"It was," Venus said, in the same calm tone. "Henceforth, your name is Dionysus."
Forrester took a while to remember to swallow. "Dionysus?" he said at last.
There was another silence.
Forrester, feeling that perhaps his first question could use some amplification, said: "Dionysus? Bacchus? You mean me?"
"Quite right," Venus said. "That will be your name, and you'd better begin getting used to it."
"Now wait a minute!" he said. "I don't mean to be disrespectful, but something occurs to me. I mean, it's the first thing I thought of, and I'm probably wrong, but just let me ask the questions, if you don't mind, and maybe some of this will make some sense. Because just a few hours ago I was doing very nicely on my own and I—"
"What are your questions?" Venus said.
Forrester swayed. "Dionysus/Bacchus himself," he said. "Won't he mind my—"
Venus laughed. "Mind your using his name? My goodness, no."
"It's all because of the orgies," Venus said.
Everything, he told himself, was getting just a little too much for him. "Orgies?" he said.
Venus nodded. "You see, there are all those orgies held in his honor. You know about those, of course."
"Sure I do," Forrester said, watching everything narrowly. In just a few seconds, he told himself hopefully, the whole room would vanish and he would be in a nice, peaceful insane asylum.
"Well, it isn't impossible for a God to be at all the orgies held in his honor," Venus said. "Naturally not. But, at the same time, they are all rather boring—for a God, I mean. And that's why you're here," she finished.
Forrester said: "Oh." And then he said: "Oh?" The room hadn't disappeared yet, but he was willing to give it time.
"Dionysus," Venus said patiently, as if she were explaining the matter to a small and rather ugly child, "gets tired of appearing at the orgies. He wants someone to take his place."
The silence after that sentence was a very long one. Forrester could think of nothing to say but: "Me?"
"You will be raised to the status of Godling," Venus said. "You remember Hercules and Achilles, don't you?"
"Never met them," Forrester said vacantly.
"Naturally," Venus said. "They were, however, ancient heroes, raised to the status of Godling, just as you yourself will be. However, you will not be honored or worshipped under your own name."
Forrester nodded. "Naturally," he said, wondering what he was talking about. There was, he realized, the possibility that he was not insane after all, but he didn't want to think about that. It was much too painful.
"You will receive instructions in the use of certain powers," Venus said. "These will enable you to perform your new duties."
The word carried a strange connotation. Dionysus/Bacchus was the God of wine, among other things, and women and song had been thrown in as an afterthought. The duties of a stand-in for a God like that sounded just a little bit overwhelming.
"These—duties," he said. "Will they be temporary or permanent?"
"Well," Venus said, "that depends." She smiled at him sweetly.
"So far," Venus said, "our testing shows that you are capable of handling certain of the duties to be entrusted to you. But, for the rest, everything depends on your own talents and devotion."
"Ah," Forrester said, and then: "Testing?"
"You don't suppose that we would pick a mortal for an important job like this without making certain that he was capable of doing the job, do you?"
"Frankly," Forrester said, "I haven't got around to supposing anything yet."
Venus smiled again. "We have tested you," she said, "and so far you appear perfectly capable of exercising your powers."
Forrester blinked. "Exercising?"
"Exactly. As a street brawler, for instance, you do exceptionally well."
"How does your face feel?" she asked.
"My what?" Forrester said. "Oh. Face. Fine. Street brawls, you said?"
"I did," Venus said. "My goodness, the way you bashed that one bruiser with your drink—that was really excellent. As a matter of fact, I feel it incumbent on me to tell you that I haven't enjoyed a fight so much in years."
Wondering whether he should be complimented or just a little ashamed of himself, Forrester said nothing at all. The idea that he had been under the personal supervision of Aphrodite herself bothered him more than he could say. The brawl was the first thing that came to mind. It didn't seem like the sort of thing a Goddess of Love ought to have been watching.
And then he thought of the High Priestess.
He felt a blush creeping up around his collar, and was thankful only that it was not visible under the tan of his skin. He remembered who had ordered the sacrificial rites, and thought bitterly and guiltily about spectator sports.
But his face remained perfectly calm.
"So far," Venus said, "I must say that you have come through with flying colors. You should be proud of yourself."
Forrester didn't feel exactly proud. He wanted to crawl into a hole and die there.
"Well," he said, "I—"
"But there is more," Aphrodite said.
The idea didn't sound attractive. In spite of what one of the tests had involved, the notion of any more tests was just a little fatiguing. Besides, Forrester was not at all sure that he would be at his best, when he knew that dispassionate observers were chronicling his technique and his every movement.
How much more, he wondered, could he take?
And, he reflected, how much more of what?
"We must be certain," Aphrodite said, "that you can prove yourself worthy of the dignity of a Godling."
"Ah," Forrester said cleverly. "So there are going to be more tests?"
"There are," Venus said. "After all, you will be expected to act as the alter persona of Dionysus. That involves responsibilities almost beyond the ken of a mortal."
Wine, Forrester thought wildly, women and song.
He wondered if he were going to be asked to sing something. He couldn't remember anything except the Star Spangled Banner and an exceptionally silly rhyme from his childhood. Neither of them seemed just right for the occasion.
"You must learn to behave as a true God," Venus said. "And we must know whether you are fitted for the part."
Forrester nodded. The one thing keeping him sane, he reflected, was the hope of insanity. But the room was still there, and Venus was standing near him, talking quietly away.
"Thus," she said, "there must be further tests, so that we may be sure of your capacities."
Capacities? Just what was that supposed to mean? "I see," he lied. "And suppose I fail?"
"Suppose I don't live up to expectations," Forrester said.
"Well, then," Venus declared, "I'm afraid the Gods might be angry with you."
Forrester had no doubt whatever as to the meaning of the words. Either he lived up to expectations or he didn't live at all. The Gods' anger was not a small affair, and it seldom satisfied itself with small results. When a God got angry with you, you simply hoped the result would be quick. You didn't really dare hope it would also be temporary.
Forrester passed a hand over his forehead. If he had been doing his own picking, he thought a little sadly, the job of tryout stand-in for Dionysus was not the job he would have chosen. But then, the choice wasn't his, and it never had been. It was the Gods who had picked him.
Unfortunately, if he failed, the mistake wouldn't be laid at the door of the Gods. It would be laid at the door of William Forrester, together with a nice, big, black funeral wreath.
But it didn't sound too bad at that, he told himself hopefully. After all, it wasn't every day that a man was offered the job of stand-in for a God, not every day that a man was offered the chance of passing a lot of strenuous and embarrassing tests, and dying if he failed.
He told himself sternly to look on the positive side, but all he could think of was the succession of tests still to come. What would they be like? How could he ever pass them all? What would be thought necessary to establish a man as a first-rate double for Dionysus?
Looks, he thought, were obviously the first thing, and he certainly had those. For a second he almost wished he could see Ed Symes and apologize for getting mad when Ed had told him he looked like Bacchus.
But then, he reflected, he didn't want to go too far. The idea of apologizing to Ed Symes, no matter who his sister was, made Forrester's gorge rise about five and a half feet.
"However," Aphrodite went on, as if she had just thought of something too unimportant to bother mentioning, "don't worry about it. My father's thunderbolt needn't concern you. I have every confidence that you will prove yourself."
She smiled radiantly at him.
The idea occurred to Forrester that she just didn't think that a mortal's mortality was important. But the idea didn't stay long. Being reassured by a Goddess, he told himself confusedly, was very reassuring.
Venus was looking him up and down speculatively, and Forrester suddenly thought a new test was coming. A little gentle sweat began to break out on his forehead again, but his face stayed calm. He took a deep breath and tried to concentrate on gathering strength. The High Priestess had been something special but, Forrester thought, she had not really called out his all. Venus was clearly another matter.
But Venus said only: "Those clothes," in a considering sort of tone.
"Clothes?" Forrester said, trying to readjust in a hurry.
"You certainly can't go in those clothes. Hera would object quite violently, I'm afraid. She's awfully stuffy about such things."
The intimate details about the Gods intrigued Forrester. "Stuffy? Hera?"
"Confidentially," Venus said, "at times, the All-Mother can be an absolute bitch."
She went over to one of the light-swirled walls, and a part of the light seemed to fade as she did so. Of course, she did nothing so crude as opening a door. When she started for the wall there was no closet apparent there, but when she arrived it was there, solid, and open.
It was just that simple.
She took out a white robe and started back. Forrester took his eyes from her with an effort and watched the closet disappear again. By the time she had reached him, it was only a part of the swirling wall again.
And the hospital attendants were nowhere in sight.
She handed Forrester the robe. He took it warily, but it seemed real enough. At any rate, it was as real as anything else that was happening to him, he thought.
It was a simple tunic, cut in the style of the ancient Greek chiton, and open at one side instead of the front. Forrester turned it in his hands. At the waist and shoulder there was a golden clasp to hold it in place. The clasp wasn't figured in any special way. The material itself was odd: it was an almost fluorescent white and, though it was perfectly opaque, it was thinner than any paper Forrester had ever seen in public. It almost didn't seem to be there when he rubbed it between his thumb and forefinger.
"Well, don't just stand there," Venus said. "Get started."
"Started?" Forrester said.
"Get dressed. The others are waiting for you."
But she didn't answer. Forrester looked frantically around the room for anything that looked even remotely like a dressing room. As a last resort, he was willing to settle for a screen. No room, no screen. He was willing to settle for a chair he could crouch behind. There was none.
He looked hopefully at the Goddess. Perhaps, he thought, she would leave while he dressed. She showed no sign of doing so. He cleared his throat and jerked at his collar nervously.
"Now, now," Venus said sternly. "Don't tell me the presence of your Goddess embarrasses you." She raised her head imperiously. "Hurry it up."
Very slowly, he began taking off his clothes. There was, after all, nothing to be ashamed of, he told himself. As a matter of fact, Venus ought to be getting used to the sight of him undressing by this time.
