Big Dipper

[a Warehouse 13 / Bering & Wells Über (AU) in a Classical Mythology setting]
[written as Daphne]
***

Introductory Note, so this story may make some sense:

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, there is the story of Callisto (not the one from Xena), who is a virgin follower of Diana, who is the goddess of the Hunt, Birth, Chastity and the Moon (and all the Amazon tribes on Xena, which basically makes her the Goddess of Lesbians). Jove is attracted to Callisto and to get close to her, he disguises himself not as another animal, but as Diana. Once past her guard, he rapes Callisto (woefully enough, a culturally accepted way of wooing in ancient Greek) and leaves her pregnant; a jealous Juno then turns her into a bear, until finally, Callisto is elevated to the stars as Ursa maior in compensation for her troubles.

In the middle of the 17th century, Giovanni Faustini and Francesco Cavalli turned the Callisto myth into an opera for Venice (if you read the opera parts of this blog, this will sound familiar). Here, Jove first approaches Callisto in his own form and is rebuked. For a second attempt, at Mercury’s counsel, he disguises himself as Diana and successfully seduces Callisto (mutually consenting adults here, even if Jove is not who Callisto thinks him to be). They carry on an affair (leading to some embarrassing run-ins with the actual Diana who does not understand why Callisto is suddenly all over her and who, despite being the goddess of chastity, has a platonic thing going on with a young shepherd named Endymion) until Juno finds out. Then Callisto is turned into a bear and finally elevated to the stars.

Of course this isn’t actually a lesbian story: Jove is a fraud, and Callisto, in the end, is content to know him to be her lover and not Diana. Also, the whole plot hinges on the fact that Callisto cannot tell Jove’s advances apart from the “chaste” (Faustini’s words, not mine) exchange of kisses between two women, ergo it’s a plot hinging on the idea that nothing genuinely sexual can happen between two women: the laugh is on Callisto.

And I found it more interesting if it weren’t.

Also, in the scenes where Callisto pines away for Diana and talks passionately of their trysts, Faustini and Cavalli accidentally *did* create a tale of unabashed lesbian desire.

So what if Callisto actually slept with Diana, and not with Jove…?

(I would have preferred to go with the Greek names, but since both Ovid and Faustini use the Roman designations, I kept to those. If you want to play guess the WH13 God(dess), go ahead; if you want a listing (since most of us are a lot more familiar with the Greek version), there is a table below.

Nerd Aside: The Artemis/bear link underneath the story is significantly older than this particular myth; there is likely an old anthropomorphic configuration of maidenhood and bears, as evidenced e.g. by the arktoi at the sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron (700BC). It is persistent enough to still appear for All Hallow’s Eve celebrations around 1000AD, but it didn’t fit into this story, and so I went not with Brauron, but with the younger Artemis shrine at Ephesus, which is already also referred to as Diana Temple, which brings us back to the Roman incarnations.

Apropos names: Myka will be called Diana in this one, I found no way around it. – Casting Helena as the goddess might have been the more obvious choice, which is why I found it more interesting the other way around.)

***

Goddesses and Gods in this story:

ROMAN => GREEK  =>Warehouse 13
Jove => Zeus => MacPherson
Juno => Hera => Mrs. Frederic
Diana => Artemis => Myka
Mars => Ares => Pete
Venus => Aphrodite => Amanda
Vulcanus => Hephaestus => Artie
Mercury => Hermes => Steve
Minerva => Athene => —–

***

1

protinus induitur faciem cultumque Dianae
atque ait: ‘o comitum, virgo, pars una mearum,
in quibus es venata iugis?’ de caespite virgo
se levat et ‘salve numen, me iudice’ dixit
‘audiat ipse licet, maius Iove.’

[Ovid, Metamorphoses, II, 425-429]

 [Right away he assumed the form and the appearance of Diana
And said to her: “Where, maid, one of mine,
Did you hunt today?” – From the grass, the maid
rose and said, “Be greeted, goddess, who is to me
– even if he were to hear it – greater than Jove.”]

 

But that is not how it happened.

No one got turned into a bear. Not like that.

Juno could not be bothered because no marriage got broken – not even her own – and that left Jove, who was, down to his graying temples and regal features, too vain to admit that his own marriage was, in fact, not broken this time.

“This chastity thing is just a phase,” he tells his own daughter, who fidgets, bow in hand. “Camping out in the woods with a group of maidens? What kind of an office is that?”

“It’s her choice,” Juno’s stern voice echoes behind him and even after eons of marriage, he flinches because she is still able to sneak up on him unseen. She simply appears out of thin air and he still hasn’t figured out how she does it. “I don’t see how it’s less valid that tossing about lightning bolts.” Juno ruffles the peacock feathers at her collar and just barely rolls her eyes because the actual gesture would be too undignified. “Of course, unless it makes enough noise, it’s not manly enough for a divine office…”

“Hey!” Mars protests from where he lounges on a klinē, momentary interrupting his tries of bouncing grapes off his sword and into his mouth. “There’s silent warfare, too, you know?”

“I’ll give you warfare alright!” Vulcanus hollers from somewhere out of sight, above the angry clang of metal and Diana can picture him perfectly, bushy brows drawn together as he hammers his anger into the latest piece of weaponry.

