My unsure gaze sought Evandros who noticed me, crossed the room and sat down next to Alexander from where he gave me an encouraging look. It was touching to see the strict king so close with his son.
So I did it. Serkon turned around when he noticed me and suddenly my mouth was dry. What could I possibly say to him after so much time? A long, awkward silence separated us. Neither of us dared to look into the other's eyes.
“It’s good to see all of them happy again,” he remarked at last.
“Yes. And it’s good to see you here.” I meant it with all my heart.
“I’m not here of my own accord. I was talked into this. More, yelled into it.” He peeked at the person who had done this for me.
“Really? Zeuxippe convinced you to come?”
“Forced me.” To be honest, I could not imagine what Zeuxippe could do to force him to anything. And I could not help but wonder how much influence she still had on him even after the end of their relationship.
“However, I’m glad she did.” The silence struck, again. Hippolyta led a lively conversation with Io.
“You did a good job raising her,” he finally admitted and left me astonished. “She’s a fearless little thing.”
“Well,” I confessed, “she takes after her father. And truth be told, Io cared for the more exhausting part. She can be a real handful.”
“Serkon, I am sorry. Truly, truly sorry. For using and tossing you. I wasn’t playing fair and I was young and selfish.”
He looked at me with that same intransparent gaze I knew so well. “Yes, you were.”
“Can you forgive me?” Oh, how badly I longed for this answer.
Yes. Say yes. Please.
“Maybe.” And with a look at Hippolyta he added: “I’ll try.” Then, his right hand stripped a ring from his finger and presented it to me in the palm.
“This is for her. Each member of the royal family of Dekanos is given such a ring after their birth as a token of the honor to be part of that family. I want you to give it to her.”
Suddenly, he seemed uncomfortable. “It’s still much too big to fit her, but she’ll grow into it.”
His awkwardness caught me so flat-footed that a girl-like giggle paved its way out of my mouth. “That she will indeed.”
“You’re laughing at me.” He was so quick to be offended in the last time, I had simply forgotten.
“No. Thank you, really. I do appreciate your gesture very much. But you should be the one to deliver it.”
“Me? You’re her mother.”
“And you’re her father, after all. And the one who’s gift it is. Come on, give it to her. You see she’s already curious.” Watching the child tipping her head back to squint at the object in his hand, Serkon finally gave himself a start.
His eyes met mine, again. “How did you call her?” By the Goddess. Had I not told him? I was sure I had mentioned it in the council. Everyone else knew.
“Hippolyta. But Io only calls her Lyta.”
“Hippolyta.” He pronounced it like a thought that had yet to be finished thinking. “A good name. But I like Lyta more for now when she’s still so tiny.” Did he know that he was giving the exact same explanation as Io? It seemed that I was the only one who persisted on using her full name.
Then, this tall man, a king, knelt down in the temple of a goddess that despised men with all her heart, in front of a little girl and presented her the gift that meant an illustrious ancestry for whoever would wear it.
He addressed her in such a gentle way. As if she was the most precious thing on earth.
For me, she really was. And perhaps, so it slowly dawned on me, not only for me.
“Lyta. Do you remember me?” My girl cocked her head and returned his look curiously, paying him full attention.
“Who are you?”
A deep sigh. Weary. A touch… disappointed. Naturally, I had told her. But how could a toddler girl understand what a father was when she had not met him but once?
“I’m a friend of your mother. And I have something for you. See, here?”
“Is it gold?” In her excitement she waved her arms unconsciously up and down like a young bird trying to fly for the first time.
“Yes, it is.” Her tiny hand flew forward and grabbed the ring from his palm, turning it this way and that to examine it in every detail.
“What is it?”
I did not own much jewelry and the bit I had I kept away from her when I did not wear it. Io had warned me that Lyta should not swallow it.
“Let me show you.” Serkon took her hand carefully in his and slipped the ring over her small finger. It sloughed and fell down as soon as he let her go but she reached for it immediately before anyone would be able to steal it.
“Well, you will have to grow a little first, will you?”
She threw him a glare. “I’m big. I’m a princess!”
“Tell the ring to shrink, then.” It was good to see that his humor had finally returned.
He rose and turned to me once again as if I was the only person in the room beside our daughter. “I’ll go now. Take good care of her.”
“Of course. And, you know, you can always come and visit her. Always.”
“Maybe.” I believed to know what still held him back.
Visiting Hippolyta meant seeing me. And Haimon and Protego.
Without even agreeing on it, Lyta and I watched him leaving together. And for the first time in suns my heart was filled with hope that this time, he might actually return.
There was a serious déjà vu in this chapter.