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Preview: Percy Jackson and the Greek Gods (Part 2)
Percy Jackson fans - here's the second exclusive extract from the new book, Percy Jackson and the Greek Gods...
ZEUS KILLS EVERYONE
You want scary?
Think about this: Zeus was the god of law and order. The guy who threw random lightning bolts when he got angry and couldn’t keep his own wedding vows – this was the guy in charge of making sure kings acted wisely, councils of elders were respected, oaths were kept and strangers were given hospitality.
That would be like making me the god of homework and good grades.
I guess Zeus wasn’t all bad. Sometimes he would show up at mortals’ homes disguised as a wanderer to see whether folks would let him in and offer him food. If you treated the visitor kindly, good for you! That was your duty as a Greek citizen. If you slammed the door in his face . . . well, Zeus would be back later with his lightning bolts.
Just knowing that every traveller or homeless person might be Zeus in disguise kept the Greeks on their toes.
Same with kings. Zeus was the god of kingly power, so he watched over mortal rulers to make sure they didn’t abuse their position. Obviously, a lot of kings got away with terrible things (probably because Zeus was busy chasing some girl and didn’t notice), but there was always a chance that if you did something really evil or stupid Zeus would bring down the godly thunder and lightning and blast you right off your throne.
Example? Salmoneus. That dude should’ve won the grand prize for being an idiot. He was one of seven brothers, all princes of a Greek kingdom called Thessaly. Since there were so many princes hanging around the palace with nothing to do except play video games and wait to inherit the kingdom, their father the king said, ‘You guys, get out of here! Get some exercise, for once! Why don’t you all go start new kingdoms or something? Stop loafing and get a job!’
The seven princes didn’t really feel like founding new kingdoms. That was hard work. But their dad insisted, and so did his heavily armed guards. The princes each took a group of settlers and struck out into the wilderness of southern Greece.
Salmoneus suddenly got an evil idea. They would dress up and pretend to be heroes and gods.
Prince Salmoneus was pretty full of himself. He named his new kingdom Salmonea. He put his settlers to work building a capital city, but he got annoyed because the people wanted to build temples to the gods before they started a palace for him.
‘Your Majesty,’ they said, ‘we have to honour the gods first. Otherwise they’ll get angry!’
The new king grumbled. He didn’t really believe in the gods. He was pretty sure those stories were a bunch of rubbish the priests had made up to keep people in line.
That night Salmoneus sat in his partially built palace, watching his citizens working late, putting the final touches on the temple to Zeus, with its gold roof and marble floors. He could smell all kinds of tasty food being burned on the ceremonial fires.
‘They don’t bring tasty food to me,’ Salmoneus muttered to himself. ‘They’re so afraid of the gods, but they’re not afraid of their own king? They wouldn’t treat me this way if I were a god . . .’
Salmoneus suddenly got an evil idea. He remembered the games he and his brothers used to play back in Thessaly when they were kids. They would dress up and pretend to be heroes and gods. Salmoneus was always the best actor.
He called in his most trusted advisor and said, ‘Trusted advisor, we have work to do. We need props and costumes.’
His advisor frowned. ‘Are we putting on a play, Your Majesty?’
Salmoneus grinned. ‘Sort of . . .’
A few days later, Salmoneus was ready. He donned his costume, got in his newly decorated chariot and rode into the streets of his capital.
‘Behold!’ he screamed at the top of his lungs. ‘I am Zeus!’
A farmer was so startled that he dropped a basket of olives. A lady fell off her donkey. Many other citizens screamed and ran away, because they were afraid of getting trampled by the king’s horses.
Salmoneus looked pretty impressive. He wore white robes lined with gold. A golden wreath glinted in his hair. Since the eagle was Zeus’s sacred bird, Salmoneus had painted eagles on the sides of his chariot. Mounted behind him, concealed under a tarp, were two brass kettledrums. When he raised his hand, his advisor (who was hiding under the tarp and not feeling very comfortable) would pound on the drums and make a sound like muffled thunder.
Salmoneus rode through the streets, screaming, ‘I am Zeus! Bring me tasty food!’ Finally he stopped at the steps of the new temple to Zeus and turned the chariot towards the assembled crowd. ‘You will worship me!’ he commanded. ‘For I am a god.’
