FIC: Dalliance

“Excuse me, I thought you were a girl.”

The pretty boy blinked at the eagle. “You are mistaken: I am definitely a boy.” He pointed to his genitals in proof.

The eagle shed its pinions and assumed a human form: Mature, manly, clear-eyed, with a flicker of lightnings playing about his beard.

“Excuse me, I thought you were an eagle.”

“In fact, I am a god. I am Zeus.” The god gestured and a rumble of thunder punctuated his announcement.

“Ah! Pardon me, great lord, I was deceived by your cunning disguise.” The pretty boy knelt.

Zeus chucked him under the chin. “So what’s your name, pretty boy who’s pretty enough to make Zeus think he’s a girl.”

The pretty boy stood up but kept his eyes lowered. “I am Ganymede, Thunderer, son of Tros, chieftain of Dardania.”

“Oh, yes, Tros, the one who founded Troy and then there’s going to be a war and then Schliemann… er, never mind, divine foreknowledge and all that. In any case, I was planning to dally with you for a while and beget heroes upon your loins, you know, the sort of thing I generally do with pretty, er, girls. And women. But since you’re a boy, perhaps you’d like me to drop you nearer home on my way off?”

Ganymede shyly raised his eyes to smile at the god. “Well, king of gods, it’s true I can’t bear heroes for you, but I *can* provide dalliance.”


Ganymede smiled more widely and stepped closer. “If I might be permitted, son of Kronos–” He knelt.

“Oh… oh! OH!”

Thunder rolled, lightning struck, and a brief but powerful rainshower soaked the region.

“Have you never dallied with a boy, Raingiver?”

“Not before this, no.”

“I could show you other possibilities, gracious lord, if we might adjourn to someplace drier and more comfortable.”

“How about this, pretty boy?”

Ganymede boldly threw his arms about the god’s waist. “I don’t like caves! Once when I was a child, I was trapped in a cave by an angry bear. I was terribly frightened.”

“Really? I’ve had some of my best dalliances in caves. But perhaps you would prefer this–”

At once they were in a secluded grove on the slopes of Mt. Ida, where great oak trees encircled a patch of sweet-smelling flowers. Ganymede sneezed violently.

“I beg your pardon, father of gods and men, but an abundance of flowers always makes me ill. And then I sn–” He sneezed once again.

“Very well, then.” In the space of a heartbeat, they were in a bedchamber in a small disused palace on Mt. Olympos.

“Now this is more like it,” Ganymede said, and tugged the god toward the bed.

Quite a lot of dalliance ensued, until Ganymede had to plead exhaustion on the grounds that he was only human. Zeus allowed him to sleep, watching over him lest anyone discover their tryst.

When Ganymede awoke, the god stroked his hair. “How would you like to stay here on Olympos, my boy? You could spell my daughter Hebe as cupbearer; she might even marry you, if you like. And we could dally further from time to time, you and I.”

“I’d like that, great lawgiver.” Ganymede glanced at Zeus from under his lashes. “You didn’t really mistake me for a girl, did you, all-seeing lord?”

Zeus laughed. “No, of course not. But you did teach me a few tricks, lad. And you *are* awfully pretty.”

(In honor of the syncretism of Antinous and Ganymede.)


FIC: The origin of make-up sex

“Jupiter and Juno on Mount Ida” by James Barry, 1776

It is not well known, but it is a fact that Zeus and Hera invented make-up sex.

The first time he wooed another after their marriage (and who was that first? that, nobody knows), Hera was furious. She painted the skies with her rage in boiling red sunsets, lurid green cloud cover, humidity so thick that mortals struggled to breathe. When at last Zeus came home, smelling of a stranger and smiling to himself, she screamed at him in shrieking winds, threw knick-knacks in a hailstorm, and pounded her fists on his stubborn chest. How could he outrage her dignity like this? How could he flout their marriage vows? Had he no respect for her guardianship of marriage? How could he prefer, even for an instant, some mayfly mortal to a goddess, the daughter of Kronos and Rhea?

