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In the morning, the children rose with the sun. While the others tidied up the campsite and packed up their gear, Athena took Alpha to the pond to water him before they set out on their day's hike.
Apollo tried to direct the packing up, but Ares and the girls objected to his giving orders. Artemis wanted to climb a few trees before they started out. Aphrodite wanted more time to arrange her hair. Ares objected to Apollo's orders because objecting to everything was what he did best. The sounds of whining and arguing loomed so loudly over the campsite, that Apollo could hear nothing else.
"Looks like we've come across some very valuable merchandise," a gruff voice bellowed over the bustle of activity.
The little gods stopped what they were doing immediately and spun toward the intruders.
"Merchandise?" Apollo said, repeating what the larger of the two strangers had said. "We haven't any merchandise. We're poor wayfarers, mere children. We have nothing of value."
The big man tugged at his scraggly gray and brown beard. He grinned at his shorter partner, his green eyes sparkling mischievously. "Did you hear that, Flavio? They're poor wayfarers. They don't have anything to steal."
Flavio laughed, exposing a set of yellowish teeth. "They ought to bring a good price on the block, don't you think, Platomio?"
The large thief nodded. "This girl's a little scrawny," Platomio said, taking Artemis' arm. He twisted it behind her until she cried out.
Apollo pounced on the big man at once. "Leave her alone!"
Flavio easily yanked Apollo from his partner and bound him at the wrists.
"You won't get away with this!" the little god said as he struggledagainst his bonds.
Platomio stepped toe to toe with Apollo. He gazed down at the helpless boy and grinned, exposing gaps where teeth used to be. "Oh? And just who is going to stop us?"
Apollo looked down, and, for the first time in his life, he felt completely helpless.
"I thought so," Platomio said when Apollo refused to reply. "Tie them all and link them to each other," he told Flavio. "They'll be easier to manage that way."
Within moments the children were tied together. They found themselves completely helpless and at the mercy of ruthless bandits who would sell them into slavery. The girls cried, and Ares let out a blood-freezing scream.
"Shut that one up," Platomio ordered.
Flavio shoved a rag into Ares mouth. "That'll quiet him down."
The two bandits walked to the head of the group. Flavio took the lead line and tugged the children forward. "We're going to have a real nice walk."
Artemis moved close to Apollo. "We've got to do something, brother. We can't become slaves."
Apollo looked toward Flavio and Platomio. They were moving farther ahead, increasing the lead on the line they had tied to the children. His thoughts moved quickly as he struggled to come up with a plan that would free them. Suddenly, he saw Athena standing behind a tree. Her arms were raised to the sky, and her eyes were focused upwards. Speaking loudly enough for only the children to hear, Apollo said, "Quick, drop down to the ground."
He'd barely spoken the words when the earth started to quake and a sound loud enough to be heard all over Greece deafened their ears.
Platomio and Flavio fell to the earth, their bodies convulsing wildly. The children watched them thrash in pain for several minutes until they got control of themselves. Once the wretched thieves were able to stand again, they got up and ran away screaming. "Zeus has rained his thunder down upon us! These children are bewitched!"
When the bandits were gone, Athena ran to the children, bringing Alpha along with her. "Are you all right?" she asked as she began to free her siblings from their bonds.
Apollo rubbed his wrists, and he looked at his brothers and sisters. "I think we're fine, thanks to you and your thunderbolt."
"I was afraid if I threw it close enough to the men to kill them, it might hurt one of you, too. That's why I aimed at a target well ahead of them. I'm sorry all I could do was scare them away. I should have liked to have ended their miserable lives."
Apollo glanced in the direction the bandits had run. "I heard one of them yell something about us being bewitched. If they believe such nonsense, I doubt they'll come back. Nevertheless, we will have to be watchful. They could return to try to enslave us once more."
"If only I had my aegis. I could have turned them both to stone with one glance of the Gorgon." She shook her head. "I'd have liked to have turned them to stone and thrown them off a cliff to shatter into a thousand pieces after what they did to all of you--and what they were going to do."
"You should have killed them," Ares screamed at her. "If they come back again we'll be helpless. Without your thunderbolt, we have nothing left to protect us."
Apollo put out his hand to stop Ares' scolding. "What Athena did was best for all of us. If she'd have dealt the thieves a mortal blow, she could have killed us all. While we are safe for the time being, I'm afraid these bandits aren't the only danger we'll face on our journey. We must find a way to protect ourselves from the evil forces we may encounter as we continue on our way."