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corona borealis

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She's the new bride, consecrated for her husband's use. All her expectations -- of being made ready, dressed and decorated, of observing pious rites and going into her husband's house -- are cast into confusion when her husband's house is wherever his procession ceases. Her bridal chamber is made of more flowers than she can name, her attendants are barefoot dusty maenads with gentle hands and wreaths of thorn-stripped roses. Nectar and milk flow freely, and the wedding dances are wild.

A rite of love, love from all comers, love without faithlessness, love without bonds, love without bounds. Dionysus catches her up in the middle of the dance, matching her pace and cleaving close against the lines of her body, minding the unsteady placement of her feet. He bears her up when she nearly swoons from the unfamiliar strength of the song -- the blood rhythm of strange voices, walled in by arms and hands, and the whirl of circling dancers.

She recovers her footing by kissing him, kissing his wide wine-red mouth, and a cheer goes up from the barefoot maenads. Looking out among them she sees old women and young, dark and fair, even some who could be her unhappy sisters. All are beautiful, transfigured by strange ecstasies into women of the woods -- bloody-kneed, ungirdled. Here and there are satyrs, too awestruck by their leader to be menacing; some have love-mad maidens hanging around their necks, or wreathing them with flowers.

Something surges from her, pours from her in good will; she looks out at the throng and sees friendly faces. Her bridegroom's face is lit with love, lovelier than any man. It's not pity that shines from his eyes, but a sort of mercy that transforms everything it touches.

The crowd parts for his passing, and he lies down beneath her amid the throng, with a fawn skin and a purple robe folded up for his couch, and with perfect clarity she slips in close atop him, brushes a stray red-gold curl from his brow only to tousle loose three more such knotted locks. She leans down to kiss him, uncertain in her movements and self-conscious of her peplos falling loose. He lifts his hips against her, sleek like a dancer.

"If you'd like," he says, and she knows what she would like.

The god is at once soft beneath her hands and a creature all muscles and sinews, fully flesh and fully real. All the dishonesty of mortal men has been winnowed away. He kisses her hair where it's fallen loose from her wedding crown, catching a snaky loop of it and pressing it in his fingers against her shoulders.

"Perfect," he says, "lovely," and in his saying them the words lose the sting of previous falsehoods.

He stirs under her and she straightens her spine, already overbrimming, electrified. She shuts her eyes and still sees the colors pressed against her fragile eyelids -- green wreaths, golden flesh, wine-dark cloth. Opening them again she sees with vision more fitting to an immortal queen than a dazzled girl. She is wreathed in the girl-soft arms of a boy who adores her and that's enough.

Against the purple field of cloth he is entirely golden from head to foot, Dionysus smells like twisted grape-stems and the torn bark of trees, but he's a real creature -- with a stray freckle in the bow of his lips and a straight flaring nose and more eyelashes than she's ever seen on a man. Kissing him -- in the ebb of bodies around them, their neighbors trailing hands over to bless their union -- is a lovely thing. She wants to look him in the face when he's inside her.

He fits into her well, the first flicker of pain giving way to pleasure; there's a pleasant soreness as he moves in her and she sinks down to draw him deeper. The god's supple fingers are on her waist, his mouth against her throat, another mouth moving at her bare breast from beneath and a bearded chin scratching at her ankle. Vine-branches are heaped around them, she twists off the leaves in her fingers and can smell the bright burst of scent even among some dozen bodies, perfumed by the earth. Girls and women kiss the wine from her lips; satyrs stroke the god's thighs, rendered pacific by his proximity, now all warm and snug and half-exhausted.

Ariadne is cast adrift among adoring bodies and she has never felt more at home. Nothing is being taken from her, nothing is bargained away or lost.