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Vesta, goddess of the hearth, was taking her leisure in her garden when she was startled from her reverie.
"Auntie Vesta!" cried the cheerful voice of her uninvited visitor. "So good to find you here!"
The portly god who greeted her was Bacchus, god of wine. Vesta sighed and inwardly cringed. In truth, she would have preferred a visit from any other god, even Vulcan, who at least remained civil when he kept his temper in check. Vesta supposed Bacchus may have been tolerable when sober but it was a hypothesis that was impossible to test!
Still, she was the goddess of the hearth after all. She couldn't really bring herself to be a poor hostess, even to an unwelcomed guest.
"Greetings Bacchus, Son of my Brother Jupiter. May I offer you refreshment?"
"Refreshment? Refreshment, she says! That is precisely the matter which brings me to your abode!" the jovial god said to her breasts. "I knew you were the one deity in all of Olympus who would best appreciate my feat! Refreshment is the first thing to jump to her able mind and precisely the reason for my visit. Yes--refreshment indeed! Ha-ha!"
Vesta pointedly pulled up her toga, which had been showing more cleavage than she was want to, and looked disparagingly at the younger deity.
"Bacchus, you are clearly more drunk than is even your norm. Pray, speak your peace and the reason for your visit. I have no patience with riddles."
"Your pardon, Divine Auntie, please!" the round-faced god apologized, "It is but the excitement of my new creation which drives me to such ebullience while in turn it drives me to seek your wisdom."
So saying, he revealed a large earthen jug from the basket he carried and presented it to her.
"Not another of your spirits! By Jove, Bacchus, when will you be content with the grape? That nasty stuff you made from figs last century should have convinced you to stop this foolish experimentation! Wine of the grape is the only beverage you have ever produced that is fit for the table. So says the goddess of the hearth!"
"Not so hasty, my dear goddess," smiled Bacchus, "This is no experiment; it is a veritable miracle!"
"Really, Bacchus," Vesta objected, "If you must continue with your 'innovations' test them out on someone with a less delicate palate like Neptune or Pluto. That uzo stuff you made left my tongue numb! I'm not going to try any more of your ridiculous... oh my!"
Her protestation ended when she smelled the golden liquor that Bacchus poured into a crystal chalice. The odor was powerful yet delicate, intricate and all together divine.
"As I said," beamed Bacchus, "This is not my usual offering."
Unable to help herself, Vesta lifted the chalice and sniffed the golden liquid. The complex odors scampered through her nasal passages like happy children. The goddess' eyes went wide.
"Bacchus, what in the heavens is this?"
The rotund deity preened with pride.
"That, my dear Vesta, is pure, undiluted, fully fermented... ambrosia!"
"Fermented ambrosia?" Vesta asked, amazed. "I didn't think that was possible!"
"Damn near impossible!" exclaimed Bacchus, "I've been trying to do it since before Minerva was even a tiny crack in Dad's forehead!"
"And... does it taste like..."
"Well try it, Vesta, try it!" Bacchus pushed. "Words can't describe the taste!"
"Oh, yes... well then, try it I shall."
The goddess of the hearth raised the glass to her lips...
Portia sighed as the temple came into view. That was where she would stay the night. It was still about three hours until sundown, but the only other temple she could reach in that time was dedicated to Mars and she would have no hope of a good nights sleep there! So she had no choice but to impose upon the vestal virgins.
The eunuch guards looked mournfully at the scarlet sash around Portia's waist that marked her as a priestess of Venus. She smiled pityingly at them. They made no move to stop or question her; Any traveling priestess was allowed to seek shelter in the temple of Vesta, even a priestess devoted to The Goddess of Love.
The vestal virgins themselves were less likely to be so welcoming. The blonde girl who stood watch at the inner gates scowled at her. Portia resolved herself to put her best face on the thing.
"Greetings, servant of Vesta!" she exclaimed, "As a wandering priestess of your Divine Mistress' Kinswoman, I seek lodging for the night."
