14. My honorable foe
About ten minutes later we were back home again. 'Home' as in the now nearly abandoned headquarters of the Greeks in Darangorlad. I put the still sleeping Xena to bed in an empty room next to Ares' and my suite and Ares went to find Kalian. When I caught up with them Kalian was pouting because we hadn't let him come with us to Rhembosia.
"You deserve all love and respect, little Hero" Ares tried. "But you are still a tad too young to follow us on a mission like this. We had to save Xena and we had to do it fast or those bad guys who had caught her would've hurt her really bad. And you wouldn't want that to happen, right?"
"No..." Kalian was facing his father with a suspicious look in his dark eyes as he thought it over. He was certain that Ares was outsmarting him, yet he could not grasp how, although I could almost hear how his brain was at work here. Then he turned to look at me as I had finished the struggle with getting off my sweaty, torn and dirty tunic:
"Mother, would you have let me come?"
"No, dearest" I replied as I walked over and gave him a hard hug.
"Because I love you too much to let any harm befall upon you. And those thugs we went up against would most definitely have tried to hurt you, and I could not let that happen. "
Kalian though that over for a while, then he asked:
"Where is Xena now?"
"Asleep" I told him. "She was very tired after everything that had happened to her within less than two days. So I made a bed for her in one of the rooms up here."
"Does it mean she's staying with us now?" Kalian beamed up.
"Yes, she does, but I don't know for how long. She has after all her own home and her own life and no doubt she would want to return to that when she has rested a bit."
Then Kalian wriggled out of my grip and told us:
"Sthen showed me some really bad moves. So now I can knock you out, dad!"
"Then give it to me!" Ares smiled and Kalian begun to kick and hit at the arm Ares used to block himself with, and in the end the father grabbed his son around the waist and heaved him up in the air, threw him over his brawny shoulder and started to tickle him.
"Noo!" Kalian called out. "That's cheating. You're not allowed to cheat."
"Yes, in war and love cheating is always allowed" Ares laughed.
Once again I got tears of joy in my eyes upon seeing these two play around. They made me so proud and happy and filled to the brim with love that my heart was melting in a pool of warm, fuzzy bubbles and I felt like the luckiest little lass around.
The next moment there was a firm knock on the doorframe and Achilles entered together with Xantippa and Ares turned, sat down Kalian and put on his business face:
"Anything to report?" he asked the dark warriors.
"Not really" Ares' second in command said as he removed his red-crested helmet and put it under his arm. Xantippa did the same thing, revealing her pinned-up dark-blond hair, as well as giving Ares a salute. She was standing slightly behind her superior and in full attention while Achilles seemed a bit more relaxed.
"There was a great deal of trouble down in the harbour. Lots of fighting. Not the usual bar brawls, but some rivaling gangs trying to settle some kind of disagreement. And eventually it became too much for the Bluecoats to handle so they came up to us and asked us to help them out with the situation. So I took some of the Darkies with me down and cooled down those firebrands, helped with pulling them off the streets and making the area a bit safer again. Then Bremusa got a rather bad tight wound. You might want to have a look at it, Narinda." Achilles turned to me.
"I'll do that as soon as possible" I promised.
"We learned some interesting things too," Achilles went on, "seems that the Darangorladians have quite a problem with organized crime and gangs offering 'protection'."
"The usual," Ares remarked. "Happens all the time you take a city. After a while the generally undermanned police comes up to you and ask for help with things they can't handle. This shows that we have to get away from here soon, or we'll end up as a more or less present law-upholding militia which the Darangorladians begin to depend on and suddenly can't do without. And we'll never be able to withdraw. We'll become a permanent solution and in the end the line between occupation and annihilation becomes indistinguishable."
"With all due respect, Ares, why is that so bad?" Xantippa asked. "I used to be a cop before I joined the army. I can clearly tell that these people need help. For instance the area around Darangorlad is almost lawless these days, with marauding gang of criminals terrorizing the farmers."
