At some point during this chapter, it will come in handy to remember that Simachion of Arythion has been Serkon's personal student on the training ground - just a little sidenote.
High female laughter, lively conversations and the delighted screams of a toddler blended with the soft sound of a lyre. The blithe voices carried the serene carefreeness of a lazy afternoon through the column-lined corridors of Dekanos palace.
Penthesilea rushed past the walls loaded with colorful pictures of long-passed kings and hunting scenes. She had seen them ever so often that they had lost their appeal entirely.
With few effort at all, she found Serkon withdrawn into the royal family’s private rooms, surrounded by his and his bodyguard’s kin.
He turned at her hurried steps. And at recognizing the unexpected visitor, the corners of his mouth curled up into a smile.
Kaletor’s small hand reached out to attract his father’s interest again - but dropped soon. Hastily, he eased himself off the floor, knees wobbling and scuttled to his mother.
“Penthesilea. To what do I owe the honor of this visit?” Serkon’s swinging steps took a halt in front of her.
“I need to speak with you. Alone.” The attenders quit their work, elaborate weaves and exalted conversations.
Without a single moment of pondering, Serkon addressed the entire court. “Everyone, leave.”
The slaves moved first, and fastet. One of them swept Kaletor onto her arms to carry him outside. His protesting yells slowly fell silent behind the arch, somewhere in between the drawings of his sublime forefathers and a startled dog’s barking.
Watching them leave, Leukippe stayed seated. As the very last to remain, finally, she arose gracefully. Was it imagination or did she indeed pause in front of her husband and the Amazon for the blink of an eye? Did her eyes really narrow before she paced away in measured tread?
In any case, her icy stare still seeped into Penthesilea’s skin when the queen of Dekanos had long left.
“Now, you wanted to talk?”
The daughter of Thestia felt her mouth run dry. “It- it is hard to explain, actually.” Where were the carefully concocted words all of a sudden? All the eloquent vows that she was telling no more than the truth? “I need your help and some of your warriors.”
One of Serkon’s brows twitched upward subtly but his hazel eyes still hung on to hers.
“Hippolyta’s well-being might depend on it. We… I have reason to believe that Zeuxippe has turned against me once more.”
Now that finally caused a reaction. The one she had seen coming all along, and the one she had feared beyond measure.
Perplexed, Serkon took a step back.
“Stirring up that old quarrel after so long a time seems inadvisable to me. Shouldn’t we rather be glad that it belongs to the past now?”
How was this statement spoken in such a gentle tone? Much gentler than she would have dared to hope for. In some way, the unexpected sympathy complicated things even more.
“You see, I can not prove anything. And this time, I will gladly accept to be wrong, but- in case that I am not, will you hear me out?”
His nod was hesitating - yet honest, as she found. So she told him everything within her knowledge. Starting with Io, her disappearance at night, the long search and all the happenings in the temple of Thalessos.
How Iasion had obviously perceived someone as a threat back then, but that it couldn't have been herself.
That only Zeuxippe’s appearance had motivated him to leave the own safety behind the altar to protect Io. While he had apparently not considered it necessary before.
That Zeuxippe was also the only one who had had the chance and reason to plant lies in Io’s mind that the trustful woman would readily believe. Lies that would confirm her worries for Chrysippos and thus make her defy her, Penthesilea’s, orders against better knowledge.
And while recounting, suddenly everything fell into place so well. Taking Io, her best friend, away could very well be an act of revenge.
You took from me, I take something in return. An eye for an eye.
Had she blindly fallen to the idea of an ally in the council, a like-minded sister to rely onto? Something she had always so desperately wished for.
With her heart shed silent tears, she still tried to keep all her senses together. “Your soldiers need to protect Hippolyta and Phyllis. I can only seek Io out to question her when knowing them safe. And nowhere would they be in better hands than in yours.”
While Serkon brooded, silence spread between them. Silence dark and heavy like the one that occasionally grabbed for her heart at night, when horrifying pictures kept her awake.
She was so tired.
Finally, he took a deep breath. “If armed protection makes you feel safer, so be it. Dekanos can bear a few warriors less for some days. However - what troubles me more is your suspicion. After growing up with Zeuxippe, I can’t believe she would be able to stab anyone in the back like that. Not to mention deliberately opposing the Council’s basic rules. Her tribe can’t afford that.”
“It is hardly imaginable,” Penthesilea admitted reluctantly. “But if this is indeed Zeuxippe’s doing, I do not possess the time to wait for any kind of confirmation. She, too must know that when I wake up and meet Io without her presence, her intents will inevitably spill. Hence, she would have to beat me to the draw in order to remain unscathed herself.” A short shudder ran down her spine. “Maybe she already has. I- I wish I would not demand such a choice of you. You have been a good father to Hippolyta, and… a good friend to myself.”
There she was. A pure-blooded Amazon from the house of Thestia the Great, conqueror of the Western savages. Fighting with tears of frustration while begging a man for help against a sister in arms. The ugly feeling sank its claws into her.
Traitor. It echoed in her head, again and again and made her even more furious. She was at right this time. She was the prey, driven into the corner. This time, it was not even her fault.
And then, suddenly, she felt something else. A warmth, a comfort, emanating from her upper arm.
As she looked at it, a large hand laid there.
