My Year With The Gods

By Holden Braithwaite

Fantasy, Action & adventure, Romance, Historical fiction, General fiction, Paranormal

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818
14 mins

First six chapters are free on Kindle

~ ~ ~
An independent review:
- “Exhausting and exhilarating. A paradox of a novel. I read it and then read it again. It's that kind of book. A zany new voice in the world of adventure fiction will surely draw an eclectic mix of fans from across the globe.
So what's it all about? Southern Arabia, 534 AD. Rome might have fallen, but its gods still hold sway - and cause mayhem - right across the Middle East. The main character of this insane novel is the chilled-out, dope-smoking god, Hermes (Mercury) temporarily disguised as a beautiful Greek sandal maker called Demetrius who women can’t take their eyes off. His mission: to find Lesbia, his long-lost, only love. And 'long' is very much the appropriate word: they last met 500 years ago. To help him in his quest, Demetrius is joined by two terrifying women/goddesses and an 11-year-old idiot.
This is a novel of crazy characters, insane plots and sub-plots, great one-liners and zero political correctness. Truly the work of a tormented genius. Who else would come up with a cast of (pearl) diving nuns, priapic eunuchs and Ethiopian hemp farmers? Told in a laconic, ironic style, the author manages to manipulate his readers on almost every page. Expect to laugh, cry and - at times - turn away in disgust. You will feel every emotion - even the odd glow of Mills & Boon 'ahhh' - except boredom.
This is a roller-coaster of a novel, a compulsive page-turner, which keeps you guessing right to the end. Will Demetrius finally be re-united with Lesbia - or her sandals? Will the wicked tyrant of Eudaemon pull off the orgy to end all orgies? Will Andromeda and Scheherazade finally start pulling men rather than women? Will the village idiot ever remember his name? And will the nuns ever go surfing in India - with the help of a flying horse they just might.”
~ ~ ~
. . . My patience paid off at night when the most recent wife of the sultan, still anonymously cloaked in her black niqab and abaya, stepped on deck for some air after the dhow cleared the port of Eudaemon.
“Mistress Adara,” I hissed from the shadows of some deck cargo. She looked slowly around, so anyone observing her would think she was looking out to sea.
“How do you know my name? My voyage is secret.” she hissed venomously.
“I recognized your foot.”
“You're mad.”
“Yes, mistress,” I mumbled, beside myself with excitement. “Yours is the most beautiful and desirable ankle in all the harem.”
She gasped, shocked. “How do you know that? Who are you?” Urgency and a note of panic creeping into her voice.
“Show yourself. Or I'll have you thrown to the sharks.” Her hand moved to the jeweled dagger she had on her belt.
I inched forward behind the bales just enough so only she could see my face in the moonlight. I was so excited to see her again, like the impossible had come true.
“It's me,” I managed to gargle, before my neurons shorted and rationality went downhill fast.
She gasped. “My God! The Greek's babbling idiot. What are you doing here?”
I mumbled some polyglot in 'tongues' even I didn't understand.
“Not that. Imbecile. Stop talking your Greek and Roman rubbish.”
Peering more closely at me, she stopped abruptly and pulled her niqab off her head to see me more clearly. “But you're not. . . What devilry is this, idiot? You're not a girl.”
“No, mistress,” I said, hanging my head, shamed by the serial deception she had been victim of in the immediate past.
“But when you came to the palace. . .to read for the sultan . . . and came into the harem all those times. My God! I can't believe this. . . You were a girl.”
“Everything was false, mistress. A ruse of my saintly wise master. He trained me in the art of makeup and disguise. And whenever I went out in the street. And to the palace it was always as a girl. To protect me from roving slavers and that predatory pedophile husband of yours. If he realized I was a boy he would've enslaved me as a babbling freak to amuse his degenerate guests.”
She breathed heavily, shocked and burdened by this.
“How did you get on board? Everybody's looking for you.”
“Why mistress? All I did was burn the scrolls as my master bade me.” This was not entirely true. He told me to burn them. But as they were clearly much sought after, and therefore of great value, I hid them away with the gold he gave me. And set alight to the house instead to cover my deception.
“And half the town with it.”
“An administrative oversight.”
“You're insane. And all the body parts found in the countryside and washed up on the beaches? What about them?”
