The Battle of the Labyrinth – Chapter 19: THE COUNCIL GETS CLOVEN

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Chapter 19: THE COUNCIL GETS CLOVEN

There were too many good-byes. 

  That night was the first time I actually saw camp burial shrouds used on bodies, and it was not something I wanted to see again. 

  Among the dead, Lee Fletcher from the Apollo cabin had been downed by a giant’s club. He was wrapped in a golden shroud without any decoration. The son of Dionysus who’d gone down fighting an enemy half-blood was wrapped in a deep purple shroud embroidered with grapevines. His name was Castor. I was ashamed that I’d seen him around camp for three years and never even bothered to learn his name. He’d been seventeen years old. His twin brother, Pollux, tried to say a few words, but he choked up and just took the torch. He lit the funeral pyre in the middle of the amphitheater, and within seconds the row of shrouds was engulfed in fire, sending smoke and sparks up to the stars. 

  We spent the next day treating the wounded, which was almost everybody. The satyrs and dryads worked to repair the damage to the woods. 

  At noon, the Council of Cloven Elders held an emergency meeting in their sacred grove. The three senior satyrs were there, along with Chiron, who was in wheelchair form. His broken horse leg was still mending, so he would be confined to the chair for a few months, until the leg was strong enough to take his weight. The grove was filled with satyrs and dryads and naiads up from the water—hundreds of them, anxious to hear what would happen. Juniper, Annabeth, and I stood by Grover’s side. 

  Silenus wanted to exile Grover immediately, but Chiron persuaded him to at least hear evidence first, so we told everyone what had happened in the crystal cavern, and what Pan had said. Then several eyewitnesses from the battle described the weird sound Grover had made, which drove the Titan’s army back underground. 

  “It was panic,” insisted Juniper. “Grover summoned the power of the wild god. ”

  “Panic?” I asked. 

  “Percy,” Chiron explained, “during the first war of the gods and the Titans,

  Lord Pan let forth a horrible cry that scared away the enemy armies. It is—it was his greatest power—a massive wave of fear that helped the gods win the day. The word panic is named after Pan, you see. And Grover used that power, calling it forth from within himself. ”

  “Preposterous!” Silenus bellowed. “Sacrilege! Perhaps the wild god favored us with a blessing. Or perhaps Grover’s music was so awful it scared the enemy away!”

  “That wasn’t it, sir,” Grover said. He sounded a lot calmer than I would have if I’d been insulted like that. “He let his spirit pass into all of us. We must act. Each of us must work to renew the wild, to protect what’s left of it. We must spread the word. Pan is dead. There is no one but us. ”

  “After two thousand years of searching, this is what you would have us believe?” Silenus cried. “Never! We must continue the search! Exile the traitor!”

  Some of the older satyrs muttered assent. 

  “A vote!” Silenus demanded. “Who would believe this ridiculous young satyr, anyway?”

  “I would,” said a familiar voice. 

  Everyone turned. Striding into the grove was Dionysus. He wore a formal black suit, so I almost didn’t recognize him, a deep purple tie and violet dress shirt, his curly dark hair carefully combed. His eyes were bloodshot as usual, and his pudgy face was flushed, but he looked like he was suffering from grief more than wine-withdrawal. 

  The satyrs all stood respectfully and bowed as he approached. Dionysus waved his hand, and a new chair grew out of the ground next to Silenus’s—a throne made of grapevines. 

  Dionysus sat down and crossed his legs. He snapped his fingers and satyr hurried forward with a plate of cheese and crackers and a Diet Coke. 

  The god of wine looked around at the assembled crowd. “Miss me?”

  The satyrs fell over themselves nodding and bowing. “Oh, yes, very much, sire!”

  “Well, I did not miss this place!” Dionysus snapped. “I bear bad news, my friends. Evil news. The minor gods are changing sides. Morpheus has gone over to the enemy. Hecate, Janus, and Nemesis, as well. Zeus knows how many more. ”

  Thunder rumbled in the distance. 

  “Strike that,” Dionysus said. “Even Zeus doesn’t know. Now, I want to hear Grover’s story. Again, from the top. ”

  “But, my lord,” Silenus protested. “It’s just nonsense!”

  Dionysus’s eyes flared with purple fire. “I have just learned that my son Castor is dead, Silenus. I am not in a good mood. You would do well to humor me. ”

  Silenus gulped, and waved at Grover to start again. 