Zeus defended himself with piles of thunderclouds, with shaking the lightning bolt, with bellowing thunder that rolled for miles over the lands about Olympus. He was the king and father among the gods! Of course he respected her, but his attentions were a blessing to be bestowed widely! Of course he would always come back, no one would ever supplant her on the throne. How dare she question him, the wielder of the thunderbolt, the son who overthrew his father when the others wouldn’t even try? Mortals cowered as the lord of the heavens and his lady fought.

Then the proximity of anger turned into the proximity of passion. Shouting into one another’s faces turned into frantic kissing, each swallowing the other’s angry words. Clenched fists turned into gripping and tearing at each other’s clothing. The pins that Zeus pulled from Hera’s curls fell deep into the earth to become raw ore for the swords of heroes. The winds moaned in harmony with Hera’s pleasure; the thunder boomed with Zeus’s grunts of effort.

And in their mutual climax, the clouds burst and rain fell, soaking the earth, blessing the soil, filling dry creek beds, replenishing deep wells. As the divine spouses slept in each other’s arms, the clouds dispersed, and Iris the messenger of Hera danced on the ramparts of Olympus, filled with the joy of her mistress. Mortals pointed to the hem of her many-colored gown as it rippled in the sky and thanked the gods for their blessings.

Zeus and Hera awoke together, Hera’s hand resting on his bearded cheek, his fingers twined in her unbound her. He kissed her brow. “I shall have many lovers, but only one wife. Use your anger to temper the heroes I will father, and remember that I love you, first and last.”

She laid a finger on his lips. “I will scatter your paramours like seeds before the winds, even if mortals think I am merely a jealous shrew. And all your children will come at last to know me as their mother. But let all our quarrels always end thus, in make-up sex.”

And so it was, and so it is.

FIC: “A leisurely cruise through the stars”, part eleven

The retsina might have gone to Melinoe’s head, divine though she was, but the coffee seemed to have steadied her. What an amazing potion that was. She gladly accepted her host’s offer of a walk on the promenade.

“Hadrian always used to recommend a walk after a meal.” They were not alone, although the night was cool; other people were already strolling the deck, mostly couples and small groups, mostly quiet. “Said it improved digestion. He still says that,” and Antinous pointed, chuckling. Melinoe followed his gesture and saw the divus Hadrian with his wife, diva Sabina, her companion the poetess, and Ganymede.

“In case you were wondering, the answer is yes.” She turned back to Antinous, who was smiling, one eyebrow cocked.


“Yes, Hadrian will likely take Ganymede to bed tonight. And Sabina customarily sleeps with Julia on those occasions.”

“And you?”

“I may sleep alone. But I won’t be lonely. And if I do wish for company, there are many who would gladly be my partner.”

Melinoe paused by the deck rail and laid her hands on the polished brass. It was pleasantly cool, not cold, like the wind that stirred her gown. Around the ship, which glided through the vast heavens like a barge on a deep but gentle river, the stars whirled in their endless dance.

“I… have not had a partner yet. I have long assumed that when I did, I would have but one, and he would likewise find his only one in me.”

Antinous folded his arms on the rail, his elbow a few inches from hers. He, too, looked out into the depth of sky, the body of Night.

“When Hadrian and I met, custom recommended that a man be faithful to one wife, the mother of his children. But custom also held its tongue if a man, even married, found other partners, whoever they might be, as long as he… preserved his dignity in certain ways.”

Melinoe had not lived so sheltered a life that she did not recognize a euphemism when she heard it. She paused a moment before daring the question that arose. “And did he, with you?”

“In mortal life, yes.” Antinous turned his back to the railing but still propped his elbows on it. “Since then, no. Not with me. With others–I need not know. There is a mortal saying nowadays–to kiss and tell. He doesn’t.”

