~*Year 3 after Penthesilea's arrival*~
“Haimon?” Io searched for the master slave from her place at the stove. “Would you bring me some strawberries for the queen’s meal, please?”
The redhead casually headed for the garden, passing the princess who was devotedly gnawing at her favorite toy. The little girl appeared to develop a marked preference for ojects for lunch.
Haimon shook his head in disapproval but directed his attention to the strawberry plants immediately. They had thrived and prospered under Io’s tender care and finally yielded their first crop. Conscientiously, he picked only the ripe red ones and collected them in his hand. There weren’t many of them anyway. Before he would deliver them, he took a deep breathe. The humid soil, plants and sweet fruits smelled of his childhood.
One day, he promised himself all over again, one day.
“Thank you.” Io smiled at him while she took the strawberries into both of her significantly smaller hands.
“You’re welcome as long as you relieve me of that dam- of that cooking.“ Comradely, he patted her on the shoulder.
At the next moment, sudden wailing broke the silence of the peaceful afternoon. Relaxed only the blink of an eye before, Haimon spun around.
“Gods, shut up, girl! You don’t have to bawl all time!”
Protego rushed out of the provider’s hut only to find a child close to tears right next to his feet.
“What’s going on?”
“Same as always. She just won’t stop her causeless whining.”
“Haimon.” Io’s concerned gentle voice in his back made him turn around. “Lyta is just a child and she’s growing teeth. It hurts. For such a young girl she’s pretty brave.”
“Brave?” He watched Protego lifting the princess. For some strange reason his fellow slave held a sincere fondness for the girl after he had been allowed to care for her sometimes.
That man has not the least sense of shame and self-worth.
“Yes, very brave. You shouldn’t be so mean to her.” The woman received her nursling from Protego, caressing her dark hair. The moaning stopped immediately.
“Shhh, my dear.” Io’s attention was completely drawn to the sobbing child. Much to the master slave’s dismay, the queen appeared at that.
“The teeth, my queen.”
“I heard Haimon yelling.”
Great. Now I’ll be the bad guy once again.
Both Io and Protego stared into space. They knew exactly what would follow.
“Have you been yelling, Haimon? At my daughter?”
“Yes, you have.”
“Gods! Yes, I have.” Frustrated, he threw his hands up. “Why do you still need my confession when you’ve already decided that I’m guilty?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Because you will do whatever I tell you, slave. And I want you to apologize to your princess and go into your room.”
“Knew that,” he remarked embittered.
“Sorry, princess.” It wasn’t advisable to antagonize the queen even more so he went with what he knew was still acceptable and left.
And it’s not even noon! That day’s a bloody mess.
One more excruciatingly long afternoon and night of fasting, darkness and boredom. Almost routine by now thanks to that annoying brat. He had tried to convince Protego to smuggle some food down to him but the other slave was way too afraid to grant his request.
The jar of the key turning around in the lock sounded, then the silence that would accompany him the rest of the day began.
I’m so tired of that crappy dungeon. Moaning, he flopped onto the clammy bench.
Being locked away meant doing nothing at all, the major challenge for his restless mind.
Another day of staring at the ceiling and counting bricks. In the meantime he knew the number exactly, for each wall on its own.
He had lost his sense of time when finally, the lock clicked again and the door opened briefly to let Protego in.
“So? Had fun up there without me?” A weary day always increased his will to start a conversation and made him lenient toward his comrade.
“I can’t do this any more!” Protego’s voice was low and throaty. Suspiciously, Haimon raised his head.
“Are you actually crying?” No answer. Of course, but when he tried hard he could hear an irregular breathe.
“Don’t tell me you missed me that much.” Silence.
“Yeah, I was joking y’know? Trying to cheer you up and stuff.” And still no response from the other bench so he sat up and eyed his crouched fellow slave.
“So, what did they do? Or, her? What did she do?”
It took a while to finally get some words of explanation, but it worked.
“You- you haven’t been there in the evening.”
“I haven’t been there all day. Not the first time!”
