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Dionysia
Azarias realizes a moment too late that he has made a very grave mistake.

As a man who has become an expert at dodging whatever consequences could come his way, this problem leaves him puzzled. His beloved angry at him for eyeing a stranger? A beguiling smile and an offering of sweet clover would ease her temper. That one time he accidentally angered a Minotaur at the past summer festival? Easily fixed with a round of beer. But this...

His hooves clack nervously against the rough cellar floor as he considers the bottle before him. In his hand is his master's most prized possession: a bottle of Agiorgitiko. To the undiscerning eye, it doesn't seem to be anything special. But Azarias knows the labor behind it. The finest grapes under the warm Grecian sun were handpicked, stamped by the feet of only the prettiest maidens of the land, and fermented in a barrel of oak crafted from trees blessed by Demeter herself. Gods, Azarias remembers how it had tasted straight from the barrel, how the lush hints of blackberries and spices had enthralled his senses. He tends to wax poetic about any wine he tastes, but this elixir had filled him with such frenzied inspiration that as soon as his shift was finished, he had written sonnet after sonnet as if his pen was fueled by the muses themselves. How could he have resisted another taste?

Azarias takes a deep breath, his ears flicking back as he considers the situation at hand. He had just taken the bottle down for a quick taste, as he was apt to do with his master's finer varieties. Sure, it jeopardized his livelihood, considering how exposure to air would slowly spoil the wine over time, but he had thought himself to be an expert at proper resealing. Perhaps he had been too emboldened by his success at stealing sips of his master's white wine the month before, which, despite his occasional openings, had been lauded as a massive success by the buyer. The habit is rather harmless.

Or at least, it had been.

His master will surely be cross at the realization that his prime supply had soured, but will he be cross enough to take it out on his mildly loyal servant? As a wine taster, fingers will surely be pointed his way. His master could accuse him of lying on the first tasting, or even (heaven forbid) realize that some of the bottles in storage are not as full as he should be. Azarias is keenly aware that his position is secured solely by the skin of his teeth, especially considering the hiring practices for satyrs like himself. The thought of a life where he wanders from bar to bar, attempting to earn tips through his rather meager skills at the lyre is downright unbearable. Where else is a satyr supposed to find a job in this economy? The university had laughed him right out of the room for even daring to discuss the academic works of Apollo. Though he doesn't like it, this is a position that he can't afford to give up.

Slowly, he corks the bottle, setting it back into its place. Surely the flavors will correct themselves in time... As of now, his job is far too important to risk over a simple sip. So long that he prays and makes proper sacrifices to Dionysus, the problem will probably just fix itself. He'll keep his job and his master will be none the wiser. Besides, even if it does get sold, it probably won't go to anyone important. With a deep breath, he nods, turning tail and escaping from the cool, tempting darkness of the cellar. This will all blow over, he's sure of it.

And for a month, he believes that he's gotten away with it.

His shameful habits are hard to keep down, so he finds himself in the cellar once more, this time sampling a fine rosé (with beautiful hints of raspberry, though he prefers the smoothness of darker wines). These small breaks prove to be the perfect time to mull over his verses. Pentameter of any sort is difficult, yet he savors both the intellectual challenge and the artistry that his craft allows. What a shame most satyrs are ignorant of the beauty of poetry, what with their bawdy ballads and their drunken revelries...

"Azarias!"

The shout breaks him from his thoughts, prompting him to hastily cork the wine and scramble up the ladder, calling "Coming, sir!" even as he breaks out into the light. He is greeted rather unceremoniously by the sight of his employer. A shrewd businessmen, Demetrius is nothing but suave smiles and throaty laughter in the presence of customers, though now his thin lips are set in a line of disapproval. His eyes dart from his apprentice to the balcony, where a solitary woman sits.

"We have a special customer today," his boss grouses. "Look what she paid in." Azarias blinks as a pile of gold is shoved into his face. Such a thing would usually be celebrated by his employer, what in the world was he-

It takes close examination of the ancient symbols before he realizes. The color drains from his face, and he cranes his head to try and get a good look at the figure seated outside. All he can catch is a glimpse of swarthy skin.

"...I see."

"So why are you still standing here? Get the vintage."

The order seems to echo in his ears as his mistake comes crashing back. He steps back, staring rather stupidly at his boss.

"Ah, sir, don't you think that the white wine would be a better choice? It has been rather warm today, so maybe she would prefer-" The young satyr is silenced with a single withering glance. He shrinks back, oddly intimidated by the man despite his diminutive height.

"Get. The. Vintage. I will not ask you again." A cuff upside the head has him yelping and scrambling in a flurry of fur and clumsy hooves back to the cool darkness below. The panic is waiting for him there. It follows his shaking steps like a shadow, threatening to swallow him up as clammy hands retrieve the bottle from its proper repose. Oh, if only Gaia would be so merciful as to swallow him from where he stood. A deep breath does nothing to calm his nerves as, with the reluctant steps of a caught schoolboy, he climbs from the cellar and inches his way outside.

