“Bienvenu,” the king said. “Je suis Boreas le Roi. Et vous?”
Khione the snow goddess was about to speak, but Piper stepped forward and curtsied.
“Votre Majesté,” she said, “ je suis Piper McLean. Et c’est Jason, fils de Zeus.”
The king smiled with pleasant surprise. “Vous parlez français? Très bien!”
“Piper, you speak French?” Jason asked. Piper frowned. “No. Why?” “You just spoke French.” Piper blinked. “I did?” The king said something else, and Piper nodded. “Oui,
The king laughed and clapped his hands, obviously delighted. He said a few more sentences then swept his hand toward his daughter as if shooing her away.
Khione looked miffed. “The king says—”
“He says I’m a daughter of Aphrodite,” Piper interrupted, “so naturally I can speak French, which is the language of love. I had no idea. His Majesty says Khione won’t have to translate now.”
Behind them, Zethes snorted, and Khione shot him a murderous look. She bowed stiffly to her father and took a step back.
The king sized up Jason, and Jason decided it would be a good idea to bow. “Your Majesty, I’m Jason Grace. Thank you for, um, not killing us. May I ask … why does a Greek god speak French?”
Piper had another exchange with the king.
“He speaks the language of his host country,” Piper translated. “He says all gods do this. Most Greek gods speak English, as they now reside in the United States, but Boreas was never welcomed in their realm. His domain was always far to the north. These days he likes Quebec, so he speaks French.”
The king said something else, and Piper turned pale.
“The king says …” She faltered. “He says—”
“Oh, allow me,” Khione said. “My father says he has orders to kill you. Did I not mention that earlier?”
Jason tensed. The king was still smiling amiably, like he’d just delivered great news.
“Kill us?” Jason said. “Why?”
“Because,” the king said, in heavily accented English, “my lord Aeolus has commanded it.”
Boreas rose. He stepped down from his throne and furled his wings against his back. As he approached, Khione and Zethes bowed. Jason and Piper followed their example.
“I shall deign to speak your language,” Boreas said, “as Piper McLean has honored me in mine. Toujours, I have had a fondness for the children of Aphrodite. As for you, Jason Grace, my master Aeolus would not expect me to kill a son of Lord Zeus … without first hearing you out.”
Jason’s gold coin seemed to grow heavy in his pocket. If he were forced to fight, he didn’t like his chances. Two seconds at least to summon his blade. Then he’d be facing a god, two of his children, and an army of freeze-dried warriors.
“Aeolus is the master of the winds, right?” Jason asked. “Why would he want us dead?”
“You are demigods,” Boreas said, as if this explained everything. “Aeolus’s job is to contain the winds, and demigods have always caused him many headaches. They ask him for favors. They unleash winds and cause chaos. But the final insult was the battle with Typhon last summer…”
Boreas waved his hand, and a sheet of ice like a flat-screen TV appeared in the air. Images of a battle flickered across the surface—a giant wrapped in storm clouds, wading across a river toward the Manhattan skyline. Tiny, glowing figures—the gods, Jason guessed—swarmed around him like angry wasps, pounding the monster with lightning and fire. Finally the river erupted in a massive whirlpool, and the smoky form sank beneath the waves and disappeared.
“The storm giant, Typhon,” Boreas explained. “The first time the gods defeated him, eons ago, he did not die quietly. His death released a host of storm spirits—wild winds that answered to no one. It was Aeolus’s job to track them all down and imprison them in his fortress. The other gods—they did not help. They did not even apologize for the inconvenience. It took Aeolus centuries to track down all the storm spirits, and naturally this irritated him. Then, last summer, Typhon was defeated again—”
“And his death released another wave of venti,” Jason guessed. “Which made Aeolus even angrier.”
“C’est vrai,” Boreas agreed.
“But, Your Majesty,” Piper said, “the gods had no choice but to battle Typhon. He was going to destroy Olympus! Besides, why punish demigods for that?”
The king shrugged. “Aeolus cannot take out his anger on the gods. They are his bosses, and very powerful. So he gets even with the demigods who helped them in the war. He issued orders to us: demigods who come to us for aid are no longer to be tolerated. We are to crush your little mortal faces.”
There was an uncomfortable silence.
“That sounds … extreme,” Jason ventured. “But you’re not going to crush our faces yet, right? You’re going to listen to us first, ’cause once you hear about our quest—”
“Yes, yes,” the king agreed. “You see, Aeolus also said that a son of Zeus might seek my aid, and if this happened, I should listen to you before destroying you, as you might—how did he put it?—make all our lives very interesting. I am only obligated to listen, however. After that, I am free to pass judgment as I see fit. But I will listen first. Khione wishes this also. It may be that we will not kill you.”
Jason felt like he could almost breathe again. “Great. Thanks.”
