Plaything of the Gods Ch. 03byLoveslust©
Chapter 03: Learning the Ropes
I awoke fairly early in the morning. I didn't recognize the bed I slept in, but then remembered the high priestess had shown me the bed in the room behind the statue after the initiation, and I had been too tired to investigate the room properly.
The room was quite spacious and full of symbols for Aphrodite. The tapestries on the walls depicted Aphrodite herself mostly naked. One wall was covered with shelves. One shelve contained thick scrolls, while several other contained various items like I had never seen before. Another shelve contained not only carved figurines of a naked Aphrodite, but also several large wooden phalluses. I grinned at the sight of the fertility symbols, before sitting more upright to look at the rest of the room.
I hadn't realized Leda was there until I looked at her. She sat on a chair in front of a desk, but had turned to study me. Like yesterday, she wore her necklace and only a thin robe. When she saw I had seen her, she spoke.
"Greetings, Michael of Thebe, servant of Aphrodite and Ares."
"Greetings, high priestess Leda of Aphrodite. I am at your service."
She nodded, but did not tell me she required anything of me. I broke the silence.
"What happens now?"
"I don't know. We do not forbid men to enter the service of Aphrodite, but the Goddess has never initiated a male servant in this temple. But it is not unheard of, and I've heard of other temples of the Goddess where there are more men than women. Your situation, however, is stranger. I looked at all the signs and Aphrodite clearly wants you to serve her, but she tells me Ares has not given up his claim on you."
As she said so, she came closer to the bed, and looked at the small wound in my throat. I don't know what she had used to made it, but suspected it had had ink in it, much like a tattoo. She then touched my right forearm, where the mark of Ares stood out clearly against my flesh.
"You carry both the sign of Ares of War and that of Aphrodite of Love. I don't know what will happen, but we can be sure the Gods will soon want you to serve them. The best I can do now, is prepare you for it as much as I can while we wait until the Gods show us their intention. You are ignorant of what it is to serve Aphrodite, and I think it best if you immediately start to learn the basics. I sent a dove to your priest-commander, telling him you need to stay here for a while longer. I haven't told him of your situation, but he will not disobey me."
I nodded, and then asked her how she thought I could serve the Goddess for now.
"While you are here, you are one of us, and we will provide you with food and lodgings. You'll begin learning the basics, just like everyone that is initiated here. I have already arranged some things for you. Take the clothes I brought you, eat something and then you'll go to the baths. Ask for Corrina."
I followed her instructions. The temple obviously didn't have any need for clothing for males, so I was surprised she had found any. The cloths were comfortable and well-made, but the shirt has been made for someone smaller then me, as it stretched a little around my shoulders. The plate of food she had brought me contained bread with honey, and I hungrily ate it. I then curtsied to my high priestess, who was now looking at a scroll, and left for the baths.
Corrina was already waiting there and turned out to be a young and somewhat stern-looking woman. When I walked up to her and made a polite bow, she shook her head and told me I looked like a mess. I didn't respond to that, and she quickly brought me to a small chamber next to the baths.
The chamber contained a cabinet with a large mirror of better quality then I had ever seen. Servants of Ares never cared much for the way they looked, as long as they looked intimidating enough.
Corina told me that I needed to take care of myself a lot better, and said my beard was ridiculous and I needed to shave. I knew some older warriors proudly sported a full beard, but I was too young for one. I had simply not shaved for the last days, so I had a stubble. I looked with interest and realized I would one day be able to maintain a beard, but at the moment the hairs were still uneven and Corrina quickly presented me with a razor.
I had put on the cream she had pointed out to me, but had barely begun shaving when she took the razor again for me, instructing me on how to do so with more care. She took longer then I would have done, and pointed out to me I probably should pay more attention to the hairs on the end of my jaw.
