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Andromache: Stealing Tomorrow . Chapter 1
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kitsune13_tam

oh my precious ones, it has been a long time hasn't it? I've been MIA much longer than I should have. Part of it has been burn out but a large part of it has been, as some of you may know and others might not yet - I'm a published author now! After years of running through the rat maze of getting an agent and the rewriting and rewriting for publishers (and demonegg! my very own private whip-cracking editor), I ended up with a self-published book. It's been a ride and I won't yammer about it here but rest assured, sometimes the only thing that kept me going was remembering how much faith and encouragement I'd gotten from you all, both in reviews and friendship, all these years. So, as a bit of a thank you, I would like to introduce you to the world of my book.The full story you can buy on Amazon or order from your local bookstore, but these first two chapters are entirely free.  Hopefully this introduction will be a fun read. Chapter 1 today, chapter 2 tomorrow - and watch for a new Cloud/Tifa story to go up on ff.net either late today or tomorrow!
ps - the name is pronounced 'an DROM ah key' - so you don't spend the entire story reading 'Abercrombie' the way my sister does. ;)
let's get our pre-Iliad on!

Andromache: Stealing Tomorrow
Chapter 1
by Jennifer South (aka TamLin)

I.



It was summertime and I had escaped.

The air was hot, a weight that pressed down with physical force, and my hair, not content to be curly, not content to be straight, had become a bird's nest. It had not rained as it should have for this time of the year, and the grass under my bare feet was dry; I could feel it crunch even more then I could hear it. The birds had fallen lazy in the heat, and, far off, I could hear when my father's oxen lowed, painting pictures in my head of their huge bulks lowered and resting in the still shade, calling to each other so they did not have to get up and walk the distance to touch. Today, the usually reassuring sound gave me shivers.

It was my overactive imagination. I had learned to hide it, but it was always there in me. Like my curiosity it lived just under the surface of my skin, waiting to burst to life when most inappropriate and cause me to do things that would bring me trouble. The far off sounds of the cattle reminded me that we were playing a game of Minotaur, and I was one of the hunted Athenians. In my mind, the lazy call became something darker and the grove of trees around me became great stone pillars and long dark halls that led forever inward like a dying spider's legs. Even in the heat I shivered, enjoying the scare even as my steps became quicker. One of my brothers was back there, somewhere behind me, playing the part of the bull-headed son of Crete as he hunted down friends and siblings.

Even as a child, I did not miss the humor of one of my brothers 'playing' at being bull-headed.

We had the whole olive grove as our maze to hide ourselves in, though I knew most of my age mates would congregate near the old olive press and its outbuildings. I let them have the cool stone and shadow, knowing my safety lay in being where no one would think to look for me. It would mean a long time alone with nothing to entertain me but myself but it would give me secret pride to be able to walk into the hall once the sun had set and see my brother's sullen face. It irked the hunters that they could never find their little sister, but they never thought to look in the out of the way places that I found to hide in. They enjoyed lording their superiority over me in so many other areas. It was my little bit of revenge to have this at least. The ability to confound their much vaunted hunting skills.

I was a child and, with a child's mind, I chaffed against the restraints others would put on me just because I was born a girl.

In the distance I heard one of the girls shriek and knew my brother had found his first victim. I guessed it was probably Crythaliss, who never hid from my brothers as well as she should. It made me smile. She could keep her silly boys. I wanted to win.

I passed the beekeeper's hut, and almost thought of stopping there. Even if my brother did to bother check, Orease would hide me. I liked Orease. He was a magician. Who else could lull the bees into letting him take their honeycombs and walk away without a single sting? My mother used the honey in her magic sometimes, too, and that was just extra proof to my mind. Everyone knew my mother was a sorceress. That was why she was allowed to do what she wanted undisturbed and why no one stopped her when she called me into her dark rooms and I did not come out for days.

I wiped a hand across my forehead and kept walking. It felt good to be walking again. Orease would have to wait. I wanted to be outside, in the sun and fresh air. It helped drive away the thoughts of my mother and her secret dark room that even my father did not know of.

