Andrzej of Sparta stared into the heart of the fire, silently smoldering in his rage. Four other men sat around the same fire, staying quiet and avoiding his gaze. Just above the crackle and hiss of the fire, laughter and chatter from the woman’s camp floated in on the wind. Every man around the fire but Andrzej turned toward the source.
“Laughter in the shadow of Mr. Olympus,” said the farmer, who Zeus left with an inhumanly ravenous grandson, “that woman runs an interesting camp.”
“Aye,” said the sailor avenging his sister’s suicide after Zeus left her in heartbreak, “tomorrow we face a god, some of us won’t return home.”
“Maybe,” said the actor, his betrothed taken by Zeus the night they were to be wed, “it would be good to share a laugh.”
“And maybe a good cup of wine and a bit of beef,” added the cook whose scarred face came from one of Zeus’s bastards, “why don’t we join them? Our aim is the same and there is strength in numbers—”
“Then leave,” Andrzej barked, his eyes cutting down the men about the circle, “if you want to frolic and dance like women, go.”
Each man turned to face Andrzej. Each man sunk in on themselves after meeting his gaze.
Women, Andrzej spat the thought. Women, he cursed to himself.
Women. Women have been a barb in his side for as long as he could remember. His mother, she was too weak to protect him from his crippled father’s rages. His wife, she was too weak-willed to satisfy him. The old woman, she was the reason he was out of this journey, surrounded by boys playing at soldier and more useless women following in his wake. The old woman with her crafty words. How could he have believed his simple ugly cow of a wife could ever catch the eye of a god? He gritted his teeth at the memory of her witchery.
More chatter drifted on the breeze from the woman’s camp. That woman was the most irritating of them all. Originally, he set out from Sparta to kill Zeus alone but other men, also wronged by Zeus, latched on to him. He did not slow nor wait from them, cutting what could have been an army to a select stubborn few. The hangers-on were no more than inconveniences but until the woman showed up.
Kassopedia was nothing special to look at, just a small brown lump of a woman. Andrzej was passing through a village when she appeared in front of him, lead by the rumors of those that would challenge Zeus. The woman stood before him, demanding a place in his party to avenge her rape at Zeus’s hand. Twice he refused her. Twice she refused him. The third time he said nothing but instead gave her a taste of his hand. Kassopedia took it as he expected but the glare she shot at him from the ground gave him pause. After he dealt with Zeus, he would deal with her. He would make sure no woman would challenge him like that again.
The fire went out in a huff. Shook out of his brooding, Andrzej glared around the dead fire. He sat alone now, all the others had crawled off to sleep. With a growl, Andrzej pulled his cloak against the cold and stomped off to his bedroll.
In the daylight, Mt. Olympus loomed larger than life over Andrzej and his four companions, the top hidden by clouds. Nevertheless, Andrzej stood on a nearby hill, his armored chest puffed out in challenge.
“Zeus” he roared, “Zeus.”
There was no answer.
Andrzej’s four companions shifted from foot to foot, eyes locked on the hidden mountaintop.
“Zeus,” Andrzej yelled, “come and face me.”
“Zeus,” roared a voice beside him.
Andrzej snapped to face the little brown Kassopedia.
“Woman,” Andrzej roared, shooting a sharp look at the four men behind him. He froze when he saw a hundred women gathered just behind them.
“Woman,” he roared again, “did you bring all these fools here? Did you do this?”
“No,” she spoke through gritted teeth, “justice brought us here.”
“You will only get in my way and die. Begone.”
“You begone,” Kassopedia poked Andrzej in the chest, “you are in our way. Do you even know what we’re up against?”
“I am up against Zeus,” Andrzej spat.
“Yes, we are up against Zeus,” Kassopedia inched closer to Andrzej, “Zeus is a god. He’s not something you can just stab. He’s you, he’s me, he’s the Allfather.”
“If he can lay with a woman, he can die like a man.”
“You know nothing,” Kassopedia shook her head.
“And how do you intend to get your revenge, with your words?”
“You know only one way,” Kassopedia looked past Andrzej’s fist and shield into Andrzej’s eyes, “and it blinds you to any other method.”
“Say what you will,” Andrzej brought his face inches from Kassopedia, “my way gets things done.”
Kassopedia opened then closed her mouth without a word.
Lightning struck the ground just a few feet away, close enough to fill Andrzej nostrils with the stench of burnt ozone and stand every hair on his body on end. The thunderclap that followed blew him away.
