The Mark of Athena (The Heroes of Olympus 3) - Page 8

“I take it Minerva isn’t…uh, quite as respected here?”

Reyna blew steam from her cup. “We respect Minerva. She’s the goddess of crafts and wisdom…but she isn’t really a goddess of war. Not for Romans. She’s also a maiden goddess, like Diana…the one you call Artemis. You won’t find any children of Minerva here. The idea that Minerva would have children—frankly, it’s a little shocking to us. ”

“Oh. ” Annabeth felt her face flush. She didn’t want to get into the details of Athena’s children—how they were born straight from the mind of the goddess, just as Athena herself had sprung from the head of Zeus. Talking about that always made Annabeth feel self-conscious, like she was some sort of freak. People usually asked her whether or not she had a belly button, since she had been born magically. Of course she had a belly button. She couldn’t explain how. She didn’t really want to know.

“I understand that you Greeks don’t see things the same way,” Reyna continued. “But Romans take vows of maidenhood very seriously. The Vestal Virgins, for instance…if they broke their vows and fell in love with anyone, they would be buried alive. So the idea that a maiden goddess would have children—”

“Got it. ” Annabeth’s hot chocolate suddenly tasted like dust. No wonder the Romans had been giving her strange looks. “I’m not supposed to exist. And even if your camp had children of Minerva—”

“They wouldn’t be like you,” Reyna said. “They might be craftsmen, artists, maybe advisers, but not warriors. Not leaders of dangerous quests. ”

Annabeth started to object that she wasn’t the leader of the quest. Not officially. But she wondered if her friends on the Argo II would agree. The past few days, they had been looking to her for orders—even Jason, who could have pulled rank as the son of Jupiter, and Coach Hedge, who didn’t take orders from anyone.

“There’s more. ” Reyna snapped her fingers, and her golden dog, Aurum, trotted over. The praetor stroked his ears. “The harpy Ella…it was a prophecy she spoke. We both know that, don’t we?”

Annabeth swallowed. Something about Aurum’s ruby eyes made her uneasy. She had heard that dogs could smell fear, even detect changes in a human’s breathing and heartbeat. She didn’t know if that applied to magical metal dogs, but she decided it would be better to tell the truth.

“It sounded like a prophecy,” she admitted. “But I’ve never met Ella before today, and I’ve never heard those lines exactly. ”

“I have,” Reyna murmured. “At least some of them—”

A few yards away, the silver dog barked. A group of children spilled out of a nearby alleyway and gathered around Argentum, petting the dog and laughing, unfazed by its razor-sharp teeth.

“We should move on,” Reyna said.

They wound their way up the hill. The greyhounds followed, leaving the children behind. Annabeth kept glancing at Reyna’s face. A vague memory started tugging at her—the way Reyna brushed her hair behind her ear, the silver ring she wore with the torch and sword design.

“We’ve met before,” Annabeth ventured. “You were younger, I think. ”

Reyna gave her a dry smile. “Very good. Percy didn’t remember me. Of course you spoke mostly with my older sister Hylla, who is now queen of the Amazons. She left just this morning, before you arrived. At any rate, when we last met, I was a mere handmaiden in the house of Circe. ”

“Circe…” Annabeth remembered her trip to the island of the sorceress. She’d been thirteen. Percy and she had washed ashore from the Sea of Monsters. Hylla had welcomed them. She had helped Annabeth get cleaned up and given her a beautiful new dress and a complete makeover. Then Circe had made her sales pitch: if Annabeth stayed on the island, she could have magical training and incredible power. Annabeth had been tempted, maybe just a little, until she realized the place was a trap, and Percy had been turned into a rodent. (That last part seemed funny afterward; but at the time, it had been terrifying. ) As for Reyna…she’d been one of the servants who had combed Annabeth’s hair.

“You…” Annabeth said in amazement. “And Hylla is queen of the Amazons? How did you two—?”

“Long story,” Reyna said. “But I remember you well. You were brave. I’d never seen anyone refuse Circe’s hospitality, much less outwit her. It’s no wonder Percy cares for you. ”

Her voice was wistful. Annabeth thought it might be safer not to respond.

They reached the top of the hill, where a terrace overlooked the entire valley.

“This is my favorite spot,” Reyna said. “The Garden of Bacchus. ”

Grapevine trellises made a canopy overhead. Bees buzzed through honeysuckle and jasmine, which filled the afternoon air with a dizzying mix of perfumes. In the middle of the terrace stood a statue of Bacchus in a sort of ballet position, wearing nothing but a loincloth, his cheeks puffed out and lips pursed, spouting water into a fountain.

Despite her worries, Annabeth almost laughed. She knew the god in his Greek form, Dionysus—or Mr. D, as they called him back at Camp Half-Blood. Seeing their cranky old camp director immortalized in stone, wearing a diaper and spewing water from his mouth, made her feel a little better.

Reyna stopped at the edge of the terrace. The view was worth the climb. The whole city spread out below them like a 3-D mosaic. To the south, beyond the lake, a cluster of temples perched on a hill. To the north, an aqueduct marched toward the Berkeley Hills. Work crews were repairing a broken section, probably damaged in the recent battle.

