Chiron tucked his bandages back into his pouch. “I wish I knew, Percy. You’re not yet sixteen. For now we must simply train you as best we can, and leave the future to the Fates.”
The Fates. I hadn’t thought about those old ladies in a long time, but as soon as Chiron mentioned them, something clicked.
“That’s what it meant,” I said.
Chiron frowned. “That’s what what meant?”
“Last summer. The omen from the Fates, when I saw them snip somebody’s life string. I thought it meant I was going to die right away, but it’s worse than that. It’s got something to do with your prophecy. The death they foretold—it’s going to happen when I’m sixteen.”
Chiron’s tail whisked nervously in the grass. “My boy, you can’t be sure of that. We don’t
The Sea Monsters - 02
even know if the prophecy is about you.”
“But there isn’t any other half-blood child of the Big Three!”
“That we know of.”
“And Kronos is rising. He’s going to destroy Mount Olympus!”
“He will try,” Chiron agreed. “And Western Civilization along with it, if we don’t stop him. But we will stop him. You will not be alone in that fight.”
I knew he was trying to make me feel better, but I remembered what Annabeth had told me.
It would come down to one hero. One decision that would save or destroy the West. And I felt sure 90
the Fates had been giving me some kind of warning about that. Something terrible was going to happen, either to me or to somebody I was close to.
“I’m just a kid, Chiron,” I said miserably. “What good is one lousy hero against something like Kronos?”
Chiron managed a smile. ‘“What good is one lousy hero’? Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain said something like that to me once, just before he single-handedly changed the course of your Civil War.”
He pulled an arrow from his quiver and turned the razor-sharp tip so it glinted in the firelight.
“Celestial bronze, Percy. An immortal weapon. What would happen if you shot this at a human?”
“Nothing,” I said. “It would pass right through.”
“That’s right,” he said. “Humans don’t exist on the same level as the immortals. They can’t even be hurt by our weapons. But you, Percy—you are part god, part human. You live in both worlds. You can be harmed by both, and you can affect both. That’s what makes heroes so special.
You carry the hopes of humanity into the realm of the eternal. Monsters never die. They are reborn from the chaos and barbarism that is always bubbling underneath civilization, the very stuff that makes Kronos stronger. They must be defeated again and again, kept at bay. Heroes embody that struggle. You fight the battles humanity must win, every generation, in order to stay human. Do you understand?”
“I … I don’t know.”
“You must try, Percy. Because whether or not you are the child of the prophecy, Kronos thinks you might be. And after today, he will finally despair of turning you to his side. That is the only reason he hasn’t killed you yet, you know. As soon as he’s sure he can’t use you, he will destroy you.”
“You talk like you know him.”
Chiron pursed his lips. “I do know him.”
I stared at him. I sometimes forgot just how old Chiron was. “Is that why Mr. D blamed you when the tree was poisoned? Why you said some people don’t trust you?”
“But, Chiron … I mean, come on! Why would they think you’d ever betray the camp for Kronos?”
Chiron’s eyes were deep brown, full of thousands of years of sadness. “Percy, remember your training. Remember your study of mythology. What is my connection to the titan lord?”
I tried to think, but I’d always gotten my mythology mixed up. Even now, when it was so real, so important to my own life, I had trouble keeping all the names and facts straight. I shook my head.
“You, uh, owe Kronos a favor or something? He spared your life?”
“Percy,” Chiron said, his voice impossibly soft. “The titan Kronos is my father.”
Chapter Nineteen: The Chariot Race Ends With A Bang
We arrived in Long Island just after Clarisse, thanks to the centaurs’ travel powers. I rode on Chiron’s back, but we didn’t talk much, especially not about Kronos. I knew it had been difficult for Chiron to tell me. I didn’t want to push him with more questions. I mean, I’ve met plenty of embarrassing parents, but Kronos, the evil titan lord who wanted to destroy Western Civilization? Not the kind of dad you invited to school for career day.
When we got to camp, the centaurs were anxious to meet Dionysus. They’d heard he threw some really wild parties, but they were disappointed. The wine god was in no mood to celebrate as the whole camp gathered at the top of Half-Blood Hill.
The camp had been through a hard two weeks. The arts and crafts cabin had burned to the ground from an attack by a Draco Aionius (which as near as I could figure was Latin for “really-big-lizard-with-breath-that-blows-stuff-up”). The Big House’s rooms were overflowing with wounded. The kids in the Apollo cabin, who were the best healers, had been working overtime performing first aid.
Everybody looked weary and battered as we crowded around Thalia’s tree.
The moment Clarisse draped the Golden Fleece over the lowest bough, the moonlight seemed to brighten, turning from gray to liquid silver. A cool breeze rustled in the branches and rippled through the grass, all the way into the valley. Everything came into sharper focus—the glow of the fireflies down in the woods, the smell of the strawberry fields, the sound of the waves on the beach.