“See, we do have things in common!” Mars hollers back at him and then nods at Juno, and of course he couldn’t be bothered to put on a shirt for the occasion, not when Venus was lounging right in their vicinity, although the way Venus – with her perfect lips and perfect curves and perfect fall of blond hair – rests against her seat puts all of the others to shame.

“Sure you and Vulcanus have things in common,” Diana mutters and pointedly glances at Venus, and whatever Venus is wearing cannot really count as a shirt, either.

Mars has the good grace to look a little abashed, but then flashes his sister a grin. “It’s just that she and I have things in common, too.”

Diana just shakes her head. “One day, he will catch you two.” But of all her siblings, he is her favorite. He does not take himself too seriously, and that is close enough to humbleness for her.

“Well, she didn’t get that chastity idea from me,” Jove observes. He tends to lose interest when the conversation at hand doesn’t revolve around him.

Juno’s expression is drier than the midday heat. “I think we can agree on that.”

“I’d know what I’d do with a forest full of warrior maidens…”

Now Mars is just trying to get a rise out of Diana. She crosses her arms over her chest. “Oh, really?”

“Hide and hope they don’t catch me,” Mars adds with a nod and to general laughter. “What? Has any of you actually seen those girls? They are fierce!”

And this, right there, is why he is her favorite brother.

“Hide, and hope to catch an eyeful meanwhile,” he amends.

And this, right then, is why she slaps his arm hard enough to make him yelp.

“Besides, they’re not all maidens,” Venus points out from behind them and not for the first time, Diana thinks that Venus’ most compelling feature has nothing to do with her looks. “Some of them are just not that into men.”

“Maidens,” both Jove and Mars insist and Diana does not even bother to roll her eyes. She just shakes her head and uses the moment to excuse herself.

“I am being summoned –“ Which of course she could ignore, and they know it.

“Again?” Across the stoa, Mercury, quick to fly on the whisper of any lie, raises a blonde eyebrow. “I never knew you adored being adored that much, Sister.”

“Must be in my genes,” she mutters with a parting glance at their parents, who are now – again – arguing about how Jove should be relieved that there are maidens left at all, no thanks to him.

“Please, not that old story with the bull again, I haven’t been to Phoenicia in ages –“

“I couldn’t care less what you do in your spare time, I’m merely tired of having my living room littered with presumptuous demigods!“

“Is this about Alcmene again? She wasn’t even a maiden, she was married!”

“And that is supposed to be better how?”

One can, Diana supposes, not blame her for preferring the quiet rustle of the woods.

~~

There is the Great Pyramid of Giza and the tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus: shrines for the deceased. But she is alive.

There is the colossus at the harbor of Rhodes, the lighthouse at Alexandria, intending to tame the waters: But she does not dwell at sea.

There is the statue by Phidias in Olympia – she does not care much about that one – and there are the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which she is curious about, but even the gardens must pale in comparison to the rows and rows of gleaming columns that frame the sanctuary of her goddess at Ephesus.

She remembers first coming here, a young girl, at the hands of her parents. She remembers looking up at the wooden statue of the Goddess herself, so tall and so commanding. But more than fear, she had been stunned by the sheer beauty of the carved face so high above her.

She remembers coming here later, remembers the pride of her parents that their daughter was admitted to study at the temple.

“Until marriage,” her mother had said.

“They will line up for her,” her father had added, still with pride.

Suitors eventually do line up, to the continued pride of her father. Each of them compliments her eyes, her hair, her complexion. She sorts the arrows in her quiver by length and thinks of the statue of the goddess deep in the sanctuary. And she says no. She says no every time.

Her father’s pride turns to scorn when she announces that she will stay at the temple, for good.

“Radical cult,” he fumes under his breath.

Her mother feels helpless. “It doesn’t even make sense!”

But to Helena, the only thing that makes sense is to stay. Stay where she can roam free, where she is complimented for her aim and her eye. And where the Goddess dwells.

She has now spent years underneath that same statue, and it is still impossibly tall and commanding, and impossibly beautiful. If there is one thing even more breathtaking than the sanctuary of Diana among all the marvels of the world, it is the Goddess herself.

Helena has learned that the Goddess does not actually live within the temple. Diana prefers the quiet cool of the woods, the murmur of the springs and the quick breath of the hunt.

She has glimpsed her, sometimes. When their entire group of followers rests at a brook during the midday heat, or when they sit around a fire at night during hunting season. It is a shimmer of green and gold that she catches out of the corner of her eye, but when Helena turns her head, the silhouette is gone again.

The first time it happens, she can barely breathe.

She never sees more than the curve of a jaw, a pair of hands on a quiver, a fall of curly hair.

She knows she should feel blessed as it is – the scrolls speak of decades during which Diana has not shown herself at all – but she cannot help yearning for more.

When one evening there is another flicker of gold to her left, she is alone, resting after a day of hunting. She is startled to see a man, perhaps in age like her father, but much more vibrant in how he moves and looks around himself while he mutters something that sounds like, “She really didn’t get that from me, and what’s with the remote forest?”

She blinks, but he is still there, and when he sees her, something around him seems to shift. Helena cannot remember ever having been stared at quite like this and she draws her quiver in front of her chest in reflex.