Something more than a man stood in the landing zone of the lightning bolt. He stood a clear head and shoulders above any man present. His toga hid just enough of his strong defined body to be modest. Though he bore the dignified chiseled face and white hair of advanced age, his skin glowed with living energy.
“Hello, Luv,” the god flashed a hungry grin at Kassopedia, “come to see me for another round?”
“Zeus,” Kassopedia pointed a finger at him, “You are no god, not one worthy of any praise, you are but a monster.”
Zeus’s smirk stayed on his face but it lost all its mirth.
“Watch your mouth, girl,” Zeus took one slow step toward Kassopedia, “you challenge the natural order of things, you challenge what is good and right.”
Kassopedia called Zeus’s step with a step of her own.
“Your order may be considered natural but it is not right.”
“You are one woman against a god,” Zeus stood over her, “what is the weight of your accusations?”
A javelin whistled past Kassopedia’s ear and into Zeus’s chest, bouncing off and spinning to the ground.
Andrzej charged in its wake. Sinking low, he drove his shield into Zeus. With one finger, Zeus halted all Andrzej’s momentum. In vain, Andrzej drove his feet into the earth but his shield held fixed in place.
Zeus poked his head over Andrzej’s shield.
“Who are you?”
“I am Andrzej of Sparta,” Andrzej took a breath and pushed into the shield.
“Andrzej of Sparta, “ Zeus switched hands to better see Andrzej, “what is your quarrel with me?”
“You took my wife,” Andrzej grit his teeth, “you took her from me.”
There was silence as Zeus looked off into the distance. After a long moment, he turned back to Andrzej.
“I don’t remember that,” Zeus said.
Andrzej roared, pushing more weight into his shield.
“Zeus,” Kassopedia yelled. Zeus and Andrzej turned to face her.
She stood to her full height, finger pointed at Zeus.
“You, deemed god of humanity, you who whispers justice and mercy into the ear of mighty rulers where was your justice when you robbed me? Where was your mercy for a mortal woman faced with your overwhelming power?”
Though Andrzej drew his gladius, Zeus furrowed his brow at Kassopedia.
“You the father of all, over sky and earth, am I not your daughter?” Kassopedia matched Zeus’s glare with one of her own, “You wear the title of All-Father but you are unworthy of it.”
“Aye,” a thing balding women clutching a suckling babe, stood with Kassopedia, “you leave me with one of your sons, who drinks the very life from my body. You who spin the skies to bring the rains, where is my provision?”
“You inspire laws that seal marriage as a contract, binding and secure,” a woman held up her wedding clothes in her shaking fist, “yet you shattered my marriage for your own pleasure.”
“In the cool of the night you came to me for warmth,” said a young man supported by two women, his eyes on the ground, “but you left me cold in the light of the day where your laws deem me unnatural.”
One by one, two by two, three by three, the women and men of Kassopedia’s camp spoke, yelled, or screamed the wrongs Zeus had done to them.
Andrzej fell an inch toward Zeus. He shook himself alert and shifted, slamming his shield into Zeus’s face. The blow cut the god’s lip and blackened his eye but Zeus turned not from Kassopedia. Andrzej roared, jabbing his gladius into Zeus’ stomach. Zeus groaned with pain, spat a glob of shimmering blood on the ground, and finally took notice of Andrzej.
“Enough of you,” Zeus knocked Andrzej away with a flick of his wrist.
The blow shook Andrzej to the bone; his teeth clattered against themselves and his hands went slack. He landed in a pile yards away.
Yards away, the crowd chucked their accusations at Zeus. Zeus fell to his knees, clutching at his chest and head.
“Enough,” Zeus raised his hand to the sky, “you dare do anything but worship?”
In a flash of light and crackling of electricity, Zeus held a thunderbolt in his outstretched hand.
“I am the Sky-Father. You are but my children.”
“A father is strong enough to protect, to guide, to love,” Kassopedia strode forward, “that is what makes him lovely. You lost our love when you neglected your laws, neglected your self proclaimed position, neglected the children you claim”
“Silence,” Zeus took a deep breath, “it matters not whether you worship from love or fear, it only matters that you worship.”
With a thunderous roar, Zeus loosed his thunderbolt at Kassopedia.
Andrzej’s eyes widened as an old woman, the same that put him on the journey, stepped from an unknowable place in the crowd, and pushed Kassopedia aside. In the wake of a flash and a boom, a fair, matronly woman of the utmost poise, grace, and power stood in a flowing gown that made her both exceedingly alluring and yet exceedingly modest.
“Hera?” Zeus and Kassopedia said together.
“Hera?” Kassopedia’s crowd repeated.
