From their lofty home on the summit of Mount Olympus in Ancient Greece the family of the Immortal gods looked down upon the everyday lives of the ordinary people far beneath them. Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, yawned widely. She was growing tired of the game; in fact it was starting to bore her. Peering through the wispy clouds which hid the top of the mountain from sight, she craned her neck to get a closer view of the battlefield below. There wasn’t much going on at the moment. Perhaps it was time to stir things up a little. She returned her attention to the game board in front of her. It resembled a large chessboard, but the pieces looked like small figures of real people. Picking one of them up, she quickly moved it into position.
‘Your turn, Hephaestus,’ she said casually to her husband, the blacksmith god.
He checked to see which figure she’d moved before sliding one of his own pieces across the board to face it. ‘I think my Menelaus is more than a match for your Paris, don’t you, my dearest? You’re not concentrating.’
Almost at once the sound of clashing weapons rose up from the battlefield and they both leaned down from the peak of the mountain to watch the fight more closely. It was immediately evident that Menelaus, the King of Sparta, was stronger than Paris, the Trojan prince, and there was no doubt that he would win the combat.
‘I think you may have lost this round,’ said Hephaestus smugly.
‘Perhaps this round,’ answered Aphrodite with a small sigh. ‘But not the game.’ She was holding her trump cards, or rather pieces, behind her back and wasn’t ready to use them just yet.
The war between the Greeks and the Trojans had been dragging on for ten long years. It was partly Aphrodite’s fault to start with and the whole thing had all begun with a beauty contest, believe it or not. Maybe it was time to put an end to the conflict once and for all, she thought. For now though, she wasn’t quite ready to lose one of her main pieces and so she decided to resort to a little trickery. When Menelaus grabbed hold of Paris’ bronze helmet, she caused the chinstrap to break so that the helmet came off in Menelaus’ hands. Paris was suddenly enveloped in a fine mist and Aphrodite spirited him off the battlefield back to the safety of the royal palace, leaving Menelaus wondering where he’d gone to.
‘Really, Aphrodite,’ said Hephaestus. ‘There’s no need to cheat, my love. I’d have let you win if I’d known it meant that much to you.’ Secretly, however, Hephaestus knew that victory would ultimately be his, for fate had already decreed that Troy must fall. He clutched the winning piece behind his back. Just like Aphrodite he wasn’t quite ready to bring it into play.
Most of the gods had taken sides when the war between the Greeks and the Trojans began, although Zeus, the head of the Immortal family, remained neutral along with Hades, the god of the Underworld. For the others, however, it was just a game and they were all ready to help their players wherever possible.
‘What have you got behind your back, Aphrodite?’ asked her husband. ‘Not more trickery, I hope.’
‘Not at all,’ she replied with a secretive smile. She brought her hand round and slowly unfolded it to reveal four small figures standing on her palm; two boys, one of whom was wearing glasses, a girl with long fair hair and, last but not least, a handsome, pale-coloured cat with startling turquoise eyes.
‘What on earth are those?’ asked a bemused Hephaestus, struggling to contain his laughter.
‘You’ll be laughing on the other side of your face soon, husband,’ retorted Aphrodite, rather annoyed by Hephaestus’ scornful attitude. ‘These are my secret weapons. What have you got anyway?’
With a flourish Hephaestus opened his fist and showed Aphrodite what he’d been holding so tightly. It was a miniature horse made of wood, standing on a wheeled base.
‘And that’s the best you can do is it?’ sneered Aphrodite.
‘You just wait and see,’ answered Hephaestus knowingly. ‘Your Trojans won’t know what’s hit them when I decide to use this piece and as for your pathetic little group you’ve got there … well, they won’t stand a chance against it. This will win the war, you mark my words.’ He smirked as he closed his fist once more around the little horse.
Aphrodite clutched her handful of small figures protectively. He must be bluffing, she thought. How could a mere wooden horse be so important? Nevertheless, he sounded so certain that she felt a shiver of doubt run down her spine. For now she put her group of pieces in a drawstring bag made of silk, which was attached to the golden belt around her waist. She would keep them safe until she was ready to use them.
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