Not Created Equal
If you were to open the back trailer of this particular truck belonging to KINDNESS INTERNATIONAL, you would find one strange site. In one corner Percy and Annabeth laid on feed sack with the zebra and antelope next to them, happy to be out of the cages. Artie and the lion, dubbed Mufasa by Percy, were in the other corner. Understandably Mufasa made the other mammals, including Percy and Annabeth, very nervous. Artie had that known that feeling before so he just took his new friend and sat in the corner opposite his friends. Like an over grown house cat, Mufasa laid over Artie legs and purred as his master scratched behind his ears. Combined with the heat of the trailer and the three-hundred pound man eating radiator, it didn't take much time for Artie to fall asleep. As he did, he could hear Annabeth telling Percy the whole story about Thalia's pine and how she got to Camp Half Blood, a story he had to pester her for a week until she finally told him since Luke had refused to even speak about it.
Artie stood in the corner of his old room that he and his step brother had shared in Rio. Artie watched as his brother, Jacob, taught his seven year old self scales on an old worn guitar. He laughed to himself as the seven year old struggled, finding hard to moves his hands simultaneously of each other. He remembered at the time how jealous of how easily music came to Jacob. Without a single lesson, it had taken Jacob roughly a month to play even the most complicated melodies in all of Samba while, even now, it took him weeks of practice to learn a single song. Now that he knew that the Greek gods were real, he often wondered if Jacob had also been a demigod. A son of Apollo possibly he thought, which would have made them cousins rather than brothers. Artie glanced at the calender and saw, in the dream, it was November twenty-first. Exactly one month before IT came and took everything from him.
One hell of a birthday present, he thought to himself bitterly.
"That's what I thought when I first started the agoge." laughed a rough voice next to him.
Artie growled under his breath as he turned to see Leonidas. "Would it kill you to find someone else to annoy?"
Leonidas seemed to actually consider it. "I doubt it. Seeing as I'm already dead."
Artie blinked. Here he thought this guy didn't have a sense of humor. "I assume you're here to tell me to get over losing my family and man up or something like that."
"No." Leonidas sat on a chair in the corner. "Well not exactly."
Artie blinked again. This couldn't be the same Leonidas that mentally irritated him and put down for months since he arrived at Camp Half Blood. Maybe this really was a dream and this was the version of Leonidas he preferred, more down to earth and unsure not relentlessly demanding and demeaning.
"Don't get any bright ideas boy." he snapped. "I'm simply trying a new approach. Whether it works or not, you have Socrates to thank for it."
"One of the most famous sons of Athena?" asked Artie. "The teacher of Plato and Aristotle? That Socrates?"
"The very same." Leonidas nodded. "He said something about sending a Spartan to do an Athenian's job."
"So why are you here now?" he asked.
"Same as before boy." The Hero-King answered. "You have to learn to actually fight your battles."
"And suddenly we're back to square one." Artie grumbled. "Look I've been thinking about what you said. How my mother left me to fend for myself because she wanted to create a great hero."
"And?" Leonidas sat forward with interest. "Enlighten me. What conclusion have you come to?"
"While I don't agree how she went about it." he admitted. "She succeeded. Since I arrived at camp. I've become a better fighter than Luke. While the Apollo campers are better musicians than me, I'm a the better archer, second only to Chiron."
Leonidas considered what he said for a moment before bellowing in mad laughter. It went on for several minutes all the while Artie just stood there dumbfounded. Leonidas eventually straightened and fought to stop himself from giggling like school girl. Now Artie was sure this was a dream. The Leonidas he had come to know never laughed, at least not without making sure it was at his expense.
He wiped a tear from his eye, "I needed that. You'd be surprised how little you laugh in Elysium."
"Care to explain what's so funny? I meant what I said, its true."
Leonidas chuckled, "No you think its true, that's what makes it funny. Here let us explore your claims, O great warrior of the moon."
Leonidas waved his hand and Artie's room dissolved and was replaced with the sword fighting arena of Camp Half Blood. Artie recognized it instantly. This was when he fought Luke in front of the entire Hermes cabin and won. Though the way Leonidas talked about it, he had the feeling he was missing something crucial and it was about to be thrown back in his face.
Currently the scene was paused like a movie. "We'll start with you're first claim. You said you defeated this son of Hermes, Luke I think you said his name was." Then he struck the ground with the butt of his spear and the fight resumed.
