The four tales below in no way represent historically attested, ‘canonical’ mythology of Ritona, which unfortunately does not exist. I offer it to the world as ‘fan fiction’, as it were, concerning a number of deities—notably Ritona and Minerva—who are anything but fictitious.
The voyage of Trebeta
[NB: I ran a bit long with this first tale. If you want to skip ahead to the bit with Ritona, you can read the rest of this paragraph and then move straight to the next section. If you want to read the whole story of the voyage of Trebeta without spoilers, you can skip ahead to the next paragraph. THE ARGUMENT: Trebeta flees Assyria with a party of exiles. Diana and Silvanus help him ascend the whole length of the Danube, while an Assyrian punitive expedition led by Onnecles, a favourite of Minerva, pursues them.]
In the days of old, the great lord Trebeta, son of Ninus, had nine daughters and nine sons, each with nine times nine retainers, while Trebeta himself had twelve men to attend his chariot, twelve women to attend his horses, twelve boys to serve him meat, twelve girls to serve him drink, twelve old people to sing him songs, twelve young people to dance for him, twelve strong people to bear his shield, twelve dexterous people to carry his sword and spears, twelve swift people to bear messages for him, twelve witty people to converse with him, twelve wise people to counsel him, and twelve pious people to intercede between himself and the gods. And all these, with their own families and hangers-on, made up the tribe of Trebeta, which wandered from the East, fleeing from Semiramis after she had wed the agèd Ninus and taken over the government of Assyria.
Now Semiramis was anxious to cut Trebeta off, lest he make contact with some great foreign king and recruit an army and try to retake Assyria. She therefore sent forth her son Onnecles, son of the general Onnes, who had been her husband before Ninus. Semiramis fitted Onnecles out with three thousand cavalry, three thousand archers, and three hundred ships, so that whether Trebeta went by land or by sea, Onnecles should always be able to catch up with the exiles. Before he departed, Onnecles sacrificed a hecatomb to Minerva, whom he loved above all other deities, pledging to build her a mighty temple in Assyria if he returned with his mission fulfilled.
But Trebeta was ever a friend of Diana, and when he came to edges of the Asian land, with Onnecles’ men close pursuing him, Trebeta consecrated to Diana a great gift of gold and incense, of boars and sheep, of aurochs and deer, and with his own hands sacrificed to her a lion, an antelope, and a python, begging her to forestall his enemies and let him get away safely from their clutches, with all his party.
Diana heard him, and, as Trebeta was encouraging his party in building rafts and scows, the goddess caused immense numbers of wolves to encircle the Assyrian cavalry, howling and baying. The horses bolted and scattered, and Onnecles wasted many days reassembling his party, during which time Trebeta embarked from Asia and made his way safe through Thrace to Scythia. In a dream, Minerva showed Onnecles the way Trebeta had gone, and Onnecles assembled his fleet. But Neptune, who was then smarting over his dispute with Minerva over who should be the patron of Athens, scattered the Assyrian fleet in a great storm—and, for good measure, caused an earthquake that again caused the horses to panic and stampede.
At last Onnecles managed to cross the sea, but Trebeta’s party was now deep in the Scythian land. There they came upon the immense river Danuvius—virtually a freshwater sea that rolled with slow and stately grace across the wide plains of Scythia. As they arrived, Trebeta’s party was at first perplexed as to what to do. They halted for a while and made drink offerings to the deities of the place. Trebeta then drank a draught of water from the Danube, and at once was overcome by sleep and retired to his litter. There, in a dream, Diana appeared to him.
“Lordly Trebeta,” she told him, “you have come to a friendly place, for Danuvius is my son: this river is born from my own mountains, and when you come to its headwaters you shall reach my own country and know me by my true name. No harm shall come to you as long as you remain on the wide rolling waters of the Danube. The river-god himself will shield you, as will I and my dear friend Silvanus, who reigns over these shores. If ever enemies assail you, you need only call on any of us, and hordes of friendly oreads, silvani, and naiads will come to your defence.”
