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"If you spend any more time in there, you're going to turn into a mermaid!"
Eurydice lifted her dark head from where she was reclining in the water, seeing the centaur pawing at the edge of her stream. "Chiron!" Her eyes widened in surprise and delight. She grinned. "Nymphs aren't mermaids, horse-boy. You just want to turn everyone half-breed, don't you?"
The centaur snorted, sounding very horse-like in spite of his human torso. "Not if they all turn out like my brothers. I swear I'm the only civilized one in the lot."
Eurydice stood, twisting the water out of her long, dark hair, and saw Chiron's eyes moving over her nude form appreciatively. She smiled at him as she stepped out, patting his chestnut flank as she reached for her wrap. It was the standard Greek dress for women, a long, thin strip of material she wound about her body in an intricate way. It clung to her curves. "You certainly are the best of them. What are you doing here, anyway?"
His dark eyes moved over her body before she finished pulling the material around her and closing it without any fasteners. He cleared his throat, running a hand through his long, dark hair. "Apollo insisted I come for the whole 'Find Aristaeus a Wife' shindig, since I was apparently responsible for his birth, or some such rot."
"Hazards of being an oracle, huh?" Eurydice's hand moved over the horse's back, feeling the strong muscles there. "Didn't you introduce Apollo to Aristaeus' mother?"
"Not exactly. I think the exact prophecy, as I recall, was Apollo would take the nymph, Cyrene, to Libya, where she would bear him a son, named Aristaeus--he who would become revered among men for his skills with the land andthe animals." Chiron shrugged, looking over his broad shoulder at her. "Eurydice, dear, if you don't stop petting me like that, my baser natures may just take over."
"Sorry." She dropped her hand with a blush. "It's just such a nice, shiny coat."
"And you are a glistening star." His rump swung around as he faced her, stunningly human completely from the waist up. "You know how I have a thing for nymphs."
"Nymphs are nigh irresistible when we want to be." She cleared her throat and changed the subject. "So this nymph, Cyrene--how could she travel so far from her domain?"
He gave her a sad look. "She was a Nereid, not a Naiad, like you, my dear."
"Oh." Eurydice's hopeful eyes dropped, and she sat on the bank of the stream with a sigh. "So basically, as long as she was near the sea, she could travel anywhere she wanted?"
"But I'm stuck here by this little creek." She sighed, kicking at the water with her foot.
"You love your stream."
"Yes, well ... sometimes I think it does not love me."
Chiron's tail swished. "I'm sure there are many men--or half-men--who might settle with you here beside your waters."
"Oh Chiron..." She reached up and patted his flank. "I love you like a brother, you know that."
"Well, my dear, there will be plenty of men to choose from at Apollo's son-worshipping." He snorted at his own pun and she smiled, shaking her head. "Won't you at least accompany me? So few give me as much pleasure with their very company as you do."
She laughed; standing and stretching. "With all the honey you spread with your words, I'm surprised you haven't attracted more than just flies, horse-boy!"
He grinned. "Wanna go for a ride?"
"I thought you'd never ask!" She eyed his back, long and sleek. Placing her bare foot in the stirrup he made with his hands, she swung her leg over his flank, arranging her robe and settling herself on his back.
"Love that little wiggle." He glanced over his shoulder and waggled his eyebrows at her.
"You're so bad!" She slapped him near the tail with her hand and his eyes widened.
"Watch it--I like that too much."
She laughed, wrapping her arms around his waist, feeling the hard ridges of muscle in his belly as he began to trot across the stream, carrying her with him. He was a fine specimen, really, of man and equine, and while he'd made it known on several occasions he would settle by the stream with her, she doubted he could do so for long.
There was too much in him that loved liberty and the freedom of roaming. He was, by no means, the wild half-breeds his brothers had proved themselves to be--but Chiron had an undeniable love for adventure, and Eurydice couldn't roam any further than her stream itself did. Roaming too far from home would force her to wither and die, like a grape left off the vine in the sun.
However, a secret longing burned in her belly, and it wasn't for Chiron. It wasn't for any man she had ever met, but she just knew she would know him when she found him. She yearned to find the man she would be willing to follow, regardless of her circumstances. He existed, somewhere, she was sure of it--the man she would sacrifice everything for.
Eurydice saw something out of the corner of her eye and squeezed her thighs around Chiron's sides. He gave a distinctly whinny-like sound. "Hey!"
"I think I just saw Melina!" She urged him left, and he cantered that way, towards a clearing. Sure enough, her friend was standing in the field, her arms held up to the sky. "Wait, Chiron!" Eurydice grabbed his long, dark hair as if it were a mane, pulling back and he slowed, shaking his head and glancing over his shoulder at her.
