Can the love of a man heal the heart of a god?
Fertility god Anthos, a shy and gentle three-hundred-year-old virgin, has grown up in the shadow of his brutal older brother Dryas and spent his life hiding from mortals, no matter how much his nature draws him to them.
Cleon, a humble farmer who always has room in his heart and his bed, knows that Lord Dryas is angry. The crops aren’t growing, and his family is going to starve if he doesn’t give the god a worthy sacrifice—his own body. But when he reaches the shrine, he finds a very different god, the sweet, untouched Anthos.
Eager to satisfy Anthos’ curiosity, Cleon shows him what sex is…and what a relationship between them could be, with their instant attraction blooming into love. But when Dryas returns with a vengeance and Cleon’s life hangs in the balance, Anthos is forced to make a choice.
Will he bow once more before his brother’s rage, or take a stand for the only man who has ever had faith in him?
Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of abusive behavior, double penetration, voyeurism, exhibitionism and violence.
Cleon’s heart sank as he walked the rows of his family’s field, scanning for a single green shoot and finding none. The barley was two weeks late for sprouting—if it didn’t start growing soon, his family would starve come winter.
“Anything?” his little sister Amara asked as he left the field. Her hands were wringing the fabric of her peplos skirt even as her eyes said she knew the answer.
“Not one,” he said. “Any eggs from the chickens?”
“Not one,” she echoed. “The gods must be angry at us.”
That was the only explanation Cleon could think of, too. Dryas, their local fertility and forest god, was known for his temper. It would take very little provocation for him to withdraw his blessings.
The family gathered in front of their modest farmhouse, worried faces gazing at their patriarch. Cleon, the eldest son and the only one unmarried, glanced at the other members of the household. Amara sat beside him, while his twin younger brothers sat with their wives, both of whom were pregnant with their first children. They had no servants, no field hands, just them.
“We have to beg Lord Dryas for his forgiveness,” their father said, pacing back and forth. “Someone must go to the shrine and pay tribute. Whatever it takes, this curse on our farm must be lifted!”
“W-whatever it takes?” Amara asked nervously.
“Yes,” their father said gravely, words heavy with guilt. “Whatever it takes.”
His children looked at one another, eyes wide with anxiety. They wouldn’t say it out loud for fear of angering the god, but they knew what their father was asking. Dryas’ tastes in tribute were usually carnal and never kind. None of them had any illusions about what would happen to whoever went to plead their case, but there was no other option.
Cleon looked from face to face. Neither of his brothers had any taste for men, and it would be cruel to send either of their wives to such a fate, especially pregnant as they both were. As for Amara, the thought made his stomach twist in disgust. There was only one choice.
“I’ll go,” he said, getting to his feet.
“Are you sure?” Amara asked. “You know what—what he’ll do to you.”
“I know,” Cleon said, trying to sound brave. “But I’ve been with men, so it won’t be so bad for me as it would be for one of you.”
It was weak reasoning, but none of the others had anything better. Cleon was tall and strong, hardy enough to take some punishment and tan from hard labor in the sun. He was no Adonis, but he’d been called ruggedly handsome by past lovers, and he’d earned every muscle on his arms and chest. Dryas preferred pretty youths and maidens over men in their late twenties, but hopefully the god would accept his tribute anyway.
Cleon bathed in the river, combed his black hair and trimmed his short beard, brown eyes watching his reflection in a still pool. He prepared his body as best he could with slick oil and shaking fingers, hoping to reduce the inevitable pain. Finally, he donned their newest, finest tunic, the one Amara had woven and each of his brothers had worn for their weddings, and picked up their offerings with white-knuckled hands. There was nothing left to do but go.
Cleon gave his family the bravest smile he could muster, and they smiled back with pinched, anxious faces—all save his father, whose eyes were solemn and dark with guilt, and Amara, who was crying in his arms. Cleon squared his shoulders and turned resolutely toward the woods. He would face any terror and endure any hardship, if only he could save his loved ones from starvation.
The worn dirt path led deep into the forest, twisting and turning on the way to the shrine. Dappled light slipped through the swaying branches as chittering squirrels fled his passage to peer down at him from the trees.
