Stepping off the shuttle, I felt the breeze and heard the river and felt as complete and whole as I knew I ever possibly could. The very knowledge that I was standing on Terra, and that this time we owned the place, that it was mine to dictate its future, sang through my mind. "What benefit it a man," I whispered to myself quietly, "If he gain the world?" I appreciated that phrase in its severity, but I still had my soul, and I had gained the world. More importantly, I had saved the Earth from her impending self-destruction at the hands of the sentient species ejected from her bower.
Pendor had turned Terra into a park, each field a place to visit, to idle with loved ones and reminisce about the bad old days when here had been a factory for nuclear weapons and there had been the monuments built upon the backs of a million slaves. People forgot that, while extremely aesthetic in their approach, the artisans of Ancient Greece and Egypt had also been pragmatic. A flawed or aged column or roof needed replacing. That nobody had put a new wooden ceiling on the Temple to Athena in over two thousand years struck me as slightly criminal.
The artisan archaeologists and the architect archaeologists that had arisen from Pendor and Terra to put Egpyt, Rome, Greece, London, and Paris back together again had progressed farther than they had thought possible in the short fifteen years since the purchase had been finalized. The atmosphere was cleaner, the oceans richer, and the forests more alive than they had been in the past ten centuries.
The arguments between the purists and the pragmatists had been dramatic, at some points descending even into blows. There had been those who wanted to recreate London with the Roman roads still passing through, intact. The final setting had been decided by committee, and was still unpalatable to the purists; a bit of Dickens, a bit of Shakespeare, and bit of Arthur. A suggestion to build three different versions had been taken seriously, and the Purists were still pushing for it.
Rebuilding New York City had been even more of a screaming match. The Merchanterists, the Industrialists, the Financialists, and the Decadantists had all wanted their own versions. And each, in his own way, had gotten what he wanted.
Of Boston, there was no doubt. Nor Rome. The Athens committee had split right down the middle....half Apollonistic, half Hellenistic. The Apollonists, thankfully, won.
And this tiny isle of Ida was still nothing more than a land of foothills and forest thickets. Nobody tended sheep here anymore, and the millions of visitors who looked to Earth as a vacation had a tendency to overlook these small, idyllic corners of their world. The impressive creations of The God Emperors, of The State, and of Decadence itself attracted tourists from the two dozen Terran colonies and from Unity herself. But none wanted to look at open fields, quiet scenes of land and air and water. Of that, there was plenty available on Unity.
Their loss; our benefit. Oenone stepped out of the shuttle, a wide smile on her sweet and beautiful face. "Oh, Ken!" she exclaimed softly. "It's everything I remember." She walked away across the grass, then turned and walked back. Facing me, she dropped her eyes and then slowly dropped to the ground. "Thank you, my liege, for the gifts of freedom you have given me."
"Oenone," I said. "Stand up."
She rose slowly, her eyes wet and her smile coyed. "Ken... " She shook her head, her hair roiling about her head like liquid, golden tendrils. "I'm sorry. That just seemed the right thing to say."
"I am not a king, Oenone."
"But you feel that way to me," she said. "You own the Earth, or at least, Pendor does now. It's yours, and your people follow you."
I nodded. "But I'm not Rex Terra. Not now, not ever, sweetheart." I reached out and reached under her chin, looking into her eyes. "And I couldn't have gotten here without you, you know that."
She smiled. "Come with me," she said, reaching out a hand. "I want to show you something."
"Is it a long walk?"
"Maybe an hour," she said. "Come on."
I followed her, up along a rolling hillside and into the forests that grew among these foothills, away from the sea. We reached a cleft between two of the hills, between which ran a clear, silt-less river, wide and swift with large stones that would make crossing easy. She led me down a path of stones that seemed ground into the soil, ages of centuries old, perhaps. "That's the Xanthus," she said, pointing. As we reached the riverside, a shallow bank of cold, swirling water, she released my hand and leaned against a tree, wrapping one arm around it, hand palm-down to the papery bark. "You know, Paris and I used to come here and have our picnics. Dried lamb, cheese, bread, maybe an apple. And wine. Always we had wine."
