~*Year 12 after Penthesilea's arrival*~
Penthesilea is 32, Serkon and Zeuxippe 36, Protego 35, Haimon 34, Io 28, Lyta 10 and Phyllis 3
Arms spread widely, Serkon approached them in a steady pace.
“Aaah, Penthesilea. Welcome. And my dearest little princess is here as well!”
Lyta flung her arms around his neck with enough power to choke the unprepared man.
“See, dad? I’m getting stronger and stronger!,” she declared proudly.
“You sure are.” Her father massaged his throat. “Good thing that you aren’t here every day to try and murder someone. Now, let me introduce you to someone. May I present my friend Vince of Burton and his wife Briella? They have come from afar with their son and daughter to attend today’s celebrations.”
“Vince, this is queen Penthesilea and my daughter Hippolyta, a real little fighter.” He laughed heartily. “No doubt that she’ll outrival the both of us in a few summers.”
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, my ladies.”
“The pleasure is all mine.” Penthesilea threw a wide smile at the man’s wife, gesturing toward her belly. “Congratulations, Briella. I do pray it will be a boy.” Courtesy was a wicked thing, for sometimes it demanded to tell lies rather than stick to honesty. Which mother didn’t wish for a girl deep inside her heart, a child in which she would discover her own younger self again one day? But on the male territory of Serkon’s palace she either would nor could say that aloud.
“Thank you for your kindness, my lady, but Vince and I only care if they are going to be healthy.”
“We will love them the same as our other children, no matter if they will be a boy or girl. Won’t we, Vince?” For a short moment, they exchanged an intense, warm gaze. So much sincerity laid in her words.
She really likes him, Penthesilea realized. Almost an impossibility.
Usually, women of male tribes were forced to marry someone they didn’t even know. First and foremost in noble and royal families, many girls were already spoken for before they were able to walk. She was convinced Serkon’s bride – what was her name, again? – had not had a choice concerning her very own fate. If the king demanded, she would obey. That was what the scholar of her home tribe had taught Penthesilea, back then in what seemed now like another life. And that was as well what Evandros and Boras had explained her many times, admonishing her not to interfere.
But if marriage could indeed turn into a bond as strong as those two seemed to hold... However, every day that passed made her more grateful for the liberties she possessed herself.
Serkon hadn’t noticed her mind wander and had continued speaking to Vince. “-either way, I hope to join you in fatherhood soon.” He pulled the young woman at his side closer. “So let’s hope that Lyta will get a little brother before long.”
“A brother?” The girl pouted. “Oh dad, boys are no fun. Why can’t I have another sister instead? And why can’t you have her with moth-”
Emphatically putting her hand onto her daughter’s shoulder, Penthesilea shut her up. “Leave it alone, Hippolyta. You will see, as soon as he sees the light of day you will be overjoyed.” And toward Serkon’s bride, she added: “I am most sorry for my daughter’s behavior. She is still too young to understand.”
The young woman sent her a brief, forced smile back, the tips of her mouth barely twisted upward. Penthesilea couldn't hold it against her, knowing her own politeness was barely held up.
“Hippolyta, why don’t you go looking for Cheira? She would be a more interesting company than your old parents, wouldn’t she?”
“Oooh, mother. I want to stay with dad!”
“It’s alright, warrior princess,” Serkon assured her. “Go have a bit fun with your friend. Vince’s children must be somewhere out there, too. Please do me the favor and look after them in these unfamiliar surroundings, will you?” He gave her a gentle clout and watched her race away eventually.
As if they had reached a silent agreement, Vince and Briella retreated to give the king and queen a moment for themselves.
With their daughter left, words suddenly went rare between them. What was Penthesilea supposed to tell her former lover at his wedding day? Having a daughter, he was not supposed to be alive any more in the first place.
“I’m… I’m glad for you. I really am.”
Serkon's glance riveted on her, studied her face before his features became soft. “You don’t have to pretend to feel comfortable here, but it is good you brought Lyta. It... means much to me to have her here.”
“You deserve this.” Before locking her gaze with his, it scurried over the young woman who held her head low. “May you be as good a father for your son as you are for Hippolyta.” Again, he drew his bride closer, not noticing her slight reluctance.
“I... will leave you to your other guests now.” Her mind was restless, urged her to dive into distraction but made clear at the same time that said distraction wouldn't be found so easily.