Somehow, he finally managed to get the chiton on straight. Venus looked him over and nodded her approval.
"Come along now," she said. "They're waiting for us. And one thing: don't get nervous, for Hera's sake. You're all right."
"Oh," Forrester said. "Sure. Perfectly all right. Right as rain."
"Well, you are. As a matter of fact, I think you'll make a fine Dionysus."
She led him toward a wall opposite where the closet had been. As they approached it, a section of it became bluer and bluer. With a sinking feeling, Forrester told himself that he knew what was coming.
He did. The wall dissolved into the shimmering blue haze of a Veil of Heaven, just like the one that had transported him from New York to his present position. Where that was, he wasn't entirely sure, but remembering his one look out the window, he suspected it was Mount Olympus.
But there wasn't any time for thinking. Venus took his hand coolly as they reached the blue haze. Then both of them stepped through.
The room into which they stepped seemed even larger than the one they had left. The distances were just as hard to measure, and why Forrester had the feeling, he couldn't have said, but it did feel larger. The sense of enormous space hung over it.
The wall colors were just the same, however, dripping and changing in a continuous flow of patterns, with the little sunbursts and rainbows appearing here and there without any visible reason.
But the room itself was comparatively unimportant, Forrester knew. It was what went on in the room that sent shivers up his spine, and instructed one knee to start knocking against other one. He had heard of the Court of the Gods, though as far as he knew no mortal had ever seen it. There were certainly no photographs of it, even in the most exhaustive travel books.
Forrester knew without question that he was standing in that Courtroom. The knowledge did not make him calm. And the beings sitting and reclining on couches along the shimmering walls made him feel even worse. He recognized every one of them, and every one sent a new shock of awe running through his nerves. His stomach felt like a hard rubber handball.
There was Zeus All-Father, with his great, silvery, ringleted beard. His hands were combing through it and he was frowning majestically into the distance. Next to him was the imperious Hera, Mother of the Gods. She sat with her hands folded in her lap, as if she were waiting for the end of the world to be announced. There was Mars, tough and hairy-chested, scratching his side with one hand and scowling horribly. His fierce, bearded face looked somehow out of place without the battle helmet that usually topped it. The horned and goat-legged Pan was there, and Vulcan, crippled and ugly with his squat body and giant arms, reclining like an ape on a couch all alone, and motherly looking Ceres using one hand to pat her hair as if she, not Forrester, were the nervous one.
Athena was there, too, lovely and gray-eyed. She seemed to be smiling at him with special favor, and Forrester felt grateful.
He needed all the help he could get.
But the other Gods were absent. Where were they? Pluto and Phoebus Apollo were missing, and so were Mercury, Neptune, Dionysus and Diana.
"Ah," the great voice of Zeus boomed, as Forrester and Venus stepped through the Veil. Forrester heard the voice and shuddered. "The mortal is here," Zeus went on in his awe-inspiring roar. "Welcome, Mortal!"
Forrester opened his mouth, but Hera got in ahead of him.
She leaned over to her divine husband and hissed, in a tone audible to everyone in the room: "Don't belabor the obvious, dear. Enough's enough."
"It is?" Zeus said. The roar was exactly the same. "I'm not at all sure. No! Of course not. Naturally not, my dear. Naturally not." He looked around slowly, nodding his great head. "Now, now. Let's see. Do we have a quorum? I don't see Morpheus. Where's Morpheus?"
"Asleep, as usual," Mars growled. He finished scratching his side and began on his beard. "Where else would the old fool be? He's nothing but a bore anyway and I say to Hades with him. Let's get on."
"Now, Ares," Pallas Athena said mildly. "Don't be crude."
"Crude?" Mars bellowed. "All I said was that the old bore's not here. It's true, isn't it? What in Hades is so crude about it?"
"Hah!" Vulcan growled, in a bass voice that seemed to come from the bottom of a large barrel. "Look who mentions being a bore."
"Why, you—" Mars started.
"Children!" Hera snapped at once.
There was quiet, and Forrester had time to get dizzy. Maybe, he thought, he had been traveling too much. After all, he had started in New York, and then he had found himself on what he suspected was Mount Olympus, in Greece. And now he was somewhere else.
He wasn't entirely sure where. The Court of the Gods existed; he knew that. But he had never heard just where it existed, and it was entirely possible that no mortal knew. In which case, Forrester thought confusedly, I don't even know where I am.
For the first time, he began to think seriously that, perhaps, he was sane after all. Maybe everything he was seeing and hearing was true. It was certainly beginning to look that way. And, in that case, maybe the dizziness he felt was just airsickness, or spacesickness, or whatever kind of sickness came from traveling through those blue Veils.
At least, he told himself, thinking of the old man he had met on the way downtown, at least it beat the subway.
He looked behind him. He and Venus were standing in the center of the room. There was no blue veil behind them. It had, apparently, done its duty and gone away.
The subway, Forrester told himself solemnly, didn't do that.
Zeus cleared his throat ponderously. "I count eight of us," he said. "Eight, all told. Of course, that's eight without the mortal." He paused, and then added: "If you count the mortal in, there are nine."
Pan stirred. "That's a quorum," he announced in a hoarse voice that had a heavy vibrato in it. It reminded Forrester, oddly, of the bleating of a goat. Pan crossed his legs and his hooves clashed, striking sparks. "Pluto and Poseidon said they'd accept our judgment."
"Why the absence?" Vulcan said shortly.
"A storm, I think," Pan said. "Out in the North Atlantic, if memory serves—and it does. As far as I recall, there are four ships sunk so far. Quite an affair."
Vulcan said: "Ah," and reclined again.
Hera leaned forward. "Where's Apollo? He said he might come."
"Sure he did," Mars said heavily. "Old Sunshine Boy never misses a bit of excitement. Only he probably found something even more exciting. He's in California, all dressed up as a mortal."
"California?" Ceres said. "My goodness, what would that boy be doing in California?"
Mars guffawed. "Probably showing off—how Sunshine Boy loves to show off! Displaying that gorgeous body to the girls on Muscle Beach, I'll bet."
"Eight to five," Pan said at once.
Mars turned to him and nodded shortly. "Done."
"Now, if I were a betting man," Vulcan began in a thoughtful bass, "I'd—"
"We all know what you'd do, Gimpy," Mars roared. "But you won't do it, so shut up about it."
"Please," Hera said. "Order." Her voice was like chilled steel. The others settled back. "I think we're ready. Shall we begin, dear?" She looked at Zeus, who got ready to start. But before he could get a word out, there was a flicker of blue energy in the room, a couple of yards away from Forrester and Venus. The flicker expanded to a Veil, and a man stepped out of it.
He was a short, fat individual wearing a chiton as if he had slept in it for three or four weeks. His face was puffy and his golden hair was ruffled. His eyelids seemed to have acquired a permanent half-mast, and beneath them the eyes were bleary and disinterested.
Forrester needed no introductions to Morpheus, the God of Sleep.
The God looked around at the assembled company with a kindly little smile on his tired face. Then, slowly and luxuriously, he yawned. When his mouth closed again, after a view of caverns measureless to man, he rubbed at his eyes with his knuckles, and then heaved a great sigh and, apparently, resigned himself to the terrible effort of speech.
"I'm late," he said. "But it's really not my fault."
"Oh?" Hera said in a nasty tone of voice.
Morpheus shook his head slowly from side to side. "It really isn't." His voice was terribly calm. It was obvious, Forrester thought, that he did not give a damn. "The alarm just didn't seem to go off again. Or else I didn't hear it."
"Now, Morpheus," Hera said. "I should think you'd get some kind of alarm that really worked, after all this time."
"Why bother?" Morpheus said, and shrugged ponderously. "Anyhow, I'm here." He yawned again. "The thing's tiresome, but I did say I'd be here, and here I am. Now, does that satisfy everybody? Because if it doesn't, I do have some sleep to catch up on."
"It satisfies us all," Hera said with some asperity. "Go sit down."
Morpheus shambled quietly over to a couch near Mars. He lowered himself onto it, and slowly slipped from a sitting position to a reclining one.
"Well," Hera said to Zeus, "we're ready, dear."
"Oh," Zeus said. "Oh. Certainly. I declare this meeting—I declare this meeting fully met." He cleared his throat with a rumble that shook the air. "We're here, as I suppose you all know, to consider the problem of William Forrester. But first, I am reminded of a little story I picked up on Earth, and in the hopes that some of you here might not have heard it, I—"
"We've heard it," Hera said, "and, anyhow, this is neither the time nor the place."
Zeus turned to look at her. He shrugged. "Very well," he said equably. "Let us return to William Forrester, as a possible substitute for Dionysus. The first consideration ought to be the psychological records, wouldn't you say?"
"I would," Hera said through her teeth.
"I believe Athena is in charge of that department, and if she is ready to report—"
"Of course she's ready," Hera said, "dear."
Zeus nodded. "Well, then, what are we waiting for?"
Athena got up and faced the company. "In general," she began at once, "I think we can pass the candidate completely on the psychological records. The Index of Subordination is low, but we don't want one too high for this post. Too, the Beta curve shows a good deal of variation, a Dionysian characteristic. There is, perhaps, a stronger sense of responsibility than is recorded in the Dionysian index, but this may not be a handicap."
"By no means," Hera said. "Responsibility is something we could all do with more of, around here." She shot a poisonous glance at Morpheus, whose eyes were now completely closed.
Forrester, busily wondering what his Beta curve was, and why it varied, and what he would do if he lost it and had to get another one, missed the next few words of Athena's report. The word that did impinge on his consciousness did so with a shock.
"Sex," Athena said. "But, after all, that is not quite in my department." She looked as if she were very glad of the fact. "In general, as I say, the psychological tests present no insuperable barriers."
"Fine," Hera said. She dug Zeus in the ribs again.
"Oh," Zeus said. "Yes. Fine."
"Next," Hera said.