I smiled. "Your father was a wine God."
"No, he was a river God, old Celebren was. His name became connected to wine because the lower fields he ran through were vineyards that were fertilized every early spring by Oenus overflowing his banks." She smiled. "It was then that Oenus could manifest himself and have his way with my mother."
"That seems to be a common thing among the Greek deities."
"Yeah," I smiled. "The act of a drunkard and a fool. Women back then were so valueless that the rapist was more often laughed at than punished."
"It was a working system," Oenone said, smiling. "And remembering that your rapist is a fool and a weakling makes it a lot easier to slap him in the face afterwards and go on with life. Your culture thinks of the rapists as being a mistake, something to be done away with. Terra sees the rapist as a monster, and while a monster may be something to conquer, it only becomes a monster after it has proven its destructiveness." Her smile spread. "Fools and mistakes we have brushes with, and they're over. A brush is something you dust off your sleeve and keep moving with. An encounter with a monster is a tragedy.
"I fought Apollo, make no mistake of that. I scratched and bit at him, and I think I hurt myself more than I did him in that. But he took pity on me afterwards, and taught me the secrets of the cadecus." She glanced in my direction. "What? You're giving me that look again."
"Every time you start talking about Apollo and Zeus as if they were real people, I just start getting dizzy. I have trouble believing you."
"You and your scientific rationalism! Sometimes I do not understand you; you met Reah! And don't forget that it was my medicine that forms the basis of one of the scientific pillars of your entire society, and now those of Terra, llerkindi, and Ritacha, even. Just as important as Dawn, Hal, and you are, so am I."
I smiled. "I know. Call me a skeptic."
"Okay. You're a skeptic." We both laughed. The she turned her head and looked out over the sunlit river as it burbled and glistened, running over the rocks. "You know, he used to carve my name into these willows. Sometimes, he would carve whole poems. Doggerel, really."
I closed my eyes and tried to remember the words of the ancient poem.
"'Will Paris leave Oenone? Sooner will Swift Xanthus reverse its course and flow up hill.'"
Oenone's eyes faltered, halfway between amusement and sadness. She knelt by the river and ran her delicate hand through the water, making it sparkle.
"Flow backwards, Xanthus, return to your source For Paris left me without remorse."
She closed her eyes. "I've always wanted to say that, to just get it out of the way." She turned and looked up at me as I stood, watching her. "I loved him. I think that's hard for some people to understand, but I did love him."
"I know. But no throwing yourself into pyres, onto swords, or off walls."
She shook her head. "None of that, no. A dozen centuries is a long time to think of the differences between the Oenone of then and the one of now. I can forgive him for everything, though. And I can say that I loved Paris, the beautiful and boastful shepherd. But Venus gave him the one thing he craved so awfully, the knowledge that he was a King and the son of a King, and the push to carry out his heritage."
"It sounds to me like he was headed right where Delphi sent him."
She smiled and nodded. "Getting away from destiny was always much harder back then."
I sat down next to her, picking up a leaf in my hand. "And not now?" I asked her, this woman who had been taught prophecy by the mother of Zeus.
"I don't know what to think now. I don't know what my destiny is. Maybe I don't have one anymore; maybe I really am Oenone the free, finally."
A deep, mirthful chuckle suddenly erupted from what sounded like the other side of the river. Then I spotted something in the center of the river, a disturbance of water that slowly rose and coalesced into a human form, made still of clear, cold water. "Father!" Oenone shouted.
"Child!" the water-man replied, holding his liquid arms wide. Oenone leaped to her feet and ran to him, completely oblivious to the fact that she was walking on water.
"It is you!" she said. Although they were maybe six, seven meters away, every word carried clearly.