“But- she still wanted her- her amusement.” Although the last word was but a whisper, it felt as piercing as a yell. “I can’t do this again, it feels like cheating all over now,” Protego whimpered, “I’ll die first!”
“You had the chance.”
“You had the chance! To die,” Haimon repeated a touch louder.
A sigh was the answer.
“So what are you asking for? It’s not as if you didn’t have to do anything to be with her. You didn’t seem to have a problem with that earlier.” Or you would’ve ended up down here frightened as shit, whining that she’ll kill you because you weren’t at her will.
Protego bit his lip. “You- you know she always has her way. I can’t help feeling attracted but- I don’t want to. I can't. Ugh. What if you- if you’re locked up tomorrow again or the day after or some other day and she wants me to- do that again?”
“Well.” Acting relaxed, Haimon kept his forearms resting on his legs. “Then neither of us gets what he wants.” He shot a last casual glance toward the other bench. “Believe me, I would’ve preferred being in your stead to spending my day in this room any time today.”
And the same caustic feeling boiled up in his throat like two suns ago when he’d laid awake at night and known that the queen had just bedded with that slick king Serkon. It made staying calm and friendly almost impossible.
Shit. I need to do something about that.
“Sleep now, for all gods’ sake. You don’t want to let her know that you hate it, do you?” Obediently Protego laid down but certainly wouldn’t find sleep for a long time.
Or maybe you should. That’d be a lot easier for me.
“Just one thing. If you knock her up, I'll kill you myself.”
Before you begin reading the chapter, let me give credits to Maladi, author of the breathtaking Heffner Legacy. Thanks to her short GIMP-tutorial this chapter's lighting is a bit more appealing than the original Sims 4 one. I'm new to editing and still learning, but I assure you that I will give my best.
Now, have fun with the probably most time-consumingly edited chapter so far!
A few moons later.
Protego watched as the flames burned even the thickest logs without further effort. The fire heated his head while a chill breeze stroked his back at the same time.
It was late, his body ready to doze off but his mind still processed the news of that day.
So queen Zeuxippe would finally bear the heiress she had always yearned for. Mesmerized, he stared through the flames. Where was that young girl whose eyes had followed him across the whole compound?
The youth, heartstricken and vulnerable after the early death of her mother?
The young woman calling him into her bedroom in the afternoon only to take a break from her duties and share some of her secrets? He closed his eyes in pain – it could have been her caressing his shoulders like the wind did, wrapping his hair around her finger and gently pulling at it.
How would her daughter look like? Would she have her full lips and huge brown eyes? Or Machaon’s green ones and part of his burliness? It was too easy to imagine: Machaon laughing up his sleeve about the fact that he had succeeded in so short a time in what the actual breeding slave, the favorite, hadn’t been able to serve their queen for suns.
Embarrassing. Embarrassing yet convenient. She deserved it. She had never given up hope. And now, only few moons after the ugly incident, it had happened at last.
A tortured moan escaped his lips as he opened his eyes again, not able to endure the darkness any longer that left space for so many scenes. I wonder, he thought. It’s just enough time to make sure I’m not the father.
Beyond that, Machaon – rude, self-important, hard to please – Machaon had been ransomed from the sacrifice. She has never liked him. Why would she mate with him of all men? But then, she didn’t have a breeding slave any more. Even so, she could’ve bought one. Unlike queen Penthesilea, the Orcheons were wealthy. Queen Zeuxippe had always enjoyed her comfortable lifestyle.
The insatiable flames captured his gaze once more. He almost felt as if he was exposed to their greed as well, burning out along with the wood. It was not the first time he had felt like that in his life, but the other one he’d been saved from falling into desperation from the person he had expected it the least. Being born into fear, growing up in fear, he’d finally been rid of it from the princess of his new tribe herself.
As much as he had been afraid of being chosen from one of the women, in hindsight that had been the best thing to ever happen. There had been without doubt few princesses in his age and even fewer would have willingly assured him he wouldn’t have to die to bless the life of his child.
