At the Orcheon village, one of the Amazons Penthesilea had seen at the drill ground led her to Zeuxippe. Knowing the other queen would have an advantage if they talked at her house, Penthesilea hoped that maybe she would be more willing to negotiate when she felt superior.
“My queen,” the warrior addressed Zeuxippe respectfully after they had entered the house. “Queen Penthesilea wishes to see you.”
“Really?” Zeuxippe turned, an expression of triumph on her face. “So it seems you have finally understood you can’t keep this on any longer?”
“I wish to speak to you, no more, no less.”
“Oh, speak. Well, we’ll be much more comfortable to speak upstairs. Follow me.” She led Penthesilea in an elegant room and bid her to take place.
“Now, tell me. Why have you come if not to offer an excuse?” The daughter of Thestia explained – once more – that they should be allies instead of enemies and the Orcheon leader listened with exceptional good will.
“You are quite a bold woman to offer me such a thing. But I have to admit I would hate to capitulate now that I know you are in the position to need peace between us.” She stood up. “See, I would be foolish if I agreed. So I won’t.”
“Tell me you are joking.” Penthesilea tried hard not to lose control over her emotions.
“Evandros will not be pleased by your unwillingness to make peace.”
“You have a point in fearing him. Yet you forget that I have been forced to deal with him for all my life. Unlike you, I know how to appease a man. And I repeat once more: I will not give in.”
Without another word, she turned away and left the room. Penthesilea leaped up in anger and stared after her.
The rest of the sentence got stuck in her mouth and she clenched her fists, unable to speak. A door was slammed downstairs. Zeuxippe had left. Just like that. Leaving her royal guest, an utmost insult.
Not only that Penthesilea had let Serkon talk her into seeking reconciliation and thus showing weakness, now she had to swallow Zeuxippe's offensive behaviour as well.
Suddenly, she heard a sound in her back and jerked round sharply.
It was Protego who looked highly miserable to be detected.
“Have you thought you could eavesdrop on us first and simply sneak past me then? I’m in no mood for such games. Why for the Godess’s sake does everyone in this house think they could treat me just like they want? This queen of yours has just offended me to the core!”
And she wanted so badly to pay her back.
Afterward, she wasn’t able to tell what exactly had planted the bizarre idea in her head that very moment. Was it her unmeasured rage about the other queen's ignorance? Or the upset and deep-rooted disappointment of the past moons?
Abandoning herself to an impulse she bent over, seized Protego and kissed him.
Someone had to suffer if she was to feel better. And, well, the slave was the only one present and belonged to Zeuxippe at that. Shocking him meant shocking his queen even though she would never come to know of this.
But there was something. Neither the wild passion Haimon woke in her or the still weird feeling when she surrendered to Serkon. While he was desperate to brush her aside something drove him nearer at the same time.
So she didn’t give up. She should have, really, she knew it. But she also knew that she’d win him over if only she had enough time, so she held on to him steely.
And she was proved right in the end. After a few moments, she felt Protego’s arms wrapping around her, his body pressing against hers instead of pushing her away and him returning the kiss. She loosened her hold, let her hands glide onto his neck.
Stop it!, she reminded herself while she sensed herself melting into his embrace. Yet that didn't help. Stop it! Now! If she didn't, she wouldn't be able to do it at all.
In horror she realized that the room behind the door from that Protego had appeared had to be Zeuxippe's bedroom.
She was lost.
It didn't take long until Protego withdrew from her to the edge of Zeuxippe’s extravagant bed, obviously tortured by pangs of guilt and devastated.
Penthesilea rose, composed herself and flattened her skirt and top, then went over to him.
“Where’s her bathroom? I need a mirror.” She was at least as angry with him as with herself. Couldn't he have resisted? There were always two people.
“You can’t-” He interrupted himself, stood up too and looked past her dejectedly. “Well, I suppose you can.” He pointed at the other door.
The bathroom of the Orcheon leader was as exquisite as her bedroom, tiled in white with a black pattern, a bathtub with a heavy curtain, two giant windows and a wash-bowl with a lion’s head spitting fresh, cold water.
My, my. Zeuxippe really likes her amenities.
An annoyed shout reached her ear.
“Protego!” In an instant, said one rushed in.
“You have to go. They’re already looking for me,” he pleaded desperately.
“Don’t worry. I have no further business here.” Not that she had actually planned the earlier one. The more she calmed down, the more she cursed her enragement from the quarrel with Zeuxippe. An inexcusable mistake, yet it was too late to make it up. If this ever became public... Her days in Evandros' area of influence would be numbered just like all hopes to have her own tribe one day.
Following Protego downstairs and keeping up a face of triumph wasn't all that easy but went rather well. Whoever still was there should believe she wasn’t beaten yet.
It was another slave. A brawny one with shoulders twice as broad as hers and a giant chest. He seemed to be several suns older than Protego and looked gross.
“At last! Where have you been, boy?”
“Upstairs. Why, did you look for me?”
“Would I ask if I didn’t?”
“Had to… make sure that the queen’s guest leaves.” Protego tried to act confidently. Tried.
“You took long for that.”
“Yeah. Needed to do a lot of- convincing.”
“Indeed,” Penthesilea cut him off. “And he was persuasive enough, although not until the end.” Protego cringed at those words but what else should she say to explain why they had taken more time than one could expect for a few sentences? It was better if the man believed that Protego wasn't good with words. “I think I will find the way out by myself now.” While making for the door she overheard the last remark of the muscular slave.
“Seems as if you’ve done a poor job talking.”
A sigh of relief escaped her. Still, she knew she was playing a dangerous game if Zeuxippe was ever going to find out. Confessing wasn't an option right now since that would give Zeuxippe the power to destroy her entirely. She had to return home and think about her situation.
Everything she could do was either deal with it or give way to despair.
This chapter gave me gray hair. I think I revised it a dozen times, counting only the ones that I not just eliminated grammar and spelling mistakes but also changed the characters' actions until it seemed to be natural for them.
That struggle was mainly due to Penthesilea. If you write a story yourself, do you know the moment when a character comes to life and simply refuses to do what you want them to do? This chapter was kind of Penthesilea's literary birthday. When Protego walked in I just wanted them to have a little argument to top the quarrel with Zeuxippe but the words just didn't seem right. So I changed and changed and what you've just read is what this stubborn queen dictated me in the end.
This chapter has an extra screenshot in the gallery