"No," the figure replied, touching splayed hands to his chest and glancing downwards, amusement alive on his face. Where he touched himself splashes of water seemed to emanate. He stood about as tall as I am, made of water that seemed to ripple and shimmer in the sunlight to give him form, as if he were a sculpture of a broad, strong man, wearing an open-chested tunic and breeches and boots, made of perfectly clear and crystalline ice melting slowly under the overhead summer sun. "This is not me, Oenone, this is just a reflection, a final echo down from the ages."
"Then... What are you doing here?"
"Saying goodbye, beloved. What is a father if he does not wish his children well?"
"Then... then I am the last of our kind?"
Celebren shook his head. "Gods do not die, Oenone. They move, they change, they become more or less human as the need arises. You are what you have always needed to be. This echo, this recording, what your friend on the shore there would refer to as a 'cheap hologram,' is the power of an age long past, what one any soul can now summon with a snap of his fingers. I am just here to wish you a much longer life, filled with happiness and joy, to remind you that you are a woman and Korythus bore no children of his own, and then... to say goodbye, daughter."
"Korythus... ?" she said. "Father?"
"Goodbye, most beloved daughter of mine."
"Goodbye, Daddy..." she said quietly as the apparition sank back into the river, and the flow resumed as before without pause. Barefoot and silent, Oenone walked back along the water to shore, sat down and sighed. "What was THAT?" I asked.
She smiled. "That was Daddy," she said. "Celebren himself. Or, as he said, an echo of himself."
I pulled out my PADD and opened up the lens, running it through a series of displays. "There was nothing out there!"
"A sufficiently advanced technology..." Oenone began, her voice chiding and slightly sarcastic.
"Okay, okay," I said. "Sorry."
"It's alright," she said, putting her hand on my knee. "I don't know how he did it, either. I don't even know for sure if that was my father or not. It looked like him. It sounded like him."
"What was that bit about... Korythus?"
She nodded. "My son. Remember? We talked about him. And how the Trojans under Paris' command killed him accidentally when he was leading Achilles' boat to the site of the war?"
I smiled. "I remember."
"Daddy wants me to have more children," she said, smiling.
"A selfish dream, and a wholly understandable one. He wants his line to continue. It does, through you. He wants the link to be stronger."
"Maybe I will," she said. "I don't know. It's hard to imagine someone I could love as much as the beautiful Paris. Don't ever forget that," she said. "He was physically one of the most breathtaking men I've ever seen in my life. Zeus himself called him 'the most beautiful man in the world.'" She sighed. "I know, I know. Beauty hurt me, seduced me away from common sense."
"There are many beautiful men on Pendor, even among just the humans."
She chuckled. "I know."
"You've been promising me you would stop being a hermit for nearly twelve decades now."
"And maybe I will be."
"No maybes, Oenone. I want it from you now. You'll move into the Villa."
"I want you to move in with us. Be with us."
"That's... a big change," she said.
"Better then living out on that spring-fed rock in the middle of an ocean no one ever visits."
"You visit." She smiled. "Okay, I'll do it."
"Good. As soon as we get home?" She nodded. Silence fell about us as the sun slid slowly towards late afternoon. The halcyon clearing lulled me into quiet reflection, until my stomach urged me with its attention. I smiled quietly, watching Oenone's golden beauty quietly with my eyes while silently I ordered lunch from my shuttlecraft. Time slid by and twenty minutes later the seccor drone from the craft dropped out of the sky, a robot in the shape of an eagle, only with wings tinted of metallic gold and equally metallic blood red. I was struck at just how much Oenone's hair the drone's coloration resembled. It had a basket in its beak which it dropped. I stood and caught it deftly. The sound startled Oenone. "What was that?"
"Lunch," I commented. Looking up, I saw the seccor take station overhead. I grumbled something softly to myself as I sat down.
"What was that?" she asked.
"Just thinking about your crack about a 'sufficiently advanced technology.' You are the daughter of someone who can reach through four thousand years of time to say goodbye, and I created a whole new world and shaped it in my image. 'A god and goddess sat down to break bread together by a silver stream, while overhead a golden bird searched the Earth as far as could be seen to protect them from predators and enemies.'"
