A flask of wine, a book of verse, and thou

Sebastian had just tied his dressing-gown belt around his waist and was stepping into his slippers when the butler tapped discretely at his bedroom door.  He paused, one foot above a pale purple slipper and the other still indenting the plush carpet, then sighed gently.

"Yes, Meade?"

"A visitor, Sir."  The butler's voice was youthful and light, almost girlish, and again Sebastian wondered whether his sudden decision to employ him had really been his own.  "He says you know him."

"Does he say who he is?"  There was a hint of frustration in his voice; Meade seemed to think that Sebastian could deduce the identity of guests from the barest hints of information.

"A Mr. Bacchus, Sir."  There was more deference in Meade's voice suddenly, as though he had more respect for Sebastian's visitor than for Sebastian himself.

"Show him in, I'll greet him in the sitting room.  And... and you may as well open the brandy."  There was silence after his words, and Sebastian hoped that Meade was obeying.  He looked at his foot, still hovering in mid-air, and decided that the slippers were less preferable than bare feet for entertaining.  The dressing-gown, however, being deep burgundy, three-quarter length and worn over silk pyjamas, would be entirely suitable and would suggest that the visitor shouldn't stay too long.

When Sebastian opened the sitting room's second door, the one on the private side of the house, he saw the door that opened to the public side just closing, and a tall, willowy, effeminate figure closing in on the open bottle of brandy on a Queen Anne sideboard.

"You," said Sebastian.  "Is it a day for tormenting me?  Are there any more of you coming over?"

Dionysus turned, his boyish face beaming with a broad smile and his eyes not-quite focussing.  "Sebastian!  I was just passing through, I thought I might stop in and see how you are.  A quick night-cap with an old friend, surely!"  His hands reached for the brandy bottle and two heavy glasses.  "I've left the leopard in the hall; it was thoughtful of you to provide food for him already.  You must have known I was coming, did Ate tell you?  She's a minx!"

"What?  What leopard?  What food?  How much brandy?"  Sebastian's bewilderment increased with each question, and there was definite shock at the site of two brimming brandy snifters in each of Dionysus's hands, one being offered to him.

"White fluffy thing, barked a little.  Briefly."  Dionysus giggled and Sebastian took the brandy glass to try and quell the impulse to slap him.

"My poodle?!"  Sebastian's hand shook, spilling brandy, and a frown creased Dionysus's brow.  "You fed my poodle to your leopard?  What leopard?  You never had a leopard before!"

"I never brought him over before," said Dionysus reproachfully.  "I'm not sure I will again either, you're not being very hospitable.  And you're still spilling your drink."  There was a strong tone of reproach now.  "Look, Basta, we think of you as family, you know that--"

"I'm not family!  I barely know any of you, for all you keep telling me I'm an old friend!  You all just turn up when you feel like it and ruin my life and act like it's some huge joke.  I feel like I'm in some kind of Greek Tragedy!"

"Oh, it's not a joke, Basta.  Not a joke at all.  But perhaps there are some things you still need to find out.  A little bit of background reading, you'll like that.  You're an academic."  Dionysus sipped from his glass and somehow half of the liquid in it disappeared.

"I am reading up about you!  I've changed the focus of my research, and--"

"Good boy.  You'll need this as well then."  A thin, leather-bound book appeared in Dionysus's hand as though it had always been there.  From somewhere outside a howl rose like a hundred maddened dogs.  "Read it carefully."

"What is it?  And what's that noise?"

"The book is poetry.  The noises are... perhaps we can agree to call them camp followers?"

"As camp as--" Sebastian started, and then realisation washed over him like a wave of ice-water.  "Maenades?  In my garden?"

"Time I was leaving, perhaps," said Dionysus, leering at Sebastian.  "So nice to see you again.  Let me leave you the leopard as a replacement for the poodle.  It's time I upgraded to a newer model anyway.  A trophy-leopard, if you will!"

The End

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