This time, no one would come to comfort him. His new mistress barely looked at him, the master slave let him feel his antipathy at every opportunity and the provider was too stressed with the baby and cooking.
I’m on my own. And there’s no chance it’ll get better any time soon. Being waken by Haimon in the early morning, working with short breaks for a simple meal, working again, going to sleep… The only break-out from that routine was the few words the provider exchanged with him, thus allowing him to speak with her although he wasn’t the highest ranking servant.
I can’t understand why Haimon keeps me away from her. She’s so kind to… just everyone. The heiress would love her when she’d be older. He would enjoy seeing them together. That was, if he still lived then. He’d work hard for it, do everything the queen and Haimon would ask, try to prove he was worth to be kept for household tasks. But he could never know for sure. After all, of what use was a breeding slave when the master slave served that purpose well?
On the other hand, that was a guarantee not to end in the sacred waters. In the meantime, he had settled with the thought that he would never have a daughter on his own. He didn’t want one anyway.
Not any more.
“Dreaming again?” The sudden words broke the spell the fire and memories had put him under and he jerked round sharply just to stare into a face framed by hair that seemed even redder in the warm light. It was watchful but not as hostile as usual.
“Of course you were.”
“I’m sorry,” Protego mumbled dejectedly. Should he try to defend himself? “Everything is done and… I supposed you were inside with the queen.”
“Pha.” Haimon slowly shook his head. “Wouldn’t you have heard us then?”
“I- probably.” Truth be told, he wouldn’t have heard anything while being lost in his thoughts.
A heavy body thumped onto the grass at arm’s length to his left. For a while, none of them spoke.
“It’s almost peaceful here when that girl isn’t wailing.”
“Doesn’t the noise bother you?”
Protego shrugged. “She’s an infant.”
“Gods, I don’t want to have children ever. They’re like plague only that you’re stuck with them for your whole life,” Haimon declared with a sudden passion.
“They’re not that bad…,” the other man objected shyly.
“So you’d like to have one yourself? Be warned, I was told that I’d be killed in that case.”
Haimon’s gestures became more sweeping the more agitated he got. “As if any man would murder his wife for giving birth!” As his counterpart didn’t answer, he continued waving his arms toward the provider’s hut. “If anyone asked me whether I’d like to be the father of that one I’d gladly leave it to that king.”
“But king Serkon is-”
“Her father?” The master slave’s head was now turned toward him and his voice dropped with sarcasm. “Yeah, that’s what everyone shall think. But I’m not dumb. She told me herself it could still be mine and I’d be truly amazed if she could already tell for sure. I mean, look at that thing! In the moment it doesn’t resemble anyone at all!”
That revelation took him off guard, but the master slave had already changed the subject.
“Well, enough talk about me. Why are you here? I figured I knew but she hasn’t even touched you once since then.” Piercing blue eyes cooled his skin.
If only I knew.
And he continued staring at the fire as if the red heat would bear the answers to that question.
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“Wake up, lazy bum!”
It took a while until Protego’s mind worked properly. Had he really heard a voice or was his imagination running wild?
“Gods, wake up already! How can anyone sleep so long?”
Fluttering, Protego opened his eyes and was shocked by an unfriendly face leaning over him.
“Finally!,” the face hissed. “Don’t make that a habit, really, or you won’t stay long.” Stay? Stay where? The darkness hid most of the room but the absence of the red light indicated that he wasn’t in the temple any more, neither at the Orcheons’. And who was this man?
“Ugh, stand up! How many calls do you need to get off the ground?” Obediently, Protego sat up on the bench he’d apparently slept on.
At first, he felt dizzy.
“So.” His grim counterpart examined him carefully. “Let's sort out one matter first. I'm master slave here. You will do exactly as I say, always and without objecting in any way, otherwise you'll regret it. Got that?”
He nodded, still trying to make sense of that stranger and the unfamiliar place. “Alright. Follow me upstairs, then.”
Initially, the sudden brightness outside blinded him who hadn’t seen the sun in a long time so he covered his eyes.