"That's us," she said. She opened the basket and smiled. "Bread, cheese, wine, and apples."
"I've always approved of the ploughman's lunch."
She leaned over and kissed my cheek. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." I cut a slice of cheese for her, and one for myself. The sunwarmed bread I broke in half as well, and handed one chunk to her. She took out a corkscrew and opened the wine bottle, commenting on the quality before pouring the dark red liquid into two delicate wineglasses. As I tasted the wine she cut the two apples into wedges. We ate quietly, passing the wine bottle back and forth. "If we get drunk, we're going to have trouble getting back to the shuttle."
"It's only my second glass," she said. "Besides, if we can't find the shuttle, it can find us, right? That's what that is for, right?" She pointed overhead at the circling droid.
"I guess so," I said, smiling. We finished our lunch and sat together, quietly leaning against trees and listening to the stream go by. "Wanna head home?"
"I want to head back to the shuttle, at any rate."
"Before we go, though, there's something I want to do. It's childish, immature, and transient, but I think it needs doing."
"What?" she asked.
"This," I said, standing up and brushing the crumbs off my trousers. I reached into the basket and pulled out that short dagger we had used to cut the cheese and apples, and slowly began carving letters into the side of a tree trunk. She stood up and stepped behind me. When I was done I turned around and she smiled. I was surprised, though, when she grabbed me and hugged me tight.
"Nobody has done that for me in twelve centuries."
"It was time someone did." On the tree, carved through the bark, was 'OENONE,' in the original Greek. "He isn't here to do it, and I... I've really come to love you, Oenone."
She smiled. "And as a god, you've come to control yourself around me. You don't lose your self-control in my presence anymore."
"Familiarity has bred comfort." I smiled. "Come on, let's go."
This time I took her hand and led her along the path we had followed, listening to her suggestions as I repeatedly turned left when I should have gone right, or right when left was correct. She giggled at me repeatedly as I threatened at every juncture to get us lost. Finally, we crested the summit of the final hill that descended down to the narrow field on which the shuttlecraft rested, and beyond that the rocky seashore and the brightly lit sea. She grabbed my arm as I started down. "Ken."
"Wait," she said. I stopped. Down across the ocean, the sun started heading towards dusk. We were still an hour from nightfall, but already the turn of the Earth lit the sky with color. She sat down abruptly on the grass, dragging me down with her. "Sit," she commanded. Not having much of a choice, I sat down next to her.
She started, "Here, on this hill, under these trees overlooking the Aegean sea, Paris and I made love as man and wife for the first time, and later, for the last time. Just over this hill, in winter, we sat in a wooden cabin with a fire going and kept each other warm in the way men and women are supposed to. And here, as he rested with his flock alone, Venus, Pallas, and Juno came to Paris and made their request of him."
She sighed. "Ovid called that sight the beginning of Paris' winter of indifference. They said the sight of the three goddesses stripped of armor and clothing drove Paris to find nothing less than perfection worthy of his love." A small tear dropped slowly down a cheek. "I guess I am not perfect."
"'I am bound all other women to disparage,' Paris said." I quoted the lyric quietly. "You don't need to be perfect with me, Oenone. You know that."
"I know," she smiled. She looked around, running one hand through the leafy, thick grass that carpeted the hillside. "Make this a happy place for me again. Please, Ken?"
I looked into Oenone's eyes, glittering and golden in the fading daylight. Her hair fell down around her chest, covering the almost transparently fine white tunic that fell from her shoulders to about her calves. Slit up the sides of the arms, it exposed clearly the gold armlet that circled her left arm. I smiled at her. "'There is only one sure way to console a widow. But remember the risk,'" I said, quoting Heinlein, who deserves to be quoted more often. "Your wish is my command, my goddess."
We leaned towards each other, our hands meeting first, my fingers touching her own delicate hand and exploring her exquisitely white skin. As our lips met, she sighed around our kiss.