He suppressed a shiver. These woods were old and sacred, the domain of a cruel and capricious god. At least Lord Dryas didn’t like live animal sacrifices—Cleon would hate to make this trek with a squawking, struggling chicken in his arms. Instead, he had a small jug of spiced wine, a half-dozen honey cakes and his own body…no matter how meager his offerings, they would have to be enough.
He had been to the shrine before as part of the harvest festival, placing the fruits of the year’s labors before the god’s great throne. Those had been times of song and drink and dance, honoring Dryas’ bounty and appeasing his temper with revelry and praise. The god had always chosen one or more young worshippers for his pleasure, and the thought made Cleon nearly sick. It always took them days to recover, if not weeks, and their eyes remained haunted for far, far longer.
This time the shrine was empty, the ring of marble pillars standing silent around the sacred oak. At the base was the god’s throne, grown out of the living wood, made for a nine-foot giant of a being. Cleon could remember looking up at him during the last festival—his eyes dark and cold, his legs those of a black deer and his antlers spreading like ancient, gnarled branches.
“Hello?” Cleon called, looking around for the shrine’s priest. The little hut next to the sacred circle was empty, but that shouldn’t have been a surprise. Lord Dryas tended to discard his priests when they turned twenty-five, and he must not have found a new one yet. It seemed like Cleon would have to beg for divine intervention on his own.
He walked to the stone altar and tried to keep his hands from shaking as he kindled the sacred flames. He doused the honey cakes in wine then fed them to the fire. The offerings were more than his family could really afford, but still they seemed too little. Finally, Cleon knelt before the great throne, pressing his forehead to the grass and trying to look as humble and pathetic as possible.
“Oh Lord Dryas, god of the forest and the field,” he prayed. “I beg your forgiveness! Whatever sin my family or I have committed against you, I humbly offer these gifts to appease your wrath.”
There was a deep, terrifying silence broken only by the blood pounding in Cleon’s ears. He dug his fingers into the grass, eyes squeezed shut, praying with all his might. If Dryas didn’t answer—
“Uh…yeah…” The voice was so small and hesitant that Cleon almost missed it. “Not your fault, really…”
Cleon’s head snapped up and he scanned the treeline. He didn’t see the speaker at first, looking for a taller shape, but when he finally found him…
Oh gods, the young man was exactly Cleon’s type. He looked to be twenty or a little younger, cute and small and beardless, with willowy arms and a bare, slender chest. His eyes were a vivid green against sun-bronzed skin dusted with faint freckles, and his light brown curls looked delightfully soft. He was blushing prettily, shifting from foot to foot and biting his full, kissable lower lip.
“Um, hello,” Cleon said when he could remember how words worked. He struggled to stay on task—he was here to save his family, not get distracted by a pretty face. “I don’t suppose you know where the forest god is?”
“That’s the thing,” the youth said, ducking his head bashfully. “I kind of…am the forest god?”
Cleon frowned at him. The young man might be cute, but he was clearly delusional. Yes, the gods could take other forms, but the idea of Lord Dryas becoming so small and adorable was ridiculous.
“I wouldn’t say that if I were you,” Cleon said. “Lord Dryas is not known for his merc—”
He stopped, eyes widening as the young man stepped out into the clearing on slender, delicate hooves. Deer hooves, just like Lord Dryas’. Unlike Dryas, though, his flanks were dappled with faint white spots and tawny brown to match his hair. What Cleon had assumed to be branches above the youth’s head revealed themselves to be antlers, short and nubby and covered in soft-looking velvet.
Cleon’s heart plummeted like a stone. This was no mortal boy, or even a common satyr. There was an aura about him—the trees leaning in just a little to bask in his presence, the sunlight glowing off his skin. He might be different from Dryas, but there was no denying that Cleon was in the presence of a god.
“Please forgive me, great one!” he cried, groveling once more in sudden terror. He already had one god angry at him and he wouldn’t survive a second. “I had no idea—I am so sorry—”
“No, don’t be,” the youth said, sounding weary and miserable. “I’m a pretty terrible god, to be honest.”
“What do you mean, my lord?” Cleon asked, daring to raise his eyes from the grass. The godling was shifting awkwardly from hoof to hoof, not looking at Cleon.
“Your farm,” he said. “It’s my fault nothing’s growing. My big brother left last month and I…well…”
“You mean Lord Dryas?” Cleon asked.
