The son of neptune, p.62
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       The Son of Neptune, p.62

         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
 
Page 62

 

  Percy couldn’t tell if she was kidding or not. He politely thanked her and changed seats.

  Once everyone had eaten and the plates stopped flying, Reyna made a short speech. She formally welcomed the Amazons, thanking them for their help. Then she hugged her siste rand everybody applauded.

  Reyna raised her hands for quiet. “My sister and I haven’t always seen eye to eye—”

  Hylla laughed. “That’s an understatement. ”

  “She joined the Amazons,” Reyna continued. “I joined Camp Jupiter. But looking around this room, I think we both made good choices. Strangely, our destinies were made possible by the hero you all just raised to praetor on the battlefield—Percy Jackson. ”

  More cheering. The sisters raised their glasses to Percy and beckoned him forward.

  Everybody asked for a speech, but Percy didn’t know what to say. He protested that he really wasn’t the best person for praetor, but the campers drowned him out with applause. Reyna took away his probatio neck plate. Octavian shot him a dirty look, then turned to the crowd and smiled like this was all his idea. He ripped open a teddy bear and pronounced good omens for the coming year—Fortuna would bless them!He passed his hand over Percy’s arm and shouted: “Percy Jackson, son of Neptune, first year of service!”

  The Roman symbols burned onto Percy’s arm: a trident, SPQR, and a single stripe. It felt like someone was pressing a hot iron into his skin, but Percy managed not to scream.

  Octavian embraced him and whispered, “I hope it hurt. ”

  Then Reyna gave him an eagle medal and purple cloak, symbols of the praetor. “You earned these, Percy. ”

  Queen Hylla pounded him on the back. “And I’ve decided not to kill you. ”

  “Um, thanks,” Percy said.

  He made his way around the mess hall one more time, because all the campers wanted him at their table. Vitellius the Lar followed, stumbling over his shimmering purple toga and readjusting his sword, telling everyone how he’d predicted Percy’s rise to greatness.

  “I demanded he join the Fifth Cohort!” the ghost said proudly. “Spotted his talent right away!”

  Don the faun popped up in a nurse’s hat, a stack of cookies in each hand. “Man, congrats and stuff! Awesome! Hey, do you have any spare change?”

  All the attention embarrassed Percy, but he was happy to see how well Hazel and Frank were being treated. Everyone called them the saviors of Rome, and they deserved it. There was even talk about reinstating Frank’s great-grandfather, Shen Lun, to the legion’s roll of honor. Apparently he hadn’t caused the 1906 earthquake after all.

  Percy sat for a while with Tyson and Ella, who were honored guests at Dakota’s table. Tyson kept calling for peanut-butter sandwiches, eating them as fast as the nymphs could deliver. Ella perched at his shoulder on top of the couch and nibbled furiously on cinnamon rolls.

  “Cinnamon rolls are good for harpies,” she said. “June twenty-fourth is a good day. Roy Disney’s birthday, and Fortuna’s Feast, and Independence Day for Zanzibar. And Tyson. ”

  She glanced at Tyson, then blushed and looked away.

  After dinner, the entire legion got the night off. Percy and hisfriends drifted down to the city, which wasn’t quite recovered from the battle, but the fires were out, most of the debris had been swept up, and the citizens were determined to celebrate.

  At the Pomerian Line, the statue of Terminus wore a paper party hat.

  “Welcome, praetor!” he said. “You need any giants’ faces smashed while you’re in town, just let me know. ”“Thanks, Terminus,” Percy said. “I’ll keep that in mind. ”

  “Yes, good. Your praetor’s cape is an inch too low on the left. There—that’s better. Where is my assistant? Julia!”

  The little girl ran out from behind the pedestal. She was wearing a green dress tonight, and her hair was still in pigtails. When she smiled, Percy saw that her front teeth were starting to come in. She held up a box full of party hats.

  Percy tried to decline, but Julia gave him the big adoring eyes.

  “Ah, sure,” he said. “I’ll take the blue crown. ”

  She offered Hazel a gold pirate hat. “I’m gonna be Percy Jackson when I grow up,” she told Hazel solemnly.

  Hazel smiled and ruffled her hair. “That’s a good thing to be, Julia. ”

  “Although,” Frank said, picking out a hat shaped like apolar bear’s head, “Frank Zhang would be good too. ”

  “Frank!” Hazel said.

  They put on their hats and continued to the forum, which was lit up with multicolored lanterns. The fountains glowed purple. The coffee shops were doing a brisk business, and street musicians filled the air with the sounds of guitar, lyre, panpipes, and armpit noises. (Percy didn’t get that last one. Maybe it was an old Roman musical tradition. )

  The goddess Iris must’ve been in a party mood too. As Percy and his friends strolled past the damaged Senate House, a dazzling rainbow appeared in the night sky. Unfortunately the goddess sent another blessing, too—a gentle rain of gluten-free R. O. F. L. cupcake simulations, which Percy figured would either make cleaning up harder, or rebuilding easier. The cupcakes would make great bricks.

  For a while, Percy wandered the streets with Hazel and Frank, who kept brushing shoulders.

