A low voice reached the dark figure’s ear.
“I probably should have warned you but I can’t let you murder the queen. They will blame me for that and chase me down.”
“Damn slave-” The stifled curse jolted the woman out of sleep. Killing her would be difficult now.
Only a moment later, a heavy blow hit the dark dressed man. At the same time, a hand clutched his other arm. He didn’t realize any more that the dagger was wrested from his hand. Uselessly, it fell to the ground. His conscience had already left him.
Haimon pushed him down at the bed and rushed at Penthesilea’s side. She was staring at the unconscious intruder, still struggling against the numbness of sleep.
“How are you?” It took a while for her to answer.
“I’m fine. Why would anyone send an assassin to me?”
“Don’t know.” She hadn’t told him much about politics. In fact, she did barely speak to him. “Do you have any foes?” Her gaze traveled.
“Too many.” Suddenly, she stood up. “Let’s see who ventured to kill me.”
To uncover the face resulted in a sarcastic remark. “That I should have guessed.”
“Why, who is this man?” Haimon hadn’t seen him among the leaders that fateful day when Penthesilea had fought for Io. Pround of his own hair, he would have remembered that bald head.
“Echion of Arythion. He hates me since the very first day when I beat him in front of all warriors. Although he had provoked it.”
“So he wanted his revenge.”
“Very probable, though this can't be the only reason. I wouldn’t say that he’s the kind of man to plan a murder in cold blood. There must be someone to pull the strings in secret.” Even the queen herself seemed to have no idea of who that person could be.
“What shall we do with him?”
“What would you do with a murderer? Lock him up downstairs until tomorrow. I’ll confront the leaders then.” Haimon liked the idea instantly. It meant he wouldn’t be spending the night in the wet and cold basement room.
“At least for that you're useful,” he quietly growled while he carried the unconscious man away.
When he returned, the Amazon had taken place at her bed again and watched him with huge eyes.
“Come here,” she said, sounding much less queenlike than her usual orders. So he laid down at her side as she stretched out on the soft blanket.
She pulled on his arm and put it under her shoulder. “Try not to sleep,” was the last she told him before she kept silent for the rest of the night.
He took a breath of relief when she'd finally fallen asleep. Just lying there and waiting, not being allowed to raise his voice nor being addressed... That wasn't anything he felt comfortable with. He wasn't familiar with her weird behaviour. It got on his nerves.
And it was his chance. The first and so far best chance he'd ever got. With the queen heavily pregnant and all kings cross with her, nobody would pursue him. All the more because no one had been killed in the end.
His arm already felt tingly from the weight on it and the uncomfortable position. Carefully, Haimon turned his head and looked at the shadow next to him. It was clearly silhouetted in the pale light of the moon.
Just pull away your arm slowly. She won't even notice.
But she looked so calm and defenseless. He'd never seen her sleeping before. Or was it because of her shock after the attempt to take her life?
Either way, he knew he wouldn't be able to leave her alone while she looked so helpless. And while she was asleep with a dangerous assassin in the basement. Another one could easily sneak in and finish what that Echion guy had failed in.
He didn't like children. At all. But killing an expecting woman? The thought alone made him shudder.
You're a fool, he tried to tell himself. And damn, you'll regret it. But as long as this woman laid on his arm and was so close to him, he wouldn't be going anywhere. Instead, he'd try to stay awake and look out for another murderer.
The last thing he wanted to happen that night was being stabbed only because once in his life, he shared a bed with the queen who believed to own him.
Hoping the rulers would still have the same schedule for their meetings, Penthesilea went for the council’s place. A queasy feeling laid over her since she had got up but she couldn’t delay the confrontation and risk another assassin to come.
“Wait here until I call for you and keep an eye on the prisoner.”
Haimon nodded fiercely, then she approached the group of nobles. As a guest this time. Unasked to appear. Unwelcome.
It was written in their faces: annoyance in Serkon’s one, hostility with Zeuxippe, upset in the one of Evandros and sternness from Boras.
Do you know what you are doing? The silent question in his eyes was so familiar.
“You should be punished for your insolence. To appear before us once more after you have been banned from this council by my own word!”
“I do have a reason and I would claim it a good one. Yesterday, a man intruded into my home and tried to murder me. Only the will of the Goddess saved me from his dagger.”
Immediately, she had everyone’s attention but the leaders were still distrustful.
“Do you have any proof for what you said?,” Evandros asked.
“I fear I do. And I have reason to assume that it will not please you.” She paused for a moment. “My slave has witnessed the intruder's intentions. But what is even more, I have managed to catch the murderer. Alive. He is here and... it is one of your tribe members. Echion.”
Zeuxippe couldn’t hold off any more.
“And next she accuses you of giving the order to the assassin because she took the girl away from you,” she spit. “Or me because everyone knows I have seen through her since the beginning. Or Serkon for leaving her after her deceit got revealed. There are many potentially guilty ones.”
The poison in her words flashed over like a fire, enraging Evandros too.
“It is one thing to claim that you are victim of an attempted murder but quite another to officially declare that your king is the one behind it. Be assured that the consequences therefor will exceed any punishment you have suffered so far.”
“I never believed that any of you would seek my life,” Penthesilea rushed to assure. “No, it is none of you.”
This chapter has an extra screenshot in the gallery