After my cheeks were completely cleared of hair, she told me to cut my nails. While she fretted over my nails, I used the mirror to look at the small tattoo in my throat. It looked quite raw and the skin around it was red, but the black ink gleamed and clearly showed two lips, as if someone truly kissed me there while wearing black lipstick. Finally, she was satisfied with my nails and told me to take a bath.
She did not turn away or considered my awkwardness as I cleaned myself in one of the pools, and I knew better then to ask for privacy. She told me to pay more attention to my loins and armpits, and warned me that if I would not scrub myself better, she would. She instructed me to wash my hair, and then told me to sit down on a chair as she roughly ran a comb trough my hair. She was not gentle and told me several times it would look better if she cut it, but I refused. By the time a servant of Ares had completed his training, he could bind his hair together in a tail in the neck, and I would not lose my warrior's tail just because some woman told me I would look good with another hairdo.
I thought that would be it, when she told me to use fragmented water on my armpits to prevent me from smelling, and as I once again put on my clothes she made a problem out of them too, telling me to put them on straighter and then cursed the shirt because it simply didn't fit properly. As I left the baths, I had started to dislike the nagging woman, though part of me had to agree I did look a lot better then before. Not knowing what else to do, I returned to the high priestess' chambers.
After I knocked and the high priestess bade me in, I was surprised to see she was not alone. Both the high priestess and the young woman that had led me to the baths earlier were waiting for me. She looked at me as if inspecting me, but she smiled warmly as her eyes met mine. The high priestess spoke.
"You look much better. I expect you to take more interest in the way you look then you've done before, Michael. As a servant of the Goddess of beauty, you will be judged by others on your appearance."
I nodded, and Leda saw the question in my eyes.
"Michael, this is Ariadne. She will guide and instruct you, as you'll learn what it is to be a servant of Aphrodite. Though she has served the Goddess for only four years, she knows a lot, and I do expect you to listen to her every instruction as if it were my own. Do you understand?"
She looked at me expectantly.
"Of course, my lady."
"Good. I've assigned you a room next to hers. Ariadne will report to me on your progress, and I must stress that you will do your very best to learn as quickly as possible. When you leave this temple and show your face in public, I expect you to bring honor to our Goddess."
"I promise to do the best I can." I told her.
"Good. You are dismissed."
Ariadne and I both left the room, Ariadne smiling warmly to me as she led the way. She told me I looked good, and I stuttered an awkward thanks. She asked me if I wanted to see the room, and I suddenly realized my gear was probably still with Charé. I silently cursed myself for losing sight of my armor, my most valuable possession, and told her I left my gear and wanted to pick it up.
As we walked up to Charé's little house, she made most of the talk. She commented on it being a lovely day, before telling me in a mean voice that the hour was quite hot already, and it was probably not a good idea to be too much outside during these warm hours.
Ariadne talked quite a lot and obviously liked to tease me, and I silently reflected she was probably one of the women that laughed loudest during my initiation. Still, her voice was clear and gentle, her teasing meant well.
We entered the infirmary, and discovered Charé was not there. The door was unlocked, however, and I found my gear inside. I quickly searched trough it to see if I still had everything, and then looked carefully at the armor. I would have to treat it better: there was still dust in it, and the rings that had protected my left upper arm were damaged where the bandit had hit me. As I quickly inspected my sword before sheeting it again, Ariadne asked if I could truly run with all of that. I smiled as I told her this was only my most basic gear, my normal pack being several sizes bigger, and that I was used to carrying a heavy shield, too. I was contend I still had everything and shouldered my gear.
Ariadne showed me a shortcut for entering the temple without having to go trough the main hall, and guided me to a part of the building I had not been before. She showed me my room, a simple room with a small desk and a comfortable looking bed in it. I put down my gear, and took a moment to rid my armor of dirt as best as I could while Ariadne looked interested at what I was doing.
When I was content it would do for now, I asked Ariadne what we should do next. She asked me if there was anything I wanted to do or know. I asked her for a tour around the temple, as I had no idea how this part of the building was connected with the main hall.
