WHEN THE GODS WERE WALKING THE EARTH, part 2
"So, Hephaestus hurried to the shore. The Isle of Bliss was the favourite place of Neptune’s daughters, and he was hoping to meet one of them.
Swift as the wind,
Come to the shore,
Come to my call,"
he sang passionately.
Instantly, Sea Horse appeared from the deep blue sea. She was Neptune’s third and most pampered daughter. Instead of swimming, she rode a sea horse. The princess and her horse were inseparable; they never parted, even for an instant. She saw a god of exceptional beauty standing on the shore, his face veiled. The mermaid immediately fell in love with him and ordered her sea horse to take her to the shore.
"Who are you," asked Neptune’s daughter. "No, wait" she exclaimed, "I know who you are! You are the beautiful Apollo! Give me a kiss!"
Before Hephaestus could stop her she lifted his veil. His turban fell, revealing his goat’s horns.
"A goat!" the mermaid screamed, stepping back.
The god of forge was even more frightened than she was, and he ran desperately back to his carriage.
"Oh, this is Hephaestus, the horned god of forge," Neptune’s daughter laughed. "Little snail, little snail, show me your horns!"
She liked her joke so much that she fell laughing on the sand and laughed, and laughed, and laughed, until her tail split right in the middle. Exhausted, she jumped on her sea horse’s back and headed home to her father Neptune’s palace.
This time, Neptune was really furious. What a day! First his eldest daughter Sea Violet came back with her tail split, two hours later the same happened to her younger sister Sea Star, and now his favourite Sea Horse was back with her tail split! The king of the sea sighed, stapled her tail with four crabs, and called for the new chief security officer. After the poor Octopus had been handed over to the sharks for execution, the old Tortoise had been appointed in his place. Neptune did exactly as he had promised: he ripped his shell off, cast the Tortoise into boiling water and then fed him to the sharks.
"This is what will happen to those who don’t care about their jobs," he said. He then called the old Crab, the old dodger. "You are now responsible for my beloved daughters’ safety. If you fail, I’ll make an ashtray of your shell, and I’ll feed you to the sharks!"
The Crab shivered; by that time, he had an idea of what would happen to him if Neptune’s youngest daughter, the naughty Dolphin Rider, came back with her tail split. He could not reject the appointment, though, for the angry king of the sea would kill him with his trident. The Crab thus opted for the lesser evil.
"Yes, Your Highness. Not a hair on her head shall be touched," the Crab promised and swam off to catch up with the little minx riding her favourite Blue Dolphin.
Meanwhile, the lovestruck gods sneaked through the copper-studded gates for the third time. Their wives, however, were on the alert, and noticed their escape.
"Those cheaters are trying to get our! Fire!"
A lightning shot from Athena’s eyes. To her dismay, however, it bounced off Hercules’ armour without hurting him. This time Hephaestus had done an excellent job!
"Sprinkle embers on their heads,
On the cheaters’ filthy heads," a little nightingale croaked.
"Blessings on you, little Nightingale," Athena exclaimed. "From this day, you shall not croak, you shall sing in an angel’s voice!"
Indeed, from that day the Nightingale no longer croaked; he sang in a beautiful melodious voice, and was naturally acclaimed the best opera singer among wild birds.
Athena hurled a fireball which exploded right over her spouse’s head. Hercules hopped about like a singed rooster, for a few embers had slipped under his armour and were burning his skin. Despite his pals’ protests he threw off his armour and could scratch until he relieved the itching. He did not have much time for that, though.
Hercules was the strongest of the gods; he was the only one who could beat Ares in a wrestling bout, but instead of brains in his head he had bats in the belfry, and they would flip around when the wind blew in through his ears... And when they did, Hercules would do whatever he wanted and not listen to anyone.
"Die, traitor," Athena screamed and hurled another fireball. Then she laughed at the sight of her husband hopping and yelping in pain.
Flaming sparks showered upon his head, his hair burst into flames, and the lava melted his flesh. In a few seconds, all that was left of him was a pile of ashes and a set of blackened armour.
Terrified, the gods rushed back like hares to Hephaestus’ smithy.
They found him sitting on the bench outside, crying bitter tears.
"Sea Horse was scared of my horns and ran away," he wept. "I can never again appear before a woman the way I look! Oh, my heart is full of sorrow! I should better move to the kingdom of Hades! They are all shadows there, and they won’t mock me!"
"Oh come on," one of the gods interrupted him. "Cut the crap and look what I’ve got here for you."
He was holding the last apple they had stolen from the Hesperides’ gardens.
"Oh please, have mercy on the poor blacksmith!" Hephaestus fell on his knees. "Give me one more apple!"
"Okay, it’s yours, but promise you will make us something to cover our heads and shoulders."
"This won’t take long," said Hephaestus happily and grabbed his hammer. "So, who’s helping with the bellows?"
