- ₪ ₪₪ Beginning of Generation 2 ₪₪ ₪ -
- ₪ ₪₪ 67th sun after the plague. 26th sun after Penthesilea’s arrival. ₪₪ ₪ -
Penthesilea is 46, Protego 49, Serkon 50
Lyta is 24, Phyllis 17, Faidra 30, Cass 21, Deia 8, Eos 7 and Thersandros 29
Ceallach blinked the tickle at the tip of his nose away. The trees grew more sparse here, in the mountainous area they had been crossing since noon.
So from time to time, the treetops drew back for an unexpected beam of sun to find its way into one of the travelers’ faces.
The sun is our enemy, Ceallach thought while wiping away the sweat from his forehead. The sun and the slowness of that damaichte caravan.
He was sure that if people did live in this heat, they had to be poor as dirt. No crop could grow under this relentless sun. True, the young Porphyreian merchant they were traveling with had claimed the region further downhill to be more fertile for a variety of crops, and the mountains did hold the occasional game to hunt – but merchants always exaggerated. On the other hand, the inhabitants must have amassed at least some wealth to get one’s hands on if the tradesmen kept returning to the area.
A horse’s clip-clop drew closer from the path ahead, each thud of the hooves clearly audible far and wide. The stony soil and cracked rests of a cobbled stone road nipped any attempt of an inconspicuous approach in the bud.
No threat this time, though. The caravan had awaited the return of the scout long ago.
As they passed each other, the Al Simharan gave Ceallach a short nod.
Everything in good order. The young man’s shoulders sacked a little. They had found traces of several groups of armed people when setting up camp in the last few days. Their presumed number was high enough to cause trouble if an encounter was to take place.
“Ceallach, feith! Wait!” Obeying the voice of their commander sounding from his back, the young man brought his mare to a halt and patted her neck. It had been an act of mercy by a compassionate god that he had come across a countryman at the edge of the borderlands, at the very same time when his own gold had come to an end.
“Take a breath of this air,” the commander said, eyes flashing.
“And have you seen the fortress on the way? Massive walls, even after all that time. No doubt, that must be it.”
“No doubt,” Ceallach echoed, remembering the eerie remains they had caught a glimpse of from the road. The closer they came to their commander’s aim, the stranger the other man had become. It almost felt like the sweet, aromatic scent of the pine trees had cut a way free for a hidden, fiery temper in his countryman. As if his heart beat in the same rhythm with the forest surrounding them.
“Ceallach, this is home.”
The young Westerner stared along the dry path stretching out before them. Above it, the air flickered in the midday heat. I wonder, he replied in thought, I wonder if the residents would agree with you.
← Gen 1 Finale to be continued
Poses by beverlyallitsims and MrsRacooney
The world’s colors turned lustrous, its shapes more defined as soon as Zeuxippe and Hekuba had vanished in the distance. Only in the very last moment, the former queen of Orcheon had declared that her expecting lover was to accompany her. Only after she had been turned down by Protego.
A wild feeling of power began to dance in Penthesilea’s chest. She could only guess what Protego must have told Zeuxippe in her makeshift cell but the next morning, the Orcheon had asked to be sent away as soon as possible. Hekuba, however, had been over the moon. The warrior had finally ceased to oppose Rheia’s accession to the throne and had been remarkably content in a cell of her own since then.
With them riding away, the one great danger to Penthesilea’s life was gone – and Haimon’s future child along with it. Only few things would still remind her of the treacherous friend and even fewer of her late master slave.
Penthesilea looked around, watched the familiar faces. A smile of relief and satisfaction had stolen into Serkon’s grim expression. He gave her an acknowledging nod.
Both, Vince close in his back and the king himself were wearing heavy armor and weapons now, ready to put a swift halt to any potential opposition.
Alexander at his side had already found another pastime, calmly listening to agitated Advik of Chonar. It was probably about his daughter, Deia, still living with Io and Iasion. In another man’s house. Unacceptable. The lowly born king was an excellent warrior and benevolent ruler but his mercy ended where his pride began. Penthesilea was grateful enough that Alexander promoted Deia’s return to the Amazons instead of giving her to Chonar – even if it was but a bribe.
Boras and his entourage were already about to leave. The queen knew better than to thank him again for his advocacy. Zeuxippe’s exilement as well as the wedding preparations for his son used up all of his strength these days.
Standing offside, too, Rheia was surrounded by her warriors. Even though not officially queen yet, they had already recognized her as such. It would have been foolish enough though to believe that the young ruler would face no adversity after the fate of her mother. In many ways, Penthesilea felt with her. Bearing an overshadowing mother’s heritage was hard to bear and even harder to master.
However, with Alexander having a watchful eye on herself, the daughter of Thestia would have to step down. At least Hippolyta would be able to stand by the young queen. Seeing her own daughter mingled with the Orcheons so naturally was a strange sight to behold. However, even while still fearing Rheia could take after her mother, Penthesilea had to admit a certain pride that the two girls’ friendship had only been strengthened by their mothers’ quarrel. Hippolyta had not hesitated to ask for permission to watch the exilement at Rheia’s side.
“Well, with that woman gone, let’s empty a few jars of wine, will we?” Serkon had stepped up to her.
“You bet!” A great celebration was exactly what she longed for at the moment. And the next time, Serkon would be her guest and would have to try the new slave’s small honey-filled spice cakes. The sweets – and Thersandros’ cooking in general – evoked the more happy part of memories from her childhood in Santrake. She felt as young as never before.
Even Hippolyta and Phyllis had been enthusiastic over the pastry while still cautious with the rest of Thersandros' meals.
They would get used to them eventually, even though they would of course never taste like Io’s. Penthesilea herself was walking on air though. Her tribe had grown by two promising young members and with Deia and hopefully a second daughter of Io, two more were to come soon. And even after Trip had left a few days ago, the new slave had brought a piece of home.
It was time to celebrate the victories of that day.
We have now officially and finally reached the end of gen 1! Yey! 🎉✨🎈
First of all, thank you so much 💖 For enduring through the long times without updates, for taking an interest at all. This story would still exist if nobody read it - but that you do means very much to me and I hope it entertained you well in return.
And now - time to let past days go by and embrace the ones to come.
At the beginning of gen 2, only two years will have passed but if you have any more or less burning questions about really anything that happens in the following pictures or about the characters, please feel encouraged to ask!
Heads up: The pictures are not in chronological order, so Penny's hair color is not consistent. At some passages, it's hard to keep up with the lyrics - but you can always go back and look at the pictures separately after all 😁
Also, the two black-haired toddlers you will see are Io's children, Deia (with long hair, by Advik of Chonar) and Eos (with short hair, by Iasion, born after Io left the tribe). They will stay with Penthesilea to ransom Chrysippos and Io 😔
The girl in Zeuxippe's company is Heraklia, Haimon's daughter with her lover, Hekuba. And the toddler with dark brown hair... Well, we will learn. Some time. 😉
And the blood will dry
Underneath my nails
And the wind will rise up
To fill my sails
So you can doubt
And you can hate
But I know
No matter what it takes
I'm coming home
I'm coming home
Tell the world I'm coming home
Let the rain
All the pain of yesterday
I know my kingdom awaits
And they've forgiven my mistakes
I'm coming home
I'm coming home
Tell the world I'm coming…
Still far away
From where I belong
But it's always darkest
Before the dawn
So you can doubt
And you can hate
But I know
No matter what it takes
I'm coming home
I'm coming home
Tell the world I'm coming home
Let the rain
All the pain of yesterday
I know my kingdom awaits
And they've forgiven my mistakes
I'm coming home
I'm coming home
Tell the world I'm coming…
I'm coming home
I'm coming home
Tell the world I'm coming home
Let the rain
All the pain of yesterday
I know my kingdom awaits
And they've forgiven my mistakes
I'm coming home
I'm coming home
Tell the world I'm coming... home
- ₪ ₪₪ End of Generation 1 ₪₪ ₪ -
Poses by a gazillion creators to whom I'm very thankful
A few days later. Zeuxippe.
The ill luck of the past days had culminated in heavy rainfalls since the early morning.
Under better circumstances, I would have rejoiced for the grapes in the vineyards of Dekanos to grow luscious, in anticipation of Serkon to hold a feast and be generous with the pricing of his wine.
But they had banished me, and he had been the one calling for it the loudest.
An invisible hand clenched my heart.
Yes. Even though the reasons were the wrong ones, leaving them to their fate would be for the best. I had tried to open their eyes about the snake they had given access to their midst – and it had cost me everything.
Sighing, I focused on the heavy drops outside.
They targeted the ground so precisely.
None of them ever complained.
None of them ever sheered out of line.
I still remembered days, straight and simple like the way of those raindrops. Days of ease and comfort while the sky outside had turned gray and the air chill. Days of peace, passing slowly as if time had halted for a little while. As if those moments would last forever.
And how sure we had been in the ardor of youth that they would.
We had been immortal, then.
But those everlasting days were no more and likewise gone was the warmth they had provided. The young queen of old had aged and was a prisoner in her own house. While in another room of said house, Rheia prepared to become a liege of Alexander.
I didn't resent her. Orcheon couldn’t use a queen like me any more, one who defied the will of the powerful ones.
And if Penthesilea stayed here as a victor, I would go willingly.
If only I could attend to my affairs beforehand. There was one in particular I would not leave behind unsettled.
The ugly creak of the door swinging open woke me from the haze of rain. Short, muted steps came upon me carrying a flash of memories.
My heart took a leap.
Outside, the drops were still falling stone–like, only uniting on the soil, hidden from my view.
“Approach,” I invited, pretending to be still captivated by the peaceful shower at the other side of the window. If I turned around, would he just be gone like a dream?
Hesitant steps followed my request. Now that he was so close, that he was finally in reach… I doubted if his presence would not overwhelm me.
Finally, with a last deep breath, I turned around and smiled. “Protego! At last. These aren't the happy circumstances under which we were supposed to meet again but- but I wasn't sure if Penthesilea would let you come.”
Were there any words to say to a long missed lover? Any flowers of speech?
“I haven't had such nice company for forever. When Rheia came here three days ago, she yelled and cried with rage.”
Protego stood arms behind the back, gaze lowered like the frightened youth he’d been when we had first met. Only few bright strands furrowed his hair while mine was half gray.
My heart ached.
“Time has treated you well, my love.”
Finally he lifted his head, estimated my mood like he had always used to. “You, too, my queen.”
I couldn’t help it, not even being an outcast and captive. A girlish giggle escaped my mouth. “Charmer! I’m getting wrinkly and old. The prime of live has long left this body.”
“No, minha rainha. You’re beautiful as ever.” He cocked his head and our eyes met at last. Oh that sweet name again, voiced in the melodious tongue of his mother's tribe. Hearing it spread a cozy warmth in me, caressing my core and letting me breathe freely at long last. After learning our tongue, he had never used his native one again.
For it being fraught with more horrifying memories than I could imagine, he had only ever talked it for me.
My tongue was heavy from all the words I yearned to tell him yet. “Great Goddess! It’s so good to see you again. Without anyone standing between us. How- how have you been?”
“Fine, thanks to your protection, my queen. Without you putting in a good word for me, I’d… I’d be dead by now.”