The main hall and several of the rooms next to it had been built first, she told me, and as the population of the temple increased, more buildings were constructed next to it. Several other buildings were build right next to the main parts and then connected by corridors, so one could did not have to leave the building. She happily told me of the structure and told me several interesting facts about tapestries and statues we passed. I asked some questions about several symbols, and though she did answer me she did told me I needed to know more of them, and that she would soon lecture me in all symbols and sacred objects. We passed more chambers that belonged to servants of the Godess, and left a room that was dedicated to partaking in arts, though she told me people were probably working in there and she didn't want to interrupt them.
I asked her what servants of Aphrodite usually did. She explained everybody shared chores to keep everything running and tidy, which reminded me of the discipline of the camp. There was a cook and several people took care of the grain, though she told me the temple traded with shepherds and traders when they came to this area. I asked her what they traded for, seeing an obvious display of wealth in the temple. She smiled and told me Aphrodite's followers made several amulets for fertility and for luck with affairs of love, as well as scents that were used to seduce or arouse people. She told me people paid generously for pleasures of the flesh too, if Aphrodite's servants wanted to offer such a thing.
Ariadne must have seen the confused expression on my face, for she immediately began to lecture me in the morals of such a trade. They were not a whorehouse, she told me, and no man could buy a woman of the temple if she didn't desire him. If a servant of the temple decided a traveler was worthy of spending time with, however, the traveler would leave behind a token of appreciation to show he had enjoyed the hospitality of Aphrodite's woman.
I told her I had heard different stories about the women who worked in the temple in Thebe. I shouldn't have said that, because her disapproving voice and look told me she didn't held them in high regard. She told me that if a servant of Aphrodite desired the company of many others, he or she could go to serve in a great city. Women who sold their bodies to the public, however, had nothing to do with Aphrodite. I quickly agreed to her, clearly seeing that the reputation of men in general was not that good in a temple run solely by women.
After she had shown me the grain fields and a small plaza that could be used for exercise of sports, Ariadne took me indoors again. She led me past several chambers used for storage and past the kitchens.
We halted at a large room. The walls were covered by bookcases and had large windows in them to let in light. The center of the room was filled by several tables and chairs. I had once visited the library of Thebe and was surprised that this one was not that much smaller then the one there.
Ariadne was excited when I told her I had learned letters when I stilled lived with my parents, but soon became disappointed when she gave me a scroll to read. My progress was slow, as the handwriting was narrow and slender, and I had been out of practice for a very long time.
My instructor almost became impatient as I struggled with the words, and I held my tongue. I considered it loyalty to my Brothers that I didn't tell her I was probably the only one of my warband who could read. My parent had been wealthy and had tried to teach me and my brother letters before we would be picked and initiated. I had suspected my mother had never wanted me to end up serving Ares, but the Gods chose, not she.
As I read the scroll slowly and with many corrections from Ariadne, the letters slowly came back to me. I could tell she was not impressed, but I slowly progressed and read a considerable part of the scroll. After that, she told me at least I could read, and would probably remember more as I would read more. I didn't tell her I had never found much time to read or a use for them as I had lived a warrior's life, but reading and writing was so obviously important to her she didn't need to explain why. I tried to prove myself a good an eager student, and continued reading until the sun began to set.
I walked with her to the kitchen, and was surprised at the quality of the food we received. A warrior's meal was always sustaining but rarely really tasty. The food in the temple contained several spices unknown to me and was obviously made by someone who enjoyed cooking. Ariadne laughed as she saw me eat it and told me this was just a regular meal. She promised I would enjoy the spring celebration next year, and I believed her.
After I ate a generous amount and thanked the cook so earnestly she blushed, Ariadne left me swiftly back to the main hall of the temple. She showed me how to pray to Aphrodite, and after she taught me a few simple prayers she told me she would teach me more of them tomorrow. Dusk was stetting in, and all know only Hades should be worshiped in the dark.
