Dithyramb [Gr. Antiq.] A Greek choric hymn, originally in honour of Dionysus or Bacchus, vehement and wild in character; a Bacchanalian song.
1873 SYMONDS Grk. Poets v. 118 The Dithyramb never lost the tempestuous and enthusiastic character of Bacchic revelry.
b. transf. A metrical composition having characteristics similar to this.
c. A speech or writing in vehement or inflated style.
1863 Sat. Rev. 153 M. Victor Hugo, in Les MisÚrables, has poured forth a rhapsody, or dithyramb, or whatever, under a classical name, expresses exaggerated and inflated nonsense.
--Oxford English Dictionary
But Grantaire was attaining the peak of dithyramb.
--Les MisÚrables (p. 1098)
It is evening when Apollo makes his way through vines heavy with grapes, wends through a trackless wood, and arrives at the bower that serves as Dionysus' temple, but then, it is generally evening in the vinyards, and dawn only arrives on a particularly bad day. Apollo pauses at the edge of the clearing because girlish squeals are emanating from the shadow of the bower.
For that matter, there are sounds all around, far more than in your average, well tended vineyard: squeals from the bower, an indeterminate rustling on all sides and, far away, the disorderly clatter of hoofs in fast persuit and rough male voices mingled with high, giggling female ones. Not that this is, strictly speaking, a well tended vineyard. Abruptly the rustling, or part of it, takes the form of a young woman, clad- insofar as she is clad at all-- in an odd assortment of greenery and fragments of fabric. Her hair is more than half vine leaves. She hangs by her knees from a tree branch for a minute, studying the intruder, and then she is gone again, except for her voice which calls in a sing-song voice, alerting anybody who wasn't already aware: "Someone's heee-ere!"
Apollo glances up, and then sighs, shaking his head.
"How do you like my doorbell?" One-- two-- three figures emerge from the bower itself. All of them are female, and slightly better dressed than the first, in supple animal skins. They wave gaily and flit off into the disorderly undergrowth, one after the other. It was none of them, who spoke. The voice comes instead from the tree first inhabited by the nymph: a slender young man is perched there now, clad in a god's draperies and he gives the impression, if not the reality, of being in a constant state of deshabille. His hair may be curly or it may be tangled, and anyway ivy leaves are wound through it. A slender staff lies across his knees and he tosses a wine cup up in the air and catches it, one handed, like any child playing with a bauble. "Evening, Phoebus."
"It certainly looks that way," Apollo says mildly, looking up at him. "Are you going to come down here and speak to me, or must I crane my neck?" He runs a hand through his hair, and finds bits of grape tendrils there, which he disentangles with a distasteful look on his face, and then tosses aside.
"You could just as easily come up," retorts the wine god affably, but he springs down, and leans nonchalantly against his staff, regarding Apollo with deceptively fogged eyes. The cup he puts to his lips: now it is full of wine. "What bring you here, then?"
"As you must know, because everyone seems to, I'm recovering from being mortal." Apollo's tone seems cooler than usual. "Artemis recommended that I come and speak to you, to, what was it, work my way into being myself again. I don't know quite why she said that; I feel less myself here than anywhere else."
"Of course I know. You never could do anything without fuss. We should have that son of yours-- Orpheus, isn't it?-- up from Asphodel to make a song of it. Or you could do it." Dionysus laughs and twists his staff on the ground, apparantly preventing it from taking route and sprouting again. "Did she, now? She would. If you're not yourself, who are you? But that sort of philosophy requires a drink. Come!" And he glances left and right, as though gaining his bearings, and disappears through a gap in the foliage.
Apollo follows him with more difficulty, because while the branches seem to part for Dionysus, they tug at Apollo's robe. After he trips the second time, he calls out, "Slow down, would you. I can't run through this thicket."
Dionysus halts obligingly, and after squinting back at the situation he laughs again, a drunken guffaw incongruous with his clear speech. "Let him alone!" he commands, and the trees themselves titter in response. It doesn't matter, though, because he immediately turns to his right, exclaiming "Ah! This is where I left this." 'This' is a clearing of sorts, marked out with a tiled floor and marble benches: like something that might be seen on Olympus proper, but less civilised.
"Do you lose it often?" Apollo asks with some asperity. He smooths his robes impatiently. "You are always this rude, aren't you?" In a somewhat abstracted voice, he says, "You remind me of -- someone."
"Not more often than I find it," the wine god returns. His staff clatters on the tiles as he casts it aside, and he proceeds to fill two goblets, somewhat larger than the cup he was carrying earlier, which seems to have disappeared, with wine. "And I'm not rude. I'm offering an uninvited guest hospitality, despite the fact that he never so much as troubled to say 'Hello'-- Do I? Who?"
Apollo takes a deep breath. "I apologize for not giving you more warning of my presence. I did not think it was entirely necessary to announce myself after your, your servant had shrieked about it. I apologize for not being faster." He clears his throat, and says with mock courtesy, "Hello, brother. How have you been?"
