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.”
“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.”