“My poor Protego. That was the least I could do. Giving you away has been the one decision I’ve regretted each day anew ever since. But now that we're together at last, I'll never leave you again.”
His head sank. “She would never give me free now. Not any more.”
“We won’t ask her.”
“Within the next few days, the kings will send me away. Rheia hates what I’ve done, but she can’t deny the womb that bore her. She has promised to arrange for a horse, provisions and a bit of gold. That’s our chance.
Penthesilea will be drunk with victory and inattentive. Sneak away – follow the old trade route. Keep your distance from the road. I will wait for you near the entrance of the forest. We will be riding south before they even get the chance to notice your absence.”
“You… would take me with you?” He stared at me, disbelief and the ever-present fear fighting with the same craving I knew all too well. “That… They… They‘d catch us. And kill me like queen Penthesilea did with Haimon. And she liked him more than me!”
“Shhh!” The guards outside had better not hear our scheming. “Do you still remember how even my mother’s most trusted counselors would all but eat us alive after her death? How the priestesses threatened to tear you limb from limb?”
Their sharp disapproval of my favoring Protego had only turned into applause years later, after giving him away. But if the Goddess did indeed frown upon giving a slave so many liberties, would she have allowed me to fall in love with him in the first place?
However, of course the tribe knew better than that. Hypocrites, all of them. Swaying with the wind. It filled me with a certain pride to have never submitted to their hatred toward my lover, not even when they believed I had. Meanwhile, Protego had been safer with Penthesilea than he would ever have been at Orcheon.
For even after my own anger had dissipated, my tribe members actually would have torn him apart knowing that he had dishonored their tribe by laying with another queen.
A soft voice reached my ear. “My queen, you’re crying.”
I wiped the tears away. “They've always wanted to kill you but I never let them. I will protect you like I did in the past. Like I protected you from my tribal sisters – from myself. Even Machaon has paid for his jealousy.”
“Paid?” Protego swallowed, hesitated. “My- My queen, have… have you killed Machaon?”
So he still possessed the ability to surprise me. He would never try a shot in the dark.
He must have known or at least suspected it.
“My love, if your way to return should be free he couldn’t stay. After fathering my daughter himself, he would have harassed you worse than ever.”
“So… so you let queen Penthesilea kill Haimon although he was innocent?”
“He was a slave, my love. And a rebellious one at that. Someone had to take the blame and according to Penthesilea's tales, he fit the bill perfectly. It was clear that if Machaon provoked him long enough, he would one day lose his temper. The rest was but sending Machaon a bit of poisoned wine.”
“I promise it was fast.” Gently, I stroked Protego's cheek. “Penthesilea took the one thing I could not forgive, so I have taken what she held dear.”
Protego’s gaze drifted away, into the space behind me. “We… we were friends. And queen Penthesilea’s provider has always been nice to us, too.”
“I’m your friend. Don’t I count more than a slave? He died, but you don't have to. Come with me. If they really chase us down, I’ll fight them.”
He bit his lip, blinked a few times. “There… there is something else.”
“Then tell me! Tell me so I’ll be able to resolve it.”
“She… she wants to make me her consort. Queen Penthesilea. As soon as you’ve left. The ceremony has already been arranged with the priestess.”
I could barely breathe. Had I understood him wrong? The priestess – my priestess, the priestess of Orcheon – agreed to give my lover to another queen in the eyes of the Goddess?
“Her final blow.” In thought, I spit at Penthesilea. At the priestess. At my former tribal sisters. All my life, I had been surrounded by snakes in the grass and only know I realized its full extent.
“It… it wouldn’t be that bad? Probably? I’d get to see Phyllis grow up and… maybe her children, one day. Possibly.”
Phyllis. His daughter.
From all the things I believed Penthesilea capable to do, this was the most false one.
“And you believe that she won’t humiliate you every single day? That she won’t cast you aside when she's had her fill? You’ve seen what she does with discarded lovers.”
He couldn’t. He mustn’t.
“Please. That- you are her revenge. If you stay here as her consort, you might live to old age but you’ll be bound to her. In eternity. That’s what she wants. But if you come with me – and even if we die! – your soul will be free in the afterlife. You could choose your partner!” I drew closer to his ear until I was sure he could feel my breath. “I still bleed every moon. We could have the princess we’ve always wanted. Now that we know you can, too.” He gulped. Having a daughter together was finally within reach now. A daughter who wouldn’t know that her father had once been a slave.
The blink of an eye later, his arms wrapped around my back and his tongue sought mine. The advance was so unexpected, so intense and so desperate… but also, so long pined for.
Tingles ran through my body. I was thrown back in time. No gray strands, no subtle wrinkles, no loose skin – just the two of us in the chamber of the princess. Only giggling and love and naive promises to stay together in eternity.
When he finally pulled away, we were both gasping for air. He drew me to his chest, stroked my back.
We stood there for a long time, in each other’s tight embrace. With thumping hearts and fast breaths.
Protego’s hand on my back trembled. I had seldomly regretted something more than that we had to keep up a facade for the guards in front of the door now.
“We can have that each day,” I promised. “Covering way away from here until we’re tired to death. We can talk for half the night and then fall asleep together under the stars. Don't you want that? Don't you want to be part of a family?”
I knew he always had. But instead of any sort of answer, it stayed quiet. He simply continued holding me as if he’d never let go again.
As the moment grew longer and longer, I looked up at him.
Streams of tears poured out of his beautiful dark eyes, wetting his cheeks. As he noticed me watching, he gently drew back and pressed a peck onto my forehead.
My heart hurt at the thought that the peaceful illusion had already been shattered so soon.
“I will always love only you,” he whispered, choked with tears. “Please, forgive me, minha rainha.”
With a force I hadn’t known he possessed, he shoved me away and jumped backward.
In that moment, I realized what he was crying for.
“No. No! Stay here!” I stepped forward to seize his arm but he had already reached the door and banged on it.
The door swung open with force. Arythions flooded into the room. I fought them with all my strength but without Protego, I was weak.
“Don’t go! She will destroy you!”
He let out a whimpering, was then shoved out of sight. Until the very last moment, he never averted his gaze from me with those glassy, grief-stricken eyes.
Then I saw her.
Emerging proudly from where my Protego had vanished.
As the door had locked away the snake and my love with her once and for all, I sank down where Protego had last stood.
I had known Penthesilea would lie her head off to convince him to stay. But when he had come he had – sincerely and honestly – been undecided. He had earnestly considered running away as I had asked him to.
And he was unquestionably still in love with me.
But still, he had knowingly broken my heart in the end. And that alone hurt more than losing to Penthesilea ever would.
With trembling fingers, I stroke over the cold tiles. While I would spend the rest of my days alone and in exile, he would slowly be poisoned in a life he knew would be his ruin.
I wanted to yell it out. To yell so loud that the guards in front of the door, that Penthesilea, the treacherous Orcheons, even Serkon and Alexander far away in their palaces would go deaf.
I wanted to be angry. I deserved to be angry and to hate Protego for leaving me as much as I hated the daughter of Thestia.
But as I drew breath and opened my mouth, all that came out of it was a pitiful sob. And instead of hateful, I was drained.
That’s how the sky must feel, after shedding all these raindrops.
Poses by Natalia Auditore (here and here), anewlovesims, simmerberlin (here, here and here), loudsilencesims, Rinvalee, MrsRacooney, simtrovart and sim-plyreality
"minha rainha" means "my queen"
Later, the same day, still in the royal residence of Arythion.
Io won’t return.
And this time, there would be no ally to slash a way out. Boras had supported the high king’s demand and in all honesty, she had to assume that Serkon would back them as well.
Only a man, someone who did not know the Goddess and the ways of her honor, would be able to think of such a solution.
It was not that she could not comprehend Io wanting to marry Iasion and raise their son. Her decision disappointed Penthesilea, put obstacles in her way. But how- how could they demand of her to betray the Goddess, how could she agree to exchange Io for Deia – Amazon for another Amazon – so the provider would be be ransomed from the Goddess. Being no Amazon any more then, Io would be able to marry, to buy Chrysippos free for with his mother married to a Borathion, he would of course lose the status as a tribal son as well. And if Io and Iasion would have a daughter…
Life for life. She did not even want to imagine how much the kind woman would grieve after giving two children up to her in exchange for one, but apparently she had already agreed to the trade. What did she see in that boy, that he was worth abandoning two daughters consciously?
“You doubt the integrity of this trade.” Boras' voice was strangely hollow as he continued. “During the last two suns, Iasion has let the supervision of the warriors slide. At learning about your provider having conceived again, he disappeared for days.”
“Call it what you want, but you must admit that both your provider and my second commander can not keep living with the current situation. Consider it a compensation for my help in the case of Zeuxippe, if you will.”
Penthesilea swallowed. “I will try.” At the very moment that she had spoken the words out loud, a sigh escaped her lips. She felt the tension stream out of her body. Boras and her, they were both wandering at a small edge of their strength by now.
“A word in your ear. This time, Alexander was close to having you banished as well. But despite his bearing, he knows that he can only be a high king when other kings follow.
Alexander and you, you are my children. Both of you.”
Weary, the Amazon felt a wrinkly, light hand on hers.
“Restrain the Amazon blood flowing in your veins and you will one day be the base of the council. The youth of yore needs to carry on wisdom for when people like me am no more.”
Was... he talking about death? Now? Hastily, Penthesilea seized his hand. “Please, don't! You’re still far from dying.”
“My dear, I am old. Don't worry. I will be going in peace, knowing that I have forged my son a powerful alliance to defend Borathion's place in the council. Thycon of Light has agreed to send shipbuilders and resources to help rebuild part of the former Borathion fleet. With a princess of Light as his wife, Herchion will be so powerful that Arythion will look like an ant next to him.”
The smile surfacing at the thought only moved Boras' face marginally. The sudden realization squeezed Penthesilea’s heart painfully; Boras did not only feel old.
He felt tired.
And he wasn't afraid of his age. She was.
Trembling, the Amazon led the old king’s hand to her mouth, placed a respectful kiss onto it. Pressed it against her forehead. “What will we do without you?,” she whispered woefully.
A soft expression entered Boras’ features. “You will hold the council together. Chasten Serkon’s temper. Ensure that Evandros’ work has not been in vain. I would hate to imagine that after I’m gone, his testimony will be destroyed by quarreling leaders.” After a few moments of silence, he cleared his throat. “But right now, we should tend to more cheerful matters. It appears as if your Goddess has already given her blessing to you in advance, despite the questionable trade concerning your provider. Help me rise, there is something to show you.”
Escorting the old man outside, Penthesilea used an unwatched moment to brush a tear away.
What could have convinced Boras that the Goddess had awarded her her favor, her of all?
The Borathion directed her straight toward an aisle flanked by benches – the wall displaying beautiful colors that must have been vibrant before time had dulled them.
It was odd for joking voices and the peaceful gurgling of a fountain to reach her ear after her entire life’s work had been on the rocks only shortly before.
From one bench, the sounds died down when the two rulers drew closer. A brief scurrying, a last corner to be passed and a couple of figures appeared in sight. Penthesilea held her breath.