"Xantippa, that is none of our business. Darangorlad is not part of the Hellas Commonwealth, it's a neutral city-state and as such shall it be respected. We came here to kick out the Anatolians. And now that duty is done, and we Helenians have nothing more to do here."
"But we had to help them, Ares! We couldn't just stand and watch while those hooligans tore the town apart."
"I never said what you did was wrong, Xantippa," the war god replied. "I only said that we have to leave Darangorlad as soon as possible before we become relied upon by the locals. We're the Hellas army; we can't be police in a non-Hellenic nation. Because then we might become accused of the very thing we warred against the Anatolians for - invading neutral, free of alliance countries."
Gee! I thought. War was so much more complicated than I had ever expected. Before ending up with Ares I had just thought it a game of kill and be killed and that the one with the biggest siege-machines became the winner. But just as Ares' hand to hand combats had turned out an intricate dance, the whole concept of war was multi-leveled and more complex than any board game. Ares had joked once that war was too complicated to hand over to the generals, and he sure was right about that.
The next thing I found myself regarding Achilles. The Dark Warrior was almost as tall and brawny as Ares himself and his chiseled face held a brutal intelligence, still those gray-blue eyes did not lack humour. I was not sure I was able to interpret the man who was Ares' second in command. Not only was it his rank, there was something more that set Achilles apart from his colleagues. Something that made him different, perhaps a peg or two above the rest. And much more alike Ares than anyone else. But what was it really that made him different? I decided to find out later. Other, more urgent things were on my mind right now.
"Ares - we need to talk" I said as we finally got some moments for ourselves. We had been starving upon our return, something I hadn't realized until we set foot in the headquarter again and the adrenaline rush wore off. But Ares had been thinking ahead as usually, so there had been a large meal waiting for us when we arrived. Now we had cleared off almost everything on the plates and Kalian had gone into his room to finish 'his invention' whatever that could be. At this moment the two of us were sitting alone by the table, Ares holding a cup in his hand, swirling around what little watered wine was left.
"Yes?" His brown eyes got curious.
"About what I did in Rhembosia. Curing Ikaton."
"Yes, that was impressive, dearest."
"You're not - mad at me?"
"For helping your enemies? For healing the man who's sons - were out to take your life. And the lives of a lot of other Greeks' too?"
"Didi no!" He put his cup down and laid a large hand over mine. "Of course not, how could I be mad at you? No, I'm proud of you. You went in there to help your friend. Then you followed the calling of yours, you did what a medic has to do. Cure and help. And you did it well. I had been more angered if you had chickened out, not daring to go after Xena. Chaos knows, I've met many of that kind, gods as well as mortals. At the same time I guess I would have understood it too, because those Anatolian gods are dangerous."
"Save for their silver automatons and Chizay's venous tongue they didn't appear that impressive." I replied. "After all you more or less cut trough those Semlis as if they were grass."
"Well, the Anatolians are more or less crazy, and that's what makes them so dangerous. They're unpredictable. You never know what they are going to do next. The only thing you can be certain of is that they at one moment or the next will aim to stab you in the back. Perhaps they'll come here again as soon as we leave. Or perhaps they are done with the west now and turn their attention eastwards, trying to revenge those sons who fell against Baal and possibly Marduk. And finally - there's still one unknown factor."
"Make that a 'who'. Saion. The last son. I'll bet my best sword that if he's not going to get himself killed somewhere else, or already has; he'll be coming for me one day, with his full intent on revenge. And then I'll have to fight him too."
"Is that so bad?" I couldn't help asking, remembering how Ares almost had seemed to enjoy himself dueling Taniroth. Ares huffed.
"Perhaps it feels a bit unnecessary. A good duel is refreshing and invigorant, and much more challenging than to fight dumb things like the Semlis. At the same time a taken life is a taken life, especially if it's divine. Those will never come back again. And there'll always be someone missing them, crying over them. But that's my destiny, to keep these punks at bay, to stop them from coming against all the people, gods as well as mortals, I have sworn to defend."