She does not want to reply when he asks for her name, but she hears herself say, “Helena”, oddly compelled by his presence. He truly does remind her of her father, when she was younger and she did not yet dare to defy him.

She is not afraid – she suspects her arrows or her knife might not work on him, but she would try –, though her curiosity is piqued. These woods are remote, and Diana is famous for not letting anyone roam them unasked.

Still, she cannot suppress a laugh – more of a guffaw – when he grandly announces himself as Jove. At that, he is somewhat miffed, but undeterred. Helena grips her bow a little tighter when he insists that he is indeed Jove.

He is tall. When he takes a step forward, Helena moves back.

“I could give you anything you want. Helena.”

“I sincerely doubt that.”

Even if he were Jove, which he most certainly isn’t, Helena cannot think of a single thing she would ask for. She also cannot imagine a single instance in which this line would work on her, or anyone else. When the scrolls speak of mortal women being swept off their feet by the presence of Jove, is it perhaps meant literally?

“There must be something you wish for.”

His voice seems to come from all sides at once, and he really is tall. He also seems to have come closer without taking a single step.

Let me see the face of my Goddess. Just once.

Helena shakes her head and swallows the sudden request at the tip of her tongue.

He laughs, and it is a sound that makes her bristle.

“How about this?” Suddenly, there is a cup full of water in his hand. “You must be thirsty after a day of hunting.”

Helena glances at the brook to their side. “I can get my own water, thank you.”

A gust whips over the clearing, and Helena gapes as she sees the brook dry out in the blink of an eye.

“Come with me.” He still holds the cup of water in his outstretched hand.

“No.” Helena licks her lips as she calculates the amount of steps it will take her to reach her horse. “I am sworn to Diana.”

It is a phrase that makes most everyone around Ephesus step back in respect, but he does not react to it other than with an impatient frown. He clearly does not fear Diana, and for a dizzying moment, Helena wonders whether this is Jove, in some diluted form, after all.

She doesn’t wait to find out. She takes the half dozen steps it takes her to reach her horse without turning around again and presses for the thicket of trees.

“JOVE?”

Claudia’s eyes are as big as the ceremonial bowls for winter solstice.

“Well, he certainly was no satyr,” Helena retorts. After a moment, she amends, “At least not in shape.”

“The satyrs wouldn’t dare to prank you any longer,” Claudia says with admiration and Helena has to admit that it is unlikely the satyrs would risk another year’s grape harvest turned to vinegar. Claudia would probably have helped her with the calculations back then, had she been a member of the temple already.

“You have to tell the Goddess.”

“And say what?” Helena tests the tips of her arrows. “Someone who may have been your father offered me a drink of water to proposition me?”

“Perhaps not,” Claudia allows. “You should definitely add that you laughed at him and told him off. She would like that.”

Sometimes, for purely selfish reasons, Helena hopes that Claudia will pledge herself to the sanctuary for life, as well.

Still, she doesn’t say anything when she holds vigil at the feet of the Goddess’ image. Instead, she is thinking back about the encounter in the woods. If that was an actual encounter with an actual god, she has to admit that she is somewhat disappointed.

For the first time, she looks up at the impossibly perfect face of the Goddess above her and wonders if she would be disappointed upon seeing Diana, too.

But that thought vanishes two days later. No, it doesn’t vanish as much as it is obliterated and purged from existence by something indescribably glistering and bright.

Helena has ended up on a mountaintop during a chase and she lies on lush turf, breathing in the view. The shimmer to her left makes her reach for her bow, but the figure that emerges in a sparkle of light is not Jove, or any other man.

Quiver over her shoulder and two dogs at her feet, the short tunic baring lean legs like those of an athlete. She is tall. Her hair is tied back, brown curls – the statue at the sanctuary mirrors them correctly, but it does not do justice to her eyes that are of an endless green, like the woods of her reign and the turf upon which Helena is bedded. And it is quite impossible to describe just how her lips curve into a smile.

“Where have you been hunting today, Helena?”

Her voice is coming from everywhere at once, echoing throughout every bit that is Helena.

It is Diana, and she is even more beautiful than Helena could have imagined.

***


 2

“La mia divina, ed io,
coppia diletta, e cara
ci baceremo a gara.

(Giovanni Faustini, La Calisto, III/1)

[“My goddess and I,
A happy, darling couple,
we kissed, a competition of kisses…”]

 

Helena is not one of the young apprentices at the sanctuary who are blown away by the thought of divine presence. She has always prided herself in poise, and she is past the age of youthful swooning. Or so she thought.

Because here she is, alone on a mountaintop with the one being she has revered since she was a child, and even though she has told herself many times that a life at the sanctuary was simply the most convenient option for a woman of her interests, she now thinks she might very well pass out.

“Diana.”

“Please, rise.”

And Helena is unable to think beyond the fact that there is a hand on shoulder, the hand of her Goddess. She follows the length of that hand, of that arm, with her gaze, back to that impossibly perfect face.

“I heard there was trouble a few days ago? Someone trying to approach you?”

There is worry in Diana’s eyes, and something else that reminds Helena of the hunt that is consecrated to her.