“Do not thank me.” Boreas smiled. “There are many ways you could make our lives interesting. Sometimes we keep demigods for our amusement, as you can see.”
He gestured around the room to the various ice statues.
Piper made a strangled noise. “You mean—they’re all demigods? Frozen demigods? They’re alive?”
“An interesting question,” Boreas conceded, as if it had never occurred to him before. “They do not move unless they are obeying my orders. The rest of the time, they are merely frozen. Unless they were to melt, I suppose, which would be very messy.”
Khione stepped behind Jason and put her cold fingers on his neck. “My father gives me such lovely presents,” she murmured in his ear. “Join our court. Perhaps I’ll let your friends go.”
“What?” Zethes broke in. “If Khione gets this one, then I deserve the girl. Khione always gets more presents!”
“Now, children,” Boreas said sternly. “Our guests will think you are spoiled! Besides, you moved too fast. We have not even heard the demigod’s story yet. Then we will decide what to do with them. Please, Jason Grace, entertain us.”
Jason felt his brain shutting down. He didn’t look at Piper for fear he’d completely lose it. He’d gotten them into this, and now they were going die—or worse, they’d be amusements for Boreas’s children and end up frozen forever in this throne room, slowly corroding from freezer burn.
Khione purred and stroked his neck. Jason didn’t plan it, but electricity sparked along his skin. There was loud pop, and Khione flew backward, skidding across the floor.
Zethes laughed. “That is good! I’m glad you did that, even though I have to kill you now.”
For a moment, Khione was too stunned to react. Then the air around her began to swirl with a micro-blizzard. “You dare—”
“Stop,” Jason ordered, with as much force as he could muster. “You’re not going to kill us. And you’re not going to keep us. We’re on a quest for the queen of the gods herself, so unless you want Hera busting down your doors, you’re going to let us go.”
He sounded a lot more confident than he felt, but it got their attention. Khione’s blizzard swirled to a stop. Zethes lowered his sword. They both looked uncertainly at their father.
“Hmm,” Boreas said. His eyes twinkled, but Jason couldn’t tell if it was with anger or amusement. “A son of Zeus, favored by Hera? This is definitely a first. Tell us your story.”
Jason would’ve botched it right there. He hadn’t been expecting to get the chance to talk, and now that he could, his voice abandoned him.
Piper saved him. “Your Majesty.” She curtsied again with incredible poise, considering her life was on the line. She told Boreas the whole story, from the Grand Canyon to the prophecy, much better and faster than Jason could have.
“All we ask for is guidance,” Piper concluded. “These storm spirits attacked us, and they’re working for some evil mistress. If we find them, maybe we can find Hera.”
The king stroked the icicles in his beard. Out the windows, night had fallen, and the only light came from the aurora borealis overhead, washing everything in red and blue.
“I know of these storm spirits,” Boreas said. “I know where they are kept, and of the prisoner they took.”
“You mean Coach Hedge?” Jason asked. “He’s alive?”
Boreas waved aside the question. “For now. But the one who controls these storm winds … It would be madness to oppose her. You would be better staying here as frozen statues.”
“Hera’s in trouble,” Jason said. “In three days she’s going to be—I don’t know—consumed, destroyed, something. And a giant is going to rise.”
“Yes,” Boreas agreed. Was it Jason’s imagination, or did he shoot Khione an angry look? “Many horrible things are waking. Even my children do not tell me all the news they should. The Great Stirring of monsters that began with Kronos—your father Zeus foolishly believed it would end when the Titans were defeated. But just as it was before, so it is now. The final battle is yet to come, and the one who will wake is more terrible than any Titan. Storm spirits—these are only beginning. The earth has many more horrors to yield up. When monsters no longer stay in Tartarus, and souls are no longer confined to Hades … Olympus has good reason to fear.”
Jason wasn’t sure what all this meant, but he didn’t like the way Khione was smiling—like this was her definition of fun.
“So you’ll help us?” Jason asked the king.
Boreas scowled. “I did not say that.”
“Please, Your Majesty,” Piper said.
Everyone’s eyes turned toward her. She had to be scared out of her mind, but she looked beautiful and confident—and it had nothing to do with the blessing of Aphrodite. She looked herself again, in day-old traveling clothes with choppy hair and no makeup. But she almost glowed with warmth in that cold throne room. “If you tell us where the storm spirits are, we can capture them and bring them to Aeolus. You’d look good in front of your boss. Aeolus might pardon us and the other demigods. We could even rescue Gleeson Hedge. Everyone wins.”
“She’s pretty,” Zethes mumbled. “I mean, she’s right.”
“Father, don’t listen to her,” Khione said. “She’s a child of Aphrodite. She dares to charmspeak a god? Freeze her now!”