Chapter One: Mad Maenads The little horse's wings flapped slower and slower as he flew over the sea. The smell of salt filled Demon's nostrils, and gentle waves splashed and rippled below him. The water was so clear that he could even see tiny shoals of fish darting about the seabed. The sharp peaks of Mount Pelion cut into the pale pinkish-blue dawn sky ahead, with tiny coves and beaches of blinding white sand strung at its feet like a necklace. "Come on, Keith," he said, patting the shiny black neck. "Only a little farther. You can do it." But poor Keith had no breath to spare for even a small whinny. He spread his wings wide and began to glide downward, lower and lower, until Demon's toes were nearly skimming the water. "Hey!" shouted a familiar voice. "Watch those big feet of yours!" Demon looked down. There was his friend Eunice the Nereid, King Poseidon's Official Handmaid to the Hippocamps and Damsel to the Dolphins, surrounded by her dolphin charges and riding her own dolphin steed, Seapetal. But Demon had no time to greet her. Just then, Keith's wings gave one last weak flap, and the winged horse collapsed into the water. "Help!" Demon scrambled off his back as Keith started to sink, trying to hold the small beast up and swim at the same time. Then a wave hit him. Demon swallowed a big gulp of seawater and began to choke and thrash, letting go of Keith. Why couldn't he breathe? Had King Poseidon's spell for keeping him alive underwater worn off? Almost immediately, a smooth dolphin body lifted him up, and he clutched at the big fin, spluttering frantically as water and snot ran out of his nose and down his chin in slimy streams. Demon didn't care how disgusting he looked, though. "S-save K-Keith," he gurgled. He needn't have worried. Eunice already had things under control. Two dolphins were under Keith's wings, and were swimming him in to shore. As soon as he felt the land under his hooves, he staggered up onto the sandy beach and collapsed again, whinnying pathetically. Eunice and Demon were not far behind. Eunice stumbled toward Keith on her flipper feet, and Demon managed to wheeze out a brief thank you before he fell to his knees beside the little winged horse's head. He stroked Keith behind the ears and made soothing sounds, then unknotted the sacks that were tied to him. Demon peered inside them. Luckily nothing had been damaged by the seawater--including the precious notebook Athena had given him as a reward for saving the phoenix, the ball of fire-ant nectar, and the precious phoenix feather. "Where in all the world's oceans have you come from?" Eunice asked. "And what were you doing flying over the sea? If you needed transport, I could have taken you in Poseidon's chariot. He trusts me to drive it on my own now, you know," she added in a proud voice. "Long story," said Demon. "I'll tell you in a minute. Right now I need to get some sand flowers out of my sack for Keith here." Reaching in, he pulled out a handful of damp yellow blooms. "Come on, Keith," he said, holding them out. "Have a few of these and you'll soon feel better." A soft black nose nuzzled at his palm, and the flowers disappeared one by one. "Yummy scrum," Keith neighed, scrambling upright and shaking himself in a flurry of sand and wings. He nudged the sack. "More," he demanded. While he was munching, Demon sat on the beach and told Eunice all about his adventures with Antaeus the giant, about saving the phoenix from the fire devils--and about his friend Prince Peleus's surprising alliance with the enormous Myrmex fire ants. Eunice's eyes got rounder and rounder. "You are lucky," she said. "I love my new job, but since you left Poseidon's realm, nothing exciting has happened--well, apart from my sister Thetis falling in love with some human prince she saw walking on the island of Aegina. Now he's disappeared, and she swears she'll never be happy till she finds him again and he marries her. She's cried so much that she made the sea even saltier." Eunice snorted. "If it makes a person that dopey and silly, I'll never fall in love." Demon frowned. "My friend Peleus comes from Aegina, and he's a prince. But it couldn't be him, could it? He's far too young to be thinking about getting married. Anyway, he's back in the Mountains of Burning Sand, taking wrestling lessons from Antaeus. I had to leave him behind with Keith's daughter, Sky Pearl." Suddenly he yawned, his mouth