"Yes," Zeus said. "By all means. Next."
Mars got up. He was now scratching the hair on his chest. He looked around at the others with a definitely unfriendly expression.
"The physical department is mine," he said. "The candidate can handle himself, all right. There isn't much doubt of it." He burped, wiped his mouth with the back of one hand, and went on: "Of course, he's let himself run to fat a little here and there, but it isn't really serious. Mainly a matter of glandular balance or something like that, as far as I understand Hermes' report."
Forrester began to feel like a prize chicken.
"And physical training," Mars said. "Well, there hasn't been any training, that's all. And that's bad."
"He is not being considered for your position," Vulcan said. "One muscular brainless imbecile is enough."
Mars took a deep breath.
"Please," Hera said. "Continue the report."
The breath came out in an explosion. "All right," Mars said. "Discounting the training end of things, and assuming that Hermes can fix up the glandular mess, I think he can pass the physical."
Forrester wasn't sure that he liked being referred to as a glandular mess. On the other hand, he asked himself, what could he do about it? He stood quietly, wondering what was coming next.
His worst fears were fulfilled.
Venus stepped forward and gave her report. Basically, it was a codicil, of a rather specialized nature, to the physical report. While it was going on, Forrester glanced at Athena. She looked every bit as embarrassed as he felt, and her face wore a look of sheer pain. Once he thought she was going to leave the room, but she remained grimly seated until it was all over.
Forrester couldn't figure out, when he thought about it, how the Gods had managed to give him all these tests without his knowing anything about it. But, then, they were supernatural, weren't they? And they had their own methods. A mortal didn't have to understand them.
Forrester wasn't sure he was happy with that idea, but he clung to it. It was the only one he had.
When Venus finished her report, there was a little silence.
"Any other comments?" Hera whispered to her husband.
"Ah, yes," Zeus said. "Other comments. If anyone has any other comments to make, please make them now. Now is the time to make them."
He sat back. Morpheus stirred slightly and spoke without opening his eyes or sitting up. "Sleep," he said.
Hera said: "Sleep?"
"Very important," Morpheus said slowly, "the candidate sleeps pretty well—soundly, as a matter of fact. The only trouble is that he doesn't get enough sleep. But then, no one on this entire crazy world ever does." He yawned and added: "Not even me."
Forrester passed a hand over his forehead. He realized, very suddenly, that he had come to a conclusion somewhere during the meeting. He was, he told himself, definitely sane.
That left another conclusion. He was not dreaming anything that was happening. It was all perfectly real.
And he was about to become a demi-God.
That in itself didn't sound so bad. But he began to wonder, in a quiet sort of way, just what was going to happen to William Forrester, acolyte and history professor, when Forrester/Bacchus had became a reality. With a blunt shock he knew that there was only one answer.
William Forrester was going to die.
It didn't matter what the verdict of the Gods was. There were more tests coming, he knew, and if he failed them the Gods would kill him quite literally and quite completely.
But, he went on, suppose he passed the tests.
In that case he was going to become Forrester/Bacchus, a substitute God. Plain old Bill Forrester would cease to exist entirely.
Oh, a few traces might remain—his Beta curve, for instance, whatever that was. But Bill Forrester would be gone. Somehow, the idea of a revenant Beta curve didn't make up for the basic loss.
On the other hand, he reminded himself again, what choice did he have?
He forced himself to listen to what the Gods were saying.
Zeus cleared his throat. "Well, I think that closes the subject. Am I right, dear?"
"You are," Hera said.
"Very well," Zeus said. "Then the subject is closed, isn't it?"
Hera nodded wearily.
"In that case, we can proceed with the investiture. Hephaestus, will you please take charge of the candidate?"
Hephaestus/Vulcan sighed softly. "I suppose I must." He swung off the couch and stood half-crouched for a second. Forrester looked at him blankly. "Well," Vulcan said, "come on." He jerked his head toward Forrester. "Over here."
With one last backward glance at Venus, Forrester walked across the room. Vulcan turned and hobbled ahead of him toward the wall. Forrester followed until, almost at the wall, a Veil of Heaven appeared. Feeling almost used to the thing by now, Forrester followed Vulcan through, and he didn't even look behind him to see if the Veil had vanished after they'd come through. He knew perfectly well it had. It always did.
The room they had entered was similar to the others he had seen, but there was no change of colors. The walls glowed evenly and with a subdued light that filled the room evenly. And, for the first time, the walls weren't simply blanks that became things only when approached. The strangest-looking objects Forrester had ever seen filled benches, tables, chairs and the floor, and some were even tacked to the glowing walls. He stared at them for a long time.
No two were alike. They seemed to be all sizes, shapes and materials. The only thing they really had in common was that they were unrecognizable. They looked, Forrester thought, as if a truckload of non-objective twentieth-century sculpture had collided with another truck full of old television-set innards. Then, in some way, the two trucks had fallen in love and had children.
The scrambled horrors scattered throughout the room were, Forrester told himself bleakly, the children.
Vulcan sat down on the only empty chair with a sigh. "This is my workshop," he announced gravely. "It is not arranged for visitors, nor for the curious. I must advise you to touch nothing, if you wish to save your hands, your sanity, and very possibly your life."
Forrester nodded dumbly. Vulcan's tone hadn't been unfriendly; he had merely been warning a stranger, in the shortest and clearest manner possible, against the dangers of feeling the merchandise. Not, Forrester thought, that the warning was necessary. He would as soon have thought of trying to fly as he would of touching one of the mixed-up looking things.
"Now," Vulcan said, "if you'll—" He stopped. "Pardon me," he said, and levered himself upright. He went to a chair, swept a few constructions from it and put them carefully on a table. "Sit down," he said, motioning to the chair.
Gingerly, Forrester sat down.
Vulcan returned to his own chair and climbed onto it. "Now let us get to business."
"Business?" Forrester said.
"Oh, yes," Vulcan said. "I imagine you were pretty well bewildered for a while. No more than natural. But I think you've figured it out by now. You know you are going to be given the powers of a demi-God, don't you?"
"Do not worry about it," Vulcan said. "The powers are—simply powers. They are not burdens. At any rate, they will not be burdensome to you. We know that—we have researched you to a fine point, as you may have gathered from the fol-de-rol back there." He gestured toward his right, evidently indicating the Court of the Gods.
"But," Forrester said, "suppose I'm not what your tests say. I mean, suppose I—"
"There is no need for supposition. Beyond any shadow of doubt, we know how you, as a mortal, will react to any conceivable set of circumstances."
"Oh," Forrester said. "But—"
"Precisely. You have realized what yet needs to be done. We know what your abilities and limitations are—as a mortal. The tests you have yet to pass are concerned with your actions and reactions as a demi-God."
Forrester swallowed hard. He felt as if he were on a moving roller-coaster. No matter how badly he wanted to get off, it was impossible to do so. He had to remain while the car hurtled on.
And where was he going?
The Gods, he told himself with more than ordinary meaning, knew.
"The power which is to be infused into you," Vulcan said, "if you don't mind the loose terminology—"
"I don't mind in the least," Forrester assured him earnestly. "Not in the least."
"The power infused into you will make some changes. These will not only be physical changes. Mental changes must be expected."
"Oh," Forrester said. "Mental changes."
"Correct. Physically, you see, you will become what no mortal can ever quite be: a perfectly functioning biological engine. Every sinew, nerve and muscle, every organ and gland, every tissue in your body will be in perfect harmonic balance with every other. Metabolically speaking, your catabolism and anabolism will be in such perfect balance that aging will not be possible."
Forrester thought that over. "I'll be immortal," he said.
"In that sense of the word," Vulcan said, "you will. You will be, as a matter of fact, quite a good deal tougher, stronger and harder than any animal now existing on the face of the Earth. I must except, of course, a few of the really big ones, like the elephant and the killer whale."
"Oh," Forrester said. "Sure."
"But make no mistake. You can still be killed. A bullet through the heart will not do the job; it will merely incapacitate you for a few hours. But if you were to have your head blown off by a grenade, you would be quite dead. Remember that."
"I don't see how I could forget it."
"You will heal with incredible rapidity, but there are limitations. Anything that pushes the balance too far will be fatal. You can lose a hand or even an arm without serious harm; the missing member will be regrown. But if you were to fall into a large meat-grinder—"
"I get the idea," Forrester said, feeling pale green.
"Good," Vulcan said. "However, there is more."
"There are certain other powers to be given you in addition. You will learn of these later."
Forrester nodded blankly.
"Now," Vulcan said, "all these physical changes will have a definite effect upon your psychological outlook, as I imagine you can plainly see."
Forrester thought about it. "Well—"
"Let us suppose that you are a coward who has avoided fights all his life. Now you are given these powers. What will happen?"
"I'll be strong."
"Exactly. You will be strong. And because you are strong, and almost indestructible, you suddenly decide that you can now get your revenge on the people who have pushed you around."
"Well," Forrester said, "I—"
"You begin to look for fights," Vulcan said. "You go around beating up everyone you can find, simply because you now know you can get away with it. Do you understand me?"
"I guess so."
"A man with a vicious streak in him would be intolerable in this position. Can you see that? Take an example: Ares. Mars is a tough God, hard and at times brutal. But he is not vicious."
Forrester was a little surprised to hear Vulcan say anything nice about Mars. He knew, as everyone did, the long history of ill-will and positive hatred the two had built up between them. It had begun soon after Vulcan's marriage to Aphrodite/Venus.
He hadn't been a cripple then, of course. For a while, he and Venus had had a fine time. But Venus, apparently, just wasn't satisfied with the dull normal routine of married life. None of the Gods seemed to be, as a matter of fact. Either they were altogether too married, like Zeus, or else they weren't married enough, like Venus. Or else they were like Diana and Athena, indifferent to marriage.
At any rate, Venus had begun looking around for fresh talent. And the fresh talent had been right there ready to sign up for a long contract on a strictly extra-legal basis.
