The scroll Bacchus held in his hands belonged to another god. Granted, the address read “to Bacchus,” but this foolish human had prayed to the wrong deity. Had the world fallen so far into disarray that a vintner didn’t know to whom he should make entreaties relating to the current crop of pinot noir? Of course Bacchus would gladly partake of the finished product, but really he didn’t care if he imbibed wine, whiskey, pilsner, or peppermint schnapps. Humans had come up with so many ways to pay homage to him. Their propensity for creative self-medication endeared the species to the God of Intoxication and Ecstasy.
“Pan,” Bacchus called to his steward, “This is for Liber. How I tire of being confused with that pompous windbag.”
“My apologies, Sire. I’ll see that he gets this.”
Bacchus took a swig from his wineskin. “Please do. I’d take it myself but—well, last month’s lecture on the qualities of cork will hold me over for a lifetime.”
“Of course, Sire.”
“Oh and make sure the nymphs are oiled up for the festivities this evening. Are Pele’s accommodations ready?”
“Yes, Sire. I inspected them myself.”
“Good, I wouldn’t want a repeat of the last time she visited us. I hear they’re still unearthing charred remains in Pompeii. And Vesuvius—” The god’s voice arrested. Even in his inebriated haze, Bacchus could make out a flash of gold from the bottom of the pile of correspondence.
“Pan—am I hallucinating or is there a scroll from The Council thrown in with the common post?”
The little goat-man flushed a deep shade of red, apparent even through the silver of his facial fur. “I-I-Sire, I think, maybe…”
The beating of cloven hooves echoed in Bacchus’ private hall as Pan scurried to the heap. Mortification twisted across the steward’s face, his worst fears confirmed. The golden scroll had settled among the other messages, smug in its self-importance. Pan snatched up the regal communiqué and ferried it to Bacchus.
“Just read it to me, Panny boy. It’s probably for Liber anyway.” Bacchus laughed at his own humor.
Stubby fingers worked at the crystal seal, but a ruckus in the outer chambers startled him from his purpose. He’d barely had time to alight his beady eyes upon the text.
A trumpeter flew into the gilded chamber and blasted a hurried version of Hail to The Father. Guards, nymphs, and courtiers snapped to rigid attention. Even Bacchus pulled himself to his unsteady feet.
In a tidal wave of snowy robes and untamed, silver hair, The Father washed into the great room. A brush of his hand silenced the fanfare.
Bacchus executed a deep, though somewhat mocking bow. “And to what do we owe this great honor, My Lord?”
“Good afternoon, Bacchus.” The Father glanced around at the scattered floor pillows and the sycophants lounging them. “I need a few moments of your time. Alone.”
No one waited for the God of Intoxication’s dismissal. An implied request from The Father carried more weight than a direct order from anyone else in the Palace of Light. Oh sure, when She felt ornery, The Mother could contradict The Father, but only She dared to do so.
“Thy will be done,” Bacchus gave the standard answer.
Once the hall had cleared, The Father motioned to a chaise. “Please, have a seat.”
Bacchus staggered over to the lounge chosen for him. He kept his eyes on the wizened deity. The Father’s usually glowing face made a poor show of hiding a scowl. Not to mention The Father’s pacing would soon leave a crater in the marble floor.
“I trust you received the scroll from The Council,” said His Lord on High.
“About that, there was a bit of a mix up with the post this morning…”
“No matter. I’d rather tell you this in person anyhow.”
Perched on the edge of his seat, Bacchus searched The Ancient One’s eyes for answers. “It’s very bad news, is it?”
A sigh heaved from the great chest. “I won’t insult you by candy coating it. Since Bodhi joined The Council he’s done some excellent thinking on The Sorrows of the world. Please understand, he didn’t target you specifically.”
“Target me?” Bacchus huffed a sarcastic chuckle. “Am I being summoned before a firing squad?”
“No, no. Not literally anyway. Has Bodhi talked to you about his premises regarding The Sorrows?”
The god waved a hand. “Oh yes, he’s tried several times, bless him. His manner of thinking is so far beyond me. My Lord, you know I do whatever I can do to ease The Sorrows. I’ll admit I’m limited by my inferior mind, but I do try.”