gaping wider than a whale's. "Sorry, Eunice--I've been flying for two whole days and nights. I've . . . I've . . ." His eyelids drooped, and his head nodded onto his chest, and soon he was snoring. When he awoke, Helios's chariot was halfway up the sky, and Eunice and Keith were asleep beside him. There was no sign of the dolphins. "Oh no!" Demon groaned, leaping to his feet. "Wake up, everyone! I've got to get back to Chiron's cave. Hermes only knows what's happened there while I've been away." He didn't even want to think about what might be happening in the Stables of the Gods, up on Olympus. He'd been worrying about the griffin and his purple spots all the way back from the phoenix's cave. "I've got to get back, too," Eunice said. "It's nearly the hippocamps' feeding time! Come and see me soon." "I will," Demon said. "And thank you for rescuing us." "Anytime," she called, whistling for Seapetal as she dived into the sea and disappeared beneath the waves. ********** Outside Chiron's cave was a small crowd of girls, dressed in an assortment of ragged animal skins, with wreaths of ivy and berries on their heads. Each carried a leafy staff with a pinecone on top, and they were huddled around someone or something lying in the shadow of a large rock. Just as Keith was about to land, he saw them. The winged horse let out a single panicky neigh and reared in the air, tipping Demon and the sacks off and over his hindquarters and onto the ground with a thump. "MAENADS!" he whinnied, wings fluttering frantically. "Run awayheyey, Demon, run away fast!" But Demon had no breath to run away. He lay there, wheezing and trying to catch his breath, as the girls sprinted over to him, letting out wild shrieks and yells. They picked him up, one girl to each leg and arm, and whirled him around and around, howling like mad wolves, till he felt sick and dizzy as well as breathless. "Stop!" he croaked. "Put me down! Don't tread on the sacks!" "But we're having such fun," said one of the girls as the rest shrieked with laughter. "Well, I'm not!" Demon began to struggle, but it was no good. Now they were throwing him up in the air and catching him. The sky and the rocks twisted and turned, till he didn't know which way was up. Then he heard a loud groan. "My stomach!" said a trembling voice. "My poor stomach." Immediately, the girls dumped Demon unceremoniously on the grass, and rushed over to the figure by the rock. "Poor old Nicey," they cooed. "Chiron will be back soon. Just lie still. You'll be better soon." Demon crawled away and was quietly sick behind a tree. Wiping his mouth, he stood up, feeling rather wobbly. But Chiron clearly wasn't here, and there was a patient to treat, so he stowed the sacks safely behind a big stone and tottered over to the little group to see if he could help. As soon as he saw who was lying on the ground, though, his heart sank straight down to his toes. It was the god of parties, Dionysus, and he didn't look good at all. His face was the color of sour cream mixed with an unhealthy green glow, and his wreath of grapes and vine leaves drooped over one red-rimmed eye. He'd only treated one god before, and that was his dad, Pan, for a headache. This looked much more serious. What would those girls do to him if he didn't mend their precious god? He'd heard of the maenads before. They had a nasty reputation for tearing people to pieces. He started to tiptoe away backward, but it was too late. He'd been noticed. "Hey," said one of the girls, showing teeth that were pointed and stained with red. "Where do you think you're going?" Demon took Keith's advice and began to run. Screaming delightedly, the girls gave chase. Demon dodged through the trees, panting with fear, breath catching in his throat as his legs began to slow. Now he knew what prey felt like when it was being chased, and he didn't like it one little bit. He could almost feel the mad maenads' breath on the back of his neck. Was this really how he was going to die? Frantically, he looked back over his shoulder. They were almost on him! "OOF!" He ran into something solid and warm and hairy. "What's all this?" thundered a familiar voice above him as he ducked under a gigantic horse belly. "Stop this nonsense at once, girls." It was Chiron, the centaur god, and in his arms he was holding something that squalled like a herd of hurt hippogriffs. Joined with the shrieks of the maenads, it made