Trebeta awoke and relayed this welcome news to his nine daughters and nine sons and to all his party. They rejoiced thereat and made gifts to Diana, Silvanus, and the god Danube. Then they set about preparing light river-craft for their voyage: barques and coracles and skiffs on which they might sail the rolling river to its source.
Minerva, for her part, had guided Onnecles swiftly overland. They spotted Trebeta’s party at their work, singing and making merry as though their dangers were far behind. At Minerva’s suggestion, Onnecles prepared an assault that would drive Trebeta’s forces against the river. His troops fanned out to encircle the exiles’ camp; he divided them in two wings. On his right, a party of archers would make a demonstration to the east as a cavalry force fanned out as though to take Trebeta from the south. Meanwhile on his left, the largest party of cavalry would be in place to hit Trebeta hard from the west, where the remainder of the archers would be stationed in reserve.
Trebeta’s doughty daughter Beda, while lending her hand to cutting some wood for boats, a little to the east of camp, first saw the Assyrian archers’ arrows fly. “Help us, O Silvanus!” she cried out.
The immortals heard her. Not one of the Assyrian arrows hit their mark; meanwhile, from out the forest, sprang dozens and hundreds of bold silvani. Their broad and kindly faces now dark with anger, the silvani swept against the Assyrians, wielding sickles and clubs, and drove them back in confusion.
The pincer movement of the Assyrian cavalry met with no more success. In the south, Aresax, son of Trebeta, heard the enemy’s hooves approaching and cried out, “Diana, save us!” Then oreads sprang forth in immense numbers, shrieking wildly and hurling rocks. The horses were dismayed, their riders were distraught, and all scattered. In the west, Caruca, daughter of Trebeta, guarding the boats on the Danube, raised the alarm, and called out, “Danuvius, we need you!” The placid waters of the Danube then churned and flooded; naiads, snapping like adders, hurled their tridents, and the eddies sucked the left wing of Onnecles’ forces into the river, where they were swept out to sea.
Onnecles himself was in the left wing, bravely leading his cavalry from the front. Near he came to drowning, as he and most of his command were swept into the river, but Minerva saved him, setting him on dry land where the Danube flows into the Black Sea. Now he reassembled what he could of his great expedition. Some few of his left wing, like him, survived the flood; messengers he sent to his fleet and to what he could reorganize of his right wing. On Minerva’s guidance, he reassembled the remnant of his forces north of the Danube. “You must make haste,” she told him, taking the form and voice of an aide-de-camp, who he later learned had drowned. “Go overland as fast as you can and cut Trebeta off in the mountains of Abnoba.”
Onnecles’ force was now depleted, though his command could still match the exiles warrior for warrior with more besides. The ships ferrying his right wing from one bank of the Danube to the other were sometimes swept far out to sea when Neptune spotted them; but just as often, Minerva was there to thwart him and see the troops across. Presently, however, the remnant of Onnecles’ force was tearing over the plains and steppes and through the mountain passes, parallel to the Danube.
Trebeta’s force moved at its leisure, glad of the respite and happy to know they were nearing a land that Diana promised would be friendly to them. Fish they pulled up in abundance from the Danube; game they found in plenty on either bank. At last they reached a place where the Danube—now only a stream—flowed swiftly out of a great ridge of forest. “What place is this?” they asked a wandering huntsman, who was one of the few people they had seen.
“These mountains are Abnoba,” the huntsman answered, “and so is the goddess to whom they belong.”
Trebeta’s party then rejoiced to learn the true name of Diana. They made sacrifices and celebrated a great feast, and, leaving their boats behind, spoke of settling forever in the forested land of Abnoba. A day or two’s exploration, however, was sufficient to show them that the soil there was not propitious for settled agriculture, and the terrain was too rough for laying out a city. These civilized exiles from Assyria were not prepared to revert entirely to a life of hunting and fishing. Therefore they wandered through the mountains of Abnoba, looking for some inviting valley where they might found a city.