He was grinning like an imp, and she was blushing like, well, like a maiden. “Times change. Mortals change, and customs. Still, for most people, gods, mortals, whatever, the hope is one partner, one love, man and woman, the bearing of children. The turning of the wheel of life. Alas, some mortals now are enraged against the few of them who, like Hadrian, myself, my friends, love many, love more than one gender, love without desire to procreate.”

“But whyever for? Surely joining in love and pleasure is a good thing, a blessing mortals share with divinities.”

Antinous turned to look out from the ship again and ran a hand through his hair. “Truly, lady, I have spent many hours of both mortal and immortal life wondering about that. Enough people wish to procreate that the race of mortals will surely not die out for lack of interest. Love between two men or two women or bonds of friendship that include bedplay do no harm to those who have pledged fidelity to one husband or one wife. When I look at the mortal world, I see more harm done by men who claim to be ‘normal’, to be right and proper men, than by those called ‘queer’–tyranny over their wives and children, rape and other cruelties to women in general, fear and hatred also of those who differ from them in race or custom.”

He made a noise of deep frustration and turned to look at Melinoe. “In any case, I have made it my business to protect those who love differently, insofar as I can, to welcome them here and give them passage, and to do justice on their behalf.”

There was a note of ferocity in the young god’s voice that Melinoe had not heard before. She found it–thrilling. Yet she knew she was not ready to act on the feeling.

She was just about to propose that they walk a bit more when a sailor came rushing up to them. “Divine Navigator!” he said, when Antinous had acknowledged him. “We are passing from the constellation of Aquarius into the constellation of Capricorn.”
Antinous smiled and clapped his hands. “Come, lady! Let us go up to the bridge and watch from there.”

FICTION: “A leisurely cruise through the stars”, part ten

Antinous allowed a few minutes of silence while they both ate. Melinoe drank more of her water than of the wine, but she seemed to be enjoying the food. “Have you not seen your divine parents since you went to be fostered in the North?”

“I have seen them, from time to time, though only singly. Father visited only when Mother was in his realm, and Mother only when she was visiting with her mother. It will be a pleasure to see both of them at once, and in their own domain.”

Antinous refilled both their wine glasses. “Tell me of Hel’s realm. Until I came to escort you, I had never been there.”

“It is cold!” The goddess spoke so emphatically that Antinous laughed, and then so did she. “I remember that in my first few days there, I was terribly, terribly cold. I thought I would never be warm again.”

“You must have been very young.” The god signalled a hovering servant for more food.

“I was walking,” Melinoe said, musing. “I think this must be a difference between those who are born gods and those who are made so: I remember my infancy, which mortals do not.”
“True,” Antinous acknowledged. It was difficult to remember that Melinoe, so young and vivacious in appearance, was far older than himself.

“It was cold,” Melinoe repeated, “and I was lonely, at first, even though I knew Hel. She and Hekate midwived me, and I had seen her often. But I missed Mother and Father, of course, and Hekate, and our gardens.

“It is cold in Hel’s realm but dry, except near the Gjoll. In Hades there are small gardens Mother tends that have herbs and flowers, and there are orchards where the trees bear fruit. In Hel the lands have the appearance of late autumn. The leaves that cling to the trees are brown and gold, red and orange, like flames, but their fruit is rotted. Water is scarce, ice-cold, heavy with minerals. In one or two places, near the border with Muspellheim, there are hot springs, which smell horrid but feel very pleasant for soaking oneself. It is very quiet everywhere.”

Though her description did not sound at all appealing to Antinous, he could hear fondness in Melinoe’s voice.

“In my first days, my foster-mother took me to visit the god Baldur. He is one of the Aesir, but long ago he was slain by Loki and went to live among the dead. He has his own separate place in her realm, with his wife Nanna. It is warmer and brighter in their halls, and Baldur held me on his lap when I visited so that I got warm.” She smiled. “He and Nanna were very kind to me, and I visited them often. But once I got used to the chill, and had proper clothes, I liked being with Hel and going about her realm. The places of the dead all have much in common, after all, and Hel, too, is very kind in her way.”