Again the raucous, drunken laughter, and Dionysus takes up the game. "Most honoured by your presence, brother." With an obsequious bow, he presents the goblet to Apollo, though his head lifts from it first, and he studies the other deity from that odd angle. "You know how I've been; I don't change. You're the one who says he doesn't feel like himself."
"You know what I meant," Apollo says irritably. "You are helping me, I suppose; I recall more vividly every moment how vexing you are."
Dionysus chuckles, straightening properly. "Yes, I know what you meant: you meant that it wasn't your idea to come here in the first place, and you don't want to be here and I was making undue fuss about it and you'd have yourself forsworn by Styx-water if you were had to say hello in a civilised manner, so you didn't." He drops onto one of the benches and takes a long swallow of wine. "Of course I'm vexing. If you didn't expect that, you've turned more mortal than I'd thought. Polar opposites--" he taps his own brow and then gestures at Apollo with a flick of his fingers. "We'd both be out of a job if I wasn't, or you weren't. And you wonder that my trees don't like you!"
"I wasn't astonished that they did not behave so well for me as they do for you," Apollo says, in a long-suffering tone, as though the conversation tires him. He sits rather primly on another bench after brushing a leaf off of it. "I am not surprised by any of this. I am remembering it. I am only surprised that you remind me of someone, though I can't think who." He looks into the goblet, then sips from it carefully.
By contrast, Dionysus sprawls across his bench, looking more like an indolent Roman than a Greek. "Is that all that's bothering you? Process of elimination, O God of Logic. Another Olympian? Some outlandish Egyptian drinking god? A mortal king with a country full of vineyards?"
At the last suggestion, Apollo drops his gaze. "Ah. It was an illogical association, which was why I failed to make it immediately." Half to himself, he says, "He couldn't possibly have been so bad -- but he was, wasn't he? What was I thinking?"
"Couldn't tell you, Apollo. You've sorted it out, then?" Dionysus sits up and grins at him inquisitively. "'As bad as Dionysus?' That's quite a claim for any mortal."
Apollo looks up at him. "No, not as bad as you. I would not make that claim about anyone. He --" he closes his eyes a moment, struggling to hold on to the memories, "It's your demeanor that reminds me, your carelessness and lack of consideration for anything resembling propriety. He was never so majestic as you, my brother, even in the apex of his drunken stupors." He shakes his head slightly. "And, I might add, he improved considerably."
"Good." The wine god settles back on his bench-- further back, in fact, so that he lies flat, one hand behind his head, the other still holding his goblet. "If I could be outstripped by a mortal, I would have to go mad. Again. But after all, sanity is only a passing lunacy." He pauses for a minute, closing his eyes and lifting his head a little to drink. "Ahh" without opening his eyes. "This would be your last pet? Or have you had further escapades since then?"
"He is not my pet," Apollo protests, then catches himself. "It has not been so very long, yet. Give me some credit for constancy. Unlike you, I do not delight in orgies."
"You say that as if I ought to be ashamed." Dionysus sounds amused, though he opens his eyes again and fixes them on his brother. "It has nothing to do with constancy. Merely curiosity. After all, what's done is done and what's over is over."
"I suppose it is one of your lesser vices," Apollo concedes. He drinks from the goblet in his hand again. "I admit, the experience did nothing to deepen my understanding of you."
Dionysus' arm falls from supporting his head to dangle over the edge of the bench as he laughs; genuine amusement this time, not an inebriate's habit. "Ah, brother, ought I to be flattered? I thought you did it to entertain yourself, not to understand me."
"You may be flattered by whatever you like. It was certainly not for your benefit, nor for my benefit in relation to you -- you do not exist, in the world, any more than I do, and you must know that."
Dionysus drains his cup and sets it aside to prop himself up on his elbows. "I see it didn't teach you a sense of humour, either."
Apollo puts his free hand to his forehead. "No more than your sojourns have taught you tact."
"By the Styx, no. And where would we be if it did?" He shakes his head, which, if anything, seems to tangle more leaves in his hair than it removes. "But I don't go looking for tact, I just do it for the sensation. Besides, there's no connection. I am what I am because I am god of wine and revelry, among other things. Mortals have their own reasons for being what they are."
"You make me want to break something," Apollo observes in a calm voice. "I know there is no connection between you and any mortal, except if you happened to be incarnated at a particular moment. You needn't explain everything to me. I only said you reminded me of him, or vice versa."
"Break the tiles, if you like. But don't hurt my vines, they'll give you more trouble than your fun is worth." Dionysus shrugs. "I know perfectly well that you know. And I'm not disagreeing with you. So we have nothing to quarrel about."
"We don't? That saddens me." Apollo shakes his head. "What have I come to, that I have nothing to argue about with you?"
"A stalemate, I should think. Which is where we started."
"Ah." Apollo sets the glass down. "But I wanted to win."
"You always do, Apollo, you always do. But you can't, unless I concede defeat. And have I ever?" Dionysus tilts his head over the edge of the bench so that he grins at his brother upside down, properly in reverse. "What was it you wanted to win?"