An hour later the gods were equipped with fine helmets. Chain mail made of joined metal links were attached to the helmets and covered the gods’ shoulders. Beautiful jaguars adorned the helmets’ tops. They were made of pure gold and their eyes were rubies.
"The jaguar spirit will protect you day and night," Hephaestus explained. "When you are threatened the jaguars’ eyes will glow, and they will roar."
Centuries later, the smart English carmakers would steal Hephaestus’ trademark and place the jaguar symbol on their vehicles... That is another story, however.
"Well," said Hephaestus, taking a look at his work. "I should say you are now properly protected. Before you put your armour on, put on some of this ointment."
"What is this," Ares asked.
"Salamander fat. Should a few embers slip below the armour, you will not get burned. Put it on just before you sneak out through the gates, its effect is only brief. Where is my apple, then?"
The gods delivered the magic apple, put on some of the salamander fat, grabbed the helmets and headed to the copper-studded doors.
"Okay guys, let’s see if this thing works," someone said. "If it does, our wives will pluck their eyebrows in fury!"
The gods laughed at the joke and their armour clanged. Unlike before, they were not trying to sneak out furtively.
This is how the first armour was made: the outfit that protected the whole body, and later helped Don Quixote fight the windmills...
Meanwhile, Hephaestus ate the last apple, and another miraculous transformation took place! His goat’s horns began to shrink and finally disappeared. The god of forge glanced at his reflection in a shield’s mirror surface, and could not believe his eyes. Gazing back at him was a handsome young man with a slim body, thighs as white as marble, and a beautiful face.
"I wonder what you’ll have to say now, Apollo," he laughed. "Who looks better, ah? I bet you’ll be green with envy!"
Hephaestus jumped into his flaming carriage, whipped his winged horses and headed to the Isle of Bliss where the mermaids swam. He landed on the shore and sang with the beautiful voice of a river nymph:
"I’m Apollo, the god of love,
Come to the shore, my best beloved,
Come to me from the depths of quiet,
My heart is burning with passion,
Not a minute I can live without you."
He had not yet finished his song when a lovely girl appeared from the deep blue: a mermaid riding a huge blue dolphin. She was Neptune’s youngest daughter, the Dolphin Rider, the sea king’s favourite. Immediately behind her swam the Crab, her personal bodyguard.
"My fair prince," she sang and her voice rang like a chime. "A gift for you I’ve got: my heart and my love I pledge to you."
Hephaestus jumped on the dolphin’s back and they descended together into the deep blue sea. The Crab followed respectfully from a distance.
"No kissing before the wedding," he warned Hephaestus. "Princess, please, don’t do anything rash. If your father gets angry he’ll make an ashtray of my shell, and will throw my flesh to the sharks. Have mercy on the old chaperon," he begged.
"Don’t worry, stupid," smiled the princess. "My father won’t be angry, I promise.’
The dolphin passed between the two white whales who were guarding the entrance to Neptune’s coral palace. He then passed a few swordfish, Neptune’s personal bodyguard enjoying a special status. Hephaestus who had never descended to the bottom of the sea admired the splendor of the palace and its beautiful colours. The palace was supported by coral pillars in purple, yellow and violet. The walls were made of dark-green seaweed, decorated with shells. Jellyfishes - Neptune’s servants - waved their fans and swam about like small sailboats. They were joined by frisky little fishes, sharp-toothed eels, tiny crabs, savage sharks, blue dolphins, tortoises and all sorts of other sea creatures Hephaestus had never seen before. The unusual procession headed to the huge throne hall. Its entrance was guarded by six fierce-looking sharks on the one side and six no less fierce-looking octopuses on the other side. The royal guard was under the command of a giant tortoise whose shell was as big as a medium-sized ship. The tortoise bowed clumsily to the princess and cast Hephaestus an inquisitive look.
"You do not belong among the sea dwellers. I’m sorry, Princess Dolphin Rider, but he cannot come in."
"Let them in," thundered Neptune’s voice.
The god of the sea was sitting on a throne made of red corals. The crown on his head was gleaming with gems, each of them the size of an egg and worth about a kingdom. In his hand, Neptune held a huge trident. When he was angry, he would hit the sea with that trident and it would change immediately: the sky would darken and a violent wind would start blowing. Waves as big as hills would rise, and woe to the ships that were caught in the storm! They would all sink to the bottom of the sea, crew, rats and all... The mermaids, whose hearts ached at the doomed sailors’ cries, would sometimes swim to the surface and gesture to the captain to follow them, taking the ships to a safe harbour, and would then return to the palace. They did that fairly seldom, though, because their father wold fall into a rage and lock up the disobedient mermaid in the palace for months. There was nothing much to do in the palace and it could get really boring there...
