Ares was bored. He walked over to his throne and plopped down. He twisted until his back rested against one massive arm of the chair. He lifted his right leg and placed it over the other arm. He felt a bit better, but was still bored out of his mind. There just wasn’t anything going on. There were a few wars going on, sure. But they were just small time. Only skirmishes. He just couldn’t muster the energy to get excited over them. They didn’t need his personal touch anyway. The fate of Greece wasn’t at stake. Besides, the mortals involved had started these wars by themselves. He supposed he could pop in and fry the leaders with some well-placed fireballs. Let them know he was still the God of War. He decided what wars to start, when and where. And these wars were not sanctioned. But he didn’t feel up to it. He needed a distraction, something to get him going again. Something personal.
He waved his hand and turned on his God TV. He wiggled his finger and the images changed. He flipped through image after image until one caught his attention. A big man was strolling through a forest. He stopped and grimaced as he twisted his arm behind him. He tried to reach a spot on his back. Soon a second man appeared on the God TV. The shorter curly-haired man waved his arms as he talked to the bigger man.
A wide grin spread across Ares faced. He placed his booted foot back on the floor and leaned forward in his chair. “Oh, this is going to be good.”
With a flash of blue-white light, Ares popped out.
Hercules strolled through the forest. The big hero should have been at peace. For once, no monsters needed slaying, no one to rescue. And his stupid family wasn’t bugging him, either. If only his back wasn’t itching like crazy! Hercules stopped and twisted him arm around behind him and tried to reach the itchy spot. A frown appeared on his face and he ground his teeth together. He could almost reach it.
“What’s the matter, Herc?” asked Iolaus as he stopped next to his friend.
“My back is itching like crazy and I have no idea why.” Hercules reached for the itchy spot again. It was on his shoulder blade. This time he tried to get at it from above. His elbow pointed at the sky as his long fingers grazed across the shoulder blade. It wasn’t enough. If anything, the itching grew worse.
“Maybe it was that pond we washed in this morning.” Iolaus guessed as he waved his arms. “There could have been something in the water.”
“Are you itchy?” Hercules asked as he pulled off his yellow shirt. “Here. Do you see anything on my back?”
Iolaus examined his friend’s back and shook his head. “Sorry, buddy. I don’t see anything. No rash. No insect sting. No anything. And no, I’m not itchy.”
“Great. Just great.” Hercules turned his shirt inside out and examined it. He hoped he might find a bug or something. Anything that could explain why his back was so itchy! But he just saw his shirt. Maybe Iolaus was right. Maybe he did catch something from that pond. Maybe it just needed more time to turn into a rash or whatever. Whatever it was, it was too darn itchy! He leaned his back against a tree and moved up and back. The rough bark felt good against his shoulder blades.
“Maybe your skin is dry.” Suggested Iolaus as he watched Hercules rub his back against the elm.
“Can’t be. It’s too humid out.” Hercules stepped away from the tree and groaned. Scratching his back on the tree had made it worse. Now both of his shoulder blades were itchy! He leaned back against the tree and rubbed harder.
Iolaus watched Hercules and frowned. This was going to be a serious problem. “C’mon, Herc. There’s a town close by. Let’s go there and have a healer look at your back. Maybe she might see something I missed. I’m sure she’ll have something to take the itch away.”
“That sounds good.” Hercules stepped away from the tree again. Where he had been rubbing the bark was now smooth. And the itch had started up again. He reached for his back again with his hands. He scratched until he reached the next tree.
Iolaus sighed. This was going to be a really slow trip.
About fifty trees later they reached town. The two friends were walking down the dirt street. Iolaus hoped they’d find the healer’s sign soon. He was getting really worried about Hercules. It just wasn’t normal to be that itchy! If he scratched on any more trees his back might start to bleed. Oddly enough, there wasn’t a mark on his friend’s back.
A flash of blue-white light appeared in the street in front of them. “Hey, little brother. No shirt? This is a new look for you.” Ares said. The war god stood in front of them, blocking the road.
“What do you want, Ares?” growled Hercules. He forced his hands away from his itchy back. “I don’t have time for your games, so go away.”
“What games?” asked Ares innocently, his arms spread wide. “Can’t I come to visit you? Why do I always have to be up to something?”
“Because you always ARE up to something.” Hercules gritted his teeth. The intense itching was driving him crazy. It felt like a million ants were crawling over his back. Not the big black ones, but the little red ants. He could imagine their mouthparts biting his flesh. His back was on fire. And the pain was going right to his brain. It was getting hard to think clearly. There was only the itching. He had to do something about it soon. Really soon. “Now get out of my way!”
“No.” Ares said as he threw back his head and laughed. “Just look at you! It’s finally happened to you and you can’t stand it!”
“YOU!” Hercules roared as he ran toward Ares. “You did this to me, didn’t you?”
“Hey! I’m innocent!” Ares protested as he ducked under Hercules’ fist. “I didn’t do anything to you. But keep this up and I will!”
“Take this itching spell off me, Ares! NOW!” Hercules swung another fist at Ares but missed. Ares had jumped backward. So Hercules leaped forward. He crashed into Ares and they both fell to the ground. Hercules slammed his fist into Ares face.
Iolaus stood off to the side and watched. He had learned long ago not to get involved in the brother’s fights. He would just be in the way. Or he would end up getting hurt. So unless he was really needed, he stayed out. “Come on, Herc! Get him!”