Presently they spied the wide, green valley of the Rhine, and their hearts swelled. Now at last they felt they had reached a place they might settle at last. Aresax, Trebeta’s son, vowed he would never live in a permanent home that was not in sight of this river.
Here, however, they descended the mountains, and were out of Diana’s protection. Onnecles’ scouts at once detected them—for Onnecles had battled hostile bands of nomads, raided villages, climbed mountains, and force-marched his men through marshes to beat Trebeta’s exiles to the Rhine. With Minerva’s inspiration, Onnecles now rallied his tough Assyrians for a battle where victory would at last secure their passage home.
Ritona on the Rhine
Trebeta, after his established custom, had offered sacrifices to the gods of the place where he had come. He sacrificed as well to Diana Abnoba and Silvanus, and to Rhenus Pater, the venerable Father Rhine whose name was yet unknown to him but whose river watered this pleasant country.
For the third time, Onnecles drew up his forces, backing the exiles against a body of water. The sea had welcomed them, the Danube had saved them, but, Onnecles vowed, the exiles would never cross the Rhine while he still drew breath. Minerva herself appeared amidst the Assyrian ranks, beating her spear against her shield, her ægis flashing, her hair flowing from beneath her crested helm.
Trebeta’s courage failed him. He fell to his knees before the wrath of Minerva, visible to him then with his waking eyes, and could do no more than beg her for mercy.
But the nine daughters and nine sons of Trebeta remained undaunted. The brave Beda called in a loud voice for the gods of that place to come to their aid, if Diana and Silvanus were powerless to help them, and declared that she would fight with her last breath to defend the exiles. Contius and Teucoria, a son and daughter of Trebeta, swore that any deity who came to rescue them, they themselves and their descendants would venerate as saviours. Bingia and Aresax, another daughter and son of Trebeta, devoted themselves forever to the god of that immense river flowing behind them.
The immortals heard them. Father Rhine raised his great horned head from the surface and cried out, “Desist, great Minerva! These people have vowed themselves to me. Call off this great attack.”
Diana and Silvanus raised their voices likewise, imploring Minerva to call off Onnecles’ forces. But the great goddess felt the quarry was fairly caught, and would not heed them.
Then splendid Ritona, finder of ways, appeared upon the opposite bank of the river, hearkening to the words of Diana, Silvanus, and Father Rhine. She beheld great Minerva in her glistening armour, beautiful and terrible. She heard the cries of those who had called on the gods of that place, those exiles still ignorant of the names of gods to whom they vowed themselves. She heeded Contius and Teucoria, and strode to the bank of the river, her spear in her hand.
“Hail to you, Minerva!” she cried. “This battle need not be. Only let the exiles cross this river, and they shall be our people—no trouble to the Assyrians forevermore.”
“What deity are you to challenge me at the moment of my victory?” cried Minerva. “Over dusty plains and bruising hills, I have pursued these exiles. I have pinned them against the river, and here I shall prevail!”
“There you may prevail,” answered Ritona, “but not if they cross to this bank. I am Ritona Pritona, daughter of Epona and sister of Nemetona. I delight in the valley of the winding Moselle and the slopes of the high Hunsrück. All the land I hereabout I own, along with my sister and her great husband Mars Loucetius, who will be by my side in an instant if need be to defend our rights.”
Minerva sighed. The wise strategist perceived that there was no need to escalate this little conflict into a great war between the gods. “I agree to your terms, Ritona, daughter of Epona,” she answered. “If these exiles can cross the immense Rhine, even as they are, with no ships, and make it to the further shore, they will be under your protection, they and their progeny. But if, as seems more likely, we can cut them down on this bank, the triumph is mine.”
On these terms the battle was joined. The Assyrian archers launched a volley. Brave Aresax and the prostrated Trebeta were wounded at once. But Ritona directed the exiles to retire at once into the reeds upon the river-bank, where the archers could get no shot at them.