“Oh, he’s awake!” A gentle female voice. Exerted, he tried to blink the daylight away.
“Nah. Not really.” That was the man again.
The woman to whom the voice belonged was small and slender and held a bowl out for him.
“It’s Protego, isn’t it? Here, Protego, eat that. It will do you good.” Even though he took the bowl, he doubted that he’d ever be able to eat even a spoonful. The only thing he felt like doing was throwing up at the thought already.
“All gods, don’t stare at it, eat!”
Outside, he could finally recognize the man’s red hair. He was at the temple with queen Penthesilea. They took me out of the cell. So he was indeed free. Or rather, not immediately threatened by death any more. Who could know what the queen he'd exposed in public held in store for him?
“Come on, only as much as you can. I’m not asking for more. Please.” Her kindness confused him; she was the weirdest Amazon he’d ever met. Wasn’t she supposed to order? Anyway, he guided the first spoon with mush to his mouth before she could possibly become angry.
It tasted sweet, fruit pulp, too sweet for his empty stomach. The queasiness returned more fierce than ever.
Penthesilea had silently watched the scene from the provider's hut. Her heart was… dull. Everything in her was dull but at the same time so prone to pain. Almost fragile at times and more so in the following moon.
During the lonely nights.
When she woke without Serkon next to her.
Unlocking the slave quarter’s door only to have Haimon immediately thrust his way between her and the doorway to escape the little room. Waiting for Protego to stand up and do the same.
He never did. If she didn’t command him to, he would always wait until she was gone and sneak out quietly.
After fetching him from the temple dungeons, Penthesilea had fed on the hope that life would become easier now. Calmer. That people would forget or at least forgive. But this hope had proved vain and peace to be a mere illusion.
Why couldn’t she enjoy the things that were supposed to delight her? Feeling anything but exhaustion and wistfulness watching her newborn daughter, she knew something was terribly wrong. Finally she had an heiress, a creature that was blood of her blood and she wasn’t able to really love her. Oh, she did care, wishing her the best and seeing to keep her safe and sound. But soon the queen entirely entrusted the child’s care to Io.
It could have hit her harder, though. Although she barely left the compound Evandros provided them with food in recognition of her fast willingness to give in in his conditions and to end the feud with Zeuxippe. However, at the same time he let her know that his warriors and even priest Alexandros consulting the all knowing Sea God stuck in their investigation for the man who had ordered her death. Not the news one was hoping for in Penthesilea’s situation.
Although Boras and even the Arythion king himself had accepted the Amazon again as a member of the council and Zeuxippe appeared rather calm and ignored her most of the time, there was much left to trouble the young mother.
Serkon held his grudge steely and avoided her like the plague, being notably absent even at some of the council’s meetings. Most of the warriors couldn’t forget the humiliation the young king and the Orcheon leader had suffered from her hands either, no matter how much Penthesilea wished to unmake it herself. She knew very well that she deserved their disdain.
And rejecting the leader of Dekanos still hurt so much. It was hard to confide in anyone even as compassionate and kind as Io, even more since the provider had never been with a man herself.
Haimon’s high spirits after Io’s arrival had suddenly grown into a tenseness and fractiousness worse than ever before. Ever more frequently the queen had to reprimand him before he finally did his duty with a glare or stopped yelling at his new fellow slave under the pretext to instruct him.
Those days he was not fit to lend a hand in housekeeping. Instead, sensitive as Penthesilea was right now, she couldn’t help but lock him up in the basement room at daytime too, leaving Protego alone with the task to keep everything neat and clean.
And he was yet another point to worry about. Still miserable and gloomy after several days, even a moon, he carried out his tasks in silence. For some time she toyed with the idea that he was too old for the radical changes his life had undergone. Once, her mother had told her that even while they were quite young, slaves would find it difficult to adapt to a new master.
In the end, she dismissed the thought as quickly as it had entered her mind.
While work he was often lost in thoughts and only half aware of himself.
So she decided it would be better to keep him away from Hippolyta, all the more because she was another one’s child.
