Roberta Gellis
Bull God


by Roberta Gellis
Baen Books May 2000
ISBN 0-671-57868-5
Price: $6.99

"Ms Gellis has become an extraordinary myth teller. She's never been in finer form. Treasure this."
--The Paperback Forum

Time was when gods walked the Earth and intervened in the lives of the common folk. In that time, a man could pray to a deity for a sign that he was the true king of a nation and have a white bull rise from the sea to confirm his claim. But the gods do not always nor lightly answer prayers. Often the price for their favors is high--and woe betide those who do not fulfill the promises they make.

The Minotaur is the god Poseidon's get on Pasiphae, wife of Minos. At birth the creature appears so monstrous that no one will touch him except his half-sister Ariadne. But soon it becomes apparent that what is wrong with his head is no simple deformity. By Poseidon's will, the head of a bull has been melded to the body of a child. The question is, is the Minotaur to be worshiped as a new god by his father's will, or is he a god's curse on Knossos, a monster that will destroy it?
Dionysos the mad is feared even by his fellow gods because he is wild and unpredictable and his Gift permits him to lash others into a frenzy of rage or panic or lust in which they mindlessly destroy themselves or others. Visions he cannot understand, rather than ill will or bad temper, drive him to unconsidered actions, but no one can explain what he Sees. Once there had been a priestess called Ariadne who interpreted his Visions, and the years she had lived had been halcyon for Dionysos and for Olympus. Now a second Ariadne has been consecrated as his priestess and he hopes to find peace at last, but Poseidon's son, the Minotaur, has claims on her also and stands between.
Ariadne loves her god with all her heart and soul, but with the birth of the Minotaur, she is torn between the two. Although the Minotaur is worshiped by most of Knossos as a god made flesh, Dionysos Sees the bull-head growing into a monster and bringing disaster upon her people. Ariadne knows that Dionysos's Visions are true; she wishes to obey her god and she loves Knossos and its people, but she cannot agree to the slaughter of the pathetic, deformed half brother who clings to her as the only one who cares for him.

Excerpt from BULL GOD


The worshipers began to sing again and the priestesses advanced on Ariadne. At first, she did not understand their purpose, all she saw was their serene and indifferent expressions and her chest suddenly felt hollow. They had not seen anything in the scrying bowl and they had not heard the voice answering her. Her head drooped and tears stung her eyes. For a moment she had thought she had touched the god, that he would answer her Call. And then she felt the hands on the laces of her bodice, on the tie of her belt. They were going to undress her, lay her naked on the altar to wait for a god who would never come!

Ariadne's eyes flashed over the heads of the priestesses to the witnesses below: her mother, half smiling with satisfaction because it was not she who would be exposed to no purpose; her father, serious, perhaps hopeful but ready to accept the lack of response; Androgeos, eyes lowered, head turned slightly away, sympathetic enough to desire not to see her shame but helpless; the courtiers, already whispering, mildly contemptuous. Well, she would not be shamed. Her hands rose and pushed the priestesses away.

"The ritual is for me to perform," she cried.

She saw the shock in their faces, heard gasps and cries from the people ranged below the dais, saw the glance each priestess gave the other to judge whether they should seize her and force her. Then a strong voice came from behind.

"I have come."

The crowd cried out with one voice and Ariadne spun on her heel to look across the altar at the painting of the god. It still glowed on the wall, the right hand of the god holding a vine from which depended a cluster of ripe grapes and the left resting lightly on the shoulder of a young satyr, who nuzzled his horned head against one of the god's thighs while one cleft hoof rubbed shyly the back of a goat-like hairy leg. Now before it stood a living being--living, but not a man, Ariadne thought. She had never seen a man so tall or so strong, with the skin exposed by his scant tunic the color of milk and hair seemingly of coiled gold wires.

"Dionysos," she whispered, stretching her hands toward him over the altar.

He stared at her, his too-large eyes open wider than she had seen them in the scrying bowl, but his face bore no more expression than that of the painting behind him. Ariadne heard two soft thumps. The priestesses had fallen to the floor, either in obeisance or in a faint. She wondered whether Dionysos was waiting for her to flatten herself and press her face to the floor and felt bitterly disappointed. The sweet smile that had drawn that last Calling from her had held nothing of that kind of pride.

From the waiting crowd came gasps and whimpers, rustles, as robes stiff with jewels and metal-thread embroidery creased and crumpled while their wearers sank to the floor, but Ariadne did not, could not, move. And then the god did. He whispered a word she did not understand and made a gesture, and the sounds from behind her were cut off as if a door had closed.

"You Called me?" he asked.

"Yes, Lord Dionysos," she whispered, tears in her trembling voice. "It is the ritual. It is done at each change of season."

"I heard no Call last solstice nor for many, many years before that."

"That was while the old priestess, my father's mother, served your shrine. I do not know what she did wrong that you did not hear her. She died and I was chosen to take her place." She swallowed. She could not say that she had wanted him to come. A god might be able to read her heart; if he learned she was lying ... "I performed the ritual very exactly."

