That morning, nobody would stop Penthesilea. That Evandros had promised her.
“Sell me Protego.”
“Don’t you know I would never sell him, least of all to you?”
“I feared as much.”
“Why do you want him in the first place? He can’t even cook.” For the blink of an eye, Penthesilea noticed a glint in the other woman’s eyes that disappeared just as fast.
“Because I did not intend to turn this into a full-blown actual fight. It would have been the easiest way to settle everything.”
“To settle what? Is it because he complements you every time you meet? Does he trouble you? He’s quite a charmer. But I don’t want to sort him out as I’d be the first to miss it.”
How can she know that if not...? Penthesilea tried to keep calm, raising her eyebrow. “Sure. But beyond that, he kissed me more than once.”
“He-” Disbelief captured the other Amazon but she soon regained control over herself.
So there are things you do not know of!
“Well, I’ll have to take him to task for that but really, this isn’t your concern any more.”
She stopped for a moment and enjoyed each single word. “You can’t have everything, you know? Nobody can. Get used to it. Even Serkon wasn’t ever yours entirely,” she added deliberately.
Thankful that she already knew, Penthesilea readied herself to use her heaviest weapon. She felt a storm coming although this time, the two mightiest kings had already assured her their support in advance.
“This is not about his charms. He used to follow me often around the drill groud and...” The confession would blow the unsuspecting leaders' minds. All of a sudden, her mouth ran dry. For a moment she sought Serkon's eyes, begging for forgiveness before her next sentence would destroy every single bit of trust that was still left between them.
“...And I am truly ashamed of having to say that, but... I got weak. He seduced me.” The other woman turned pale immediately and so did Serkon. Barely holding his fire, he clenched his fists.
“How dare you tell me lies about my breeding slave and ask me for him in the same breath?,” Zeuxippe grinded out between her teeth.
“With my declaration I humiliate myself in front of the council. So why should I do such a thing on purpose and lie to you?”
Rage shook Zeuxippe’s body. “To embarrass me, whore!,” she yelled beside herself with anger. “For how long have you kept this a secret and laughed at me behind my back?”
“I have never laughed at you. Not about this, this is much too serious.”
“Tell me, for how long?”
“I... For the first time, a sun ago. And... a few times since then, I am afraid.” Better to go the whole way to begin with than to be accused of holding anything back later.
All the kings froze in the very moment. Old Jason of Vauros sunk even more onto his bench. Evandros and his friend Boras exchanged worried glances. Serkon's head had taken a red color as he leapt up. Nothing would hold him on his bench now yet he didn't assault her. In truth, his tense silence was even less endurable than any outburst could have been. He stared at her with a sudden hatred, then rushed past her and left. Just like that.
Forgive me, please!
“A-” Appalledly, the Orcheon queen held her breath. “A few times? And you didn't care that it was my property you touched? Is nothing sacred to a insolent woman like you? You-”
Now that the scene appeared to get out of control, Evandros and Boras intervened.
“Step down, Zeuxippe. We have witnesses that you did not observe your slave well enough. And when he stayed away for too long you did not ask him even once where he had been.”
Penthesilea thanked the Goddess that in the end, Evandros had agreed to her proposition to have one of his warriors watch Zeuxippe carefully while the training. She should have become suspicious a long time before, actually. No slave could fool his creator that long and disappear as often as Protego had.
“So I am the guilty one now rather than that slu-?”
“Guard your tongue!,” Evandros warned her, “Penthesilea may not have acted wisely but I am sick of your quarrel. She has asked me to help settle it and I will gladly do her that favor as this is what everyone has actually longed for for many moons. And you will better not try to thwart me.”
Zeuxippe's gaze traveled over the council's members in intense indignation. “How could anyone of you assume I would ever order my slave to ensnare her?”
“No one has explicitly blamed you for such a thing yet, Zeuxippe,” Evandros stated with an alien calmness.