One day Vulcan caught them at it, his wife and Mars. Vulcan was angry, but Mars didn't exactly like to be interrupted, either, and he was a little faster on the draw. He tossed Vulcan over a nearby cliff, crippling him for good.
And as for Aphrodite—who knew? It was entirely possible that, by this time, the Goddess of Love had run through the entire list of Gods and was now at work on the mortals.
Forrester wasn't entirely sure he disliked the idea, on a simple physical level. But there was more than that to it, of course; there was Vulcan. Forrester found himself liking the solemn, positive workman. He didn't want to hurt him.
And a liaison with Venus was certain to do just that.
He came back to the present to hear Vulcan still discoursing. "Also," the God said, "changes in glandular balance must be made. These changes have a necessary effect on the brain. The personality changes subtly, though I can assure you that the change is not a marked one." He paused. "For all these reasons," he finished, "I am sure that you can see why we must subject you to further tests."
"I understand," Forrester said vaguely.
"Good. Now, you will not know whether a given incident—any given incident—is a perfectly natural occurrence or a test imposed on you by the Pantheon. Can you understand that?"
Vulcan levered himself upright, his ugly face smiling just a little. "And remember what I have told you. No worrying. You don't even know just what any given test is supposed to accomplish, so you can't know whether the action you choose is right or wrong. Therefore, worrying will do nothing for you. You will be at your best if you simply behave naturally."
"Remember, also, that you were picked not merely for your physical resemblance to Dionysus, but your psychological resemblance as well. Therefore, playing his part should be comparatively simple for you. Right?"
"I guess so," Forrester said, feeling both expectant and a little hopeless about it all.
"Fine," Vulcan said. "Now wait one moment." He turned and limped over to a structure that looked like a sort of worktable. When he came back, he was carrying several objects in his big hands. He selected one, an ovoid about the size of a marble, colored a dull orange, and handed it to Forrester. "Swallow that."
Forrester took it cautiously. As soon as he found out what he was supposed to do with the thing, its dimensions seemed to grow. It looked about the size of a golf ball in his shaking hands.
"Swallow it?" he said tentatively.
"Correct," Vulcan said.
"This object is a—well, call it a talisman. It will not dissolve, and it is recoverable, but for the Investiture it must be inside you."
"You will find it so easy to swallow that you will need no water. Go ahead."
Forrester put the thing in his mouth and swallowed once, just to test Vulcan's statement. The effect was surprising. He could barely feel it leave his tongue, and he couldn't feel it go down at all. He swallowed again, experimentally, and explored the inside of his mouth with his tongue.
"It is gone," Vulcan said. "Good."
"It's gone, all right," Forrester said wonderingly.
"The sandals are next." Vulcan selected a pair of sandals with rather thick soles and handed them over. They were apparently made of gold. Forrester obediently strapped them on, and Vulcan next handed him a pair of golden cylinders indented to fit his curved fingers.
"You hold these very tightly," Vulcan said. "During the Investiture, you must grip them as hard as you can." He peered closely at them and pointed to one. "This one goes in the left hand. The other goes in the right. Squeeze them as if—as if you were trying to crush them. All right?"
"All right," Forrester said.
Vulcan nodded. "Good. From this moment on, do exactly as you are told. Answer questions truthfully. Keep nothing secret. Remember my instructions."
"Right," Forrester said doubtfully.
"Come on," Vulcan said, heading for the wall. The inevitable Veil of Heaven appeared, and Forrester followed through it as before.
The room they entered was not, he thought, the same one they had been in before. Or, if it was, it had changed a great deal. It was difficult to tell anything for sure; the shifting walls looked the same, but they also looked like the shifting walls in Venus' apartments.
At any rate, there were now no couches on the floor. The room seemed even bigger than before, and when the walls settled down to a steady golden glow, Forrester felt lost in the immensity of the place. In the center of the room was a raised golden dais. It was about five feet across and nearly three feet high.
The Gods were ranged around it in a semicircle, facing him. Vulcan slipped into an empty space in the line, and Forrester stood perfectly alone, holding the cylinders.
Zeus cleared his throat. "Step up on the dais," he said.
Stumbling slightly, Forrester managed to do so without losing his grip on the cylinders.
In the center of the raised platform, with the Gods staring at him, he felt like something under a microscope.
"William Forrester," Zeus said, and he shuddered. The All-Father's voice had never been more powerful. "William Forrester, from this moment onward you will renounce your present name. You will be known as Dionysus the Lesser until and unless it shall please us to confer another name on you. Henceforth, you will be, in part, a recipient of the worship due to Dionysus, and you will hold the rank of demi-God. Do you accept these judgments and this honor?"
Forrester gulped. A long time seemed to pass. At last he found his voice. "I do," he said.
"Very well," Zeus said.
The Gods joined hands and closed the circle around Forrester, surrounding him completely. The golden auras that shone about their bodies grew more and more bright. Forrester clutched the golden cylinders tightly.
Then, very suddenly, there was an explosion of light. Forrester thought he had staggered, but he was never sure. Everything was too bright to see. Dizziness began, and grew.
The room whirled and tipped. Somewhere a great organlike note began, and went on and on.
Forrester convulsed with the force of a single great burst of energy that crashed through his nervous system.
And then, in a timeless instant, everything went black.
The morning of the Autumn Bacchanal dawned bright and clear—thanks to the intervention of the Pantheon. In New York, the leaves were only just beginning to turn, and the sun was still high enough in the sky to make the afternoons warm and pleasant. Zeus All-Father had promised good weather for the festival, and a strong, warm wind from the Gulf of Mexico was moving out the crisp autumn air before the sun had risen an hour above the horizon.
The practicing that had gone on in thousands of homes throughout the city was at an end. The Autumn Bacchanal was here at last, and the Beginning Service, which had started in the little Temple-on-the-Green right at dawn, when the sun's rays had first touched the tops of New York's towers, was approaching its end. The people clustered in the building, and the incomparably greater number scattered outside it, were feeling the first itch of restlessness.
Soon the Grand Procession would begin, starting as always from the Temple-on-the-Green and wending its slow way northward to the upper end of Central Park at 110th Street. Then the string of worshippers would turn and head back for the Temple at the lower end of the Park, with fanfare and pageantry on a scale calculated to do honor to the God of the festival, to outshine not only every other festival, but every past year of the Autumn Bacchanal itself.
The Autumn Bacchanal was devoted to the celebration of the harvest, and more specifically the harvest and processing of the grape. All the wineries for hundreds of miles around had shipped hogshead after hogshead and barrel after barrel of fine wine—red, white, rose, still, or sparkling—as joyous sacrifice to Dionysus/Bacchus, and in thanks that the fertility rites of the Vernal Bacchanal had brought them good crops. Wine flowed from everywhere into the city, and now the immense reserves were stacked away, awaiting the revels. Even the brewers and distillers had sent along their wares, from the mildest beer to vodka of 120 proof, joining unselfishly in the celebration even though, technically, they were not under Dionysian protection at all, but were the wards of Ceres, the Goddess of grain.
Celebrants, liquors, chants, preparations, balloons, confetti, edibles and all the other appurtenances of the festival spiraled dizzyingly upward, reaching proportions unheard of throughout history. And, in a back room at the Temple-on-the-Green, the late William Forrester sat, trying to forget all about them, and suffering from a continuous case of nerves.
Diana marched up and down in front of him, smacking her left fist into her calloused little right palm. "Now listen," she said crisply. "I know you're all hot and bothered, kid, but there's no reason to be. You're doing fine. They love you out there."
"Sure I am," Forrester said, unconvinced.
"Well, you are," Diana said. "You just got to have confidence, that's all. Keep your spirits up. Tried singing?"
"Singing, kid. Raises the spirits."
Forrester blinked. "Really?"
"Take it from me," Diana said. "How about Tenting Tonight?"
"How about what?"
"Tenting Tonight," Diana said. "You know."
"I—guess I do." Forrester wished that Diana would do more than treat him like a pal. She was a remarkably beautiful woman, if you liked the type, and Forrester liked virtually any type.
Now, success appeared to be within his grasp. But it did seem an odd time to bring the subject up. Oh, well, he thought, maybe she was just trying to cheer him up and had picked this way of doing it.
It worked, too, he told himself happily.
He cleared his throat. "Where?"
Diana stared. "Where?"
"That's right," Forrester said. Something was going wrong but he couldn't discover what it was. "The tenting."
"Oh," Diana said. "Right here. Now. Raises the spirits."
"I should say it does!" Forrester agreed enthusiastically. "But after all—right here—"
"Don't worry about it, kid. Nobody will hear you."
"Anyway, it's nothing to be ashamed of. Lots of people do it when they feel low."
"I'll bet they do," Forrester said. "But it's different with you and me."
"Me?" Diana said. "What do I have to do with it? I just told you—"
"Well, sure. And here and now is as good a time and place as any."
Diana stepped back a pace. "Okay, let's hear it. Sing!"
"Sing? You mean I have to sing for my—"
"I'll join you," Diana said.
Forrester nodded. He was beginning to get confused. "You'd better," he said.
"Tenting tonight on the old camp grounds," she sang. "Now come on."
Forrester coughed. "Oh," he said. "Sing."
"Sure," Diana said, and they went through the song together. "How about another chorus?" she asked.
"It's all right, Diana," Forrester said, knowing she preferred the name to her Greek one of Artemis. "I feel fine now."
"Well," Diana said in a disappointed voice, "all right."
What surprised Forrester most was that he did feel fine. All the Gods had helped him in the past several months, but Diana had been especially helpful. As a forest Goddess, and as Protectress of the Night, she'd been able to tell him a lot about how an orgy was arranged. He had often wished that she would teach by example, but now, he discovered, it was too late for wishing.
She was, he told himself with only faint regret, just like a sister to him. Or even a brother.
"I guess everything will be okay," he said. "Won't it?"