"Whatever there was to win. You look positively grotesque like that."
"So do you, from this angle. It's all a matter of perspective."
Apollo observes, "You're even more annoying when you wax metaphorical. The best feature of mortals is that they speak in specifics, a great deal of the time, whereas we have tired of the particular, forgotten the momentary, and lost interest in reliving the past. For them, abstracts are still relatively new, but for me they are exhausted of all their beauties."
Dionysus sits up again, pulling his staff free from the vines that have encircled it. "Mortals may speak to other mortals in specifics. These days, when they catch a glimpse of us, they mostly point and stare. But I wasn't aiming to be beautiful. In fact, to be as literal as your mortals, you just said I was grotesque." He points the staff at Apollo, grinning. "If you want to be spoken to as a mortal speaks, you should talk to mortals."
"I have been," Apollo says exasperatedly. "There is no one else to whom I could have spoken for the majority of the last however many years it was from the day I learned to talk again." He stands, and discovers as he attempts to shift his weight that vines have twined themselves around his sandals. He sits down again abruptly and swears in a forgotten language. "I should never have come here."
"Of course you have. But you're not complaining about then, you're complaining about now." Dionysus shoots a glare at the offending vines, which slowly retreat. "Whyever not, brother? They're only playing."
"When you come and visit me in my garden, you will understand exactly how I feel." Apollo glowers at them. It is a wonder that his toes do not begin to smolder. After a moment, he stands again. "As you say, it is terribly difficult to discuss anything of consequence with mortals when one is not a mortal."
Dionysus laughs. "Your garden is inifintely less entertaining than my garden, if I recall aright, my orderly kinsman." He stands up, himself, leaning on his staff. "Then I'm afraid you're at an impasse, if you don't like the way gods talk and you can't talk to humans. What is it of consequence you wanted to discuss, anyway? Or were you speaking in the abstract you hate so much?"
"I am leaving now," Apollo says irritably. "Thank you for your hospitality."
"...And you never did answer half the questions put to you, enigmatic one." He shakes his head. "No matter. It is, after all, none of my business. Do you want me to guide you out, or plough through on your own?"
Apollo glances at the apparently trackless woods. "I would appreciate some sort of guidance, thank you."
Another drunken laugh, and Dionysus points his staff at a gap in the trees, which was almost certainly not there a moment ago. "Certainly. This way."
Apollo scowls at the gap. "I ought to invite you home with me."
"Ought you? Merely to show me that you reign supreme in your own domain, which I already know?" Dionysus strides through the opening, staff slung over his shoulder. "I thought you'd long ago wearied of my company."
Apollo follows him. After several moments, he remembers what had prompted him to give the invitation, apart from spite. "All Olympus knows I have a mortal lover at the moment. He would find you interesting."
"All Olympus and beyond," Dionysus agrees. "I heard from Pan, and you know he's never around." One of the nymphs flits across the path, and he affably waves her on, though not without a habitual leer. "I will come, if you like. For curiosity's sake."
"From Pan? Why in all the stars would he care? -- You might as well. Nearly everyone else has had their chance to goggle at the poor man."
"I don't think he did. Neither did I, especially, but one hears these things. As I said before, you never could do anything without causing a fuss. Well, then." Dionysus plucks a grape from only he knows where and eats it. "I'd better, lest everyone fall under the impression that there are things I'm above."
"That would be a six goat tragedy," Apollo says dryly.
"I'm glad you agree, brother." Blithely. "You see? We have nothing to quarrel about."
"Give me a moment longer, and I'll think of something." Apollo bats at a searching vine.
Dionysus chuckles, and spins to face him. "Alas, if you were going to suggest we argue over my trees, the Fates have decreed it otherwise, as we've come to a parting in them. There--" he points with his staff "is my bower. And there--" he points in the opposite direction "is the entrance you blundered through."
"And if you were coming with me, which way would you take me?"
"If I'd known I was coming with you from the start, we'd have gone in the opposite direction altogether. Much shorter route, far less arduous. Friendlier trees, in your case. Still, things being as they are," he is tossing his first small wine cup again, now "I would go that way." He points.
Apollo pushes away vines that have woven themselves into his hair and glares at the tree from which they hang. "Then let us go, before I am too tempted to make your beloved vines into so many wreaths."
Dionysus laughs. "Do I complain about your laurels?" And he skips nimbly through the parted trees that mark the edge of his realm.
"She is not as pernicious," Apollo says, "nor so pervasive," picking a light green tendril out of his hair. "Your woods want everyone to look like you."
Dionysus falls back beside him, no longer leading the way. "You're jealous, brother: my vines are fond of me."
Apollo looks at him coolly. "Then why are they so eager to leave with someone else?"
"I didn't say they were fond of only me- there's a leaf on your shoulder."
"If you plant your promiscuous vines in the neutral ground, you will have a great deal to explain to Father," Apollo says, more mildly, and hands him the leaf.
It is given a fond caress, and promptly vanishes. "It would be the first time Father objected to the presence of another pretty dryad."