  When Grover was done, Mr. D nodded. “It sounds like just the sort of thing Pan would do. Grover is right. The search is tiresome. You must start thinking for yourselves. ” He turned to a satyr. “Bring me some peeled grapes, right away!”

  “Yes, sire!” The satyr scampered off. 

  “We must exile the traitor!” Silenus insisted. 

  “I say no,” Dionysus countered. “That is my vote. ”

“I vote no as well,” Chiron put in. 

  Silenus set his jaw stubbornly. “All in favor of the exile?”

  He and the two other old satyrs raised their hands. 

  “Three to two,” Silenus said. 

  “Ah, yes,” Dionysus said. “But unfortunately for you, a god’s vote counts twice. And as I voted against, we are tied. ”

  Silenus stood, indignant. “This is an outrage! The council cannot stand at an impasse. ”

  “Then let it be dissolved!” Mr. D said. “I don’t care. ”

  Silenus bowed stiffly, along with his two friends, and they left the grove. About twenty satyrs went with them. The rest stood around murmuring uncomfortably. 

  “Don’t worry,” Grover told them. “We don’t need the council to tell us what to do. We can figure it out ourselves. ”

  He told them again the words of Pan—how they must save the wild a little at a time. He started dividing the satyrs into groups—which ones would go to the national parks, which ones would search out the last wild places, which ones would defend the parks in the big cities. 

  “Well,” Annabeth said to me, “Grover seems to be growing up. ”

  ***

  Later that afternoon I found Tyson at the beach, talking to Briares. Briares was building a sand castle with about fifty of his hands. He wasn’t really paying attention to it, but his hands had constructed a three-story compound with fortified walls, a moat, and a drawbridge. 

  Tyson was drawing a map in the sand. 

  “Go left at the reef,” he told Briares. “Straight down when you see the sunken ship. Then about one mile east, past the mermaid graveyard, you will start to see fires burning. ”

  “You’re giving him directions to the forges?” I asked. 

  Tyson nodded. “Briares wants to help. He will teach Cyclopes ways we have forgotten, how to make better weapons and armor. ”

  “I want to see Cyclopes,” Briares agreed. “I don’t want to be lonely anymore. ”

  “I doubt you’ll be lonely down there,” I said a little wistfully, because I’d never even been in Poseidon’s kingdom. “They’re going to keep you really busy. ”

  Briares’s face morphed to a happy expression. “Busy sounds good! I only wish Tyson could go, too. ”

  Tyson blushed. “I need to stay here with my brother. You will do fine, Briares. Thank you. ”

  The Hundred-Handed One shook my hand about a hundred times. “We will meet again, Percy. I know it!”

  Then he gave Tyson a big octopus hug and waded out into the ocean. We watched until his enormous head disappeared under the waves. 

  I clapped Tyson on the back. “You helped him a lot. ”

  “I only talked to him. ”

  “You believed in him. Without Briares, we never would’ve taken down Kampê. ”

  Tyson grinned. “He throws good rocks!”

  I laughed. “Yeah. He throws really good rocks. Come on, big guy. Let’s have dinner. ”

  ***

  It felt good to have a regular dinner at camp. Tyson sat with me at the Poseidon table. The sunset over Long Island Sound was beautiful. Things weren’t back to normal by a long shot, but when I went up to the brazier and scraped part of my meal into the flames as an offering to Poseidon, I felt like I really did have a lot to be grateful for. My friends and I were alive. The camp was safe. Kronos had suffered a setback, at least for a while. 

  The only thing that bothered me was Nico, hanging in the shadows at the edge of the pavilion. He’d been offered a place at the Hermes table, and even at the head table with Chiron, but he had refused. 

  After dinner, the campers headed toward the amphitheater, where Apollo’s cabin promised an awesome sing-along to pick up our spirits, but Nico turned and disappeared into the woods. I decided I’d better follow him. 

  As I passed under the shadows of the trees, I realized how dark it was getting. I’d never been scared in the forest before, though I knew there were plenty of monsters. Still, I thought about yesterday’s battle, and I wondered if I’d ever be able to walk in those woods again without remembering the horror of so much fighting. 

  I couldn’t see Nico, but after a few minutes of walking I saw a glow up ahead. At first I thought Nico had lit a torch. As I got closer, I realized the glow was a ghost. The shimmering form of Bianca di Angelo stood in the clearing, smiling at her brother. She said something to him and touched his face—or tried to. Then her image faded. 

