~*Year 3 after Penthesilea's arrival*~
“Haimon?” Io searched for the master slave from her place at the stove. “Would you bring me some strawberries for the queen’s meal, please?”
The redhead casually headed for the garden, passing the princess who was devotedly gnawing at her favorite toy. The little girl appeared to develop a marked preference for ojects for lunch.
Haimon shook his head in disapproval but directed his attention to the strawberry plants immediately. They had thrived and prospered under Io’s tender care and finally yielded their first crop. Conscientiously, he picked only the ripe red ones and collected them in his hand. There weren’t many of them anyway. Before he would deliver them, he took a deep breathe. The humid soil, plants and sweet fruits smelled of his childhood.
One day, he promised himself all over again, one day.
“Thank you.” Io smiled at him while she took the strawberries into both of her significantly smaller hands.
“You’re welcome as long as you relieve me of that dam- of that cooking.“ Comradely, he patted her on the shoulder.
At the next moment, sudden wailing broke the silence of the peaceful afternoon. Relaxed only the blink of an eye before, Haimon spun around.
“Gods, shut up, girl! You don’t have to bawl all time!”
Protego rushed out of the provider’s hut only to find a child close to tears right next to his feet.
“What’s going on?”
“Same as always. She just won’t stop her causeless whining.”
“Haimon.” Io’s concerned gentle voice in his back made him turn around. “Lyta is just a child and she’s growing teeth. It hurts. For such a young girl she’s pretty brave.”
“Brave?” He watched Protego lifting the princess. For some strange reason his fellow slave held a sincere fondness for the girl after he had been allowed to care for her sometimes.
That man has not the least sense of shame and self-worth.
“Yes, very brave. You shouldn’t be so mean to her.” The woman received her nursling from Protego, caressing her dark hair. The moaning stopped immediately.
“Shhh, my dear.” Io’s attention was completely drawn to the sobbing child. Much to the master slave’s dismay, the queen appeared at that.
“The teeth, my queen.”
“I heard Haimon yelling.”
Great. Now I’ll be the bad guy once again.
Both Io and Protego stared into space. They knew exactly what would follow.
“Have you been yelling, Haimon? At my daughter?”
“Yes, you have.”
“Gods! Yes, I have.” Frustrated, he threw his hands up. “Why do you still need my confession when you’ve already decided that I’m guilty?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Because you will do whatever I tell you, slave. And I want you to apologize to your princess and go into your room.”
“Knew that,” he remarked embittered.
“Sorry, princess.” It wasn’t advisable to antagonize the queen even more so he went with what he knew was still acceptable and left.
And it’s not even noon! That day’s a bloody mess.
One more excruciatingly long afternoon and night of fasting, darkness and boredom. Almost routine by now thanks to that annoying brat. He had tried to convince Protego to smuggle some food down to him but the other slave was way too afraid to grant his request.
The jar of the key turning around in the lock sounded, then the silence that would accompany him the rest of the day began.
I’m so tired of that crappy dungeon. Moaning, he flopped onto the clammy bench.
Being locked away meant doing nothing at all, the major challenge for his restless mind.
Another day of staring at the ceiling and counting bricks. In the meantime he knew the number exactly, for each wall on its own.
He had lost his sense of time when finally, the lock clicked again and the door opened briefly to let Protego in.
“So? Had fun up there without me?” A weary day always increased his will to start a conversation and made him lenient toward his comrade.
“I can’t do this any more!” Protego’s voice was low and throaty. Suspiciously, Haimon raised his head.
“Are you actually crying?” No answer. Of course, but when he tried hard he could hear an irregular breathe.
“Don’t tell me you missed me that much.” Silence.
“Yeah, I was joking y’know? Trying to cheer you up and stuff.” And still no response from the other bench so he sat up and eyed his crouched fellow slave.
“So, what did they do? Or, her? What did she do?”
It took a while to finally get some words of explanation, but it worked.
“You- you haven’t been there in the evening.”
“I haven’t been there all day. Not the first time!”
“But- she still wanted her- her amusement.” Although the last word was but a whisper, it felt as piercing as a yell. “I can’t do this again, it feels like cheating all over now,” Protego whimpered, “I’ll die first!”
“You had the chance.”
“You had the chance! To die,” Haimon repeated a touch louder.
A sigh was the answer.
“So what are you asking for? It’s not as if you didn’t have to do anything to be with her. You didn’t seem to have a problem with that earlier.” Or you would’ve ended up down here frightened as shit, whining that she’ll kill you because you weren’t at her will.
Protego bit his lip. “You- you know she always has her way. I can’t help feeling attracted but- I don’t want to. I can't. Ugh. What if you- if you’re locked up tomorrow again or the day after or some other day and she wants me to- do that again?”
“Well.” Acting relaxed, Haimon kept his forearms resting on his legs. “Then neither of us gets what he wants.” He shot a last casual glance toward the other bench. “Believe me, I would’ve preferred being in your stead to spending my day in this room any time today.”
And the same caustic feeling boiled up in his throat like two suns ago when he’d laid awake at night and known that the queen had just bedded with that slick king Serkon. It made staying calm and friendly almost impossible.
Shit. I need to do something about that.
“Sleep now, for all gods’ sake. You don’t want to let her know that you hate it, do you?” Obediently Protego laid down but certainly wouldn’t find sleep for a long time.
Or maybe you should. That’d be a lot easier for me.
“Just one thing. If you knock her up, I'll kill you myself.”