I pushed up from the ground and pressed her back towards the grass. She fell backwards onto the soft bed of greenery and I covered her body in mine, feeling her warmth through our tunics. She arched her back as our lips met against. I supported myself with my knees, straddling her legs slightly, and with my arms and elbows, taking care to entwine one hand in her reddish-gold locks and caress her perfect softness. She pressed one leg up against my groin suggestively, her hands reaching up to pull on my hair, to hold me close to her as we kissed. "I love you," she gasped softly.
I sat up onto my knees and reached down between us, pulling at the rope about her waist, untying the knot and dropping it to either side of her body. My own rope I tossed aside, not caring where it fell to. She watched all of this with interest and without comment. I smiled down at her and began tugging at the material of her tunic, pulling it up. She grabbed hold of the tunic as well and began helping. She pushed her hips up from the grass, which made gathering the material much easier. Finally, the silver hem appeared between us and we pulled it up, laughing. Down between my legs, her belly appeared, soft and white and completely flawless. Even her navel was symmetrically perfect, drawing my eye and attention like a single jewel. No Arabian bauble would have been more attractive then the sight of her bare and perfect flesh. As we struggled with her tunic, she pulled it up over her head and tossed it aside, to join my belt.
We laughed as I pulled my own tunic off. "That was so much easier."
"You don't have you pinning you down," she said. She looked puzzled for a moment, repeated the statement to herself, mouthing the words, then nodded. "Right."
"Whatever," I said. I looked down at my prize, my goddess incarnate in all the universe. She smiled up at me as I appraised what I saw beneath me. She had moderately large, distinctive breasts with tiny, almost unnoticeable aureoles surrounding pale nipples. I reached down to touch one, and she immediately responded, arching her back. "Just touch," she said. "It's what I want, more than anything. Don't say anything, please... just touch me, all over. With your hands, your mouth, your sex... inside and out, I just want to be touched."
I smiled as I touched her between her breasts, feeling the skin beneath my fingertips as I caressed her chest. Despite her body's tendency toward soft femininity, I could still run my fingers up and down the rises and falls of her ribs along the side of her chest.
She was completely passive under my hand as I stroked slowly upward, across her collarbone and along her throat, until I reached her chin and touched her cheek. She seized my hand in hers, holding it as she turned her head and kissed my palm, smiling and winking at me afterwards. I laughed down at her, and she whispered inaudibly, "I love you."
I slid down to sit on her thighs instead of her hips. Her cunny was still hidden under a thick tangle of soft, golden curls, but now I could see her delta. Even more, I could see all of her belly, and I could touch her there too. She sighed softly under my touches, as my fingers homed closer and closer to her mons. I delighted in my peaceful right to explore her body, where her belly rounded down into the cradle of her pelvis, where the bones of her hips protruded and where, as she lay down, the soft rounding of her buttocks splayed out for me to touch. I was surprised to find her slightly ticklish as I ran my hands along the sides of her belly.
I slipped down further, and as the sky darkened towards dusk I spread her legs with gentle suggestions. She shivered as I knelt now between her spread legs, her vulva already opened to me by desire. I smiled to see how wet she was, a droplet of fluid literally dripping down between her inner labia. I slipped my finger down there, touching the droplet and sliding it up between her lips. "Oh..." escaped from her. I tasted my finger while I stared into her eyes. She grinned back at me. "Don't just sit there smiling like the Sphynx," she said. "Taste me."
Laughing, I laid out on the grass along the length of her body, my head between her thighs. I put my arms over my head, resting them on her beautiful abdomen. Her hands seized my wrists, but not harshly. I bent my head to her vulva, tasting directly the flesh I had been staring at, flesh colored like a rose in the rain.
