In the aftermath, Penthesilea regretted it. She’d prepared herself for an embarrassing defeat in front of her students and a few bruises. With the wounds, she could deal. The bruise at her nose had only been superficial and the blood was wiped away easily. On the outside, all traces of the fight had disappeared. And the humiliation in front of the other warriors was well-deserved as was Serkon’s wrath.
Yet when the time had come, his fierceness had shaken her.
He’d never given her a competitive edge, but that day… He hadn’t been himself. So ferocious and eager to violence. While she’d already seen him in anger many times, she’d never feared him. Not when he’d been drunk, not when she’d told him about her pregnancy, not when she’d challenged Evandros for Io. Not even back when she’d broken up with him.
Now, she was afraid. Because she didn’t recognize the man any more whom she had believed to know.
Seeking comfort, she snuggled against Hippolyta’s warm body. In that moment, she didn’t care whether the men saw her unsettledness and interpreted it as fear.
Feeling a huge hand on her shoulder, she breathed deeply.
“He shouldn’t be allowed to treat you this way, even though he’s a king,” Advik of Morones said calmly. “No woman should be treated this way in the first place.”
For the first time in her entire life, no answer entered her mind. So she held on on Hippolyta instead of reacting.
“My lady?,” Advik asked and took his hand from her shoulder.
Io stepped forward, addressing him in a gentle tone. “The queen’s upset. We better go now.”
“No.” Suddenly, she could speak again. “I promised Boras to bring Hippolyta along and I will keep that promise. We will go visit him.”
“Are you sure, my queen?” Io’s evident concern didn’t change anything about her decision.
“Yes, I am. Here, take her.” Carefully, she placed Hippolyta in Protego’s arms. In public this was still a task for a servant, not a free tribe member.
“We’ll accompany you, my lady, if you allow us to do so,” Iasion offered as highest ranked of the Borathions.
“Me, too,” Advik threw in.
“Of course.” A discussion was far too exhausting to be held now. The only time when Advik tried to address her on the way, she refused.
“I don’t want to talk.” He was disappointed but breathed in deeply, then swallowed. “Alright. Just know that if you need someone to speak, I’ll be just a word away.”
Indeed, he was, him and Iasion talking to Io in a low voice. Their company cheered the young woman up and from time to time, Penthesilea could hear her bright laugh.
But she herself just felt empty and Hippolyta bursting with energy didn’t help either. The girl stubbornly kept running away from Protego to her mother, seeing it even more as a game since she wasn't allowed to. Each of the slave’s mumbled apologizes and his embarrassment cost the queen part of the last remaining strength.
It was hard to tell Boras what had precipitated them into such a tenseness after he had shown so much joy to see her and her daughter. Iasion took the responsibility to report to his king and the Amazon was grateful for it.
“Iasion, I entrust the well-being of our guests to you. Penthesilea, please follow me. And the rest of you, leave us alone.”
The older king took her aside. She was scared, Boras acted calmly but was evidently serious.
“What was this about? You should be done intriguing by now, don’t you think?”
Whatever she had wanted to say, the words stuck in her throat and Boras seized the opportunity.
“What didn’t you do? Expose your toddler daughter to a place where only warriors stay? Bring a tribe member with you who obviously isn’t a fighter? Ignore your slave’s excessively irresponsible behavior and instead offer Serkon a fight?”
“I’m not blind, my dear, and neither is Serkon. As soon as he comes to his senses he will notice what I am seeing now.”
His eyes that Penthesilea didn’t dare to meet traveled toward the group of others.
“They don’t look as if the events had surprised them. Your tribeswoman is coquetting with Iasion as if nothing had happened and your slave doesn’t exactly behave as if he bore any guilt toward your daughter. From which I gather that he doesn’t.”
He turned to her again. “Do you see? Even from the little I have heard I can tell. It seems that unknowingly I have given you a brilliant pretense to realize your well thought-out plan by inviting Hippolyta along with you.”
“I- I’m sorry. I just thought… thought that he would come to like Hippolyta if only he spent time with her at last.”
“I can't believe that we are having this conversation again. What did you hope to gain from acting on your own account?” The more questions Boras asked, the more Penthesilea felt like she was a scolded child. Although those days have been past for so long. “Serkon’s hatred by bringing your slave? It seems that you have failed each single aim.”
“I couldn’t let Io bear the blame for leaving Hippolyta alone,” she whispered desperately. Whatever the consequences, fighting the quarrel with Serkon at the expense of her most precious friend was out of question.
“You could just have shown him her. He descends from an illustrious bloodline, not from a band of savages.”
“He wouldn’t have listened.”
“He didn’t this way either, did he?” Boras sighed. “For the sake of the whole council and your own, you shouldn’t try to get closer to him again. Give him time. Give it to yourself. He’s an honorable young man.”
The blush on her cheeks betrayed her embarrassment. “I... understand. You have my promise that I won’t try again.”
Finally the Borathion leader’s face lit up a bit. “We all wish the lively young king back he once was.”
“Evandros and I should have stepped in at some point yet we missed out and believe me, we are well aware of that. But,” he caught her gaze, “one of the leaders wallowing in self-pity while another one boils with rage can easily tear the council apart. We can’t let that happen.”
It was a long time until Penthesilea spoke up again. “Thank you, Boras,” she said with sincere gratitude. “This reprehension was just what I needed, I guess.”
Completely unexpected, a whimsical smile returned to his face. “Good to know that you accept such words from a man. That’s quite unusual for one of your kind.”
“Maybe I have adapted to my environment in some way? Even though it may not seem so at first sight. My mother didn’t school me for either being a queen nor dealing with men.”
“All of us hope that you will prove a model student.”
“I’ll try.” Unsteady, she hesitated. “May… Maybe it’s weird or too much to ask for, but may I hug you?” The surprising request let Boras burst out in laughter, driving away the depressing atmosphere at long last. Both of them breathed a secret sigh of relief.
“Of course,” he stated emphatically and embraced her.
It felt so good. He was warm and strong but all the same entirely different from Serkon. Comforting.
“Do you know how flat on my back I would be without you?,” she whispered.
His chest quavered with a warm laugh. “I’m father to two daughters but one can never have enough of them.”
Lot: "Auziki Amazon Village" by Simsimmons2