Penthesilea had finally come to a decision. First of all, she called the members of the Council of Nobles together for a meeting at her compound in order to officially announce her pregnancy.
At the same time, she invited Serkon and Boras to an earlier visit. If her plan was going to work, she needed their support although it meant exhausting their friendship to the utmost.
But when they arrived, she felt more like spending a last untroubled morning with them and therefore delayed her plan until the afternoon.
It was the best choice. Both men were in good spirits because of the pleasant reason for the unscheduled meeting and Serkon declared he couldn’t wait to teach the handling of weapons to his son. Boras and Penthesilea exchanged a glance and burst out laughing simultaneously.
“Why are you laughing?”
Boras chuckled. “Oh, never mind, young friend. It’s just that I believe our beautiful queen would prefer a daughter.”
“But I wouldn’t mind you to teach her, too.”
As she had wanted her lover to accept the fact that he would become a father very soon, Penthesilea hadn’t talked about the fate of her child yet. Wasn't it clear that she hoped for a girl?
But that wasn’t anything she wanted to do that morning, least of all in the presence of Boras who was about to tell one of his well-known stories of his youth. Overhearing their giddy talk when he passed on his way to finish the last preparations for the evening, Haimon undoubtedly had to believe them to be childish beyond measure.
However, they had much fun until Penthesilea came up with her request.
“I am aware that this will put you in a delicate situation but I do need your help.” As she had expected, Serkon almost lost his temper.
“Exactly! Do you even know what you would do to me? From today on, all of the leaders will know that you’re carrying my child. They must think I’ve been in on your deception.”
“I don’t ask you to back me, I just don’t want you to turn on me when the others do.”
“That’s pretty much the same.” He was frustrated, throwing his arms up to the sky. Boras jumped in.
“Serkon is right. We can’t approve of your plan and you know as well as we do that it is very likely going to break your back.”
“Yes, I do. Let that be my problem. Please just do what I've asked you for.” In truth, she had no idea how she would appease the council and Evandros.
But the Goddess had been very determined in showing her will.
As soon as the other rulers had arrived, Penthesilea made her announcement to follow the protocol although at least Serkon, Boras and Deipyros were sure to know, the latter probably because his wife had told him.
“The reason for which I have summoned you today is a joyful one.”
She turned to Serkon, asking him to step up to her. Obviously, he didn’t like to be in the center of attention because he knew of her… other plan. But in the meantime, they both had to play along in order not to arouse suspicion.
“We are expecting a child.”
The news made an impact but brought about a spate of congratulations. Evandros even rose from his chair and seemed overjoyed.
Waving at the other rulers, he said: “It is a very pleasing situation when a leader is about to maybe get an heir. As now this applies to two of us at the same time it is all the more a reason for joy. I am happy for you.”
During the rest of the afternoon, Penthesilea enjoyed the get-together. Boras succeeded in keeping his tenseness hidden and was the major cause of lightheartedness in which everyone took part while Haimon was constantly busy to fulfill the nobles' wishes.
It was impossible to exclude the bystanders of their conversation so Penthesilea didn’t try in the first place. If she was to make a fool out of herself for a provider’s sake she could do it as well in public.
At first, Evandros thought she’d joke asking him for Io and offering him free training for his tribe members in return. But all to soon the amused expression on his face melted away.
“You do know that you have broken an unspoken law, do you? We do not take members from other tribes away. It causes discord. Confusion. Distrust.”
“I have asked you kindly. As the largest and richest tribe you could easily bear the loss of a clanswoman while I desperately need a provider to care for my child.” A short travel of her eyes revealed that no one was on her side, not even Boras or Serkon. For the Borathion, he was friends with Evandros and insisted on following the rules. Zeuxippe, on the other hand, was in extraordinarily good temper.
“I am still willing to forget about your insolent demand if you apologize in an instant.”
Penthesilea looked up into the starry sky. She was sure to follow the will of the Goddess even though she didn’t understand where it would lead her.
“The Goddess commands me. Who am I to defy her will?” She allowed a little bit of sadness to drop into her voice. “Really, I do not want this. But if you refuse, I will be forced to challenge you for a fight. If I win, you will grant me Io as my provider. What do you demand in case that I lose?”
He glared at her angrily, then replied after a moment. “If you lose, you will submit to the Council’s decisions as each honorable king and queen should do. And you will marry Serkon so we can be sure of your loyalty.”
“I object strongly!,” Serkon interjected vigorously but was silenced in an instant.
Although she had expected hard conditions this was definitely more than that. “You want to control me,” she stated accusingly.
“I confess.” How could he demand this from her with good conscience, to sacrifice the most sacred thing an Amazon possessed: her freedom?
Oh Goddess of my childhood, you have sent me here and you have chosen Io. Let me win so I may still serve you in the future.
“Either way, I can but keep up my challenge.”
But another surprise awaited her yet. Apparently, there was a law that allowed a king to let his bodyguard fight in his stead.
It was a body blow for the Amazon. She would have had a walk-over with Evandros who was much older but Viktorios was a warrior trained for quick intervention.
Determined to use the surprise effect, Penthesilea rushed forward and attacked as soon as the start signal was given. It turned out Viktorios was a good fighter, yet more by practice than by instincts so she really managed to destabilize him. Lying on the ground, he finally surrendered.
“You won.” Evandros nearly spit the words out. “Go and get the woman but we will accompany you. The gathering is over. Go home.” Apparently, he feared for the safety of his other clanswomen.
“I am truly sorry for what happened. But when the Goddess commands, which human being has a choice?”
Boras came closer, his features still showing his tenseness, and looked her into the eyes before he turned and left.
“I do hope you know what you are doing.”
With only the Arythions and Serkon left, her lover raised his voice.
“Are you satisfied now that you have doomed our child to a life in hatred and scorn?”
“It is the Goddess's will that they will become king or queen one day.”
“Of course.” His voice was drenched in sarcasm. “Since you want your Goddess to decide, let her do so. If this child is a girl, you will be allowed to keep her. I have no need for a daughter. But if it turns out to be a boy, you will leave him to me and never try to see him again. Do not think that I will give in in this matter. I do know what you do to the sons born to an Amazon queen.” He passed her on his way out of the compound. “Be assured I will never let you out of my sight until the child is born. Never will I allow you to kill my son.”
Seeing him leave with contempt was a lot harder than she had actually thought. And while she watched him she knew full well that the last of her friends had left.
All of a sudden, loneliness befell her without mercy.
This chapter has extra screenshots in the gallery