One of his braver subjects called out, ‘You look like Salmoneus.’
‘Yes!’ Salmoneus agreed. ‘But I am also Zeus! I have decided to inhabit the body of your king. You will worship him as you worship me. This temple will be my palace. You will bring me all your offerings. But don’t burn them any more. That’s a waste. I’ll just eat them.’
A few of his more timid subjects started to obey, placing food baskets on the ground near the chariot.
One man called out, ‘Why do you have chickens painted on your chariot?’
‘They’re eagles!’ Salmoneus yelled.
‘They look like chickens,’ the man insisted.
‘Silence, mortal!’ Salmoneus kicked his advisor under the blanket. The advisor started pounding his kettledrums.
‘See?’ Salmoneus said. ‘I can summon thunder!’
A lady in the back said, ‘Who’s under the blanket behind you?’
‘No one!’ Salmoneus yelled, a bead of sweat trickling down his neck. This wasn’t going as well as he’d hoped, so he decided to use his props.
He pulled a torch from his bucket o’ flaming torches ($99.99 at Walmart) and tossed one towards the lady in the crowd.
The people cried and shuffled away from the torch, but it landed harmlessly on the pavement.
‘There!’ Salmoneus roared. ‘I have cast a lightning bolt at you! Do not test me, or I shall strike you down!’
‘That’s a torch!’ somebody yelled.
‘You asked for it, mortal!’ Salmoneus started lobbing torches into the crowd and kicking his advisor under the tarp to bang on his drums, but soon the novelty wore off and the crowd got angry.
‘Boo!’ someone yelled.
‘Impostor!’ yelled another. ‘False ZEUS!’
‘Real ZEUS!’ Salmoneus yelled back. ‘I am ZEUS!’
‘YOU’RE NOT ZEUS!’ yelled the crowd.
So many people were yelling the name Zeus that the big guy himself up on Mount Olympus took notice. He looked down and saw a mortal king in a bad costume, riding around on a chariot painted with chickens, lobbing torches and calling them lightning bolts.
The god of the sky wasn’t sure whether to laugh or rage.
He decided on raging.
Storm clouds gathered over the new city of Salmonea. Real thunder shook the buildings. The sky god’s voice boomed from on high: I AM ZEUS.
A jagged bolt of lightning split the sky, blasting -Salmoneus and his poor advisor into grease spots. When the smoke cleared, there was nothing left but a burning chariot wheel and a half-melted kettledrum.
The mortals of Salmonea cheered. They would’ve thrown a party in Zeus’s honour for getting rid of their idiot king, but Zeus wasn’t finished.
His voice bellowed from the sky: SOME OF YOU BROUGHT HIM OFFERINGS. SOME OF YOU ACTUALLY BELIEVED THAT FOOL!
‘No!’ the mortals yelled, grovelling and cowering. ‘Please!’
I CANNOT ALLOW THIS CITY TO EXIST, Zeus rumbled. I MUST MAKE YOU AN EXAMPLE SO THAT THIS NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN. LIGHTNING BOLTS INCOMING IN FIVE, FOUR, THREE . . .
The mortals broke ranks and ran, but Zeus didn’t give them much time. Some people made it out of Salmonea alive, but, when the lightning bolts started coming down, most of the mortals were blown to bits or buried under the rubble.
Zeus wiped the city of Salmonea off the map. No one dared to repopulate the area for another generation, all because of one guy with a bad Zeus costume, a chicken chariot and a bucket o’ torches.
Overkill. Literally. But it wasn’t the worst punishment Zeus ever doled out. One time he decided to destroy the entire human race.
I don’t even know why. Apparently humans were behaving badly. Maybe they weren’t making the proper sacrifices, or they didn’t believe in the gods, or they were cursing a lot and driving over the speed limit.
Whatever. Zeus got angry and decided to destroy the entire race. I mean, Come on. How bad could the humans have been? I’m sure they weren’t doing anything humans haven’t always done. But Zeus decided enough was enough. He acted like one of those teachers who lets you get away with stuff all semester and then one day, for no apparent reason, decides to crack down way too hard. Like, ‘All right, that’s it! Everybody is getting detention right now! The whole class!’