Onnecles directed his cavalry now to swoop down upon the exiles. As they approached the water’s edge, the deep, queer, echoing sound of bitterns roared out all around them like a thousand angry cattle. The horses were startled and would not enter the water. Cavalrymen charging from the rear could not rein in their mounts in time and crashed into their comrades, adding to the confusion.
Meanwhile, the exiles were slowly, delicately picking their way across the river, their feet finding a ford in the cold currents with the aid of Ritona. Some paused, the water up to their elbows, to shoot at their pursuers and cover the retreat of the rest. As the party stepped through the cold waters of the Rhine, it presently became clear that they would be over their heads—and not all of them could swim. The Assyrian cavalry now had dismounted, reformed their ranks, and begun their pursuit of the exiles into the river. Worse still, the archers could now see their targets as the exiles emerged from the reeds into the deeper water.
With a quick and decided step, Ritona now descended into the water. “Father Rhine!” she called. “Rally your forces!” A few strides brought Ritona across the river to the beleaguered party. The first was Contius, pulling his wounded father Trebeta through the current. Ritona now took the form of an otter, which grabbed hold of Trebeta and pulled him swiftly across the stream. Behind him Contius swam, not wanting to lose touch of his father to this unknown creature. One of Contius’ nine attendants, though he could not swim, grabbed hold of Contius’ tunic and was pulled along, then the next attendant in the same way, followed by the next—and presently the immense company of exiles was being towed across the river by the divine otter. From all along the river and the nearby marshes, bitterns flew, converging over Ritona’s party. Their long beaks plucked arrows out the air and saved many a fleeing exile, while some even advanced to peck at and harry the archers on the shore. And now Father Rhine appeared at the head of a host of tritons, mounted on a herd of fearless water-swine. These swept in to cover the exiles’ flanks, their tusks goring the dismounted Assyrian cavalry while the tritons assailed the soldiers with nets and harpoons.
Now Onnecles saw victory slipping away from him. In desperation he rallied a band of Assyrians left on the shore and, heedless of his vow that the exiles would not cross the Rhine while still he lived, he drew his sword and plunged, splashing, into the water. There he met the doughty Beda. She was in the reeds not far from the water’s edge, heading up the rearguard and directing the last few exile bowmen who were covering her people’s retreat. The bronze of their swords clanged, echoing out across the water, as proud Beda met him blow for blow. Onnecles took a great swipe with his sword, which Beda did not parry but ducked. Onnecles’ sword met only air; he stumbled in the water, losing his balance, and Beda rose up and thrust her sword straight through his neck, and his life breath ceased. At that very instant the wounded Trebeta reached the land on the opposite shore.
The exiles’ losses were heavy. Of the twelve old people to sing Trebeta songs, nine had perished. Of the twelve men to attend his horses, ten had perished. Of the twelve dexterous people to carry his sword and spears, all had perished, fighting for their lord. Trebeta would survive, but his wound would plague him until at last he died and was buried with great honour upon the Petrisberg. Aresax lived only long enough to expire on reaching the left bank of the Rhine. There he was interred in a great mound by the river bank, and so found his permanent home in sight of the river. His family and attendants all called themselves Aresaces and pledged that they and their descendants would remain there by the bank. The Assyrians seized all the exiles’ wealth and baggage that had been left upon the shore. Minerva, seeing her champion Onnecles meet his death in the river Rhine, abandoned the cause of the Assyrian expedition and turned her attention to matters in Britain, Armorica, and Marseille. Leaderless, the remaining Assyrians split into roving bands, some turning south, some turning east, few returning home.
The children of Trebeta dispersed somewhat across their new country, reaching the Hunsrück, the Moselle, and the Eifel. They laid out farms and villas, and Trebeta would found not one, but several towns; in after years his tribe would mingle with the descendants of Celtus, son of Hercules, and the descendants of Mannus, and become the nation of Treveri.