The dolphin and its weird riders went up to the throne. Neptune stood up and frowned.
"Who are you," he thundered and the sea was suddenly full of waves. One of them nearly knocked the handsome god off the dolphin’s back. "How do you dare come into my kingdom? You are lucky to be a god; if you were a mortal, I would have smashed you like a worm! You belong on the Olympus with the other gods, not here!"
At one time, Neptune had caught his unfaithful wife with one of the Olympian gods, and had locked them both in a cave for a hundred years. If it had not been for his brother Zeus, the father of all gods, the two unfortunate lovers would still be in that cave…
"It is for me that he’s here," spoke Dolphin Rider, lowering her eyes. "We are in love and… we’re getting married."
"Oh, are you?" Neptune’s voice was mildly ironic. "Just don’t tell me I’m going to be a grandfather. If you have touched her," and he pointed his trident at Hephaestus, "you’re not getting out of this palace alive. As for you," and this time he pointed the trident at the Crab, the poor bodyguard, "you’ll follow your predecessors."
"I swear, he never touched her," stuttered the toothless Crab who was 560 years old. "I was there all the time, from the moment his flaming carriage pulled by winged horses landed on the shore to the moment when…"
"Did you say a flaming carriage?" Neptune was now listening more attentively. "You’re not Apollo," he went on, casting an inquisitive look at the handsome god. "Of all Olympian gods, only two have got flaming carriages: my brother Zeus, and Hephaestus. As you are not Zeus…" He frowned. "You don’t look like Hephaestus. He’s got goat’s legs, yours are fine. Hephaestus has a hump and an ugly body, you are as slim as a poplar. He’s got horns and a pimply face, while your face is attractive…"
"It’s Hephaestus allright," an old sea dragon spoke. "My cousin Cerberus guards the Hesperides’ gardens. Several hours ago, the gods stole four magic apples and gave them to Hephaestus in exchange for some armour he made for them. Those magic apples can transform any god or mortal beyond recognition, giving him a great physical beauty…"
"Yes, it’s him," interrupted Neptune’s oldest daughter Sea Star. "He was the cause of my split tail. However, he only had one fine leg, the other was a goat’s leg, and he also had a hump and horns!"
"Yes, I know him," cried Sea Violet. "He made me laugh until my tail split!"
"Why," frowned Neptune.
"Because we were kis…uh, walking on the shore, I pulled his cloak and I saw his ugly hump. It looked like a snail’s shell, and I called him Little Snail"
"He did the same to me," added Sea Horse, riding her favourite horse as usual. "Dad, I want you to punish him. Look at my tail!" She waved her tail, still stitched with the crabs. "It hurts," she cried and leaned on her father’s shoulder.
"So you are the scoundrel who split my daughters’ tails! You’ll pay for that! I can’t kill you because you are a god but I will put you in the dungeon and you will never again sea the light of
"Wait," Hephaestus tried to protest. "I never split the mermaids’ tails! Am I to blame for making someone laugh?"
"Take him away!" Neptune gave a sign with his trident and huge waves rose on the surface of the sea. A ship that had been unfortunate enough to sail at the wrong place, at the wrong time, was swept away like a nut shell. "Throw him into the Dungeon of Horrors!"
Two octopuses came up, waving their tentacles.
"Your will shall be done, Master!"
The guards grabbed Hephaestus and despite his protests, dragged him to the Dungeon of Horrors. His sweetheart the Dolphin Rider burst into tears and fled to her apartment.
Let us now leave the weeping mermaid and go back to the Olympus.
Queen Pate’s aspiring lovers put on their helmets and headed to the copper-studded gates. Their wives bristled with anger and prepared to hurl their flaming lightnings.
A small quail saw them and chirped:
"The gods are wearing armour,
Your fire cannot harm them!"
"Shut up you stupid bird," one of the goddesses shouted and hurled a fireball at the quail. The poor bird screamed and ran but it was too late. There was a smell of grilled meat. The goddess ripped off a wing and took a bite. "Mmm, delicious!"
This is how the gods first started eating grilled quails. Prometheus once stole a few from the gods’ table and gave them to the starving humans. To punish his betrayal, Zeus put him on a vegan diet. No meat, no fish... The first vegetarian was thus vegetarian not by his own will but by coercion...
"You shall never again eat meat," Zeus thundered. "Others will be feeding on you. Eagles will peck on your liver all day and by the next morning it will have recovered. Take him to the Caucasus!"
Two guards handcuffed Prometheus and read him his rights: "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you..."Then they took him to the Caucasus and chained him to a cliff. Every day, two eagles came to peck on his liver, and Prometheus screamed his head off.
"Don’t you ever have enough, damned birds! You must have eaten tons of liver by now," he cursed.
"Certainly not," the Eagles replied. "Liver is our favourite treat!"