“Claudia,” Helena mutters under her breath, realizing who must have told her story, but she would really be quite content to have Diana look at her like this for the remainder of the evening, and well into the night because her gaze speaks of the night, too.

She clears her throat. “It wasn’t a problem.”

“Good.” Long fingers are brushing across Helena’s temple, through her hair. “Because you belong to me.”

Helena blinks, startled by the display of possessiveness and by the realization that she does not mind it.

“And so beautiful, too…” Diana’s thumb has moved down her cheek and is now brushing against her lips.

Helena is frozen in place. All awareness has rushed to the strangely warm pad of Diana’s thumb against her lip. And Diana is tall, and then, in an instant, Diana’s mouth is covering her own.

The kiss is fast, demanding, and Helena’s mind is reeling and coming up blank. She does not think about how chastity is one of Diana’s central offices. Chastity is not really at the forefront once her mind right now. She only feels arms encircling her and a scent that is spicy and deep, and she dares to kiss back.

The shrill cry of a peacock cuts through her quickened breaths and Helena sways on her feet.

“I will see you again, away from the others.” Diana murmurs, still close to her lips. “I will see you again, and kiss you again, and you…” Her eyes wander over Helena’s face, and it is too much brightness, enough to drown in. “You will kiss me again, too.”

It’s a whisper that permeates Helena’s every sense, and then Diana is gone, and Helena blinks at the sputtering peacock that is running back and forth across the mountaintop. Her lips are still burning and she wonders whether there is a shimmer to them now, too.

She arrives at the night camp by the brook still dazed.

Of course she knows of the Olympians picking favorites. Mortal lovers, even. But that is old knowledge from the scrolls at the sanctuary, not something that happens to the people around her, or to herself.

She still cannot quite fathom that Diana has kissed her. And she cannot think about much else than the fact that Diana has all but promised her to do it again.

That night by the fire, in a shimmer, Diana is among them, with the bear’s mantle and the crescent shape of the moon on her chest. There are a few whispers and Claudia gasps. Helena smiles. The goddess merely asks for a place at their hearth and so they move and make space for her.

“I am but one of you,” Diana says.

“But we are yours,” Claudia insists and it echoes through Helena with a different sound.

“And I am everyone of you.”

She is very tall as she sits by the fire and Helena still cannot help but smile.

When the embers glow down, it is Helena’s turn secure the camp and Diana is at her side, falling into step with Helena’s shorter strides.

She glances at Diana’s lips, once, and then again.

“We are alone now,” she finally ventures.

“We are.”

“Why now?” Helena has to know, she has to understand. “Why can we see you now, so clearly?”

“You can see me when you can imagine me.” Diana smiles, indulgently. “Apparently, you can.”

“Oh yes,” Helena swears and it echoes boldly off the night around them. She wants to know why Diana kissed her, but more than that, she wants to kiss her again. They are a fair distance away from the others now, and Helena is not sure how one propositions a goddess.

Perhaps the appropriate thing would be to wait, but Helena has never been one to wait for things to happen, and it seems neither is Diana. It has only been hours, and she has been pretty straightforward.

“Always so ardent, my Helena.”

“Always yours,” Helena responds. Straightforwardness it is, then.

Diana seems to think the same. “Is that so?” She is smiling, and it tears right through Helena.

“You said again,” Helena whispers, and she steps closer and Diana is so tall. “And I will heed your call. Again. And again.”

And Diana does not move away.

And before Helena can think better of it, she has leaned up and for one moment of warmth and honey and fir, she is kissing Diana, as before.

And just like that, Helena finds herself on the floor of the forest, connecting solidly with the trunk of a tree.

“What do you think you’re doing?!!”

Diana’s voice comes at her from all sides, and it is burning her hearing.

“You said I should kiss you again,” Helena wheezes. “And I was not opposed to the idea.”

Again?”

Helena covers her ears against the sound. “Away from the others, you would kiss me again,” she repeats and now she has her eyes squeezed shut as well.

“Whatever gave you the idea…”

Helena sees a bright flare of crescent moon behind her eyelids.

“I guard chastity, the same one you pledged to me.”

Diana is singeing her fraying mind, and Helena does not understand how Diana can deny their earlier tryst. Granted, it was just a kiss, but it was not just a kiss, and Diana seems to think the same. And she is a goddess who is fond of reason, so Helena reasons. “But we were alone on the mountaintop, and you —“

“You will be alone, mountaintop or not,” Diana declares. “Do not approach my sanctuary with such thoughts in your mind!”

Helena blinks and she catches Diana wiping two fingers across her lips, those lips, and it is enough to send a tingle through her.

It is the last she sees of Diana. The Goddess is gone, and the forest is cool in the night.

Helena wonders whether she has imagined the encounter. The second one and, more so, the first. And she is surprised to find herself heartbroken in a way she finds entirely unbecoming for her years. She does not enter the sanctuary – she cannot pretend that she is not still thinking about kissing Diana – and she wants to be back on that mountaintop.

Claudia finds her, much later, as she leans against one of the columns, careful not to breach the sanctum.

“You never miss a vigil,” Claudia observes.

Helena is missing things other than vigil. Helena is missing the comfort of the Goddess, and the dizzying sensation of her presence. “I saw Diana.”

