“Wake up, lazy bum!”
It took a while until Protego’s mind worked properly. Had he really heard a voice or was his imagination running wild?
“Gods, wake up already! How can anyone sleep so long?”
Fluttering, Protego opened his eyes and was shocked by an unfriendly face leaning over him.
“Finally!,” the face hissed. “Don’t make that a habit, really, or you won’t stay long.” Stay? Stay where? The darkness hid most of the room but the absence of the red light indicated that he wasn’t in the temple any more, neither at the Orcheons’. And who was this man?
“Ugh, stand up! How many calls do you need to get off the ground?” Obediently, Protego sat up on the bench he’d apparently slept on.
At first, he felt dizzy.
“So.” His grim counterpart examined him carefully. “Let's sort out one matter first. I'm master slave here. You will do exactly as I say, always and without objecting in any way, otherwise you'll regret it. Got that?”
He nodded, still trying to make sense of that stranger and the unfamiliar place. “Alright. Follow me upstairs, then.”
Initially, the sudden brightness outside blinded him who hadn’t seen the sun in a long time so he covered his eyes.
“Oh, he’s awake!” A gentle female voice. Exerted, he tried to blink the daylight away.
“Nah. Not really.” That was the man again.
The woman to whom the voice belonged was small and slender and held a bowl out for him.
“It’s Protego, isn’t it? Here, Protego, eat that. It will do you good.” Even though he took the bowl, he doubted that he’d ever be able to eat even a spoonful. The only thing he felt like doing was throwing up at the thought already.
“All gods, don’t stare at it, eat!”
Outside, he could finally recognize the man’s red hair. He was at the temple with queen Penthesilea. They took me out of the cell. So he was indeed free. Or rather, not immediately threatened by death any more. Who could know what the queen he'd exposed in public held in store for him?
“Come on, only as much as you can. I’m not asking for more. Please.” Her kindness confused him; she was the weirdest Amazon he’d ever met. Wasn’t she supposed to order? Anyway, he guided the first spoon with mush to his mouth before she could possibly become angry.
It tasted sweet, fruit pulp, too sweet for his empty stomach. The queasiness returned more fierce than ever.
Penthesilea had silently watched the scene from the provider's hut. Her heart was… dull. Everything in her was dull but at the same time so prone to pain. Almost fragile at times and more so in the following moon.
During the lonely nights.
When she woke without Serkon next to her.
Unlocking the slave quarter’s door only to have Haimon immediately thrust his way between her and the doorway to escape the little room. Waiting for Protego to stand up and do the same.
He never did. If she didn’t command him to, he would always wait until she was gone and sneak out quietly.
After fetching him from the temple dungeons, Penthesilea had fed on the hope that life would become easier now. Calmer. That people would forget or at least forgive. But this hope had proved vain and peace to be a mere illusion.
Why couldn’t she enjoy the things that were supposed to delight her? Feeling anything but exhaustion and wistfulness watching her newborn daughter, she knew something was terribly wrong. Finally she had an heiress, a creature that was blood of her blood and she wasn’t able to really love her. Oh, she did care, wishing her the best and seeing to keep her safe and sound. But soon the queen entirely entrusted the child’s care to Io.
It could have hit her harder, though. Although she barely left the compound Evandros provided them with food in recognition of her fast willingness to give in in his conditions and to end the feud with Zeuxippe. However, at the same time he let her know that his warriors and even priest Alexandros consulting the all knowing Sea God stuck in their investigation for the man who had ordered her death. Not the news one was hoping for in Penthesilea’s situation.
Although Boras and even the Arythion king himself had accepted the Amazon again as a member of the council and Zeuxippe appeared rather calm and ignored her most of the time, there was much left to trouble the young mother.
Serkon held his grudge steely and avoided her like the plague, being notably absent even at some of the council’s meetings. Most of the warriors couldn’t forget the humiliation the young king and the Orcheon leader had suffered from her hands either, no matter how much Penthesilea wished to unmake it herself. She knew very well that she deserved their disdain.
And rejecting the leader of Dekanos still hurt so much. It was hard to confide in anyone even as compassionate and kind as Io, even more since the provider had never been with a man herself.
Haimon’s high spirits after Io’s arrival had suddenly grown into a tenseness and fractiousness worse than ever before. Ever more frequently the queen had to reprimand him before he finally did his duty with a glare or stopped yelling at his new fellow slave under the pretext to instruct him.
Those days he was not fit to lend a hand in housekeeping. Instead, sensitive as Penthesilea was right now, she couldn’t help but lock him up in the basement room at daytime too, leaving Protego alone with the task to keep everything neat and clean.
And he was yet another point to worry about. Still miserable and gloomy after several days, even a moon, he carried out his tasks in silence. For some time she toyed with the idea that he was too old for the radical changes his life had undergone. Once, her mother had told her that even while they were quite young, slaves would find it difficult to adapt to a new master.
In the end, she dismissed the thought as quickly as it had entered her mind.
While work he was often lost in thoughts and only half aware of himself.
So she decided it would be better to keep him away from Hippolyta, all the more because she was another one’s child.
When she told Io to watch out for the new slave not to come near the newborn, the provider immediately agreed in order to reassure her queen. Moreover, she took care of not only the compound and little girl but also saw to Protego having enough breaks to recover from his imprisonment and debilitation and managed to calm the master slave down from time to time. And during all those tasks she still found time to play the violin for the young heiress, creating the dreamful moments of peace and calmness Penthesilea desperately pined for.
Simply listening to the music, her heart finally came to ease, at least for a short time. The soft sound carried her away to a more pleasant land and a past in which she had grown up in her mother’s tribe.
How much she yearned for those unworried days to return in the meantime, even if it would mean to lose everything. Serkon and Haimon, Io and even Hippolyta.
Wouldn’t it have been sufficient to be chief counselor to her sister? Or to settle with Haimon as the father of her child? This could still be the case but now, she had to dread the day she would find out.
The dark looming fear constantly held her soul captive with tight grip.
Serkon couldn’t stand being thrown away by Evandros’ order already but to discover that the girl for whose sake that had been was not even his? That would not only deprive her of his friendship or the council’s one.
That would leave her with nothing at all.
How could she ever have been so thoughtless?
This chapter has an extra screenshot in the gallery