Like, Dude, please. There are options between nothing and going nuclear.
Anyway, Zeus called the gods together and broke the news.
‘Humans are disgusting!’ he cried. ‘I’m going to destroy them.’
The throne room was silent. Finally Demeter said, ‘All of them?’
‘Sure,’ Zeus said.
‘How?’ asked Ares. The god of war had an eager gleam in his eyes. ‘Fire? Lightning? We could get a bunch of chain saws and –’
‘Bug bombs,’ Zeus said. ‘We set a few of those babies off, leave the world for a few days, and –’
‘No one has invented bug bombs yet,’ Hera pointed out.
‘Oh, right.’ Zeus frowned. ‘Then a flood. I’ll open the skies and unleash torrents of rain until all the humans drown!’
The humans back in Kronos’s time had been called the golden race. Supposedly they’d all died out and been replaced by the silver race.
Poseidon grunted. ‘Floods are my department.’
‘You can help,’ Zeus offered.
‘But without humans,’ Hestia asked from the hearth, ‘who will worship you, my lord? Who will build your temples and burn your sacrifices?’
‘We’ll think of something,’ Zeus said. ‘This isn’t the first race of humans, after all. We can always make more.’
According to the old stories, this was technically true. The humans back in Kronos’s time had been called the golden race. Supposedly they’d all died out and been replaced by the silver race. The ones in the early days of Mount Olympus were called the bronze race.
What made those humans different from us? There are a lot of stories, but the main thing was: they died off, and we haven’t . . . yet.
‘Besides,’ Zeus continued, ‘a flood is good. We need to give the earth a proper power-washing once in a while to get all the grime off the pavements.’
Reluctantly, the gods agreed to his plan, but many of them had favourite humans, so they secretly sent warnings in the form of dreams or omens. Because of this, a few people survived. The most famous were the king and queen of Thessaly in northern Greece: a guy named Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha.
Deucalion was human, but his dad was the Titan -Prometheus – -the dude who’d brought men fire and was now chained up on a mountain far away, getting his liver pecked out by an eagle.
I’m not sure how Prometheus managed to have a mortal kid with all the other stuff he had going on. You can’t exactly join a dating service when you’re chained to a rock being tortured. Whatever the case, Prometheus somehow heard about Zeus’s plan, and he still had a lot of love for humanity. He especially didn’t want his own son Deucalion to drown, because Deucalion was a good guy. He was always respectful to the gods and treated his subjects well.
So Prometheus warned him in a dream: FLOOD COMING! GATHER SUPPLIES IN THE BIGGEST CHEST YOU CAN FIND! HURRY!
Deucalion woke up in a cold sweat. He told his wife about the dream, and she remembered a huge oak chest they kept up in the attic. They grabbed some food and water from the kitchen and ran upstairs, warning all their servants along the way: ‘Get your families. There’s a flood coming! Seek higher ground!’ because Deucalion and Pyrrha were nice people that way. Unfortunately, most of the servants didn’t listen. The king and the queen were getting old, so the servants figured they’d gone senile.
Deucalion and Pyrrha emptied all the old clothes and knickknacks out of the chest to make room for their provisions. The rain started to fall. Within minutes, the sky was nothing but sheets of grey water. Lightning flashed. Thunder shook the earth. In less than an hour, the whole kingdom of Thessaly was swallowed by the flood. Decalion and Pyrrha closed their chest full of supplies, lashed themselves to the lid and floated right out the attic window.
It wasn’t a comfortable ride, shooting up and down forty-foot swells while the storm raged, chunks of debris swirled past and the entire world was drowning. The king and queen got salt water up their noses, like, a million times. But the wooden chest acted like a life preserver and kept them from going under.
After what seemed like forever, the rain stopped. The clouds broke and the sun came out. The flood slowly receded, and Deucalion and Pyrrha landed their chest on the slopes of Mount Parnassus.
At this point, some of you may be thinking, Hey, a guy escapes a big flood and floats to safety while the rest of the wicked human race drowns. Wasn’t there another story like that? Some dude named Noah?
