away.
"It's time," Andraemon pushed Telchius from him with a light kiss across his temple. "My Lord." He looked up into Ares' face as Telchius moved back to his side.
"Andraemon," Ares acknowledged him with a slight nod then watched Dascylus poise the dagger above his heart. Ares met Dascylus' dilated eyes with a steady gaze. The dagger flashed and Andraemon gave out a muffled cry that was echoed loudly by Telchius. The dagger flashed red and Andraemon crumpled into his son's arms, his blood splashing brightly against Telchius' black armour.
Dascylus stood, dagger still raised as Andraemon's breathing laboured wetly, then ceased. He then tore his attention from the cradled body of the dead man, stumbling to his knees at Ares' feet and offered the bloody dagger for Ares' inspection.
Ares took the dagger without comment, cleaning the blade on Dascylus' golden hair before handing the weapon to Telchius.
Telchius looked blankly at the dagger for a moment before returning it to its sheath at his father's hip with a shaky hand.
"So, do I have your favour, Lord Ares?" Dascylus asked, pushing the blood sticky hair back from his face.
"As much as you ever had," Ares answered Dascylus' rabid gaze.
"I will win the day then?"
"You will fulfil the fate I have planned for you," Ares returned flatly then flashed from the mortal realm to travel to Olympus, the unwelcome image of Telchius cradling his father's body pursuing him through the aether.
"Why aren't they dead?" Zeus' voice was deceptively light, yet it still carried across his sunlit study to echo down the marble corridor before Ares could close the ebony door.
"Echemon's murder will not go unpunished. I have the matter in hand." Ares walked to the centre of the room to stand under the glass-domed ceiling in front Zeus' gold desk. He scowled at the small furred body of Faustulus, Zeus' miniature phallus-headed horse, as it rolled around his father's lap. What was the point of a hand-sized horse with a cock for a head? It made Ares' balls crawl. He remembered Dionysus saying that he'd created the creatures to 'see' by taxis, guiding themselves by light-sensitised skin beneath their foreskins because he couldn't stand the idea of putting eyeballs on cocks. Ares' idle speculation on whether the phallus-headed creature would be blinded by circumcision was interrupted by Zeus' gruff voice.
"I only let you deal with this matter because you assured me you had a plan." Zeus stood to walk around the desk, holding Faustulus against his chest as he petted its back. "Mortals cannot murder their kings whenever they feel the urge. You assured me of suitable punishment."
"Andraemon is dead," Ares growled, "and his only crime was indecision over forcing a civil war on his people."
"His only crime?" Zeus hissed, his robes reflecting a furious rainbow under the dome's bright light. "He suspected his king was murdered and yet he did nothing."
"Exposing Dascylus as a traitor would only weaken the city's position with its neighbours," Ares replied. "Half of them already think they have a claim to Echemon's throne. The first thing Dascylus' supporters will do is murder his younger brother so he can't be used as a figurehead for their opposition. A scandal like that would plunge the whole area into a pointless civil war after I just--"
"Enough!" Zeus raised a belaying hand and Faustulus leapt from his arms to scamper under the desk. "I will not argue with you Ares. Andraemon has been put to death for his betrayal. Kill the other two and I will be satisfied that justice has been done when Hades is torturing them for eternity."
Ares' jaw ached from grinding his teeth. "Dascylus will die on the field." At Zeus' terse nod, Ares loosened his tense stance. "He's too stupid to listen to Telchius and goes into battle at the head of his army even as we speak."
"And what of Telchius, when does he die?"
"I've been thinking about that." Ares turned from Zeus' narrowed gaze to pace a few steps. "With Andraemon and Telchius dead there will be no one to steady the army for the young prince. Without an army, Prince Sinon has no power. Without power, Sinon won't last out the month." He faced Zeus again. "A monarchy can't exist without the power to control and defend its subjects."
Zeus crossed one arm over his chest, supporting his other elbow as he fingered his bottom lip. "And what do you propose."
"Prince Sinon needs an army. The army needs a trustworthy general. Telchius is that general, Zeus. Despite what happened with Echemon and Dascylus, Andraemon's family have served their kings for centuries." Ares raised his voice to Zeus' back as Zeus returned behind his desk. "Sinon couldn't ask for a more loyal subject."
"You dare tell me this now?" Zeus sat down and glowered at Ares. "After he was complicit in the death of his king? No." He shook his grey head. "Telchius will die."
Leaning over the desk, Ares growled. "And so will Sinon. Where will your precious royalty be then?"
"Don't you take that tone with me, boy." Zeus surged up, forcing Ares to retreat. "You know nothing of justice and fit punishment."
Ares stood as stone. Fury rooting him to the spot, he glared steadily back at Zeus until Zeus broke the gaze and sat back down.
"Telchius must be punished." Zeus waved a dismissive hand. "There is no other way."