They reach to a crossroads, or at least a divergence of paths. Apollo starts up one. "Your definition of 'pretty' does not quite match mine. Perhaps he appreciates your wild-eyed devotees. Certainly someone should."
Dionysus follows him at a stroll. "My vines aren't 'wild-eyed.' Those are my Maenads, and I have heard that he appreciates them both equally. Shall I tell my girls you don't like them, then?"
"You can if you like; I can't say as how I think it would matter much to them."
"Oh, I don't know. They seem to have taken a liking to you."
"How lovely for them." There is an archway over the path that supports a dangling prism which catches the light and sends it in all directions, but casts no rainbows. Apollo glances up at it as he passes beneath, then continues walking. "I cannot imagine why they would like me, given that I am everything you never hope to be."
Dionysus merely resumes tossing his cup up in the air and catching it. "That would probably be why you interest them. How should I know? I didn't interrogate them, and I only know what they whispered."
"Brother, if I take to consorting with your maenads, I shall become more like you, and then what would we ever argue about?"
"I thought we agreed that we had nothing to argue about? Or did we disagree? It's of no matter. I didn't suggest you should take to stealing my nymphs." He shrugs, and apparently tiring of his game with the cup, puts it to its proper use again.
The path under their feet here is smooth marble. Ahead and to the left, there are the lines of a formal garden on a moderate scale, nothing to shame Versailles but large enough to lose oneself in if one were so inclined. Ahead and to the right is a long, low building with a definite air of horse. Directly ahead is a marble structure designed to strike awe into the hearts of those who behold it. It has grand steps. Apollo pauses at the bottom of these steps and thinks for a moment. "Ah, he's in the library. Shall I fetch him here, or would you be willing to brave my orderly temple?"
A few green tendrils creep inquisitively out of Dionysus' hair and begin to make the long pilgrimage down his back to find something marble to wind themselves about. Apparently, he is oblivious to this, as he merely looks around in some amusement. "I haven't been here since- I don't recall. Provided you don't deliberately twist the passages to lose me, or cause pillars to collapse on me, I believe I shall manage it."
"That depends entirely on your conduct," Apollo says calmly. He starts up the stairs.
"Understood, Lord Apollo." He exchanges grimaces-- inasmuch as a vine can grimace-- with a knot of leaves that has sprouted down into his eyes and ascends after him, managing to clatter his staff against every single step.
Apollo clenches his jaw and says nothing. Once they are on the elevated floor, he sets off down a corridor.
Utterly unabashed, Dionysus follows after him, in part occupied by the tap of his staff on the ground, in part observing his surroundings.
The library is at the end of the corridor. The door stands partially open. Apollo knocks on it twice, blinks, and knocks again.
There is a moment's pause; then the door is opened fully, and Grantaire emerges, looking slight and nondescript and faintly apprehensive.
Apollo smiles at him, a little bit blankly. He turns to the sprouting man behind him. "Dionysus, this is -- François Grantaire." There is an awkward pause before he comes up with the name.
Dionysus pushes an odd combination of hair and leaves and possibly a few grapes out of his eyes and, after a moment of curious staring, grins. "I found this one roaming about in my forest. It only seemed fair to make sure he was returned to you without too many leaves attached."
Grantaire murmurs something inaudible, probably in reference to a deity not here present, and ducks his head in such courtesy as he can muster. "Delighted, I'm sure." At the last he cracks an answering grin, though it's fleeting.
Apollo looks from Dionysus to Grantaire, and shakes his head slightly. "I do not know quite how to continue our earlier discussion of abstracts, at this point, or whether you would remember that we had such a discussion, brother. I -- I think I had best leave you for a time." He turns on his heel and walks down the corridor. Along the way, he stoops to pick up a grape leaf that is already trying to root on the smooth stone.
"Of course I remember. You were..." The wine god blinks after his brother and laughs again in that odd guffaw of his, and several groping tendrils obediently coil themselves up again and settle about his shoulders. "Most argumentative," he finishes, despite the absence of the target of the remark.
An odd expression flickers across Grantaire's face, half panicky and half relieved. "Well."
"Well." Dionysus repeats, shaking his head. "If I didn't know better, I'd say this was part of some sinister design to leave me stranded here." He shakes his head and, plucking a bunch of grapes from the vines that grow there he begins to eat them, with an air of pensive distraction, like a schoolboy determined to enjoy his lunch time cakes even though he knows he's forgotten his afternoon lessons. After a minute he remembers his manners, and as if it was perfectly normal to share food that grew out of one's hair, he offers: "Grapes?"
Grantaire blinks, and shakes his head. "Thank you just the same," wryly bemused. "I suppose he means me to entertain you, though I'm damned if I know how."
The god shrugs. "He implied that I would be an amusing sight to you, though why that would be I couldn't guess." He tosses the last grape up in the air and catches it in his mouth, causing the stem to disappear. "--I think Apollo would object if he came back and found his door covered with vines-- he said, anyway, that he thought we were somewhat alike, you and I." He chuckles. "Though considering that he appears to rather like you and has avoided my company like a gorgon's for the past few centuries, I think one of us ought to be insulted."