“Ow!” Iolaus said as he watched Hercules crash into a brick wall. Ares had kicked him in the stomach. The God of War could really kick! “That must have hurt.”
Hercules shook his head and stood up. His sweaty chest was covered in a fine layer of dirt. He narrowed his blue eyes at his brother and charged.
Iolaus jumped as someone touched him on the elbow. Spinning around, he saw Gabrielle. Xena stood next to the blonde bard, a dark look on her face.
“Hey. What’s going on?” asked Gabrielle as she watched the two men fight. “What are they fighting about this time?”
“Oh, Herc’s got this itchy back and he thinks Ares did it to him.” Iolous explained quickly. He turned back to watch the fight. Hercules had Ares by his belt now. The hero clutched the metal-studded belt in two beefy hands. He then placed a foot on Ares stomach and yanked. Hard. The belt broke and both men fell backwards to the ground.
“You broke my belt!” roared Ares. His brown eyes grew dark and he raised his hand. A glowing fireball appeared and he threw it at Hercules. His brother, still on the ground, rolled out of the way. The fireball hit the spot where he had been, leaving a black scorch mark. “Now I’m really mad! I’m going to get you, little brother!”
Gabrielle stared at Iolaus. “They’re fighting over an itchy back?”
“Yeah.” Iolaus replied without taking his eyes off the fight. He didn’t want to miss a single thing!
“But that is so stupid!” said the bard.
“You and what army?” taunted Hercules as he rolled to his feet. The hero sprang and grabbed at Ares. His arms went around the God’s neck. “Now take this spell off me or I’ll choke you!”
Ares ducked and slid out from Hercules’ hold. He spun around to punch the know-it-all hero, but Hercules had him by his leather vest. Ares tried to pull away, but Hercules wasn’t letting go. Hercules tightened his grip on the leather vest. His knuckles turned white. Then he began to turn around in a circle. Ares was forced to go around in a circle, too. And Hercules spun faster.
“Hey! Stop!” Ares cried as he began to stumble. Hercules was spinning too fast and he couldn’t keep up. Then the War God tripped and there was a great ripping sound. Ares fell to the ground and lay there, his chest bare. His vest had torn in half.
When the vest had torn, Hercules fell to the ground, too. His vision spun around and around.
“Whoa!” exclaimed Iolaus, his mouth hanging open.
Xena was silent and kept her opinion to herself.
Hercules focused his eyes on Ares, ready to charge him. Then his mind went blank at what he saw. His brother had a huge pair of black wings growing out of his back. The wings were spread out, their tips touching the ground. He watched as Ares slowly climbed to his feet. The black feathers shone in the sunlight.
“You happy now, little brother?” Ares asked. He threw the remains of his ruined vest onto the ground. He spread his wings out and flexed them. The feathers fluttered as a slight breeze whipped past. A single feather fell to the ground. It tumbled along the dirt as the breeze played with it. Ares face was red. No one knew about his wings. No mortals, that is. He certainly didn’t want that half-breed brother of his to know!
Gabrielle couldn’t take her eyes off Ares. He looked so beautiful! The wings were a shiny black with blue highlights. They looked so soft. She wondered what they would feel like. She had known Ares was a God, but he had always looked so human. But now with these wings, he was a magical creature.
“You… have wings!” sputtered Hercules, a finger pointing at Ares. A grin spread across Hercules’ face. Then he started to laugh. It started out as a chuckle and grew to a full belly laugh. Hercules bent over and slapped his thigh with his hand. “He has wings!”
“Laugh it up, little brother. Laugh while you can!” Ares said. His dark eyes glittered. “Just wait until you grow yours!”
“What?” said Hercules as he stood up. Tears ran down his face.
“What?” cried Iolaus at the same time. “Herc’s growing wings?”
“Yeah. That’s right.” Ares laughed now. He knew he had their attention. He spread his wings out. His wingspan was very impressive. “Didn’t you know, little brother? ALL of us Olympians have wings. What? Did you think my son Cupid was a freak? He’s just the only one that routinely uses his wings. The rest of us just…hide them. And now YOU’RE growing wings!”
“No I’m not!” Hercules denied. “I am NOT growing wings! You just put some stupid spell on me!”
“But little brother,” Ares continued with a grin. “Why do you think your shoulder blades are so itchy? Growing wings is very itchy! All those feathers, you know. Didn’t anyone ever tickle you with a feather? Now imagine a bunch of them under your skin just waiting to pop out. VERY itchy!”
“You’re lying!” Hercules cried. He dropped the half of the vest to the ground. He had forgotten he was still holding it. His hand inched to his back to scratch. His back was still itchy. It had just been pushed to the back of his mind during the heat of the battle. But now that he was standing still, it itched once again.
“Am I?” asked Ares. He spread his arms out wide to match his outspread wings. “When have I ever lied to you, little brother?”
“Plenty of times!” Hercules yelled at him.
Ares beat his powerful wings, warming his muscles. Then he leaped into the air and flew away. They watched him until he vanished from sight.
Iolaus rushed over to Hercules. “Are you OK, Herc? Do you think he was telling the truth? Are you really growing wings?”
“Do you see any wings?” asked Hercules as he turned around.
“Well, no.” the Golden Hunter replied. “But what if they just didn’t break through the skin yet? I mean, surely it takes time to grow wings.”
Hercules blue eyes turned dark. “Don’t start, Iolaus. Just don’t start.”