The wooing of Minerva
Now Ritona, having seen Minerva and driven her away, began to feel desperate longing for her. No other deity, hero, or mortal could compare to Minerva in Ritona’s eyes for bravery or beauty, for skill or daring. Ritona lost her appetite for ambrosia; she sat alone by the banks of the rivers, staring blankly at their undulating surface, and not answering when any of the river-nymphs spoke to her. At last, Ritona went to Venus, who was then cruising on the river Seine amidst naiads and tritons, and confessed her secret.
“Isn’t there anything you can do?” concluded Ritona at last. “If you could make me male, little as I wish to be, perhaps then I could woo Minerva—though I hardly know how so great a deity might love a little one like me. To her belong Athens, Cyrrhestica, and Marseille, and she is enthroned on Olympus, while I am only a part-owner of a few patches of Gaul. And even if you would do this for me, I despair on thinking how to repay you.”
Venus answered, “Ritona, your case is not desperate! Even as you are, Minerva will love you. As to making you male, you should get that thought out of your mind. For you must know that Minerva has forsworn forever the touch of a masculine member, and, even when she does love you, you must never penetrate her person lest she in some way violate her vow.”
“Then how can I hope to please her?” said Ritona.
“Oh dear!” said Venus, “the possibilities are too many to enumerate. I’ll lend you some lascivious literature that will suggest some things to start with. Then your own ingenuity will inform you. In the meantime, you know, it is my particular delight to make deities and mortals love who have previously forsworn such passion. You need not repay me, except in swoons of satisfaction.”
Ritona took some heart at this, though she still would not yet trust to hope. While Venus rifled through her pleasure-ship’s wide-ranging library of erotic fiction, looking for appropriate recommendations, her intrepid son Cupid took wing, seeking Minerva through all of her usual haunts. He found her at last overseeing the troop movements of a small war-party of Ligurians. Then Cupid, plucking an abandoned shield from the field, hid behind it till, coming close within range of Minerva, he hit her smartly in the small of the back with one of his infamous darts.
At once, Minerva found the battle less absorbing. How tedious were these loathsome Ligurians! Would they never learn the elements of strategy, instruct them though she might? How much more pleasing, altogether, were the quick manœuvres and deft undertakings of that Gaulish goddess she had just left! Though they had been, for a while, on opposite sides, yet Minerva now reflected on the boldness of Ritona’s steps, the gracefulness of all her movements, the resolution in her speech, the flash of her bright eyes, the wild flow of her hair, the neat turn of her wrists and ankles, the glorious curves of her waist and hips, the enticing bounce of her bust…. Truly, thought Minerva, her time would be better spent along the Moselle, where people were not such clods as these, and where like-minded deities were to be met with.
An anxious Ligurian war-chief called out to Minerva in a loud voice. Minerva absent-mindedly drifted in the direction of the sound, knocking the chief off his feet and causing him to crash into the legs of several opposing warriors, who all collided in a heap, interrupting the rout that was threatening the chief’s war party. Without pausing to observe the effects of this on the battle, Minerva, abstracted, flitted away from the battlefield and headed north.
“Godspeed, Minerva!” cried Cupid, winking at her from behind a Ligurian shield.
Minerva waved vaguely at him, not pausing to wonder what Cupid might be doing there. She had other things on her mind. Would Ritona hate her after their last fierce encounter? she asked herself desperately.
Meanwhile, Ritona had read, wide-eyed, a good number of the stories Venus had lent her, and was beginning to formulate some ideas of how to seduce the warlike Minerva. She still trembled at the thought of actually encountering her again, particularly after she had so cruelly thwarted her.
However, before Ritona had a chance to put any of her stratagems into action, she found Minerva right before her as she was taking a favourite walk along the Sarre. “Oh!” said she, much embarrassed.
Minerva, who was not expecting to run into her quite so soon either, was equally thrown: “Oh!” she replied, “It’s you!”