When it grew dark, the eagles would fly away, Prometheus’ liver would heal, and in the morning the eagles would return.
"Have you considered becoming vegetarians," he asked them one day. "The liver you’re eating is packed with cholesterol and fat. Have you heard of Avicenna’s latest study?"
The eagles stopped pecking and gave him an inquisitive look.
"What study?", one of them asked and stopped chewing the liver. "And what’s cholesterol?"
"Who’s Avicenna," the other eagle asked. "Never heard of him."
"Ah, you poor ignorant birds," Prometheus sighed with sympathy. "Avicenna is Zeus’ personal physician. He demonstrated that cholesterol is a most dangerous kind of fat which may cause bone cancer, epilepsy, bubonic plague, breast cancer, stomach cancer, loss of sight, angina, rheumatism..."
"Phew!" The eagles choked and spitted out the meat. "Couldn’t you say so earlier?"
"The cholesterol also causes the feathers to fall, as well as a loss of wing coordination..."
"Oh shut up," one of the eagles pleaded. "I can’t listen to that!"
"Oh my God," the other added, "I can feel there’s something wrong with my stomach! Do you think I might have caught stomach cancer?"
The eagles spread their wings and flew off to the deepest darkest forest. To the end of their days, they never ate hares, rats, lizards or any other living creatures; they lived on apples, pears and blueberries, and managed to bring their cholesterol level down to zero. Their risk of contracting a disease, respectively, tended to rise indefinitely...
Meanwhile, the sky over the Olympus was glowing is lights of all colors. The humans were watching and enviously clicking their tongues. They thought the gods were celebrating something.
"Tosho, Tosho," sighed Pete the Tank Commander. "There they are, celebrating again. Let’s go to the Olympus!"
"No thanks," replied Tosho the Smart. "I’m fine where I am. I’ve got eight million sheep here..."
In fact, Tosho the Smart and Pete the Dank Commander were wrong. The gods were not celebrating; it was a fierce battle that was going on up there on the Olympus.
The goddesses were showering their unfaithful husbands with lightnings. However, the smart gods had put on some of the salamander fat and the armour made by Hephaestus the god of forge, so they passed through the copper-studded gates unharmed and hurried to King Tubby’s party.
In their rage, the goddesses destroyed part of Zeus’ vegetable garden. Since he had appointed Avicenna as his personal physician, Zeus ate mostly vegetable soups. When the king of all gods came home and saw the havoc, he blazed with rage.
"Who did this," he asked Hera, his face gray with anger. "I swear in the beard of my father Cronus, I’ll send the offender to Hades’ kingdom. Just give me the scoundrel’s name!"
"Scoundrels’ names," Hera corrected him with a wily smile, and added: "Why, you know them well. You drink your ambrosia with them every day."
Ambrosia was the gods’ drink that made them immortal.
"Why are they," Zeus shouted in such a voice that even Hera stepped back. "Give me the names, woman!"
"Well, if you so wish," she sighed. "Here they are: Apollo the god of love, Dionysus the god of wine, Ares the god of war, Boreas the god of wind - they are all your favourites and closest friends. They got drunk on ambrosia and danced like mad in your vegetable garden. They did a circle dance and jumped around until they trampled it all.
"Why didn’t you try to stop them" Zeus asked.
"Well," Hera whimpered, "I was scared. They were all blind drunk! You know that roughneck Ares, he was hopping and trampling worst of them all!"
Hera had a grudge against the god of war. He had been her lover before she married Zeus but had quit her for a mortal princess, Helena, who had later become the cause of the Trojan War.
"I’ll sort this out," Zeus shouted. "Where are those scoundrels?"
"Feasting in King Tubby’s palace. They ran out of ambrosia here and went down to earth for a few more drinks."
"I’m going down there and I’ll beat them black and blue!" Zeus waved his fists.
"Come on, be reasonable," Hera entreated. "There are four of them, and you are alone. Do not underestimate Ares the god of war, he’s a well-known ruffian."
"What should I do then" the king of gods hesitated and scratched his head. The humans later borrowed that gesture from the king of all gods.
"Wait until they come back, and I’ll set the table for a feast. Then I’ll put sleeping pills in their ambrosia, and when they fall asleep you’ll have them chained. Then you can decide how you want to punish them and where you want to exile them."
"I know a good place up there in the north," Zeus said. "There’s snow there almost all the year round. Snow and blizzards. Nothing grows there but blueberries, wild pears and lichen. They’ll die of cold and hunger!"
"What’s the name of that place," Hera asked.
"No name. Just wilderness."
"No," she shook her head. "It must have a name. We’ll call it... we’ll call it Siberia!"
"Siberia," Zeus repeated. "Sounds good. I like it."
Meanwhile, the Olympian gods were approaching King Tubby’s palace, not in the least suspecting what awaited them...
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