Gabrielle bent down and picked up the black feather. She turned it over and twirled it between her fingers. The feather was long and black. She guessed it was one of the flight feathers. She held it to her nose and sniffed. It had a musky male scent that made her head spin. She ran the feather across her cheek and shivered in delight. Gabrielle glanced up guiltily to see if anyone saw what she had done. But both Xena and Iolaus were staring at Hercules. She quickly stuffed the feather down the front of her Amazon top. Then she went to stand next to Xena before her friend grew suspicious.
Ares landed on the roof of his temple and popped inside. His body shivered with rage. “He laughed at my wings. No one laughs at the God of War. No one.”
He paced back and forth across the room. His huge wings twitched nervously. He never dreamed that his half brother would find out about his wings. It was suppose to be a secret. But now the secret was out. Hercules would go blab to everyone he saw. Then everyone would laugh. His warlords would whisper among themselves. That Lord Ares was part bird. He could see it now. He looked like a sissy with these wings. Well, the wings looked OK on Cupid. But then Cupid was a Love God, not a War God!
Grabbing his golden chalice, Ares drank his wine. There was Ambrosia in it, so it made him feel a bit better. Maybe Hercules wouldn’t tell anyone. After all, he WAS growing wings! The thought made Ares grin. In fact, the wings would be a bigger problem for the Demi-God than for himself. Hercules lived among mortals. He had to wash. He did hard manual labor sometimes. He took his shirt off. Well, not any more! If he did, someone would see. And then the rumors would start flying around. Besides, the wings themselves would be far worse than all the itching!
Ares drained the chalice and licked his lips. His grin vanished as a thought flickered through his mind. Hadn’t he seen that annoying bard there? That Gabrielle? Yes, he was sure he had seen her and Xena. They had been standing next to Iolous. She was probably writing about his wings right now in one of her scrolls. And look how popular she had made Xena! Well, he was going to have to do something about that. With a flash of blue light, Ares was gone.
The group of friends had decided to camp in the forest. Now that Xena was here, they didn’t need a healer. Xena had examined his back and had found nothing wrong. But she had put some salve on it, which had stopped the itching. The itching, however, wasn’t Hercules’ only problem.
“It can’t be true.” Hercules sat on a log and stared into the campfire. “I can’t be growing wings. What am I going to do with wings? I don’t need wings.”
Iolous bit his lip and glanced at Xena.
Xena stood and stretched her leg muscles. “I’m going to catch us some fish for supper. It’ll be dark soon, so I better go get them now.” Then she left.
Iolaus sighed. “Look, buddy. It can’t be all that bad. Maybe having wings would be nice. Heck, flying sure beats walking!”
“Yeah,” Hercules said darkly. “How the heck am I supposed to explain wings to people? They’ll think I’m some kind of freak.”
“Well,” Iolaus said. “It looks as if Ares hid his wings under his vest. Maybe you could hide yours.”
“But that would mean I could never take my shirt off. I have to wash, Iolaus! Sooner or later someone’s going to see them!” Hercules hung his head. He wished he hadn’t laughed at his brother. It just had been such a shock. And Ares had looked so ridiculous with those wings sticking out of his back. “Maybe it’s all some kind of trick.”
“I don’t know, Herc. I mean Cupid does have wings.” Pointed out Iolaus as he added more wood to the fire. “And Ares is Cupid’s father.”
“I know that, Iolaus! I’m related to them.” Hercules twitched as he felt a sensation across his shoulder blade. He buried his face in his hands. “Not the itching again. Anything but the itching!”
He lifted his face and stared at Iolaus. “But why now? Why grow wings after all this time? I mean it doesn’t make any sense!”
“I don’t know, Herc. Maybe it took longer because you’re only half god. Or maybe you had to be a certain age or something. I wish I could help you buddy, but I just don’t know the answers.” Iolaus rubbed his hands together and shifted his eyes from Hercules to the fire.
Gabrielle stood from where she had been sitting quietly. “Umm, I’m going to go find some herbs for the fish. Xena will be back soon and then I’ll do the cooking. I think I saw some a little way back.”
“OK.” Iolaus said. “I’ll sit here with Hercules.”
Gabrielle hurried away from the camp. When she was hidden from view, she leaned against a tree and sighed. What was the matter with her? Why couldn’t she get Ares out of her head? Ever since she saw him with those wings, she’d been thinking about him. She should be worrying about Hercules, not day dreaming of Ares!
“Don’t think about him. Just don’t think about him.” She told herself. She remembered all the things Xena had said about him. How evil he was. How selfish and manipulative. All the terrible wars he started because he was bloodthirsty. She couldn’t be attracted to him, could she? She thought of the time he had lost his powers and smiled. They had gotten along well together. He hadn’t seemed evil then. He had even tossed a few fireballs at the warlord. Surely there couldn’t be such a big difference between the mortal Ares and the God Ares, could there? Maybe Xena just said all that stuff because she hated him.
A flash of blue light appeared in front of her. “Ah, just the bard I wanted to see.” Ares said as he walked up to her.
Gabrielle pressed herself against the rough surface of the tree. Ares was standing right in front of her! His chest was still bare and she could see the fine black hairs covering it. And those amazing wings! They were spread out behind him. They were so black and shiny. Finally she found her voice. “What do you want, Ares?”
“I know you. You write about everything in those scrolls of yours.” Ares stared down at Gabrielle. His eyes were black fire. “Well, you’re not going to tell anyone about my wings.”
