~*Year 9 after Penthesilea's arrival*~
Her heart filled with joy, Penthesilea watched Serkon and Lyta fool around.
Over and over again, the easiness with which her daughter twisted the king’s arm surprised her. Something about the self-assured girl made Serkon weak.
After all, she was the reason why he had given in to visiting at long last. And even now, his presence meant the highlight of the day for the young princess. With a smile on her face, the queen reminisced about the summers that had passed so fast.
Then, it had been particularly wearisome when Serkon had dropped over. Lyta had warmed up with him in an instant and had been a little bundle of power when he was there, putting her mother and the provider’s patience to test with endless monologues and still long after he had left, reports of everything they had talked of and done, not caring whether they had seen it with their very own eyes or that she repeated it for the sixth time.
The charms with which Lyta had smitten everyone blindfold still worked although she didn’t have the advantage of being plainly adorable any more.
When had she aged so much? Without question, Penthesilea was proud of her beyond measure and knew that Serkon felt the same - the praises of the princess’s Arythion teacher did their part as well as her interest in Amazon history. Her favorite legend was about the foundation of one of the oldest tribes in Al Simhara, ages ago.
“The Amazons were first created to educate humanity in the ways of righteousness and equality of the sexes; brought to life by the Goddesses of Olympus from the souls of women whose lives had been cut short by the ignorance of men...”
Men… Just to be on the safe side, the queen’s eyes sought Haimon and Protego.
It was still a strange sight to watch them talking voluntarily and occasionally cracking a joke.
The master slave did have an unerring kind of humor and innocent Io and Protego gave him a lot of opportunities to practice it.
When Serkon was visiting, the two slaves stuck together and remained off stage. If she demanded their services at table, usually Protego would try to remain unseen and Haimon would step up. In the king’s presence, he behaved more guarded than anyone would have thought possible recalling his forwardness toward the queen even in front of Protego.
Sometimes when her eyes rested on him, he earnestly tried to seduce her and whenever they kissed, she had to keep an eye on his hands so they wouldn’t wander to where they did not belong in public.
However, the suggestive remarks were exactly what she missed without Serkon: to feel desired. And even after several suns, it amazed her how charming and almost attentive the redhead could actually be when he was relaxed.
But he wasn’t while the king of Dekanos was around. Neither of them except Hippolyta was although everyone pretended it, deliberately overseeing the others’ facades in order not to be busted themselves. Penthesilea felt it, Io’s laughter a bit less carefree than usual, Haimon’s reluctant politeness, her own caution and Serkon’s carefully chosen words toward her.
Unconsciously, Penthesilea laid her hand onto her belly in a protecting gesture.
He wouldn’t be pleased but hopefully, he would understand. From their many talks since Lyta’s consecration, she had concluded that he did not wish for a renewal of their relationship. Instead, he had vaguely mentioned that he considered trying for a legitimate heir. Prudence had kept her from addressing the consort ceremony. The last time she had mentioned it he had avoided her for suns and the most important thing in the moment was to keep him in her life as a friend. She wouldn’t survive losing him once more.
Time worked not only against him but her as well and even more merciless so, she wasn’t that young any more. After Lyta had outgrown toddler age and demanded a lot more freedom… She longed for a child whom she didn’t have to share with the duties of a future queen. A child that was hers and entirely hers forever.
So she had stopped using the herbs and planned on the evenings. She wouldn’t make the same mistake twice, this time she’d know the father of her child from the beginning.
“Serkon?” It was difficult to catch his attention when he was with his daughter but eventually, she succeeded. “Come here, please, there’s something I’d like to tell you.”
“I… I will tell the council but I feel like you should know sooner. I’m… I am with child again.”
For a few tenuous moments, he didn’t let on about anything and just looked at her. Then, he took a deep breath. “Your pretty little redhead, I assume?”
“No.” This was the trickiest part. “The other one.”
“Oh,” was everything he got out. “Zeuxippe’s.”
“Yes… See, I’m sorry. I know you don’t like him but I really want this daughter just like you want your son. And I don’t have much time any more.”
“That’s unfair.” Serkon eyed her for a long time before he replied. “You have an heiress already.” In the next moment, he recovered his poise. “Well, when will you sacrifice him?”
“Not at all,” Penthesilea admitted with her gaze lowered. “Zeuxippe asked me to spare him and I felt like she had a say in it too.”
This time, his answer wasn’t as diplomatic any more and his composure bitter. “So does Zeuxippe rule your tribe now? I didn’t know that you bend to her will, otherwise I could have made use of it earlier.”
“Please, Serkon. I’m just trying to make up for past harm.”
“It doesn’t seem like that.”
“I have heard you were going to be a father.” Protego almost jumped at the shock to be cornered alone when a voice sounded in his back.
“Congratulations.” Nothing at Serkon’s behavior suggested honest joy.
“Th- th- thank you, my lord?,” the other man winced.
“Lyta will be be thrilled to have one more inferior as soon as she is queen.” He examined the slave disparagingly. “I remember Zeuxippe wondering if you could have children at all. No success in all that time, no matter how huge the offerings turned out that she made to her goddess.”
Protego was scared stiff; it was true. In the end, he had abandoned hope. Fourteen summers. What irony of fate that just when he didn’t want a daughter any more, one was thrown at him.
Or a son, he reminded himself. Maybe it’s going to be a boy. He wouldn’t live long enough to watch him die anyway and that way, his daughter would belong to Zeuxippe forever if even she only existed in his imagination.
“Do you even listen?” The hostile voice cut the wandering of his thoughts short. “You are truly pitiful.”
“You’d be as well if a child was pressed on you, my lord.” A veil of bright orange red suddenly obstructed the view at Protego.
“Redhead.” Serkon hid his surprise well. “You must be disappointed that Penthesilea is growing the offspring of your comrade.”
Cold, derisive eyes met Serkon’s hazel ones. “As if I’d ever put a child into a woman voluntarily.”
The king of Dekanos didn’t even play at showing sympathy. “I sincerely doubt that she would ask for your permission.”
“The same way she has asked for yours?”
Every rest of good will was blown away abruptly. “Be careful, very careful. You are teetering on the brink of an abyss you can not grasp.”
“Maybe.” Haimon shrugged. “But at least I was there when help was required. Without my intervention, the queen and your daughter would be dead.” He crossed his arms in defiance while his muscles tensed, ready to defend himself if need be. “Guess who stopped the dagger aimed for her heart and who she turned to for comfort that night?”
For a few moments that seemed like eternity, tautness filled the empty space between them, manifested in an intense exchange of looks.
“Do you want a reward for carrying out your actual duty, slave? Besides, Penthesilea has never mentioned that you saved her life.”
“Why risk punishment for a simple lie?,” Haimon returned the question self-confidently.
“Be sure that I will ask for affirmation of your claims. And at the same time, I will tell your mistress about your impudent demeanor.”
Without another word, Serkon quit, still feeling Haimon’s stare piercing his back.
Behind the master slave, Protego inhaled deeply as the tenseness left him. “Goodness… Goodness, thank you, so much!”
“Damn, you’re the worst friend I ever had. If you ever dare to leave me alone with those two brats, I swear you…!”
When I asked WagonFruit for permission to mention her story in this chapter ages ago, the entire text part looked completely different and so did my plan for the reference... It turned out better that way, though.
If you don't know her story "Line of the Last" already, go check it out! I've rarely laughed so much reading simlit, let alone an Amazon Challenge!