She asked me if I needed anything else, but I shook my head and told her I was tired. My initiation had still left several of my muscles aching and the good hot food had made me drowsy. I bade her goodnight at my door and found my bed comfortable and welcoming, and was asleep seconds after I lay down.
My warrior training had required me to rise early each day, despite how hard the day before had been. I was awake before the sun was truly visible beyond the nearby mountain. I knew Ariadne would probably still be asleep, put on a fresh pair of clothes the temple had provided for me and decided that I would not return to my Brothers soft and pampered. I wondered for a moment how I could have so easily parted from my worry for Brothers, and suspected it might have had something to do with the cleansing by Aphrodite.
I set the thought aside as I entered the training field, and began my regular drill. I still felt some of my muscles ache, but I knew it was mostly from a lack of the exercise they were used to get every day, and decided to help that. By the time the sun had shown itself from behind the mountain and its rays heated the training field, I had already discarded my shirt and I was still sweating.
I had nearly completed my exercises when I noticed Ariadne was sitting nearby in the sun on a rock, watching me. I decided to ignore her for a moment longer as I continued my series of pull-ups. I finished the series and the let go of the bar. It was one of the only proper tools for exercise here, but field trips with the warband had taught me that you could use anything to exercise with, and I had done a good, full round of training.
I picked up my shirt and steadied my breath as I walked up to Ariadne, who also stood up. She smiled as I were close, and told me I must have risen early. She had apparently searched for a while before she had found me here. She told me that I could use a bath, and that she would go to the kitchen to get some food.
Even though she had told me I should bathe, I had the feeling she didn't really mind seeing me like this, and I liked it. She seemed quite energetic today, and smiled often and battered her eyelashes at me. My increased awareness to how she behaved might have something to do with her dress, too. It was more close-fitting and provocative then the one she wore yesterday, and I didn't mind dropping a step behind to watch her ass as she led the way to the temple again.
I hastily cleaned myself in the baths, not wanting to encounter Corrina or anyone else there, but put more effort in combing and binding my hair and making sure my shirt was straight then I usually would have done.
I joined Ariadne in the kitchens for breakfast. Apparently, she had used the time I had washed myself to find several scrolls for me. They contained information about certain symbols and rituals, and I not only managed to read them more swiftly then the one from the day before, but I also tried to remember more of them.
I knew the scrolls contained important information, and I was not surprised when Ariade asked me several questions to make sure I understood what they said instead of just dully reading them. Then she showed me several chores that needed to be doing in the temple, and it was midday by the time we had swept the main hall and had collected all the baskets with clothes and dropped them off at the women whose chore it was to wash them.
After a brief visit to the kitchens we returned to the main hall, bearing several offerings for Aphrodite. Ariadne explained the offerings and taught me the rituals accompanying every one of them. I knew it would take a lot of time to make me a good priest, but at least I could now cite several prayers to Aphrodite without giving offence. One prayer I recited said quite clearly she was the noblest one and only God I served. After I finished it, I astonished Ariadne by going out of the temple and praying to a small amulet I took from my pack. She looked wondering as I told her I might have given offence to Ares, and would maintain praying to him too. She nodded at that, but said it made her feel uncomfortable. I agreed it was strange and told her I would talk to the high priestess about it.
I followed her back to the library, but expressed an unexpected interest in a tapestry we passed as she had just turned to look at me. She told me a bit about the tapestry, but the smile on her mouth told me she had indeed spotted me watching her well-shaped ass.
After a bit more work in the library, we returned to the kitchen to eat. She was in a good mood, and eagerly leaned forward as I told her more about life in a big city. She had grown up in a village somewhere in a valley near the temple, and had only once visited Thebe, though it was not really far away.
Her leaning motion made it harder to focus on the story she was telling, as her dress told me quite a lot about the breasts it held. This time, she definitely saw me looking, and she tried to readjust her dress as my cheeks turned slightly red. She did pretend to be shocked by my gaze, but the teasing smile on her mouth told me she was more flattered then offended.