Ritona took a deep breath, keenly aware of how much Minerva must resent her victory, and said, “Welcome to this little part of the world again.”
They paused awkwardly at the remembrance this invoked.
“You were very brave,” they both said, nearly in unison, followed by blushes, and then, “Thank you,” again almost in unison.
What could follow such a comical reunion but laughter? And from laughter, where else might the conversation tend but to allusions, then to confessions, and finally to a furtive inquiry of whether there might be a convenient cave or something nearby?
The conception of Alauna
Notwithstanding Ritona’s initial misgivings, she and Minerva were soon, as may be easily imagined, adepts at the art of pleasing each other. Night after night they would elicit sighs and howls from one another, in turn or both together. Minerva made free to explore the whole of Ritona’s divine body, but the latter, heeding Venus’ advice, took care not to penetrate her partner’s to any depth. But often their sacred seed was mingled on their loins, and this, among deities, is not a blessing often bestowed in vain. In time, Ritona was greatly surprised to find an interruption to her monthly cycle and a certain difficulty in keeping her nectar and ambrosia down.
Mercury, happening to be strolling along the banks of the Moselle one day, came across Ritona and greeted her, adding, “I declare, Ritona, from the brilliance of your skin, there’s a secret you’re harbouring within you. Shall I tell everyone what it is?”
“Great Mercury, fleet of foot!” Ritona began to exclaim.
“Well, so have you been dallying with some athletic young fisherman, or has one of the satyrs caught your fancy? Or have you secretly wed one of the river-gods or a great burly silvanus?”
Ritona shuddered, and said, “No indeed, no one like that could tempt me, I assure you.”
Mercury continued, “You haven’t been seduced by my father, I hope? Not that I am ever sorry to have a new sibling, but their advent is rarely easy.”
Ritona answered, “Oh, Mercury, I have so little idea what has happened—and still less what I can possibly do now!”
In a more serious tone, Mercury told her, “Now, Ritona, do not be alarmed. Indeed, I am quite aware of what has happened—for you cannot suppose me to be in ignorance of what goes on in my own country! You are pregnant by my sister Minerva, and I congratulate you! I never quite expected my sister to become a father—yet, now that I think about it, I shouldn’t have been surprised. You—and this new deity—are welcome to the family.”
Ritona flushed red, but flung her arms around Mercury in a grateful embrace, exclaiming, “Thank you, kindest of brothers! But what now am I to do?”
Mercury struck one of his best oratorical poses, and declared, “Yours is one of the more remarkable transitions to motherhood. You will therefore join the Matronæ, and always have a place with them in their hallowed precinct at the Altbachtal—yet your unique history will set you apart. Your daughter will be venerated as a goddess in these parts. Why don’t you give her a pretty, elegant name—something like Alauna? And she will achieve deeds of great fame. She will be fostered with Diana and exceed all at the hunt, save only my sharp-shooting sister herself. She will wander far and wide, striking the mountain-tops with her stave, and wherever the stave strikes the earth, there will spring up new streams that will take her name. (This is another reason why you should pick a nice-sounding name like the one I suggested.) And when she has tired of celibacy, her husband will be Vorio the vaulter, whose various victories and genderfluidity will earn him (or her) the ambiguously gendered name Boudina. And their three daughters will be the Matronæ Boudunneihæ, who will seek new victories in a land farther down the winding Rhine. You and Minerva will be venerated here always, although it is fair to predict that the flawed memory of mortals will cause many lapses; still, the Muses and nymphs will always be your friends and will sing your praises to all those who would listen.”
With this Mercury ceased, and Ritona again hugged him fraternally. Mercury took advantage of this situation to take flight, setting Ritona down in the Altbachtal so that she could become better acquainted with her sister Matronæ. He then flew back to Minerva to take the liberty of teasing her in turn.
These tales are © 2016 Viducus Brigantici filius. If you’d like to reuse or rework them, I’d love to hear about your plans! Please let me know in the comments section or in a private email.