Diana clapped him on the back. "You're going to be great. Just go out there and show 'em what kind of a God you are."
"But what kind of a God am I?"
"Just keep cool, kid. You won't fail me—I know it."
"I'll try," Forrester said. "Only I'm getting nervous just sitting around here. I wish we could go out and stroll around; we've got plenty of time, anyhow."
Diana nodded. "It's ten minutes yet before the Procession starts. I suppose we might as well take a look around, kid, if it makes you feel better."
"Fine, then. But how do you want to go?"
Forrester blinked. "How?"
"Invisibility," Diana said, "or incognito?"
"Oh," Forrester said. Then he added: "You're asking me?"
"Of course I am, kid. Now, look: this is your celebration, remember? You're Dionysus. Got it? Even in my presence, you act the part now. You ought to know that."
"Well, sure, but—"
"Keep this in mind. These people haven't had a Sabbatical Bacchanal in seven years. Every seven years they get to see their God—and this year you're it. Right?"
"I guess so. But—"
"No buts," Diana said. "You're the boss and they're your worshippers. That's all there is to it. Now, you've got to make up your mind. What'll it be?"
Forrester thought. "Well," he said at last, "I guess it had better be incognito. With this crowd, there's too much likelihood of getting bumped into if we're invisible. Right?"
Diana grinned. "That's the boy! You're thinking straight now!"
Forrester had the sudden feeling that he had just passed another test. But he didn't quite dare ask about it "All right," he said instead. "Let's go."
He put his mind to work concentrating on the special faculties that his demi-God power gave him. His face began to change. He looked less and less like Dionysus as the seconds went by, and more and more like William Forrester. At the same time, the golden aura around his body began to fade. After a few minutes he looked like William Forrester completely, a nice enough guy but pretty much of a nonentity.
Diana, with the greater power of a true Goddess, achieved the same sort of result almost instantly. Her aura was gone and the sparkle had left her eyes. Her brown hair looked a little mousy now, and her face was merely pretty instead of being gloriously beautiful.
"Just one thing," Forrester said. "We'd better make ourselves invisible just to leave the Temple. Somebody might suspect we weren't ordinary people at all."
"Right again," Diana smiled. She nodded her head and blinked out.
Forrester could still see a cloudy outline of her in the room, but he knew that was because he was a demi-God, with special powers. An ordinary mortal, he knew, would see nothing at all.
He followed her into invisibility and walked out the back door of the Temple-on-the-Green. The door was open and two Temple Myrmidons, wearing the golden grape-clusters of Dionysus on their shoulder patches, stood outside the door. Neither of them saw Forrester and Diana leave.
* * * * *
Three minutes later, they were standing near the doorway of the Temple, watching the preparations for the Grand Procession. The fifty priests of Dionysus gathered there while the enormous crowd pushed and shoved to get a better view of the ritual. The sacrifice of the first fruits had been completed, and now, at the door of the Temple, each of the fifty priests filled a chalice from a huge hogshead of purple wine.
They chanted a prayer in unison and spilled half the wine on the ground as a libation. Then they lifted the chalices to their lips and drank, finishing the other half in one long motion.
The chalices were set down, and a cheer rose from the crowd.
The Bacchanal had begun!
The priests separated into two equal groups. Twenty-five of them started northward, marching to their positions at regularly spaced intervals in the procession. The remaining twenty-five stayed behind, ready to accompany Dionysus himself at the tail of the parade.
Each of the other Gods was represented by a special detachment of ten Myrmidons, each contingent wearing the distinctive shoulder patch of the God it served: the thunderbolt of Zeus, the blazing sun of Apollo, the pipes of Pan, the sword of Mars, the hammer of Vulcan, the poppy of Morpheus, the winged foot of Mercury, the trident of Neptune, the cerberus of Pluto, the peacock of Hera, the owl of Athena, the dove of Venus, the crescent of Diana, and the sprig of wheat that represented Mother Ceres. The Myrmidons grinned in expectation of the good times coming; a Dionysian festival was always something special, and competition for the contingents was always tough.
There were balloons everywhere, as the crowd shoved and pushed into the line of march. Someone was bawling an old song about the lack of liquor, and the strident voice carried over the shouts and halloos of the mob:
"How dry I am—"
Forrester and Diana, now visible, pushed their way through the crowds. A man flung his arm around the Goddess with abandon, shouting something indistinguishable; Diana shook him off gently and went on. Forrester almost tripped over a small boy sitting on the grass and crying. A Myrmidon was standing over him, and the child's mother was trying to lift the boy.
"I wanna go to the orgy," the boy kept saying. "I wanna go to the orgy."
"Next year," the mother told him. "Next year, child, when you're six."
The Myrmidon lifted the child and carried him away. The mother shouted an address after him, and the Myrmidon nodded, pushed his way through a gesticulating group of celebrants and disappeared in the direction of Central Park West. There, other Dionysian Myrmidons were patrolling, making sure that no non-Dionysian got in except by special invitation. Any non-Dionysian who wanted to celebrate was supposed to do it on the streets of the city, and not in Central Park, which was going to be crowded enough with legitimate revelers.
The shouting and screaming went on, people pushing and shoving, confetti beginning to drift like a light snow over the worshippers. One man held five balloons and a cigarette, and he was popping the balloons with the cigarette tip, one by one. Every time one of the balloons exploded, a group of women and girls around him shrieked and laughed.
Forrester turned back. Behind a convenient bush, he and Diana made themselves invisible again, and re-entered the Temple-on-the-Green.
The silence inside the Temple was deafening.
"The noise out there could break eardrums," Forrester complained. "I've never heard anything like it."
"Just wait," Diana told him. "The music will start any time now—and then you'll really hear something." She paused. "Ready?"
Forrester glanced down at himself. "I guess so. How do I look?" He had constructed a golden chiton and mentally clothed himself in it. It was covered by a grape-purple cloak embroidered with golden grapevines. And around his head a circlet of woven grapevines had appeared, made of solid gold. It was a little heavier than Forrester had expected it would be, but it lent him, he thought, rather a dashing air.
"Great," Diana said. "Just great."
"Think so?" Forrester said, feeling rather pleased.
"Sure you do. Now go out there and give 'em the old college try."
Forrester gulped. "How about you?"
"Me? I'm on my way out of here. This is your show, kid. Make the most of it."
Forrester watched her go out the rear door. He was alone. And the Autumn Bacchanal Processional was about to begin.
Noise! Forrester, seated in the great golden palanquin supported by twelve hefty Priests of Dionysus, had never seen or heard anything like it. He waited there on the steps of the little Temple-on-the-Green for the Procession to wind by, so that he could take his place at the end of it. But the Procession looked endless.
First came a corps of Priests and Myrmidons, leading their way stolidly through the paths of Central Park. Following them came the revelers, a mass of men and women marching, laughing, singing, shouting, dancing their way along to the accompaniment of more music than Forrester had ever dreamed of.
The Dionysians had practiced for months, and almost everything was represented. There were violinists prancing along, violists and a crew of long-haired gentlemen and ladies playing the viol da gamba and the viol d'amore; there were guitarists plunking madly away, banjo players strumming and ukelele addicts picking at their strings, somehow all chorusing together. In a special pair of floats there were bass players, bass fiddle players and cellists, jammed tightly together and somehow managing to draw enormous sounds and scratches out of the big instruments. And behind them came the main band of musicians.
The woodwinds followed: piccolo players piping, flutists fluting, oboe players, red-cheeked and glassy-eyed, concentrating on making the most piercing possible sounds, men playing English horns, clarinets, bass clarinets, bassoons and contra-bassoons, along with men playing serpents and, behind them, a dancing group fingering ocarinas and adding their bit to the general tumult, and two women tootling madly away on hoarse-sounding zootibars.
And then, near the center of the musicians, were the brass: trumpets and trumpets-a-piston, trombones and valve trombones and Fulk horns, all blatting away to split the sky with maddening sound, Sousaphones and saxophones and French horns and bass horns and hunting horns, and tubas along in their own little cart, six round-cheeked men lost in the curves of the great instruments, valiantly blowing away as they rolled by into the woods of the park, making the city itself resound with tremendous noise and shattering cadence. And behind them was the battery.
Kettle drums, bass drums, xylophones, Chinese gongs, vibraphones, snare drums and high-hat cymbals paraded by in carts, banged and stroked and tinkled enthusiastically by crew after crew of maddened tympanists. And then came the others, on foot: tambourines and wood blocks and parade cymbals and castanets. At the tail of this portion of the Procession came a single old man wearing spectacles and riding in a small cart drawn by a donkey. He had white hair and he was playing on a series of water-glasses filled to various levels. His ear was cocked toward the glasses with painstaking care. He was entirely inaudible in the general din, but he looked happy and satisfied; he was doing his bit.
After him followed a group of entirely naked men and women playing sackbuts, and another group playing recorders. Bringing up the rear, as the Procession curved, was a magnificent aggregation of men and women yowling away on bagpipes of all shapes and sizes. All of the men wore sporrans and nothing more; the women wore nothing at all. The music that emanated from this group was enough to unhinge the mind.
And then came the keyboard instruments, into the middle of which the five theremin-players had been stuck for no reason at all. The strange howls of this unearthly instrument filtered through the sound of pianos, harpsichords, psalters, clavichords, virginals and three gigantic electric organs pumping at full strength.
And bringing up the very rear of the Procession was a special decorated cart, full of color and holding a lone man with long white hair, wearing a rusty black suit and playing away, with great attention and care, on the largest steam calliope Forrester had ever met. Jets of steam fizzed out of the top, and music bawled from the interior of the massive thing as it went by, trailing the Procession into the woods, and the entire aggregation swung into a single song, hundred upon hundreds of musicians and singers all coming down hard on the opening strains of the Hymn to Dionysus:
"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the Lord who rules the wine— He has trampled out the vintage of the grapes upon the vine!"