  Nico turned and saw me, but he didn’t look mad. 

  “Saying good-bye,” he said hoarsely. 

  “We missed you at dinner,” I said. “You could’ve sat with me. ”

  “No. ”

  “Nico, you can’t miss every meal. If you don’t want to stay with Hermes, maybe they can make an exception and put you in the Big House. They’ve got plenty of rooms. ”

  “I’m not staying, Percy. ”

  “But…you can’t just leave. It’s too dangerous out there for a lone half-blood. You need to train. ”

  “I train with the dead,” he said flatly. “This camp isn’t for me. There’s a reason they didn’t put a cabin to Hades here, Percy. He’s not welcome, any more than he is on Olympus. I don’t belong. I have to go. ”

  I wanted to argue, but part of me knew he was right. I didn’t like it, but Nico would have to find his own, dark way. I remembered in Pan’s cave, how the wild god had addressed each one of us individually…except Nico. ”

  “When will you go?” I asked. 

  “Right away. I’ve got tons of questions. Like who was my mother? Who paid for Bianca and me to go to school? Who was that lawyer guy who got us out of the Lotus Hotel? I know nothing about my past. I need to find out. ”

  “Makes sense,” I admitted. “But I hope we don’t have to be enemies. ”

  He lowered his gaze. “I’m sorry I was a brat. I should’ve listened to you about Bianca. ”

  “By the way…” I fished something out of my pocket. “Tyson found this while we were cleaning the cabin. Thought you might want it. ” I held out a lead figurine of Hades—the little Mythomagic statue Nico had abandoned when he fled camp last winter. 

  Nico hesitated. “I don’t play that game anymore. It’s for kids. ”

  “It’s got four thousand attack power,” I coaxed. 

  “Five thousand,” Nico corrected. “But only if your opponent attacks first. ”

  I smiled. “Maybe it’s okay to still be a kid once in a while. ” I tossed him the statue. 

  Nico studied it in his palm for a few seconds, then slipped it into his pocket. “Thanks. ”

  I put out my hand. He shook reluctantly. His hand was as cold as ice. 

  “I’ve got a lot of things to investigate,” he said. “Some of them…Well, if I learn anything useful, I’ll let you know. ”

  I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I nodded. “Keep in touch, Nico. ”

  He turned and trudged off into the woods. The shadows seemed to bend toward him as he walked, like they were reaching out for his attention. 

  A voice right behind me said, “There goes a very troubled young man. ”

  I turned and found Dionysus standing there, still in his black suit. 

  “Walk with me,” he said. 

  “Where to?” I asked suspiciously. 

  “Just to the campfire,” he said. “I was beginning to feel better, so I thought I would talk with you a bit. You always manage to annoy me. ”

  “Uh, thanks. ”

  We walked through the woods in silence. I noticed that Dionysus was treading on air, his polished black shoes hovering an inch off the ground. I guess he didn’t want to get dirty. 

  “We have had many betrayals,” he said. “Things are not looking good for Olympus. Yet you and Annabeth saved this camp. I’m not sure I should thank you for that. ”

  “It was a group effort. ”

  He shrugged. “Regardless, I suppose it was mildly competent, what you two did. I thought you should know—it wasn’t a total loss. ”

  We reached the amphitheater, and Dionysus pointed toward the campfire. Clarisse was sitting shoulder to shoulder with a big Hispanic kid who was telling her a joke. It was Chris Rodriguez, the half-blood who’d gone insane in the Labyrinth. 

  I turned to Dionysus. “You cured him?”

  “Madness is my specialty. It was quite simple. ”

  “But…you did something nice. Why?”

  He raised an eyebrow. “I am nice! I simply ooze niceness, Perry Johansson. Haven’t you noticed?”

  “Uh—”

  “Perhaps I felt grieved by my son’s death. Perhaps I thought this Chris boy deserved a second chance. At any rate, it seems to have improved Clarisse’s mood. ”

  “Why are you telling me this?”

  The wine god sighed. “Oh, Hades if I know. But remember, boy, that a kind act can sometimes be as powerful as a sword. As a mortal, I was never a great fighter or athlete or poet. I only made wine. The people in my village laughed at me. They said I would never amount to anything. Look at me now. Sometimes small things can become very large indeed. ”

  He left me alone to think about that. And as I watched Clarisse and Chris singing a stupid campfire song together, holding hands in the darkness, where they thought nobody could see them, I had to smile. 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20