This time, Boras’ smile was indeed brighter. “They arrived yesterday in the evening, just in time to spend the night in the guest chambers of Borathion and be free of any suspicion to waylay your provider and Iasion. And they asked for you specifically.”
Penthesilea took a closer look at them. There was no doubt that they were warriors – even the youth. They bore the pride and determination of a fighter with the required easiness.
One of them, vigorous, with dark, wild hair and obviously the spokeswoman of the group, now stepped forward.
“We are traveling by order of great queen Xanthippe of Santrake. Our task is to find her sister, princess Penthesilea, daughter of Thestia. Are you, my lady, afore-mentioned princess Penthesilea?”
“Yes.” The queen's heart rejoiced in her chest, “yes, I am Penthesilea, princess of Santrake and in the meantime queen myself.”
“My lady, please accept our deference.” The three women and a black-haired, tall slave in their back fell to their knees.
It was so long since anybody had honored her in that way. Since she had left Santrake, in fact. Things were different here, in the middle of male territory.
Male? Right… she was on Alexander’s property. Seeing the group kneel before her while they had certainly not bestowed the same honor on him would certainly not meet with his approval.
“No, please! It is fine to stand before me. I am but the smallest tribe’s leader here, not a powerful princess.”
She did not notice the least that Boras retreated slowly but surely.
“My lady, my name is Trip of Santrake. Your sister and creator Amadahy Blessing Moon send their compliments and wish you well.”
So Amadahy had gone to meet Xanthippe again and reported about her long-gone sister living among men? She should have known. Amadahy had been such a sincere and warm person, of course she would spread the joyful news.
“Thank you, Trip. Please return the compliments to both, Xanthippe and Amadahy.” Her look traveled over the other two women. “And who are your companions?”
“Faidra, a warrior from Saan tribe. Saan was devastated by a plague.”
“We heard of your tribe’s misfortune. My condolences, Faidra. How have you managed to escape the illness?”
The redhead gave a brief shrug.
Penthesilea turned to the youth at Trip's other side. How old might she be? Maybe at Hippolyta’s age, 16 or 17 summers? “And who are you?”
“Cassiopeia of Nerusa, my lady. From the South.” A spirited, tuneful accent lent her voice the tinge of her home – much like a fast, rhythmic dance.
It was the same accent Protego still possessed, too - a tiny rest of it, sometimes, when he did not talk to her or Hippolyta.
“Nerusa! The Nerusa, the famed Amazon seaport?”
“Yes, my lady. The Nerusa. But,” her eyes were suddenly clouded, “it fell years ago. We were sacked by pirates. Our queen and princesses are dead.”
“Oh, that… I am most sorry that you have been forced to make this experience so early in your life.”
“It’s alright,” although the girl’s voice did not sound as if it was, “I’m still alive and here now.”
Talking to these women who had lost everything was hard, particularly now that she had not led such a discussion for suns. Many of the once well-mastered rhetorical skills must have withered away during the seclusion in the Arythions’ sphere of influence.
“The queen wishes to commend these two to your care. Please allow them to stay with you.”
“And she sends you two gifts.” Trip waved toward her back. “Thersandros of Theranor. Creator Amadahy mentioned that your master slave was breeding, so the queen thought you might accept this one to replace him.”
Ther- For the blink of an eye, Penthesilea was convinced her heart had stopped beating.
The women of Theranor were widely known for their excellent slave breed, so famed that tribal leaders came from afar to purchase a slave or two. For their trade and the wide-stretching wheat fields, their territory was called “the land of gold” and their riches were rumored to surpass those of Santrake by far.
She should have recognized it. Although direct neighbors to Santrake, the Theranors had never let the southern blood of the descendants of Justice* mix with theirs. So unlike the Santrakians, they had preserved the fair skin and bright eyes of Loyalty’s* eastern children.
And the young man in front of her displayed just that very prominently.
“My queen.” He bowed, held one fist up.
The gesture was old. Older than Penthesilea herself or her mother or the generations before her. A request from a prisoner of war or slave toward a new master for mercy, for protection and care. And in return – the promise of devoted service and surrender of their life.
Nobody- nobody had ever directed the ancient gesture toward her yet. Overwhelmed, she enclosed the presented fist with her hand.
“...and this is the last part of your sister’s gift, my lady.” Trip offered her a bundle, larger in size than her own palm. Almost reverently, Penthesilea opened the cloth.
It was a diadem. A diadem with a giant, deep blue lapis lazuli incorporated in the middle.
“It is beautiful,” she stuttered before her voice could fail her entirely. Sure, Thestia's two daughters had never been enemies - but rivals, still. As the oldest, Xanthippe had always had the edge over her. More attention. More allies. Many must have breathed a sigh of relief when Penthesilea had left. One potential danger to the throne less.
This wasn't only gifts. This was an offering of peace.
Well... Sooner or later, she would have to say something. “Will you stay as well, Trip?”
“Goddess forbid! I mean, of course it would be my honor to stay with you, my lady. But the queen has commanded me to report her back, and I am longing to see my beloved again, my Thari.”
“Please bring my sister my most sincere thanks for all the beautiful gifts, then.”
“I will, my lady. But I would be very much grateful if you allowed me a night of rest and a meal to restore my vitality. Tomorrow, I will leave at at sunrise. No need to linger in this goddess–forsaken, menfolk–polluted nest any longer! I long to enfold Thari's warm body in my arms again. When will we leave? I will have to search for Bud first. Bud, my boy, where are you? Come here!” And before Penthesilea got a chance to understand, the dark-haired warrior was already on her way.
“The only male she tolerates closer than ten steps within her reach. And blind as a bat!”
“We had to carry him in turns but she utterly refused to let him stay at home with her lover.” Cassiopeia giggled quietly and they watched a small figure trudging into sight from behind a bush, slowly following his mistress’s incessant yells.
“Aaah, there you are! Tell me, how many men have you run into and knocked down today with those blind eyes of yours? Good boy!”
“Bud is… a dog?” Penthesilea shook her head in disbelief.
Such a strange group. And yet, pride filled her every bone when they set off.
These - the women her sister had sent - were the survivors, the strong ones.
Women capable to build a new tribe with, to be outsiders until they had found a firm place in the web of power among the locals.
They would fetch Hippolyta and Phyllis from Dekanos, hope that the new slave was a better cook than Protego and have a feast. Finally. For diversion.
She would miss Io a lot and not all problems were solved yet, but all of them could use a little joy at the moment.
And after all, she was more confident now than she had been for a long, long time, and with good reason so, she believed.
Poses by Atashi77 and MrsRacooney and a bunch of spontaneously used standing poses that I'm unable to remember
* Justice and Loyalty, daughters of the Great Goddess of Santrake, according to the myths ancestresses to the southern (Justice) and eastern (Loyalty) Amazon tribes
This chapter has extra screenshots in the gallery
The shivering had been hard to restrain during the ride to the Arythion royal palace already. But when a servant drew back the curtain in front of them, Penthesilea realized she had not even experienced a fracture of its possible extent.
She was shaking inside and out as the stiff faces of half a dozen leaders and several warriors were revealed.
There was still hope, right? At least a drop of it returned to the queen’s heart at spotting the lord of Borathion. His mouth below the ash-blond shock of hair gave her a smile. Limp and with matt eyes, but a smile altogether.
A queasy feeling climbing upward in her bowels, she started walking toward the last two vacant chairs.
Alexander’s raised throne loomed over them. His eyes rested on the arrivals – spending more time on her than would have put her at ease.
It is alright, she tried to tell herself. She still had a powerful ally.
Serkon had been so convinced that the two of them would suffice for the eventuality of a flight. Penthesilea swallowed hard. Despite both of them being excellent fighter - would that really be enough to overpower the guards Alexander had prudently placed?
At his elevated position, Evandros’ son remained silent even after they had seated themselves. Forever, as it felt for her anxiously racing heart.
Finally, finally, he sat up and addressed the entire council. Almost cheerfully.
As if none of them had picked up on the heavy tension filling the room.
“When my father died and all of you consoled me and swore loyalty, it convinced me that our tribes might continue to live in peace with each other.
It did not occur to me that one day, we would sit in judgment over one of our own.” The young king’s gaze traveled carefully over the older leaders. “But this baleful day has come nonetheless. This morning, Zeuxippe of Orcheon has approached me to accuse Penthesilea of Santrake of treason and bad intentions against her health and life.”
A drop of cold sweat began to form over Penthesilea's eyebrow. How much- How much had she wished to be wrong in her assumption about the other queen. Most desperately so.
At her left, Serkon leaped up. “I demand examination of this malicious slander! You can impossibly expect Penthesilea to submit silently to such an imputation!”
Boras pursed his lips and low-key raised a hand.
“Naturally, you are right.” Alexander turned to Zeuxippe at his side. “Would you be as kind as to repeat for the other kings what you have told me earlier.”
The Orcheon's dark eyes scampered around. “I… I do not feel comfortable to talk about my best friend for suns in such a manner. It does feel like… slander. But since my daughter’s life and the well-being of entire tribe Orcheon depends on it, I will follow your demand. It seems I am left with no choice anyway since some of us,” for a brief moment, her look met Serkon’s from the corner of her eye, “have already been drawn into her trickery.”
During the following while, Penthesilea could not help herself but listen to the abstract tale.
A tale as repellent as entrancing.
It was an excellent web Zeuxippe was weaving. Spun of lies, facts and half-truths in equal measure. Meticulously covering all the suns from the day of Penthesilea's arrival until this very morning.
Jealousy. Failed plans to take over Orcheon. To obtain power over all the tribes by getting hold of the warriors' training. Stealing other tribes’ members and slaves and all that simply because she, Penthesilea, was guided by a short-lived mood.
“…and when her plans did not succeed, she took from me the slave I liked most and let him sire a daughter.” Zeuxippe’s knuckles went white from the force with which she cramped them around the armrests of her chair. “His daughter. My most fervent wish back then. And in my ignorance, I had not kept it a secret.”
But the elation of this victory was not destined to linger for too long. When she, Zeuxippe, too had born an heiress, Penthesilea must have ordered her master slave at the time to kill the girl’s father so as to cause the hated fellow queen even more heartbreak.
Listening to all the crimes she had not known of, the Santrakian wondered if the others picked up on the well-wordedness and flawless structure of the charge. So elaborate a speech could impossibly be the result of a single morning of brooding. Particularly not when the respective events were spread over nearly 20 suns.
But apart from the furious expression on Serkon’s face and Boras’ concern, there was no indication of sympathy toward her.
“Even choosing her allies for the present day, she proved finesse,” Zeuxippe closed her speech, “and seduced the king most closely related to the Arythions by blood, even secured her right to the Dekanos throne by bearing his child.”
Breathing in heavily, the daughter of Thestia prepared herself for the last and hardest part.
“Tonight, she allowed her provider – the girl she had stolen from Evandros – to flee with her lover and pushed me into condemning them publicly. Finally- after so long a time, the perfidious way she abandoned her only tribe member has opened my eyes about her real intentions.”
“Knowing she would come here to get a trial on against me at first chance, my last resort was to get it rolling before that. So,” she closed with calm dignity, “I hope you have not only lent the truth your ears but opened up your hearts as well.”