"My love..." I held on to his hand, caressing it, felt the warm texture against my palm. "What will you teach Kalian? Will he become a war god too?"
"He has it in him. More than he has healing, even if there are turquoise parts in his aura too. But mostly it is red. Just like mine. So I guess he will be following my path in life."
"Yes your aura is red, Ares. I have never seen anything so red before. It's almost as if you're war yourself."
"That's what they say. Some mortals - they just call me 'War'"
"But there's white too."
"Weather. After my father. Yet both of them - Hera and Zeus - had enough red in them to create me."
"Strange. I never thought of Hera as a warrior."
"Yes, very few have seen my mother fight. She's more into civilization building now, following those yellow energies which burn so strong within her. But she did fight the Titans. Almost as vicious and merciless as father. And I guess I, who became their first child together, got saturated by all those warriors' emotions which were still lingering in their spirits when they conceived me. At the same time Hera's grandfather Holtos was apparently as red as I, not that it helped him when the Titans came. Anyhow, I like to think that there's more to my red. I like to picture myself as a lover as well as a fighter. Someone who cares. Someone who's there..."
"Hush, darling. To me you're Love. More than anything else. To me you're... "
I stopped there, words were not enough. Words were very much unneeded at the same time. There were other means to express what I wanted to say. So instead I grabbed his neck with my left hand and pulled his head towards mine until our lips were able to meet. Then I kissed him, I tasted his soft lips with mine, slid my tongue between them, over his hard teeth to enter the cavity where his tongue dwelt. It came to great me, to meet me. So passionate, so fulfilling. In return I could hear Ares moan softly as he let go of my hand to be able to push the table slightly away, lift me from the chair and in one swift motion, place me in his lap instead. As easy as if I had weighted less than a feather. I continued to explore his oral cavity, while my hands threaded through his hair, undid his ponytail and let those silk strands flow between my fingers before I felt myself down his neck and beneath his tunic alongside his strong shoulders.
At that moment Ares let go of my mouth and instead kissed his way down my neck, nibbling along the way, making circles with the tip of his tongue. He knew all the secret places upon me where I was so much more sensitive than anywhere else. He knew them and he conquered them. After all he knew everything about conquest, being it love or war. He unbuttoned my tunic and let it fold open, while he let those sensitive lips trace themselves down to my nipples, stop there for a while, teasing around with tongue and teeth and making me almost sob before he travelled further down. To be able to reach he grasped my slender waist and lifted me in the air and I came to rest my cheek somewhere in his hair, dark strands tickling my nose. As I wrung myself beneath that sweet torture I could feel how hard he had become against my left tight. And I wanted him so much, so very very much.
"Can never, can never" I heard myself gasp as he began to kiss himself down my belly "can never ever get enough of you - Ares!"
"I never ever want you to either, Didi" he mumbled against my skin before his tongue found the little pothole that was my bellybutton. Ares! Ares Ares Ares!
Strong arms lifting me up, the sofa was there and he slumped down with me on top of himself, lifting his hands over my buttocks, squeezing them lightly while tasting me again on the neck. At the same time I was battling and winning over his worn leather pants, opening them button by button, sliding them down his hips, liberating his enormous manhood. As I took him in my hand I heard him gasp for breath and whispering my name just as I had repeated his. As a reply I opened up for him, split my legs across his. Inviting him inside of me. Into these secret places which were from now on only meant for him to explore. My Ares...
My Ares, my exceptional hero, who set my world on fire, made it blaze and explode all around me as I gave myself fully and completely to him and his love. At that moment all the red in his aura was love and nothing else.
When we were done for the time being, spent and spoiled and I was resting on top of him, my arms and hands somewhere around his grand torso and my legs tangled with his, we suddenly heard laughter and titter from a few rooms away.
"Hear that?" Ares turned his head.
"Kalian. And Xena. She's awake. Let's go see..."
"How they are doing" we said at the same time.
"Was magnificent by the way" Ares said as he let himself out of my caves, I had almost forgotten he was still lingering inside.
