“Come to me, my children,” Zeus said to Apollon and Artemis, “and bring your mother along as well.”
Leto was surprised to have been invited together with her offspring to the presence of Zeus. Hera must be elsewhere, she thought…she imagined the shrieking that might occur in the heavens if she had seen this entire part of the divine family together with Zeus lacking supervision.
“What is it, father?” Artemis asked, somewhat blandly. She was no Athena, and Zeus knew it as well as Artemis herself did.
“A child is about to be born,” Zeus said.
Apollo raised his hand and began to open his mouth, but he paused in mid-gape as Zeus continued.
“You are forbidden from saying a word on this, on pain of Tartaros, Apollon!”
“Very well, then,” Apollon said, rolling his eyes.
“And for what purpose am I here?” Leto asked.
“I simply wish to see your reactions as what ensues occurs,” Zeus said, concealing the truth of the matter–he missed her and wanted to see her beautiful face once again, remembering the endless Hyperborean days of the past when he courted her. A quail holding its own tail-feathers that it had plucked out itself in its beak then alighted before Leto, and she looked on the familiar bird with some trepidation.
“I place before you a conundrum,” Zeus said.
“What?” Artemis asked, now actually annoyed and exceptionally short with her father.
“You have favored certain men in the past, have you not?”
Artemis sighed heavily and looked away, slightly downwards. “Yes…what of it?”
“Did you sigh for Orion and Hippolytus as well?” Zeus asked with a smile on his face.
“As much as Apollon raged for your killing of Asklepios,” Artemis shot back.
Apollon was about to speak again, but Zeus waved his hand toward him.
“Then I will ask you: would you sigh as deeply for this one to be born as well?”
“And why would I? I don’t even know him and haven’t even seen him.”
“He is my son,” Zeus said.
“And you’ve had thousands–what makes him so special that you wish me to favor him?”
“The choice before you will determine how special he becomes.”
“And how is that?”
“Behold,” Zeus said, and the assembled deities saw before them a view of Artemis’ temple in Ephesus, which she had taken from Upis. It had been recently rebuilt, and was now a marvel to behold amongst a land full of temples and shrines to innumerable deities. “This is how your temple now appears. It can continue to do so, for as long as you like; or, it might have to be remade again soon.”
“Why?” Artemis asked.
“A fire will destroy it soon.”
“Well, knowing that, I shall prevent it from burning, and Hekate will assist me.”
“But, the birth of this son of mine is now occurring as well, and it will not go forward without your help.”
“What is the matter?”
“Direct divine assistance is needed if the child is to survive. Olympias is a woman of sound body, but the child may only have success if he is assisted now at this crucial moment.”
“So send Eileithyia to assist the birth, like any other.”
“No–for if this child is to be as great and widely hailed as even Apollon, then he will need to be assisted by you in his birth, just as you assisted your mother.”
Leto looked up from the quail and had a flash of recognition, which caught Zeus’ eye, and he likewise motioned toward her to not say a word.
“So, my choice is to stand by and do nothing about the fire in my greatest temple, or assist in the birth of a child who might go on to be as famous and widely hailed as my brother.”
“WHAT ABOUT ME! How will this child benefit me?”
“He will be of such great fame that he may rebuild your temple in Ephesus, and spread your name further than ever, even into India and Egypt.”
“More shrines to appropriate and other Goddesses to depose, then? What interest is that of mine?” Artemis was truly frustrated at this point.
“Even now, Herostratus has kindled the fire, but it will not blaze up unless I allow it, and unless you allow it.”
“I shall send Hekate to help the child, and will keep the fire from spreading myself.”
“Is that wise?” Zeus asked.
“Then I will help the child to be born, and will send Hekate to keep the fire from spreading.”
“Is that wise?” Zeus asked.
Artemis looked at her brother and her mother, but both were effectively muzzled and gagged by their father, even though both could speak if they wished. They simply shrugged and shook their heads at her as she began to panic.
“You are worse than a horse’s arse, father! You deprived me of Kallisto, and have done no small number of wrongs on me in the past without asking permission, and now you tell me of your divine plans, and ask me to choose, knowing that it is already ordained how this will all come out? Do you delight in torture and in lording your power over others?”
“If I answered that, I would give too much away,” Zeus said glibly.
Artemis smiled suddenly. “Very well–I shall take Hekate, and we will see to the safe birth of this child from Polyxena Myrtale Olympias. If my temple in Ephesus shall burn, it is of no consequence to me–temples are raised and razed in equal measure over time, and each rises more grand than it falls before. This child will be amazing, delivered by two of the greatest Kourotrophoi amongst the Goddesses. And all shall know the paternity of this child as divine!”
“Very well, then!” Zeus concluded. They saw a bolt of lightning strike the temple in Ephesus, and it began to burn; what had been a small trail of black smoke emanating from its roof before now became a blazing inferno. Herostratus would pay dearly for his attempt to become famous.
The two midwives announced to Olympias her son’s birth.
“It’s a boy, and he’ll make a fine man someday!” the first one said.
“Oh, a son…a worthy successor to his father!” Olympias said, sweat still pouring from her forehead.
“By the shape of his cord, my queen, it seems he was divinely conceived…by a serpent?” the second midwife said.
“Yes–I cannot speak of what occurred, but it is a God who begat him upon me.”
“We shall say nothing to the king of this,” the first midwife said.
“However,” the second continued, “I wonder based on the shape of the cord which God it was who conceived him.”
“Dionysos, no doubt,” Olympias said.
“No, my queen, not him, for it lacks the twining shape of the vine.”
“Then…could it be Sabazios?” Olympias queried.
“Other than the form of the cord itself, it has no resemblance at its end to a serpent.
“The king met me when we were initiated at Samothrace to the Kabeiroi–perhaps they have come to me in serpentine form?”
“No, for though there may be a twin involved,” the second midwife began, with the first shooting her a look that would have blazed divine fire if the eyes themselves had been those of a Goddess rather than only the personality motivating them being divine, “but it is not them, either.”
“Then who could it be?” Olympias asked.
“Think carefully, my queen,” the second midwife continued. “How did Dionysos come to be conceived by Semele?”
“Then…could it have been Zeus?” Olympias was panting in anticipation.
“Not simply Zeus, my queen,” the second midwife said. “There is the lightning shape in it, but also these nodes are like the horns of a ram. It is Zeus-Ammon, and the child will be as great in Egypt as he will be amongst the Hellenes and throughout Asia Minor, and even beyond.”
The child was placed in the mother’s arms, and the two midwives retired from the chamber, leaving the new family in the care of Olympias’ slaves and nurses.
Before the divine presences departed from them, the two midwives looked at each other.
The first said to the second, “But is it true? Did Zeus-Ammon, or only Zeus himself conceive the child?”
“They will never know the difference,” the second said, “and in any case, it is Father’s own fault for leaving such an important task in the hands of such fickle and feckless women.”
“Have you impacted the future of this child by giving him privilege over Egypt?” Hekate asked Artemis in the last throes of divine possession.
“Yes, and not only for this child, but for all of us,” Artemis said as she relinquished the control of the midwife’s body to her, and rejoined the deities on Olympus.