“What?” She asked. He was standing too close. Gabrielle found it hard to concentrate on what he was saying. She could feel his hot breath on her face. What had he said? Had he mentioned her scrolls? Why was he so close?
“You heard me. No telling anyone about my wings!”
Gabrielle shook her head to clear it. She had to pay attention to what he was saying. She didn’t know what was the matter with her. Maybe she was coming down with something. Yes, that was it. She had caught something somewhere. And now it was affecting her brain. Making it hard to think, to concentrate.
“Hmmm, going to be that way, huh? OK. There’s only one way I know to stop you from blabbing to everyone about my wings.” Ares reached forward and grabbed Gabrielle around her waist.
“Hey!” Gabrielle said as she felt his arms go around her waist. Then she was crushed against his hard body. She tried to pull away, but his arms were too strong. He started to flap his wings and Gabrielle felt her feet lift off the ground. Her stomach jumped upward for a moment as they shot up into the air. She thought she was going to be sick and quickly swallowed. She peered down and saw the tops of trees. They were very tiny. Her stomach threatened to jump out her mouth again. So she shut her eyes tightly and pressed her face against his chest. And she wrapped her arms around his neck, just in case.
“Where’s Gabrielle?” Xena asked as she came back with the fish. She dumped the fish on the ground next to a log and waited for an answer.
“She went off to get some herbs.” Iolaus explained. “I thought she would be back by now."
“It’s getting dark. Maybe she got lost and can’t find the campsite. I better go look for her.” Xena took her sword and hurried into the surrounding forest.
“I’ll come with you.” Offered Hercules as he stood up and followed Xena. “I need something to do, to keep my mind off this wing stuff.”
“It’s unlike Gabrielle to get lost.” Xena said, her voice full of worry. “She’s camped in lots of wooded areas before. Something must have happened to her.”
“Well, we didn’t hear anything.” Iolaus hurried to catch up. “Don’t worry. We’ll find her. I’m sure she’s all right. Maybe she found a good patch of herbs and wants to collect as much as she can.”
“I don’t think so. My gut tells me something’s wrong.” Xena stopped by a tree and bent down. When she stood up, she had a black feather in her hand. She sniffed at it. She got THE LOOK on her face.
“Are you sure?” asked Iolaus. “I mean, are you sure it was Ares? Maybe that’s a feather from a bird. Like a crow.”
“It’s him all right.” Xena held the feather up by its hard tip. “Ever see a feather this big?”
Iolaus shook his head.
“Didn’t think so. It was him all right. He took her for some reason.” Xena clutched the feather tightly as she hurried back to camp. “I got to go get her back. Before he hurts her.”
“This is all my fault.” Hercules said as he followed Xena. “I shouldn’t have laughed at him. He shouldn’t take his anger out on her. It’s me he’s mad at.”
“He’s probably using her as bait.” Xena told him. “And it probably has nothing to do with your fight. It’s me he wants. He wants me to go back to being a warlord for him. He’ll do anything. I guess he tried everything else, so now he’s trying this. He just saw I was in the area.”
“Well, I think you’re wrong.” Hercules said. “Ares is mad at me like he always is. Even Zeus can’t stand the terrible stuff Ares does. So he likes me better. And Ares can’t stomach that I’m the favorite son and not him. That’s why he’s always trying to kill me.”
“Guys.” Iolaus jumped in front of Xena and Hercules. “We really don’t know why Ares took Gabrielle. It might not be any of those reasons. Heck, he might not even have her! So let’s not jump to conclusions, OK?”
“Iolaus,” Hercules rolled his eyes. “This is Ares were talking about! He could do anything! You can’t trust him.”
“Yeah. But let’s not say he’s guilty until we know he’s guilty!”
“Get out of my way.” Xena pushed past Iolaus and kept walking. “I got to rescue Gabrielle from that worm.”
Iolaus stood still for a moment. He watched the retreating backs of his two friends. “What ever happened to ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’?”
“You can open your eyes now.” Ares said into her ear.
Gabrielle pulled away from him slightly. She could feel she was standing on something solid once again. Looking around, she saw she was inside his temple. As least, she guessed it was his temple. But if it was, it was an area she had never been before. The room had dark gray walls made from stone. It was lit by dozens of candles. A heavy wood desk stood against one wall. There was a large bed with red silk sheets and elaborately carved bedposts against another wall. A fur rug lay before the glowing fireplace. She wasn’t sure what kind of animal it had come from, but it looked soft and thick. She glanced at the bed again and grew a bit nervous.
“Why did you bring me here, Ares?” she asked as she backed away from him.
“You’re going to stay here.” Ares told her. His dark eyes focused on her. “Look. You have everything you need. You have a bed, a desk to write at, a fireplace to keep you warm, and a roof over your head. That’s more than Xena gives you.”
Gabrielle squirmed under his steady gaze. “Look, Ares. I can’t stay here with you. It’s not appropriate. Why do you want me here anyway? I’m not going to be your playmate, if that’s what you think.”
“You see these?” Ares pointed at his wings. “These are a SECRET. You’re not going to write about them in your scrolls! No one knows about them and that’s how it’s going to stay. And you’re going to stay, too. And I’m not asking you to be my playmate.”
“But…” She began.
“No buts! You’re staying here and that’s it.” He turned around and headed for the door. “I’ll be back in a few minutes with your supper. Don’t go anywhere.”
