this is a little surprise birthday gift for Shachi, whom some of you may know from her Apollo Tumblr blog. This story has been years in the making but I hope it was worth the wait. Also almost a month late for her birthday 🥳
So I hope at least it comes as an actual surprise 🎊
Happy birthday, Shachi!
exomis: the tunic-like garment that leaves one breast bare that you are thinking of when you think of ancient Greek clothing. It's actually a piece of worker's clothing, so I think Apollon disguised as a shepherd would wear it. It looks like this.
kylix: the most common type of wine-drinking cup in ancient Greece. It looks like this.
Moirai: the Fates, incarnations of destiny who bend even the gods to their will.
Pherai: a polis (city state) of ancient Thessaly in Greece, ruled by King Admetos.
Phoibos: Apollon’s most popular epithet, widely used in both Greek and Roman literature. It is often used instead of Apollon’s name. Phoibos or Phoebus (lat.) means “pure, bright, radiant”.
The Locks of Phoibos
"A god must be among us." That's what they had told him. That no mere mortal could play their lyre such as they had heard. Curious, Admetos had sent for the shepherd who supposedly made music so divine the rural folk of Pherai believed him to be one of the deathless gods.
The young man who entered the throne room upon his summon was dressed in the plain garments of a shepherd boy, his skin ever struck by the rays of Helios as he spent the days outside watching his flock. Nothing out of the ordinary. But his hair! Bright and shiny as molten gold it flowed over his shoulders in long, curly locks. Beneath the humble guise the young shepherd possessed great beauty. He had brought his lyre as commanded, a simple instrument of horn and string.
"I have heard incredible things about your music, boy. Play."
The shepherd carried himself with such poise and grace as if performing at a royal court was an everyday occurrence for him. Maybe he was simple or maybe he had indeed delighted the ears of kings and their kin before. But no matter his true origins, he obeyed, picking up his lyre to draw his long, well-kempt fingers over the strings.
The sound was so heavenly, it was easy to believe him divine. His play was effortless and yet the melancholic melody tugged at the heartstrings as it spoke of broken dreams unfulfilled, of harsh destinies, and separation. It moved Admetos to tears.
The lyre fell silent. The shepherd had ended his song but all Admetos knew was that he didn't want him to leave. He longed to ask him why a trained musician paraded as a lowly shepherd, who had taught him how to master the lyre, and how he had come into his service. But all these questions made it very clear that whatever the beautiful boy's reasons, they were not happy ones. So instead Admetos said:
"My men were not wrong. Your command of your instrument is as close to perfection as any professional kitharodos can hope to be and whoever gazed upon your exceptional beauty shall be forgiven if they mistook you for one of the deathless gods who dwell on Mount Olympos. They must have blessed you with exceptional skill."
"Both the command of the lyre and great beauty are the fruit of hard work without which the gods rarely grant their blessings."
Admetos almost gaped when he heard the shepherd's voice for the first time. Despite his almost defiant tone, his speech was clear and elegant, every syllable caressing the ear. Such was the pleasure of listening, Admetos didn’t reply at first, longing for the melodious voice to speak again. After he noticed the long pause he hurried to agree:
"True, true. Athena may help you get the cart out of the mud but only if you push."
"Indeed." A small smile curled the edges of his lovely pink lips.
"What is your name?" Admetos asked, still not ready to send him away.
"Phoibos. A truthful name if I ever heard one. Did your father name you for a relative or for your shining hair?"
"For my grandmother."
Admetos would have loved to know more but he felt that asking any questions about his family could become uncomfortable. So instead he asked:
How do you, Phoibos, feel about becoming my dairy herdsman, overseeing milk and cheese production here at my palace?"
"I'd feel honoured, your majesty."
"Let us discuss your new duties over dinner tonight."
The young musician bowed his head.
"As you wish, my king."
They did not speak about his new duties at all. Not really. In fact, Admetos caught himself flirting with the youth more often than not and as the wine krater emptied, the distance between them waned until the pretty boy sat right next to him. Admetos wanted to pull him into his lap, run a hand up that sun-kissed thigh and underneath the rough-spun chiton... It would be easy to get what he wanted. No matter his true origins, Phoibos was in his service. But Admetos didn't care for coerced favours, pleasurable as they might be. If he was to enjoy Phoibos, the youth should submit to him of his own volition. In order to do that, however, the young shepherd needed to know it was an option. Admetos drained his wine cup and placed an arm around the tan shoulders of his guest.