The girl made no attempt at all to sound civil in her obligated response: "Any priestess of the Gods of Rome may take succor at the Hearth of Vesta. Enter and be comforted."
Then she added with a biting self-righteousness: "Though I had always heard that the priestesses of Venus prefer other lodging."
This was true, of course. Portia had been on the road for 12 days now and each night she had had her pick of lodging. Everyone was glad to welcome a priestess of Venus. The only problem was, while they were glad to give her the best bed in the house, she was given little time to sleep in it. Inevitably, she was called on to perform her clerical rites. All of them. Often on damn near every member of the household. She had spent last night at a hostel of the Roman legions and hadn't slept a wink! The residue of the legionnaires' rites still clung to her in places. She needed a bath and a rest!
"I believe my cousin is a priestess here," Portia told the young vestal. "Since I was passing by, I thought it would be nice to renew acquaintances."
The diminutive door maiden raised an eyebrow. Clearly she had a preconception of what sort of families produced priestesses of Venus and they weren't the sort that produced priestesses of Vesta.
"What is the name of your cousin?" she asked.
"Marla," Portia answered, "Marla of Verona."
The flaxen-haired young lady got a rye look on her face.
"Marla is indeed one of our sisterhood," she conceded. "Given your familial ties, no doubt she will want to be the one to present you to High Priestess Palonia, so I will forgo that... honor... and deliver you to your kinswoman."
"Thank you," said Portia, "You are too kind."
The priestess of Venus followed the young vestal as she led her in silence. Portia didn't know why the vestal virgins had to be so uptight!
Well, that wasn't really true. At the very least she had a good theory. It had to do with the connection that all gods had with their clergy to some extent or another. Communing with Venus during the rites had certainly effected Portia herself. Her libido hadn't been nearly so strong before her initiation. She had likewise seen how her childhood friend Amacus had become more violent after performing the blood rites of Mars as the war god's vassal. Communing with a god inevitably lead you to acquire the traits of that god. Naturally, the vestal virgins acquired the traits of Vesta.
But Portia felt it went deeper than that. A priestess of Venus only tapped into the Divine Libido during the love rites. Apart from that time, Venus pretty much let her be. The Love Goddess couldn't very well have her clergy tapped into her psyche all the time, what with her colorful social life among gods and men. Day to day life would be constantly disrupted by the Goddess' Divine Orgasms.
But Vesta, Portia suspected, was such the control freak that she might very well require her priestesses to stay in constant communion with her. The constant contact with the goddess' psyche, along with her mandate of virginity, was bound to make anyone a bit... uptight. Portia worried what it might have done to Marla.
The young vestal led her to the kitchen where four other virgins were engaged in the unending task of preparing the hearth bread. The one that shared her honey-colored ringlets Portia immediately recognized as her cousin Marla, despite their twelve year separation.
"UmHm!" said Portia's guide, drawing the attention of all the bakers. "Marla, this 'priestess' claims to be your cousin and seeks lodging with us for the night. Since she's your kinswoman, I thought you should be the one to tell Mistress Palonia."
Four pairs of eyes seized upon the scarlet sash about Portia's hips and then three pairs went to the honey-haired vestal. Marla's eyes went to her feet and she blushed and generally acted like she needed to pee.
"I... I never expected to see you here, Portia," she said.
"Well, I didn't really expect to come here myself, but here I am," said Portia, quickly loosing patience with her cool reception here. She should have just spent the night in the woods but now that she had made her request she would be damned if she was going to back down in the face of prudish self-righteousness!
"Well, every priestess has the right to seek shelter in the house of Vesta," Marla said, more to her fellow virgins than to her cousin. It saddened Portia to be greeted this way. She and Marla had been friends in their childhood.
"Thank you for your hospitality," she said, nodding formally.
"Well, I... I guess we have to announce your presence to Mistress Palonia."
.... There is more of this story ...