Gabrielle slumped down on the bed and closed her eyes. How did she get herself into this mess? Why had she let Ares kidnap her? Well, even if she had done something, it wouldn’t have worked. How could she have stopped a God? “Well, I guess I have to stay here until Xena rescues me.”
Getting to her feet, Gabrielle decided to explore the room. She presumed this was Ares’ bedroom. Everything was in black, gray and red. The satin sheets were so shiny they looked like a pool of liquid blood. Somehow it didn’t surprise her. She ran her hand over the carved bedposts and saw they were dragons. The dragons had rubies for eyes. The firelight reflected off the gems and made the eyes glow. They also had ivory teeth and horns. The details in the carvings were incredible. She half expected them to come alive and fly around the room!
Moving along, Gabrielle found a dresser and a closet. She was temped to peek in Ares’ dresser, but decided not to. It wouldn’t have been right. But she did wonder what a god kept in a dresser! Besides, what if he caught her? Near the door, he had another throne chair. It was an exact copy of the one he was always lounging in. Well, it looked the same to Gabrielle anyway. It had been awhile since she had seen his throne, so she couldn’t be sure. Visiting Ares temple never was at the top of Xena’s list.
Across the room, Gabrielle saw another door. Opening it, she saw a bathroom. She smiled when she saw the large marble bathtub. And it was filled with water! She stuck her finger into the water and discovered it was warm. “Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad staying here after all.”
“I’m glad you feel that way.” Ares said.
Gabrielle spun around and saw him leaning against the doorjamb. He had his arms crossed over his chest. He waved a finger at the marble tub and grinned. “You know, the water is always warm. It’s magic. It fills itself with clean water. Just think, Gabrielle. No more washing in icy lakes.”
Had she just agreed to stay with him? Why did he have to be there when she had said that? He wasn’t supposed to hear that! She had just been talking to herself. Her stomach rumbled. “Well,” Gabrielle said. “Do you have some supper for me?”
“Of course. Don’t believe everything Xena says about me. I’m not a monster.” Ares turned and went back into the bedroom. “The food is on the desk.”
Gabrielle sat down at the desk and started to eat. There was bread, slices of meat, cheese, fruit and vegetables and a pitcher of water. He had even given a plate of pastries.
As she nibbled on a hunk of cheese, Gabrielle watched Ares. He was digging in his closet for something. “Why do you hide them?” she asked.
“What?” Ares asked as he turned to look at her.
“Your wings. Why do you hide them?” She picked a bunch of red grapes of the plate and began to eat one after another. She enjoyed the tart taste that exploded in her mouth as she bit each one.
“Do you always talk this much?” he asked her. “What does it matter to you anyway?”
“Well, I have to stay here because of them, so I’d like to know.” Gabrielle smiled as she tore a hunk off the bread. Ares was like Xena. He wasn’t very talkative, so she had to nudge him along.
“That’s fair, I guess. But it’s really easy to figure out.” Ares moved to the center of the room and spread his wings out. “Now look how I look! Now if you had a pair of these, what would you do?”
Gabrielle gasped. She thought he had looked beautiful before. But he looked even better with the firelight flickering over his body. It gave his face and chest a nice yellow glow. “Do they fold up?”
“Huh?” Ares blinked at her, totally confused.
Placing the grapes back on the plate, Gabrielle stood up. She walked over to Ares and stood behind him. She could see each wing grew out of his shoulder blade. Reaching out, she touched a wing with her fingers. The feathers felt soft. At the top there was a bone running the entire length of the wing. Gently she closed her hand around the wing and tried to figure out how it closed.
“What are you doing?” Ares asked her. Now he was the one who was nervous!
“So how do they close?” She asked again. She pulled on the outer edge of one wing carefully and felt it move. “I mean, they fold up on your back, right? Do they lay flat or what?”
“Yeah. They lay flat on my back.” Ares used the muscles in his wings and they folded. Then he opened them again. He repeated this a few times so Gabrielle could see how it was done. He had no idea why he was showing the little blonde how it worked! When they were closed for the fifth time, Ares turned to face her. “Don’t you think they’re goofy?”
“Of course not!” Gabrielle was surprised. “Is that why you hide them? Because you think they look goofy?”
“Well, aren’t they?” Ares asked. “You saw how Hercules was laughing at them.”
“I think they’re very beautiful.” Gabrielle could feel her face grow hot. She had just told Ares he was beautiful! She couldn’t believe she had actually told him! She hoped the firelight hid her red face. Maybe he would think it was reflected firelight. She noted that he looked normal from the front. She couldn’t see any signs of his wings at all. She would have thought they’d stick up over his shoulders. But they didn’t. He knew how to fold them really well!
He stared at her for a moment, as if deciding if she was telling the truth. Satisfied that she was, he continued. “Yeah, well, you wouldn’t want a pair.”
Gabrielle bit her bottom lip as she considered it. What would it be like to have wings? “Well, I think it would be kind of nice to have wings. Just think, I would be able to fly! I could soar through the sky like a bird! I wouldn’t have to trudge through swamps and get foot rot fungus. And just think how easy it would be to pick fruits!”
“I got my image to worry about. And the God of War does not pick fruits.” Ares went back to his closet and pulled out a black leather vest.
“But Cupid doesn’t hide his wings.” Gabrielle said as she picked up another hunk of bread.
“No, he doesn’t. But he’s a fluffy Love God. The wings just make him look….cute.” Ares explained as he pulled the new vest on. “And I do not want to look cute.”
