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The Two-Faced Godby Sarah Cuypers
Somewhere amid the clouds, on the pinnacle of the famous Mount Olympus, the pantheon of gods was gathered for their monthly meeting. Since this meeting entailed copious amounts of nectar, ambrosia and a steady supply of Bacchus' best wines, very few gods ever forgot to RSVP.
"Mars! Long time no see, how are the barbarians these days? Feisty?" Mercury inquired.
"Bloody barbarians," the war god muttered darkly as he stared into his empty goblet.
"Mercury, you know better than to tease Mars with the barbarians," said Minerva with a sigh. She motioned to the celestial cupbearer. "Juventas! Please give Mars another drink. Or else he's going to go on and on again about how at least the Trojans knew how to wage war properly. Then it'll be Hector this, and Achilles that for the rest of the day."
As Juventas came running with a new amphora to comply with Minerva's wishes, Mercury wisely changed the subject. He looked around the gathered gods and suddenly noticed a conspicuous absence.
"Say, where has Jupiter gone off to?" He asked the assembled gods. "The only time he misses a party is when someone has been sacrificing bulls to him."
"Well, you know Jupiter, he always has been very partial to his bulls," Neptune remarked with a shrug.
"He's very partial to cows as well," Juno remarked bitterly, as her daughter Juventas hastened to refill Juno's cup, in an effort to help wash away the marital concerns with a fresh draught.
"No worries, mum," Vulcan said, trying to offer some comfort to Juno as well. "I saw Jupiter just a while earlier with Apollo, who wanted to have a private word. Our lyre player looked a tad miffed, if I may say so."
"We'll hear all about that afterwards, I reckon." Venus added as she took another sip. She then turned to Bacchus, the wine god. "That last batch was not bad at all. Was that your new recipe, Bacchus?"
"Not bad, eh?" said the wine god with a broad grin. "I got a bit of help from Pomona, though. She makes a mean fruit punch, doesn't she?"
All the gods jumped up when Jupiter's thunderous voice resounded through the whole mountain. In strode their grim-looking leader, with Apollo close on his heels.
Janus, the two-faced god of doorways, dropped one of his two cups in surprise. It took him some measure of self-control to keep his head straight, as both his faces tried to hide at the back of his head, to let the other one deal with the angry thunder god. His front-face lost out.
"Uh, yes, oh mighty Jupiter?" Janus inquired with a shaky voice.
Both Epona and Diana, who had been sitting next to him, quietly moved further aside, in case there would be smiting involved.
"Did you, Janus, bless the gate of Carthage?!" Jupiter demanded.
"Oh, eh… possibly?"
"Did you bless the city gate of Carthage so that, and I quote, ‘no weapon shall beat down this door, no enemy boot shall soil its doorway, and ever shall this door stand unconquerable'?!"
"Um… maybe? Janus stammered.
"And did you bless the city gate of Carthage," Jupiter went on relentlessly, "in such a manner that the Carthaginians could make off with Apollo's favourite Pythia from Delphi, withdraw in their city, and laugh at the Delphinian forces amassed before their gate since that very gate is now impregnable by divine decree?!"
"Oh, that gate of Carthage," Janus said weakly. "They, um, did sacrifice two cows to me for that. And really, Jupiter, you know how few sacrifices I get these days, and you yourself know that a sacrificed cow is nothing to sneeze at…" He trailed off as Jupiter's stare continued to beat down on him. "But, but… Portunus was there too!" Janus said in an attempt to at least divert part of the great god's ire by pointing at the harbour god. "And he added his own blessing as well!"
"Just on the lock," Portunus said defensively. "One tiny, standard-degree blessing against breaking, treachery and heroic lock-picking."
"Yes, but on all twenty locks!" Janus was quick to point out.
"Don't look at me, you blessed the whole doorway!"
Jupiter looked down in scorn on the two shivering gods. "I don't care which one of you blessed what, you two will set this straight right now! I want to see that Pythia-woman sniffing fumes in Delphi again before the end of the week."
With this, the two gods were forcefully expelled from Olympus. Jupiter expressly forbade them to return until they had resolved the unfortunate situation.
Gloomily, the two companions in misery walked over to the metropolis of Carthage, where the army of Delphi still lay in siege before the gate.
