Bull Godby Roberta Gellis
MOMMA DOESN'T TALK ABOUT THAT PARTY...
When gods still walked the Earth, a king could pray for a sign and have a white bull rise from the sea to confirm his claim to the throne. But a god's price was high, and when Minos did not keep his promise to the god Poseidon, the god meddled with Minos' wife...and the Minotaur, a child with the head of a bull, was/b>
MOMMA DOESN'T TALK ABOUT THAT PARTY...
When gods still walked the Earth, a king could pray for a sign and have a white bull rise from the sea to confirm his claim to the throne. But a god's price was high, and when Minos did not keep his promise to the god Poseidon, the god meddled with Minos' wife...and the Minotaur, a child with the head of a bull, was born. The question is, did Poseidon intend his son to be worshiped as a new god, or is he the god's curse on Knossos, a monster that will destroy it?
Ariadne was the Minotaur's half-sister, the only one who would touch him and care for him when he was born. She was also high priestess of Dionysus, sworn to interpret his Visions, but one Vision destroys her peace. Dionysus Sees that the bull-head must die or bring disaster upon the realm. Can Ariadne agree to the slaughter of the deformed half-brother who clings to her as the only one who cares for him? Can she protect the Minotaur in defiance of Dionysus' vision and dare the god's wrath? Should she?
SOURCE: VOYA, October 2000 (Vol. 23, No. 4)
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.82(w) x 4.22(h) x 0.85(d)
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By Roberta Gellis
Baen BooksCopyright © 2000 Roberta Gellis
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAriadne stared at the face in the polished oval of brass and could not believe it was hers. The full lips were dyed a shocking dark red, as if stained with wine-or blood-the dark lines of kohl that outlined her large, black eyes made them look deep and knowing, and the way her shining black hair was dressed, in an elaboration of loops and braids and falling ringlets plus the two thick locks curling in front of her ears, made her look ten years older. Until this morning she had worn it in two thick plaits like any other child.
"Yes, yes," a sharp voice said. "You are very beautiful-as am I-but that's no reason to spend the day staring at yourself. We must be at the shrine when the sun rises. Stand up so you can be dressed."
Silently Ariadne laid down the brass mirror and turned to face her mother. It was true that Pasiphae was beautiful-and not only in flickering torchlight. Even in bright sun light, no one would believe that Ariadne was Pasiphae's seventh child or that there was an eighth, Phaidra. Both Pasiphae's face and her body seemed unmarked by the sons and daughters she had provided her lord, King Minos. Perhaps, Ariadne thought sadly, it was because she hardly noticed the children she had borne ... except when they could be useful.
Like today, when her daughter would be consecrated as high priestess of Dionysus so that Pasiphae herself, queen and high priestess of Potnia, the Snake Goddess, wouldn't need to be bothered conducting the rites of a minor godling whose shrine had been built to satisfy common vine growers and winemakers. Ariadne swallowed hard as she allowed a servant to slip off the loose gown in which she had been combed and painted and wrap around her the white, many-tiered bell skirt, embroidered elaborately in the same wine red her lips had been dyed. When it was fastened with the rich gold girdle wound twice around her waist and tied so the ends fell to about midthigh, Ariadne thrust her arms through the sleeves of the bodice and stood while the servant laced it up below her bare breasts. Even the tightest lacing and the firmest boning could do little for them. Barely swelling, they were a child's breasts.
The servant tskd. Pasiphae frowned and said, "Can you do nothing to make her look like a woman?"
"But I'm not a woman," Ariadne said. "No lacing or padding will make me more than a child."
It was a reproach, but it glanced off Pasiphae's perfect armor of self-interest. She said, "Well, it is unfortunate that your grandmother died sooner than expected, but your moon times have come upon you so you do qualify. It's most unlikely that you will need to prove yourself a woman."
That, Ariadne had to admit, probably was true. The god of the vine was supposed to mate ritually with his high priestess at the equinoxes and solstices, but Dionysus had not actually appeared in the shrine in two or three generations. It was enough for the ritual, apparently, that the priestess be there, on the altar, ready to accommodate him.
If he had never appeared, Ariadne would have been rather pleased with her appointment. A seventh child, third daughter, had little enough importance even in a king's household. It would be very nice to have duties to perform and a special place and purpose that was all her own. But there were records that the god had appeared-quite often when her great-great-aunt was priestess-and Ariadne wasn't really ready to offer her body in public as a symbol of the earth to be ploughed and set with seed so that the grapes on the hill sides would flourish.
Not that she had any choice. The high priestess must be either the queen herself or a royal virgin dedicated and married to the god. Since her two older sisters were married and Phaidra was almost two years younger than she, once her mother refused the office there was no one else. That meant that Ariadne would have no human husband, but that had its good side as well as its bad. Her older sisters had had the best of the men of sufficient status and wealth. She would have had to take a man of lesser family or an older man. And even among the best, one sister at least had been bitterly disappointed in her marriage. The god would make few demands, if he ever made any, and she would have a household of her own in the shrine....