“Evil lackeys who deserved no better end for all the misery they caused the living.”
“They were the sultan's men sent to find you.”
“You're better away from that place, mistress. The sultan was planning a diabolical Roman orgy to seal his new alliance with the Emir of Karne. The most vile and unnatural acts have been scripted from the scrolls. Women from his own harem will play starring roles.”
She stared at me agog. “From his own harem?” she repeated incredulous.
“Yes. Nothing pure would remain un-corrupted. . . In his galloping megalomania he wants to stage a Roman orgy to end all orgies. But lacks the education and imagination to create it himself. That's why he summoned my late master. To translate the ancient scrolls and feed his perverted mind with scenarios considered so morally corrosive on Roman youth they were only ever kept in the original Greek in far flung libraries of the empire.”
Her lip trembled.
“Yes, mistress. If you knew the half of what troubles my head, your dinner would be over the side feeding the fishes.”
“Why did you read the scrolls and not your master?”
“When he realized his eyesight was failing faster than he thought, he read each scroll to me so I would remember the words I saw as his finger moved under them. That way I could read them back. And translate any passage as required.”
“Incredible.” She stared vacantly out at the shimmering moon light on the sea. . . “Then idiot, what you've just told me confirms my worst fears.”
“Sit here, mistress. I'm all ears,” I said, directing her to a bale of merchandise close by.
She did, and I slipped her sandals off and made her mine.
“Oh! Yes! How I missed your massages and disgusting love stories you told on your visits to the harem, idiot girl. Boy. Whatever you are?” she whispered, her voice heavily charged with desire. “Just don't stop.”
“Never, mistress. You were always my favorite harem wife. Your body a gift from heaven. And I your miserable addicted slave.” My deft fingers worked their magic, picking up her vibrations, communicating with her. “Now, siren of my dreams, what fears trouble you?”
She hesitated. “I heard whispers the sultan was going to divorce me because I haven't had a baby yet. And there's none on the way.”
I shook my head. “Worse, mistress. A thousand times worse. He plans to surpass what happened in the little known but outrageous orgy of Baiae, the hotbed of Roman hedonism and debauchery, south of Naples in 43 years after Christ, where Rome's most celebrated charioteer was summoned with his stable. . .”
She clasped a hand over her mouth to stifle her cry of horror. “Say no more. It's too disgusting to even imagine,” she gasped, enraged. She dragged me up, and shook me, staring into my face. “How do men dream up that shit?”
To which I had no reply. The fruits of their wicked perversions all indelibly stored in my heavy-laden head.
“I was right to escape. Wasn't I?”
“Of course, mistress. Of course. No question. To stay in his house would be suicide by another name.”
Adara studied me closely, deciding if I had all my marbles.
“The sultan's screaming mad his men are being cut in half all over the place by some maniac swordsman, or having their throats torn open by a crazy black woman with him.
“Yes, mistress. All those who oppose the sword master and the goddess of the hunt die.”
“How do you know this?”
“I travel with them. We are companions on the quest for Lesbia's sandals.”
“Lesbia's sandals? What madness is this, idiot?” She smacked me across the face. “I have no time for such nonsense. Your brain's even more addled than before.”
“But I only mean well, mistress. They're here now.”
She was shocked. “You mean they're here, now, on this dhow?”
“As we speak. The same heroic charioteer master swordsman sent by the gods to rescue the beautiful victim from an unspeakable death in Baiae five hundred years ago.”
“How's this possible?” The note of despair evident in her voice suggesting she feared I might not be the only one who had lost their mind.
“The charioteer is Demetrius, the famed sandal maker from the lane behind Dr. Massoud in Alexandria; also known as Hermes, the winged messenger and god of commerce. He travels with Andromeda, goddess of the hunt and Scheherazade goddess of fables.”
She looked at me as if I was sorely injured, and lovingly caressed my cheek.
“And they are all here, now?”
“Yes, mistress. Never fear. They will protect you whatever happens.”
She tried to smile and hesitated. “I'm going back to my father with my dowry and gold and jewels from the sultan's treasury as well to send him right off his head when he finds out.” She laughed with glee.
“His punishment hasn't begun yet,” I said.
~ ~ ~