“Hera? Andrzej asked, limping back to the crowd.
Hera stood over Zeus, her face a mix of loving concern and hateful contempt. Zeus fell to his knees before his wife. The goddess turned her cold eyes from Zeus to fix them on Kassopedia.
“My husband has been humbled,” she waved them away, “this is done.”
There were a few moments of silence then the crowd erupted in protest. Hera narrowed her eyes. Kassopedia stood before the other mortals.
“We are here for justice,” Kassopedia stomped, “we will not be denied.”
“We are gods,” Hera snorted, “we deny what we wish. I have what I wanted. Athena, Ares.”
To Hera’s left, a statue of a young woman wearing the robes of a senator over a breastplate rose from the ground. She wore the plumed helm of a general and held a shield in her left hand. Quick, the skin took on an olive flesh color, the robes became cloth, and the helm and breastplate became silver. Shield up, Athena stepped between her mother and the mortals. To Hera’s right, a man erupted from the earth, clad in dark, sharp armor from head to toe, and wielding two fearsome blades. Magma dripping from his shoulders, Ares took a menacing step toward Kassopedia’s group.
Hera scooped up her husband.
“Athena, Ares, see the mortals away from our home. I will take care of your father.”
In a flash, Hera and Zeus were gone, leaving the humans with the war gods.
Athena placed a hand on her brother’s shoulder to hold him and strode toward Kassopedia alone. Everyone else retreated in the face of the approaching goddess but Kassopedia stepped forward to meet her.
“Tell me your name,” asked Athena
“I am Kassopedia of Athens,” Kassopedia answered
“Kassopedia, you have done a great service for womankind and thus mankind, not only have you shown your strength to the All-Father,” Athena clasped Kassopedia’s shoulder, “but to all those who have suffered or benefited from his hand.”
Kassopedia slapped Athena’s hand away.
“Save your pretty words, goddess,” Kassopedia jabbed a finger at Athena’s face, “you know nothing of our pain.”
Athena took Kassopedia’s hand in hers, “I have my own story to tell. I don’t know your pain but I have mine.”
“Then wipe it all away, make it right,” Kassopedia screamed, “Use your power. Are you not the goddess of war?”
Kassopedia slapped Athena.
“You are the goddess of law and justice, do something.”
“And if I did so, where would that leave you?” Athena motioned past Kassopedia, “where would it leave them?”
“Weak. Weak enough for another to take advantage of,” Athena placed a hand on her chest, “weak enough for me to take advantage of.”
“But, you would never, you are the goddess of law and justice.”
“Don’t forget, I am also the goddess of wisdom and I am wise enough to know that law. I know it can be bent and how to bend it.”
Kassopedia sunk in on herself. Athena lifted Kassopedia’s chin and offered her an olive.
“Eat,” the goddess said, “for it will give you wisdom, to light the fire of courage in the heart of others.”
“Why?” Kassopedia sunk to her knees, “Is there any relief?”
“Yes,” Athena offered the olive, “it is you and it will be them. Don’t look for heroes or gods. Look to yourself. Please take this, not just for your sake, not just for theirs, but for mine as well.”
Kassopedia looked up at Athena, sighed, and took the olive. She swallowed it, shivering as it went down. After a moment of bowing her head, Kassopedia spoke.
“Thank you, goddess.”
“No,” Athena placed a hand on Kassopedia’s shoulder, “thank you.”
Yards away, Andrzej watched the women embrace, fuming at his uncertainty.
“Andrzej of Sparta,” Ares walked up to Andrzej, “That took stones; not many mortals would have charged Zeus as you did.”
“How do you know my name?”
“A woman came to my temple and offered everything she had for me to kill you.”
“She offered everything?” Andrzej turned to face Ares, “Have you come to answer her prayer?”
“Why would I do that? I took her and sent her away.” Ares snorted, “I serve no whores.”
Andrzej roared, driving his gladius into Are’s neck. Before his blade touched the ground, Andrzej hung in the air by his neck.
“You dare strike me?” Ares roared, “you think you can challenge the god of violence in a fight? You…”
Andrzej kicked at the air as the life bled from him. As he struggled for air, he felt his joy, love, sorrow, his emotions melt from his body, leaving nothing but bitter rage.
Andrzej woke up to a dark starless sky. Growling, he kicked off the cloak covering him. The gods, the crowd, his companions, and Kassopedia were all gone.
Andrzej growled to himself. He roared at the mountain. He roared at the sky.
When he received no challenge, Andrezj scooped up his helmet, his shield, and a new gladius of ugly black iron before starting his trek back to Sparta.