"What was that for?"
"She's taming the bees."
Eurydice dismounted, sliding to the ground. "Stay here for a moment. You'll see." She approached her friend quietly, her bare feet making no sound on the soft grass. Melina covered with a carpet of bees, the softly buzzing insects crawling over her skin from head to toe. When she had first seen Melina performing this trick a few years ago, Eurydice had panicked, running forward and waving her arms wildly, trying to make the bees scatter. She winced at the memory. She had caused her new friend several unnecessary stings that day--but Melina had taken it in stride, and they had spent a nice afternoon doctoring her wounds and chatting in Melina's little cottage.
"Melina?" Eurydice called softly, still keeping her distance. The woman's eyes opened and she stared out at her friend from two blue eyes lost in a moving blanket of insects. Eurydice thought she caught the hint of her smile, and then Melina started to spin. It began slowly, her bare feet shuffling on the grass, her steps minute and perfected. The insects started to rise, a few at a time, then in larger numbers as she turned faster, her arms thrown out to her sides. Soon she was spinning like a top, her blonde hair revealed now and whirling around her face in a cloud as the bees took flight, going off again on their daily business.
Chiron came up behind Eurydice, pawing the ground. "That's impressive!"
"She does it every day." Eurydice shook her head, her smile bemused. "Melina, this is Chiron, the centaur. Chiron, this is my friend, Melina."
"Pleased to make your acquaintance." Chiron bent one jointed leg and bowed his head briefly. "May I ask ... what is the purpose of that daily death-defying stunt?"
"I'm just keeping them happy." Melina smiled from where she had collapsed on the ground, still gently shaking her head free from a bee or two. They buzzed gently around her face, but she showed no sign of fear. In fact, they seemed to kiss her cheek before taking flight again with their brothers and sisters. "Angry bees don't produce good honey. Happy bees are good workers. They love being seen for the magical beings they are."
"Is that so?"
"Chiron is taking me over to a festival Apollo is having for his son." Eurydice held a hand out to her friend. "Do you want to come with us?" Melina took the outstretched hand, looking askance at the half-man, half-horse. "Do I have to ride?"
"You'll let bees crawl all over you, but you're afraid of horses?" Eurydice laughed.
"It's not the horse ride itself..." Melina shrugged, giving Chiron an apologetic smile. "I'm more afraid of the falling off."
"I'll go slowly." He winked, making his hands into a stirrup again. Eurydice helped Melina mount first then swung herself up behind her, putting her arms around the other woman's waist.
"You said you'd go slowly!" Melina squealed and grasped Chiron tightly around the middle as he galloped over the field. She buried her face in his back, and he rumbled laughter as he leapt nimbly across a small stream.
"But then I wouldn't have two beautiful women clinging to me, would I?" Chiron slowed, grinning back at them with a wink.
Eurydice smacked his rear. "You are bad!"
"It's part of my nature." He shrugged, but his smile never faded. "And we can't help our natures can we?"
Eurydice sighed, thinking of her attachment to her stream. "I suppose so."
"Oh, I don't know." Melina dared to peek around Chiron's broad back to see where they were going. "I think people can change."
"Spoken like a true mortal!" Chiron laughed; the sound rumbling through him. Eurydice could feel it between her thighs.
"Come on, horsie." She squeezed her legs around him, digging her knees in. "Play nice."
Chiron slowed to a walk. "We're almost there. Look ahead."
"That wasn't far at all." Eurydice tried to see around both Melina and Chiron, leaning far out to the side. "Oh my goodness! You weren't kidding about Apollo going all-out, were you?"
There were tents set up everywhere in the clearing across this stretch of Eurydice's winding stream, and she noticed a fine new cottage built up on the hill. So that's what all the racket has been the past few months. It made sense now. Eurydice had spent most of the summer helping Melina nurse her sick father, who had passed away just a month before. A mortal's life certainly was distracting--it was something she truly enjoyed about being friends with Melina, even when there was inevitable mortal pain involved in the process. It took her mind off her own lonely existence.
Chiron made a decidedly horse-like snort as he started up the hill, passing tents set up along the way. "Everyone knows Apollo favors him amongst all his sons."
"Why?" Melina nudged Eurydice, pointing to a juggler.
"Who knows?" The centaur shrugged his big shoulders. "Probably because he favors the man's mother?"
"Cyrene..." Eurydice sighed, lamenting her own limited freedom, compared to that of the Naiad. "Well, we nymphs do have an effect, even on the gods..."
"You could have any man you wanted, Eurie." Melina smiled back at her friend and squeezed her thigh. "You're just too damned picky."