Buried in her thoughts, Ariadne hadn't been aware of the final touches made to her toilette until her mother turned her toward the door and gave her a push. Obedient to her duty, she went forward down the long corridor to the colonnaded chamber that opened on the wide, formal stairway. As she started down, voices rose in a hymn from the youths and maidens gathered in the open court below. They would never leap the bulls for her, Ariadne thought; that was for the Snake Goddess, not for a godling of the vine growers.
The voices rose to a crescendo as she reached the foot of the stair and the singers, her eldest brother Androgeos in the forefront, parted before her and then fell in behind as she started across. It was not all bad to be deprived of presiding over the bull dancing either, Ariadne thought. Oh, it was a high honor, a symbol of power, to be seated before the great golden horns while the bull dancers performed, but it was horrible when one slipped and was gored or trampled and the evil omen had to be explained. She would have no more to do than to lie on an altar four times a year to provide the hope of a good crop of grapes.
Greatly cheered by that thought, Ariadne walked the last painted corridor and went out the northwestern entrance of the palace. Torchbearers had been waiting at the doorway and now they marched to either side, torches held high. More torches flanked the ranks of singers who followed her. In fact the torches weren't altogether necessary; every window in every house on the Royal Road was open, torchlit, and full of watchers and the sky was already paling.
Not that Ariadne had need of torches or sunlight to find her way. The Royal Road was as familiar as the corridor between the toilet and her bedchamber. She even knew exactly how far it was to the great highway. Before she had quite completed the two hundred paces, Ariadne's confident stride faltered. Ahead were more torches, some of these waving so that the flames guttered and roared, and voices, louder, coarser voices, also singing. A hand flat on her back prodded her.
"Go on," Pasiphae's voice urged. "Those are your worshipers. Don't disappoint them."
To save herself from falling under the pressure on her back, Ariadne stepped forward and then stepped forward again. Her mouth was dry. Don't disappoint them! But what if she did? Would they tear her apart as worshipers of Dionysus were known to do? And then she chided herself for being so silly. Certainly they wouldn't harm her now, before she was even consecrated. And very few, if any, would be able to get into the shrine grounds, so they would know only what her mother and father chose to tell them. And they had never harmed her grandmother, even though the god never came to her call and sometimes the wine was bad or the harvest failed.
She turned into the great road and, despite all her reasoning, shuddered slightly. She had just remembered that her grandmother had been queen as well as priestess, doubly protected. As far as she could see, all the way up Gypsades Hill, there were torches. This "godling" that her mother scorned was either loved or feared by many more worshipers than ever attended the rites of the Snake Goddess. Of course, these were common folk and of no great account.... And then she heard her mother's voice again, low and sharp.
"I had no idea-"
So, common as they were, these folk were of account, Ariadne thought, at least in sufficient numbers. That was important to remember, but she became aware of the quickened pace of the singing around her. She was being urged to hurry, and realized that the torches were paling to nothing; the sky was much lighter. Fortunately she didn't need to be at the shrine until the sun topped Gypsades Hill itself and that would be some time after it cleared the lowest horizon.
Still, it was a near thing. The light was actually glinting off the gilded vine leaves of Dionysus' crown when Ariadne reached the altar and swung around to face those who followed her, seeing with some relief, that it was indeed mostly those of Knossos who filled the small courtyard. Her father had joined her mother at the foot of the stairs in the palace and had walked with them. Now he came forward and the singers burst out again into an invocation. When the voices died, King Minos kissed Ariadne's forehead, and prayed aloud, formally renouncing into the hands of the god Dionysus his rights as king and father over her as a daughter. Again the chorus rose, and during the singing, from out of a door to the left of the large painting behind the altar, came two rather elderly priests and two priestesses.
A new hymn rose in the air. Ariadne joined in this one, which praised the god and begged him to show his favor and bless his priestess and her land with his virility. The priestesses carried a brightly polished scrying bowl; the priests a large rhyton. Her father now backed away. The priestess held out the scrying bowl; Ariadne took it and, speaking the arcane words she had been taught, turned to the one of the priests, who poured a dark red wine into the bowl. When it was full to within a fingerwidth of the top, Ariadne knelt down-with considerable care not to spill the wine-and set the bowl into a hollow at the foot of the altar.
The sun was now well up into the sky and its light struck the highly polished rim and the dark surface of the wine, rippled by the slight unsteadiness of Ariadne's grip when she set down the bowl. Glare and glitter flashed back into Ariadne's eyes. The chorus was quiet now and Ariadne alone raised her voice.
A very great distance away, across a sea and a range of mountains, in a gleaming marble city called Olympus, Dionysus lifted his head from his pillow and cocked it. Someone was Calling him. He sat up and looked around. The large room was empty and silent, but the Call came again, clear and sweet, inside his head. Smiling, for he was one of the youngest among the great mages and he still took a mildly amused pleasure in having worshipers who believed him a god, he hopped out of bed and padded into the next chamber. Here a carved stone table held a flagon of wine and a cup. Dionysus dreamed mad dreams often and wakened with a dry mouth. He poured the wine into the cup and, as the Call came a third time, looked in.
