The Goddess Legacy
Page 18

 Aimee Carter

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For the first time in years, I arrived in Olympus. After so long in the Underworld, the intense sunlight in the throne room nearly blinded me, but I forced myself to adjust quickly. I would not show weakness.
“Zeus!” I called, my voice echoing down the hallways, reaching every inch of Olympus.
Seconds later, he appeared in front of me. He too looked older now, as if he and Demeter had chosen to age together. I’d kept my appearance young to match Hades’s, and now that I saw Zeus in front of me, the differences between them—both inside and out—became painfully clear. I’d made the wrong decision. And despite the few golden moments my marriage to Zeus had brought me, our sons included, I would have given anything to go back to those minutes in the antechamber before my wedding. I would have given anything to marry Hades instead.
“Hera.” His voice had a mixture of caution and relief. “To what do I owe this long-awaited honor?”
“You know why I’m here.” Despite his considerable height, I stood toe-to-toe with him, refusing to flinch as he stared down at me. He may have sounded kind and genial, but lightning flashed in his eyes. He hadn’t forgiven me, just as I would never forgive him. “You will not have my blessing for any marriage you arrange for your children that they do not consent to,” I said. “Nor will any of their marriages produce legitimate offspring.”
He tilted his head, as if I were a curious creature he’d never seen before. “You would neglect your duties in such a way?”
“My duty is to bless unions taken on willingly,” I said. “Not to condone slavery.”
“Is that what you think of our marriage?” He reached out to touch my cheek, and I slapped his hand away. “Do you think of yourself as a slave?”
“Our marriage is nothing now. It clearly never meant anything to you, and it no longer means anything to me. But I will hold you to your vows, and I will not grant you a divorce. You may not marry another woman.”
“And you may not marry another man.” Though he forced his voice to remain steady, his face slowly turned red, and his fists were clenched so tightly that his knuckles were white. “Is that what you wish? An eternity of loneliness?”
“Is that what you call sharing my sister’s bed? Loneliness?”
“No,” he said. “And I would imagine you’re just as lonely as I am.”
I bit the inside of my cheek. Zeus had no way of knowing the nature of my relationship with Hades, and I was more than happy to allow his imagination to run wild.
“Is this your endgame?” said Zeus. “Marry Hades and become his queen?”
“I will never be anyone’s queen again,” I said. “I am a queen in my own right, and neither you nor anyone else on this damn council can take that from me.”
“But that is what you want, isn’t it?” said Zeus. “To be Hades’s wife.”
I narrowed my eyes. “I am your wife whether I like it or not. I will not let you out of that contract no matter how you try to entice me.”
“So be it, my queen,” he said, and he bowed his head mockingly. But as he straightened, his mask slipped, and for a moment I saw his weariness. “If you come back, I will allow the children to marry whomever they want.”
“You will allow them to marry whomever they want regardless of what I do or don’t do,” I said. “Marriage isn’t your domain.”
“As you have so clearly displayed. Very well. If you wish to start this war—”
“I haven’t started anything,” I snapped. “You’re the one who did this. You’re the one who destroyed our marriage, who broke your promises, who did everything you possibly could to make me miserable. This might be a game to you, but I will not allow you to ruin their lives, as well.”
I turned on my heel and stormed toward the portal. Before I could reach it, however, Zeus said in a quiet voice that carried, “You win, Hera. Ares and Hephaestus will not marry anyone they do not love.”
Taking a deep breath, I refused to acknowledge him. Just another move in our endless war. A way to twist and turn me until I was unrecognizable even to myself.
“But you do not get to say what my daughters can and cannot do. They are mine, and if our marriage is nothing to you, then your role as their stepmother means nothing, either. You will bless the marriages I choose for them, or I will hold you accountable for treason against the council, and you will be stripped of your title and domain.”
“Fine,” I snarled. “Do whatever you want with your bastards.”
“Oh, I will,” he murmured. “That’s one promise I assure you I will keep.”
* * *
Five days later, Hades knocked on the door to my chambers in the Underworld. Despite what Zeus may have thought, I hadn’t so much as kissed Hades, nor had I tried. Some relationships took time, and because I would never be able to marry him, I couldn’t pressure him into something he may not have been ready for. But I would be there for him, always. That was one thing Zeus couldn’t take from me.
“Come in,” I called. I sat in front of a mirror, decorating my hair with diamonds. It never ceased to amaze me how many jewels were scattered carelessly around the Underworld, as if Hades couldn’t be bothered to pick them up. On the surface, they would have been worth a fortune to any mortal; yet it was just another example of how Hades’s values were different. How he didn’t care for the material or the conventional. He cared about the forgotten. About people like me.