Artie watched himself as he,with almost no effort, evaded every strike as if he had all the time in the world,which he did. No one could touch him if he didn't allow it. He continued watching as his dream-self, time after time, block Luke's attacks and force him back.
"Typical coward tactics." Leonidas observed disapprovingly. "Avoid and evade, you'll never win a fight if you never go on the offensive."
"I wouldn't say that." said Artie. "Keep watching."
He knew what was going to happen next. Luke would manage to get him in a headlock with his sword arm and have him drop his knives. Then he would grab Luke from the back of his head, flip him over, armor and all, and apply his own headlock while Luke struggled to get free. At least that's he thought would happen. Artie stood there shocked as Luke got him in a headlock then sliced his throat.
"It didn't happen like that!" he protested.
"Are you sure?" Leonidas asked calmly.
"Well considering I'm still breathing, yes I'm sure."
Leonidas waved his hand and the scene played in reverse like a tape. "My mistake. Let's try that again."
Now it happened exactly like Artie remembered. Artie flipped Luke over and applied his own headlock. Then Luke dropped his shield and turned the sword point towards himself. Artie watched as Luke stabbed to his side, burying the blade a foot and a half into his dream-self's chest. This was getting on his nerves.
Artie flinched as his dream-self fell sideways, "You know that's not how it happened."
"Do I?" sniffed the Hero-King. "Have you figured it out yet?"
"Why are you showing me this?" he demanded.
Leonidas just sighed and shook his head. "Blinding ignorance does mislead you, child. Open your eyes!"
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Had this been a real fight." Leonidas began. "A fight to the death. You would have died several times. The ones you just witnessed were simply the most obvious."
"You mean I - - -"
"As you children say nowadays, Got lucky? Yes. And you're only deluding yourself in thinking otherwise."
Artie would have stood there and let it sink in, but Leonidas had other plans. "Now for your second claim. I believe you said you're skill in archery is second only to Chiron." He struck the ground again with his spear and the scene dissolved again.
Like before, Artie watched as his surroundings changed. Now he was in the camp's archery range. Like any normal day, it was currently occupied by the Apollo cabin. Some were trying to improve their speed by loosing arrows like human machine guns while other strove to improve their accuracy on targets nearly impossible to see in the distances. The few that weren't using bows sat on benches either strumming on various instruments or composing songs and poems. At the very end, he saw himself with his bow.
It must be right after I returned from my quest, he guessed. I was still getting used to the bow.
He saw he was correct in his assessment. His twelve year old self struggled to pull back the heavy bowstring on a bow six and half feet tall, a full two feet taller than he was at the time. It had become less of problem as he grew over the next two years, but even now the bow was still taller than him by a little over half a foot. The grip had also been a pain to learn. Due to it's height the grip was not directly center but a full two thirds from the upper tip which meant he had to hold it much higher than a common bow, the arrow would be between his nose and upper lip whenever he aimed one. He had learned the hard way, that if he did a single thing wrong, he would be rewarded with the string striking the side of the his face. On three occasions, the string had cut so deep it left scars on his right cheek which was only visible under moonlight like many of his scars.
He and Leonidas watched in silence as his twelve year old self fired arrow after arrow at a target dummy. He missed nearly every shot and the ones that hit, barely scratched the dummy before continuing on thier path unhindered. The Apollo archers laughed to themselves as Artie stopped every few shots to lick the cuts on his fingers that drew the string and rub his forearm as the string repeatedly hit it every time he fired. Unlike the Apollo campers, he chose not use a leather bracer or finger tab when used his bow.
"Why not?" asked Leonidas.
"Why not what?" he responded.
"All the others are using some sort of protection." he said motioning to the various bracers and gloves.
"And if I got into a fight without them?" he explained. "I'd be dead if the fight lasted too long. I'd figured once my skin callused, I wouldn't ever need one. It seemed like fair trade for a few weeks of discomfort."
Leonidas nodded approvingly. It made sense. His military training had followed the same policy for every issue. They were intentionally starved so that during a campaign, hunger would not be a problem. To teach them to ignore weather, they would be given only one item of clothing per year, usually a simple red cloak or chiton. Whether the Artie meant to or not, he took a page out of the Spartan handbook by firing arrow after arrow till his fingers bled everyday for several weeks.