The grove circled a hill and I scrambled up it, taking the hard way instead of the winding path because climbing straight up was actually faster even if it took more effort. I liked the challenge, besides, and the way my body ached a little by the time I was to the top. I leaned against a tree and rested for a while, the fabric of my dress clinging to my back with sweat. Maybe I would go down to one of the little rivers and swim to cool off. It would be cheating, but if no one saw me, and we all knew my brothers could never find me anyway, did it still count? I was just looking back over the grove from my new viewpoint when I head the sound of someone coming up the path behind me. Startled, I wasted a second debating what to do. If it was one of the male servants or soldiers, they would surely tell my brother where I was if they saw me. If it was one of the maidservants or slaves, they'd be glad to have an excuse to stop their work and keep me company. I decided discretion was the better part of it and, as quietly as I was able, clambered up into the tree I had been leaning against so recently, quietly promising the nymph in it that I meant no harm and would sing her a very good song if she would but help hide me with her branches.

The tree was too slim for me to find a branch thick enough to sit on but I was a skinny girl myself, and so I stood, wrapping my arms around the thinning trunk, cheek pressed against her bark, and listened. For a short time there was no sound, and then I heard footfalls over loose soil and felt a little thrill. It was too early for my brother to be hunting this far afield but there was still the thought of being hidden from someone else without them even knowing it that made me smile. I was too young yet to realize that there were times you did not want to see what someone did when they thought they were in secret.

The occasional sound of passage drew closer and, for fun, I tried to figure out who it was coming. The steps were too heavy to be Saffo, my father's newest concubine and too light to be my, as far as I was concerned, outgrown nursemaid. It was not Orease because there were no flowers up here, and he was never interested in anything that was not bees. The fact was, it could have been dozens of people I knew coming this way. I knew that. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to figure out the puzzle though, shifting on my branch to see better.

In fact, it was no one I could have predicted.

My brows drew down over my eyes in a move my nurse would have assured me would cause wrinkles, and I frowned slightly as a man came into view, calmly meandering his way through the grove. His hair was dark and curly and he was wearing strange clothing. He was dressed like a shepherd but he moved like one of my brothers. I had never seen him before. Aware, in only the vaguest of ways, that strange men were to be avoided, I stayed still against my tree and watched him with, easily, more curiosity than fear. I thought, at the time, that I already knew what the face of fear was. And it was not young and beardless and male.

He paused to the right of my tree and shaded his eyes with a hand, looking out from our vantage point over my father's lands. The hill was not so tall as Mount Ida, but it was still enough of a rise that I knew he would see the rest of the olive grove. Orease's small hut and the hives behind it. The oil press and the ruins of the old one that an improper sacrifice to Demeter had caused to be abandoned. The track for my brother's chariot races and the stables. The tip of one of our grain fields and finally, taking up most of the limited horizon, my father's house.

King Eetion's palace.

The stranger watched the land in front of him and I watched him. He was sweaty just as I was. The path came up the back of the hill I had climbed the front of and I wondered if he had driven a cart or if he had been walking. I wondered where he would have been walking from. Our nearest neighbors were Hippoplacia and Killa to the East, but Fair Days would not begin until after harvest in the fall. There was very little to trade at this time of year. He could not be a messenger because it was a death sentence to be taking this much time to stop and admire a view if there was a message to be delivered. And he had not come from the sea, which would have placed him on the other side of the house and so my brief hope that he was something as exciting as a sea raider died quickly to my logic as well. As disheveled looking as he was, I knew he was no god in disguise. He was a new puzzle for me and I turned him over again and again in my head looking for the answer.

"I'm debating whether to acknowledge you or not."

The voice was mild with an odd accent and it took me a moment before I realized he must be addressing me, for he didn't move from where he stood looking out over the landscape. But how could he be talking to me if I hadn't made a sound to give myself away?

"In the olive tree. You must be up there for a reason and I'm trying to decide if it's a reason I should interrupt or not."

Now I scowled, dropping the puzzle of who he was to deal with what concerned me more.

"How did you find me?" I asked and he finally turned his head so that I could see all of his face. He was darkly tanned and he had very dark eyes under low, straight brows. His nose was too big for his face. When he smiled though, it didn't matter. And he smiled as he spotted me.

"You're casting a shadow. And you don't look like a tree branch."

Still frowning, I looked at the tree's shadow myself. I saw that, indeed, if you were looking, there was my own shadow inside the tree's porous one, making an odd straightness against the otherwise twisting trunk.