Grantaire smiles wanly. "That would explain a good deal, actually."
"It would? Of course it would. Considering the source, there had to be some logic somewhere." He may have dealt with the stalks, but he appears to have forgotten the vines again, as one or two are beginning to poke at the walls.
"Do you think so? I never rely on it." Grantaire eyes the encroaching greenery.
"No? That's the theory, anyway. You'd know better than I." He looks around, and splutters out a few imprecations in classical Greek, before taking a firm hold on the offending foliage and ties it in a knot behind his head. "There. Now I remember why I don't come here."
Grantaire dissolves into laughter in spite of himself. "Good Lord. --You have this difficulty often?"
Dionysus grins, patting the vines. "They are curious. And they don't listen very well. Mind, it's only a difficulty if you're visiting someone who dislikes plants on their walls."
Grantaire chuckles. "I suppose so."
"Demeter, now. She'd be offended if I didn't leave her a new type of grape." He shrugs. "It all depends." He tosses his empty cup up in the air again, and catches it, full, though a few drops spill onto the floor. "How do you find it here, then?"
Grantaire watches with the mild curiosity of one almost, but not entirely, inured to marvels. He is quiet a moment before answering. "Very strange."
Dionysus tastes the wine, and grimaces. "Augh. What does old Apollo keep in his cellars?" He nods. "That's what Heracles said, and Castor and Polydeuces; that's what I said, and Nysa isn't so far removed from Olympus. That's what everybody says." He grins, eyes the wine like an enemy across the battlefield, and swallows it anyway. "You get used to it. Or you don't. That's all there is."
"I suppose." Grantaire picks at his fingernails a moment, and adds, with unconscious pathos, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to come here."
"Hardly anybody does. Someone else means them to. Though I doubt you'll get thrown out." He shakes his head, forgetfully allowing a few leaves to drift to the floor. "There are mortals enough scattered about, here if you know where to find them."
"With leaves?" Grantaire inquires dourly.
"Some of them." Dionysus pulls a handful from his hair and lets them drift to the floor, vanishing as they touch it. "For that matter, I have leaves."
Grantaire's mouth quirks at the corner. "So I observe. Point taken."
"I should hope so!" Dionysus laughs. "What's-his-name-- Pentheus didn't much like my leaves, and he-- but that was a long time ago." Absently he pats at the vines tangled in his hair, not so much to set them in order, since they weren't in it in the first place, as to reassure them. "Though you've got to go a bit further if you want the other kind, other than the ones Father has hidden away."
"Doubtless." Grantaire makes an odd abortive gesture, as though he would bury his hands in his pockets if he had pockets. He ends up folding his arms instead. "To each his own."
Apollo returns with an armful of waving greenery, which he deposits in front of Dionysus. "And to you, my brother, your bedamned plants. I have no desire to have a farm in here."
Gods aren't supposed to do anything so undignified as splutter, but this one seems to have disregarded that fact, as he does, most emphatically. "So that's where you got to: hunting down my vines?" He allows one of the plants to wind its way around his calf, like particularly intricate straps on a sandal. "They were only exploring. I very much doubt they would want to stay."
Grantaire leans his head in one hand, in a token attempt not to be amused.
"They would find it most uncomfortable." Apollo glares at them. "It is rather like having an itch in the small of my back, having these things growing here."
"The simple solution would have been to ask me to call them back." both legs are entwined, now, and his arms; bracelets or lacings or tatoos, artfully aranged to adorn the skin visible between them. Admittedly, some could have wound themselves around Dionysus' torso, beneath his clothes, but by the time the pile on the floor has been cleared away, he ought to have been smothered by them and isn't. One tendril peers over his shoulder at Apollo, with the suggestion of a woman's face around it, as if the vine were a tongue she was poking out at the god.
"This serves my purpose equally well. Do keep them to yourself; I've no use for them." Apollo ignores the vine and glances at Grantaire. "You seem to be getting on well."
Grantaire looks up again, with a gentle, rueful smile. "So it seems," he agrees.
It is impossible to elbow something growing over your shoulder in the ribs, but whatever Dionysus does seems to have a similar effect, because the vine squeaks and ducks back into his hair. He looks from man to deity with mild amusement.
"You were not arguing," Apollo says with the assurance of someone who knows that the walls do not need ears to hear. "That is interesting of itself." He smiles at Grantaire. "Perhaps I did not do so well by you as I'd thought."
Grantaire quirks a brow. "How's that?"
Apollo shakes his head. "I can hardly understand how anyone can have anything amounting to a proper conversation with my brother," a nod to Dionysus. "I have been trying, intermittently, for longer than I care to recall."
Dionysus laughs, tapping his staff on the ground and causing the vines on it to writhe in their own amusement. "Whereas I would say we have proper conversations every time we meet. Perspective."
"It depends," Grantaire says mildly, "on what you call a conversation."
"Certainly we speak to each other," Apollo says, or rather blusters, "but it never goes anywhere."