When she told Io to watch out for the new slave not to come near the newborn, the provider immediately agreed in order to reassure her queen. Moreover, she took care of not only the compound and little girl but also saw to Protego having enough breaks to recover from his imprisonment and debilitation and managed to calm the master slave down from time to time. And during all those tasks she still found time to play the violin for the young heiress, creating the dreamful moments of peace and calmness Penthesilea desperately pined for.
Simply listening to the music, her heart finally came to ease, at least for a short time. The soft sound carried her away to a more pleasant land and a past in which she had grown up in her mother’s tribe.
How much she yearned for those unworried days to return in the meantime, even if it would mean to lose everything. Serkon and Haimon, Io and even Hippolyta.
Wouldn’t it have been sufficient to be chief counselor to her sister? Or to settle with Haimon as the father of her child? This could still be the case but now, she had to dread the day she would find out.
The dark looming fear constantly held her soul captive with tight grip.
Serkon couldn’t stand being thrown away by Evandros’ order already but to discover that the girl for whose sake that had been was not even his? That would not only deprive her of his friendship or the council’s one.
That would leave her with nothing at all.
How could she ever have been so thoughtless?
This chapter has an extra screenshot in the gallery
When Penthesilea turned around the corner and saw the prisoner sitting rested against the wall, something stung inside her.
She needed a break of life.
Peace, she realized in the dim red light of the temple, a place too unreal to actually exist. It could have been a dream just as well and for a moment she really believed so.
A sudden move of Haimon at her right brought her back into reality.
The temple of the Dark Goddess was entirely Zeuxippe’s territory. Everything belonged to her in some way: her ancestors had built it by their donations and own hands, the priestess was an Orcheon and they had used the house of the goddess as the only tribe for many, many suns. Walking on its soil alone felt hostile in every sense. She was glad to have someone with her even though Haimon had been a reluctant escort.
Hesitantly, her steps carried her toward the bars while she tried everything in order to retain control over herself. The very atmosphere of the temple dungeon sufficed for her mind to call for retreat, for freedom.
This last deed and perhaps she would have peace for a while.
Protego’s body was covered by dirt and his head hung but the regular up and down of his chest indicated that he was still alive and conscious. Only already too apathetic to show any reaction or more likely not willing to.
The Amazon stopped in front of the gap that was made to hand water into the cell, much more calm on the outside than she actually was.
Although she hadn’t been sure that he would react at all, he really looked up recognizing the queen’s voice. Eyes bare of hope sent cold shivers down her spine. “Get up,” she repeated the order.
This time he did, but a bit too fast so that he staggered for a moment. Still, he avoided eye contact.
“Can’t you leave me alone even now?,” he whispered desperately.
Opening her fist instead of an answer, Penthesilea revealed a thin, rough object.
Protego stared at the keys as if they were to poison him, then at the woman behind the bars.
“So you’re here to… to- I thought… I thought she’d do it herself.” His voice failed him and he turned away.
“Zeuxippe’s patience has a limit. I will not overuse it.” The lock clicked while she opened it and stepped back.
“Now, put- put an end to this. At last.” His eyes virtually pleaded with her.
Kill me already. And yet, he trembled with fear of the very thing he asked for.
She couldn't. Not after surrendering to her conscience after days of struggle. The appropriate punishment for an offense like his was the shameful death in the temple dungeons, followed by eternal bondservice for the Goddess. A slave dying in the sacred waters would be rewarded with freedom of his soul at last but those evildoers who had starved were awaited by a fate much worse than death.
“You... understood my intents wrong.” The queen took a deep breath. “I am here to take you with me.”
Only half a moon before Zeuxippe had shown steely resolution to let her former lover pay in every respect. But instead of going through with her threats, an Orcheon warrior had delivered a message to Penthesilea later. And while the queen understood the wording full well she couldn’t quite explain its content. For whatever reason should Zeuxippe offer her to sell Protego for a price that without much doubt surpassed his worth by far?