Huge steps took her away from Serkon and the other woman. Flee, a cool breeze whispered into her ear and stroked her neck. Unconsciously, she shuddered. The huge gate of the palace seemed inviting.
So many people, so many familiar faces and yet she was a stranger in this house.
What a prospect - to be on her own compound, surrounded by Io and her laughing daughters, cuddle Phyllis and tell Hippolyta a story about the ancient heroines. Watch Protego crouching down beside the fire, secretly listening as well while he pretended not to. Feel Haimon’s eyes rest on her and know he couldn’t wait to make her forget the image that had already sunken its teeth firmly into her memory. The image of another man with another woman.
Even the blandness in those words stabbed her heart already. But Zeuxippe knew. “It appears that none of us has won this game.” The first reaction was to disagree, but – wasn’t it true? Hippolyta was not a prize and couldn’t be compensated for with gold. And what else was indeed left that she would be able to claim as a gain?
“It does,” Penthesilea finally muttered monotonously.
“Oh, my dear!” Compassionately, the other queen rubbed her back. “That’s only the life our ancestresses have envisioned for us. Just like they wanted, we don't fall for a man. We're not fooled or used. And don’t you still have your master slave to satisfy you?” Whereas she is entirely alone.
“Or… does he trouble you again?”
“Yes.” The sigh came from deep inside. She was so overwhelmed by the fierce pace of time. Why could there never be peace for once? “He still can’t stand the children. I believed his attitude would improve if I gave him more time, but… well, I'm helpless now. And soon there might be another one. Io already has permission to breed with Iasion of Borathion, she just wants to wait until Phyllis is a bit older.”
“Interesting.” Something flickered in Zeuxippe’s brown eyes.
“So, tell me. Do your plans still include him? I know I would be afraid to bear a son after two daughters. By the Goddess, I already am.”
“As a slave, he’s a disaster, changing from charms to rage in less than the blink of an eye. As soon as one of the girls happens to come close, he will fume.”
“Yes, I see… Now, there is an offer I’d like to submit to you. Have you ever thought about lending him to someone? For a suitable amount of gold, of course.”
Was it just to want Haimon all for herself, at least him? To squirm at the vision of what could be?
And all that when it was her who had stolen the slave from a fellow queen?
“I’m not sure I’m willing to give him up already.” Actually spoken, the words made her sound even more self-seeking. Spoken, they gained power.
Despite her unwillingness, curiosity urged her forward. “You do have someone in mind, don’t you? Is it yourself?”
A hearty laugh sounded, only one among the many that filled the hall with bliss that day. “As much as I'd love to take a look behind those blue eyes and skirt, no. I already have a daughter and certainly won’t take the risk of a boy whom I’d have to kill. But one of my warriors prefers other women. And while I support that very much, she refuses to breed with our slaves and has already scared them away. Since our tribes are so small, I can’t choose to tolerate this attitude.”
Not blind to her friend’s discomfort, Zeuxippe stopped. “If you feel uneasy about it, I can understand. I would as well. It’s just that we desperately need fresh blood anyway and slaves – especially agreeable ones – are hard to find in an isolated area like this. Besides, I need someone to crack her shell and after everything you’ve told me about him... Well, it's your decision.”
The strange request indeed caused quite a stir for Penthesilea. Her whole body rebelled against the thought to share Haimon, all the more because she sensed that she wouldn’t want him any more after that. When she and Zeuxippe had still been enemies, it had been a great attraction toward Protego to know that what he accorded to her had once only been entitled to the Orcheon. But to be only one of several women had never been in her intentions. Not if it concerned her own slave, not when she could prevent it.
“I will consider it and let you know. Now, please, let’s just leave this matter behind and get something to drink.” The Dekanos wine was the best of the entire area, a judgment in which the whole council and even Evandros agreed for once. It would be rather easy to enjoy herself with a constantly filled cup of rich wine and a friend at her side.
Until... well, until the evening, until everyone had assembled in front of the throne, in absence of a central altar. Until Alexandros, highest servant of the Sea God, had recited the oaths and united the bridal couple in the eyes of the immortals.
Let's provide a hearty welcome to Serkon's firstborn son and heir, Kaletor! :D Actually, it's still two years until he will be born but it fit into this chapter way better than into any of the next so we rounded the joyful occasion off, so to say.
Poses: too many to list them up, but I am sincerely grateful to all creators who have made this chapter possible!