"Indeed. And I call it an exchange of words. Sometimes with ideas attached. Ahh." Dionysus stops tapping on the staff to lean upon it, apparently in thought. "A circular conversation, then. Didn't some mortal philosopher say that was the most beautiful shape?"
Apollo frowns. "I can't recall."
Dionysus shakes his head. "It doesn't matter, Phoebus. I was teasing you, anyway."
"Of course you were," crisply. "You say something nonsensical, and you were only teasing. If I had taken you up on the conversation, you wouldn't have been teasing after all." He shakes his head. "Love, if you tire of his inanities, you will be able to convince him to leave, or I will make him go. As for myself --" he glances down the hall "-- if I don't go, I fear Athena will have fits, or I will do something that I might be punished for later."
Grantaire touches his arm lightly. "All right."
"Of course. One must adapt to the dynamics of the conversation." Dionysus chuckles. "That would be my cue to rid your pristine temple of my presence?"
"You can stay as long as you are tolerable," Apollo says, "but keep your greenery to yourself."
Dionysus raises his eyebrows. Dryly, "Gracious of you, brother."
Grantaire shakes his head quietly.
"Even I can be sensible at times," Apollo says, just as dryly. He turns to leave.
Dionysus brings the staff close to his face to whisper conspiratorially, perhaps to the plants growing there: "Keep my greenery to myself. And never mind all the things he trod on and brushed aside in my realm." He chuckles again, for all the world as if the plant replied.
"Until later, then." Grantaire straightens, with a conscious effort.
"Be careful," Apollo says in a voice that echoes through the corridor.
"I may stay, may I?" Dionysus snorts, and for a minute falls to contemplating a marble pillar. Having ascertained that this is really nothing more interesting than shaped stone, he gives it a whack with his staff. "By ancestral Chaos! What's he about? These straight lines and right angles are going to give me a headache, if I hang about them too long. And besides," he spins around again, grinning. "I'm supposed to behave, and where's the fun in that? Given a choice, I think I'd stretch my legs a bit, since I seem to be abroad. But I'm forgetting my manners, and Father will sputter over discourtesy to guests. D'you want to come along then-- sir? Or are marble blocks company enough for mortals these days? I'm afraid I can't recall."
Grantaire runs a hand through his hair. "--Pardon?"
Dionysus waves a hand. "Nothing, nothing. I was talking mostly to myself. This place doesn't suit me. Or I don't suit it, rather. So I thought I might find somewhere that does." He grins. "It's only polite to ask one's companions along."
Grantaire casts an uncertain look down the hallway. "I don't know."
Dionysus pulls his cup from somewhere and tosses it in the air again, this time catching it on the top of his staff in something between a juggler's trick and a god's innate symbolism. "Neither do I, if it comes to that, but you're in a better position to decide."
Grantaire regards him wryly. "Surely you're not consulting me."
Dionysus shrugs, which causes the cup to topple from its perch. He catches it and puts it to his lips. "That one isn't any good, either. I'd leave Apollo a gift of some decent wine, but I think he'd take it ill-- from what little I know of humans, they get rather irate if you don't. Unless you show off a bit first, in the thunder-and-lightning sense."
Grantaire takes a moment to process this. Then, with a mirroring shrug, "I hardly expect it."
"I didn't say you should. That's your own affair. I only asked a question."
"Which one?" mildly.
Dionysus looks puzzled. That requires a bit of backtracking. "Impossible mortals. You all think like Prometheus. No wonder-- ahh," he points at the pillar, as it reminds him. "That's it. I don't like it here, and I wanted to know if you wanted to see somewhere else."
"That does sound interesting," Grantaire concedes cautiously.
Dionysus grins. "Well then, that's settled." And he bounds off, leaving a trail of dislodged grapes behind him, like Hansel and Gretel and their breadcrumbs.
"It is, is it?" Grantaire blinks after him.
"Certainly." The god calls back from several pillars away, and though he doesn't shrug, a number of vines do the job for him, bending and bobbing. "I'm going, and you're coming or you aren't. That's as settled as you can hope for."
Grantaire laughs despite himself. "For the love of-- all right. All right." And he trails after.
Dionysus grins, pleased with his logic, and scampers down the stairs. He lacks the entourage of satyrs and women, but nevertheless seems to be in his element: fleeing order for chaos.
Grantaire follows at some distance, looking bemused.
Dionysus pauses at the arch, waiting, and the rest of the vines slip free of their knot and grow into extra curls about his shoulders again. He has stopped shedding grapes and resumed eating them, at least. "Better. Much better. Though where to go from here is another matter."
Grantaire tucks his hands behind his back. "I'm sure I don't know," mildly.
"No?" Dionysus shakes his head. "What has humanity come to? There was a time when the mortal poets could draw a better map of Olympus than I could. Of course," he reflects, tossing another grape into his mouth, "it does move about a bit, if you don't stick to the paths. But what's the fun in that? Left's as good as right, they say." He bounds off to the right, apparently to be as contrary as the situation allows.
