Thespiae, Boeotia, April 125
[Hadrian] suddenly felt restless, he needed to walk, to run, to think, to attempt to comprehend this gift from the gods. Mount Helicon, the home of the nine Muses, loomed before him. He set off alone, the ursine pelt tucked under his arm, and told his attendants that he would return in the morning.
He chose a ledge with a view of the verdant forested surroundings, a vista which heightened his awareness of being a man – not Caesar – alone in the wilderness. As he sat outside his tent watching birds rustle through the tops of trees, a smile tugged on his lips. He could easily become accustomed to being a private man, to living by his wits day to day, hunting his food, pitching his tent. Still, it would be better if he had someone with whom to share his world.
When the sun began to set, he prepared his offering to Eros. He unfurled the bear skin, crisscrossing newly-cut myrtle boughs at the head, placed a myrtle crown on his own head, then lit seven lamps. He poured a cup of fermented honey and lifted it to the purplish sky, now dotted with the faint light of emerging stars.
“Oh Eros, archer son of the sweet-tongued Cyprian, who dwells at Heliconian Thespiae nearby Narcissus’s flowering garden, breathe your quiet grace upon me, that grace which is given to you from heavenly Aphrodite Urania…”
Hadrian sipped from the cup.
“…so that I may know her favor.”
Once again he drank the liquor, this time finishing the contents of the gold vessel. He closed his eyes, lifted his face and breathed in the night air.
“But, Graeculus, I am the goddess of spiritual love. Are you certain that is what you desire?”
Hadrian’s hand flashed to the hilt at his side as he turned towards the voice.
Before him was the most magnificent sight. There stood a woman of uncommon beauty, larger than life, glowing with a light from within. She was clad in shimmering cloth that seemed to disappear when it touched her body, revealing a form so profoundly feminine that all womankind must have sprung forth from her.
He instinctively recognized her as Aphrodite Urania – Celestial Aphrodite – the goddess of pure, spiritual love.
Hadrian sank to his knees. “My lady!” he exclaimed bowing his head.
“Get up, foolish man. You are the emperor of Rome. I am merely a goddess.”
Hadrian opened his mouth to protest but saw Aphrodite was smiling. She offered her hand. When he took it, the world fell away and he was in the clouds.
“You’ve never wanted anything from me, Graeculus. Why is that? Has age mellowed you?”
“On the contrary. Youth has inspired me.”
“Ah. Clever man.” Aphrodite spread her arms wide scattering the clouds. “You can have anything you want.” She walked to a curtain billowing white in the dissipating fog, then pulled it back. Half a dozen naked youths sprawled amidst a cloud, their limbs intertwined. Delicate fingers stroked taut thighs, insistent fists pumped eager cocks, moist mouths sought mutual satisfaction.
Hadrian exhaled a sigh. The youths were exquisite, enticing. One boy caught the emperor’s eye. He dismissed his fondling mate to approach the new object of his desire, his hand reaching out in solicitation. The instant his delicate fingers touched the emperor’s chest, Hadrian’s tunic disappeared, revealing his potent erection which the youth proceeded to tug. Hadrian sucked in a breath and stilled the boy’s hand.
“Do boys no longer please you?” Aphrodite asked ingenuously.
“They can please me physically. Yet the act is no longer the same since I met him. I now know what could be.”
The goddess dismissed the youth. “What could be?” she challenged, circling the emperor. She stopped before him, her body a hair’s breadth away, her lips poised above his. “What about a woman?” she breathed. “What about a goddess? What…about…me?”
Every pore on his flushed skin tingled with anticipation. Her seductive powers were no match for his weak human flesh. Hadrian pulled the goddess to him and kissed her open mouth, feeling heated shocks pulse through him where his body melted into hers.
“You are arousing, yes,” he murmured against her lips. “Provocative to be sure. But it is only fleshly desire; there is still an emptiness inside. Even with the goddess of love.”
She pulled back from him, amused. “What is it that you think could be with your Antinous?” She stretched out her hand indicating the very youth seated amongst the clouds.
A spark ignited inside Hadrian, quickly flaring to rapturous desire. He started towards his passion. Aphrodite put up a hand.
“No,” she said plainly.
“My lady, please,” he begged. “I don’t understand.”
“You must know what you want.”
“I want him,” Hadrian said frantically, pointing to Antinous. “What he does to me. How he makes me feel.”
“This is not enough.”
“It is not libidinous. It is not base.” Hadrian paced back and forth, gesturing wildly. “It is like pure joy rushing through me when I think about him. All at once I feel comfortable, secure, yet aroused and inflamed. I simply cannot express it. I’ve never felt such an emotion. It is beyond my comprehension, as if a gift from the gods.”
She smiled. “Is it like this?”
Aphrodite pointed behind the emperor. He spun around, finding himself in his wife’s bedroom in Rome. It was night, the scene before him lit only by lamp light.
It was Sabina and Zuester in an earnest embrace.
“Like this?” the goddess asked calmly.
Suddenly, Hadrian was on top of his wife, making fervid love to her, thrusting in and out of her clenching passage, their bodies undulating as one, their breaths and moans uniting in an amorous chorus. Yet something was very, very different. The act felt strange, unfamiliar, nothing like it usually did; it was far more profound and intense than he had ever experienced. The heat of passion boiled in the pit of his belly radiating pleasure throughout his body, exciting every erogenous nerve. His heart filled with an expansive warmth, his head danced with dizzying giddiness. He studied his wife’s face. She returned his gaze with an expression he had never before encountered, an expression of unguarded and utter abandon, an expression of pure joy with an expectation of more.
Hadrian glanced at the mirror propped up near the bedside. His eyes widened in astonishment.
He wasn’t Hadrian. He was Zuester.
He looked back down at the woman moaning beneath him. This was what Zuester and Sabina experienced together.
His climax was unearthly.
He rolled onto his back, laughing in jubilant hysteria. “Yes, yes,” he panted squeezing his eyes shut. “This is what it is. Not just the physical, but something beyond. I am…I feel…transported.”
With a gulp and a gasp, Hadrian opened his eyes. It was dawn. He lay on the bearskin, his hand holding his cock covered in his emission. He sat up and looked around. The goddess was gone. Everything was gone except for his tent as he himself had set it up the night before. He smiled. He was in love and Aphrodite had given him her blessing.