. . . On deck under a star-filled night sky Demetrius turned me around and back again and I pointed to one star after the other and reeled off the heavenly bodies to him.
More than once I thought I heard a muffled cry of unbridled passion from the captain's cabin echo in the night. But it was only a lost seagull far from shore.
A handsome boy my age watched us from the shadows of some deck cargo. Barefoot with a rough & ready rag around his head and loose Indian cotton pants and shirt he appeared at our side.
“How can he do this?” he asked. “The captain's been teaching me the heavens all my life. And still I know nothing compared to this.”
Demetrius looks down at him. “He was cursed at birth to remember everything, . . except his own name.”
“Will you teach me?”
“No,” he said. “That's enough star gazing for one night. I'm going to have a joint and take it easy,” he chuckled. “But the kid will. Won't you, kid?”
“Sure,” I said. “And I'll tell his fortune in the bargain.”
Demetrius looked at me. “If you had to choose between telling a fortune and not making a friend for life. What would you do?”
“Have a beer and kick back with the women.”
“A very wise move,” Demetrius replied with appropriate gravitas. “Work is easy. True idleness requires courage and fortitude.”
The boy stared as us agog. Wondering if we were all still on the same plane of consciousness.
We were not.
~ ~ ~

. . . Something else left behind on the Red Sea island of Dahlak, which created quite a shock, was all seven young nuns' hair. Demetrius insisted on cutting it off, throwing away the lousy rags they called clothes and dressing them all in the dhow’s stock of crewmen's cotton shirts and trousers. With turbans around their heads nobody but seagulls would ever get close enough to see the dhow was really crewed by women and not the full complement of men they perceived at a distance.
On our return journey to Eudaemon deception would be our first line of defense.
Demetrius calmly sliced away their long matted hair with his katana, and Andromeda and Scheherazade completed the final trim with his short blade.
It was a stunning revelation. Especially for the nuns themselves, as I don't believe they'd ever imagined themselves in any other form but as castaways from society on a desert island nunnery. Or if they had, such thoughts were immediately rigorously suppressed.
Qadr, the 20-year-old acting mother superior took it all in her stride.
I overheard Scheherazade whisper to Andromeda, “She fancies him. I knew it the moment I saw her lay eyes on him. And look at her lapping it up as he cuts her hair.”
“Don't fret, baby,” Andromeda said. “She's into pain big time. There's something about the righteous mother superior I can't put my finger on right now, but trust me she knows what she's signing on for. Those two are mushroom eaters born and bred.”
“I like mushrooms and hanging out under palm trees with coconut wine and dope and surfing with dolphins.”
“And men.”
“Yes, I like body surfing with them too,” Scheherazade's voice was flat, despondent. Without hope.
Andromeda looked at her friend with a deadpan face. “Have you noticed ever since we've been with disaster man and Termite, all we seem to do is pick up women?”
“I have. They're experts at it. Who else could take a nunnery on a pleasure cruise?”
“And these babes are hot. Even if they don't know it yet.”
They didn't. When it came to dress sense, at that moment the young nuns were anything but 'hot'.
Hani had rummaged through what little was left of the stock of unbleached cotton shirts and trousers and what they saw was what they got. All wildly over sized. Pants which could be pulled up to under the arm were a source of great amusement. Shirts falling below the knee in much demand. While turbans became an essential lifestyle-changing accessory.
None of them had ever seen, let alone touched or worn clean new clothes before.
The acting mother superior saw all this through the enlightened perspective that it was Christmas come early. If the new road in search of eternal salvation required short hair, baggy pants and open over-sized shirts featuring cleavage, then so be it.
“Tell me about the touched gypsy boy with no name, they call Termite and Habibi,” she asked Delilah as she threaded a piece of coir rope around the waist of her trousers.
“He loves women.”
“That's all?”
“What more does a woman want?”
She looked at the girl with half her face hidden by a mask. “I never thought of it like that.”
“He speaks for no apparent reason, and does things even he doesn't understand. Like when sometimes his hands are not his own. But guided by a higher power. The night I boarded the ship with my mistress Adara, and Samson, he put makeup on me and changed our lives forever.”
She lent over and whispered in the nun's ear. The acting mother superior's eyes slowly widened as Delilah spun her tale. Then she laughed.
“All this through the power of love? Mascara and eye shadow?”
“I came aboard a slave. Now my mistress and her eunuch Samson are mine. Waiting for the idiot boy to unleash us. Thanks to him we know happiness and love we never knew before. This voyage should never end.”
“And Andromeda and Scheherazade. Dare I ask about them?”
Delilah laughed. “Better not to, mother. They're goddesses of the hunt and fables. Ferocious in life and love. Beautiful wild animals only the idiot boy and the charioteer can control. And even then with difficulty.”
“Hence the spiked dog collars.”
“Oh, no! That's only for fun and games after dark.”
“I see . . . And this mystery time traveller, the charioteer, sandal maker who has bought pistachios on the street called 'straight'. Who wants me to hang out with him under palm trees, surfing in Kerala. . . Who no woman can take her eyes off.”
“Go with him. He's not of this earth and will make you feel like a goddess. But he has no interest in any woman other than Lesbia.”
“But still I sense great temptation lurks.”
“It does. With the idiot boy . . . Can you imagine until now I always knew him as a girl. Every time he came into the harem to tell us wild romances and wicked funny stories and do massage, he was always masquerading as a girl.”
“And I was going to ask him to lead our bible classes,” the acting mother superior gasped.
“Do it! Do it!” Delilah urged, thrilled by the prospect of a little lively entertainment. Knowing me intimately as she did, she knew I would invariably deviate tangentially and everybody was sure to be offended.
Delilah, sweet flower of Samson's eye, was a dyed-in-the-wool anarchist after my own heart. Which is why I loved making her up. Knowing she was bent. “He will take you through your book in ways you've never imagined possible.”
“That's what I'm afraid of.”
~ ~ ~