Awkward silence laid over the room. No one dared to raise their voice or even look up. Pounding hard against her chest, Penthesilea’s heart was fluttering like a nestling that had fallen out of the parental nest.
Advik of Chonar raised his voice as the first one, turning all heads. “That is an abominable behavior. Using an innocent mother and her helpless newborn to overthrow another ruler! It requires severe punishment so as not to be repeated ever again.”
Penthesilea closed her eyes and let the full pain of betrayal strike.
So not only her assumed best friend had decided to stab her in the back, no. Now Io’s second lover whom she had helped so much to win her provider’s favor after moons of the woman’s grief for her son – he of all followed close on the Orcheon’s heels.
“He is right,” Hepatos of Vauros weighed in. “Who would be safe if we let treason go unpunished?”
“Godsdamnit, shut your vile mouths!” In a sudden outburst, Serkon yelled at the two previous speakers. “Plague and fever*, are you kings or dull common folks who believe any word an obscure storyteller whispers into their ear on the streets?”
“She is serving you the most brazen lies and you believe her readily. You!” His finger found Zeuxippe’s face at once, pointing as if to gouge out her eyes. “Nobody has seduced me, apart from your foul mug that failed miserably in the attempt and now tries to vent her wrath by defaming Penthesilea!”
“Hearing yourself, can’t you even imagine why I chose her over you?”
For a few moments, Zeuxippe returned his glare. “The fact alone that you still defend her after being played so many times proves my point, Serkon.”
“Oh, you have always liked twisting every word until it fits your pretty story, haven’t you. Watch out,” he forcefully pressed through gritted teeth, “you’re not dealing with a ploughboy this time. I, too was schooled in rhetoric. You prefer to evade an answer by launching a counterattack, so be it. Let's play following your rules.” With a forceful turn, he faced Alexander and stared him straight in the eyes. “By Teinos*, every single one of us should have recognized by now that Penthesilea can impossibly answer back any more without seemingly proving that she has all reason to hate and inflict harm upon Zeuxippe.”
Catching the older man before him with alert eyes, Alexander's hand wandered to his beard. Slowly, he stroke over it, again and again.
His voice sounded... too casual in face of the full-fledged war unfolding in his very own home. Penthesilea’s blood froze.
“You have a point, again, cousin. Everyone should get their fair share of speaking out loud in the court. So- now that Zeuxippe has brought forward her accusations, does anyone wish to respond?”
The Santrakian swallowed. Half-way, the gulp got stuck. Collecting all her courage while still struggling for breath, she opened the mouth.
In the very last moment, Boras sighed heavily. “Yes. I will. It is my wish to inform all of you that this morning, my second-in-command has confided in me.
Due to his report, the high king and I have agreed on exiling Zeuxippe of Orcheon.”
Six pairs of royal eyes stared at the blond king of Borathion. Dismay was written- no, carved deep into their faces. Penthesilea forgot to close her mouth. Forgot to breathe.
Not a single sound disturbed the atmosphere of absolute consternation.
The entire situation had suddenly become so surreal.
“You- what?” Serkon dared to express what burnt on everyone's tongue.
“We will banish Zeuxippe, dear cousin,” Alexander repeated sweetly.
Serkon turned and sat back down.
With a loud thud right into the developing confusion and agitation, Zeuxippe fisted the already previously abused rest of her chair.
“Everyone knows Penthesilea has charmed the Borations, too!” A vein bulged at her forehead.
“Oh? Everyone does?” The young lord of Arythion furrowed his brows. If he had enjoyed the discussion before – now, he was straightaway glorying in it.
“Iasion is Boras’ man, of course he will testify against me!”
“Interesting.” Alexander stroked his beard again. “Why would he?”
For the blink of an eye, the Orcheon actually drew back. Then, high-pitched laughter escaped her throat and painfully rang in the attenders’ ears. “Iasion is the poor betrayed provider’s lover! His request for permission to raise their son in freedom was denied repeatedly by that heartless witch. She even sold the boy to a slave hold with the instruction not to let the father near him.”
The uninvolved leaders, even the stoic guards exchanged horrified glances. Penthesilea slipped back and forth on her seat, feeling even Serkon’s aghast look piercing her left.
She knew why she had kept the matter with Chrysippos low-key. Necessarily, only Boras as Iasion's king and her best friend and fellow Amazon had received more insight into it.
Even before she had negotiated the terms with Iasion, Boras had explicitly expressed his disapproval.
It was impossible to defend herself. Each attempt would be but feeble. “He knew what fate the child would meet if it was going to be a boy. And still, he had agreed.”
“Can you imagine, lords? A sweet, innocent baby separated from those who love him. What an act of barbarity!”
The hoarse, unpleasant voice of Hepatos of Vauros interrupted Zeuxippe. “Would that not rather argue for this Iasion to dislike Penthesilea?”
Ungracious, Zeuxippe threw him a wild, furious look. “Who knows what that slanderous toad has promised him in return, just to prove her innocence. What the testimony of a man who has indeed each and every reason to hate her would be worth! With that in her back, she would be above any suspicion.”
“Iasion also said that he had been talked into visiting their son by Penthesilea’s provider,” Boras interjected calmly. “Who just happens to have conversed with you not long before. But on the way back, they were ambushed. By female warriors.”
A shiver ran down Penthesilea’s spine. An ambush? From Amazons? Was that what Boras was saying?
The old king looked at the others, one after another. “Surely, we can all agree on that Orcheon is the only huger Amazon tribe in this area.”
“He’s lying! That bastard’s lying! What would my warriors seek so late at night?”
“Yes,” Alexander clicked his tongue. “What would they seek?”
“According to him, there were four warriors led by one with short black hair who was holding back from fight until she realized that she would be needed – apparently because she was carrying quite a belly.”
Serkon hissed. “Isn’t your lover expecting from Penthesilea’s master slave, Zeuxippe?”
“What are you implying!” Paling, the queen of Orcheon snorted. “Your relying on Iasion is completely arbitrarily! That whore has bribe-”
“Oh. Arbitrary?” Slowly, the son of Evandros lowered his head. “Even if I chose to banish you on a whim there would still be nothing you could do against it.”
In rage, Zeuxippe leaped up. Took two rash steps toward him.
Two steps too much. Within the blink of an eye, two guards were at her side.
“She seduced Serkon, stole Protego and your father’s tribe member and he let her get away without the hint of a punishment! And you want to banish me for pursuing justice?”
“I am not my father.” Coldness filled the young king’s voice. All of a sudden, the room was dripping with hostility, the Arythion's recent cheerfulness blown away. The well-known cool shiver ran down Penthesilea's spine.
Fighting the two warriors with all her strength, Zeuxippe braced her feet against the bottom. “You don’t have the right to overthrow an Amazon queen! Men are not permitted to mingle in our affairs!”
The king of Arythion waved her off. “Might makes right, Amazon. Be grateful that your daughter may stay if she swears loyalty. She can take over your tribe when you're gone. Now, bring her awa-”
“Stop!” Something was raging in Serkon's handsome face, something that Penthesilea had never seen there before.
And it terrified her.
“There is something I still have to know. And if you lie, by all gods I swear-” Although his fists clenched tighter, he continued with dangerous calmness. “Have you commanded the assassination attack on Penthesilea all those suns ago?”
For hopefully the last time that afternoon, the present ones held their breath. Zeuxippe, half turned, stared at him with flashing eyes.
“As blind and self-pleased as you are - even you can’t blame me for everything.”
“Gods damn it! Wicked snake! Even now you still deny!” Alarmed, Penthesilea saw him advance just in time to seize his wrist. The next moment, she let go already - flinching at how vigorously he pulled away.
Zeuxippe fired back with insults full-throatedly while another man came to her guards’ aid. With joint strength, they half dragged, half pushed her out of the room.
Serkon shook his fist at her. “If there had been any chance, you would have killed Penthesilea and my unborn daughter readily!”
As the blood-red curtains drew closer at last, the remaining ones still heard her almost pleading voice in between thuds and angry cries. “Let me talk with Protego! Otherwise I won’t go. Let him come see me and I’ll leave voluntarily. Let me talk to him!”
“If you dare to come back I’ll kill you with my own bare hands. Gods are my witness!”
* Teinos, god of crime, madness and plague from the Arythion culture circle; "the damned god", his name or attributes are often used in curses
Whut. Alexander was good enough to get rid of Penny, now that he doesn't he such a brat and has no right to overthrow an Amazon, and erryone else so angery. Behave like kings (queens), pretty pls?
-- No Haimons were harmed in the doing of this chapter --
...and next chapter:
At some point during this chapter, it will come in handy to remember that Simachion of Arythion has been Serkon's personal student on the training ground - just a little sidenote.
High female laughter, lively conversations and the delighted screams of a toddler blended with the soft sound of a lyre. The blithe voices carried the serene carefreeness of a lazy afternoon through the column-lined corridors of Dekanos palace.
Penthesilea rushed past the walls loaded with colorful pictures of long-passed kings and hunting scenes. She had seen them ever so often that they had lost their appeal entirely.
With few effort at all, she found Serkon withdrawn into the royal family’s private rooms, surrounded by his and his bodyguard’s kin.
He turned at her hurried steps. And at recognizing the unexpected visitor, the corners of his mouth curled up into a smile.
Kaletor’s small hand reached out to attract his father’s interest again - but dropped soon. Hastily, he eased himself off the floor, knees wobbling and scuttled to his mother.
“Penthesilea. To what do I owe the honor of this visit?” Serkon’s swinging steps took a halt in front of her.
“I need to speak with you. Alone.” The attenders quit their work, elaborate weaves and exalted conversations.
Without a single moment of pondering, Serkon addressed the entire court. “Everyone, leave.”
The slaves moved first, and fastet. One of them swept Kaletor onto her arms to carry him outside. His protesting yells slowly fell silent behind the arch, somewhere in between the drawings of his sublime forefathers and a startled dog’s barking.
Watching them leave, Leukippe stayed seated. As the very last to remain, finally, she arose gracefully. Was it imagination or did she indeed pause in front of her husband and the Amazon for the blink of an eye? Did her eyes really narrow before she paced away in measured tread?
In any case, her icy stare still seeped into Penthesilea’s skin when the queen of Dekanos had long left.
“Now, you wanted to talk?”
The daughter of Thestia felt her mouth run dry. “It- it is hard to explain, actually.” Where were the carefully concocted words all of a sudden? All the eloquent vows that she was telling no more than the truth? “I need your help and some of your warriors.”
One of Serkon’s brows twitched upward subtly but his hazel eyes still hung on to hers.
“Hippolyta’s well-being might depend on it. We… I have reason to believe that Zeuxippe has turned against me once more.”
Now that finally caused a reaction. The one she had seen coming all along, and the one she had feared beyond measure.
Perplexed, Serkon took a step back.
“Stirring up that old quarrel after so long a time seems inadvisable to me. Shouldn’t we rather be glad that it belongs to the past now?”
How was this statement spoken in such a gentle tone? Much gentler than she would have dared to hope for. In some way, the unexpected sympathy complicated things even more.