"I am?" Eurydice frowned, running a hand through her still-damp dark hair. She never took care with her appearance, but she never really had to. Melina was right--many a man and even a few gods had asked for her, but none had been ... quite right. Maybe I am too picky.
"Rightfully so, dearest." Melina patted Eurydice's hand wrapped around her waist. "Whoever he is, he's worth the wait. And so are you."
Eurydice fondly kissed the top of her friend's blonde head, giving her a squeeze. "You are too precious."
"Oh look!" Melina seemed to forget her fear of falling as she pointed around the centaur's back. "Honey!"
"Oh for Zeus' sake!" Eurydice laughed. "Don't you get enough of your own?"
"Please!" Melina wiggled on the centaur's back, grasping his shoulders hard enough to make him near-whinny. "Stop! I want to see!"
Eurydice dismounted so she could help Melina down and the women stopped at the booth, watching the man's bent, blonde head as he uncapped the waxy honeycomb with a knife and began pouring it slowly into a jar. He didn't seem to notice the two of them at all. Bees hovered around him, crawling on his hands and arms, and he didn't seem to notice them either.
When he finished, he looked up and smiled, slipping the comb back and capping the jar. "Would either of you sweet ladies like to taste the honey of the gods?"
Melina nodded, stepping forward. "I keep my own."
"Do you?" The blonde man stood, gently waving the few bees around him away as he put the jar on the counter of the booth. "Well, I'd gather you haven't tasted anything as sweet as this."
Eurydice smiled. "Somehow I doubt anyone could compete with Melina when it comes to sweetness." The man raised an arched, light-colored eyebrow at her, his eyes sweeping down her curvaceous form, but he didn't reply.
"Are we talking about honey?" Chiron chuckled, reaching for the jar. He opened it, dipping his finger in, and tasting. He pronounced it, "Sweet!'
"Let me see." Melina rolled her eyes, sliding her finger around the edge and gathering some of the sticky, golden fluid. She sucked thoughtfully, her eyes closed, and Eurydice tried hard not to laugh. She knew Melina took her bees and her honey very seriously.
"Here." The man behind the counter took another jar out and opened the lid, dipping his finger into the stickiness and holding it out to Eurydice. She hesitated, seeing his eyes dip lower again over her body as he held out the treat for her to taste. "I won't bite."
"What if I do?" Eurydice winked and Chiron laughed as she leaned forward to lick the honey from his fingertip. She used just the tip of her tongue, catching a slow drip, and the man watched her, his eyes dark.
"Trust me, I've been stung by worse than you." The man smiled, sucking the residue off his finger as he watched Eurydice lick her lips. "Although I doubt I'd mind your bite." He winked at her. "What do you think?"
She knew the look in his eyes well and backed away a little, smiling politely. "It's very sweet, thank you."
"Angry bees don't produce good honey." Melina opened her eyes, frowning. "Your bees are not happy, sir."
He stared at her, mouth agape. "Pardon me?"
The little blonde woman shrugged, crossing her arms, still frowning at him. "Your honey is sweet, but it has a strange aftertaste that tells me your bees are not completely happy in their work."
The man laughed. "You cannot possibly tell that from tasting my honey."
"Actually..." Eurydice smiled at her friend. "She can. She's a bee-tamer."
Chiron chuckled, as if he were enjoying some joke, looking at the stunned face of the man behind the counter, who kept opening his mouth as if he wanted to say something then closing it again. To Eurydice, he looked like a landed fish.
"And I am Aristaeus, the God of Husbandry!" The blonde man sputtered and Chiron laughed out loud then, looking delighted. "And ... beekeeping, I might add."
"Demi-god," Chiron reminded him.
"Had to point that out, didn't you?" Eurydice nudged him. "You and half-breeds."
"I don't care if you're the God of Everything." Melina shrugged. "Your bees are not as happy as they could be."
Aristaeus looked to Chiron, his eyes wide. "Insufferable!"
"But true." Chiron grinned. "Trust an oracle when he tells you ... the mortal is correct."
"Not possible!" Aristaeus picked up the jar, opening the lid to taste the honey again. "My bees and my honey are the best in the land!"
"You should taste mine." Melina smiled up at him, looking proud. "I live down the way, and my bees, I assure you, are much happier creatures than these, and my honey so much sweeter, with no aftertaste."
"Have you tasted this honey?" Aristaeus glared at Chiron.
The half-man shrugged. "No. But remember, I know things."
"I've tasted it." Eurydice looked between the two of them, Melina and Aristaeus, her eyes bright. "But I don't know that I could judge. Perhaps you really should visit to taste for yourself, sir?"
"Call me Ari." His eyes fell on Eurydice again and he smiled. "I will take you up on your offer, then, if you would accompany me, lady ... what is your name?"
