Hermes handed the plant over to Hypnos, “Eat all of it. The flower and the root.”
Hip brushed a little more of the dirt from the herb and sniffed it. “What’s this thing supposed to do again?”
As Hermes spoke, Hip kept his eyes on the witch, visible now through two front open windows. A tapestry hung along the back wall, and she appeared to be weaving it.
Hermes said, “She’s going to mix up a concoction for you to drink.”
“Yeah. Made of her potions and animal bones and what not.”
“Everyone, including Odysseus, says it’s delicious, unlike that plant you’re about to eat.”
“But if you don’t eat the plant, her concoction will turn you into a pig.”
“A literal pig?”
“That’s right. And then she’ll eat you.”
Hip rubbed his chin. “You sure this flower will protect me?”
Hypnos plucked a white petal and ate it. So far so good. When there were no more petals left, he ate the stem. Awful, but tolerable. Then he took a bite of the black root. Oh, hell. The skin of the root tasted like tar, and the juice inside reminded him of human blood—bitter and metallic and nasty. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep it down. He wrinkled his nose and chewed quickly.
“Now, there’s something else you need to know,” Hermes said.
Hip looked up at him through squinted eyes. He swallowed down the last bite.
“Circe will wave a wand over you as you finish the concoction.”
“A wand? Seriously?”
“It’s a stick from a willow tree, I think. Enchanted, of course.”
“As soon as she pulls out that wand, draw your sword and rush at her, like you mean to kill her.”
“But why would I do that? She’s immortal.”
“Just do it, okay?”
“Okay. Whatever you say.”
“Now, here’s the worst part—or the best, depending on your outlook.”
“Will you just spit it out?” Hip wanted to get this over with.
“She’ll be frightened by your sword and will invite you to her bed.”
Hip’s eyebrows shot up. “Huh? I don’t think so.”
“You have to go to bed with her. Any man who gets that far wins her trust and love.”
“No one said anything about sleeping with her.” Hip thought of Jen.
“It’s just sleeping,” Hermes said. “She’ll be frightened and want you in bed with her for protection. Just kiss her and stroke her hair until she falls asleep.”
Hypnos did not like the way this was going. Maybe he could put Circe in the deep boon of sleep before he had to kiss her.
“And don’t make her fall asleep before she’s had a chance to fall in love with you,” Hermes added.
“Because that’s when she’ll start talking. As soon as she feels romantic toward you, you can ask her if she knows anything about the trident.”
“And what about Therese?”
“Well, you’ll want to ask the witch to change her back, obviously.”
“Go before night falls.” Hermes slapped Hip’s back affectionately. “And good luck.”
Hip picked his way through the woods and into the witch’s clearing with a sense of doom. The dogs and mountain lions noticed him immediately and rushed toward him. As Hermes had said, they were friendly. They each took a turn lifting their front paws and falling against Hip’s knees to be patted on the head or scratched behind the ears. Far from being a nuisance, these actions brought Hip a bit of comfort as he made his way to Circe’s door.
She opened it before he could knock. He was stunned by her bright golden hair, which fell in tight ropes down her shoulders and arms. When he met her eyes, he found they were the same color gold as her hair, and they emitted soft light, like a bedside lamp. Her ruby lips, by contrast, were dark, and before he could look away, they spread into a seductive grin.
“Come to bring me sweet dreams in the flesh?”
He stuffed his hands in his front trouser pockets and grinned sheepishly. “Um, something like that.”
“You’re too cute.”
“Um, thank you?” He scratched his head, not sure what to do with his hands.
She arched a brow. “Do you start all your sentences with ‘um’?”
“Um, no.” He laughed and was relieved when she did, too. “May I come in?”