The son of neptune, p.15
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       The Son of Neptune, p.15
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         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Page 15

 

  Percy stared at him. “I didn’t know that. ”

  “It was called Byzantium. ” Frank liked saying that word. It sounded cool. “The eastern empire lasted another thousand years, but it was always more Greek than Roman. For those of us who follow the Roman way, it’s kind of a sore subject. That’s why, whatever country we settle in, Camp Jupiter is always in the west—the Roman part of the territory. The east is considered bad luck. ”

  “Huh. ” Percy frowned.

  Frank couldn’t blame him for feeling confused. The Greek/Roman stuff gave him a headache, too.

  They reached the gates.

  “I’ll take you to the baths to get you cleaned up,” Frank said. “But first…about those vials I found at the river. ”

  “Gorgon’s blood,” Percy said. “One vial heals. One is deadly poison. ”

  Frank’s eyes widened. “You know about that? Listen, I wasn’t going to keep them. I just—”

  “I know why you did it, Frank. ”

  “You do?”

  “Yeah. ” Percy smiled. “If I’d come into camp carrying a vial of poison, that would’ve looked bad. You were trying to protect me. ”

  “Oh…right. ” Frank wiped the sweat off his palms. “But if we could figure out which vial was which, it might heal your memory. ”

  Percy’s smile faded. He gazed across the hills. “Maybe…I guess. But you should hang on to those vials for now. There’s a battle coming. We may need them to save lives. ”

  Frank stared at him, a little bit in awe. Percy had a chance to get his memory back, and he was willing to wait in case someone else needed the vial more? Romans were supposed to be unselfish and help their comrades, but Frank wasn’t sure anyone else at camp would have made that choice.

  “So you don’t remember anything?” Frank asked. “Family, friends?”

  Percy fingered the clay beads around his neck. “Only glimpses. Murky stuff. A girlfriend…I thought she’d be at camp. ” He looked at Frank carefully, as if making a decision. “Her name was Annabeth. You don’t know her, do you?”

  Frank shook his head. “I know everybody at camp, but no Annabeth. What about your family? Is your mom mortal?”

  “I guess so…she’s probably worried out of her mind. Does your mom get to see you much?”

  Frank stopped at the bathhouse entrance. He grabbed some towels from the supply shed. “She died. ”

  Percy knit his brow. “How?”

  Usually Frank would lie. He’d say an accident and shut off the conversation. Otherwise his emotions got out of control. He couldn’t cry at Camp Jupiter. He couldn’t show weakness. But with Percy, Frank found it easier to talk.

  “She died in the war,” he said. “Afghanistan. ”

  “She was in the military?”

  “Canadian. Yeah. ”

  “Canada? I didn’t know—”

  “Most Americans don’t. ” Frank sighed. “But yeah, Canada has troops there. My mom was a captain. She was one of the first women to die in combat. She saved some soldiers who were pinned down by enemy fire. She…she didn’t make it. The funeral was right before I came down here. ”

  Percy nodded. He didn’t ask for more details, which Frank appreciated. He didn’t say he was sorry, or make any of the well-meaning comments Frank always hated: Oh, you poor guy. That must be so hard on you. You have my deepest condolences.

  It was like Percy had faced death before, like he knew about grief. What mattered was listening. You didn’t need to say you were sorry. The only thing that helped was moving on—moving forward.

  “How about you show me the baths now?” Percy suggested. “I’m filthy. ”

  Frank managed a smile. “Yeah. You kind of are. ”

  As they walked into the steam room, Frank thought of his grandmother, his mom, and his cursed childhood, thanks to Juno and her piece of firewood. He almost wished he could forget his past, the way Percy had.

  X Frank

  FRANK DIDN’T REMEMBER MUCH ABOUT the funeral itself.

  But he remembered the hours leading up to it—his grand mother coming out into the backyard to find him shooting arrows at her porcelain collection.

  His grandmother’s house was a rambling gray stone mansion on twelve acres in North Vancouver. Her backyard ran straight into Lynn Canyon Park.

  The morning was cold and drizzly, but Frank didn’t feel the chill. He wore a black wool suit and a black overcoat that had once belonged to his grandfather. Frank had been startled and upset to find that they fit him fine. The clothes smelled like wet mothballs and jasmine. The fabric was itchy but warm. With his bow and quiver, he probably looked like a very dangerous butler.

  He’d loaded some of his grandmother’s porcelain in a wagon and toted it into the yard, where he set up targets on old fence posts at the edge of the property. He’d been shooting so long, his fingers were starting to lose their feeling. With every arrow, he imagined he was striking down his problems.

  Snipers in Afghanistan. Smash. A teapot exploded with an arrow through the middle.

  The sacrifice medal, a silver disk on a red-and-black ribbon, given for death in the line of duty, presented to Frank as if it were something important, something that made everything all right. Thwack. A teacup spun into the woods.

  The officer who came to tell him: “Your mother is a hero.

