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From the middle of the book, from the middle of a chapter: simultaneous events, Athens and in the mountains. The result of meditations on Vengeance, the subtext of this novel.

Dori and Thenisi awoke, hearing the First Bell. Thenisi rose, beginning to dress. Dori smiled at her slim young form, watched in admiration as she slipped into her newest outfit. Natural linen trousers and a tunic of the same, its skirt reaching to below the knee: a Kopeli of the Red Warrior Skolo, an Archari, the entry-level rank. Thenisi strapped on the belt with its short wooden sword and buckler attached.

“I am so happy that you’ve found a place here in Athens, Thenisi my love.” Dori stretched, then rolled up a little, clutching her belly: “Oooh, that was a squeeze! Now she’s kicking away!”

“Do you think you’re dilating yet?”

“I don’t think so. It feels to me like a tenday away, maybe? That’s my intuition; I’ve never done this before, eh?”

Both young women had been talking to the midwives at the Temple of Asklepius, going over the mechanics of the coming birth. The Mamisiae also spoke to them, oh so amusedly, of the rising tide of emotion they were both feeling. It was a complicating factor; knowing that it was normal, that was a comfort.

Thenisi was in awe of one of the Mamisiae, Magistri Photinisi. That one had looked them over, asked a few questions, then inquired about ‘their man’. She seemed to know everything: that they two were Twines-to-be; that they were leaning toward Trining with a man; that Selos was not the baby’s bio-father; just everything. Had she heard gossip, or was she just that good at her job? Anyway, however she gained her knowledge, she was a very good source of advice and comfort to them. “Send for me,” Photinisi said, “at any time, if there is any problem with the birth. I don’t anticipate any such. You are well cared for now, clearly.” When they mentioned Villa Estelli, Photinisi laughed: “Well, there are mothers there who can aid you in any ordinary difficulties. I repeat, don’t hesitate to call for me...” That was a further comfort to them.

Thenisi said: “Well, I have to eat now, so breakfast settles before my lesson. I nearly puked the last time, working out like that on a full belly.”

“Well, help me up, then. I’ll dress and then we’ll eat.”

Once on her feet, Dori slipped into a loose robe of maroon linen-woolen. She sat down and let Thenisi slide matching socks onto her feet, and then buckle up her ankle-high boots. Dori’s maroon socks were for History Guild, where she’d been accepted as an Apprentice.

“Oof!” said Dori. “I’ll be glad to be done with carrying this girl, if only so I can put my own shoes on again. I don’t know how I’d have managed if I hadn’t got back to the Commonwealth. My late owner would not have served me so, may he rot.” She smiled down at Thenisi, still kneeling at her feet.

Thenisi was tearing up, a little: “I don’t mind. I love you. I’ll put your hose on, or take them off, or rub your feet, or...”

“I know. And maybe someday I will do the same for you. My love.”

“My life.” Thenisi was smiling now. Dori rocked back and forth a couple times and then stood up, hands across her belly. Thenisi took her arm and steadied her, then they went out their door and towards the kitchen.

“I miss Selos,” said Thenisi. “Breakfast is not the same with him out charging around the countryside raising alarms.”

“I know. Breakfast, dinner, and evenings in the garden. But the alarms need raising, I think.”

Thenisi nodded: “Someone had to do it. He thought of it first, so he did it.”

“It’s so strange, isn’t it?” Dori was smiling: “We were slaves, always at the command of masters or overseers. They really didn’t want us to think for ourselves, or just do what needed doing. Now we are back here, in our own country, and that is exactly how most things get done. Every time, it’s someone different leading the way.”

“I like it this way. This is how it ought to be.” Thenisi was smiling, too, but there was an edge to her grin, like a sword half-drawn: “The sword, the spear, the sling and the saddle, those are the tools that will keep our daughter free.”

Dori nodded, smiling. She was putting food on their plates, choosing carefully. There was not as much food on the board as usual, or around the City. Many Farmers had taken their bows and gone with the Muster, and many Laborers had gone as well. It was harder to get fresh food, but Katrini made sure Dori had fresh greens or pickled cabbage every day.