“I know!” Claudia is still excited. “We all did.”

“I mean I saw her before. Alone.”

And Claudia asks – of course she does – and Helena finds that she needs to tell it, to listen after her own words and reassure herself that it really has happened. When she ends her tale, she lacks the words to describe just how huge Claudia’s eyes have become.

“Kissing?” Claudia squeaks.

And Helena still has to smile, even though she wants to cry, too.

“Perhaps it was a test,” Claudia muses. “A test, and you were supposed to push her away.”

“She isn’t that kind of deity,” Helena immediately protests and it makes Claudia shake her head and give Helena a fond look.

“You are different than the rest of us,” she finally says. “We are here to study, to move freely.”

“So am I!”

“Yes,” Claudia allows. “But with you, it is more than that. And it is nothing new, you have been that way since I met you.” She bumps her shoulder against Helena’s. “Nobody looks at her statue the way you do.”

Helena takes a breath that sounds embarrassingly like a sniffle, but she stays where she is for the night. For the first time since she came to the temple, she feels like an outcast.

The night is cold – again – when she wakes at the feeling of warmth. It is familiar before there is the now easily recognizable shimmer, and Diana shifts into view in front of her.

Helena is immediately wide awake.

“But why are you sleeping out here in the cold?”

Again, there is a hand on her shoulder and it is a balm trickling deep into Helena.

“As you said –“ Her voice is still rough from slumber.

“Away from the others, I said.” Diana is all but humming and the expression in her eyes is driving the last tendrils of sleep from Helena’s mind. “There are things I cannot say in front of the others.” She crouches down next to Helena and takes her hand. “Things I cannot do.”

By her outstretched hand, she pulls Helena to stand with her. “But I long for those things, like everyone does. Mortal or immortal.” She tugs Helena along by their joined hands. “Come with me. Let us get away from all men.”

“I do not mind men,” Helena feels the need to clarify, because men really do not hold much space in her mind either way as she stares at her fingers enlaced with those of Diana. “They are just not of much interest to me.”

There is a bit of a frown on Diana’s face, but Helena does not get much of a chance to ponder that because then Diana is kissing her again and Helena has better things to do than second-guessing her Goddess’ motivation, especially if it leads to this.

This time, when she kisses Diana back, she is not tossed against a tree.

She is pulled under, and everything moves too fast, but this is Diana, and there are brown curls brushing against Helena’s closed eyelids, and then there is a sudden shift, something that jerks her eyes open, and Diana is looking at her, with something dark and righteous in her gaze.

But before Helena can react to it, Diana’s voice booms out throughout her mind.

“Let go off her immediately!”

And just like that, Diana is not in her arms any longer, and for a moment, it seems as if there are two Dianas, and then Diana is looking at her from a distance, with anger, and something close to sadness, and something else that makes Helena sway on her feet again, and more than the kiss.

“Right outside my sanctuary. The nerve!”

Diana is seething, her shadow tall as a bear, and there is a remnant of shimmers and that deep and spicy scent next to Helena, and then it is just Diana, her Diana, looking at her in disheveled anger.

And Helena finally understands. And she wishes the earth would open up and swallow her whole.

“My maidens?” Barking hounds on Diana’s heels make for quite an entrance – enough to startle even Mars off his seat – and while she usually is against such displays and reserves them for the more tightly wound deities like Minerva, she is past the point of caring. “You are going after my consecrated warrior maidens?”

Jove just glowers at her, and then Juno glowers at Jove.

“Out of all the women in the world?” Diana still cannot believe what she has seen. “Seriously? My followers?”

At this point, the entirety of Mount Olympus is staring at Jove, who – she has to give him that – stands with an air of superiority among the melee.

“Let’s not exaggerate things.” He gestures, placating. “One. It was just one.”

“Which makes it so much better,” Juno throws in sarcastically over his shoulder.

But it was not just one follower. It was Helena, the brightest and, yes, possibly also the most beautiful of all the women at her temple, which makes this so much worse. But Jove does not need to know that.

“Why don’t we all take a breath and calm down,” Jove suggests. “Because nothing even happened.”

“Because you got interrupted,” Juno guesses immediately.

Mercury snickers, but a withering glare from Juno shuts him up.

“You said you were worried about Diana, too!” Jove reminds his wife. “I was just taking a look at those woods, trying to appreciate what Diana is doing there – ”

“And the local… wildlife?”

Sometimes, Diana wonders how Jove does not simply shrink away and die under Juno’s eyes.

“It’s my sanctuary, and I have sworn to protect those who serve me there!” Diana is still furious. “And what do you mean, nothing happened? Do you call my encountering you kissing one of my huntresses nothing?”

Now Venus is snickering.

“Well, she did kiss me back,” Jove points out. “While I was in your garb, I might add. – So just what are you doing with your disciples at that sanctuary?”

Diana sputters. “One of my offices is chastity!”

“Helena didn’t seem all that interested in that paticular office,” Jove tells Diana, and it is is one of those moments where it is obvious to her where Mars got his taunting streak. Before she can throw a scathing retort his way, Juno cuts in.

“You appeared as Diana?” She tilts her head in disapproval. “What, Grand Jove didn’t appeal to her?”