Grantaire chuckles again, and follows as best he can. "Ah, well--"
Dionysus ducks through a grove of trees, albeit with less skill than he exhibits in his own territory. "The difficulty is that almost everybody has an unnatural liking for solitude and a habit of growing things right in your path-- hmm?"
"Nothing." Grantaire has paused, trying to regain his bearings and his footing. "Nothing very important."
Dionysus laughs and, while he's distracted, two segments of vine detatch themselves completely, assume the semlance of green tinged women and scurry out of sight. "Are you sure? If you want a guide who knows what ought to be said about a place, you'll have to bother Hermes."
Grantaire runs a hand through his hair. "That's quite all right. Though it would help if I knew where we were going. Or how to get back."
Dionysus considers this. "It's easy enough to get back from anywhere, once you've got there, though you've got to be there first before you can tell how to turn around. And as to that-- where do you want to go? I don't mind--" he hauls himself up on to a low tree branch and settles on it, then, abruptly, he is sitting on another one some distance from the first "--there's more air and less light out here; that's the important bit. Let's see--" he closes his eyes, considering. "That way, more or less, if you go far enough, you get off Olympus altogether and end up on Mount Causcus. Of course, old Atlas doesn't talk much since that unfortunate incident-- but his daughters are pretty. Over that way's Elysium. Back that way and to the left's mostly more temples. Some interesting groves over that way, though you've got to mind the centaurs. Can't remember what's that way." He shrugs indifferently and plucks another bunch of grapes from his hair.
Grantaire leans against a neighboring tree, arms folded, and glances up at him. "I am entirely at your disposal."
Dionysus chuckles. "I suppose so, at that. Well then." He leans back against the trunk of the tree, lost in thought. Having finished his grapes, he reaches for another bunch and, after a realisation, chuckles ruefully. "By the Styx. Lose a couple, did I? Nymphs! Better see where they've got to, then." He sets off again, but is apparently tired of walking, as he merely blinks from tree to tree.
"I-- good Lord." Grantaire blinks after him, and starts awkwardly in the direction he seems to be going.
Dionysus flits right out of sight, and then back again. "Keep up!" He calls, with something approaching a maniacal grin. "They can't have got far!" Apparantly, he remembers that he is supposed to be playing Guide, because he adds: "Oh-- mind the pool, there. It's Juturna's. One of Father's girls. Hera likes her less than most of them. Makes her dreadfully paranoid. The water nearly always does something odd to people."
Grantaire avoids it narrowly. "Thank you," he says dryly. "As for keeping up, I'm doing the best I can."
"Unless you want to turn blue," Dionysus continues cheerfully. "That's what happened to-- oh, what was her name? Can't recall. It rather suited her, at that." He plucks a twig from a tree and tosses it down to the water. It appears to object to this, as it executes an impressive manouevre and dodges to land beside it. "--Sorry!" He calls to it. "As to keeping up, how can you expect to if you just walk-- oh, but you have to, don't you? That must be inconvenient." And he gives Grantaire the sort of speculative look that people sometimes give pictures of the ancients accomplishing things with copper axes, as if wondering how they put up with the bother. "Well! Foot pace it is, then." He drops out of the tree and skips off through the undergrowth.
There is a small crash of thunder, though the sky is bright blue. Apollo appears before Dionysus, and the furious expression on his face explains why there was any sound at all. "Exactly where do you think you're going?" he asks wrathfully.
Grantaire stumbles, clutching at the nearest tree trunk to keep his feet, and stands petrified.
Dionysus halts with a hop, barely avoiding crushing a plant that was grasping at his ankles as he leaped over it. He eyes his brother with some amusement and mild irritation. "Hello, Phoebus. Pleasant of you to have joined us again. I misplaced a nymph or two; they're usually worth finding, and one usually finds a little fun on the way. Would you like to come?"
"Spare me your worthless pastimes and your vegetative lovers," Apollo says scornfully. "I wouldn't seek your girls out if they were the last women on Olympus; look what they have done to you, them and your constant thoughtlessness. You left vines poking their way around my temple. I've burned them, but I'm sure you won't miss them. They seem as promiscuous in their attachments as you are. Did you think I would have any trouble finding you? You've left your damnable plants trailing behind you all along your path, as if the smell of wine were not enough for anyone with the memory of a nose. I was wrong; I should never have heeded Artemis on this matter -- and worse, I should never have assumed that you would be the slightest bit honorable in any matter. I forgot too much. Thank you, brother, for reminding me of my fallibility," dryly. He glances at Grantaire, who might well be reminded of certain unpleasant moments from his youth. "I am going home. Come with me, or follow him and be damned." It sounds mild, in comparison with the diatribe of moments before, but no less sincere.
Grantaire stares at him a moment, paralyzed; then straightens slowly, trembling a little, and goes to him.