a truly infernal racket. Chapter Two: The Noisy Baby The good thing was that Chiron had returned, so Demon was now safe. The bad thing was that the squirming, squawking bundle his teacher held reeked of poo. "Here," the centaur god said, bending down and shoving the bundle into Demon's arms along with a leather bottle and a bag. "Deal with this. I'll see to the maenads." The squawking had turned to a high-pitched wailing now. Demon wanted to cover his ears, but he had both hands full. Shoving his way past the maenads, who were now tugging at Chiron and urging him to help Dionysus, he put everything down on a flat piece of grass. Cautiously, he unwrapped the top end of the bundle--the bit where all the noise was coming from. A round red face glared up at him, crinkled like an angry old man's. It had very blue eyes and a tuft of black hair sticking straight up out of the top of its head. It was a human baby. "Hello, baby," he said. "Where did Chiron find you?" Wah! howled the baby, its eyes screwing up into tear-filled slits. Wah waaahhh waaaahhhh! By the time Demon had discovered clean squares of linen in the bag, and had mopped up the screaming child as best he could, Dionysus and his maenad girls were laughing and running back into the forest. The baby had spat out most of the bottle, but she was limp and warm in Demon's arms, finally asleep. Chiron nodded at him approvingly. "Good lad," he said. "I can see you'll make a fine babysitter for young Hygeia here. She's a tricky feeder, so I said I'd have her up here for a week or so to give Asclepius and his wife a bit of a rest." Demon sighed. Extra babysitting duties were the very last thing he needed right now. "Please, Chiron," he pleaded ten minutes later, after baby Hygeia had been laid in a makeshift cradle filled with soft sheepskins, still sleeping peacefully. "I promise I'll be here tomorrow, but I have to go back to Olympus right now and wake the griffin up. And before that, I have to get Hestia some five-leaved panax and some bee gold so she'll give me some meat to feed it with. If I don't have a proper meal for the griffin right away, it'll be so hungry that it won't just bite my finger off this time, it'll be my whole head." Chiron looked at him, trying not to smile. "And just where are you going to get five-leaved panax and bee gold from, my young apprentice?" he asked. "That's rare stuff, you know." Demon hung his head. "I was hoping you'd give me some," he said. "Very well," said the centaur god. "But I shall expect you to do a lot of chores for me in return. And no more missing lessons. You'll never learn to be a proper healer at this rate." "I'll do my best," Demon promised, grabbing his sacks. He kept one set of fingers crossed behind his back, though. What if another god had an urgent mission for him? ********** The Iris Express grumbled at him all the way up to Olympus. Chiron had had to bribe her with a bottle of lavender-scented mountain dew before she would even let Demon on board. Last time he'd ridden in her, he'd had the whole herd of winged horses with him, and they'd been a bit nervous. "Nasty, wet winged-horse poo," she complained in her tinkly voice. "All over my nice clean rainbow. Took me ages to get rid of it. I had to swoosh through at least five rain clouds before the smell went away. What if Zeus had wanted a lift down to earth? Or Hera?" Demon shuddered. He didn't ever want to be on the bad side of either the King of the Gods or his scary wife. "I'm sorry," he said. "I promise never to do it again." He'd worry about how to get Keith, Sky Pearl, and the winged-horse herd back to Olympus when he had to. Just now he had more than enough to deal with. Iris dumped him onto the green grass of Olympus with a miffed sniff and a flurry of sparkles. "Make sure you don't," she said, before disappearing again. Demon picked himself up and started to run toward the hospital shed where the griffin was in quarantine. Demon had used his dad's silver pipes to put the beast to sleep before going to the Mountains of Burning Sand. As he raced up to the pen, all was quiet. Raising himself up on tiptoe, he peered inside. There was poor Griffin, its beautiful golden feathers now totally restored, lying on its back, paws in the air, snoring louder than a dragon with a head cold. Demon slumped against the door in relief before running over to take a look in the stables. They were clean and