Of course she knew that it’d be still of more use for her if he died. However, in the end it didn’t take long to come to a decision although it meant exhausting her means and reputation to the utmost.
“You belong to me now.”
“So- so it’s over?”
“Yes. It is over.” And still no sign of relief showed on his face. All the same he slowly dragged himself after her, away from the cell and leaving a huge gap between them.
Behind the arc, Haimon waited for his mistress.
“I am done here. We return home.”
She had come at night and brought him because most people were still hostile after the affair with Zeuxippe’s breeding slave had been revealed. The other queen might not have been popular with everyone but she led a tribe established by three generations and hadn't come as a complete stranger.
The Orcheon priestess let them go. She had received respective orders from her queen, beyond that the price had already been fully paid. Everything was legal already and yet the daughter of Thestia felt like a villain herself.
With the temple safely left and in her back, Penthesilea breathed in the chill night air and let it clear her mind.
This time she could smile without pretending.
Finally, her thoughts quit their relentless chase after her sanity. The past days had taken their toll but now she could retreat to her compound and little tribe until the dust would have settled.
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So there I was. At the brink of death, destined never to see light again.
When I'd ever had to think of them, I'd always imagined the temple dungeons as dark and the guards as cruel. There were no guards as those who were held in there had no prospect to flee but the priests were cruel. And unfortunately they knew me full well.
“My, my, whom do we have here?,” the high priestess had asked when they’d brought me. “If that isn’t my creator’s highly esteemed breeding slave.”
And she'd smiled when they’d left me in the cell.
Since then, she’s been the only one to look after me. Brought water. Asked me how I was.
Guess she just wanted to be prepared when she’d walk in someday and find my dead body. The prospect shook me, not because of fear but rather the certainty that she’d actually enjoy that sight.
Though I was afraid. Very much, to be honest.
I’d always feared death. In the tribe where I’d been born, they'd taught that fear to each boy even before he’d learn to walk. You don’t shove aside that easily what's been drummed into your mind and conscience since earliest childhood.
However, there were others. They turned up unexpectedly, mostly in small groups. They gaped at me, showed their disgust, scorn or fewer their pity. And they didn't care whether the abhorrent stories they told about the reason of my sentence were true or not if only they made for a nice moment of shock.
Never in my whole life had I been that ashamed to hear of things I had not done. But only some days later, their reproaches had become so real that I almost believed in them myself, just because they did. All that shame...
Yet some others really had reason to be there.
To stare at me with hatred.
To yell in anger and humiliation.
But for all that, the king of Dekanos was the only one who didn't swear at me, who didn't tell lies, who never raised his voice for a sole word.
He didn't have to anyway. His presence alone made me tremble.
To expose anybody- I'd never wanted that, especially not a king. They were far too mighty and vengeful to be rivaled. I'd just been so sure that I'd love my queen enough til it was too late. And I still did.
Then the day arrived when I finally got that the goddess wouldn’t claim my soul so soon. Not that I was in a hurry. Afterlife didn't hold many pleasures in store for a culpable slave.
How long would this last on? Ten days, twenty? Even longer? The only thing I knew was that allowing me to drink was but another cruelty because it prolonged my life. But as often as I was resolved not to touch the liquid something held me back from making sure. So day after day, I ended up drinking the water against better judgment. Of course.
I couldn’t even figure out whether I was more afraid of dying or of waiting for death. It changed all too often depending on my mood. Slowly but surely the constant dimness, the warm humidity of my prison and the solitude drove me mad.
In times like those, when my sense of time had already got lost long ago and hunger had taken form of racking pains, thoughts used to come over me of what I could’ve had.
Of the people that I’d called my friends and had been forced to leave.
At some point I gave up to care about in which state they saw me or what they called me.
There was nothing any more I hadn't heard yet. And they were justified in their hatred after all.
But as much as I’d secretly feared the moment when I’d be forced to face my former queen, as much as I hoped she wouldn’t show up; when I saw her face I knew for sure I'd broken her heart.