The twelve Priests picked up the palanquin and Forrester adjusted his weight so they wouldn't find it too heavy. It was impossible to think in the mass of noise and music that went on and on, as the Procession wound uptown through the paths of Central Park, and the musicians banged and scraped and blew and pounded and stroked and plucked, and the great Hymn rose into the air, filling the entire city with the bawled chorus as even the twelve Priests joined in, adding to the ear-splitting din:
"Glory, Glory, Dionysus! Glory, Glory, Dionysus! Glory, Glory, Dionysus! While his wine goes flowing on!"
Forrester had always been disturbed by what he thought might have been a double meaning in that last line, but it didn't disturb him now. Nothing seemed to disturb him as the Procession wound on, and he was laughing uproariously and winking and nodding at his worshippers as they sang and played all around him, and the hours went by. Halfway there, he fished in the air and brought down the small golden disks with the picture of Dionysus on them that were a regular feature of the Processional, and flung them happily into the crowd ahead.
Only one was allowed per person, so there was not much scrambling, but some of the coins pattered down on the various instruments, and one landed in the old gentleman's middle-C water glass and had to be fished out before he could go on with the Hymn.
Carousing and noisy, the Procession finally reached the huge stand at the far end of the park, and the music stopped. On the stand was a whole new group of musicians: harpists, lyrists, players of the flageolet and dulcimer, two men sweating over glockenspiels, a group equipped with zithers and citharas and sitars, three women playing nose-flutes, two men with shofars, and a tall, blond man playing a clarino trumpet. As the Procession ground to a halt, this new band struck up the Hymn again, played it through twice, and then stopped.
Seven girls filed out onto the platform in front of the musicians. One was there representing every year since the last Sabbatical Bacchanal. Forrester, riding high on the palanquin, beamed down at them, roaring with happy laughter. They were all for him. Having been carried to one end of the park in triumph, he was now to march back at the head of his people, surrounded by seven of the most beautiful girls in New York.
Their final selection had been left, he knew, to a brewery which had experience in these matters. And the girls certainly looked like the pick of anybody's crop. Forrester beamed at them again, stood up in the palanquin and spread his arms wide.
Then he sprang. In a flying leap, he went high into the air and did a full somersault, landing on his toes on the stage, twenty-five feet away. The girls were kneeling in a circle around him.
"Come, my doves!" he bellowed. "Come, my pigeons!" His Godlike golden baritone carried for blocks.
He grabbed the two nearest girls by their hands and helped them to their feet. They blushed and lowered their eyes.
"Come, all of you!" Forrester shouted. "We are about to begin the revels!"
The girls rose and Forrester gestured them in closer. Then, surrounded by all seven, he threw back his head again.
"A revel to make history!" he roared. "A revel beyond the imagination of man! A revel fit for your God!"
The crowd cheered wildly. Forrester picked up one of the girls, tossed her into the air and caught her easily as she descended. He set her on her feet and put his hands solidly on his hips.
"My cup!" he shouted. "Fill you my cup!"
Behind the stage was a corps of Priests guarding a mountainous golden hogshead of wine, adjudged the finest wine produced during the year.
"We shall have drink!" Forrester shouted. "We shall let the revels roar on!"
Two priests came forward, staggering under the weight of a gigantic crystal goblet containing fully two gallons of the clear purple liquid. They bore it to Forrester with great pomp, and before them came a dozen players on the gahoon and the contra-gahoon, making Forrester's ears ring with deafening fanfares.
Forrester took the great goblet in one hand and held it with ease. Then he lifted it into the air with a wordless shout, filled his lungs and laughed. He put the goblet to his lips and drained it in a single long motion. A mighty hurrah shook the trees and rocks of the park.
Forrester waved the goblet. "Again. Fill you my cup once more!" He embraced the seven girls with one sweeping gesture of his arms. "My little beauties must have drink! Fill you the cup!"
He passed it back to the Priests carefully. They received it and went back to where the others were waiting to fill it. Then they staggered forward again and Forrester picked up the brimming goblet. He held it for the girls, each of whom tried to outdrink the others. But it was still more than half-full when they were finished.
Forrester raised it again. The crowd shouted. "Observe your God!" Forrester roared. "Observe his powers!" He threw his head back and emptied the goblet. Then, holding it in one hand, he faced the assemblage and delivered himself of one Godlike belch.
The crowd shrieked its approval. Forrester had the goblet filled once more and put three of the girls in charge of it. Then he came down the steps from the platform and began the long march back to the Temple-on-the-Green.
The shouting, carousing revelers followed him joyfully. Halfway back, one of them stumbled forward and caught at the trailing edge of his robe. There was an immediate crackle and burst of static electricity, and the stumbler fell back yelping and shaking his arms. The Myrmidons came and took him away.
Dionysus couldn't be touched by anyone except those authorized to do so—the seven girls and the Priests. But Forrester barely noticed the accident; he was too happy on top of his world, laughing and hugging the girls close to him.
Behind him, the Priests at the golden hogshead, now set free to taste the wine themselves, had lost no time. They were dipping in busily with their own goblets—a good deal smaller than the two-gallon crystal one for Dionysus himself. There was not even any need for libations; enough ran over the brimming edges of the goblets to take care of that detail, and the Priests were soon well on the way to becoming sozzled.
The musicians, now joined by the corps which had waited on the uptown stage, struck up a new tune, and drowned out even the shouting crowds as they cheered their God. After a little while, the crowds began to sing along with the magnificent noise:
"Dionysus wrapped his hand around the goblet, Around the goblet—around the goblet— Dionysus wrapped his hand around the goblet, And we'll all get—stinking drunk!"
It was by no means an official hymn, but Forrester didn't mind; it was sung with such a great deal of honest enthusiasm. He himself did not join in the singing; he was otherwise occupied. With his arms around two of the girls, drinking now and then from the great goblet three more were holding, and winking and laughing at the extra two, he made his joyous way down the petal-strewn paths of Central Park.
The Procession wound down through the paths, over bridges and under tunnels, singing and playing and marching and dancing madly, while Forrester, at its head, caroused as merrily as any four of them. They reached a bridge crossing a little stream and Forrester sprang at it with a great somersaulting leap that carried the two girls he was holding right along with him. He set them down at the slope of the bridge, laughing and giggling and the other girls, with the Procession behind them, soon caught up. Forrester let go of one of the girls, grabbed the goblet with his free hand and swung it in a magnificent gesture.
"Forward!" he cried.
The Procession surged over the bridge, Forrester at its head. He grabbed the girl again, handing the goblet back to his corps of three carriers, and bowed and grinned at his worshippers behind him, surging forward, and at some others standing under the bridge, ankle-deep, shin-deep, even knee-deep in the rushing water, craning their necks upward to get a really good view of their God as he passed over. There were over a hundred of them there.
Forrester didn't see a hundred of them.
He saw one of them first, and then two more. And time seemed to stop with a grinding halt. Forrester wanted to run and hide. He clutched the girls closer to him with one instinctive gesture, and then realized he'd made the wrong move. But it was too late. He was lost, he told himself dolefully. The sun had gone out, the wine had lost its power and the celebration had degenerated to a succession of ugly noises.
The first face he saw belonged to Gerda Symes.
In that timeless instant, Forrester felt that he could see every detail of the soft, small face, the dark hair, the slim, curved figure. She was smiling up at him, but her face looked a little bewildered, as if she were smiling only because it was the thing to do. Forrester wondered, panic-stricken, how she, an Athenan, had managed to get entry to a Dionysian revel—but his wonder only lasted for a second. Then he saw the second and third faces, and he knew.
The second face belonged to an absolute stranger. He looked like an oafish clod, even viewed objectively, and Forrester was making no efforts in that direction. He had one arm around Gerda's waist and he was grinning up at her, and, sideways, at Forrester with a look that made them co-conspirators in what was certainly planned to be Gerda's seduction. Forrester didn't like the idea. As a matter of fact, he hated it more than he could possibly say.
But all he could do was trust to Gerda's own doubtless sterling good sense. She couldn't possibly prefer a lout like her current escort to good old Bill Forrester, could she?
On the other hand, she thought Bill Forrester was dead. She'd had to think that; when he became Dionysus the Lesser, he couldn't just disappear. He had to die officially—and, as far as Gerda knew, the death wasn't just an official formality.
With Bill Forrester dead, then, had she turned to the oaf for comfort? He didn't look very comforting, Forrester thought. He looked like a damned outrage on the face of the Earth. Forrester disliked him on first sight, and knew perfectly well that any future sights would only increase the dislike.
It was the third face, though that explained everything.
The third face was as unmistakable as Gerda's, though in an entirely different way. It was fleshy and pasty, and it belonged, of course, to Gerda's lovable brother Ed. Forrester saw everything in one flash of understanding.
Ed Symes obviously had enough pull to get his sister invited to the Bacchanal. And from the looks of Gerda, he hadn't let the matter rest there. She was holding a half-filled plastic mug of wine in one hand—a mug with the picture of Dionysus stamped on it, which for some reason increased Forrester's outrage—and she was trying her best to look as if she were reveling.
From the looks of her, Ed had managed to get her about eight inches this side of half-pickled. And from the horribly cheerful look on Ed's countenance, he wasn't about to stop at the half-pickled mark, either.
Of course, from Ed's point of view—and Forrester told himself sternly that he had to be fair about this whole thing—from Ed's point of view there was nothing wrong in what was happening. He wanted to cheer Gerda up (undoubtedly the news of the Forrester demise had been quite a shock to her, poor girl), and what better way than to introduce her to his own religion, the best of all possible religions? The Autumn Bacchanal must have looked like the perfect time and place for that introduction, and Gerda's escort, a friend of Ed's—somehow Forrester had to think of him as Ed's friend; it was clearly not possible that he was Gerda's—had been brought along to help cheer the girl up and show her the advantages of worshipping Dionysus.