Gabrielle chewed her bread and thought. She was sure there was a way to solve Ares’ problem. She smiled as an idea popped into her head. But it was already late. It would have to wait until tomorrow. She finished her meal and licked the sticky icing from her fingers. The apple-filled pastries had been very delicious! She wondered who had cooked them for Ares. Did he have a cook? Or did he just wave his hand and food appeared out of the air? She would have to ask him later. There were so many things about him she did not know. What were his hobbies? Did he have hobbies? She yawned and wondered where she was going to sleep. Where was he going to sleep? How did one sleep with wings on their back?
“Look, why don’t you sleep in the bed, OK?” Ares said to her. “After all, I did force you to come here. Besides, you sleep enough on the cold hard ground with Xena. You deserve the bed.”
“Where are you going to sleep?” She asked him. Actually, she realized she didn’t know if gods needed to sleep. Well, he did have a bed. So that suggested that they did sleep. Still, she wasn’t too crazy about sleeping there. It was his bed.
He smiled at her. “On my chair. I like my throne. I can relax in it for hours, you know.”
“Well, if you’re sure you don’t mind.” Gabrielle had to smile. Sleeping in a real bed sounded great. She couldn’t remember the last time they had stayed at an inn. It was too long ago. She was also pleasantly surprised Ares was treating her so well. He was a real gentleman! She couldn’t understand why Xena said all that stuff about him. Anger did make people say stuff they did not mean. And Xena was mad at Ares!
Gabrielle crawled into bed and rested her head on the pillow. She watched Ares leave the room. The door closed behind him. She yawned again as her eyes closed. Before she drifted off to sleep, a thought fluttered through her head. What would it feel like to fly?
“Come on, guys! Be reasonable!” Iolaus called after Xena and Hercules. “Its dark out. We can’t see where we’re going! Lets stop for the night before someone gets hurt.”
“He has a point.” Hercules said. “We won’t be able to save Gabrielle if we break a leg.”
“I…I guess you’re right. I just hate to think of her being alone with him.” Xena stopped thrashing through the bushes. She led the other two into a small clearing. “I mean, she’s so innocent. And he’s so vile. I’m afraid of what he might do. Or be doing.”
‘Xena, I swear if he touches one hair on her head I’ll kill him.” Hercules stared at the area where Xena’s voice had come from. Iolaus had been right. It had been time to stop. In fact, it was completely black out. It was a moonless night. Hercules saw a spark of light and soon Xena had a campfire blazing.
“Thanks,” Xena said to him. “But I’ll do it myself.”
Hercules sat down on the ground and smiled. He felt good. “You know, Xena? That was some really good stuff you put on my back. It’s not itching at all.”
Iolaus stumbled into camp and stared at Hercules’ back. “Umm, Herc?”
“Yes, Iolaus?” The hero asked.
“Umm…I don’t know how to tell you this, but you have wings sticking out of your back.” Iolaus said quietly.
“What?” Hercules leaped to his feet and reached for his back. Something feathery brushed against his fingers. “No! It can’t be true! It can’t be wings! I don’t want wings!”
“Let me take a look.” Xena walked over to Hercules. She turned him so his back was to the fire. “Iolaus was right. You have wings, but they’re really small. They’re no bigger than my hand. They must have just sprouted. I say they need more time to grow.”
“Grow? I don’t want them to grow!” Hercules sat on the ground and pouted. Lying down, he decided to go to sleep. Maybe when he woke up, he’d discover this day had been a nightmare. That he had imagined it all. He soon discovered he had to sleep on his side. He’d rather sleep on his back, but his new wings were in the way.
Xena and Iolaus watched him in silence. They both set up their bedrolls and went to sleep. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.
Gabrielle yawned and opened her eyes. She stretched her arms and sat up in bed. She had slept soundly the entire night. And for once she didn’t feel tired. It was a miracle what sleeping in a real bed did for a person! And it wasn’t one of those lumpy things they had at the inns, either. No, this was a high quality bed. In fact, she had never seen one like this before. She wondered where he had gotten it. Maybe she would ask him later. But first she had to go wash.
A while later she came out of the bathroom. It had been great soaking in the warm soapy water. Gabrielle opened the bedroom door and walked out into the temple. She saw Ares sitting on his chair.
“Good morning! Ready for breakfast?” Ares grinned at her. He leaped to his feet and grabbed her hand. “Come on, I got breakfast ready for us!”
Gabrielle was surprised. She had never seen Ares in such a good mood before. What had caused this sudden change in him? He actually seemed happy! He was always dark and moody before, angry and intense. Now he was almost skipping through the temple as he pulled her into a side room. There she saw a table set for two. An elaborate breakfast waited. She was even more amazed when he pulled the chair out for her. Was this the same Ares she knew? “Why, thank you.” She said as she sat down on the offered chair.
She watched as Ares sat at the other end of the table and started to eat. She realized she could get used to living like this very easily. She took a drink of the cool water and cleared her throat. “So, why are you in such a good mood? I’ve never seen you like this before.”
“You’re the first one who ever said a kind word about my wings.” Ares explained to her. “Most of the other Gods don’t like me very much and would be all too glad to see me down in Tartarus. Strife and Discord want my job. Zeus wants me dead. The only family member who treats me decent is Aphrodite.”