“You see, I can not prove anything. And this time, I will gladly accept to be wrong, but- in case that I am not, will you hear me out?”
His nod was hesitating - yet honest, as she found. So she told him everything within her knowledge. Starting with Io, her disappearance at night, the long search and all the happenings in the temple of Thalessos.
How Iasion had obviously perceived someone as a threat back then, but that it couldn't have been herself.
That only Zeuxippe’s appearance had motivated him to leave the own safety behind the altar to protect Io. While he had apparently not considered it necessary before.
That Zeuxippe was also the only one who had had the chance and reason to plant lies in Io’s mind that the trustful woman would readily believe. Lies that would confirm her worries for Chrysippos and thus make her defy her, Penthesilea’s, orders against better knowledge.
And while recounting, suddenly everything fell into place so well. Taking Io, her best friend, away could very well be an act of revenge.
You took from me, I take something in return. An eye for an eye.
Had she blindly fallen to the idea of an ally in the council, a like-minded sister to rely onto? Something she had always so desperately wished for.
With her heart shed silent tears, she still tried to keep all her senses together. “Your soldiers need to protect Hippolyta and Phyllis. I can only seek Io out to question her when knowing them safe. And nowhere would they be in better hands than in yours.”
While Serkon brooded, silence spread between them. Silence dark and heavy like the one that occasionally grabbed for her heart at night, when horrifying pictures kept her awake.
She was so tired.
Finally, he took a deep breath. “If armed protection makes you feel safer, so be it. Dekanos can bear a few warriors less for some days. However - what troubles me more is your suspicion. After growing up with Zeuxippe, I can’t believe she would be able to stab anyone in the back like that. Not to mention deliberately opposing the Council’s basic rules. Her tribe can’t afford that.”
“It is hardly imaginable,” Penthesilea admitted reluctantly. “But if this is indeed Zeuxippe’s doing, I do not possess the time to wait for any kind of confirmation. She, too must know that when I wake up and meet Io without her presence, her intents will inevitably spill. Hence, she would have to beat me to the draw in order to remain unscathed herself.” A short shudder ran down her spine. “Maybe she already has. I- I wish I would not demand such a choice of you. You have been a good father to Hippolyta, and… a good friend to myself.”
There she was. A pure-blooded Amazon from the house of Thestia the Great, conqueror of the Western savages. Fighting with tears of frustration while begging a man for help against a sister in arms. The ugly feeling sank its claws into her.
Traitor. It echoed in her head, again and again and made her even more furious. She was at right this time. She was the prey, driven into the corner. This time, it was not even her fault.
And then, suddenly, she felt something else. A warmth, a comfort, emanating from her upper arm.
As she looked at it, a large hand laid there.
“Never apologize for putting trust in your friends, Penthesilea.”
The gentle voice from above melted something inside of her. A wall fell and with it, the tears welled up uncontrollably.
They felt strange, almost good, as if having been held back for far too long.
And with that raw, aching heart she clung to the one thing in her reach. The one thing that hugged her back and held her reliably and safe and yet so tenderly.
Held her until she had run out of tears. Until sadness was all that was left and spread inside her and hurt where it met with Serkon's warmth and shied away from it.
Oh Great Goddess, guardian of those with a warrior's heart; let it end. Let it end. Let it end. Or this struggle would finally tear her apart.
“Protect them,” she whispered into Serkon's ear with the taste of salt on her tongue. “Both of them. Phyllis as well.”
A hand, rough from the use of weapons, stroke over her hair. “Nobody will get to them. And nobody will get to you, either.”
How strange it was that she trusted his every word so unconditionally. That the people she naturally relied on the most were both men. One so old he could easily have been her father and one she had never had the chance to be with in the first place.
A lowered voice from the entrance let Penthesilea flinch and withdraw from Serkon’s arms in a haste. Breathless, her attention was directed toward Vince under the arch.
“My lord. An armed group of Arythions have approached the gates and demand to speak to you.”
Immediately, Serkon was entirely the ruler as he stepped closer to his bodyguard. “Arythions? In arms? On my ground? Did they state their desire?”
“Other than to pass on a message from their king, no. They haven’t.”
The Dekanos snorted. “Take their weapons and bring their leader – and the leader only – to me. The others, let them stay before the gates.”
“They have already denied to hand out their weapons.”
“Then in all gods’ name bring me that man to explain the presumptuous behavior of that king of his!”
“That is already done,” Vince declared and began to gesture toward the hallway. As a warrior in light armor emerged, still carrying a spear, Serkon’s chest heaved with sudden recognition.
“Say, Simachion.” Towering high above the Arythion, the proud lord of Dekanos fell into a slow, threatening speech. “Alexander must aim to evoke a war sending his men on Dekanos land in full armor!”
With an insufficiently suppressed harrumphing, the warrior rose to speak. “It is not my king who seeks quarrel, my lord. He merely calls the leaders to assemble. King Alexander demands your presence for the court of justice.”
His alert eyes wandered off to Penthesilea. “Especially so the presence of the daughter of Thestia.”
The Amazon felt the blood rush out of her face.
So she was too late after all. The sleep after the argument in the temple had robbed her of precious time. Time that redounded upon her now.
Thoughts whirled in her brain, too fast to ever be caught. This couldn't be happening. She couldn't be reduced to hoping that Serkon’s advocacy would suffice already to sway the Council in her favor.
Serkon raised his voice at that very moment. “Tell Alexander- tell that boy who calls himself a king that the rulers of Santrake and Dekanos will come not because of his insolent call, but to claim from him the due respect a position as ours holds.”
Simachion shifted his weight. “If that is indeed what you wish to convey to the lord of Arythion, so be it. Though it will certainly not leave him in good spirits for your arrival.”
“Dekanos doesn’t need to lick his feet even when he decides to trample each and every tie of kinship under them. Tell him that if you dare.” A vigorous wave of the hand dismissed Alexander’s envoy. “Now, be gone with you before I become tempted to show you by how far the teacher outclasses his student!”
For a short moment, there was silence. But as Vince began to move to drag the Arythion outside, Simachion spoke up calmly for a last time. “Not everyone is blessed with the chance to choose their loyalties, my lord.”
And by that, he turned and left by himself.
Penthesilea held back until the two were surely out of earshot. Then, she pled. With all the strength and desperation she could still collect.
“Please, send the warriors to Hippolyta and Phyllis now! When the Arythions have been here already, they are undoubtedly on their way to them as well. We can't lose any more time!”
“Five of my best warriors will set off immediately to escort Lyta and the other girl here. That should suffice for any encounters on the way. Meanwhile, we will head to the Arythions to defend you before the court.
But- I don’t like that. Not a bit.”
Something had to trouble him majorly.
Tightness manifested within Penthesilea's chest. “Serkon. The court. What awaits us there?”
He stopped the erratic stride he had fallen into just a moment ago and scanned the environments. “I can’t even speculate. The last time it has been summoned, one tribe fell. More than 50 suns ago.”
His discomposure sent a shiver down her spine. A shiver of fear of the answer, of vocalizing what in fact, she already knew after helplessly watching the events thicken.
“I will have to face Alexander to clear myself from any charges, do I not?”
“Unless you prefer taking your daughters and running from his and Zeuxippe’s bloodhounds, yes.”
Fear was something she would have claimed to be used of, and yet this particular fear preyed on her sanity. How would she ever be able to take a next step, much less meeting and resisting the other rulers and Zeuxippe as the accused?
Then, finally, Serkon stretched out his hand. “Come. Let’s head out. Maybe Alexander will accept me taking action on your behalf.”
And with the most gratitude she had ever felt in her entire life, she took the offered hand and let herself be led toward the Dekanos stables.
Poses by josiesimblr (here and here), maddoxx012, Delise, Atashi77, MrsRacooney, simmerberlin, clumsyalienn, Natalia-Auditore (here and here), candycottonchu and joannebernice
Penthesilea kneaded her fingers while the slave was away. The search for Io and the baby had robbed her of sleep entirely. Her head was throbbing and a veil encased her senses since she had arrived at the Orcheons' residence.
Finally, the man returned. “The queen has been apprised of your presence and will meet you when prepared.”
“Would you enjoy a cup of wine in the meantime?”
“No.” Maybe the wine would put her at rest at least partially but she didn’t dare to risk an even blurrier perception. To stay awake, she began to pace up and down.
Lyta and her had searched until daybreak but found no hint at the missing ones’ whereabouts let alone themselves. Only shortly before the first rays of morning sun, they had settled on her bed to debate the further procedure.
During a few moments of silence, Lyta had fallen asleep.
In hindsight, the queen’s conscience condemned her over and over for having expected too much from her daughter. But at least, the princess could rest now.
At the thought, her own limbs became heavy, too. Everyone had slept when she had left – Protego had only carried himself out of the basement room to join Phyllis on the stone bench. To be there when the girl would wake. To assure her that no one had fallen victim to an angered goddess.
And thankfully, they could be sure that he wouldn’t try to flee just like Haimon when his daughter was one of those held accountable.
Zeuxippe, too spoke slowly and slurred as she appeared after quite a while.
“There you are!” Penthesilea’s mind revolted even stronger against wake as it was promised not to bear the burden alone any more. “I need you. Io has disappeared in the night and Deia, too. We have looked everywhere around the compound but without success. Please, help me find them!”
The Orcheon took place, then yawned heartily. “That is strange. Why would she leave you in the first place?”
“I don’t know.” Guesses had of course surfaced during the sleepless half of the night but now, in daylight, none of them sounded more than ridiculous at best.
“And you are sure she hasn’t just gone for a blow?”
“She wouldn’t stay out for so long. Least of all with a newborn.”
“True,” Zeuxippe confessed pensively, “true. But again, if anyone would have stayed at your side I figured it would have been her. That she is capable of such a betrayal of trust is… disappointing.”
It was. And the other Amazon was the only one who would fully understand. Not Serkon, not Boras – only Zeuxippe.
After losing her lover.
Penthesilea buried her head in the hands. “Great Goddess! Please, Zeuxippe, help me. Losing her would be… so…”
For a few moments, she believed to feel emotions fight for upper hand in the other queen's stare. But the late answer bore a hint of the long-awaited forgiveness at last.
“Alright. Let’s think of how we can get that unfaithful Arythion back.”
Suddenly, something knocked at an imaginary door in Penthesilea’s tortured mind. It was hard to grasp the invader in the midst of all the exhaustion.
But it was a word. A single word.
Alarmed, the daughter of Thestia straightened up. “I know where she is,” she blurted out.
Surprise was written in Zeuxippe’s face. “You do?”
“You said she was Arythion. She is. And an Arythion would no matter the circumstances seek refuge in the temple of the Sea God!” Maybe it had been a mistake not to think of that before but Io had been an Amazon for many suns now, trusted friend of the queen herself.
“That… sounds reasonable. But she’s also your provider. Why wouldn’t she turn to the Goddess instead?”
“No. Io would still prefer the Sea God.”
Zeuxippe snorted. “That unbeliever. She has never been one of us, has she?”
“Will you come with me?”
“Well.” The Orcheon looked down at herself. “If you can wait until I am properly dressed.”
Sweltering, dry heat hit Penthesilea as she followed the Sea God’s high priest.