Jove pointedly says nothing and Mercury snickers again, and this time it is Jove who glares at him.

“Chastity,” Venus pronounces while she stretches and moves to sit up. “Not really a fruitful labor, is it now?”

“I don’t need relationship drama at my sanctuary,” Diana mutters sullenly. “There’s enough of that here!”

Venus stretches a bit more and sighs. “Point taken.”

Not for the first time, Diana thinks that Venus gets far too little credit beyond her looks.

 ***


3

“T’aspetto, e tu non vieni
pigro, e lento
mio contento;
m’intorbidi i sereni;
anima, ben, speranza,
moro nella tardanza.”

(Giovanni Faustini, La Calisto, III/1)

[“I am waiting for you, and you aren’t coming.
You’re lazy and slow,
my joy,
you’re blemishing my happiness.
My soul, my darling, my hope,
I am dying over the delay.”]

“So, Jove.”

Claudia is balancing on the balls of her feet.

Helena clears her throat. “Yes, imagine that.” She still hasn’t set foot into the sanctuary again.

“Well, it’s not like it is your fault,” Claudia reasons.

“I could have refused,” Helena allows.

“You did! – As long as he was Jove, anyway.” Claudia looks up at the columns of the outer temple. “And then you didn’t.”

Helena sighs. “And then I didn’t.” Which sums up the problem quite nicely.

“So…” Claudia hesitates. “Whom did you kiss then? Jove, or Diana?”

And that is something else to which Helena has given a disproportionate amount of thought.

“Because the intent, that was Jove.” Claudia seems to be hung up on the same question. “But the body, in a way, that was…”

Helena remembers soft lips and the brush of curls against her face. “Yes.”

“Hopeless.” Claudia groans. “But still, Diana doesn’t really know that you kissed her back. Or that you wanted to kiss her back. Or whatever you did.” She tilts her head to the side. “Except for the part where you threw yourself at her.”

Helena is still mortified, but part of her wishes that Diana would know, that she would know her.

“So, chastity.” Venus reclines on an elbow and curls her toes. “Is that what they call it these days when there are no men involved?”

Even though the stoa is as good as empty, Diana is immediately on her feet and casts a nervous look around.

“Oh please.” Venus waves her off. “Don’t tell me you’re pretending it’s a secret.”

“I didn’t choose the office,” Diana says, and it comes out a little stilted.

“Chastity?” Venus stretches the archs of her feet. “Of course not. Who would?”

But they both know that it is more complicated than that. Offices are not chosen, they do not even get assigned. They are willed into being just as they are themselves, and they are subject to change.

“It used to be different,” Diana allows. She is an elder goddess, and she has not always existed within this framework of family genealogy, as the daughter of a father. Long before there was Venus, Diana was the matron of birth and hunt, lady of the wood.

“And it doesn’t make much sense,” Venus muses. “Among your offices, you have both childbirth and chastity. How does that even work?”

Diana sighs. “It was easier when a mother established a line.”

“Chastity is bad for my business, too.” Venus reminds her. “Unless it is the kind without men, which isn’t actually chastity. Which brings me back to your followers…”

Diana groans and buries her head in her hands.

“Are you afraid of damage to your standing?” That would be a serious thing, and Venus knows it. “I don’t think anyone will learn of the incident. Jove certainly won’t brag about how he did not succeed in seducing that little huntress of yours –“

“Helena,” Diana supplies, and when Venus looks up sharply, she realizes she shouldn’t have answered as quickly.

“Helena.” Venus nods. “Well, I don’t think she will go around talking about how she ended up kissing Jove, either, when apparently she really wanted to kiss you instead.”

“No,” Diana allows.

Venus sighs. “So there is no problem. Why do you still look as if there is a problem?”

Diana does not say anything.

“Oh.” Venus says after a moment. And then again, “Oh. I see.” She sits up a little straighter and smirks. “Well, it wouldn’t be the first time a Helena turned a few things upside down.”

“I don’t know what you mean –” Diana starts.

“Yes, you do,” Mercury whispers behind her, having closed in on the wings of her lie, and he is really not one with whom she wants to discuss Helena.

“Fine,” Diana agrees testily. “So maybe she has caught my eye. But it doesn’t change anything about my office.”

“Of course it does,” Venus readily disagrees. Mercury, settling in at the foot of her klinē, nods.

“We are not made of the stone out of which they carve us,” Venus adds kindly and Diana wonders if this is how she actually seduces people: with reasoning. Though maybe not Mars.

“Just pretend to be Jove in your shape.” Mercury snaps his fingers. “Helps his reputation, keeps yours intact, and your huntress probably won’t mind that much, if she is that hung up on you.”

“I am not seducing a follower under false pretenses –“

“At least we’re talking about seduction now,” Venus notes.

“If you need to keep it a secret, make a fire somewhere else,” Mercury suggests and even though Diana does not trust him, he is trying to help for a change. “Find some ingénue shepherd or hunter… some man fawning over you whom you then publicly reject. That should give you enough cover.”

“Besides,” Venus is smirking again. “Some people will insist on calling it chastity, anyway.”

Diana lets her head fall back between her hands with another groan.