I nibbled, with my lips only, at her soft inner labia, pushing them aside with my tongue and tasting the soft muskiness between them. She was silent, and but for a slight shuddering in one leg and a quickening of the breath, completely still in anticipation. I slid my tongue around, enjoying that tension. A friend once said to me that the worst part about oral sex was the view. I disagree; from where I lay I could look at her chest swell with every inhalation and literally watch the skin change color with her heat. I could see the pink beauty of her vulva before my eyes. Her hands gripped my wrists tighter as my tongue pried playfully at her hood, exposing the white core of her pleasure underneath. The hood refused to slid back, and her clitoris completely revealed itself. I licked at it directly, and she spasmed, softly, her legs on my back hooking feet together and tightening. She moaned softly, a quiet 'ng...' sound from deep within her throat as she climaxed.
As she came, I retreated my pressures to lessen her sensation, to let her catch her breath until I began again. Any psychologist who says that men are afraid of women because a woman's sexuality is hidden from view within her body has obviously never performed cunnilingus. Exposing, trusting, and intimate, I tasted the juices that dripped from her cunny and painted that fluid over the rest of her vulva, over her clitoral hood and between her outer and inner lips. She gasped again as I returned to her clitoris. I felt her climax twice more before I stopped and rose along the length of her warm and trembling body. I smiled down at her as I slipped the length of my cock into her moistened cunny, feeling the heat of her body encircle my shaft and enclose me within her.
She entwined my arms as she had the tree, grasping my biceps with her long, delicate fingers. "Yes," she gasped, "more." I willingly obeyed my goddess, giving her the thrust she sought, pressing further until my hips pressed against hers as firmly as our flesh would allow without pain. She looked up at me and smiled, her hands holding me tight as I leaned down to kiss her, our bodies trembling with the tempo of my thrusts, our lips nonetheless solid in their connection.
Unbidden, a lyric came to mind. Part of Ovid's poem, it rose in my brain in time with my rising orgasm. As our bodies melded with pleasure, one to another, she gasped my name as she came, and I followed her up into my own climax, shooting my seed into her body, feeling her tremble underneath me. "Oh, Oenone..." I sighed.
"Kennet" she said again, grasping me tight. "Oh, Gods, how I needed that. Oh thank you, thank you beloved."
"'Along the shore we rolled with ease, on leafy grass beneath the trees.'"
Her grip around my back suddenly tightened. "Yes," she said softly, "You made that true for me once again. You made it true again."
I did roll onto my side, laying on the grass beside her. "Anything for you, my beloved."
She started to cry, and I did all I could do. I held her tightly. She sobbed silently, once gasping the name "Paris" softly. Then she looked up at me, and I wiped her tear-strewn face. "I love you, Ken. In ways neither weak nor consuming nor even logical, I do love you."
"I know," I said softly, kissing her wet cheek. "And I love you, Oenone. You gave me everything I could ever ask of you. And more. You gave me a home, and a family, and even life itself when I asked it of you."
She nodded, pressing her forehead to my bare chest. She didn't cry this time, and finally she said, without looking up, "It's grown dark."
"Yep," I said. "Sure has."
"We should head back to New Kephros," she said. Kephros was the seat of the Pendorian Administration of Terra. We had felt it appropriate to place it at the sight of Terra's first great administration, Pharonic Egypt. "They'll probably be wondering where we are."
"Do you really want to?" I asked. I reached into the picnic basket and pulled out the PADD in there again. "It's not going to rain here tonight. There's a sleeping hammock in the shuttlecraft, with base and covering cloths. We could string it up between two trees."
She looked up at me. "Ken... I'd like that."
"Then let it be done," I said, standing up and retrieving my tunic and belt from where they had fallen. I ran down the hill, fetched the pack I had stashed in the shuttle for just such an occasion, located two trees that fit my needs, and set it up, laying a broad base cloth over it. She joined me in the hammock, and we cuddled close as we pulled the quilted cover over us.
In the morning, I stretched to find Oenone, the most precious nymph in all of history, lying next to me. I nudged her awake softly, and she smiled at me, then giggled softly. Twenty minutes later, we were flying home.