“Oh, Ares! That’s terrible!” Gabrielle felt her heart go out to him. No wonder he was always in such a foul mood! How could he not be with a family like that? And his own father plotting to kill him! It was ghastly. But maybe there was something she could do about it. The idea she had thought up last night was still inside her head. If only she could get him to cooperate.
After breakfast, Gabrielle followed him into another room. “So, what do you do all day? Plot wars?”
“Look, Gabrielle. I know you don’t like wars but they do have a purpose.” Ares explained as he turned on his God TV. “I’m in charge of Greece’s defense. I have to make sure our armies are strong and ready to defend us from invaders. Plus war keeps the population down. If there are too many people, then famine sweeps the land. Everyone starves. Plus war channels man’s natural aggression to a purpose. Otherwise you’d have murderers running loose. And that would be worse than war.”
On the God TV, a warlord and his small group of ragged men swooped down on a peaceful village. Women and children screamed and ran in all directions. The men of the village searched for anything that could be used as a weapon: brooms, rakes and other assorted items.
“Look at that!” Gabrielle cried! “That’s not right! Ares, you should do something about it!”
“I can’t control every warlord in Greece.” Ares explained to her as they watched the God TV. “And not all of them worship me.”
“But it’s still your responsibility!” Gabrielle cried as she waved a finger in his face. “You’re the God of War. That’s a Warlord and his men! If you don’t do something, innocent people will get hurt!”
“And what am I supposed to do?” Ares asked her.
“I have a plan. You pop us over there and I’ll tell you what to do. And if you listen to me, it’ll solve this wing problem of yours, too!”
Ares thought about it. He didn’t like that a mortal was giving him orders. He was the God, not her. But if he didn’t do something about it, she would pester him all day. He knew Gabrielle’s reputation for a busy mouth that never shuts up. He hadn’t considered that when he had kidnapped her. How in the world did Xena stand it? He had only been thinking of her writing about his wings in her scroll. He should have thought it through before he had taken her. It was bad strategy on his part, so now he had to live with the consequences. But it wasn’t all bad, he decided. He kind of liked having her around. And she did say she knew how to solve his wing problem.
“All right. We’ll do it your way.” Ares wrapped his arms around Gabrielle and popped out. They appeared on a hill overlooking the village. “So, what do you want me to do?”
Gabrielle looked up at him in surprise. She hadn’t expected Ares to listen to her. But maybe he wasn’t as bad as Xena said. Maybe it was all an act? “OK, you think everyone will laugh at your wings, right?”
“Yeah. You saw how Hercules was laughing!” Ares complained to her. He stood straight on the hill, his legs wide apart for balance. His hands rested on the hilt of his sword.
“Hercules was shocked.” Gabrielle explained. “He never expected that. It wasn’t nice of him, but that itching was driving him crazy. Still, it’s not an excuse. Now, take your shirt off and go fly down there. Wave your sword around. Maybe throw a few fireballs. Look like you’re really angry!”
“What?!” Ares exclaimed. “You want me to go down there and show all those people my wings? Are you nuts?”
“Trust me, Ares. It’ll work.” Gabrielle smiled up at him. “Those villagers will be very grateful! And the warlord and his men will be terrified of you!”
“Terrified, huh?” Ares rubbed his beard and thought. “Terrified is good! I like terrified!”
The War God took off his shirt and removed his sword from its scabbard. Then he unfolded his wings and took off into the air. He flew down toward the village and circled above the warlord. “You there, Scorvious! I didn’t give you orders to attack this village! I’m Ares! God of War! You call yourself a WarLord? You’re nothing but a common thug. Now take your men and get out of here!” Ares threw a fireball at Scorvious’ feet.
Scorvious leaped into the air and ran for his life. He had been so frightened of the angry god that he had dropped his sword and wetted his pants.
For a few minutes Ares flew around the village, tossing fireballs at the few remaining warriors until they were all chased away. A few had smoking craters on the seat of their pants. The villagers cheered him on and he was amazed. These were just common people, not warriors. Yet here they were almost worshipping him. The village elder had promised to leave an offering at his nearest temple to thank him for saving them.
Ares flew back to Gabrielle on the hill. “Well, how did it go?” she asked.
“Well, I have to admit it was lots of fun toasting Scorvious and his thugs.” Ares smiled at Gabrielle. He had to admit she was beautiful. The sunlight shone on her blonde hair and it sparkled like gold. He lifted her chin with his hand and stared into her blue eyes. He leaned forward and kissed her. He felt her hesitate for a second and then she kissed him back. After awhile they parted, both breathless.
Gabrielle was amazed she had just kissed a God! And not just any God, but Ares! She had enjoyed kissing him. What would Xena think if she knew? She only knew that Ares had done the right thing. He had saved those villagers. And he had done it for her, because she had asked him to. But Xena would never believe that. She just couldn’t see any good in Ares.
“Ares!” The doors to Ares’ temple flew open and an angry Hercules stormed in. His face was dark like a storm cloud. Xena and Iolaus were right on his heels. They searched the temple but found the place empty.
“They were here.” Xena said, pointing to the breakfast dishes sitting on the table. “He took her somewhere. So we’ll just wait for them to come back. And Gabrielle better be OK.”
“But those dishes could be from anyone!” Iolaus said. “Maybe he had lunch with Strife or Discord.”
“She was here. I know it.” Xena said as she leaned against a wall and waited.