Hani rushed away to tell Delilah she was soon to crack the whip again.
“What hasn't she seen yet, Habibi?” a voice said behind me as I stared out to sea over the rail.
“The epectasy of Saint Gregory of Nyssa,” I said quietly, turning to the acting mother superior who stood beside me. “The soul's eternal movement into God's infinite being. Younger brother of Saint Basil the Great of Caesarea, who along with Saint Amphilochios, the first cousin of their friend Saint Gregory of Nazianzos, promoted the Singleness of Being.”
She lent closer to me, her shirt front flying open so she looked like no acting mother superior I'd ever seen before. She took a cloth from my belt and wiped dribble from my chin as she looked deeply into my eyes.
“Are you taking drugs?” she whispered with the serene voice of one I knew I could never lie to without feeling crushed by guilt.
“No, mother. I have no need. But with you I feel an urge to liberate my soul that I feel with no other.”
“I'm glad. After you've made up Delilah and the women are in physical communion with Samson would you be able to lead our devotions and guide us through the Singleness of Being as taught by the Cappadocian Fathers?”
“I could.”
“And tell us about Black Sarah, patron saint of the Romani.”
“I can, with great pleasure. . . But on one condition.”
The acting mother superior looked at me with a saintly smile.
“I will massage your feet.”
“How else can I ever know how strong I am against temptation until tested?”
“You can't.”
“Then, Habibi, I will be yours late at night while the ship sleeps and you will join me to explore for ourselves the soul's eternal movement into God's infinite being.”
“I would be nowhere else.”
Delilah joined us.
“Is he being a naughty boy again?”
“He's temptation incarnate.”