There might be hope for this one, Leonidas thought to himself.
Artie watched himself as remembered the days that would follow. Weeks of sore and shaking fingers that refused to do even the simplest task. He struggled to hold forks and knives during meals for more than a few seconds. His craftsmanship with leather working had taken a severe hit as a result and slowed him significantly. Still for all the minor trouble it caused him, he knew now that he had made the right decision.
"Impressive." remarked Leonidas sarcastically as dream Artie missed for the umpteeth time.
Artie scowled and told him. "Skip ahead a year."
"Very well." said Leonidas and he struck the ground with his spear.
Not much changed. They were still at the camp's archery range. There wasn't the slightest clue that any time had passed. The Apollo campers still occupied most of the range, with a few new faces that weren't there before, and Artie's dream-self was still in the same spot he had been before. However this version of Artie clearly had gotten used to the bow's difficult grip and firing requirements. He was taking aim at a target dummy about a hundred yards out. Even with a bow meant for great and near impossible distances, like his, it was still a difficult shot.
He raised the bow above his head as he nocked an arrow from his quiver. He then began bringing down the bow while spreading his arms, simultaneously pushing the bow with the left hand and drawing the string with the right, until the arrow was level with his eyebrows. Artie continued the movement, until he had fully drawn the string and the arrow was placed slightly below his cheek. He opened his right hand, releasing the arrow, and held the position as the arrow raced to the target and the bow spun in his left hand so that the string stopped on the outer forearm. A ghost of a smile appeared on his face, in response to the impressed whispering of the Apollo campers when the arrow split the dummy's helmet, and he fired again in the same calm practiced manner.
"Well?" Artie asked impatiently.
"Well what?" demanded Leonidas. "You're a child of Artemis, one of the twin archers of Olympus. It stands to reason archery would be one your skills."
Artie rolled his eyes and muttered under his breath, "You'd think so."
Leonidas managed to catch something being said, "What was that?"
"Nothing." said Artie quickly.
"You mumbled something. Out with it boy." Artie looked away and was reminded Leonidas was not used to being ignored. "NOW!"
"Caramba, maldição seus ouvidos." Artie uttered to himself before responding. "My archery is more of a honed skill than you think. Not alot of people know it, but archery did not come natural to me, not like the Apollo kids anyway."
Leonidas looked genuinely surprised. "I'm not sure I follow."
Artie sighed. This was not something he'd like to talk about. So much that no one, but Chiron knew with any certainty. "How do put this so you'll understand . . . ah, I got it. Look at the children of Apollo."
Leonidas turned his attention to the campers. "I see them."
Artie pointed to the archers. "Every single one of them is a child of my uncle, Apollo." He pointed as he continued explaining. "All of them can use a bow, compose poetry or music, and are excellent healers."
"But?" Leonidas asked, not sure where Artie was heading with this.
"But not all of them were born equal." Artie explained. "Some are better archers while others are more skilled in composing music and poetry or treating the sick. The same goes for all the children of the gods, including me."
Leonidas nodded as he began to understand. "So as the only child of Artemis, it would be impossible to see which skills you born with and which you honed."
"Exactly." Artie nodded. "From what I can put together, I have a more natural talent for tracking and laying traps. A survivalist hunter, if you will."
"You lost me again boy. You mean there are kinds of hunters?"
"I read a book once and I was confused too. The author said the act of hunting is divided into two sections and while both are needed, each person excels in one over the other. For example, tracking can come easy to me, it won't matter how many times I find an animal if my marksmanship is poor or vise versa."
"Which means you must hone the skill in which you lack." Leonidas understood. "Strengthen the weakest link."
"That's what I meant by I'm the best archer." Artie explained. "The Apollo kids take their skill for granted, since they haven't earned it like I had to, and so they don't practice like they should."
Leonidas seemed to be distracted. "It looks we are out of time. You'll be waking soon."
"Thank the gods." said Artie to himself, while this Leonidas had been more tolerable, he still preferred his normal dreams.
Leonidas handed him a piece of paper. "Read this when you reach the main gate of the Underworld."
Artie took the paper, "What is it?"
The Hero-King of Sparta opened his mouth to answer when Artie was jolted awake, by the the mistakable sound of a roaring lion and panicked screaming.