“Never apologize for putting trust in your friends, Penthesilea.”
The gentle voice from above melted something inside of her. A wall fell and with it, the tears welled up uncontrollably.
They felt strange, almost good, as if having been held back for far too long.
And with that raw, aching heart she clung to the one thing in her reach. The one thing that hugged her back and held her reliably and safe and yet so tenderly.
Held her until she had run out of tears. Until sadness was all that was left and spread inside her and hurt where it met with Serkon's warmth and shied away from it.
Oh Great Goddess, guardian of those with a warrior's heart; let it end. Let it end. Let it end. Or this struggle would finally tear her apart.
“Protect them,” she whispered into Serkon's ear with the taste of salt on her tongue. “Both of them. Phyllis as well.”
A hand, rough from the use of weapons, stroke over her hair. “Nobody will get to them. And nobody will get to you, either.”
How strange it was that she trusted his every word so unconditionally. That the people she naturally relied on the most were both men. One so old he could easily have been her father and one she had never had the chance to be with in the first place.
A lowered voice from the entrance let Penthesilea flinch and withdraw from Serkon’s arms in a haste. Breathless, her attention was directed toward Vince under the arch.
“My lord. An armed group of Arythions have approached the gates and demand to speak to you.”
Immediately, Serkon was entirely the ruler as he stepped closer to his bodyguard. “Arythions? In arms? On my ground? Did they state their desire?”
“Other than to pass on a message from their king, no. They haven’t.”
The Dekanos snorted. “Take their weapons and bring their leader – and the leader only – to me. The others, let them stay before the gates.”
“They have already denied to hand out their weapons.”
“Then in all gods’ name bring me that man to explain the presumptuous behavior of that king of his!”
“That is already done,” Vince declared and began to gesture toward the hallway. As a warrior in light armor emerged, still carrying a spear, Serkon’s chest heaved with sudden recognition.
“Say, Simachion.” Towering high above the Arythion, the proud lord of Dekanos fell into a slow, threatening speech. “Alexander must aim to evoke a war sending his men on Dekanos land in full armor!”
With an insufficiently suppressed harrumphing, the warrior rose to speak. “It is not my king who seeks quarrel, my lord. He merely calls the leaders to assemble. King Alexander demands your presence for the court of justice.”
His alert eyes wandered off to Penthesilea. “Especially so the presence of the daughter of Thestia.”
The Amazon felt the blood rush out of her face.
So she was too late after all. The sleep after the argument in the temple had robbed her of precious time. Time that redounded upon her now.
Thoughts whirled in her brain, too fast to ever be caught. This couldn't be happening. She couldn't be reduced to hoping that Serkon’s advocacy would suffice already to sway the Council in her favor.
Serkon raised his voice at that very moment. “Tell Alexander- tell that boy who calls himself a king that the rulers of Santrake and Dekanos will come not because of his insolent call, but to claim from him the due respect a position as ours holds.”
Simachion shifted his weight. “If that is indeed what you wish to convey to the lord of Arythion, so be it. Though it will certainly not leave him in good spirits for your arrival.”
“Dekanos doesn’t need to lick his feet even when he decides to trample each and every tie of kinship under them. Tell him that if you dare.” A vigorous wave of the hand dismissed Alexander’s envoy. “Now, be gone with you before I become tempted to show you by how far the teacher outclasses his student!”
For a short moment, there was silence. But as Vince began to move to drag the Arythion outside, Simachion spoke up calmly for a last time. “Not everyone is blessed with the chance to choose their loyalties, my lord.”
And by that, he turned and left by himself.
Penthesilea held back until the two were surely out of earshot. Then, she pled. With all the strength and desperation she could still collect.
“Please, send the warriors to Hippolyta and Phyllis now! When the Arythions have been here already, they are undoubtedly on their way to them as well. We can't lose any more time!”
“Five of my best warriors will set off immediately to escort Lyta and the other girl here. That should suffice for any encounters on the way. Meanwhile, we will head to the Arythions to defend you before the court.
But- I don’t like that. Not a bit.”
Something had to trouble him majorly.
Tightness manifested within Penthesilea's chest. “Serkon. The court. What awaits us there?”
He stopped the erratic stride he had fallen into just a moment ago and scanned the environments. “I can’t even speculate. The last time it has been summoned, one tribe fell. More than 50 suns ago.”
His discomposure sent a shiver down her spine. A shiver of fear of the answer, of vocalizing what in fact, she already knew after helplessly watching the events thicken.
“I will have to face Alexander to clear myself from any charges, do I not?”
“Unless you prefer taking your daughters and running from his and Zeuxippe’s bloodhounds, yes.”
Fear was something she would have claimed to be used of, and yet this particular fear preyed on her sanity. How would she ever be able to take a next step, much less meeting and resisting the other rulers and Zeuxippe as the accused?
Then, finally, Serkon stretched out his hand. “Come. Let’s head out. Maybe Alexander will accept me taking action on your behalf.”
And with the most gratitude she had ever felt in her entire life, she took the offered hand and let herself be led toward the Dekanos stables.
Poses by josiesimblr (here and here), maddoxx012, Delise, Atashi77, MrsRacooney, simmerberlin, clumsyalienn, Natalia-Auditore (here and here), candycottonchu and joannebernice