Dionysus listens to this quietly enough, though his eyes flash when Apollo announces that he's burned his vines, but when he has finished he claps his hands together in a sardonic round of applause. "Soak your head in the Lethe, Brother, and maybe you'll imbibe some of that sense you like to think you have. You always were a terrible fool. Do you think you could find me, if I didn't want to be found? I'd like to see you try. And I warn you: keep your blasted fires to yourself from now on, or we might not be on such friendly terms as we are now." He is taller now, perhaps, and there is a sort of chaotic order to the vines and fruit scattered through his hair. But then he laughs, and diminishes again. "Get home and fume, then! But you're spoiling a fine day over nothing!"
"You are the one who has spoiled it," Apollo says sharply. He does not respond to Dionysus' apparent change in height; that would be unnecessary in that he himself seems a head taller in his rage, which has not yet cooled. "I shall keep my fires to myself when I do not need them to cleanse your wretched weeds from where they should never have been. Get yourself home and keep an eye on your worthless nymphs, if you feel that they bear watching. They would never to want to leave you if you were half so charismatic as you seem to believe you are."
Grantaire puts out a hand as though to touch Apollo's arm placatingly, but shies back, glancing between them for all the world like a child between quarrelling parents.
Dionysus raises an eyebrow. "They would not have stayed long in your realm, I don't think. Nor will they enter it again, without much cajoling. Their sisters will mourn them. Take what pleasure you will in that, murderer of maenads." He dissolves into laughter again, in an abrupt mood swing. "Apollo, Apollo. I wonder which of us it is that doubts his charisma. I, who can let my girls roam, knowing that they will return to me in their own time, or after the joys of a chase, or you, all fit and fury over everything that does not go your way. Why are you in such a state?"
Apollo reddens with ire and perhaps embarrassment. "Take your madwomen and go to Gehenna. There are very few things that will not bend to my will in time. I have no reason to be like you, light of affection and without conviction to anything but the full glass and the perfect breast. I will have what I want. That is far better than your lot; you can only hope to want what you have."
"Mon cher." It's faint, after Apollo's thundering tones. "Please."
"Avoiding the question!" Dionysus snickers. "You needn't tell me that you'll plot and contrive and subdue all your days and never be content and be mystified that anybody is happy with his lot when you are not, any more than I need give you directions to Helios' stables or lessons in watering gardens. I know all that. Why're you angry now, Phoebus? What's this fierce insistence that you needn't be like me? I've never said you should." He sets his back to a tree, arms folded, all patience. Dryly. "I think your mortal friend is ill at ease, brother."
Apollo puts a possessive hand on Grantaire's shoulder, but his gaze does not waver from Dionysus. The phrase 'if looks could kill' would apply here, except that it would also require the clause 'if gods could die.' "You seem to understand me so well. Why do you feel the need to question me, then, or protest when I will not answer your foolish queries? Your existence irritates me; your insouciance makes me regret that I did nothing more than I did to harm you and your precious girls; your Chaos-ridden being makes me feel as though I were mortal again, and violently ill. How could I keep from being irritated in your divine presence?"
Grantaire, to his credit, does not cringe, though he twitches a bit.
Deceptively blithe, Dionysus reiterates: "I've warned you about injuring my maenads. We would not want a repeat of Orpheus, would we? I cannot always be watching them." He smiles. "You cannot bear my presence, so you came crashing through these groves as if your chariot was on fire purely to be aggravated by being near me? That is your answer? Which of us is it that is said to be mad? You're wrong, Apollo. I don't understand you at all."
Apollo's fingers tighten on Grantaire's shoulder. He looks calm and controlled, especially in comparison with a few minutes before. "You had something of mine."
Grantaire winces, but otherwise makes no sign, keeping his eyes on the ground.
Dionysus beams, for all the world as if he'd just scored a point. "Is that so? I thought I was showing your friend a little of the country. Your jealous rages out do anybody's. Still, if that's so, then you had things of mine. Your lover there is perhaps a little footsore-- my apologies--" a vague afterthought to Grantaire, before he returns to his point "--whereas I have only the remains of a bonfire to collect. Which of us then would be entitled to righteous fury, were he so inclined?"
Apollo scowls. "If you're going to regret losing something, you ought to make a token effort to keep it out of where it does not belong. I told you that I would show your trailing vines no mercy. If you were capable of keeping a thought in your root-filled head, you would have remembered that."
Dionysus settles further back against the tree, perhaps even into it. "You are fortunate I'm not so strict, brother, or else a blond Olympian wandering uninvited in my vineyards this morning might have found himself inconvenienced by more vines and satyrs than he could easily incinerate. Ah, yes" he adds, dryly. "It was entirely my fault. If I had not left you a couple of messengers, and a clear trail behind me, you might have taken a while longer to get here and spared us all a storm."
"Cher," Grantaire tries again, a little desperately. "It's all right. Please--"
Apollo appears not to hear Grantaire at all. "Of course," condescendingly, "it was all part of your overreaching plan to spare me pain. I should have known, beloved brother, that it was for my own good. Thank you for sparing me torment and blazing me a trail. I'll spare you further necessity to take care of me." He turns, and in a silent shimmer of the air, he and Grantaire disappear.
... Previous ... Book Five ... Table of Contents ... Next ...