The queen turned pale in an instant, cursing her hothead. Penthesilea on the other hand breathed a sigh of relief. That Zeuxippe herself would provide for a hint to confirm her suspection and thus easily at that... All the efforts to persuade Evandros to at least consider the possibility that she had been a victim herself had almost been unnecessary.
Evandros took the rest in his hands, meting out severe sanctions and admonitions for both queens. All of the kings were relieved when they were finally allowed to leave, each one to their home.
And yet, not everyone could immediately return to their own realms.
Raging, Zeuxippe stormed into the kitchen where her two slaves were cleaning.
Both spun around, amazed by the sudden return of their creator who had left only short time ago. Protego suspected what was going on the moment he discovered Penthesilea in the back. They could watch his heart sink. His lips silently formed the words of disappointment the Amazon thought to hear.
I believed you wouldn't.
“You!,” Zeuxippe shouted and accusingly pointed her finger at him. “So this is how you repay the kindness my mother and I showed you. You must have forgotten what you owe us!”
Protego flinched, both scared by Zeuxippe’s outburst of fury and ashamed of its truth.
“Please, forgive me, my queen. Never did I intend to hurt you or even thought to cheat on you!”
Helplessly, he peeked at Penthesilea but the Amazon pretended not to notice it.
“Coward! You’re even as brazen-faced as to try and defend yourself? Just throw yourself at another woman and believe you can get away with it? That no one would care?” For the blink of an eye, her voice almost broke. “That you- of all- deceive me-”
Trembling with fear and embarrassment he bowed the knees. “Weakness took over me but I’m prepared now. I’ll fight it, I swear!”
Suddenly, he stopped to ponder whether he should mention his next point in Penthesilea’s presence. When he eventually decided to do so, he merely whispered. “And I’ll give you the daughter you ache for.”
Another yell, unexpected. “You will never give me a daughter, unfaithful one! You nearly had a sun to end that mockery and you didn’t.” She slapped him in the face. “Machaon! For the Goddess’s sake, Machaon! Take him outside and deliver him to the warriors who are waiting there. You will get the punishment you deserve for a deed as despicable as yours.”
“Please, my queen, believe me! It wasn’t me who start-”
The brawny one grabbed Protego and pulled him on his feet, away from their queen and covered his mouth.
“Shut up!,” Zeuxippe barked. “You won’t escape death and believe me that I will enjoy it the most. Slow and shameful… But still much too merciful.” Protego struggled but was without a chance. At last, he surrendered to Machaon’s steely grip. Zeuxippe turned to Penthesilea.
“It is done now. Is that what you wanted?”
Regaining control she wrested herself free. “Take him away to the temple and leave my home at once.”
The Dark Goddess was the one who demanded sacrifice. The one in whose dungeon men and evildoers starved to death. Protego stared at the daughter of Thestia in horror.
She couldn’t remember a time when it had been thus difficult to return a slave’s gaze.
Whatever. Evandros himself had advised her to put the main blame on him, at least in the eyes of the public. And he was right. If Zeuxippe decided her slave had to die for his offense, Penthesilea would be almost free of distrust and slander. The matter would be dead and buried with him. A low price for the council and herself keeping their peace and authority.
Machaon dragged his fellow slave with him by force. Arriving outside, he pulled him closer for the blink of an eye before pushing him toward the warriors.
“When they bought you I told queen Rheia you’d make waves but she wouldn’t believe me. Bad luck for her daughter now.”
Simachion and Phineas immediately stepped at their prisoner's sides. “We will take care of him, my lady.”
“I beg you, have a heart, my queen! I couldn't tell anyone that you made me be at your will nor could I have stayed away from you opposing my queen’s orders! I never had a choice!”
Penthesilea gave him a serious look. Officially, she had been fooled, she would act like it.
“Do you think you would beguile not only one but two queens and get away without punishment?”
Then, she waved at the two guards. “Bring him to the temple as you were told.”
This chapter has an extra screenshot in the gallery.