The air’s heaviness masked the usual moldy smell of underground chambers. Breathing turned more and more into torture.
Her look followed the dim flare to its source, the never-dying fire shedding light at the wooden altar in the middle of the room.
Alexandros turned and locked on to her gaze sternly. “These are sacred grounds. They as well as everyone staying here are under the protection of Thalessos of the Sea.”
His head tilted toward the flickering lights.
For a moment, nothing seemed to be there other than shadows dancing on the walls. But then, blinking, the Amazon discovered a tiny piece of human skin shimmering from the altar’s back side.
The priest raised his voice with an almost divine power. “In the name of the lord Sea and Sun who will provide safety for your body and soul, you may come forth.”
“Io?” Penthesilea took a hopeful step toward the brightness but stocked under the Arythion’s strict watch. The skin behind the altar moved, disappeared from sight. The blink of an eye later, a face framed by raven-black hair rose.
“My lady!” As soon as she had spotted the queen, Io leaped up. Dark eyes sparkling, she hurried closer. “I knew you’d find us!”
Relief flooded Penthesilea’s heart. “Are you well? Where is Deia?”
The small woman came to a stand in front of her. “Oh, she’s well and sound asleep at a safe place, my lady, don’t worry about her! I’m so glad you’re here!”
“Me, too,” the daughter of Thestia confessed in bewilderment. “But- why did you two leave the compound so late?”
The same moment the words were spoken, Io looked down at the bald marble ground and mumbled. “My… my lady. I must beg your pardon. It was all my fault, I- it’s only me to blame.”
“Blame? What for? Is it so bad you can not just tell me?”
The provider’s lips began to quiver. “It’s just that I- I- missed him so much- And after hearing how gruesome living conditions are for children on slave holds I-” Her shoulders slumped. “I had to go and see if he’s fine.”
In shock, Penthesilea looked her friend over. “Are you saying… that you have taken the risk of a nighttime travel to an infamous slave hold with a helpless baby while knowingly disregarding my orders?”
“Yes,” the whispered answer came.
“Do you not understand that the orders were supposed to protect you?”
“I do, and I am so sorry to have broken them but after hearing about the terrible life of slave children-” In the middle of the sentence, Io’s voice cracked. “I couldn’t- I- I love Chrysippos, too!”
The queen stepped forward. Closer to Io whose suffering face was now enclosed by the coal pans' light. At once, the room had become suffocatingly narrow. “Who?,” she asked. “Who told you tha-”
A sudden yell broke in at them. “-in the name of the Sea God, go no further!” Accompanied by a bang and a wiry, sword-bearing youth stumbling after her, Zeuxippe made a full blast appearance.
“Penthesilea, look who’s here! The traitor’s so-!”
Noticing the sought one in the small group, she interrupted herself. “The traitor’s son.” Her eyes narrowed. “You’ve found your tribe member!”
“It was impossible to oversee him as one of the temple guards.” Penthesilea’s gaze scampered around between Zeuxippe, Io and the young Arythion.
Io let out a suppressed scream and drew back.
“Charon!” Alexandros approached Echion’s son. “Your order was to guard the door and let nobody pass.”
Charon had drawn breath to bring up an angry excusion but stalled. Through between their heads, he pointed behind the group.
Even before they could follow his hint, yet another imperious voice filled the room. “Don’t say anything else, Io!”
Lips sternly pinched together, Iasion came out from behind the altar. “They don’t need to know more right now.”
“My lady, I swear by Bright Mitera that it’s my fault, I persuaded him to come with me, please...”
“Lies,” Iasion interrupted Io gently. “I was willing to accompany her. We went to see our son together.”
For a few moments, even the sizzling of the flames held its breath. They stopped their endless dance on the rough stone walls. Everyone- everything gaped in awe.
“Tsk, tsk.” The first to move, Zeuxippe tapped her tongue against the palate. “That’s truly a sight. Is that how you men thank for being invited into an Amazon’s bed and getting away with life? By seducing and desecrating her?
And you,” she turned to Io, “how could you defy your queen’s goddess-given authority and betray her so shamelessly! You have doomed your whole tribe with the Goddess’s wrath and we all know it can only be averted by blood.”
Young Charon leaped forward, teeth clenched and ready to attack. “Don’t pester everyone with that forever-damned goddess of yours!”
He was silenced by a single word from Alexandros who then admonished the Amazon as well. “Do not stain Thalessos’ house nor his servants in such a manner. You have accused this couple and my son-in-law of terrible things yet you do not know them. This is a sanctuary that will hold up peace and you will honor its deity's rules or leave.”
“A sanctuary.” Zeuxippe snorted. “A sanctuary for criminals? You consciously get in the way of justice, priest!”
It was enough. Sooner or later, it had to be just that. Sleeplessness. All the uncertainty. And now, that at least that was gone one of her friends was assaulting the other. The grief over her defied orders, her almost-murderer’s son. Exhaustion had crept into her every bone. It became increasingly hard to pretend determination or at least mental presence.
Enough. More than Penthesilea could take as she put forth her hand calmly into Io’s direction.
“Come. Come, we will return home and sleep.”
Her fellow queen let out a cry. “Penthesilea! You don’t think of pardoning her when her deed could cause your entire tribe’s downfall! She has got involved with a man!”
“I haven’t said anything about pardoning. But I am dead tired and need some rest before making such a grave decision.”
“I see.” Zeuxippe’s face opened up again. “Though it would undoubtedly put you more at ease judging now and sleep afterward, you have deserved the rest. For your comfort, please allow me to accompany you home. And I could also keep an eye on the wrongdoer to prevent her from attempting flight. Just remember what your master slave did - and he was better watched!”
Iasion crossed his arms. “She will not go anywhere, with nobody and neither will I. We claim the sanctuary of the temple.”
“You are criminals! You don’t have the right to claim anything but rightful punishment!”
“And you are not my queen,” Iasion shot back. “Only the king of Borathion is entitled to demand justification from me!”
“Insolent fool, don’t raise your voice toward a noblewom-”
Penthesilea put one hand at the Orcheon’s arm. “Please. Let it be for now. It is alright, we shall ask the priest not to let them escape.”
“Are you being serious? You can’t count on the priests’ loyalty, they’re Arythions and moreover, men! Of course they will side with him!”
“We will let them swear.”
Still not fully convinced, the other Amazon finally gave in. “Fine. But I will stay and care for that their promise will be held.”
“You will not stay,” Charon hissed.
“Indeed you will not.” Alexandros’ resolution wouldn’t tolerate any protest. “You may bear the title of queen up there but before the god and thus before us, too, it means nothing.”
“Well,” the Orcheon declared on the way out, “they can’t stay in there forever. And when they venture outside eventually, you will have your revenge.”
Though laying a finger on Io was the last Penthesilea could imagine, she kept silent to avoid yet another confrontation with one of her so precious allies. And arriving at the compound at long last, falling onto the bed that Lyta did not lay in any more, sleep took her into its arms almost immediately anyway and was dreamless for once.
Waking up when the sun stood high, Penthesilea enjoyed the few blissful moments of feeling that her strength and clearheadedness had returned. Yet oblivion didn't spare her for long from the events of the early morning.
So Io had, against all orders, gone to visit her son and taken little Deia and Iasion who she wasn't supposed to see any more with her. Next she knew was finding them in the temple with Io, though usually of gushing nature, beside herself with joy that she had found the way to them. That much still shone through the foggy memories of the night before.
Of course there had been Alexandros the Sea God's high priest and Charon, much more disrespectful and blunt than the last time while being on well-known territory. And not to forget, Iasion, too with ever more rebelliousness.
Maybe it was time to overthink the relationship tribe members should have with the men around. Both had begun so harmless, so... enchanting. Though in the end, it was pure luck that Serkon had still stayed as a friend after everything that had happened.
However, Io had experienced the tougher outcome. And it was hard to see her trust a man more than her queen. Equally hard to know that despite all the fondness that undeniably existed between them, she would be the one to end and punish it.
Good that Zeuxippe was there for support. She had spoken for her in that temple chamber, if even a bit rash and fierce at times. But her assistance had not exactly made her friends and she had still chosen to provide it.
No, really no friends if Penthesilea thought back at Charon and Iasions' open hostility. Iasion in particular had not revealed his presence until the Orcheon had shown herself, too. And he had immediately shut Io up.
All of his outbursts had been directed toward Zeuxippe. While toward her, Penthesilea, who he had every right to be angry with after forbidding him to see a woman he obviously liked and who had sold his son into slavery - toward her, he had behaved more guarded and almost polite.
It lacked sense that he would be so calm conversing with her when at the same time assuming that she bore the guilt for Chrysippos' miserable childhood. Where did Io hear about that, anyway? It had never come to Penthesilea's own attention that the slave traders would mistreat children notably. They still wanted to realize a good price, did they not? Who could have-
Slowly, a thought began to nest in her head. Part for part came together until the whole picture took form.
A terrifying picture, actually.
And if it was true, it was not Io who was in danger, safe in the Arythion priests' care - it was everyone else Penthesilea held dear.
Poses by MrsRacooney, simmerberlin, radioactive, eslanes, sim-plyreality, edens-star and andromeda-sims
“Io?” Penthesilea’s steps paused in the doorway. The other woman sat on her bed, one hand resting on the crib.
She didn’t do as much as turn her head to acknowledge her queen’s presence.
Penthesilea took place at the other side of the bed and threw a glance at peacefully sleeping Deia. “You are taking good care of her. She is healthy and strong.”
An affectionate smile lit up the provider's face. “Nothing has ever been easier than loving her.”
“Of course.” The baby had brought healing and solace to everyone. Hippolyta minded more about quietude. Phyllis spent her days in the nursery recounting the legends of the Olden Days she loved so much, stories about the Goddess’s brave daughters and tales of ancient heroines. Prince Advik paid regular visits to his newborn daughter and was quite smitten with the alert girl.
But the temporary peace was fragile. “Advik approached me claiming you were absent-minded when he tried starting a conversation.”
The provider lowered her head whereas her gaze stayed focused on the crib.
“He said you would ignore him.”
“I coudn’t bear his presence,” Io whispered. “Iasion was only allowed to see his son once.” Caring fingers caressed Deia’s cheek and the girl grunted in sleep.
“How am I supposed to deny a prince access to his own child?” Silence fell over the room before the provider guided her eyes to the queen for the first time, even darker than usual.
“Please, my lady. Please let me meet Chrysippos just once. Just once to see what he looks like, if he’s fine. To hold him for a last time.”
“Once and I’ll keep quiet from now on, I’ll never mention him again. Please.”
Her friend’s suffering tore at Penthesilea’s heart. Gently, she reached for Io’s hand and took it between hers.
“I would gladly grant your wish if it held the chance of easing your pain. But I am afraid that it would rather add to it instead. How could you choose not to love a child any more that you have seen grown if you can't forget even now, without knowing him?”
Io’s shoulders dropped and her lids closed, sending a couple of tears over her cheeks. For a moment, she took in the air with heaving chest. “I will never stop missing him.” Penthesilea kept silent, still hoping that some day, the provider would do just that.
A shout from outside startled both of them. “Motheeer! It’s queen Zeuxippe, she is here to see you!”
