Surrounded by the other leaders, two bodyguards in his back, Alexander of Arythion rose to receive the foreign ruler.
“In the name of the all-knowing Sea God, be welcome at my table today.”
“Thank you, great King, for honoring me with your invitation.” A short bow of the head, to meet the protocol.
Her sweet words were dismissed with a generous wave, yet didn’t fail their purpose. The young man’s face lit up evidently.
“Why certainly. It is a rare occasion that a queen is led here by a merciful god. Or goddess- Hopefully you will entertain and enlighten us with news on the life and kingdoms from afar without letting us beg too much.”
“I will gladly do my best to contribute to your amusement.”
Alexander pointed to his right. “My dear friend and trusted counselor, Boras of Borathion, son of Pyrrhos, and his son, Herchion. Zeuxippe, daughter of Rheia and leader of Arythion’s mercenaries.”
Disapproval entered the Amazon queen’s face but seemed to escape Alexander.
“And Serkon, king of Dekanos whom you already know.”
He turned, then continued to introduce his liegemen and relatives. “My brother-in-law, Alexandros, high priest of the Sea God and father of my beautiful nieces Cheira, Selena and Phiona.”
“The ruler of Chonar, Deipyros and prince Advik, married to his older daughter and thus successor to the throne. And at last, Hepatos of Vauros.”
“Now enjoy yourself, creator. Let the festivities begin!” Alexander waved for the nearest slave, demanding a glass and wine while the kings sought their usual, preferred company. A few steered toward the Amazons.
As the oldest, Boras came to pay his respects before the others. Since his friend Evandros’ death, he had aged rapidly and the almost 70 suns of his life became clearly visible for the very first time, crooking his back and robbing him of his former strength.
“High respect to you and your queen, creator, that a foreign warrior may attend the feast a man caters without bad blood between them.”
A huge breakout from her earlier reserve, Amadahy flashed back at him full of humor. “My goddess, Nanina, chooses our allies and friends wisely. Who am I to question her wish, my lord?”
Boras’ spoke on while he subtly leaned onto his son. The boy’s worried eyes traveled upward to search his fathers’ but the latter kept them fixated on the two women in front of him.
“Keep your wits, creator. They are the only way to face the challenges of this world without giving them too much power.”
“Such a wise man’s advise will be greatly honored. Penthesilea has told me only good things of you, my lord.” A soft tone laid in her voice as she spoke to the old man.
“Yes,” the Borathion agreed with a gentle gaze toward the daughter of Thestia, “she is indeed special.” Then, he turned toward the foreign warrior again. “May Thalessos of the Sea and Bright Mitera bless all of your ways, creator, and maintain peace between our people.”
“As far as that lies in my doing and Nanina allows it, peace will indeed rule between us,” queen Hawika’s champion promised.
“You are always invited to my compound and fireplace although I am sure that Penthesilea does her best to fulfill your every wish.”
Hit at a tender spot, the other Amazon flinched. After all, Zeuxippe’s remark was true – their tribes were incomparable in both size and wealth.
However, Amadahy answered her determinedly. “Thank you very much for your kind offer, my lady, but I am very comfortable with her company and my current accommodations.”
“Oh, I just thought… Queen Hawika must live in a more… impressive place, does she not?”
“She does indeed, her palace is unrivaled by any other tribe of Amazons.”
Breathing in sharply, Zeuxippe shifted her weight. “Well, that is… comprehensible. I thought as much.”
Awhile, an awkward silence laid over the small group that was only interrupted by a resounding laugh. Curiously, Amadahy’s head turned into the respective direction.
“Alexandros. The priest,” Serkon explained who stepped up while Zeuxippe had left, sensing that she wasn't welcome. “None of his three daughters have the same mother and yet Alexander esteems him. Having a chosen of the Sea God in the family secures Arythion’s power while he is still young.” After a short break, he chuckled. “By all gods, certainly there are some more children of his, spending their lives in secret! It is a miracle that he does not have a dozen of them!”
Beside him, Lyta crossed her arms. “It’s a miracle, too that you don’t have a dozen of them with this concubine of yours. What does your wife think about her?”
A deep line appeared above his nose. “Someone should teach you to recognize when it is not appropriate to raise your voice.”
“Because you aren't comfortable with what I say?,” Lyta challenged him. Penthesilea sensed one of the rare but all the more fierce arguments between Serkon and his daughter arising. No matter how many liberties he granted her, offenses against his pride and honor wouldn't be tolerated in any case.
Before the upcoming dispute could even begin, the heavy gate swung up. A small figure stood below it, one hand slung around a slave’s shoulders.
While the others were still frozen in surprise, a broad-shouldered man detached from the group of rulers and rushed toward the arrival. The woman reached out for him.
“Advik.” The word resembled a sigh of relief.
“Step back,” the prince barked at the slave. Effortlessly, he wrapped Io’s arm around his own shoulder and carried her toward a chair where he put her down carefully.
When Penthesilea reached her, the paleness of her provider’s face and her exhaustion frightened her. Had she come all the way from the compound on her own while the birth was imminent? That was irresponsible, and she of all should know that.
“My lady, I- I have news, but only for you.”
A nervous look around her confirmed what Penthesilea knew anyway – almost all of the present ones belonged to royalty, many of them were part of the Council. If Io’s news were as bad as they sounded in advance, she would have to inform them anyway.