It is night outside the sanctuary, again, and the stars are cold and far above Helena’s gaze when ahead of her, a subdued shimmer announces a divine being shifting into view.

It is Diana, and Helena, who has not thought that she will ever see her goddess again, does not care in this moment whether it is really her or any other God in her guise. She hungrily drinks in the sight, uncertain how long this moment will last.

“Helena.”

Her ears are ringing, though this time, it does not hurt. Diana moves closer and there is something in her eyes – so green, and so endless – that make Helena think of Jove’s attempts and take a step backwards.

Diana recognizes the hesitancy, and even though she does not come closer, Helena suddenly is surrounded by warmth as if by a hand.

“It is me.” Diana opens her hands, and there is moonlight even where there should be shadow. “Don’t you know your goddess?”

Helena swallows. “I thought I did.”

“You should know me better.”

But Helena still cannot bring herself to regret that she did not know better and that she did, for the briefest instance, truly kiss her Goddess.

“Why did you fall for it?” Diana wants to know. “Why did you believe that I would try to seduce you, like that?”

And Helena does not want to lie, but she does not want to be kicked out of the sanctuary for good, either. Though the fact that Diana – and it has to be Diana – is here, talking to her, bodes well. “Because I wanted it to be true.”

Helena blinks when there seems to appear a slight shade of pink on Diana’s cheeks.

Diana just looks at her for a long moment, enough to make Helena reach for the column behind her to keep herself upright. “You did know me better,” Diana finally says.

Helena keeps her hands on the column. This Diana does not try to pounce on her like Jove did, and she still cannot help but wish that she would. “I do not understand.”

Diana smiles, but still there is something in her eyes that is speaking of the hunt, just a brief flare, and then it is gone. “I am the goddess of chastity. Do you know what that means?”

Helena looks away, quickly. “I know.”

But there is a hand under her chin, tilting up her face so that she is looking into those eyes again, and everything that is Helena is tinged in warm, mossy green. “It means that there are things I cannot allow myself. Even if I want to. But —“

Diana sighs, and there are still two warm fingers under Helena’s chin. “Can’t you just pretend that I am Jove again?”

Helena does not dare to blink. “I do not want Jove,” she whispers. She has convinced herself, almost, that Jove kissing her had nothing to do with Diana, even if it were her lips – or so she thought – and that perhaps kissing the actual Diana would not sweep her off her feet.

But then it actually is Diana who is kissing her and it’s not of deep spice, or fast, or demanding. It is gentle, and bright, and sweet and endless and it waves around Helena’s entire being. It is a mountain clearing at dawn, all chance and possibility.

“Now…” Diana draws back and when Helena blinks her eyes open, the goddess seems nervous. “Is this still something you want?”

Helena does not respond. She pushes herself up to her toes on shaky legs, slides her arms around the neck of Diana and kisses her back with abandon.

“Well, what good is being a god if you can’t bend the rules a little?” Mars punches Diana against her sternum and grins.

“A little?” Diana asks archly and tilts her head in the direction of the clanging of metal beyond the stoa.

“Yes, I would like to know to which part of me you refer as little,” Venus cuts in, whisper-thin tunic sliding to the side as she moves, and Diana barely knows where to look.

“None,” Mars hurries to say. “None at all.” He turns a wide, earnest smile at Diana. “I am happy for you. Live a little, for a change!”

“It feels like cheating,” Diana demurs.

“But it feels good, doesn’t it?” Mars asks with a wink.

“And you look like she is worth it,” Venus observes.

“It isn’t cheating if nobody sees it,” Mercury mutters in passing, and Venus shifts a little lower on her klinē.

“Playing house.” Venus is clearly enjoying this. “Well, it has happened to the best of us.”

“But with a mortal,” Juno protests.

“She will get over it, it’s just another phase,” Jove decides. “At least it is not that chastity thing any longer.”

Diana plays house with Helena for twenty-two summers.

“I said seduce, I didn’t say ‘settle down’,”, Venus once comments. – “I know what you said,” Diana replies, and she excuses herself to return to the hidden shepherd’s cottage deep inside the woods consecrated to her.

The scrolls write of Endymion, the shepherd boy in love with the Goddess of the Moon.

They don’t write of that first night, of the double sickle of the moon shining onto Helena’s pale back, of a goddess saying ‘please’ so many times that the rustle of the woods roused the sheep, of an embrace that carried all the fierce strength and the nurturing tenderness of the bear, it’s mantle discarded by the fire.

A worried Jove asks whether Diana is actually living with a shepherd boy in the woods which she can deny in good conscience.

“All chaste,” Diana says to Helena, later.

Helena smirks, and Diana laughs in a way that is close to a giggle, and then it is just the two of them under the moon.

At some point, Helena begins to be afraid of aging. Her goddess remains the same in appearance, but there are lines beginning to frame her own eyes now, and the veins of her hands stand more prominently against her skin. Eventually, she will grow old and wilt.

“But you will remain you,” Diana replies, actually fascinated with the changeability of the human shape.

“But I will look different. And I will die if you do not look at me that way any longer.”

“What way?” Diana asks, and looks at her with intent, and Helena is still giving her replies in kisses some days.