"Telchius has been punished." Ares steadied his ragged breathing and sat on the edge of the desk, effectively turning his back on Zeus. "Being powerless to stop your father's murder as it happens before your eyes is severe punishment for some sons." He tugged his leather vest straight.
Zeus' fingers drummed hollowly upon his desk. "Very well, he may live."
"What about Andraemon?" Ares looked around to see Faustulus resettle on Zeus' lap.
"What about him?" Zeus sighed, combing his fingers through a tug in Faustulus' long tail.
"Telchius may not trust me if he knows his father is rotting in Tartarus for the same crime he committed." Ares fingered the tepid desktop. "He'll only believe my intentions if I can assure him that Andraemon is not being tortured in Hades."
"Is no mortal to be punished for Echemon's death?" Zeus growled.
Ares' answering smile was cold. "Hades can be as creative as he likes with Dascylus."
"I'm sure he will be." Zeus' attention turned to the tiny horse snuggling in his lap, but his low words of warning were for Ares. "You'd better make sure this plan of yours delivers. If Telchius fails to make Sinon a strong king he won't be the only one heading for Tartarus." Zeus met Ares' gaze. "Is that clear?"
"Fine." Ares stood. "If there's nothing else?" He was walking towards the door when Zeus' amused snort halted him in his tracks. "What?" Ares frowned over his shoulder.
"Your mother." Zeus settled Faustulus further up his chest and leaned back in his chair. "She wants you to attend her festival at the end of the month."
"Again?" Ares faced his father with an irritated thump of boot against marble tile. "Does Hera think I've got nothing better to do than fuck her barren women ripe? Why can't she get Pan to do it like everyone else?"
Zeus shrugged away a smirk. "That's what I said."
Ares crouched by the river's edge, rolling a smooth black pebble between his fingers, watching Telchius wading through the bloody water to identify the ruined bodies that streamed past. "Why are you doing that?"
Telchius jerked around: his face set for battle, his sword ready to strike and his armour glistening with a mixture of fresh blood and water. "Lord Ares!" He splashed to his knees so the wine coloured water flowed past his waist. "I have failed you. Dascylus is dead." Telchius turned his head as another body floated by behind him and the droplets of water trapped in his shoulder length hair sparkled in the sunlight. "My King was speared through the chest and fell into the river, my Lord. I could do nothing."
"Bad luck." Ares shrugged. "The battle had finished by then too."
"You saw it?" Telchius stared.
"You could say that." Ares stood up, letting the pebble drop from his fingers to plop into the spoiled water. "But I didn't come here to talk about Dascylus' death. Stand up, Telchius."
"Yes, my Lord." Telchius rose slowly to his feet, careful not to splash Ares who waded in to stand before him. Hastily sheathing his sword, Telchius kept his eyes cast down until Ares tipped up his chin.
"Why are you looking for Dascylus' body? It's pretty obvious he was dead as soon as he hit the water." Ares ran his fingers through the pinkish drips of water running down Telchius' cheeks.
Telchius closed his eyes against Ares' touch. "His body needs to be taken back to the city."
"Why?" Ares moved closer, the metal studs of his leather vest scraping against the embossed stork on Telchius' armour. "He killed your father. Why not let the wolves get him?" Ares cupped Telchius' face as the mortal's pain filled eyes opened for him.
"Dascylus was my king," Telchius whispered. "My father taught me that duty and honour are paramount. He knew he would be held responsible for Echemon's death and he chose that fate rather than inciting war among our people. But I failed him." Telchius closed his eyes against the tears that fought their way through the bloody streaks staining his face and trickled warmly over Ares' fingers. "I promised to serve Dascylus, to try and make him the king his father wanted him to be. And I failed."
"No." Ares smiled, gently thumbing Telchius' cheekbones. "You didn't fail. You did exactly what I wanted you to do." He ran his fingers down Telchius' damp hair then rested his hands upon the broad armoured shoulders. "And now you are going back to your city the conquering hero, pledging your loyalty and army to King Sinon."
"B-but, my Lord," Telchius stuttered, searching Ares' face in confusion. "I am as guilty as my father was." He straightened his stance. "I am not afraid to share the same fate."
Ares' fingers stroked Telchius' neck. Telchius swallowed rapidly and Ares bent to kiss the wet skin of his bobbing throat, lightly sucking the Adam's apple. "I have a different fate planned for you, Telchius." He kissed the shivering chin. "Don't worry, Andraemon was a good warrior who served me well. His death was honourable and he will not suffer in Hades." Ares covered Telchius' lips with his own, swallowing the sweet mortal sigh of relief as he wrapped his fingers in Telchius' lush hair. "You will return home with word that Dascylus died a hero's death. You will make your city strong under Sinon." Ares took Telchius' battle sweetened mouth harder this time, deepening the kiss until he felt the powerful body in his grasp pull him urgently closer and Telchius' hot mouth strayed hungry kisses down his neck. "Is that clear, Telchius?" Ares whispered into the soft hair caressing his face.
"Yes, Lord Ares," Telchius gasped. "I do as you command."