And for all that, every meal looked like a feast to Dori. Thenisi had been enslaved in the fields, and getting enough to eat had been as easy as hand-to-mouth. Dori’s masters had punished her for eating anything but the leavings of others.

She shook her head hard, which made her breasts bounce, paining her. She held back her tears, forced a smile; she looked at Thenisi and then the smile was unforced.

Thenisi took the plates from her, bore them to the table. Dori stood still a moment, watching her, her mood now flipped to great happiness.

“Come and eat sweetheart,” said Thenisi, and then she saw Dori’s happy smile: “Say it!” she said.

“What?”

“Whatever it is that you are thinking! Say it!”

“I was thinking, suddenly, that we have earned this good fortune we are enjoying. We both had our share of bad luck, didn’t we? It should be good times for us, now.”

Thenisi went to her then, and they embraced for a long moment.

Danni and Marisi entered the kitchen then, and they all sat to the table. Danni was with child and showing it; Marisi was glowing with happiness, her speech less halting and her attention focused. Dori suddenly realized that Selos had a sibling, a full sibling, on the way.

That made her happier yet, clear through. ‘Mood swings’ she thought: ‘and I’ll enjoy every minute now, up or down.”



As the sun passed its zenith and afternoon began, Selos thought of taking a rest. Mako was slowing a little; the horse would be none the worse for a midday break, either. He rode around a tight bend in the road and came upon an Inn. ‘I shouldn’t be surprised, and it’s not a coincidence.’ He rode on down to the Innyard, and hailed the inhabitants. A boy of eight or so came to the door, looked back over his shoulder and then nodded. He took Mako’s bridle as Selos dismounted, but did not immediately lead the horse to the paddock. He watched as Selos entered the Inn, then at last drew on the rein and took Mako away.

Selos walked right up to the bar, every fiber of his body screaming ‘Danger!’. He had no idea what was going on, but something was. He’d seen it in the boy’s demeanor: in his hesitations, in his expressions. There was no one behind the bar; he went round in back of it and drew a mug of ale. Then he went to sit in a corner, where he could see the whole room.

The Innkeeper came out from the kitchen, bringing soup and bread. Nothing odd about that, except it was usual for an Innkeeper’s Twine to cook, and the man to hold down the bar. Still, it wasn’t unheard of for the roles to be swapped. Unusual for the bar to be unstaffed, though. He breathed deeply, relaxing. He reached over to his right and flipped the latch on the shutter, opened the window. ‘Now I have a bug-out route,’ he thought.

The Innkeeper set the platter down in front of him, saying: “Here you are, sir.” Then he made the handsigns for “extreme distress” followed by “danger”. He shielded this communication from the bar and the entrance to the kitchen, using his rather rotund form as a screen.

Selos saw a furtive movement in the open archway of the kitchen door. He nodded just the slightest bit, then tasted the soup and considered his options. He surreptitiously loosened his sword in it’s sheath, and as the Innkeeper moseyed towards the bar, blocking any view from the kitchen entrance, he scooted over, stood, and vaulted out of the open window.

“No time to lose,’ he thought, sprinting around the side of the building. There was a window here, one shutter partly open, inwards. He drew his sword, pushed with his left hand: it creaked a little as it opened.

He saw three little girls, the eldest perhaps eight years old. They were bound and gagged and blindfolded, laid in a row on the floor of a narrow hallway. They were breathing, thank Hestia. He climbed through the window, as silently as he could, and began to reconnoiter. He felt an increasing sense of urgency, fearing for the Innkeeper and any of his family that were still by his side. He heard a whispered conversation from around the next corner of the hall

He lay prone upon the floor, peered around the doorpost. There was the Innkeeper, hands above his head, menaced by a man with a sword. A woman, surely his Twine, trembled in the arms of another man, who held her helpless with a knife at her throat. A third man was peering out of the door at the Commons, whispering:

“The fellow has left,” he said: in Italian! Selos growled, deep in his throat, suppressed any other reaction. The man at the door continued: “Perhaps he is moving on.”