"I will retire," he said, "There is a bed prepared for you in the servant's quarters. But there is also a place in my bed... if you want?"
Phoibos stared. Hadn't he expected such an offer at all? That was odd considering how breathtakingly beautiful he was. Surely Admetos wasn't the first to try his luck. Well, maybe he was the first with a crown.
"Is that an order?" Phoibos asked, his clear blue eyes revealing neither lust nor fear.
"No." Admetos backed away from the young shepherd. "Goodnight to you. Sleep well and tomorrow Herosthenes shall instruct you in your new duties."
He got up and left without looking back. It probably was for the better.
Admetos had given up on getting together with his new dairy herdsman. He still complimented him and he probably favoured him more than he would like to admit, but he didn't pursue the beautiful boy. Phoibos fed the bulls and herded cows and sheep. He saw to the milking and processing of dairy products. Admetos came to listen to him play his music from time to time and watched him weave baskets from the light stems of rushes.
One day, to Admetos' surprise, the young shepherd requested an audience, presenting him with a fresh batch of cheese.
"Your herds have grown, my king, neither goat, nor sheep, nor cow lack young and none are without milk nor barren. These cheeses are the fruit of my labour. I sincerely hope they please you."
Despite his youth and status, he had always appeared calm, poised, and confident. Today, his cheeks were flushed and his eyes shiny, as if he feared a beating or lashing should the cheese not meet the king's expectations.
"I shall taste your cheese tonight at dinner," Admetos told him, "I am certain it is as excellent as all the other work you have done for me."
That brought a smile to his shepherd’s anxious lips. In hopes of pleasing him even more, Admetos added:
"You are cordially invited to join me, Phoibos, and see for yourself how much your work delights me."
The youth nodded, averting his gaze.
"You honour me, my king."
When Phoibos entered to join him, Admetos' jaw dropped. The shepherd was always beautiful but tonight, he was radiant. There was not a fleck of dust on his exomis that left one breast bare and his golden hair, brushed and oiled, shone like the crown of Helios himself. Admetos could not take his eyes off him.
"I brought the cheese," Phoibos said with a smile so bright it was blinding.
"It looks delicious."
The youth put the baskets on the table and Admetos hurried to invite him to sit beside him.
"You... You look stunning tonight," he said as the cupbearer filled the shepherd's kylix.
"Why, thank you." Phoibos shifted slightly in his seat. The lamp light hit his gleaming chest in a way that made Admetos almost squirm. "I did my best working with what I have."
"You have natural beauty," Admetos said, "You had a lot to work with."
The youth blushed at his praise. How cute.
"Thank you, my king. It pleases me to please you."
He sipped his wine, the golden hair aglow like a fiery aureola. Admetos wanted him so badly. Touch that naked chest, tousle that meticulously styled hair, kiss those sculpted shoulder blades. He had to make his inclination known.
"Would it please you to please me in another way?"
Phoibos gave him an innocent smile.
"In what way?"
Admetos hesitated. Should he be forward? Should he find a harmless excuse? Finding the right words was difficult.
"Be frank with me. What is it that you want, King Admetos?"
Admetos took a deep sup of his wine, looked the beautiful shepherd in the eyes and said:
"I want to sink between your thighs, Phoibos."
"I value honesty," the herdsman replied, "You shall have them."
Admetos could scarce believe his ears. Phoibos was in his service, he could have coerced him into these favours much earlier, but freely given was the sweetest fruit of all. He kissed the youth’s beardless cheek.
"That makes me exceedingly happy, my darling. Will you play for me until dinner is served?"
As tempting as it would be to cash this favour right away, to enjoy the offered pleasures without a moment's notice, Admetos felt they shouldn't rush things. If Phoibos really wanted him, he'd still stand by his word an hour from now.
"I will play for you, my king."
He raised his lyre and plucked the strings, a heavenly melody soon joined by the even more divine sound of his voice. ‘A god must be among us’, that's what the peasants had said. Maybe it was true. But if he was, if this was a test, he would find no fault with him for following his invitation, would he? If his desire had displeased a god, he would know of it by now. Phoibos flashed him a smile so sweet that Admetos forgot all about his worries. By the end of the evening, he had the shepherd boy on his lap, their fingers interlaced, and his lips upon his shoulders.
"Shall we retire?" the king mumbled against warm, unblemished skin.
"If that is your wish."