Yeah, well, every ancient culture seems to have a flood story. I guess it was a pretty massive disaster. Different people remembered it different ways. Maybe Noah and Deucalion passed each other on the sea, and Deucalion was like, ‘An ark! Two animals of every kind! Why didn’t we think of that?’
And his wife Pyrrha would be like, ‘Because they wouldn’t fit in this chest, ya moron!’
But I’m just guessing.
Finally the waters sank back into the sea, and the land started to dry out.
Deucalion looked around at the empty hills of Greece and said, ‘Great. What do we do now?’
‘First,’ Pyrrha said, ‘we make a sacrifice to Zeus and ask him never to do this again.’
Deucalion agreed that that was a good idea, because another flood would really suck.
They sacrificed all their remaining food, along with the chest, in a big fire and pleaded with Zeus to spare them from any more power-washings.
Up on Olympus, Zeus was pleased. He was surprised that anyone had survived, but, since the first thing Deucalion and Pyrrha did was honour him, he was cool with that.
NO MORE FLOODS, he voice boomed from above. BECAUSE YOU ARE PIOUS PEOPLE AND I LIKE YOU, YOU MAY ASK ANY FAVOUR, AND I WILL GRANT IT.
Deucalion grovelled appropriately. ‘Thank you, Lord Zeus! We beg you, tell us how to repopulate the earth! My wife and I are too old to have kids, and we don’t want to be the last humans alive. Let the humans come back, and this time they’ll behave. I promise!’
The sky rumbled. GO TO THE ORACLE AT DELPHI. THEY WILL ADVISE YOU.
It was a long distance, but Deucalion and Pyrrha walked all the way to the Oracle. As it happened, the people of -Delphi had been warned about the flood by a bunch of howling wolves. Which god sent the wolves, I don’t know, but the people had climbed the tallest mountain near Delphi and survived the flood, so now they were back in business, dispensing prophecies and whatnot.
Deucalion and Pyrrha went into the cave of the Oracle, where an old lady sat on a three-legged stool, shrouded in green mist.
‘O Oracle,’ Deucalion said. ‘Please, tell us how to repopulate the earth. And I don’t mean by having kids, because we’re too old for that nonsense!’
The Oracle’s voice was like the hissing of snakes: When you leave this place, cover your heads and throw the bones of your mother behind you as you go, and do not look back.
‘The bones of my mother?’ Deucalion was outraged. ‘She’s dead and buried. I don’t carry her bones around with me!’
I just pronounce the prophecies, the Oracle muttered. I don’t explain them. Now, shoo!
Deucalion and Pyrrha weren’t very satisfied, but they left the Oracle.
‘How are we supposed to throw the bones of our mother behind us?’ Deucalion asked.
Pyrrha wasn’t sure, but she covered her head with a shawl, then gave her husband an extra scarf so he could do the same, just as the Oracle had ordered. As they walked away, heads bowed, Pyrrha realized that with her shawl over her head she could only see the ground right in front of her, which was littered with rocks.
She froze. ‘Husband, I have an idea. The bones of our mother. What if the prophecy doesn’t literally mean the bones of our mother? It might be a . . . what do you call those things? Limericks?’
‘No, a limerick is a naughty poem,’ Deucalion said. ‘You mean, a metaphor?’
‘Yes! What if the bones of our mother is a metaphor?’
‘Okay. But a metaphor for what?’
‘The mother of everything . . . Mother Earth,’ Pyrrha suggested. ‘And her bones –’
‘Could mean these rocks!’ Deucalion cried. ‘Wow, you’re smart!’
‘That’s why you married me.’
So Deucalion and Pyrrha started picking up rocks and chucking them over their shoulders as they walked. They didn’t look behind them, but they could hear the rocks cracking apart like eggs as they hit the ground. Later, the king and queen found out that each rock had turned into a human. When -Deucalion threw one, it turned into a man. When Pyrrha threw one, it turned into a woman.
So Zeus let the human race repopulate itself.
I’m not sure if that means we’re still the bronze race, or if we’re the stone race, or maybe the rockers? Either way, Zeus was glad to let the humans back into the world, because without them he wouldn’t have had any pretty mortal girls to chase after.
Taken from Percy Jackson and the Greek Gods by Rick Riordan