Antinous privately thought that he had never encountered a goddess so fearsome as the Northern lady of the dead, but obviously her care had been a boon to Melinoe.

Servants came, took away the empty platters and plates with nothing but crumbs, and brought clean plates and a tray of baklava for dessert. They also brought, on a small table of its own, an urn of coffee with all the accompaniments.

“This, lady, is baklava, a wonderful pastry rich in honey. And this,” he got up to tend to the urn, “is a drink called coffee, made from the beans of a plant, which is excellent with sweet foods and stimulates the mind, especially in mortals.”

He placed a cup of the black, steaming brew in front of her, beside the triangle of baklava. “Try the coffee without any additions, first. If it seems too strong for you, cream or sugar or both can be added.”

Melinoe took a dainty bite of the pastry with one hand and a sip of the coffee with the other. Her eyes and her mouth alike grew round with obvious delight.

“How delicious!” She drank some water, then tasted the baklava again, washing it down with more water. She took a bold gulp of the coffee and licked her lips with relish. “I do like it just as it is. And it provides the perfect contrast to the flavor of the baklava.”

Antinous smiled. “From now on, lady, if anyone should ask you how you take your coffee, you may tell them that you take it black.”

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.”


FICTION: The turning of the wheel

When she hears his footsteps crunching in the leaves, Pomona knows.

It’s always in the autumn, when the leaves lose their green and the apples, her especial fruits, ripen in the waning days. When the oak leaves turn bronze and drift to the forest floor, when the first chill descends with the setting sun, Vertumnus comes home to the orchard.

Pomona and the nymphs dance less often as autumn settles in. Instead they gather around a fire started with dead leaves, drink cider, and tell stories. Sometimes Vertumnus arrives by night, when the flames are dancing high and the cider barrel is nearly empty. Sometimes he arrives in early morning, when it is still dark and the goddess is still abed in her bower. Sometimes he arrives in the afternoon, when she and the nymphs are hard at work gathering the apples, pressing the cider, and he strolls through the busy throng casually eating an apple, oak leaves in his hair, a twinkle in his eye.

He always returns. In spring and summer he wanders far, turning the wheel of the seasons. He dallies with Flora in the spring, that wanton hussy with her flowers. Every time she laughs in his arms, another flower opens. Pomona counts the blossoms on her favorite apple tree and knows how many times Flora has come. But she does not lie alone while Vertumnus lies with the flower goddess; she has her nymphs to keep her company, with their long tresses and soft flesh, their clever fingers and tongues.

In the summer he ranges yet further afield, seeking the company of other gods. Silvanus, Faunus, Antinous, Cernunnos, Pan–with gods of the woods and the hunt, of the flocks and herds, he sports and spars, wrestling, fighting with staves, gripping and striking until one of them yields and holds turn to caresses, punctuated by rough kisses. She knows that he runs and runs, as a deer, as a bull, as a stallion, as a lion or a cheetah, the strongest and fleetest male of the lot.

But he comes back. He grows tired of wandering. He misses familiar trees and landmarks. He yearns for the taste of Italian springs. He notices aches and pains, scrapes and bruises, and longs for a tender touch to soothe them. He listens for the singing of the nymphs and follows it back, back to the grove, back home.

She is always waiting. She will always be here. She will offer him wine and cider, venison and good bread; she will let him eat his fill and talk himself dry. And then she will send the nymphs away and lead him into her bower, where she will lay him down and take her fill of him, over and over, with immortal passion, until they are both spent, replete, ready for winter’s sleep.

As the nights lengthen, as the cold comes in, as the leaves fall and the acorns, as the calls of the birds grow silent, she will tell him about all the things that happened while he was away, and all the things she plans for the coming spring. And the apple seeds will germinate in the earth of Pomona’s grove while Vertumnus sleeps in her arms, and she will be content.