Something was out there, even now. Even on the well-guarded but barren trade road linking the isolated tribes with the outside world of the territories in the west.
Penthesilea had felt it since the impenetrable woods of Haimon’s home, following her ever since through the brighter vastness of the borderlands. An inhuman, hostile presence forcing even nature to step back in favor of a benumbing silence.
Panting, she looked down at her shaking hands. Sometimes, whatever that feeling was left her alone. But the closer she came to home the deeper it seemed to sink its claws into her every bone.
The western mare’s pace slowed down and the horse’s massive body stiffened. Clenching her teeth, Penthesilea grasped the reins tighter.
It will all be good, she promised herself. The restlessness would go by as soon as she would be reunited with Phyllis again, with the one whose fear and desparation in the locked basement room she had avenged. No cruelty could hold the power to linger in the pure girl’s presence.
Returning to said daughter felt surreal. Indeed, her heart jumped faintly as she spotted Phyllis from afar, running back and forth between Io and her father who was doing his best to care for the garden the provider had raised.
Raised with Haimon’s help.
Penthesilea heaved a weary sigh and drove the horse on for a last time. The hoofbeat became faster and faster and carried her toward the longed-for aim.
Halfway there, they must have picked up on the approaching horsewoman. Phyllis turned. Her hands flew in front of her face, covered her mouth before she leaped up and small feet thumped at the ground.
As she saw the thrilled child racing toward her, Penthesilea glided onto the bottom and received her in the arms.
“Motheeeeeer!” An exuberant hug almost sent both of them to the soil. “I was sooo afraid you’d never come back!”
With a deep breath the queen pressed the girl’s head against the curve of her neck. “I would always come back to you.”
Slowly but surely, her heartbeat slackened its pace and she closed her eyes. Some of the strength that had gone lost in the wilderness was instantly restored.
After a while, a timid voice interrupted them.
“My lady?” Holding her belly, Io had approached, her head slightly bent forward.
“It's good to have you here again. We've missed you dearly.”
Penthesilea put her hand on Phyllis shoulder but still held her close. “Where is Hippolyta? Is she with Serkon?”
“Lyta is in the Council,” Phyllis proclaimed excitedly and jumped up and down. “King Alexander has called her in the morning. I wanted to go with her but she said I couldn’t. Mother, why can’t I?”
Lovingly, the daughter of Thestia stroke over the girl’s dark hair. “One day you can. One day, you will be her adviser.” So Alexander had invited Hippolyta to a Council’s meeting in her absence, publicly acknowledging her claim to the throne? When had she become so old? Or was it simply the half of Dekanos blood flowing in the princess’s veins?
“Where did you learn to ride? How did you get that horse? Can I stroke it or will it bite me?” Phyllis bubbled with questions. “Lyta says her dad has one, too. No, many! Can we keep it? Oh pleeease, it looks so nice!”
“My lady.” An unusually strong urge laid in the provider’s voice. “We… we have found the key for the slaves’ room. It was hidden under one of the pots, Haimon must have put it there so I would find it easily and Phyllis and Protego wouldn’t have to persevere for so long. Yet I didn't find it in time…” The black-haired woman bit her lip as the words poured out of her mouth. “Haimon, where… my lady, where is he?”
Penthesilea felt all eyes resting on her. Even Phyllis eyed her curiously. Without warning, the inexplicable tightness befell her again.
She pulled the girl at her side closer and felt her huddle against the wide skirt. “I left to seek retribution for the mistreatment of my daughter. And I have.”
“No.” Io’s face fell within moments. Tears began to stream down the pale cheeks. “No. You can’t have killed him. You shared the bed with him.” Mouth widely opened, she backed away.
Almost helplessly, Penthesilea’s eyes followed her upset friend dragging herself to her hut.
“Mother, why is Io crying? Is Haimon really dead?”
“Phyllis. Sweetheart. See, he hurt you. I will never let that happen.”
“Oh.” It was strange, seeing the eyes of the very girl that had feared the redhead for as long as she could think glittering with tears. “That’s sad. I don’t want him to be dead. But,” she added, “you won’t die. Please, promise that you and dad won’t die. Never.”