“It’s alright, Io,” she tried to reassure the unusual messenger. It didn’t matter what the other leaders would think. In the moment, the only one who mattered was her friend. So she knelt down beside her and took her hand, squeezing it slightly.
“Tell me now, they can hear.”
“A- Alright.” At the encouraging pressure, Io took the heart she required to make her report.
“Phyllis and Protego are locked in the basement room and I can’t find the keys. When I laid down I put them beside me, but they aren’t there any more.”
Relief washed through Penthesilea, and Lyta behind her relaxed significantly as well. “Don’t worry, we can deal with that. We will find the keys and free Phyllis. It’s easier with more people who have more liberty of action, you will see.”
Amadahy stepped up closer. “I do not mind helping.”
“Thank you.” Penthesilea gave her a grateful smile but was interrupted by a voice high from desperation.
“You- you don’t understand,” Io shouted, “the keys aren’t there any more. Haimon isn’t there any more!”
“No!” That was everything Penthesilea could utter after the first shock had left. Everyone in the hall had fallen silent, some from sympathy or anger, others only because they didn’t dare to raise their voice into the embarrassed silence.
Disregarding Io’s pleading huge eyes, she took the small woman’s arms and shook her in incredulity.
“How can he? I gave you order to lock him up when either Lyta nor I are at home, how can he escape from the basement?”
Tears welled up in Io’s eyes as her teeth began to chatter uncontrollably. “I- I’m sorry, I pitied him so much, he sees the light so rarely and- and he has never tried to leave before and- I didn’t think he’d ever-” A deep sob interrupted the quick flow of her words.
“It’s enough.” Alexander put a hand on her arm and forcefully pulled her away from the crying woman. “Let her rest for a while. Meanwhile, we will debate on further steps.”
Penthesilea took a long breath. “You’re right.” She begged Io for apology with a short look. “But we won’t debate. This concerns only my tribe, and my slave. I will go after him and retrieve him so his duties toward Zeuxippe can be fulfilled. And then he will be executed as planned. No slave will have his way against my will.”
“I’ll go with you!,” Lyta declared.
“No. You will stay here and look after Io and your sister.” She threw a glance at her provider whom Advik held in a protective embrace while she wet his chest. “They need a calm hand now to look after them.”
“If you need help or advice, Serkon will be at your disposal.” The addressed one nodded briefly.
“Whoever harms one of my sisters harms all of us.” Zeuxippe approached her fellow queen. “Let me accompany you, for the sake of our friendship and because he is still indebted to me.”
“Thank you, my friend. But as much as I appreciate your offer, at least one of us should stay and see that our interests are not disregarded while we are away.”
“Rheia can lead my tribe for a few days just as well as Hippolyta.”
“Please, do me this favor. I must do this alone.”
A weary sigh, then Zeuxippe gave in. “Alright. Go with the Goddess, then.”
“Please excuse that I interrupt your moment, Penthesilea, but should you not ponder on how to get your other daughter out of that cell first?”
“That...” Amazed, she stared at Serkon. To be honest, the more embarrassing part of the revelation had almost pushed Phyllis’ predicament aside. Helplessly, she turned to Boras and Alexander.
“Is there any smith in your tribes who could re-make a key for the lock?”
“That would last too long,” Serkon pointed out. “You should look more thoroughly first. Io can’t move properly, surely there are some places that are yet untouched.”
“Dad, the key isn’t on the compound any more! Searching won’t help!”
“Watch your language, young lady!,” Serkon shot back. Everyone’s nerves were on the edge.
“Silence!,” Alexander commanded.
“Only those with a reasonable suggestion are allowed to speak. Calmly.” His dark eyes sparkled with fury.
After a few moments, a black-haired, tall youth approached the king of Arythion.
“Uncle,” she addressed him respectfully. “Maybe Charon can open the door. He has freed himself from the storage room when Mestykles locked him up in there.”
The girl had wakened Alexander’s interest. “A brilliant idea, Cheira. Where is your betrothed?”
Quietly, the group divided and gave way for another youth who had just left the cusp from childhood. That very moment, he was pale from the attention that was entirely drawn onto him as he stepped forward to face the High King.
“Charon. Do you think that you are able to open the door of Penthesilea’s cell without the key?”
Nervous glances flew over the tribal leaders, a short peek at the queen before he opened his mouth and spoke with a breaking voice that matched his scrawny figure all too well.
“I… I don’t know, my lord?”
The girl touched his arm, begged him. “Please, Charon. Please. A little girl is down there and she’s terribly afraid of the dark and loneliness. Please, help her.”
He gave her a doubtful look. “Uh… I could try, at least?”
“Thank you!” Both Cheira and Alexander beamed at him with pride and relief and the girl even flung her arms around his neck.
“Now, let us try that for now.” With a wink, Alexander dismissed his guests.
“I don’t know if I’m comfortable with him seeing our home while Hippolyta, Phyllis and Io will be alone,” Penthesilea whispered to Serkon as they left the hall. But when the king had commanded, who could object?
I'm sorry to announce that the next chapters will probably take longer in the making. A lot of building is required, a lot of pose searching and making. And uni enters the critical phase at that so there's less time left for writing. Hope to see/read you soon, though! Stay well!
I refuse to name the creators of that terrible amount of poses! Maybe I'll make up for that later, but for now I refuse!