And if anything else didn't, this certainty would kill me.
Poses by joannebernice, WyattsSims, beverlyallitsims, flowerxsims and orangemittens
Lot by fabtiffsims
That morning, nobody would stop Penthesilea. That Evandros had promised her.
“Sell me Protego.”
“Don’t you know I would never sell him, least of all to you?”
“I feared as much.”
“Why do you want him in the first place? He can’t even cook.” For the blink of an eye, Penthesilea noticed a glint in the other woman’s eyes that disappeared just as fast.
“Because I did not intend to turn this into a full-blown actual fight. It would have been the easiest way to settle everything.”
“To settle what? Is it because he complements you every time you meet? Does he trouble you? He’s quite a charmer. But I don’t want to sort him out as I’d be the first to miss it.”
How can she know that if not...? Penthesilea tried to keep calm, raising her eyebrow. “Sure. But beyond that, he kissed me more than once.”
“He-” Disbelief captured the other Amazon but she soon regained control over herself.
So there are things you do not know of!
“Well, I’ll have to take him to task for that but really, this isn’t your concern any more.”
She stopped for a moment and enjoyed each single word. “You can’t have everything, you know? Nobody can. Get used to it. Even Serkon wasn’t ever yours entirely,” she added deliberately.
Thankful that she already knew, Penthesilea readied herself to use her heaviest weapon. She felt a storm coming although this time, the two mightiest kings had already assured her their support in advance.
“This is not about his charms. He used to follow me often around the drill groud and...” The confession would blow the unsuspecting leaders' minds. All of a sudden, her mouth ran dry. For a moment she sought Serkon's eyes, begging for forgiveness before her next sentence would destroy every single bit of trust that was still left between them.
“...And I am truly ashamed of having to say that, but... I got weak. He seduced me.” The other woman turned pale immediately and so did Serkon. Barely holding his fire, he clenched his fists.
“How dare you tell me lies about my breeding slave and ask me for him in the same breath?,” Zeuxippe grinded out between her teeth.
“With my declaration I humiliate myself in front of the council. So why should I do such a thing on purpose and lie to you?”
Rage shook Zeuxippe’s body. “To embarrass me, whore!,” she yelled beside herself with anger. “For how long have you kept this a secret and laughed at me behind my back?”
“I have never laughed at you. Not about this, this is much too serious.”
“Tell me, for how long?”
“I... For the first time, a sun ago. And... a few times since then, I am afraid.” Better to go the whole way to begin with than to be accused of holding anything back later.
All the kings froze in the very moment. Old Jason of Vauros sunk even more onto his bench. Evandros and his friend Boras exchanged worried glances. Serkon's head had taken a red color as he leapt up. Nothing would hold him on his bench now yet he didn't assault her. In truth, his tense silence was even less endurable than any outburst could have been. He stared at her with a sudden hatred, then rushed past her and left. Just like that.
Forgive me, please!
“A-” Appalledly, the Orcheon queen held her breath. “A few times? And you didn't care that it was my property you touched? Is nothing sacred to a insolent woman like you? You-”
Now that the scene appeared to get out of control, Evandros and Boras intervened.
“Step down, Zeuxippe. We have witnesses that you did not observe your slave well enough. And when he stayed away for too long you did not ask him even once where he had been.”
Penthesilea thanked the Goddess that in the end, Evandros had agreed to her proposition to have one of his warriors watch Zeuxippe carefully while the training. She should have become suspicious a long time before, actually. No slave could fool his creator that long and disappear as often as Protego had.
“So I am the guilty one now rather than that slu-?”
“Guard your tongue!,” Evandros warned her, “Penthesilea may not have acted wisely but I am sick of your quarrel. She has asked me to help settle it and I will gladly do her that favor as this is what everyone has actually longed for for many moons. And you will better not try to thwart me.”
Zeuxippe's gaze traveled over the council's members in intense indignation. “How could anyone of you assume I would ever order my slave to ensnare her?”
“No one has explicitly blamed you for such a thing yet, Zeuxippe,” Evandros stated with an alien calmness.
