Oh Deer! Hercules’s Third Labor

It’s time again to delve into the story behind my book The Trials of Hercules and to give you a little taste of the book with an excerpt.

Behind the Book: The Third Labor

If it wasn’t enough that Hercules had just killed and skinned an indestructible lion and barely escaped the clutches of a nine-headed hydra, Hercules was sent right out on another task by Eurystheus (leader of Mycenae). I think at this point, modern people would be complaining about labor laws and start forming a union.

But this is Ancient Greece, and Hercules is a hero so he trudges off to take his chances with the Cerynian Hind. In case you were wondering, a “hind” is a deer and Ceryneia is located about 150 kilometers west of Athens if you take a straight shot across the Gulf of Cornith.

What’s so special about a silly deer, you ask? Well, first off this deer’s antlers are made of gold. Second, the thing can run faster than an arrow (sort of the ancient equivalent of “faster than a speeding bullet”). Oh, and to top it off, the deer is sacred to the goddess Artemis who is VERY protective of her pets.

Although this vasse painting makes it look like he molests the deer, I promise, Hercules only captures the animal and treats it very nicely.
Although this vase painting makes it look like he molests the deer, I promise that Hercules treat the animal very nicely once he’s captured it.

Eurystheus wants Hercules to catch the deer and bring it back to Mycenae in the hopes that Artemis will be so angry she’ll kill Hercules (today, he would just put a Mafia hit out on Hercules). But Hercules doesn’t realize this and heads out to find the hind.

It takes him an entire year. Talk about mindless dedication.

How does he catch the deer? This varies depending on which version of the myth you come across. One has him shooting an arrow and wounding the deer enough to catch her. This version is an example of inconsistent storytelling because the deer is supposed to be able to outrun any arrow. Another version has Hercules go to Artemis and explain things so she gives him the deer. Again, bad storytelling because she is supposed to be super protective of this animal. The third version and the one I like is that he casts a net over the deer while it sleeps.

So, Hercules lugs the deer home, but just as he’s about to give it to Eurystheus, Artemis appears and she is fuming mad. He tells her the truth of why he took the deer and his honesty wins her over. She allows him to take the deer to Eurystheus but only on the condition that the deer be returned to her soon after. Sounds fair enough.

Ah, but Eurystheus doesn’t want to just give up this magnificent animal (c’mon, antlers of gold…deer shed their antlers each year…yeah, I’d be trying to keep that critter). But Hercules is clever enough to not want Artemis on his bad side, so, with trick up proverbial sleeve, he tells Eurystheus to come out and get the deer.

Just at the moment Eurystheus is about to take the deer, Hercules lets go and the deer bounds off. Hercules doesn’t win any favors with Eurystheus by shouting the taunt, “Butterfingers!” and he’s quickly sent off on another task.

In the Book

In The Trials of Hercules: Book One of The Osteria Chronicles, I stick closely to the myth although I tighten up the timeline. During this section of the book, you’ll learn a bit about who our hero is and delve deeper into his relationship with Iole, the head priestess of the Herenes who has a few secrets up the sleeve of her white gown.

Excerpt from Chapter 12 of The Trials of Hercules

In this excerpt, we see Hera and Eury deciding to send Herc after the deer. This comes soon after Herc has returned from the second labor.

It takes every effort to keep my thoughts out of my mouth. I have other cats to hang and don’t want to bicker about who is truly responsible for Portaceae’s decline. I cross the room to Hera who has gone to look out the west-facing window.

“I won’t let them continue,” I insist. “If he succeeds again, the people will revolt and the vigiles will encourage it. Will you be able to stop them to keep me in power?”

She spins. The cool light in the room explodes with a burst of silver flames that flick hot tongues at me. Hera’s eyes flare with more anger than is boiling just below my surface.

“Do not judge me or think I will step in to help you,” she commands. “You need to manage your people.”

“They’re your people too, goddess.”

“Maybe,” she continues in a milder tone that is still tinged with acid. “Did it ever occur to you to cut the feed? They can’t celebrate and cheer for what they don’t know about. It was stupid to even allow it in the first place.”

“But the engineers say they can’t switch the power back to–”

“They figured it out once, they can figure it out again. I swear, had I known your incapacity for thought, I’d have forced Iolalus to appear before your father ever spat you into your mother’s womb. Now, do you really want to end this?”

