“What now?,” he asked a bit more throatily than usual. “Will you drag me back by the hair? Because voluntarily, I won’t come.”
The will of the Goddess did not permit doubt. Did not permit hesitation. Or mercy. The laws Penthesilea knew as true stormed her mind. The ancients could not be mistaken, could they? Not if the Goddess herself had provided and approved of their laws.
After all, it was her heartbeat that sounded throughout nature. Her breath that gave life to what was dead. And her sacred fury that would claim it back again.
What was nature without her? What a queen? For once, she desperately wished not to be forced into a decision. That someone else could take this weight from her and load it onto their own shoulders.
As if the silent pleading had been her sign, a body of light materialized on the way before her.
The great queen’s presence spread over the soil, captured every stone, every ray of sunlight.
An appearance of pure vibrancy, pulsing over the bottom of the forest.
Immediately, Penthesilea recognized the reason for her mother’s incomprehensible journey. Undoubtedly, a messenger sent by the Goddess stood before her, claiming another wrongdoer’s life. She bit her lip. Her hand cramped around the dagger’s haft, pressing it even stronger against Haimon’s throat.
And yet it was not put to use. Not with the slave’s eyes reaching the most secret depths of her self. So warm and icy. Rebellious and begging.
Hopeful and weary.
Moment by moment, her arm began to tremble. And while she still desperately commanded it to thrust it only ever continued to shake.
Pleading for help, she looked up at her mother. But instead of leading the dagger herself, Thestia’s appearance abandoned the supplicant. Her shape slowly vanished into thin air while a contemptuous gaze returned to her youngest daughter for a last time.
Tears of shame entered Penthesilea’s eyes. She had failed. Would fail. Disappointment robbed her arm's last strength and the dagger sunk, releasing Haimon’s neck.
With a quavering sigh, he propped up into a sitting position. Half slumped, still breathing heavily, he finally turned to seek her gaze from the corner of his eyes.
She avoided it. Looked at the bottom, still fighting with tears. Completely worn out.
“Aéd!” From where the woman crouched several steps away, a sob of relief resounded. “A-nis tha a h-uile dad gu bhith gu ceart! Now everything's gonna be alright!”
Haimon’s gaze was diverted. Left the Amazon. His entire body turned to the woman on the way.
Member of his people. Speaker of his language. One of his own kind.
“Tha. Mu dheireadh. Yeah. Finally.”
Someone he certainly would not run away from but choose to stay with.
The next moment Penthesilea remembered, she pulled her dagger back. Watched blood spill out a slit in recurring gushes, full of awe. While her originally white garment became soaked, warm and slippery.
“Shit-,” Haimon exclaimed as he closed his hands around her wrist, trying to push the dagger away. “You- filthy, little- whore!”
Amazed, the world lit up. Soundless. Breathless. Timeless. Waiting for... her to awaken again. Inmidst of all that yelling silence, something bumped into her stomach, causing a reflexive contraction.
Sinking forward, wrapping her arms around herself, it began to dawn on her that she could not allow the redhead to go. She would not survive that. Undoubtedly, he would alarm the villagers. And...
She could not stand seeing him leave.
Maybe she should do it quickly. Be merciful. Scenes passed in front of her eyes.
Xanthippe and her, fighting as youths. Serkon on the drill ground. Thestia, swinging the sword. Blindly, her hand fumbled for Haimon’s shoulder.
As something warm came into reach, she held onto it. Drew it back. Supported herself to raise onto one kneeling leg. Clasped the haft. And stabbed, where the fog left her a hole to see, where it would be fast.
An ugly gurgling sounded. A sputter. Something slumped heavily against her upper body. Drove all the tension out at once. All the insecurity.
Gently, as if handling a scared child, her fingers stroke over thick, clotted strands of hair and a stubbly chin. She let the limp body glide onto the ground, bedded the head down.
Carefully, she arranged the limbs.
They did not watch her. The eyes that had always been so brisk, now laying empty and crushed. The knowledge grew with each moment that passed: she had executed what honor and justice demanded. The Goddess would be pleased.
Unfathomably slow, her hand reached out to touch the eyelids of her lover. Steady fingers closed them.
Only at the fringes of her conscious mind she was taught about the constant tugging at her arm. Her attention turned toward it.
A brown dress, dry white sleeves, a woman drowned in tears. It was her who tried to drag her away, stammering and sobbing incomprehensible words.
Half-heartedly, Penthesilea tried to shake her off.
In vain. So she rose and stepped back and finally, the woman fell to her knees with a bloodcurdling scream and threw herself over the body below.
Some shouts broke through the yelling silence like through a shell.
They came from the village. A group of men and women had spotted them, pointing at the alienating scene.
I should run, the queen realized. And she did.
Past the wailing Westerner, the repeated “No. No. No, Aéd no!”. While running, she picked her cloak up from the soil, then followed the path.
Away from the body. Away from the village. Away from the people who would want to see her dead.
At the end of this chapter's first half, we are left with the first dead main character. I'm sorry for that but do believe you have been warned for a few chapters now. And let's face reality - dying in his homeland was definitely more worthy of our favorite red-haired slave than being drowned for having a child he doesn't want. :(
May the Great Mother bless his soul.
This chapter has extra screenshots in the gallery