And there it was again. Mockingly draining her from all the freshly gained bliss.
Protego’s shoulders had dropped, his gaze was focused on her with his lip quivering. The exact same look she received from Phyllis at that moment, too.
“There… is a time for everyone to die. For some it comes sooner, for others later. For your father, too. But don’t worry, I will not leave you for many, many suns to come.”
“But,” the agitated high voice cut into her heart, “but he can’t die! I need him! He can’t!”
“So you believe now, but you will see that you do not. I have grown up without a father for all my life and I have never missed one. It is an honor when the Goddess claims a man’s life.”
“No! Tell the Goddess she can’t have him, I won’t let her!” Penthesilea seized the ever more lashing child’s wrists.
“He will be fine, Phyllis, his soul will be free! Do you not want him to-”
“She can’t have him! She can’t have him!” Phyllis’ resistance grew stronger. She began to screech and tried to break free to get to her father.
The queen’s gaze sought Protego. “Go,” she commanded. “Go!”
He didn’t move. His gaze wandered toward the struggling girl. One hand twitched forward for the blink of an eye. His lips parted to object.
Then, a brief flickering. His mouth closed again without uttering a single word. Tearing his eyes away from his daughter, he took two slow steps backward, then turned.
Penthesilea breathed a silent sigh of relief and held her precious second-born until the slave had gone, until she had calmed down and sank into her mother’s arms and cried her soul out.
“Please,” the girl sobbed again and again. “Please, don’t let him die!”
“Congratulations.” The first smile of the past few weeks entered Penthesilea’s face, grateful for the human being she cradled.
“It’s a strong daughter.” And the first non-royal tribe member to see the light of day.
“Give her to me, please. Give her to me.” Although exhausted, Io sat up on the bed, reaching out for the little bundle in the queen’s arms whose tiredness came close to the mother’s one.
As her friend had once done for her, Penthesilea had assisted during the birth in the Arythion healer’s stead whose help Alexander had promised for the arrival of royal children.
“Here she is.” She stepped closer and carefully handed the newborn over. As soon as her hands touched the baby’s skin and held her tightly, the stiffness left Io and her entire attention drawn toward the child, she sank back onto the cushions.
“Hello, Deianeira,” she murmured gleaming. “Welcome to this world. Do you recognize me? Hm? Do you?”
Her finger lovingly traced the newborn’s cheek. Suddenly, a thought interrupted the caress. “Where’s Iasion?”
“Iasion?” Penthesilea frowned. “Deianeira’s father is prince Advik. And you are not supposed to see either of them again.”
Io seemed truly bewildered at first, looking at her queen, then at the newborn in her arms. “Oh, right. Deia, did you know your father’s a prince? And that you have a brother, somewhere? His name is Chrysippos.”
Chrysippos. The boy they had given away to grow up on a slave hold so his mother wouldn’t become attached. The fact that Io was still asking for him troubled Penthesilea. But the new baby would demand all of her care and love now. Hopefully she would soon be over her son, if even never forget him. Her melancholy would fade away cuddling the small girl and seeing her grow and learn.
There would be joy again on the compound. Phyllis would love the tiny human and finally leave Protego’s side during daytime. No crying any more in the evenings when they had to be separated. No nightmares and screams in the middle of the night. No scared picture of misery waiting for the opening of the door to the slave’s room in the morning, fearing that the goddess had decided to strike Protego with a lightning while Phyllis had been sound asleep. The slave would be able to do his work properly at last. Fear wouldn't reign their days any longer.
“Look at her, my lady.” Io still watched her daughter with a gentle expression on her face. “Isn’t she perfect?”
Life would finally go on.
Sadly, we will not see little Chrysippos again :( But because he's such a sweetheart and it would simply be too mean to just let him rot at that slave hold, SpectresValkyrie gave him a new home with her Amazons! So if you'd like to learn what the goddess holds in store for him, go and find out yourself here
Poses by beverlyallitsims, Quiddity-Jones, MrsRacooney, neutralsupply, Something Wicked Sims, Rinvalee, sim-plyreality (here and here), Moon Bunny and simmerberberlin
This chapter has an extra screenshot in the gallery