Carefully, Io detached herself from the queen. “It’s fine, don’t let Lyta and queen Zeuxippe wait too long, my lady.” She wiped the tears with the back of her hand.
“Will you be alright?”
“Yes.” The provider forced a smile and turned to Deia again. “I will just watch her sleeping. It calms me.”
“Very well then.” Maybe it wasn’t the best way to leave Io alone with so much grief but Penthesilea longed for an ear to listen to herself. And Zeuxippe seemed to be in just the right mood as she was welcomed by the other queen.
“You were with your provider?,” she asked curiously. “Is she still longing for her son?”
“She is. And she will not stop asking to be allowed to visit him.”
“Well… maybe I could try to convince her that a boy isn’t worth all the pain. After all it was my task as well to explain my daughter that her father had been killed by your master slave. I would claim to be able to deal with tribe members’ losses.”
A heavy burden was unexpectedly taken from her shoulders. “I would be forever grateful.”
Zeuxippe’s eyes sparkled as she passed. “We can always try, right?”
And she did, staying in the provider’s hut until dusk. Sometimes the tribe perceived a suppressed sob from inside, followed by a reassuring ‘shhh’ and incomprehensible murmuring. Interrupting them to offer a meal before the Orcheon would wend her way home almost made Penthesilea feel remorse.
“I’ll eat later,” Io assured with red eyes, rocking Deia to sleep again but Zeuxippe gladly joined them.
Barely holding back, Penthesilea waited until Phyllis had finished eating and wandered off to Protego in the basement room, convinced that when her mother was having a guest she wouldn’t notice. Only Lyta stayed, maybe sensing that something had yet to be spoken out. She was obviously disappointed when the two queens followed an overgrown path to the sea to speak in private.
“So, how did it go?”
“Rather well, on the whole. She has promised to try and forget her son but she will need help.” Oddly enough, the otherwise so straightforward Orcheon hesitated. “Do you trust me?”
Astonished, Penthesilea nodded. “Of course I do.”
“For so long she has been your only backing in times of need. Maybe the time has arrived for you to return some of that.”
“What would you suggest?”
A deep breath. “Grant her a meeting with the father of that boy – you have born two children but lost none whereas he has. If they talk, alone, it could help her find solace. To accept what has been inevitable in the first place. Better share the pain than bear it alone, she is such a vulnerable being.”
Inviting Iasion after she had denied him any contact to Io and his son so often? That would make her look weak. Not able to stand to her decisions. But if it was the only way to bestead her friend…
“So be it.”
Despite showing reluctance to visit the setting of his humiliation again, Iasion took up on the invitation the next day already. He was accompanied by Boras who subtly leaned on him until they parted before the provider’s hut.
Just like Zeuxippe the day before, the Borathion stayed inside for a long time and the only part of their conversation that reached the outside was the occasional interrupting sob.
But as he had left and the queen and her daughters sat down for a meal, Io appeared with red eyes, weary but she appeared and the corners of her mouth lifted to a smile several times in the course of the evening. Exchanging glances, Penthesilea and Lyta both could see the other’s relief written on their faces.
When it had become late, Io offered to put Phyllis to bed but approached the daughter of Thestia before and drew her into a tight hug. “Thank you, my queen,” she whispered. “For everything.”
And all of a sudden, while she watched the provider and her daughter pass the compound carefully joking, Penthesilea knew the wounds of the former Arythion’s soul would heal if only they gave her enough time.
If only that would happen to her own demons as well.
Every yearning Penthesilea had ever felt in her whole life had narrowed down to the one as she snapped her eyes open: to escape the deadly blade that had pressed against her throat so vigorously. Panicking, she peered the dark room for an assassin.
For the one she had seen in her dream, bald head, vengeance materialized in the body of the man who had tried to take her life before.
Worn out, she sunk back at the blanket while it slowly dawned on her that the threat hadn’t actually been real. Swallowing, she listed what was real instead.
Echion is dead, was the first and for the moment maybe most significant truth. I have two daughters. And friends. I’m not alone.
Moons after her return, the nightmares should have ended at last. Or at least familiarization should have fought a way into them. But none of it was the case. Each time one of her children or friends died in her dreams, every single time she looked down on their lifeless bodies and their hair turned to a flamy red it shook her mind anew. It was so unsettling, so unbearable to try to find sleep already knowing that if she did, she would be murdered again or lose another dear friend. And without fail, the dead as well as the assassin would adopt Haimon’s distinctive features.
Penthesilea closed her eyes. One pitiful sniveling had sneaked into reality along with her. It echoed in her hea- no. It was real.
Alarmed, she sat up and searched the room again.
“Who is there? Show yourself!” From one corner, a whimpering sounded, then a rustling. A small silhouette appeared in the shadow. The mother’s heart in Penthesilea skipped a beat.
The girl looked up and stammered with choked voice. “Y- you screamed so- so loud. It- it scared me.”
“Oh sweatheart, come here!” Making an exception from the usual rule not to barge in during night, the Amazon spread her arms and her daughter willingly climbed onto the bed to huddle close against her. “Did you have another nightmare?”
How strange it was that this of all things should be what they shared – being haunted by terrifying pictures at night.
The child nodded.
“Be calm, it has gone now.” Comforting, Penthesilea began to stroke Phyllis’ hair.
But all of a sudden, the girl shook her head vehemently. “No!,” she proclaimed, “no it hasn’t! The Goddess has taken dad and Io and Deia away! They’re not here any more! It’s only Lyta and you!”
It was hard to make sense of the agitated exclamations. “What are you talking about? Io, Deia and Protego are sleeping as you are actually supposed to as well.”
“No, no! You’re wrong! Io isn’t here! The Goddess has taken them! I told you! But you wouldn’t hear and now she has taken them all and they’re away forever and-”
“Shhh. It was only a dream, sweatheart. But you’re awake now.”
“It wasn’t! First I wanted to wake Io but her bed was empty. She’s gone!”
“She has just went for fresh air. Come on, we will go and look for them! You will see, nobody has left you.”
The young princess's restlessness was lessened by seeing Protego sleeping peacefully at his bench in the basement, not even woken by the creaking of the heavy door. Despite the growing calmness, Phyllis held on to her hand firmly.
Crossing the compound it was clear that Io must have gone to sleep again. No one was to be seen anywhere outside. In the doorway, the queen turned to the child.
“Do you see, everyone is in their beds.”
The words stuck in her throat at Phyllis’ stiff, straight stare wandered toward the provider’s bed.
She followed her gaze, then looked at the crib at its side.
Both were empty.
Something was out there, even now. Even on the well-guarded but barren trade road linking the isolated tribes with the outside world of the territories in the west.
Penthesilea had felt it since the impenetrable woods of Haimon’s home, following her ever since through the brighter vastness of the borderlands. An inhuman, hostile presence forcing even nature to step back in favor of a benumbing silence.
Panting, she looked down at her shaking hands. Sometimes, whatever that feeling was left her alone. But the closer she came to home the deeper it seemed to sink its claws into her every bone.
The western mare’s pace slowed down and the horse’s massive body stiffened. Clenching her teeth, Penthesilea grasped the reins tighter.
It will all be good, she promised herself. The restlessness would go by as soon as she would be reunited with Phyllis again, with the one whose fear and desparation in the locked basement room she had avenged. No cruelty could hold the power to linger in the pure girl’s presence.
Returning to said daughter felt surreal. Indeed, her heart jumped faintly as she spotted Phyllis from afar, running back and forth between Io and her father who was doing his best to care for the garden the provider had raised.
Raised with Haimon’s help.
Penthesilea heaved a weary sigh and drove the horse on for a last time. The hoofbeat became faster and faster and carried her toward the longed-for aim.
Halfway there, they must have picked up on the approaching horsewoman. Phyllis turned. Her hands flew in front of her face, covered her mouth before she leaped up and small feet thumped at the ground.
As she saw the thrilled child racing toward her, Penthesilea glided onto the bottom and received her in the arms.
“Motheeeeeer!” An exuberant hug almost sent both of them to the soil. “I was sooo afraid you’d never come back!”
With a deep breath the queen pressed the girl’s head against the curve of her neck. “I would always come back to you.”
Slowly but surely, her heartbeat slackened its pace and she closed her eyes. Some of the strength that had gone lost in the wilderness was instantly restored.
After a while, a timid voice interrupted them.
“My lady?” Holding her belly, Io had approached, her head slightly bent forward.
“It's good to have you here again. We've missed you dearly.”
Penthesilea put her hand on Phyllis shoulder but still held her close. “Where is Hippolyta? Is she with Serkon?”
“Lyta is in the Council,” Phyllis proclaimed excitedly and jumped up and down. “King Alexander has called her in the morning. I wanted to go with her but she said I couldn’t. Mother, why can’t I?”
Lovingly, the daughter of Thestia stroke over the girl’s dark hair. “One day you can. One day, you will be her adviser.” So Alexander had invited Hippolyta to a Council’s meeting in her absence, publicly acknowledging her claim to the throne? When had she become so old? Or was it simply the half of Dekanos blood flowing in the princess’s veins?
“Where did you learn to ride? How did you get that horse? Can I stroke it or will it bite me?” Phyllis bubbled with questions. “Lyta says her dad has one, too. No, many! Can we keep it? Oh pleeease, it looks so nice!”
“My lady.” An unusually strong urge laid in the provider’s voice. “We… we have found the key for the slaves’ room. It was hidden under one of the pots, Haimon must have put it there so I would find it easily and Phyllis and Protego wouldn’t have to persevere for so long. Yet I didn't find it in time…” The black-haired woman bit her lip as the words poured out of her mouth. “Haimon, where… my lady, where is he?”
Penthesilea felt all eyes resting on her. Even Phyllis eyed her curiously. Without warning, the inexplicable tightness befell her again.
She pulled the girl at her side closer and felt her huddle against the wide skirt. “I left to seek retribution for the mistreatment of my daughter. And I have.”
“No.” Io’s face fell within moments. Tears began to stream down the pale cheeks. “No. You can’t have killed him. You shared the bed with him.” Mouth widely opened, she backed away.
Almost helplessly, Penthesilea’s eyes followed her upset friend dragging herself to her hut.
“Mother, why is Io crying? Is Haimon really dead?”
“Phyllis. Sweetheart. See, he hurt you. I will never let that happen.”
“Oh.” It was strange, seeing the eyes of the very girl that had feared the redhead for as long as she could think glittering with tears. “That’s sad. I don’t want him to be dead. But,” she added, “you won’t die. Please, promise that you and dad won’t die. Never.”
And there it was again. Mockingly draining her from all the freshly gained bliss.
Protego’s shoulders had dropped, his gaze was focused on her with his lip quivering. The exact same look she received from Phyllis at that moment, too.
“There… is a time for everyone to die. For some it comes sooner, for others later. For your father, too. But don’t worry, I will not leave you for many, many suns to come.”
“But,” the agitated high voice cut into her heart, “but he can’t die! I need him! He can’t!”
“So you believe now, but you will see that you do not. I have grown up without a father for all my life and I have never missed one. It is an honor when the Goddess claims a man’s life.”