"Sure was, thank you beloved!"
"Thank you honey pie."
"Was that - really not a nightmare?" Xena was looking from me to Ares and then back again. Then she pushed a hand trough her unkempt hair and let out a sigh. "By Zeus, I'm too old for this - and you immortals, you'll never understand how that feels, right?"
"Trust me I did" I told her. "When I had cured Ikaton I was so tired I felt like I could lie down and not rise again for millennia."
"And the ungrateful bastard insulted her in return." Ares groused.
"Why did he say?"
"He questioned my sincerity. Accused me of lying when I told him who had brought the disaster upon him."
"He sure wanted it to be me who had been responsible for his misery." Ares said. "Although I know nothing about chaos magic and related things. That has never been my weapon of choice. I prefer to face my enemies eye to eye and battle them with arms I can carry in my hands. I almost regretted we helped him when he confronted us in spirit."
"Perhaps it was some kind of after-shock." Xena said. "Perhaps Ikaton understands later that what you guys did for him deserves gratitude."
"Then you don't know him well," Ares said. "That man has never been able to admit defeat and has never been able to show any real thankfulness, neither to friends nor to foes."
"Never mind, I did it mostly for you, Xena." I said.
"Why thank you, my friend" Xena said and took my hand. We had sat down in the courtyard outside the headquarter, in the shades of a large palm tree where it was still reasonable cold in spite of the midday heat. The sun was dancing with the wind and blowing leaves and making patterns over the wall, the stone bench and our features. Ares' hair, which was tied up again, looked almost bluish, like metal. And Xena, with the shadows and lines in her face appeared both worn and wizened. She folded her hands over her knees and then she looked at Ares with almost shy eyes.
"I should thank you too, God of War, for coming for me. I never was a fan of you, in fact you scared me and filled me with despise. But... You followed Narinda into the lion's den after little mortal me. You protected her - and me, when you might as well have chosen to stay outside, uncaring. Thus I thank you too, Ares, God of War. You might have been my foe for so many years, after all a cut-up leg is not easy to forget. It pains in the night and when the weather gets bad. But you're honorable Ares, something I never expected you to be. By the way, what happens now?"
"We're heading for Greece." I told, and glanced over at the end of the courtyard, where Kalian was practicing some of that weaponless martial art with Sthenephon. The latter was making his moves a bit slowly to make it possible for Kalian to get some hits and kicks in the right spots, still not lethargic enough to make it too easy. He sure was a good teacher that man, and I was not surprised that he had advanced in rank with Ares. But there was also something... I looked at the aura of the Dark Warrior, there was something awkward there, something not right. I had seen that anomaly before but I could not put my finger upon what it was. I let go and returned my attention to Ares and Xena.
"I will go with Ares to... "
"To Olympos" Ares said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. And to him it probably was.
"Wow!" Xena breathed out. "Wow - that's just so - wow."
"I think so too," I couldn't help smiling. Then Xena reached out for my hands and took them:
"While up there, please spare me a thought now and then. Don't forget little me!" In response I bent over and hugged her.
"You know I never will, Xena darling!"
Then I heard Sthenephon cry out and Kalian yell with fear and especially the latter sent a flash of a chill through my spine and entire body. Kalian!
Then there was that voice again. Taniroth? No, this voice was not as deep; it was more of the husky kind, like someone who had got his troth injured along the path of life.
"Ares!" it called out. "Ares of Greece, you filthy scum!"
And as three heads were turned towards those voices I saw something that made blood chill in my veins. Because there he was - not Taniroth, but his younger brother Saion. It was no mistaking those brute, chiseled features, no introductions needed. Beside him on the ground laid Sthenephon with an arrow in his back, blood seeping out in a pool on the ground. Yet that was far from the worst thing!
"Ares" Saion called out again. He was standing there with little Kalian in a steady grip, a knife against our son's exposed troth. And not just any knife, but a knife of Adamantine. The god-killing material. "Ares, watch this, and then you'll know just how it feels to lose a kin."