The queen turned pale in an instant, cursing her hothead. Penthesilea on the other hand breathed a sigh of relief. That Zeuxippe herself would provide for a hint to confirm her suspection and thus easily at that... All the efforts to persuade Evandros to at least consider the possibility that she had been a victim herself had almost been unnecessary.
Evandros took the rest in his hands, meting out severe sanctions and admonitions for both queens. All of the kings were relieved when they were finally allowed to leave, each one to their home.
And yet, not everyone could immediately return to their own realms.
Raging, Zeuxippe stormed into the kitchen where her two slaves were cleaning.
Both spun around, amazed by the sudden return of their creator who had left only short time ago. Protego suspected what was going on the moment he discovered Penthesilea in the back. They could watch his heart sink. His lips silently formed the words of disappointment the Amazon thought to hear.
I believed you wouldn't.
“You!,” Zeuxippe shouted and accusingly pointed her finger at him. “So this is how you repay the kindness my mother and I showed you. You must have forgotten what you owe us!”
Protego flinched, both scared by Zeuxippe’s outburst of fury and ashamed of its truth.
“Please, forgive me, my queen. Never did I intend to hurt you or even thought to cheat on you!”
Helplessly, he peeked at Penthesilea but the Amazon pretended not to notice it.
“Coward! You’re even as brazen-faced as to try and defend yourself? Just throw yourself at another woman and believe you can get away with it? That no one would care?” For the blink of an eye, her voice almost broke. “That you- of all- deceive me-”
Trembling with fear and embarrassment he bowed the knees. “Weakness took over me but I’m prepared now. I’ll fight it, I swear!”
Suddenly, he stopped to ponder whether he should mention his next point in Penthesilea’s presence. When he eventually decided to do so, he merely whispered. “And I’ll give you the daughter you ache for.”
Another yell, unexpected. “You will never give me a daughter, unfaithful one! You nearly had a sun to end that mockery and you didn’t.” She slapped him in the face. “Machaon! For the Goddess’s sake, Machaon! Take him outside and deliver him to the warriors who are waiting there. You will get the punishment you deserve for a deed as despicable as yours.”
“Please, my queen, believe me! It wasn’t me who start-”
The brawny one grabbed Protego and pulled him on his feet, away from their queen and covered his mouth.
“Shut up!,” Zeuxippe barked. “You won’t escape death and believe me that I will enjoy it the most. Slow and shameful… But still much too merciful.” Protego struggled but was without a chance. At last, he surrendered to Machaon’s steely grip. Zeuxippe turned to Penthesilea.
“It is done now. Is that what you wanted?”
Regaining control she wrested herself free. “Take him away to the temple and leave my home at once.”
The Dark Goddess was the one who demanded sacrifice. The one in whose dungeon men and evildoers starved to death. Protego stared at the daughter of Thestia in horror.
She couldn’t remember a time when it had been thus difficult to return a slave’s gaze.
Whatever. Evandros himself had advised her to put the main blame on him, at least in the eyes of the public. And he was right. If Zeuxippe decided her slave had to die for his offense, Penthesilea would be almost free of distrust and slander. The matter would be dead and buried with him. A low price for the council and herself keeping their peace and authority.
Machaon dragged his fellow slave with him by force. Arriving outside, he pulled him closer for the blink of an eye before pushing him toward the warriors.
“When they bought you I told queen Rheia you’d make waves but she wouldn’t believe me. Bad luck for her daughter now.”
Simachion and Phineas immediately stepped at their prisoner's sides. “We will take care of him, my lady.”
“I beg you, have a heart, my queen! I couldn't tell anyone that you made me be at your will nor could I have stayed away from you opposing my queen’s orders! I never had a choice!”
Penthesilea gave him a serious look. Officially, she had been fooled, she would act like it.
“Do you think you would beguile not only one but two queens and get away without punishment?”
Then, she waved at the two guards. “Bring him to the temple as you were told.”
This chapter has an extra screenshot in the gallery.