“No! Tell the Goddess she can’t have him, I won’t let her!” Penthesilea seized the ever more lashing child’s wrists.
“He will be fine, Phyllis, his soul will be free! Do you not want him to-”
“She can’t have him! She can’t have him!” Phyllis’ resistance grew stronger. She began to screech and tried to break free to get to her father.
The queen’s gaze sought Protego. “Go,” she commanded. “Go!”
He didn’t move. His gaze wandered toward the struggling girl. One hand twitched forward for the blink of an eye. His lips parted to object.
Then, a brief flickering. His mouth closed again without uttering a single word. Tearing his eyes away from his daughter, he took two slow steps backward, then turned.
Penthesilea breathed a silent sigh of relief and held her precious second-born until the slave had gone, until she had calmed down and sank into her mother’s arms and cried her soul out.
“Please,” the girl sobbed again and again. “Please, don’t let him die!”
“Congratulations.” The first smile of the past few weeks entered Penthesilea’s face, grateful for the human being she cradled.
“It’s a strong daughter.” And the first non-royal tribe member to see the light of day.
“Give her to me, please. Give her to me.” Although exhausted, Io sat up on the bed, reaching out for the little bundle in the queen’s arms whose tiredness came close to the mother’s one.
As her friend had once done for her, Penthesilea had assisted during the birth in the Arythion healer’s stead whose help Alexander had promised for the arrival of royal children.
“Here she is.” She stepped closer and carefully handed the newborn over. As soon as her hands touched the baby’s skin and held her tightly, the stiffness left Io and her entire attention drawn toward the child, she sank back onto the cushions.
“Hello, Deianeira,” she murmured gleaming. “Welcome to this world. Do you recognize me? Hm? Do you?”
Her finger lovingly traced the newborn’s cheek. Suddenly, a thought interrupted the caress. “Where’s Iasion?”
“Iasion?” Penthesilea frowned. “Deianeira’s father is prince Advik. And you are not supposed to see either of them again.”
Io seemed truly bewildered at first, looking at her queen, then at the newborn in her arms. “Oh, right. Deia, did you know your father’s a prince? And that you have a brother, somewhere? His name is Chrysippos.”
Chrysippos. The boy they had given away to grow up on a slave hold so his mother wouldn’t become attached. The fact that Io was still asking for him troubled Penthesilea. But the new baby would demand all of her care and love now. Hopefully she would soon be over her son, if even never forget him. Her melancholy would fade away cuddling the small girl and seeing her grow and learn.
There would be joy again on the compound. Phyllis would love the tiny human and finally leave Protego’s side during daytime. No crying any more in the evenings when they had to be separated. No nightmares and screams in the middle of the night. No scared picture of misery waiting for the opening of the door to the slave’s room in the morning, fearing that the goddess had decided to strike Protego with a lightning while Phyllis had been sound asleep. The slave would be able to do his work properly at last. Fear wouldn't reign their days any longer.
“Look at her, my lady.” Io still watched her daughter with a gentle expression on her face. “Isn’t she perfect?”
Life would finally go on.
Sadly, we will not see little Chrysippos again :( But because he's such a sweetheart and it would simply be too mean to just let him rot at that slave hold, SpectresValkyrie gave him a new home with her Amazons! So if you'd like to learn what the goddess holds in store for him, go and find out yourself here
Poses by beverlyallitsims, Quiddity-Jones, MrsRacooney, neutralsupply, Something Wicked Sims, Rinvalee, sim-plyreality (here and here), Moon Bunny and simmerberberlin
Here are the lyrics to the song referred to in the first paragraph - it's the first one of the two songs they play. Please don't be confused, the original lyrics are from the point of view of the woman while the band plays it from the POV of a man because, well, their singer is a man and they probably figured it'd make more sense that way.
Also, any Gaelic translations are directly included in the chapter later - so no need to pause and look them up. And now - please enjoy the last time we spend with the Westerners!
51 Years before, Beginning of Spring ~ 33 years before Penthesilea’s arrival
“How blithe each morn’ was I tae see my lad came o'er the hill...” The soft words were hearable only to Rósín herself as she clasped the stair-rail tightly.
For a moment, she hesitated. There was no one. Then, a figure detached from the shadows and her legs carried her down the stairs on their own.
“There you are.” Impatiently, Dystychon held out his hand, the one she was longing for so much to take - and hold on to it forever. “Come, sweetheart.”
Her heart began to pound within her chest, strong and fast, so alive and fragile at the same time that it amazed her each time anew.
“You don't now, and we never see us again,” he stated. “I go. Now.” Into the middle of the dreadful silence, her mind began to hum the merry tunes of the childhood song again as if to protect itself.
“Fain would I be in my own country herding his father's ewes...”
Light as a feather, her slender hand lowered onto his. A charming smile on his dark, handsome face - the handsomest she had ever seen - and he touched her cheek.
“Promise me,” she begged with breaking voice. “Promise me we will stay nearby so I can watch over my family and friends and see what will become of them.”
“Anything, sweetheart. Because you're mine now.”
“And you're mine,” she whispered with a slight sob which was soon chased away by a chaste kiss at her cheek. Whatever her noble father and his advisers said, Rósín could look beyond the foreigner's boastful demeanor and reputation as a ne'er-do-well. What he had revealed to her was a hard-working and caring but deeply desperate young man.
Desperate to lose what others didn't even grant him in the first place. Desperate in the face of an uncertain future in an unknown land.
She knew that feeling all too well.
And all along the way out of the village, the melody smoothly accompanied her steps. Guided her feet away from the hut she had used to think of as home. Into many lonely suns to come, toward her beloved and their late-born little son, the few people she would call hers from that moment on.
Gently, the bell-like sounds spread over the veil of night, covering the peaceful village and future that laid ahead of the two young people who left for love.
“Hard fate that I should banished be, gone way o'er hill and moor. Because I loved the fairest lad that ever yet was born...”
18 Years before, Age 22, Middle of Summer ~ A moon before Penthesilea’s arrival
The high-pitched, anguished scream from inside the forest startled Aéd. Who in the name of the gods was ranging the woods at such a time? As it was, only few people ever were to be seen at the path let alone in the forest itself.
Another scream caught his attention. Either the voice of a woman or child. He bit his lip. If he left to see if everything was in order, there was a chance the sheep would wander off and he'd have to track them down.
However... the temptation tugged at his nerves.
Gods, it seemed the yelling would never stop. It cracked, then was silent for a few moments until the air vibrated yet again. The sheep had stopped grazing. A few ewes were shoving their lambs into the middle of the herd while the rest clumped around anxiously at the frightening sounds.
Annoyed, Aéd leaned back against the stump and closed the eyes to suppress the urge to go and see for himself. But curiosity was a wicked thing, not caring for reason.
To the neverending pain of winter with it! He jumped up. Who cared for reason anyway?
“By the Great Mother, save your breath! I’m coming!”
The squaller was farther off the path than expected but kept screaming almost constantly without any sign of exhaustion.
“Gods, when I get to lay hands on you, I swear…!”
And yet, it was the thrill more than actual annoyance that led him through the thicket. Someone was in need, and he undoubtedly the only one around to help.
Finally reaching a little glade, he had climbed over thick bushes and wood. A small person sat at the ground, wrapped in a dress.
“Hello there?,” he shouted carefully so she would be warned of his sudden appearance. Immediately, the crying stopped. When she turned with tears flooding her cheeks, he caught a glimpse of auburn eyes and tan skin. The very image of a stranger in these lands although the girl wore a Western dress.
A situation that appeared familiar.
“Don’t be afraid,” he encouraged her softly while kneeling down. “Why are you screaming? Are you hurt?” She sure didn't look that way. Maybe she'd just got lost.
But instead of an answer, the girl kept staring at him with huge, scared eyes.
“What’s the matter with you? Don’t you understand?” He repeated the question in his father’s tongue and sudden understanding lit her face up.
“So, are you hur-” The last part of the word was swallowed up entirely by an unexpected pain bursting in his head. His upper body was catapulted forward. In the last moment, he managed to break the fall with the hands only for them to be pulled back by two pairs of arms the blink of an eye later.
They were folded and tied behind his back, meanwhile his head pressed down.
He tried to fight the two pairs of hands but the pain still claimed most of his strength in order to maintain consciousness.
Damain. “Shit, shit, shit...”
Finally they dragged him to the feet. Swaying, he threw himself against one of them without causing much harm. Instead, a punch found his face in return.
Skin burst open, a warm trickle ran over his cheek.
No chance afterward. Two held his arms in a firm grip, a third and fourth man now looked him over. One of the black haired’s corners of the mouth was lifted into a derisive half-grin.
“Is that him?,” he was asked by the other one.
“The description fits - in his early twenties, red hair, blue eyes and speaks two languages fluently. The latter can’t be common in these uncivilized lands.” He spit out, then narrowed his eyes as if thinking very hard. “Well, I can imagine why our client would rather see him gone. Remembering two daughters on the cusp of womanhood.”
“Let go of me!,” Aéd hissed, trying to break away from his guards but still not with the usual temper. “They’ll come after me soon, you’d be well advised not to press your luck!”
“Do you hear that?,” someone behind his back jeered and the entire group burst out into laughter. Everyone but the man with the contemptuous grin.
“I would be ashamed to live beyond a chief who turns his own people in.”
As his mind still tried to process what they were actually trying to tell him, the leader reached out behind him. A small figure scurried forward to grab his hand.
“Well done, dear,” he tousled her hair, “you’ve earned yourself another day on the cart instead of walking.”
Realization poured into Aéd’s mind and the pain left it for a moment. “She’s- that-” An angry growl was everything he got out in the end.
“Ha, well that’s a fast one,” the slave trader cackled as the redhead’s wrathful gaze wandered toward the auburn-haired girl to tear her limb from limb.
She stuck out her tongue and hid behind the man’s back.
“My precious,” the latter said almost proudly, “not only beautiful but smart as well. She will earn me a fortune one day.” Then, the tone of his voice changed all of a sudden addressing his henchmen. “You better silence him, we will try to avoid any attention from the village transporting him away. One can never know how many or few know about their fine chief's schemes.”
“The chief! A damainte siùrs-”
They knew their craft well. Even before Aéd could react properly, the world lost its well-defined shape, melted, turned black.
In the darkness, the last thing breaking through the wall of looming unconsciousness was a hand fumbling his hurt cheek.
“Lads, I know a good name for this one: Haimon, bloody.”
At present, Age 40 ~ 18 moons after Penthesilea’s arrival
...cuir anam do phàisde gu cadal...
...an gàirdeanan nan craobhan...
...doras chun an t-saoghail eile...
...Thoir cadal sìtheil dha gus...
...an dùisg Nighean na h-Earrach spioradan neo-chiontach le a làmhan...”
...bed your child’s soul down in Your arms, in the embrace of the trees, door to the otherworld...
...Grant him a still sleep until Old Winter will lose her power...
...until Daughter Spring will re-awaken the spirits of the innocents with her gentle touch...
...to bestow life upon us once more.”
Poses by josiesimblr, karzalee, SakuraLeon, rbarkah, MrsRacooney, beverlyallitsims (here and here), Atashi77, neutralsupply, Natalia Auditore and Rinvalee