shiny, and all the animals seemed content and well-fed, even the giant scorpion. Endeis, Chiron's daughter and Peleus's mom, had been looking after them for him, and it seemed she'd done a good job. "Endeis," he called softly as he scratched under each one of Doris the Hydra's nine chins, making it drool happily. But there was no answer, so he dumped the sacks in his room and set off for Hestia's kitchens. As usual, the goddess's domain was full of steam and noise and good smells. Hestia herself was leaning over a large silver cauldron, stirring and tasting something beige and full of green lumps. As she looked up, Demon waved two large pots at her. "I got them," he shouted above the racket of clattering pans, and she beckoned him over, laying her ladle down. "I am a goddess of my word," she said, snagging a passing faun with her other hand as he handed the pots to her. "Young Bion here will take you to the meat store--he'll be glad to get out of the heat. You may ask him for what you need for as long as the griffin needs feeding up. After that it must go back to ambrosia cake, like the rest of them." "Thank you, your Divine Domestic Goddessness," Demon said. Just then, a particularly delicious smell wafted past his nose, and his stomach rumbled like a volcano. "Want a bowl of my new chicken stew?" Hestia asked. "I've added some of Dionysus's white grapes to it, and some Sun Cow cream, but I think there's something else it needs. Maybe you can tell me what it is." Demon nodded hungrily, trying not to feel guilty about the griffin. He'd thrown up the food Antaeus had given him hours and hours ago. Griffin wouldn't mind sleeping a few minutes longer, would it? "It's delicious, but it needs something sour," he mumbled through a mouthful. "Lemon." "Perfect!" said Hestia as he licked the bowl clean. "Now off you go, Pandemonius. Shoo!" ********** Bion helped Demon get a big barrowful of minced lamb and a jug of blood gravy up to the griffin's pen, asking a flood of questions about all the beasts Demon looked after. When they arrived, he looked around wide-eyed. "I'd love to work here," he said enviously. "Out in the fresh air. That kitchen's always so hot--and I'm always burning myself." He turned to go, then slapped his head. "I nearly forgot. Hestia said you wanted these, too," he said, producing a glass jar of what looked like dried black insects. "Though why anyone would want to sprinkle scarab beetles on perfectly good lamb, I've no idea. Sounds absolutely vile." Whistling, he scampered back toward the kitchens, and Demon wheeled the barrow inside the pen, tipping it all out by Griffin's head, and dribbling the blood gravy and the beetles over it. Bion was right. It looked and smelled revolting. Demon got his dad's silver pipes out from his tunic, and stood just outside the pen door, which he locked firmly. He didn't know how Griffin was going to react when it woke up, and he definitely didn't want another finger bitten off--let alone anything else. Cautiously, he put the pipes to his lips and blew the wake-up call. First one golden griffin eye opened, and then another. Then Griffin's eagle beak gaped wide and it let out a deafening screech that set Demon's teeth on edge and made the pen rattle. All in a minute, it hopped upright, whipped around, and fell on the meat, gobbets of blood and flesh splatting on the sides of the pen as the griffin galloped down its meal faster than Zeus could throw a lightning bolt. Soon the whole big pile was gone. The griffin let out an enormous burp, sat down, and began to groom itself. "I see you put my feathers back, Pan's scrawny kid," it said. "Can I come out now? I'd like to stretch my wings." "Oh thank goodness," Demon said. "You're all right." He opened the pen door and rushed in, so relieved that he gave the griffin's big lion body a hug before he thought what he was doing. "Ugh!" said Griffin, batting him away with a huge paw. "That's quite enough of that." It stalked out of the pen and spread its wings, flapping them so hard that the straw in the pen rose in a silvery cloud, making Demon cough and choke. "I'll be needing more of that delicious lamb, Pan's scrawny kid," it called as it flew toward Hephaestus's mountain. "I'm still feeling a bit weak." Demon smiled. The griffin was definitely back to its old self. Excerpted from Zeus's Eagle #6 by Lucy Coats All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.