FICTION: A leisurely cruise through the stars, part nine
Antinous dressed for dinner in simple contemporary clothes: A deep red henley that clung to the curves of his chest and shoulders and trousers that clung as determinedly to the curves of his thighs and buttocks. He slipped his feet into a pair of Italian loafers and contemplated his image in the looking-glass, running his hands through freshly washed hair.
“Vain boy,” Hadrian said, passing by with Sabina on their way to the dining hall.
Antinous fluttered his lashes, making Sabina laugh and Hadrian grumble. He had had a long converse with Lucius that included soaking in the baths, fucking in Lucius’ cabin, and showering off after a nap; he was feeling relaxed, happy to have Lucius and Sabina and Hadrian and so many who were dear to him on board the Barque, and excited at the chance for a more intimate conversation with Melinoe, the daughter of Persephone and foster-daughter of Hel.
Hermes himself had come bearing the request that Antinous convey the young goddess from the realm of her foster-mother, lady of the dead in the north, back to the realm of Hades where her parents ruled. Yet though he carried the herald’s staff, the request had been a true request, coming from Persephone, not an order from Zeus or any higher authority. Of course he was happy to oblige; one of the things he enjoyed most about godhood was being the captain of a travelling party in the afterlife. The Barque was a joyful home for the blessed dead in itself and also a transport to any place within the other worlds, and Antinous had found himself a welcome visitor to almost every port.
Satisfied that he looked both sufficiently godly and sufficiently on point, as the youth were saying in the earthly realms, Antinous went to the private dining room by way of the kitchens, making sure that the dinner was in readiness. He was lighting the lamps himself when Melinoe arrived at his door.
“My lady.” He bowed. “May I say that you flatter the dress you have chosen to wear?”
“My thanks to you.” Melinoe tiptoed into the room. “I modeled it after something I saw down below. However, I may be regretting adopting the shoes.”
Her feet were clad in glittering high-heeled sandals with heel and ankle straps–very on point, but difficult to walk in if one were unused to the style. They went well, however, with her gown: A fitted frock of nearly sheer violet stuff with an applique of birds and blossoms in vivid hues that covered her from breast to thigh. Her hair fell loosely over her shoulders, smelling of cinnamon and myrrh.
“Please, sit down,” Antinous gestured to the table, “and don’t hesitate to slip those shoes off–I won’t be looking under the table to scold if you do!”
Smiling, the goddess took her seat at the small round table for two. Antinous lit the last two lamps on their stands and took his seat as well. Small candles burned between them, kindling lights in the colors of his guest’s gown, in her wide grey eyes, in her glossy black and white hair.
“I thought it might please you to sample some foods you have not, I think, had in a long while,” Antinous said. He cleared his throat. “I have ordered a tasting menu of foods from Greece and around the Mediterranean Sea, with local wines.”
“That sounds delicious,” the goddess said. He was struck, not for the first time, by the brightness and happiness of her face, the sheer enthusiasm she radiated. In his experience, most of the deities of the underworlds were more solemn, dealing as they did with human loss and grief, with the multitudes of the deceased and the greater multitudes of those who had not been properly honored at death and wandered restlessly through all the worlds. The realm of Hel was notoriously somber even amongst the lands of death, yet Melinoe had come out of her long fostering there with a smile on her face.
A server arrived with the first course of food, diverting Antinous from gazing at his guest. “Here we have tzatziki, made of cucumber and fresh sheep’s-milk yogurt seasoned with garlic, mint, and dill. This is hummus, made from chickpeas, sesame, garlic, and olive oil. This dish is melitzanosalata, roasted eggplant mixed with tomatoes, yogurt, garlic, and herbs. And finally, we have fresh vegetables and toasted pita bread to dip.”
While Melinoe was exclaiming over the variety of spreads, another server arrived and set down two tall plain modern glasses for water and two heavy glass goblets made in the Roman fashion, the richly figured and colored stuff that Hadrian had been proud of on his tables. A third server filled the modern vessels with water and the goblets with a golden wine.
“This is retsina,” Antinous said, lifting his goblet. “It’s white wine flavored with pine resin. Long ago it was created by accident when mortals used pine resin to seal their wine jugs, but they still drink it for the flavor. I drank quite a lot of it in my hometown and have never lost the taste.” He raised the goblet toward Melinoe. “To your health, lady!”
“To your health!”
They both drank. Antinous watched the goddess sip carefully and savor the pungent taste.
“It pairs very well with the food before us,” he said, when she smiled and made no comment. “Please, guests should eat first.”