  Captain Emily Zhang died trying to save her comrades. ”

  Crack. A blue-and-white plate split into pieces.

  His grandmother’s chastisement: Men do not cry. Especially Zhang men. You will endure, Fai.

  No one called him Fai except his grandmother.

  What sort of name is Frank? she would scold. That is not a Chinese name.

  I’m not Chinese, Frank thought, but he didn’t dare say that. His mother had told him years ago: There is no arguing with Grandmother. It’ll only make you suffer worse. She’d been right. And now Frank had no one except his grandmother.

  Thud. A fourth arrow hit the fence post and stuck there, quivering.

  “Fai,” said his grandmother.

  Frank turned.

  She was clutching a shoebox-sized mahogany chest that Frank had never seen before. With her high-collared black dress and severe bun of gray hair, she looked like a school teacher from the 1800s.

  She surveyed the carnage: her porcelain in the wagon, the shards of her favorite tea sets scattered over the lawn, Frank’s arrows sticking out of the ground, the trees, the fence posts, and one in the head of a smiling garden gnome.

  Frank thought she would yell, or hit him with the box. He’d never done anything this bad before. He’d never felt so angry.

  Grandmother’s face was full of bitterness and disapproval. She looked nothing like Frank’s mom. He wondered how his mother had turned out to be so nice—always laughing, always gentle. Frank couldn’t imagine his mom growing up with Grandmother any more than he could imagine her on the battlefield—though the two situations probably weren’t that different.

  He waited for Grandmother to explode. Maybe he’d be grounded and wouldn’t have to go to the funeral. He wanted to hurt her for being so mean all the time, for letting his mother go off to war, for scolding him to get over it. All she cared about was her stupid collection.

  “Stop this ridiculous behavior,” Grandmother said. She didn’t sound very irritated. “It is beneath you. ”

  To Frank’s astonishment, she kicked aside one of her favorite teacups.

  “The car will be here soon,” she said. “We must talk. ”

  Frank was dumbfounded. He looked more closely at the mahogany box. For a horrible moment, he wondered if it contained his mother’s ashes, but that was impossible. Grandmother had told him there would be a military burial. Then why did Grandmother hold the box so gingerly, as if its contents grieved her?

  “Come inside,” she said. Without waiting to see if he would follow, she turned and marched toward the house.

&nb
sp; In the parlor, Frank sat on a velvet sofa, surrounded by vintage family photos, porcelain vases that had been too large for his wagon, and red Chinese calligraphy banners. Frank didn’t know what the calligraphy said. He’d never had much interest in learning. He didn’t know most of the people in the photographs, either.

  Whenever Grandmother started lecturing him about his ancestors—how they’d come over from China and prospered in the import/export business, eventually becoming one of the wealthiest Chinese families in Vancouver—well, it was boring. Frank was fourth-generation Canadian. He didn’t care about China and all these musty antiques. The only Chinese characters he could recognize were his family name: Zhang. Master of bows. That was cool.

  Grandmother sat next to him, her posture stiff, her hands folded over the box.

  “Your mother wanted you to have this,” she said with reluctance. “She kept it since you were a baby. When she went away to the war, she entrusted it to me. But now she is gone. And soon you will be going, too. ”

  Frank’s stomach fluttered. “Going? Where?”

  “I am old,” Grandmother said, as if that were a surprising announcement. “I have my own appointment with Death soon enough. I cannot teach you the skills you will need, and I cannot keep this burden. If something were to happen to it,

  I would never forgive myself. You would die. ”

  Frank wasn’t sure he’d heard her right. It sounded like she had said his life depended on that box. He wondered why he’d never seen it before. She must have kept it locked in the attic—the one room Frank was forbidden to explore. She’d always said she kept her most valuable treasures up there.

  She handed the box to him. He opened the lid with trembling fingers. Inside, cushioned in velvet lining, was a terrifying, life-altering, incredibly important…piece of wood.

  It looked like driftwood—hard and smooth, sculpted into a wavy shape. It was about the size of a TV remote control. The tip was charred. Frank touched the burned end. It still felt warm. The ashes left a black smudge on his finger.

  “It’s a stick,” he said. He couldn’t figure out why Grandmother was acting so tense and serious about it.

  Her eyes glittered. “Fai, do you know of prophecies? Do you know of the gods?”

  The questions made him uncomfortable. He thought about Grandmother’s silly gold statues of Chinese immortals, her superstitions about putting furniture in certain places and avoiding unlucky numbers. Prophecies made him think of fortune cookies, which weren’t even Chinese—not really—but the bullies at school teased him about stupid stuff like that: Confucius say …all that garbage. Frank had never even been to China. He wanted nothing to do with it. But of course, Grandmother didn’t want to hear that.

  “A little, Grandmother,” he said. “Not much. ”

  “Most would have scoffed at your mother’s tale,” she said, “But I did not. I know of prophecies and gods. Greek, Roman, Chinese—they intertwine in our family. I did not question what she told me about your father. ”

  “Wait . . . what?”

 
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