Chapter 50 - A Man For All Seasons

There was chaos and hubub in the atrium with women with short hair and stained whites milling excitedly around Ahmed, while Rabbi Ezra and the notaries stood to one side, totally bewildered by the scene.
Talia and Zaida understood immediately the moment they caught a glimpse of him.
He was unrecognizable. His hair had been cut and he wore a blue turban and a spotless white seaman’s outfit from the dhow. With a strand of small sea shells around his neck.
Their thoroughbred was home.
“Mistress Talia,” Rabbi Ezra called, stepping forward as they crossed the room. He was on the wrong side of thirty and enjoyed his wife’s cooking far too much.
“Rabbi Ezra,” Talia said, seizing his hand. “Thank you so much for coming at such short notice.”
“What else can I do, mistress? I ask you. When a madman comes banging on my door, threatening to kill himself right there and then. To disembowel himself on my very doorstep in front of my wife and children, unless I come and perform a marriage service immediately, witnessed by notaries.”
Talia discreetly pressed gold coins into his hand.
“Buy your wife a nice new dress and some jewelry.”
“A dress!” he cried, choking on the words. “Mistress, if I buy her a dress. If I even suggest she buy a dress, she’ll throw me out of the house again, just like she did this morning when I wake up to find the whole town has gone mad. All the women have cut off their hair, and are wearing white seamen’s clothes and going to the palace.”
He leant closer to her. There was garlic on his breath.
“There must be something in the water. When she returned from the palace she looked at me with lust in her eyes like I never saw since the first year we were married.”
Talia laughed and touched his arm conspiratorially.
“She’s experienced the Epectasy of St. Gregory.”
The rabbi stared at her as if Abraham had just walked into the room.
“Then it’s true?” he said. “Aristophanes’ fool spoke to you in Greek?”
“Yes. But we were in the hands of the gods. We were somewhere else. . . And only women and Demetrius understood what he said. . . . And I remember none of what he said now.”
The rabbi touched her hand.
“It’s better you remember nothing. You’ve been there. You’ve done it. Trust me. It’s better that way,” he said reassuringly, but the pain on his face told of his torment.
“If I warned him once, I warned him fifty times. “Aristophanes, my friend,” I said when we would drink tea together and argue about the Torah. And I’m ashamed to say, Mistress Talia,” he said, breathing in earnestly. “That the old Greek knew more about the Talmud, the Torah and the Holy Scriptures than I ever will. And the idiot boy can recite them all from memory. He could step into my shoes this very minute and I would be out of a job, but still left with a wife and children who expect food on the table.”
“Yes, Rabbi Ezra, I understand all that. But what did you warn your old friend about?”
“I tell the Greek as he’s nearing death’s door, the idiot boy is touched by God, you know this, my friend, but there’s a limit to what even his young genius mind can handle.”
The rabbi looked at her glumly.
“He didn’t listen to me. And here’s the result.”
“What? Short hair and naked breasts.”
“No, mistress. Even the stained whites I can live with,” he said, with dread in his voice. “The idiot boy has revealed the true Epectasy of St. Gregory of Nyssa.”
“Is there a false one?”
“No, my gracious hostess. There’s one anybody can read if they care to look for it. Which even Jewish scholars have studied. And the one only Aristophanes had. The original, full and unabridged version of the epectasy, mistress. Of the soul moving into oneness of God. As Gregory dictated to his personal scribe all those years ago. A revelation which transcends all faiths. ”
“The key to the eternal cerebral orgasm,” Talia said quietly.
“Correct. But at the time publishing it would be so inflammatory and dangerous to the continued functioning of ‘normal’ society, the scribe persuaded his master to only release a heavily edited version, lest they both be burned alive by the ruler of Cappadocia.”
“They weren’t?”
“No. And as my friend told me with almost his dying breath, the original was hidden away by the scribe, and passed down from father to son, scholars all, until it ended up here with Aristophanes. Who being without issue, could only leave it in the care of an idiot gypsy boy who remembers everything except his own name.”
The rabbi waved at her open shirt.
“The result of that is in my face,” he said. “And the town’s full of women who won’t take ‘No’ for an answer.”
~ ~ ~
I opened the velvet bag and took out a huge gold Roman coin like none I had ever seen before.
“Mistress Talia bade me bring this to you, master,” I said, giving it to Farouk. “As a token of her undying loyalty and love. Everything she has to her name and whatever the harem wives can save from thieving relatives will be at your service to restore the city’s future.”
Farouk closed his eyes and choked on a sob.
I turned to his mother. She was an emotional basket-case.
“And to you, mistress Sahar, she sends her never-ending love and says to tell you that finally the curse of your father’s dowries has been broken.”
I pressed the coin into her hand.
She buried her head in Kalil’s shoulder and wept her heart out.
This would be a honeymoon on the beach few would forget in a hurry.
“Master Farouk, I have another for her cousin Juhanah,” I said, holding it up. “But she’s not here.”
Farouk blinked.
“She’s . .” He looked at Sahar. “Mother, where’s Juju?”
“Where she always is when she’s not growing flowers or spying. She’s swinging.”
Demetrius, who was there with the serenely beautiful Qadr reached out and took the gold coin from my hand.
“Kid. Did I ever tell you the story of this?” he said, breaking the heavily pregnant silence.
“No, master. I’ve never seen one like it before.”
“Nobody has,” he said, biting it. “Because this was part of only ten ever struck by the Imperial Mint in Rome five hundred years ago on the command of Emperor Vespasian. But they were stolen and disappeared without trace before they could be released to commemorate the opening of the world’s first public toilets. . . . And as such are collectibles beyond price.”
This was very comforting to know.
Suddenly from being orphans with a very grim future, Hani and I had acquired an ocean-going yacht, a horse which spoke Greek and flew, priceless antiquities and a collection of pornography even a pope would envy.
~ ~ ~
The second book follows next year: Set in 534 and 2017, when the diary is discovered and details appear of what happened in the ‘women’s revolution of 534’.
Such was the perceived power over society of the key to the eternal cerebral orgasm that some very sick dangerous people were prepared to go to any length to find and destroy the scrolls mentioned in the diary, and anything and anyone that stood in their way.
It would be their last mistake. As they didn’t understand who they were really dealing with.



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