  Finally he said, “I’m a little tired, guys. You go ahead. ”

  Hazel and Frank protested, but Percy could tell they wanted some time alone.

  As he headed back to camp, he saw Mrs. O’Leary playing with Hannibal in the Field of Mars. Finally, she’d found a playmate she could roughhouse with. They frolicked around, slamming into each other, breaking fortifications, and generally having an excellent time.

  At the fort gates, Percy stopped and gazed across the valley. It seemed like so long ago that he’d stood here with Hazel, getting his first good view of camp. Now he was more interested in watching the eastern horizon.

  Tomorrow, maybe the next day, his friends from Camp

  Half-Blood would arrive. As much as he cared about Camp Jupiter, he couldn’t wait to see Annabeth again. He yearned for his old life—New York and Camp Half-Blood—but something told him it might be a while before he returned home. Gaea and the giants weren’t done causing trouble—not by a long shot.

  Reyna had given him the second praetor’s house on the Via Principalis, but as soon as Percy looked inside, he knew he couldn’t stay there. It was nice, but it was also full of Jason Grace’s stuff. Percy already felt uneasy taking Jason’s title of praetor. He didn’t want to take the guy’s house, too. Things would be awkward enough when Jason came back—and Percy was sure that he would be on that dragon-headed warship.

  Percy headed back to the Fifth Cohort barracks and climbed into his bunk. He passed out instantly.

  He dreamed he was carrying Juno across the Little Tiber.

  She was disguised as a crazy old bag lady, smiling and singing an Ancient Greek lullaby as her leathery hands gripped Percy’s neck.

  “Do you still want to slap me, dear?” she asked.

  Percy stopped midstream. He let go and dumped the goddess in the river.

  The moment she hit the water, she vanished and reappeared on the shore. “Oh, my,” she cackled, “that wasn’t very heroic, even in a dream!”

  “Eight months,” Percy said. “You stole eight months of my life for a quest that took a week. Why?”

  Juno tutted disapprovingly. “You mortals and your short lives. Eight months is nothing, my dear. I lost eight centuries once, missed most of the Byzantine Empire. ”

  Percy summoned the power of the river. It swirled around him, spinning into a froth of whitewater.

  “Now, now,” Juno said. “Don’t get testy. If we are to defeat Gaea, our plans must be timed perfectly. First, I needed Jason and his friends to free me from my prison—”

  “Your prison? You were in prison and they let you out?”

  “Don’t sound so surprised,
dear! I’m a sweet old woman. At any rate, you weren’t needed at Camp Jupiter until now, to save the Romans at their moment of greatest crisis. The eight months between…well, I do have other plans brewing, my boy. Opposing Gaea, working behind Jupiter’s back, protecting your friends—it’s a full-time job! If I had to guard you from Gaea’s monsters and schemes as well, and keep you hidden from your friends back east all that time—no, much better you take a safe nap. You would have been a distraction—a loose cannon. ”

  “A distraction. ” Percy felt the water rising with his anger, spinning faster around him. “A loose cannon. ”

  “Exactly. I’m glad you understand. ”

  Percy sent a wave crashing down on the old woman, but Juno simply disappeared and materialized farther down the shore.

  “My,” she said, “you are in a bad mood. But you know I’m right. Your timing here was perfect. They trust you now. You are a hero of Rome. And while you slept, Jason Grace has learned to trust the Greeks. They’ve had time to build the Argo II. Together, you and Jason will unite the camps. ”

  “Why me?” Percy demanded. “You and I never got along. Why would you want a loose cannon on your team?”

  “Because I know you, Percy Jackson. In many ways, you are impulsive, but when it comes to your friends, you are as constant as a compass needle. You are unswervingly loyal, and you inspire loyalty. You are the glue that will unite the seven. ”

  “Great,” Percy said. “I always wanted to be glue. ”

  Juno laced her crooked fingers. “The Heroes of Olympus must unite! After your victory over Kronos in Manhattan…well, I fear that wounded Jupiter’s self-esteem. ”

  “Because I was right,” Percy said. “And he was wrong. ”

  The old lady shrugged. “He should be used to that, after so many eons married to me, but alas! My proud and obstinate husband refuses to ask mere demigods for help again. He believes the giants can be fought without you, and Gaea can be forced back to her slumbers. I know better. But you must prove yourself. Only by sailing to the ancient lands and closing the Doors of Death will you convince Jupiter that you are worthy of fighting side-by-side with the gods. It will be the greatest quest since Aeneas sailed from Troy!”

  “And if we fail?” Percy said. “If Romans and Greeks don’t get along?”

  “Then Gaea has already won. I’ll tell you this, Percy Jackson. The one who will cause you the most trouble is the one closest to you—the one who hates me most. ”

  “Annabeth?” Percy felt his anger rising again. “You never liked her. Now you’re calling her a troublemaker? You don’t know her at all. She’s the person I most want watching my back. ”

  The goddess smiled dryly. “We will see, young hero. She has a hard task ahead of her when you arrive in Rome. Whether she is up to it…I do not know. ”

  Percy summoned a fist of water and smashed it down at the old lady. When the wave receded, she was gone.

  The river swirled out of Percy’s control. He sank into the darkness of the whirlpool.

 
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