"But you are only a little girl, a child. How dare they offer me so unripe a fruit."

His eyes passed over her to stare at the kneeling worshipers beyond. Although his face still showed little, Ariadne heard the fury in his voice and terror caught at her. She had no idea what would be done to her if he rejected her. That had never happened in all the time the shrine had existed. He had come in the distant past, and the wines of Crete had been prized and praised in every land. Then the priestess died and some past queen had wanted the glory of being Dionysos' priestess as well as queen. In that she failed, for the god had not come to her Calling nor to the following queen/priestesses, but he had never rejected a priestess.

If her father did not sacrifice her there at the altar, Ariadne thought, the people would tear her to bits. She drew her hands back from their reach toward the god and clasped them desperately under her barely swelling breasts. Tears began to course down her cheeks, smearing the kohl that lined her eyes. She had not felt ready for mating, but surely that would be better than to be turned away.

"I am not unripe," she sobbed. "My moon times have come. I am ready for marriage. Oh, do not turn me away, my lord. The people will tear me to bits for displeasing you."

"Tear you to bits ..."

Something flickered behind his eyes--knowledge of such frenzies? horror? Ariadne began to tremble as she remembered the stories about the winter worship, not that in the shrine but out on the hills and in the forests when it was said the followers of Dionysos went mad and tore beasts and men apart with teeth and nails. When he had not come to the shrine, had he led those worshipers? The breath caught in her throat as he suddenly strode forward, stepped onto the altar, and pulled her up beside him.

"Do not weep, child," he said, putting an arm gently around her shoulders and drawing her close. "I will not harm you. You do not displease me. But those who chose so unfit a sacrifice--"

Relief made her bold enough to glance up at him. He was again looking out at the crowd of people. His eyes were clear blue, very pale, bright and hard as polished gems--mad and merciless. And in them Ariadne Saw, but not with her eyes, father and mother, brother and courtiers, all gone mad, striking and tearing at each other, covered with blood.

She could not bear to look and could not look away. Fear made her sick. Her stomach churned; her heart pounded so hard she felt a tearing pain around it--pain so great she sagged against Dionysos' side. He looked down and the Vision of chaos faded. Instead she Saw a covering around her heart unfold, like the petals of a strange flower. They held the beating heart at their center, and as that flower pulsed, a mist of gently swaying silver strands flowed out toward Dionysos. When they touched him, she breathed in deeply as feeling and knowledge flowed back along the strands to her.

Had less happened to her that day, had she not seen a god appear and heard him speak to her, she would not have believed what she felt and saw inside her head. Awe made her receptive. She knew she had received a Gift, given when she was consecrated to make her a true priestess. Through that Gift she could read her god's will and she knew that he felt belittled and abused, and that his Power was to make those who scorned him punish themselves through holy frenzy. But it was understanding that had come to her through those tenuous silver strands, not fear. Her weakness had distracted him. The people were still safe.

Ariadne yielded to Phaidra's pull and went with her out of the gate and down the hill. She was so sick with apprehension, that she could feel bile in her throat and she did not dare ask a question for fear she would spew. Phaidra was silent too, except for one sentence, muttered under her breath, "Oh, why would it not die quietly," which reminded Ariadne that her sister had said "it was crying."

She heard the thin wailing as soon as she came out of the stairwell that led to the second floor, and her heart lurched. The cries were broken, exhausted, as if the child had been unattended for a very long time. Phaidra dropped her hand, but Ariadne knew perfectly well where to go and broke into a run.

She faltered at the doorway. The room stank. Then the cradle lurched and the tired wailing, which had been still for a moment, began again. Ariadne hurried forward, her teeth set, and looked into the cradle. The child was naked and lying on its stomach, and at first sight was not so dreadful. True, a thick mane of black hair grew over the head and halfway down the back, but it had two arms and two legs and the correct number of fingers and toes.

The condition of the cradle was far worse than a little extra hair, and it was far too cold to leave an infant not only wet and soiled but naked. Ariadne snatched up a clean blanket from a pile on a wall shelf, threw it over the child's back, and picked it up. As she turned it, a gasping cry was wrung from her, and she had to tighten her arms consciously not to drop the babe.

What caught the eye was the black mass that protruded into a broad muzzle and covered almost the whole bottom half of the face. In it were two large holes that quivered as the little creature drew breath; below it a wide slit of a mouth with no lips and almost no chin opened to emit another wail. The eyes were large, bulbous, and set too far apart, but the lids were furnished with long, thick, curling lashes--a travesty of beauty that was almost more horrible than more ugliness would have been. A fingerwidth of brow separated the eyes from the growth of black hair, which continued on down the child's back, and there were two bumps under the hair just above the brow.

Ariadne stared, transfixed, aware that the horror of that little face was not really strange to her, that she had seen it before and not found it horrible at all. And then she remembered where she had seen it and wavered where she stood, her soul in turmoil. She knew what Poseidon had done, and something inside her screamed and screamed for help while tears of pity and remorse ran down her face.

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