Unfortunately, the advantages hadn't turned out to be all that had been expected of them. Because now Gerda had seen Forrester alive and—
Wait a minute, Forrester told himself.
Gerda hadn't seen William Forrester at all.
She had seen just what she expected to see; Dionysus, God of Wine. There was no reason for him to shrink from her, or try to hide. Just because he was walking along with seven beautiful girls, drinking about sixteen times the consumption of any normal right-thinking fish, and carousing like the most unprincipled of men, he didn't have to be ashamed of himself.
He was only doing his job.
And Gerda did not know that he wasn't Dionysus.
The thought made him feel a little better, but it saddened him, too, just a bit. He set himself grimly and shouted: "Forward!" once more. To his own ears, his voice lacked conviction, but the crowd didn't seem to notice. The cheered frantically. Forrester wished they would all go away.
He started forward. His foot found a large pebble that hadn't been there before, and he performed the magnificent feat of tripping on it. He flailed the air frantically, and managed to regain his balance. Then he was back on his feet, clutching at the girls. His big left toe hurt, but he ignored the agony bravely.
He had to think of something to do, and fast. The crowd had seen him stumble—and that just didn't happen to a God. It wouldn't have happened to him, either except for Gerda.
He got his mind off Gerda with an effort and thought about what to do to cover his slip. In a moment he had it. He swore a great oath, empurpling the air. Then he bent down and picked up the stone. He held it aloft for a second, and then threw it. Slowly and carefully he pointed his index finger at it, extending it and raising his thumb like a little boy playing Stick-'Em-Up.
"Zap," he said mildly, cocking the thumb forward.
A crackling, searing bolt of blue-white energy leaped out of the tip of his index finger in a pencil-thin beam. It sped toward the falling pebble, speared it and wrapped it in coruscating splendor. Then the pebble exploded, scattering into a fine display of flying dust.
The crowd stopped moving and singing immediately.
Only the musicians, too intent on their noisemaking to see what had gone on, went on playing. But the crowd, having seen Forrester's display and heard his oath, was as silent as a collection of statues. When a God became angry, each was obviously thinking, there was absolutely no telling what was going to happen. Foxholes, some of them might have told themselves, would definitely be a good idea. But, of course, there weren't any foxholes in Central Park. There was nothing to do but stand very still, and hope you weren't noticed, and hope for the best.
Even Gerda, Forrester saw, had stopped, her face still, her hand lifted in a half-finished wave, the plastic cup forgotten.
I've got to do something, Forrester thought. I can't let this kind of thing go on.
He thought fast, spun around and pointed directly at Ed Symes, standing in the water below the bridge.
"You, there!" he bellowed.
Symes turned a delicate fish-belly white. Against this basic color, his pimples stood out strongly, making, Forrester thought, a rather unusual and somewhat striking effect. The man looked as if he wished he could sink out of sight in the ankle-deep water.
His mouth opened two or three times. Forrester waited, getting a good deal of pleasure out of the simple sight. Finally Symes spoke. "Me?"
"Certainly you! You look like a tough young specimen."
Symes tried to grin. The effect was ghastly. "I do?" He said tentatively.
"Of course you do. Your God tells you so. Do you doubt him?"
"Doubt? No. Absolutely not. Never. Wouldn't think of it. Tough young specimen. That's what I am. Tough. And young. Tough young specimen. Certainly. You bet."
"Good," Forrester said. "Now let's see you in action."
Symes took a deep breath. He seemed to be savoring it, as if he thought it was going to be his very last. "Wh—what do you want me to do?"
"I want you to pick up another stone and throw it. Let's see how high you can get it."
Symes was obviously afraid to move from his spot in the water. Instead of going back to the land, he fished around near his feet and finally managed to come up with a pebble almost as big as his fist. He looked at it doubtfully.
"Throw!" Forrester said in a voice like thunder.
Symes, galvanized, threw. It flew up in the air. Forrester drew a careful bead on it, went zap again with the pointed finger, and blasted the rock into dust.
The silence hung on.
Forrester laughed. "Not a bad throw for a mortal! And a good trick, too—a fine display!" He faced the crowd. "Now, there—what do you say to the entertainment your God provides? Wasn't that fun?"
Well, naturally it was, if Dionysus said so. A great trick, as a matter of fact. And a perfectly wonderful display. The crowd agreed immediately, giving a long rousing cheer. Forrester waved at them, and then turned to a squad of Myrmidons standing nearby.
"Go to that man and his friends!" he shouted, noticing that Symes's knees had begun to shake.
The Myrmidons obeyed.
"See that they follow near me. Allow them to remain close to me at all times—I may need a good stone-thrower later!"
Gerda, her brother and the oaf without a name were rounded up in a hurry, and soon found themselves being hustled along, willy-nilly, out of the water, up onto the bridge and into Dionysus' van, where they followed in the wake of the God, in front of the rest of the Procession. Of the three, Forrester noted, Gerda was the only one who didn't seem to think the invitation a high honor. The sight gave him a kind of hope.
And at least, he thought, I can keep an eye on her this way.
The Procession wended its way on, bending slowly southward toward the little Temple-on-the-Green again. The musicians played energetically, switching now from the hymn to their unofficial little ditty. Some switched before others, some switched after, and some never bothered to switch at all. The battery, caught between the opposing claims of two perfectly good songs and a lot of extraneous matter, filled in as best they could with a good deal of forceful banging and pounding, aided by the steam calliope, and the result of all effort was a growing cacophony that should have been terribly unpleasant but somehow wasn't.
The shouting of the crowd, joking and singing, may have had something to do with it; nothing was clearly distinguishable, but the general feeling was that a lot of noise was being produced, and that was all to the good. Noise could have been packaged by the board foot and sold in quantities sufficient to equip every town meeting throughout the country in full for seven years, and there would have been enough left over, Forrester thought, to provide for the subways, the classrooms, the offices and even a couple of really top-grade traffic jams.
Gerda and the others of her party marched quietly. Ed, Forrester noticed, tried a few cheers, but he got cold stares from his sister and soon desisted. The oaf shambled along, his arm no longer around Gerda's waist. This pleased Forrester no end, and he was in quite a happy mood by the time the Procession reached the Temple-on-the-Green.
He was so happy that he performed his atoning high jump once again, this time with a double somersault and a jack-knife thrown in, just to make things interesting, and landed gently, feeling positively exhilarated and very Godlike, on the roof of the Temple.
As the Procession straggled in, the music stopped. Forrester cleared his throat and shouted in his most penetrating roar to the silent assemblage: "Hear me!"
The crowd stirred, looked up and paid him the most rapt attention.
"On with the revels!" he roared. "Let the dancing begin! Let my wine flow like the streams of the park! Let joy be unrestrained!"
He stood on the roof then, watching the crowd begin to disperse. It was the middle of the afternoon, and Forrester was amazed at how quickly the time had passed. The Procession itself had taken a good six hours from start to finish, now that he looked back on it, but it certainly hadn't seemed so long. And he didn't even feel tired, in spite of all the dancing and cavorting he had gone in for.
He did feel slightly intoxicated, but he wasn't sure how much of that feeling was due purely and simply to the liquor he had managed to consume. But otherwise, he told himself, he felt perfectly fine.
The musicians were breaking up into little groups of three and four and five and going off to play softly to themselves among the trees. The man with the steam calliope sat exhausted over his keyboard. The old man with the water glasses was receiving the earnest congratulations of a lot of people who looked like relatives. And now that the official music-making was over, a lot of amateurs playing jews'-harps and tissue-paper-covered combs and slide-whistles had broken out their contraptions and were gaily making a joyful noise unto their God. If, Forrester thought, you wanted to call it joyful. The general tenor of the sound was a kind of swooping, batlike whine.
Forrester stared down. There were Gerda and her brother and the oaf. They were standing close by the Temple, three Myrmidons keeping guard over them. The rest of the crowd had dissolved into little bunches spreading all over the park. Forrester knew he would have to leave, too, and very soon. There were seven girls waiting for him down below.
Not that he minded the idea. Seven beautiful girls, after all, were seven beautiful girls. But he did want to keep an eye on Gerda, and he wasn't sure whether he would be able to do it when he got busy.
Somewhere in the bushes, someone began to play a kazoo, adding the final touch of melancholy and heartbreak to the music. The formal and official part of the Bacchanal was now over.
The real fun, Forrester thought dismally, was about to begin.
"Now," Forrester said gaily, "let's see if your God has all the names right, shall we?"
The seven girls seated around him in a half-circle on the grass giggled. One of them simpered.
"Hmm," Forrester said. He pointed a finger. "Dorothy," he said. The finger moved. "Judy. Uh—Bette. Millicent. Jayne." He winked at the last two. They had been his closest companions on the march down. "Beverly," he said, "and Kathy. Right?"
The girls laughed, nodding their heads. "You can call me Millie," Millicent said.
"All right, Millie." For some reason this drew another big laugh. Forrester didn't know why, but then, he didn't much care, either. "That's fine," he said. "Just fine."
He gave all the girls a big, wide grin. It looked perfectly convincing to them, he was sure, but there was one person it didn't convince: Forrester. He knew just how far from a grin he felt.
As a matter of fact, he told himself, he was in something of a quandary.
He was not exactly inexperienced in the art of making love to beautiful young women. After the last few months, he was about as experienced as he could stand being. But his education had, it now appeared, missed one vital little factor.
He was used to making love to a beautiful girl all alone, just the two of them locked quietly away from prying eyes. True, it had turned out that a lot of his experiences had been judged by Venus and any other God who felt like looking in, but Forrester hadn't known that at the time and, in any case, the spectators had been invisible and thus ignorable.
Now, however, he was on the greensward of Central Park, within full view of a couple of thousand drunken revelers, all of whom, if not otherwise occupied, asked for nothing better than a good view of their God in action. And whichever girl he chose would leave six others eagerly awaiting their turns, watching his every move with appreciative eyes.