He felt the youth's shapely buttocks weighing on his thighs.
"Are you still willing to share my bed, beautiful?"
Admetos kissed him.
"Come on, then, and let us tarry no longer."
Phoibos rose from his lap and followed along from the great feasting hall to the privacy of the royal chambers. Admetos wished to strip him naked, kiss every single stretch of his body, push him into the mattress and have his way with him. But he was young, and beautiful though he was, maybe he had never opened his thighs to anyone before. So the king did not follow his desire and had his servant undress him, sending him away for the night afterwards to put the herdsman at ease. Phoibos watched, unmoving.
"You have a fine physique," he stated eventually. "I like men who are athletic and in good shape."
"You have a flock of fine men just waiting for you to take your pick, don't you? Or have you already made your choice?"
Phoibos' cheeks flushed with a touch of pink.
"One might say that."
"So you already have a boyfriend?"
Admetos sat down on his bed and gently tugged at the shepherd's hand for him to sit beside him.
"But you know who it is you want?"
Admetos didn't know if he should feel foolish or thankful that the beautiful youth had still followed him to the bedroom. Maybe he had been wrong about his innocence.
"You should be with this person, then." He forced a smile. "Don't feel obliged because I am your king."
The shepherd's eyes widened.
"Oh no. No, no, no! My king, it is you! I want you!"
Admetos laughed heartily in relief.
"Oh sweet boy, I'm so glad!"
He reached up to cup his cheek.
"I would have stayed true to my words and let you go, but it would have broken my heart."
Phoibos gave him the most adoring smile.
"I know. That is why I want to be with you."
He turned his head, just a little, just enough to kiss the thumb resting on his cheek. Admetos eased towards him, slowly closing the distance between them until he could feel the boy's breath upon his face and see his beautiful eyes up close, large and blue and oh so full of youthful excitement. He brushed against the softness of his full lips, a careful examination of whether he was ready. Phoibos' breath came quicker, his lips quivering. Admetos took both of the young shepherd's cheeks into his hands and kissed him in full, a sweet, lingering kiss without the forwardness of a tongue but he still poured some of his passion into it, letting his desire show.
"How does that feel?" He asked.
Phoibos seemed to ponder the question as if it were an astronomical calculation with many factors to take into account.
"It makes me feel all sorts of ways," he said eventually. "But it feels good."
"Would you like me to kiss you again?"
The soft pink hue returned to the young man's cheeks.
Admetos wrapped his arms around him, his kiss more heated and hungry this time. He longed for him but patience and kindness were needed with young lovers. The wait always paid off. When he broke away once more, the shepherd boy looked dazed.
"Does it excite you when I do this?" Admetos asked.
"Very much," Phoibos whispered, his blue eyes shining like stars in the low light of the oil lamp.
The king massaged the youth's shoulders, caressing his smooth, golden skin, planting kisses on his neck.
"Would you be more comfortable lying down?"
Admetos bedded him gently on top of his cushioned mattress, giving him a tender kiss.
"I'll oil your thighs if you are still wishing to give them to me."
His words caused his lover's cheeks to blush a darker shade of pink.
The king opened the flask of fresh olive oil that had been sitting on his nightstand for weeks. He poured some of the green liquid into his palm and spread it over the boy's inner thighs, rubbing it in thoroughly. He wanted to do everything right, especially if this was his first time.
"Are you nervous?"
"Then let's get rid of that feeling together." Admetos embraced him, holding him like a treasure. "I will guide you through the experience."
There was gratitude in the beautiful blue eyes.
"I appreciate it. I've never done this before."
"Let's start with something easy, then. Do you know why I'm applying oil to your thighs?"
"Yes. The oil is for the phallus to move more easily between the thighs."
"Very good." Admetos rubbed a few more drops of the warm oil into the youth’s already slippery skin. "Now tell me, how shall we best proceed?"
Phoibos swallowed hard.
"Oiling your member too?"
"That's right." Admetos palmed his cock until he was as slick and shiny as the boy’s thighs.
"What then?" Admetos asked softly, gave a kiss to the young man's cheek.
"Then you push it between my thighs."
"Do you want to try it?"
Admetos' hand glided over supple buttocks, leaving a glistening trail of olive oil.
"Would you like me to touch you too?"
The answer came quickly, as if he had been anticipating it:
Phoibos curled into his embrace and Admetos ran his hands all over his hips and buttocks, kneading the muscles, taking his time to feel the firmness beneath the supple flesh before finding his way to his crotch.