They didn’t have to wait long. Soon the air sparkled and two laughing figures appeared. Ares had his arms wrapped around Gabrielle’s waist. She had her arms around his neck. His large wings stretched out behind him and gently stirred the warm air.
“You should have seen the look of absolute terror on Scorvious’ face! His eyes got as big as dinner plates and his mouth fell open. I swear I could see his tonsils! Then I threw a fireball right in front of his feet. He must have leaped a foot into the air! He was so frightened that he dropped his sword! Then he lost control of his bladder and peed all over himself! I never knew beating up warlords could be so much fun!”
“See?” Gabrielle laughed. “I told you it would work!”
In the shadows, Xena Hercules and Iolaus exchanged glances. This was not what they had expected.
“Did I hear right?” Iolaus whispered. “Did she get Ares to beat up that scumbag Scorvious? The one that’s always attacking villages for loot?”
“Sounds that way.” Xena replied. “Gabrielle does have an effect on people. I never thought it would work on Ares. But why are they so close?”
In a moment they found out as they saw the two kiss. It was clear that both were enjoying it. Xena’s face grew dark. And Hercules, who had remained silent up until now, stormed out toward the kissing couple.
“Ares! Let go of her!” Hercules yelled.
The two stopped kissing and Gabrielle spun around. She stood between Hercules and Ares. She saw Hercules clench his hands into fists as he stared at his brother. She felt Ares place his hands protectively on her shoulders. “Hercules,” Gabrielle said. “Calm down. Ares isn’t harming me. I wanted to kiss him. In fact, it’s his family that’s causing all these problems!”
“What?” Hercules said. “Look, Gabrielle. I knew Ares a lot longer than you did. He’s been trying to kill me for years! You can’t trust him. He lies about everything! He’s just using you to get back at me.”
“Oh, please!” Ares laughed. “Why does everything always have to be about you?”
“That’s right.” Xena said as she stepped out of the shadows. “This is about me. Well, I’m not going back to being your warlord, Ares. So just forget it. And let her go.” Xena unhooked her chakrom and held it in her hand.
“Oh, come on!” Ares laughed as he saw Xena hold the chakrom ready to throw. “Are you going to hurt me with your little toy? Xena, I’m a God, remember? You might hurt Gabrielle, though, and I wouldn’t like that.”
“Look, this isn’t about either of you!” Gabrielle raised her voice. “If you two would just stop acting like such jerks and listen!”
“Ok. We’ll listen.” Hercules said. “But only because you asked. Not because of him.”
“Hercules, when did your problems with Ares start?” Gabrielle asked. She could feel Ares’ strong body right behind her. She knew if Hercules got out of control, Ares would protect her. But she doubted if Hercules would hurt her. He was her friend.
“Years ago, when Iolaus and I were going to Chiron’s Academy.” Hercules said. “Ares was always tormenting us, making our lives miserable.”
“Hey, Herc!” said Iolaus. “Remember Zeus’ golden cup? You stole it out of Ares’ treasure cave. And then when I opened it a big tornado came out and I almost got killed! The whole town was angry with me! Boy! Did we ever have some adventures back then!”
“So, the first time you met Ares was after you stole something from him?” Gabrielle asked the big hero.
“Look, I was going to take it to Zeus.” Hercules explained. “I wanted to get his attention. It wasn’t Ares’ cup anyway. It belonged to Zeus.”
“So I suppose that made it OK?” Gabrielle threw her arms up in the air. “Why can’t the two of you get along? You should act like brothers instead of always fighting. It’s obvious Zeus doesn’t really care about either of you. Did you know he wants Ares dead?”
Hercules’ blue eyes grew wide. “No, I didn’t.”
“Great.” Xena said sarcastically. “Just think all the problems that would cause for us. Especially if Strife or Discord gets his job.”
Iolaus shivered at the thought.
“Ok, I’ll try to be more friendly toward Ares.” Hercules said to Gabrielle. “It’s obvious maybe he can change with a bit of help from the right person. But what about these wings? What am I supposed to do with them?”
Hercules removed his tan shirt and a pair of white wings popped out. They were already much larger than before.
Ares smiled. “I have an idea.”
A while later Gabrielle stood in Ares bedroom. She was admiring her new wings in his full-length mirror. “Oh, Ares! They’re beautiful! When will they be big enough to fly with?”
“Soon, my Dear.” Ares stood behind Gabrielle and watched her. He had to admit the wings looked a lot better on the bard than on his brother. The wings would have been wasted on the hero. He got into too many fights and they would have been all smashed. He didn’t have the instant healing ability like full Gods did. “But first you must strengthen your wing muscles.”
Gabrielle laughed. “I think I have to learn how to simply move them first!”
Hercules smiled as he watched Gabrielle. He was glad to be rid of the wings. It made him even happier though that someone else was so thrilled to have them. After saying goodbye to their friends, Hercules and Iolaus left.
“I’m going to take Argo for a run, but I’ll be back.” Xena told Ares and Gabrielle. “And when you’re teaching her to fly, you better make sure she doesn’t get hurt!”
“Don’t worry, Xena. I promise to take very good care of her.” Ares said.
“You better. I’ll be back in a few hours.” Xena turned around and went out the door. She wondered how Gabrielle got herself into these messes. She had been there when it had happened and she was not sure herself. She needed to go for a long ride on Argo to think.
Gabrielle concentrated. Her wings moved a bit, then a bit more. Soon they were flapping slowly up and back. Gabrielle laughed with glee.
It was great to have wings!