“No one questions your dedication, Bacchus. The debate has arisen over your methods.”
“But my methods have withstood millennia and believe me the Puritan Era was no walk in the park for me and my devotees, but we’ve endured.”
“I understand that and believe me, no one entered into this decision lightly. And Mother is on the warpath. She’s always been fond of your company.”
“Am I being demoted?”
The Father exhaled and sat down next to Bacchus. “It’s worse than that, My Love. The Council has decided that desire does indeed seem to be the root of all suffering, Bodhi has proven that assertion beyond a shadow of a doubt. And since that emotion…well, it’s central to almost everything you do. Therefore we’ve decided we must revoke your divine power and disband your following. There’s no way around it.”
Bacchus reeled inside from the shock of The Father’s words. How dare The Council do this to him and behind his back? He hadn’t heard a word about these discussions. True, he was only a ‘lesser god,’ but a god of any rank was still a god. Why had no one come to him?
“So just like that I’m out on my ear?” Bacchus asked.
“We did debate this for over two centuries. It’s not a snap decision, I assure you. And Bodhi argued for you hardest of all. He deems you necessary to ‘the joyful participation in The Sorrows of the world.’”
“So who argued against me, then?”
“We shouldn’t get into that.” The Father shook his head in a dismissive manner.
“It was Antithesia, wasn’t it? She could use a good buggering to loosen up that tight ass of hers.”
Bacchus wanted to scream at The Ancient One. And Antithesia, well that smarmy, prudish little bitch had better not cross his path anytime soon, but Bacchus wrestled with his sense of outrage. A long drink from his wineskin settled his indignation a bit. A long time had passed since anyone had attacked Bacchus outright and he always managed to pull his pretty, fleshy bottom out of the fire. Perhaps he could finesse his way through this wrinkle; he knew better than anyone the proclivities of His Lord.
Invoking his cat-like female form, Bacchus draped herself across The Father’s lap, her hair a river gold, spilled over masculine thighs. She wound a long, slender finger around a lock of The Father’s beard. “Isn’t there anything you can do to help me, My Lord?”
A flash of craving broke The Highest One’s mask of gravity. Without words, Bacchus summoned her two most fetching nymphs, Maia and Saraesa. The lithe women fell at The Father’s feet and reached up to stroke Bacchus’ voluptuous curves. Tinkling strains of laughter resonated in a chorus of seduction that curled around the would-be lovers. Maia and Saraesa leaned into each other and their lips melted together.
Bacchus gauged The Father’s reaction to the kiss, then turned up the heat by stripping off Maia’s gauzy wrap and pulling the pert breasts to her mouth.
A low growl rumbled in The Father’s throat. “Enough!”
The nymphs disappeared in a flash of stardust, leaving silence in their wake. Bacchus reverted at once to his male body.
“This is exactly what I’m talking about. There has to be more to a life than pleasures of the flesh.”
The chastened god hung his head. “I agree, My Lord, but life cannot flourish either without ecstasy.”
“I used to believe that but now I see that’s where we’ve gone wrong all along. Many of our children lead happy lives of sobriety and abstinence.”
“Happy or uneventful? There is a difference.”
The Father rose. “I’m truly sorry, Bacchus, My Love.”
“There’s nothing You can do to help me?”
“It’s not my decision to make. The Council has spoken.”
“Every decision is Yours to make.”
“You know as well as I do, that’s not how it works. As of now your powers have been suspended. I’m sorry…I’ll leave you to your packing.” The Father turned toward the grand hall’s exit.
A sneer darkened Bacchus’ cherubesque face. Perfectly arched eyebrows furrowed with spite. “Some all powerful Lord you are.”
The Father stopped in His tracks, a burst of flames ignited around Him, but He doused them with a single flick of His wrist. Without turning to face the fallen god He replied, “I’ll let that remark slide. Wounded feelings surely have clouded your judgment.”
And with that, The Father disappeared. The gilded chamber fell dark and cold in his absence.
Bacchus sank his head into his hands. Darkness and chill would rule the rest of his life if he failed to think of a solution.