"Do you like it like that?"
"Yes. I want to feel your phallus too. Please?"
Admetos bucked his hips and slid between his thighs. He hadn't expected such an eager response from someone inexperienced. He loved touching him, seeing his reaction and hearing his response.
"Is it good for you too?" asked Phoibos.
"Wonderful," Admetos replied. "But don’t worry about me, love. Just let me take care of you."
He could smell his hair, piney and earthy from his occupation but no less enticing than the most expensive perfumes. A scent that reminded him of the forest, where the youth herded his sheep.
"Did you ever think you would be here, like this?"
"Never," Phoibos breathed, "But I’m happy I am."
Admetos smiled, slowly working his shaft until he could feel the heat radiating from him, his little gasps coming more frequently and his pulse running high. He moved his fist faster and rougher until finally the shepherd boy gulped for air.
"Will you come for me?" Admetos asked, his fingers sliding across the shaft teasingly, his own erection buried between the insides of Phoibos' thighs. "I can make you feel wonderful."
Admetos licked his ear as he spoke, sucking gently on his lobe. The young shepherd moaned beautifully, a shiver running through his body.
"Tell me what you need."
"Touch me. Please…" Phoibos' beautiful voice cracked.
Admetos nibbled softly at his ear, rubbing the length of his shaft, coaxing another moan from him.
Phoibos cried out, arching his spine in pleasure. Admetos felt his sperm trickle down his fist, trying not to spill any of his own seed as the thighs around him tensed.
"By golden Kypria!"
Admetos couldn't help himself anymore. With one final thrust, he spilled his milky dew between his lover's thighs, embracing him as he came.
"Was that what you wanted?" He whispered.
Phoibos lay in his arms, both of them still breathing heavily, each other's warmth enveloping them. Admetos held him lovingly, letting them savour the moment. Eventually, Phoibos stirred.
"Thank you, my king."
Admetos smiled softly. "For what?"
"Everything," the youth murmured. "This has been amazing."
"I'm glad you enjoyed yourself." He pressed a gentle kiss to the side of Phoibos' temple. "I did too."
He listened to his lover's heartbeat, taking his slender fingers into his hand. They were warm and delicate and barely rough, despite the herdsman’s hard work.
"When morning comes," Phoibos asked quietly, "Will things go back to the way they were before?"
It was a good question. A question Admetos would have preferred to answer some other time. Was there a chance that their relationship would last beyond this night? Only the gods knew.
"You are not a conquest to me, if that is what you’re asking," Admetos answered. "Do you wish for another night like this?"
Now it was Admetos who couldn't help but blush.
"If that is your wish, how can I deny it to you?"
A small smile tugged at the corners of Phoibos' lips.
"Do you really mean that?"
"By the gods who rule Olympos, I mean every word I said."
That seemed to satisfy the youth. He bedded his head atop Admetos’ chest and closed his bright blue eyes. The Moirai had been kind beyond his hopes. This beautiful boy had chosen him and him alone. No matter if he was indeed a shepherd’s son or a prince or a god walking among mortals, as the peasants claimed, he would never tire of striving to be worthy of his love.
“the gods help those who help themselves” is often mistaken for a biblical quote but it is of ancient Greek origin, with several surviving plays and stories expressing the sentiment. “Athena may help you get the cart out of the mud but only if you push” alludes to two stories credited to Aesop: “Herakles and the Cowherd” and “The Ship-Wrecked Man and Athena”. The cowherd prays to a deified Herakles to help him get his cart out of the mud but the strongest of heroes appears only to tell him to put his own shoulder to the wheel. Similarly, the ship-wrecked man prays to Athena to save him while the other ship-wrecked people swim.
This story's title, "The Locks of Phoibos", is essentially a quote from the Elegies of Tibullus:
"Often Latona [Leto] lamented the roughness of his sacred hair
which had been a wonder to his stepmother [Hera] before.
Whoever saw his head undressed, his loosened hair,
would have asked where the locks of Phoebus [Apollon] were."
The story is supposed to take place shortly after Apollon slew Python, so he is still a very young god. Technically, Dionysos won't be born for a couple of generations and that means wine-making hasn't been invented yet. So they shouldn't have any wine but I gave them wine anyway. Might change later.
Pseudo-Apollodorus. Bibliotheca, Book 3.10.4
Kallimachos, Hymn to Apollon 47-54