The warm breeze carries the scent of grapes and sweet herbs from the vineyards. They curl over the rolling hills and slopes that make up the enormous estate, and if Azarias bothers to squint, he can just make out the dots of white, brown, and black of his fellow satyrs toiling among the trellises.

As it is, his attention is consumed by the woman seated out on the balcony. Prestigious customers are common here, of course, but there is a strange air about this one, a sort of aura that has Azarias feeling as if he's standing in a field before the storm. Her hair, as glossy and as dark as her skin, is held up with pins of onyx and glittering gold. Her eyes are warm, like sunlight on olive leaves, and as Azarias approaches, he finds himself nearly overcome by the sweet scent of pomegranates. She seems rather nice, if her smile has anything to say about it, yet it is hard not to be distracted by the swirling figures barely visible in the black silk of her tunic.

So. He is to serve sour wine to a goddess.

She must mistake his sallow skin for simple shyness, for she laughs when he approaches. The sound is probably meant to put him at ease. It does not.

"Good afternoon," she greets, clearly amused. Azarias manages a wan smile in return as he uncorks the bottle and sets it on the table. Before he can even think to scurry away, she is already pouring it into two fine glasses. "Please, settle down. It has been long since I have spent time with one of your kind." Every last drop of the wine, though looking as dark and as sweet as it is meant to, only means more and more agitation for the young satyr. He gives an awkward laugh as his mind desperately turns over for an excuse.

"Ah... Well, we satyrs are not so special," he stammers. "My apologies, ma- I mean, mistress, but I must... I cannot drink. You see, I am not an entertainer, and I-"
"Nonsense." Though his lies are obvious, she smiles, gesturing for him to join her with one elegant curl of her finger. "Please, settle down."

Azarias used to preen about how his fur was just the right shade of black and how his jaw was set at the perfect angle, but now he regrets his good looks as he takes a reluctant seat beside the goddess. If only he was ugly, he could be out there, plucking grapes and singing songs with the other satyrs. He would take coarse fur and a horrid complexion if it meant one more breath of that sweet summer breeze. That wind does nothing to warm him as she hands him a delicate glass.

If he looks hard enough, he can see his own doom in the dark liquid.

"As a child, my closest companions were satyrs," she begins, turning her gaze to the workers toiling away in the fields below. "I was always so captured by their songs, their parties. What is it like to be so carefree, I wonder?"

Azarias can't decide if he's more offended by the stereotypical assumption or relieved that she's choosing to make small talk. It's just another stay in his execution, but by Hades, he'd take it.

"Ah... Well, yes, most of us enjoy parties. I only wish I could sing." He chuckles, and though the sound is rather strained to his ears, she turns to him with a sympathetic look.

"Not all of us can be lucky, I suppose." She leans over to pat his arm, the warm touch sending shivers down his spine. "My apologies, dear satyr. No wonder you are confined to the cellar, rather than liberated with your brethren. Such a harsh fate for your defect."

"Defect?" Azarias stares at her, unable to help his tone. She seems mildly confused by his incredulous look.

"Yes, of course. What is a satyr if he cannot entertain others?"

Azarias does not know how to answer that. He stares at her, gaping like a fish, until he closes his mouth. In that moment, everything seems to be surging back to him. He remembers how disappointed his parents were of his horrid singing voice. He remembers countless hours of his childhood slaving over a lyre. He remembers crying out to Apollo, wondering why he wasn't as good as his brethren, why he couldn't dance or sing in the ways that they could. But most of all, he remembers the sneers of those humans in the university, how they threw his papers in his face, how they told him that he would never be a poet because how could he? He was just a stupid, smelly goat.

In that moment, he smiles.

"You have a point, my mistress. But please, let us not think of such sorrowful things. May we drink and be merry?"

The deflection seems to please her, for she smiles and lifts her glass to him.

"To your prosperity."

"To your prosperity."

As she raises the glass to her lips, he thinks of his lover and her summer sky eyes, her blonde fur, her cutely crooked nose. He thinks of his friends, boisterous as they may be. Most of all, he thinks of his stashed little book of poetry, yellowed pages across which he had spilled his hopes, his fears, his love of the stars and figs and love. As the goddess's lips touch the glass, and she tilts it to take a delicate sip, he thinks of the words he has never had the chance to take down to paper.

But gods, it is worth it as he closes his eyes, and as the fragrant breeze caresses his cheek with the scents of ripened grapes and sweet earth, he hears her choke of disapproval.

******
Emily Barr (Barrtender) is a member of RCM's Summer Writing program. Any questions, comments, or feedback can be sent to her email at emilybarr77@gmail.com
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