"Eurydice." She hesitated, looking back at her friend. The glow in the woman's eyes was unmistakable. "And this is my friend, Melina."
Aristaeus nodded politely at the blonde woman. "Yes, the mortal whose honey is better than a god's!"
"When would you like to visit?" Eurydice grabbed her friend's hand, squeezing hard as Melina opened her mouth to speak.
"Well, I have this show I have to attend today..." Aristaeus sighed, waving his hand toward a large stage set up at the end of the row of tents. "My brother insists I be there. This whole thing makes me want to spend the rest of my life in seclusion, I swear."
"They'll all be gone soon enough, and you can have your peace." Chiron glanced toward the stage as well, where performers were setting things up. "Let Apollo have his celebration."
"That's all well and good." Aristaeus shrugged, coming out from behind the booth to join them. "I wouldn't mind, really, if it wasn't for the choosing."
"The choosing?" Melina's freckled nose wrinkled at she frowned at him.
He sighed. "My father has gathered all of the Muses together to choose me a bride."
"Is that so?" Eurydice glanced over at Chiron. "And you will follow their suggestion?"
He sighed again. "I have agreed to do so ... although, I am afraid to trust nine women, Muses or no, with the fate of my future love life."
Chiron chuckled and shook his dark head. "You are right to be hesitant. I don't know I would allow such."
"Great." Aristaeus groaned. "Now I've got an oracle telling me it's not a good idea. You try telling my father no. It's not such an easy task."
"Not easy maybe." Melina spoke up. "But surely not impossible."
Aristaeus raised an eyebrow in her direction. "Is your father the God of the Sun?"
"No." Melina smiled. "Although sometimes I think he thought he was."
Eurydice laughed, remembering the woman's cantankerous father. "That's the truth."
"It's a little different for me." Aristaeus' face softened when he looked at Eurydice. "That's all I'm saying."
"I don't see why." Melina blinked at him.
Eurydice tried to change the subject. "So what is this show you have to attend?"
"My brother, Orpheus, has orchestrated it." Aristaeus waved towards the stage. "It starts in about a twelfth of the sundial." He brightened, looking at Eurydice. "Would you like to accompany me?"
"I think we'd all be happy to." Eurydice patted Chiron's flank and smiled at Melina. Her friend's eyes were brighter than she'd seen them since her father's death, and Eurydice wanted to keep them that way.
"Can we look around first?" Melina nudged Eurydice and pointed to a row of booths across the field. "I want to see the artisans."
"Of course." Aristaeus nodded toward the stage. "Shall we meet back here in a twelfth?"
Eurydice smiled at him. "And tomorrow, you will come taste Melina's honey?"
"Are we sure we're still talking about honey?" Chiron snorted, starting to follow Melina as she wandered toward the colorful booth.
Aristaeus gave her a bow. "If you will be there, lady, so will I."
"Good." Eurydice hurried to catch up to her friends.
"Why didn't you tell me he was Aristaeus?" Melina's voice awed; her eyes wide as she glanced over her shoulder at him. "He's the God of Beekeeping!"
"Demi-god," Chiron corrected as he fell in step between the two women.
"So this Orpheus and Aristaeus are brothers?" Eurydice stopped to look at a colorful silk wrap, almost as blue as the water in her stream.
"Half." Chiron watched her finger the material. "That's your color, you know."
She stuck her tongue out at him. "You and halves!"
"He's the God of Beekeeping!" Melina repeated as if they hadn't heard, her voice rising enough to make Eurydice shush her.
"God-struck?" Chiron chuckled.
"Bee-stung is more like it." Eurydice shook her head, knowing the look on her friend's face well. Melina was falling head over heels for the demi-god, and it was about time too. She had turned down enough suitors in the past year as her father become more and more ill. Now it was time for her friend to have a little happiness, and that made Eurydice happy too.
"So, do you think I should buy this?" Eurydice pulled the cloth from the ring, wrapping the silk around her shoulders.
"Only if you want to attract bees." Melina smiled, giving her friend a wink and Chiron laughed.
"Very funny." Eurydice contemplated the purchase for a moment, rubbing the softness of the material against her cheek.
And then she heard him.
"Eurie?" Melina's voice sounded far away as Eurydice turned toward the incredible sound.
She had never heard anything like it before, and her body seemed to move on its own, the forgotten silken blue fabric trailing behind her like a stream. She had to find the source of the voice, the one that called her like nothing else ever had. The merchant shouted after her, and she only vaguely heard him. Even Chiron's voice didn't register. She only heard the voice of one man, raised in incredible song--the man she had been waiting for since the beginning of her world.