When Penthesilea turned around the corner and saw the prisoner sitting rested against the wall, something stung inside her.
She needed a break of life.
Peace, she realized in the dim red light of the temple, a place too unreal to actually exist. It could have been a dream just as well and for a moment she really believed so.
A sudden move of Haimon at her right brought her back into reality.
The temple of the Dark Goddess was entirely Zeuxippe’s territory. Everything belonged to her in some way: her ancestors had built it by their donations and own hands, the priestess was an Orcheon and they had used the house of the goddess as the only tribe for many, many suns. Walking on its soil alone felt hostile in every sense. She was glad to have someone with her even though Haimon had been a reluctant escort.
Hesitantly, her steps carried her toward the bars while she tried everything in order to retain control over herself. The very atmosphere of the temple dungeon sufficed for her mind to call for retreat, for freedom.
This last deed and perhaps she would have peace for a while.
Protego’s body was covered by dirt and his head hung but the regular up and down of his chest indicated that he was still alive and conscious. Only already too apathetic to show any reaction or more likely not willing to.
The Amazon stopped in front of the gap that was made to hand water into the cell, much more calm on the outside than she actually was.
Although she hadn’t been sure that he would react at all, he really looked up recognizing the queen’s voice. Eyes bare of hope sent cold shivers down her spine. “Get up,” she repeated the order.
This time he did, but a bit too fast so that he staggered for a moment. Still, he avoided eye contact.
“Can’t you leave me alone even now?,” he whispered desperately.
Opening her fist instead of an answer, Penthesilea revealed a thin, rough object.
Protego stared at the keys as if they were to poison him, then at the woman behind the bars.
“So you’re here to… to- I thought… I thought she’d do it herself.” His voice failed him and he turned away.
“Zeuxippe’s patience has a limit. I will not overuse it.” The lock clicked while she opened it and stepped back.
“Now, put- put an end to this. At last.” His eyes virtually pleaded with her.
Kill me already. And yet, he trembled with fear of the very thing he asked for.
She couldn't. Not after surrendering to her conscience after days of struggle. The appropriate punishment for an offense like his was the shameful death in the temple dungeons, followed by eternal bondservice for the Goddess. A slave dying in the sacred waters would be rewarded with freedom of his soul at last but those evildoers who had starved were awaited by a fate much worse than death.
“You... understood my intents wrong.” The queen took a deep breath. “I am here to take you with me.”
Only half a moon before Zeuxippe had shown steely resolution to let her former lover pay in every respect. But instead of going through with her threats, an Orcheon warrior had delivered a message to Penthesilea later. And while the queen understood the wording full well she couldn’t quite explain its content. For whatever reason should Zeuxippe offer her to sell Protego for a price that without much doubt surpassed his worth by far?
Of course she knew that it’d be still of more use for her if he died. However, in the end it didn’t take long to come to a decision although it meant exhausting her means and reputation to the utmost.
“You belong to me now.”
“So- so it’s over?”
“Yes. It is over.” And still no sign of relief showed on his face. All the same he slowly dragged himself after her, away from the cell and leaving a huge gap between them.
Behind the arc, Haimon waited for his mistress.
“I am done here. We return home.”
She had come at night and brought him because most people were still hostile after the affair with Zeuxippe’s breeding slave had been revealed. The other queen might not have been popular with everyone but she led a tribe established by three generations and hadn't come as a complete stranger.
The Orcheon priestess let them go. She had received respective orders from her queen, beyond that the price had already been fully paid. Everything was legal already and yet the daughter of Thestia felt like a villain herself.
With the temple safely left and in her back, Penthesilea breathed in the chill night air and let it clear her mind.
This time she could smile without pretending.
Finally, her thoughts quit their relentless chase after her sanity. The past days had taken their toll but now she could retreat to her compound and little tribe until the dust would have settled.
This chapter has an extra screenshot in the gallery