The youth nodded, biting his lower lip in an adorable way, and Cleon couldn’t help a twinge of relief. His farm was still in trouble, but at least this god seemed willing to help.
“I’ve been trying, I really have,” the godling said, running his hands through his hair. The gesture revealed adorable little pointed ears, and Cleon had to fight to stay focused. “I just don’t know how to make it work!”
“My lord—” Cleon started, sitting back up on his knees.
“Anthos, please.” The god ducked his head. “I’m not used to…it feels weird.”
“Anthos,” Cleon said, “what exactly is the problem?”
Anthos sighed, walking over and sitting on the grass a few feet from Cleon. He pulled his fuzzy knees up to his chest, hugging them close and staring at the ground.
“I’m a fertility god,” Anthos explained. “I’m in charge of new life, new growth…or I am now. My brother took care of things for so many centuries that I never learned how to do it. Now he’s gone, it’s my job, and I can’t do anything.”
“He never taught you?” Cleon asked.
“We’re not Olympians!” Anthos cried, eyes flicking up to Cleon and face turning bright red. “Only the highest gods do…that with their siblings.”
“Oh,” Cleon said, blushing too. “Uh, sorry. I didn’t mean—”
“No, no, it’s fine,” Anthos said, dropping his gaze again. “But that’s the problem—it requires personal experience. I can’t make things fertile until I’ve, you know…had sex.”
“Oh,” Cleon breathed. His heart was beating faster now, his throat going dry as he stared at Anthos. “Would a mortal do? A man?”
“Yeah,” Anthos said with a mirthless little chuckle, “if anyone wanted me. Big brother always said nobody would want to sleep with a puny, pathetic runt.”
Rage flared up in Cleon, all the hotter for its rarity. He’d revered and feared Lord Dryas all his life, burying resentment deep in his heart. The gods could be cruel or kind to mortals—that was their right—but this? The thought of treating his own siblings like this made Cleon ball his hands into fists, and a lifetime of suppressed hatred boiled over. For the first time in his life, he spoke ill of a god.
“You’re not a runt!” Cleon cried. “Your brother was a cruel bastard! He made whole families starve…he set wolves on their flocks and took any man or woman he pleased! I bet he cut down your confidence because he was scared of you. Anyone would prefer a god like you over him!”
“R-really?” Anthos gasped, looking up with wide, shocked eyes.
“As long as you don’t send a famine when there aren’t enough dancing girls at your festival,” Cleon said, belly clenching in remembered hunger. “We worshipped him because we were afraid, but nobody liked him.”
“And you…you like…me?” Anthos asked, voice soft and hopeful.
Cleon opened his mouth then closed it again, unsure of what to say. His flirting experience said this was going pretty well, but how was he supposed to proposition a god? He was just a farmer, rough and rugged and no great beauty. Anthos was so out of his league it wasn’t even funny.
Still, in for an obol, in for a drachma. The god didn’t seem like the type to curse someone for asking, and if he said yes…
“I like you a lot,” Cleon said earnestly, “and I’d really like to kiss you.”
“I…” Anthos licked his lips, his gaze lowering. “I’d like that too.”
Cleon scooted forward slowly, like he was approaching a skittish deer. He reached out to cup one cheek, tawny-gold and warm. Sun-dappled lashes fluttered, the godling’s green eyes falling closed as he leaned in with bated breath.
The first kiss was soft and gentle, just a chaste brush of lips. It was a little thing, but it still sent a thrill through Cleon, a surge of desire. His body knew what Anthos was, something wild, ancient and divine. By the time they pulled away, his cock was hard and twitching.
Anthos let out a soft little sigh when they parted. He gave Cleon a shy smile, nervous and sweet.
“Again?” he asked, as though Cleon might say no. Could say no.
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About the Author
AT Lander has loved stories, both the reading and the telling, since she was a child. Born in upstate New York to an English professor and a former librarian, she now lives in the queerest part of Massachusetts. She never leaves home without a knitting project or a pencil, and she’s never met a cat she doesn’t like.
She has worked as an history museum guide, a professional storyteller, and an actress, sharing tales of what was, what could have been, and what can only be imagined. World mythology is her driving passion, as what better way to understand a people than through the tales they tell?
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