I do, but I also fear sending my cousins under. With their popularity, if I relinquish my mercy now I will be seen as the monster. What then? How long will it take the people to tear down the very walls of my villa to get to me? But leaving either of my cousins alive to continue on this path to glory will certainly spell my doom. My head spins around again to the blood crime vault. If Portaceae was rid of Herc, Hera might be different. His death would call an end to her obsessive hatred, stop this stupid fit of jealousy, and Portaceae would thrive. And who would the people love for restoring the polis’s glory? Me. If I can only keep them from revolting first.

The benefits outweigh the risks. With two million drachars I can hire more guards and still have enough left over for Adneta.

“Yes, he’s failed this task. By the rules, it’s over,” I say. My heart thuds in my chest with every word.

I expect Hera to be elated, but no look of pleasure crosses her face at my answer. Her mouth sags with worry, but she flicks her head to toss back her hair and forces a curt smile. The flames die down and the silvery glow returns to the room.

“Fine. Personally, I’d rather watch him suffer, but so far the tasks have been too easy. He’s almost seemed to enjoy them. We’ll send him on another labor.”

“Another? But that will only give him more glory. No, he failed, he must be sent under.”

“Gods, is your mind so weak?” She flicks me on the head with a snap of her hand. The sting singes through my skull and down my neck. I glare at her, daring her to do it again. “Would you seem so petty? What would the people think? They saw Herc and Iolalus defeat the hydra. If you send him under on a technicality, they will indeed revolt. Why not show yourself the better man and allow him to serve Portaceae once more?”

“And if he succeeds? How will I be rid of him if he succeeds?”

“You’re so certain of his ability,” she says coyly.

“I know my cousin. His strength and cunning are as plentiful as his sense of duty and loyalty.”

“Rest assured that he will lose either way in this. If he fails, which is quite likely, you will have every right to send him under. If he succeeds, he will feel the wrath of a goddess who is not known for her forgiveness.”

Were any of them?

“What do you have in mind?”

“In Cedonia, Artemis keeps a herd of sacred deer. One of them, a stag born with a bronze hooves and golden antlers is her favorite. The animal is like a child to the goddess—eating out of her hand, sleeping at her feet. If Herc kills this creature, Artemis will take revenge on him. And Artemis’s revenge tends to be rather final.”

“But the gods can’t kill. Hasn’t that always been the only law that binds your power?”

“It is, but it seems Artemis tends to loose many stray arrows in her woods.” The corners of Hera’s mouth curl up in a satisfied and infectious grin. Despite the sting that still burns across my scalp, I can’t help but smile as well.

“Let’s send him now, then.” I take her cool, smooth hand and kiss it. “What matter that it’s nightfall, unlock the city gates and boot him out.”

“In the morning. Let him rest and have his wounds tended to. Let him enjoy a late start. You want to make sure he’s fully rested so he can find the stag, don’t you?”

“And the feed?”

She slips her hand out of mine.

“Leave it on. Let the people of Portaceae see their hero defiling the possessions of the gods. That way, when Artemis sends her arrow through him, they won’t mourn his death. They will know he got what he deserved. Without the feed, who knows what rumors might come of how he died.”

My elation at the thought of being rid of my cousin without dirtying my hands or reputation leaves me feeling more desirous than ever. I watch Hera look out the window at the shadows of Portaceae City, observe how her gown hugs the curves of her buttocks, and wonder what it feels like to be between a goddess’s legs.

I stalk toward her, trying to decide what to do first with my hands—hold her sleek waist, brush my fingertips along her upper arm, or just take a handful of ripe immortal ass? When I am within arm’s reach, she spins and gives me a cold stare.

“We are done here. I suggest you practice your grieving face for your cousins’ funerals.”

And with that, she disappears leaving me nothing to grab but the mist of air she leaves behind. I waft it over me, letting it kiss my skin like dew.

* * *
TAMMIE PAINTER IS THE AUTHOR OF THE TRIALS OF HERCULES: BOOK ONE OF THE OSTERIA CHRONICLES AND AN ARTIST WHO DEDICATES HERSELF TO THE TEDIUM OF CREATING IMAGES WITH COLORED PENCILS.
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