And on top of that, there was Gerda, close by. He was trying to keep an eye on her. But was she keeping an eye on him, too?
It didn't seem to matter much that she couldn't recognize him as William Forrester. She could still see him in action with the seven luscious maidens. The idea was appalling.
All afternoon, he had put off the inevitable by every method he could think of. He had danced with each of the girls in turn for entirely improbable lengths of time. He had performed high-jumps, leaps, barrel-rolls, Immelmann turns and other feats showing off his Godlike prowess to anyone interested. He had made a display of himself until he was sick of the whole business. He had consumed staggering amounts of ferment and distillate, and he had forced the stuff on the girls themselves, in the hope that, what with the liquor and the exertion, they would lie down on the grass and quietly pass out.
Unfortunately, none of these plans had worked. Dancing and acrobatics had to come to an end sometime, and as for the girls, what they wanted to do was lie down, not pass out—at least not from liquor.
The Chosen Maidens had been imbued, temporarily, with extraordinary staying powers by the Priests of the various temples, working with the delegated powers of the various Gods. After all, an ordinary girl couldn't be expected to keep up with Dionysus during a revel, could she? A God reveling was more than any ordinary mortal could take for long—as witness the ancient legend concerned the false Norse God, Thor.
But these girls were still raring to go, and the sun had set, and he was running out of opportunities for delay. He tried to think of some more excuses, and he couldn't think of one. Vaguely, he wished that the real Dionysus would show up. He would gladly give the God not only the credit, he told himself wearily, but the entire game.
He glanced out into the growing dimness. Gerda was out there still, with her brother and the oaf—whose name, Forrester had discovered, was Alvin Sherdlap. It was not a probable name, but Alvin did not look like a probable human being.
Now and again during the long afternoon, Forrester had got Ed Symes to toss up more rocks as targets, just to keep his hand in and to help him in keeping an eye on Gerda and her oaf, Alvin. It was a boring business, exploding rocks in mid-air, but after a while Symes apparently got to like it, and thought of it as a singular honor. After all, he had been picked for a unique position: target-tosser for the great God Dionysus. Who else could make that statement?
He would probably grow in the estimation of his friends, Forrester thought, and that was a picture that wouldn't stand much thinking about. As a stupefying boor, Symes was bad enough. Adding insufferable snobbishness to his present personality was piling Pelion on Ossa. And only a God, Forrester reminded himself wryly, could possibly do that.
Now, Forrester discovered, Symes and Alvin Sherdlap and Gerda were all sitting around a large keg of beer which Symes had somehow managed to appropriate from some other part of the grounds. He and Alvin were guzzling happily, and Gerda was just sitting there, whiling away the time, apparently, by thinking. Forrester wondered if she was thinking of him, and the notion made him feel sad and poetic.
Gerda couldn't see him any longer, he knew. The darkness of night had come down and there was no moon. The only illumination was the glow rising from the rest of the city, since the lights of the park would stay out throughout the night. To an ordinary mortal, the remaining light was not enough to see anything more than a few feet away. But to Forrester's Godlike, abnormally perceptive vision, the park seemed no darker than it had at dusk, an hour or so before. Though the Symes trio could not possibly see him, he could still watch over them with no effort at all.
He intended to continue doing so.
But now, with darkness putting a cloak over his activities, and his mind completely empty of excuses, was the time to begin the task at hand.
He cleared his throat and spoke very softly.
"Well," he said. "Well."
There had to be something to follow that, but for a minute he couldn't think of what.
Millicent giggled unexpectedly. "Oh, Lord Dionysus! I feel so honored!"
"Er," Forrester said. Finally he found words. "Oh, that's all right," he said, wondering exactly what he meant. "Perfectly all right, Millicent."
"Call me Millie."
"Of course, Millie."
"You can call me Bets, if you want to," Bette chimed in. Bette was a blonde with short, curly hair and a startling figure. "It's kind of a pet name. You know."
"Sure," Forrester said. "Uh—would you mind keeping your voices down a little?"
"Why?" Millicent asked.
Forrester passed a hand over his forehead. "Well," he said at last, thinking about Gerda, only a few feet away, "I thought it might be nicer if we were quiet. Sort of private and romantic."
"Oh," Bette said.
Kathy spoke up. "You mean we have to whisper? As if we were doing something secret?"
Forrester tightened his lips. He felt the beginnings of a strong distaste for Kathy. Why couldn't she leave well enough alone? But he only said: "Well, yes. I thought it might be fun. Let's try it, girls."
"Of course, Lord Dionysus," Kathy said demurely.
He disliked her, he decided, intensely.
There was a little silence.
"Well," Forrester said. "You're all such beautiful girls that I hardly know how to—ah—proceed from here."
Millicent tittered. So did one of the others—Judy, Forrester thought.
"I wouldn't want any of you to feel disappointed, or think you were any lower in my estimation than—than any other one of you." The sentence seemed to have got lost somewhere, Forrester thought, but he had straightened it out. "That wouldn't be fair," he went on, "and we Gods are always fair."
The sentence didn't ring quite true in Forrester's mind, and he thought he heard one of the girls snicker, but he ignored it and went bravely on.
"So," he said, "we're going to have a little game."
Millicent said: "Game?"
"Sure," Forrester said, trying his best to sound enthusiastic. "We all like games, don't we? I mean, what's an orgy—I mean, what's a revel—but a great big game? Isn't that right?"
"Well," Bette said doubtfully, "I guess so. Sure, Lord Dionysus, if you say so."
"Well, sure it is!" Forrester said. "Fun and games! So we'll play a little game. Ha-ha."
Kathy looked up at him brightly. "What kind of game, Lord Dionysus?" she asked in an innocent tone. She was an extravagantly pretty brunette with bright brown eyes, and she had been one of the two he had held in his arms during the Procession back from the uptown end of the park. Thinking it over now, Forrester wasn't entirely sure whether he had chosen her or she had chosen him, but it didn't really seem to matter, after all.
"Well, now," he said, "it's going to be a game of pure chance. Chance and nothing more."
"Like luck," Bette contributed.
"That's right—uh—Bets," Forrester said. "Like luck. And I promise not to use my powers to affect the outcome. Fair enough, isn't it?"
"Certainly," Kathy said demurely. There was really no reason for him to be irritated by the girl, so long as she was agreeing with him so nicely. Nevertheless, he wasn't quite sure that she was speaking her mind.
"Oh," Millicent said. "Sure."
Bette nodded. "Uh-huh. I mean, yes, Lord Dionysus."
Forrester waved a hand. "No need for formality," he said, and felt like an ass. But none of the girls seemed to notice. Agreement with his idea became general. "Well, let's see."
His eyes wandered over the surrounding scenery in quiet thought. Several Myrmidons were scattered about twenty feet away, and they were standing with their backs to the group as a matter of formality. If they had turned around, they couldn't have seen a thing in the darkness. But they had to remain at their stations, to make sure no unauthorized persons, souvenir-hunters, musicians, special-pleaders or just plain lost souls intruded upon great Dionysus while he was occupied.
The Myrmidons were the only living souls within that radius, except for Forrester himself and his bevy—and the Symes trio.
His gaze settled on them. Ed Symes, he noticed with quiet satisfaction, was now out cold. Forrester thought that the little spell he had cast on the beer might have had something to do with that, and he felt rather pleased with his efforts, at least in that direction. Symes was lying flat on his back, snoring loudly enough to drown out all but a few notes from the steam calliope, which was singing itself loudly to sleep somewhere in the distance. Near the prone figure, Gerda was trying to fend off the advances of good old Alvin Sherdlap, but it was obvious that the sheer passage of time, plus the amount of liquor she had consumed, were weakening her resistance.
Forrester pointed a finger at the man. The one thing he really wanted to do was to give Alvin the rock treatment. One little zap would do it, and Alvin Sherdlap would encumber the Earth no more. And it wasn't as if Alvin would be missed, Forrester told himself. It was clear from one look at the lout that no one, anywhere, for any reason, would miss Alvin if he were exploded into dust.
The temptation was very nearly irresistible, but somehow Forrester managed to resist it. He had been told that he had to be extremely careful in the use of his powers, and he had a pretty good idea that he wouldn't be able to justify blasting Alvin. Viewed objectively, there was nothing wrong with what the oaf was doing. He was merely following his religion as he understood it, and the religion was a very simple one: when at an orgy, have an orgy.
Gerda didn't have to give in if she didn't want to, Forrester thought. He tried very hard to make himself believe that.
But his finger was still pointed at the man. He didn't stop his powers entirely; he merely throttled them down so that only a tiny fraction of the neural energy at his command came into play. The energy that came from the tip of his finger made no noise and cast no light. It was not a killing blow.
Invisibly, it leaped across the intervening space and hit Alvin Sherdlap squarely on the nose.
The results were eminently satisfactory. Alvin uttered a sharp cry, let go of Gerda and fell over backward. His legs stood up straight in the air for a second, and then came down to hit the ground. He was silent. Gerda stared down at him, too tired and confused to make any coherent picture out of what was going on.
Forrester sighed happily to himself. That, he thought, ought to take care of Alvin for a while.
"Lord Dionysus," Kathy asked in that same innocent tone, "what are you pointing at out there?"
The girl was decidedly irritating, Forrester thought. "Pointing?" he said. "Ah, yes." He thought fast. "My target-tosser. I fear that his religious fervor has led to his being overcome."
The girls all turned round to look but, of course, Forrester thought, they could see nothing at all in the darkness.
"My goodness," Bette said.
"But if he's unconscious," Kathy put in, "why were you pointing at him?"
Forrester told himself that the next time the Sabbatical Bacchanal was held, he would see to it that an intelligence test was given to every candidate for Dionysian Escort, and anyone who scored as high on it as Kathy would be automatically disqualified.
He had to think of some excuse for looking at the man. And then he had it—the game he had planned. It was really quite a nice little idea.