Gradually, the needles on the pine tree started turning from brown to green.
Everybody cheered. It was happening slowly, but there could be no doubt—the Fleece’s magic was seeping into the tree, filling it with new power and expelling the poison.
Chiron ordered a twenty-four/seven guard duty on the hilltop, at least until he could find an appropriate monster to protect the Fleece. He said he’d place an ad in Olympus Weekly right away.
In the meantime, Clarisse was carried on her cabin mates’ shoulders down to the amphitheater, where she was honored with a laurel wreath and a lot of celebrating around the campfire.
Nobody gave Annabeth or me a second look. It was as if we’d never left. In a way, I guess that was the best thank-you anyone could give us, because if they admitted we’d snuck out of camp to do the quest, they’d have to expel us. And really, I didn’t want any more attention. It felt good to be just one of the campers for once.
Later that night, as we were roasting s’mores and listening to the Stoll brothers tell us a ghost story about an evil king who was eaten alive by demonic breakfast pastries, Clarisse shoved me from behind and whispered in my ear, “Just because you were cool one time, Jackson, don’t think you’re off the hook with Ares. I’m still waiting for the right opportunity to pulverize you.”
I gave her a grudging smile.
“What?” she demanded.
“Nothing,” I said. “Just good to be home.”
The next morning, after the party ponies headed back to Florida, Chiron made a surprise announcement: the chariot races would go ahead as scheduled. We’d all figured they were history now that Tantalus was gone, but completing them did feel like the right thing to do, especially now that Chiron was back and the camp was safe.
Tyson wasn’t too keen on the idea of getting back in a chariot after our first experience, but he was happy to let me team up with Annabeth. I would drive, Annabeth would defend, and Tyson would act as our pit crew. While I worked with the horses, Tyson fixed up Athena’s chariot and added a whole bunch of special modifications.
We spent the next two days training like crazy. Annabeth and I agreed that if we won, the prize of no chores for the rest of the month would be split between our two cabins. Since Athena had more campers, they would get most of the time off, which was fine by me. I didn’t care about the prize. I just wanted to win.
The night before the race, I stayed late at the stables. I was talking to our horses, giving them one final brushing, when somebody right behind me said, “Fine animals, horses. Wish I’d thought of them.”
A middle-aged guy in a postal carrier outfit was leaning against the stable door. He was slim, with curly black hair under his white pith helmet, and he had a mailbag slung over his shoulder.
“Hermes?” I stammered.
“Hello, Percy. Didn’t recognize me without my jogging clothes?”
“Uh …” I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to kneel or buy stamps from him or what. Then it occurred to me why he must be here. “Oh, listen, Lord Hermes, about Luke …”
The god arched his eyebrows.
“Uh, we saw him, all right,” I said, “but—”
“You weren’t able to talk sense into him?”
“Well, we kind of tried to kill each other in a duel to the death.”
“I see. You tried the diplomatic approach.”
“I’m really sorry. I mean, you gave us those awesome gifts and everything. And I know you wanted Luke to come back. But … he’s turned bad. Really bad. He said he feels like you abandoned him.”
I waited for Hermes to get angry. I figured he’d turn me into a hamster or something, and I did not want to spend any more time as a rodent.
Instead, he just sighed. “Do you ever feel your father abandoned you, Percy?”
I wanted to say, “Only a few hundred times a day.” I hadn’t spoken to Poseidon since last summer. I’d never been to his underwater palace. And then there was the whole thing with Tyson—no warning, no explanation. Just boom, you have a brother. You’d think that deserved a little heads-up phone call or something.
The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. I realized I did want recognition for the quest I’d completed, but not from the other campers. I wanted my dad to say something. To notice me.
Hermes readjusted the mailbag on his shoulder. “Percy, the hardest part about being a god is that you must often act indirectly, especially when it comes to your own children. If we were to intervene every time our children had a problem … well, that would only create more problems and more resentment. But I believe if you give it some thought, you will see that Poseidon has been paying attention to you. He has answered your prayers. I can only hope that some day, Luke may realize the same about me. Whether you feel like you succeeded or not, you reminded Luke who he was. You spoke to him.”
“I tried to kill him.”
Hermes shrugged. “Families are messy. Immortal families are eternally messy. Sometimes the best we can do is to remind each other that we’re related, for better or worse … and try to keep the maiming and killing to a minimum.”
It didn’t sound like much of a recipe for the perfect family. Then again, as I thought about my quest, I realized maybe Hermes was right. Poseidon had sent the hippocampi to help us. He’d given me powers over the sea that I’d never known about before. And there was Tyson. Had Poseidon brought us together on purpose? How many times had Tyson saved my life this summer?