“Did you know the other Helena?” Helena asks one night, when she thinks again about what Diana has seen already, and what she herself will never see, never share. “The one who caused Troy to fall?”

“Not well.” Diana plays with a grape on the rough-hewn table in front of their cabin. “The conflict wasn’t mine. I didn’t preen and prance around in front of a shepherd boy for at apple.”

“Of course not.” It is another reason why Helena loves her. “But you did stall the troops.”

“That Agamemnon was a little full of it,” Diana says by way of reply.

“Is that why you demanded Iphigenia in return?”

Diana hesitates. “That had nothing to do with her father, and everything with Iphigenia herself.”

“You liked her!” Helena gasps, and there is jealousy in her gaze, too.

Diana finds it adorable. “She didn’t like me back.” She kisses Helena’s brow. “But luckily, I met someone who does… and Iphigenia does not hold a candle to her.”

“I don’t bring the family baggage, at least,” Helena tries to quip.

“You.” Diana murmurs, and her eyes still cut through Helena as they did in the very beginning. “All I want you to bring or be is you.”

Sometimes, Diana’s klinē in the stoa remains empty. The other Olympians are indulgent. After all, a human life span is only so long.

“You know I will be dying,” Helena insists and she is well past forty. “I will be gone, and you will be forever.”

“It does not work that way.” Diana looks at her in that endless, green way. “Deities are willed into existence by your beliefs, and we fade as beliefs vanish. What you consist of – your body – will remain in this world, in one way or another, while I will fade away at some point. So in truth, I will be gone and you will be forever.”

“I’d rather my heart be forever,” Helena says a little sullenly. “So that there would always be knowledge of us in the world.”

Diana kisses her shoulder. “About that knowledge.” Another kiss, and now Helena’s shoulder is bare. “You may need to accumulate more of it, perhaps.”

Helena is still at the temple, some of the time. She cannot write down into the scrolls what she really wants to write. She cannot even talk about it. It is a price she pays. Claudia has left the sanctuary eventually, although Helena is certain that she has drawn the correct conclusions. Helena does not mind keeping to herself.

She has to do it a lot of the time, alone at the cabin. Diana has offices to tend to, and Helena is yearning for her, and then Diana is back, an unforeseen shimmer, and the bear’s mantle is a rug in front of the fire and Diana is full of yearning, too, and she tastes of fir and honey.

She is out on a hunt with her priestesses when Helena is past fifty. The rug makes her bones ache the morning after, but she does not speak of it. Her hands are not quite as sure anymore with her aim, yet she goes out to hunt regardless, alone. It will be her last one, she knows it, and she summons the bear.

Those belonging to Diana have danced with the bear through eons, and she will honor her goddess the same way. And Helena tastes fir and honey, and it is her choice.

The Goddess finds her broken body in the woods, and it is early summer, yet around her, all the leaves rain to the ground, slow and soundless.

She is not seen by a mortal eye for several lifetimes after that.

“We cannot die, but we can feel, and it never ends,” Venus says with sympathy, but Diana is inconsolable.

Age or ashes: Helena is still there, she will never not be. And Diana elevates her to the stars – Juno protests, of course –, bright and fearless, seven of them.

“I will be forgotten, but my love for you will outshine me.”

And as Diana begins to fade, in an age of a new God, she is smiling, too, and the last thing of her that is: it is that smile.

And seven stars still shine.

***

10 thoughts on “Big Dipper”

  1. What a brilliant, funny, wry, sophisticated little gem of a story. I loved all the secondary characters (that Venus!) and the main ones of course – and your dialogue is so very good. Such a welcome bit of sparkle and brightness to these dark wintery days.
    I had to make myself read slowly to savour it when what I really wanted to do was gobble gobble gobble.

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    1. Thank you, inkbrain! I am glad you enjoyed this – particular this one, since it is so quirky and I did not really expect any one to truly like it. The bracket between campy Gods dialogue (that was SO much fun to write, particularly Venus) and the more serious debate on mortality/immortality/choice is admittedly a little too big, but I found no other way to think it together.

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  2. What’s not to like! Sometimes ‘big’ things come across better when given a deftly gentle touch – which is exactly what you did – but your writing has so much fresh vigour and momentum that it can easily carry a big idea or two or three.
    As for mortality vs immortality, at least Calypso had a better ending than poor Tithonos – now would have been an impossible to save story line.
    Super how you stitched together (with invisible seams) timeless lesbian love, classical-themed opera and Ovid – pretty much a holy trinity. Brava!

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    1. Yes, I don’t know how I’d try to spin Tithonos – and I don’t think there’s a Baroque opera to go with it, either (although there usually is. There is a Baroque opera for everything!).
      I’ve got three more to upload, all a little larger, all a little more conventional, if denser – this was the quirkiest thing I have done in this row so far.

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  3. This was an amazing story. I found it all quite interesting. I thought it was really sad though how Diana says that she will not live forever but Helena would. Because people will forget Diana and stop believing in her but Helena will be remembered. I like this one a lot. Well done Anik.

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        1. I am not even part of the Thursday plans because I work on Friday… and you are around on Friday? Darn, I picked the wrong weekend! I traveled over last weekend for exams, initially I wanted this upcoming one 😦

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