"I never got to taste Pomona's new fruit punch," Janus complained. "I mean, the Carthaginians didn't tell me they were going to kidnap themselves an oracle, least of all the favourite one of daddy's boy."
"You should be one to talk," Portunus retorted. "I'm really just a harbour god. I only moonlight as god of locks and keys for the yearly Portunalia party, you know. And at least you got two cows for it," the unhappy god went on. "They only sacrificed a goat to me. An old goat to boot. And here I am, just as easily condemned as you. It's not fair."
"No, it isn't," Janus agreed. "We were misled, that's what. Pressed to bestow our blessings without having been made fully aware of the consequences. This is, is… sacrificing with malicious intent, this is." His second face nodded in unison.
"Did you include a clause against malicious sacrificing in your blessing?" Portunus asked, suddenly hopeful.
"No, did you?"
"Nope." Portunus said with a sigh. "Shame though, we could have gotten out of the blessing if we could show it wasn't binding any longer."
"We'll have to find another way, then." Janus agreed.
"This whole Carthaginian scam hinged on us providing those blessings," Portunus went on. "And since we took the sacrifices, we ourselves are powerless to break them. I suppose we could talk Justitia into lending us some lawyers to look for loopholes in the blessings. But that's going to take months at the very least. Jupiter should have given us more time."
They sat on a nearby hilltop in moody silence.
"There's something in that," Janus said slowly after a while.
"What, you want to suggest we go and ask Jupiter for more time?"
"No, in the bit you said before that. Come on, Portunus, let's go and visit the Delphinians, I'm having an idea that might be worth a shot..."
In the dawn of the next morning, Janus and Portunus looked down on a very different Carthage, one partly destroyed and on fire. As the two gods strolled down from the nearby hilltop towards the ruined city, they waved to the Pythia who stood on deck of the departing Delphinian fleet. She didn't wave back, the ungrateful bint.
The Carthaginian king caught sight of the two walking gods while trying to dowse his burning palace. He angrily strode towards them.
"Unfaithful god," the king admonished Portunus. "You, you… two-faced god!" He addressed Janus. "Why did you take back the blessing you had earlier bestowed on our gate?"
"My dear king," Janus said in a conciliatory manner, "your unjust accusations wound us deeply. Although the two-faced bit is rather fitting, I must say. Literally speaking, that is. Ahem, what I meant to say is: we have kept up our part of the blessing to the very letter."
The god of doorways pointed to the large wooden city gate that stood next to the open doorway.
"Your door is perfectly intact," Janus said. "No weapon has beaten it down. There's not even a mere scratch on it. And there are Portunus' blessed locks, shining as the day they were installed. Unbroken and most certainly unpicked. Now be honest, dear king, does this door not stand there unconquerable-looking in all its glory?"
"But it is standing next to the doorway!" The king protested while pointing to the gaping, open doorway through which hundreds of Delphinian soldiers had passed through only a few hours earlier. "Not in it."
"Details," said Janus with a shrug. "It was in there when I blessed it but it was never specified the door couldn't leave the doorway. Speaking of which, look at this shiny, clean doorway. In blessed prime condition. Not a speck of dirt is seen!"
"Yes, the Delphinians all wiped their feet thoroughly before ransacking your city," Portunus added cheerily. "It's not often you find such an accommodating invading army."
The king of Carthage stared in shock at the two gods for a moment before shaking his head. "I do not understand," he said. "You can't break your own blessing. We had all the bases covered, the door, the doorway, the locks. There was no way the Delphinians could have gotten in without coming against your blessing!"
Portunus patted the king on his back. "Yes, even we had to admit, it was a good plan. It's not often mere mortals manage to trick us gods. My congratulations, king."
"Why yes," Janus agreed, "It was a most audacious and clever plan to have us bless the doorway, the door and the locks."
The two gods then leisurely admired the great gate again. It had been hewn from towering, strong trees, driven together by steel bands and nails. The locks were said to have been made by one of Vulcan's capable disciples and looked every bit the picture of sturdiness and steadfastness.
It was truly a gate that would last for ages, one that would live on in legends indefinitely, as it now stood leaning against the city-wall where the Delphinians had left it.
"It's a real shame, then," Portunus finally said thoughtfully, "that you forgot to ask us about the hinges."
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