“Don’t be an ass,” said the man with the sword. He switched to Koine, addressing the Innkeeper: “Where has he gone? Where did you send him?”

“I know nothing of his movements, you saw, I gave him his food as you commanded, then came back here. I am obeying you!”

“Shhh! I want you to find him, go and find him, send him away if you can. Your wife’s life is forfeit if you don’t return promptly.” He lowered his sword and gestured to the Innkeeper, who took a step towards the door.

While this was going on, Selos was calculating. The man with the sword held it carelessly, moved it clumsily. It seemed like a longsword of Hellenic make, so probably he’d taken it from the Innkeeper or some other Hellene. All three men were dressed more like common Venetian street thugs than like noblemen; he figured he could take them. His chief worry was the woman: if the man holding her was desperate enough, she might die as soon as he appeared in their sight. ‘Gonna have to be fast, and quick,’ he thought. ‘Swordsman first, doorman second, no mercy. Knife man last, take him alive if I can.’

He scooted back, stood up, rolled his shoulders and then went through the door and into the kitchen. The man with the sword barely reacted before Selos ran him through. He fell to the floor with a shriek, writhing in pain. Selos drew his knife and threw it at the man who was holding the Innkeeper’s Twine. He flinched and the woman bit his forearm, pushed the knife away from her and twisted loose. Selos didn’t see that, because he was hacking at the man in the doorway. He slashed at the man’s arms, as the fool tried vainly to protect himself. The Innkeeper suddenly appeared behind the thug and smacked him in the back of the head with a cudgel. The villain’s eyes rolled back, his arms went limp: Selos finished him with an expertly placed cut. Blood gouted from the man’s throat, and Selos leapt back to keep it off his boots. The swordsman was still making noise, squealing and weeping, his blood pooling under his belly.

He turned then, glared at the knifeman: “Drop the knife, scum,” said Selos, in Italian: “or you will die very much more slowly than you might have.”

It was Knifeman who was trembling, now; the weapon in his hand was shaking visibly. His mouth worked, he looked from one to the other of them: the Innkeeper, who had the cudgel in one hand and the other sword in his right; Selos, his sword dripping blood on the floor; and his erstwhile prisoner, who had siezed a cleaver from the rack above the prep table, and looked most deadly of the three.

Finally, Knifeman decided: “Fuck yourself with your own sword, Hellene. I know your law.” He ran straight at Selos, screaming incoherently. Selos cut, the Innkeeper thrust, his Twine hacked. The man went to the ground, dead before he hit the floor.

Selos spun on his heel, knelt beside the last man’s head. He grabbed the reprobate’s hair, twisted his head around until he looked Selos in the eye.

“Who are you?” Selos growled, in Italian: “Why are you here, in the mountains, half a day from any port?”

The man laughed, weakly: “No good, Hellene. You are too good with that sword, and I am going away fast. There is no pain that will make me speak, in the little time left to me.”

“Well,” said Selos, “in that case I won’t waste my time on you.” He rose, the man’s hair still in his grasp, and dragged him across the floor towards the back door of the kitchen. He screamed and slapped feebly at Selos’ hand and arm. Selos kicked the door open and dragged the offal out into the paddock. He went over to Mako, stroked his nose, whispered to him. Then he mounted and turned the stallion toward the man.

Blood was leaking form his nose now. He saw what Selos was doing, and his eyes grew wide. He ceased to writhe, and shook his head, mouthing the word ‘No’ in Italian.

Selos waited long enough for the full horror to sink in on the Italian. Then he urged Mako forward.

The family, reunited and in one another’s arms, watched from the doorway. The father, impassive. The woman was narrow-eyed and grim. Her son had tears on his face but still witnessed. The two littler girls hid their faces; the oldest one watched, then made a very rude handsign, consigning the man to the realm of Hades.

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