Dionysus' breath drew in sharply. Instead of his own image, an enchanting female face looked up out of the wine's dark surface. The girl's eyes widened with surprise and he could see her draw breath as sharply as he had. He smiled.
"Come, godly Dionysis, come to me," she called.
His smile broadened. "I come," he said and gestured. The surface of the wine became empty. Still watching the cup, Dionysus asked, "Where?"
An image formed. Dionysus frowned. Knossos. He had not been Called from Knossos for ... he could not remember how long, but very long. He stood a moment, the lips of his wide, generous mouth turned down, remembering pain. The priestess had been lover and friend and then, for no reason he could tell, had turned away from him, stopped Calling. He had missed talking to her for she was very wise and could often make sense of the Visions that tormented him. Once he had gone to the shrine without being Called, to ask the priestess why she was angry with him, but there had been a strange woman there who said she was queen and priestess and shrieked and threatened him. He should have torn her apart, but he hadn't been in the throes of frenzy, only startled, and he had "leapt" home to Olympus.
Later he had realized that his priestess no longer presided in the shrine. He had thought of returning, of demanding that his own priestess be brought back, but then he had become embroiled with Pentheus who was persecuting his followers and by the time he had seen to Pentheus' punishment, it had occurred to him that natives had far, far shorter lives than Olympians, that his priestess had not been young when she first Called him; she must be dead. His throat tightened. He still missed her.
He turned away from the cup, eyes staring blindly, sorry he had answered the Call. Mingling with natives ... He had been warned against that, warned that they were always trouble-and it had been true. Dionysus turned his head fretfully, and his full lips thinned. But he had said he would come. He hesitated, knowing that the other Olympians did not regard a promise to the native folk very seriously. Perhaps, he thought, but he did not lie, not even to natives. And then a slow smile curved his lips, which parted to say the words that initiated the spell to translocate him to his shrine at Knossos. The woman's face had been very beautiful, very different from the beauty of the Olympians. They were all bright gold, she a dark mystery with her shining black hair and the bottomless black pools that were her eyes. If she were the new priestess ...
* * *
For some time after the face disappeared from the scrying bowl, Ariadne remained on her knees staring into the blank surface of the wine. Had she really seen that strange face, so different from any she had ever seen before? On the still surface of the wine she painted the face again. His skin was pale, almost as white as polished limestone, and his hair a mass of golden curls tumbling down to touch darker golden brows. Below those his eyes, too large, too brilliant, glinted a blue paler than the ocean. Between those startling eyes a fine, straight nose, and below it the generous mouth with beautifully shaped lips that had parted a little with surprise when the eyes focused on her and then smiled sweetly. When she had seen that smile, she had Called with all her heart, "Come, godly Dionysus, come to me." And she had heard him reply. Surely she hadn't imagined that-but then the face was gone.
A hand touched Ariadne's shoulder and she blinked, realizing she had been staring into the scrying bowl for a long time. Slowly she rose to her feet, lifted the bowl and handed it to one of the priestesses, who poured from it into a cup, which she offered Ariadne. Automatically, still wondering if she had seen or imagined that face in the bowl, and how she could have imagined something she had never seen before, Ariadne sipped the wine. When she had drunk a little from the cup, she held it out and the priest who still held the rhyton took it from her. The other took the scrying bowl from the priestess and both walked back to the door behind the altar.
Excerpted from Bull God by Roberta Gellis Copyright © 2000 by Roberta Gellis. Excerpted by permission.
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Just one big dysfunctional family... Ariadne has a mother who's overbearing and jealous, a father who's distant, a whiny younger sister, and a brother who's a monster. Literally - half bull, half-human. Her boyfriend is a god who can drive people to madness as well as ripen grapes, and who doesn't want to spoil a good friendship by sleeping with her. This story retells the myths of the Minotaur and its Labyrinth from the point of view of his sister, the priestess Ariadne, who is wise, firm, and compassionate (if sexually frustrated). In this version we get more on the story of Mage/god Dionysus, his "helpers" Silenos and Bacchus, a glimpse of Hekate and Kaiberos, and Poseidon's sick sense of humor. Especially poignant here is the story of the Minotaur, a half-bull, half-human creature who was once a scared and confused baby, feared by most, pitied by a few, and loved by no one. I've enjoyed the whole series, but this one tugged at my heartstrings for the monster; I didn't find the love story between Ariadne and Dionysus quite as compelling, but it was still a great read.
Everything I expected from a Gellis. Realistic without being depressing, romantic without being silly, and making very relevent social commentary in a historical setting.
This third book in the Olympic series (following Dazzling Brightness and Shimmering Splendor) is the best yet. I couldn't put it down until I'd finished it!
This book, like everything Roberta Gellis has written, was fantastic. As I read, I could see Olympus as Gellis described it, I could feel what Ariadne felt, I could imagine Dionysus and his temple. While reading this book, I laughed, I cried, I got mad, I got irritated, I felt happy, I felt sad.. right along with the characters. That, in my opinion, is the hallmark of a really good book. And Gellis has an extremely interesting theory on the 'true' origins of the gods. If you want a book that is entertaining, interesting, and captivating from the first word to the last, this-- and any other of Gellis' books-- is the one.