Short Story: War and Famine

I’ve always been intrigued by the ancient myths of the Greeks, Vikings, and Romans. So, in honor of some recent reading I’ve been doing, I wrote a short myth! Myths, in folklore and the like, are supposed to represent the “science” behind some natural occurrence or force. With that said, I hope you enjoy the story:

War and Famine

by Benjamin J. Law

It was on the tenth day of the two-hundredth year of the world that Ares, god of war, cast his wanting gaze upon Demeter, the goddess of agriculture. The people of Demeter’s land had been at war with themselves, wrought by a famine that was taking lives still. Her brother Poseidon offered no storm, and her brother Hades offered no mercy to the hungry and sick.  Demeter, tearful and heavy-hearted, was watching her subjects when Ares approached the goddess, his helmet set firmly upon his skull.

“What is it that troubles you?” Ares bellowed through his steely mask, hiding beneath it what had never been seen hold by his mother, Hera, on the day he was born. Demeter straightened her back and dried her eyes in an instant, not to show a sign of weakness in front of the god who had toppled entire civilizations.

“It’s not of your concern,” Demeter answered. She turned to face Ares’ metallic gaze then and believed that, somewhere inside his horned armor, he smiled.

“I can smell the blood spilled on your rotting land, Demeter,” he said after a moment beside her, and he breathed deeply. “It wreaks of delight, for my part, but you seem…displeased.”

“My land does not rot,” Demeter spat. “It toils at the farmers who strike their brethren with the same tools that they plant their seeds. Land sowed with blood will reap only death.”

“I can provide you a solution,” Ares answered heroically, resting his hand on the hilt of his sword. “That is, if you’d wish to have it.” Demeter remained silent. “Very well. This is what I offer you, lovely Demeter: I shall halt the war in your lands and allow your subjects a chance to return to their glory. In time, I will empower them to expand and take more land when they are ready. I shall provide them kingdoms, stacked with wood and resources and weapons, and I will see them craft ships and take command of Poseidon’s seas. I will expand your reach and power beyond all that you have dreamt, and all this for only your hand in marriage.”

Demeter had been listening all the while, and she felt flowers budding in her heart and crops sprouting in her mind. And the feeling of bliss at the idea of such prosperity was shattered at the god’s last proclamation, his condition for such prosperity. She looked back now to her people, working, fighting, and dying below. “What use would you have in me as a wife?” Demeter muttered.

Ares circled to Demeter’s other side and looked at her longingly. “There is one thing in this world that takes more life than war, and that is the land.” Ares stopped there, assuming he’d said enough, and he had. For all his power came from such blood being spilled, and Demeter knew that all too well, knowing that Ares was behind Zeus’ recent disappearance from Olympus. With one glance more at her subjects, she agreed to the god of war’s terms…

Not a month had passed before the gods had been wed. Demeter had hoped only for her people’s salvation, but what she had not considered long enough or hard enough was the propensity for dishonesty and the greed of a god who only survived on the souls of those killed in war.  Ares had, at some point, intended to uphold his end of the bargain, but when at last his wedding to Demeter came, her people were lining up to slaughter each other and lay claim to what land might still produce crop. The nagging at the base of his neck, the tingling that made his armor shiver at the brink of such a battle was enough to off-balance his steady gait.

Demeter begged that night for him to free her people as he’d said he would, but looking down on them then as his new wife pleaded, he was moved only by bloodlust. And Demeter’s subjects went to battle one last time. She was desperate then, and a desperate goddess is something that Ares should have known to fear with Hera as his mother. Demeter, taking advantage of Ares’ lustful distraction, writhed his own sword from its sheath.

The events that followed were spoken of throughout Olympus, for it was the first and only time another besides Ares himself had wielded his all-powerful blade. He lurched for it, but Demeter denied his grasp. Instead, she swung the blade with the same vengeance of her own, hungry subjects, and she slugged Ares’ helmet clean off his head. Lightning struck the sky as the horns of the helmet touched the blue emptiness, and some say that Zeus himself returned to the land of gods in the moment. It was in that same instant that from the neck of Ares’ armor there erupted a cloud so dark that it could devour even the sun, for no face hid beneath Ares’ mask—only the black soul of a warmonger.

The cloud filled the skies, stretching out as far in all directions as the eye of even a god could see, and lightning struck again. Thunder trembled the mountaintops and cracked the ground below, drawing a chasm between Demeter’s waring subjects. They fell to their knees and watched as the stormy cloud writhed in the sky until, from its depths, there sprung water like from a fountain. It filled the dried riverbeds and cast them overflowing onto the thirsty land so that farmers found their crops rising as if to praise the heavens.

Demeter, standing now beside vacant armor that toppled heavily to the marble floor at her feet, threw the sword down beside it. The storm and the rain continued throughout the world, blessing those suffering from famine for ages to come. And at every rainfall, lightning struck the skies and thunder rumbled the heavens, for Zeus had returned in Ares’ absence and renewed his kingship. And it was known then and always that Demeter, goddess of agriculture, had faced down war itself and won.

The End

Thanks for giving the tale a read! What’d you think of it? What’s your favorite myth? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow for weekly content!

Want to read more? A while ago I posted a short story called It Comes When It Needs To–read it here. You can also check out the four books I have published here. Have a great weekend!

Weekly Writing Prompt:

A king is naught but a peasant without his queen–this king in particular…

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