“I wanted to hear it from you,” Reyna said.

Annabeth turned. “Hear what from me?”

“The truth,” Reyna said. “Convince me that I’m not making a mistake by trusting you. Tell me about yourself. Tell me about Camp Half-Blood. Your friend Piper has sorcery in her words. I spent enough time with Circe to know charmspeak when I hear it. I can’t trust what she says. And Jason…well, he has changed. He seems distant, no longer quite Roman. ”

The hurt in her voice was as sharp as broken glass. Annabeth wondered if she had sounded that way, all the months she’d spent searching for Percy. At least she’d found her boyfriend. Reyna had no one. She was responsible for running an entire camp all by herself. Annabeth could sense that Reyna wanted Jason to love her. But he had disappeared, only to come back with a new girlfriend. Meanwhile, Percy had risen to praetor, but he had rebuffed Reyna too. Now Annabeth had come to take him away. Reyna would be left alone again, shouldering a job meant for two people.

When Annabeth had arrived at Camp Jupiter, she’d been prepared to negotiate with Reyna or even fight her if needed. She hadn’t been prepared to feel sorry for her.

She kept that feeling hidden. Reyna didn’t strike her as someone who would appreciate pity.

Instead, she told Reyna about her own life. She talked about her dad and stepmom and her two stepbrothers in San Francisco, and how she had felt like an outsider in her own family. She talked about how she had run away when she was only seven, finding her friends Luke and Thalia and making her way to Camp Half-Blood on Long Island. She described the camp and her years growing up there. She talked about meeting Percy and the adventures they’d had together.

Reyna was a good listener.

Annabeth was tempted to tell her about more recent problems: her fight with her mom, the gift of the silver coin, and the nightmares she’d been having—about an old fear so paralyzing, she’d almost decided that she couldn’t go on this quest. But she couldn’t bring herself to open up quite that much.

When Annabeth was done talking, Reyna gazed over New Rome. Her metal greyhounds sniffed around the garden, snapping at bees in the honeysuckle. Finally Reyna pointed to the cluster of temples on the distant hill.

“The small red building,” she said, “there on the northern side? That’s the temple of my mother, Bellona. ” Reyna turned toward Annabeth. “Unlike your mother, Bellona has no Greek equivalent. She is fully, truly Roman. She’s the goddess of protecting

the homeland. ”

Annabeth said nothing. She knew very little about the Roman goddess. She wished she had studied up, but Latin never came as easily to her as Greek. Down below, the hull of the Argo II gleamed as it floated over the forum, like some massive bronze party balloon.

“When the Romans go to war,” Reyna continued, “we first visit the Temple of Bellona. Inside is a symbolic patch of ground that represents enemy soil. We throw a spear into that ground, indicating that we are now at war. You see, Romans have always believed that offense is the best defense. In ancient times, whenever our ancestors felt threatened by their neighbors, they would invade to protect themselves. ”

“They conquered everyone around them,” Annabeth said. “Carthage, the Gauls—”

“And the Greeks. ” Reyna let that comment hang. “My point, Annabeth, is that it isn’t Rome’s nature to cooperate with other powers. Every time Greek and Roman demigods have met, we’ve fought. Conflicts between our two sides have started some of the most horrible wars in human history—especially civil wars. ”

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Annabeth said. “We’ve got to work together, or Gaea will destroy us both. ”

“I agree,” Reyna said. “But is cooperation possible? What if Juno’s plan is flawed? Even goddesses can make mistakes. ”

Annabeth waited for Reyna to get struck by lightning or turned into a peacock. Nothing happened.

Unfortunately, Annabeth shared Reyna’s doubts. Hera did make mistakes. Annabeth had had nothing but trouble from that overbearing goddess, and she’d never forgive Hera for taking Percy away, even if it was for a noble cause.

“I don’t trust the goddess,” Annabeth admitted. “But I do trust my friends. This isn’t a trick, Reyna. We can work together. ”

Reyna finished her cup of chocolate. She set the cup on the terrace railing and gazed over the valley as if imagining battle lines.

“I believe you mean it,” she said. “But if you go to the ancient lands, especially Rome itself, there is something you should know about your mother. ”

Annabeth’s shoulders tensed. “My—my mother?”

“When I lived on Circe’s island,” Reyna said, “we had many visitors. Once, perhaps a year before you and Percy arrived, a young man washed ashore. He was half mad from thirst and heat. He’d been drifting at sea for days. His words didn’t make much sense, but he said he was a son of Athena. ”

Reyna paused as if waiting for a reaction. Annabeth had no idea who the boy might have been. She wasn’t aware of any other Athena kids who’d gone on a quest in the Sea of Monsters, but still she felt a sense of dread. The light filtering through the grapevines made shadows writhe across the ground like a swarm of bugs.

“What happened to this demigod?” she asked.

Reyna waved her hand as if the question was trivial. “Circe turned him into a guinea pig, of course. He made quite a crazy little rodent. But before that, he kept raving about his failed quest. He claimed that he’d gone to Rome, following the Mark of Athena. ”

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