"Oh." I was a bit crestfallen, but it only lasted a minute. I could appreciate his cleverness. I supposed my brothers never looked at shadows. Thinking about it, I couldn't see them standing still long enough for it. With a nod, because he had found me fairly, I slipped down the tree a bit until I reached the lower branches and knelt down on one of them to peer at him. "How did you know to look?" I asked and watched the surprise at my question move across his face before his lips turned upward and he shrugged.

"I always look," he answered, and I nodded again. With a child's mind, it made sense to me. How was I to know until much later what a strange trait it was to have, especially in a man?

"That's fair," I agreed. "What are you doing here?"

He chuckled then, a quiet sound, but it wasn't scary the way some chuckles were. Again he shrugged and I noticed he had wide shoulders. So he was no messenger or runner.

"I got lost. A bit. I'm exploring."

My eyes widened and I smiled. Exploring. That was fun. It was going to see just because you were curious and no one ever chided the great heroes or poets for curiosity like that. I wondered if he would let me go exploring with him and then realized that not only would Nurse explode if I even suggested such a thing, but that people who went exploring wouldn't want to be bothered with little girls. It was disappointing but I decided it just meant I would have to go exploring on my own.

"What are you exploring for?" I asked and he chuckled again, fuller this time.

"What a lot of questions you have."

"You answer them," I pointed out, because as far as I was concerned that gave me every right to ask more. He frowned in mock thought and nodded.

"I do," he agreed after a moment and then answered: "I don't want to see things on a map. I want to see them with my own eyes. So that when someone says Poseidon has touched his trident to the coast of Pedasus or that raiders have been spotted near Chrysa, I can see in my head what they're talking about instead of trying to understand it by looking at a map."

It made sense to me.

"You're a warrior," I stated, and he smiled in surprise but it only made sense to me. Traders were interested in maps and places too but not in raiders or earthquakes. Poets wanted stories about heroes, not bandits. So he must be a warrior. It pleased me that I had surprised him with my deduction. I liked surprising people by being cleverer than they thought a girl my age should be. A thought struck me then and I asked excitedly:

"Are you a mercenary?"

He actually laughed at that, though, I think looking back, he laughed more at how excited I was at the concept than at the inadvertent insult.

"Now I wish I was." He was still smiling, and it made me realize he must not be much older than some of my brothers. He did not look young until he smiled. "And I'm more than a warrior," his voice changed as he said it and his face did too, shifting so that it was softer and he still looked young but in a different way. I felt suddenly, without understanding why, bad for calling him a warrior, even though it was all my brothers wanted to be called these days. I leaned down from my tree and kissed his forehead the way my nurse did to make me feel better.

"I'm sorry," I told him honestly. "You can be a beekeeper, too, if you want."

His face changed again, and I forgot his nose was too big. He had the nicest eyes I had ever seen.

"Do you often go around kissing strangers and offering them positions of service?" He was teasing me but it was in the nice way, not the cruel one, and I liked the way it made me feel.

"Only when they find my hiding place," I offered with a smile. Vaguely, for the first time, aware of the way words could be a game too. It was - an odd feeling, a bit like a puzzle too. "Where are you from?"

"Ilium." He moved a hand in a direction that was away from the sea. "Where am I?"

I grinned.

"Thebe. King Eetion's home. You're in his olive grove. That's his house." It was my turn to gesture. "Are you really from Troy? How did you get this far?"

The sound of his laughter reflected in his eyes and I thought they looked beautiful.

"I'm really from Troy," he said, using the city's Achaean name as I had. "And I drove. I left my chariot in the shade at the foot of the path. Do you think King Eetion would give me welcome if I showed up without announcement?"

Even if it were not for the unbreakable sacredness of guest and host, my father still would have welcomed a visitor. It had been over a month since the last ship had sailed up the coast, and a new face always brought new news and stories. Especially one from far off Ilium!

"Oh yes," I was very sure about it as I answered. "He will keep you up all night talking about what you've seen."

"Good. Because I need a bath," he grinned and then he found my face with his eyes. "But you didn't ask me a question. So I can't ask you mine now."

"Oh." I gave it some thought, then rested my cheek against the trunk of my tree. "What is your name?"

His eyes flickered in surprise, and he shook his head.

"Now I have two questions to ask to your one." But he was smiling. "My name is Hector. And I was going to ask if you would come down out of your tree."

I did come out of the tree, though there was a brief debate about it inside me. If I came down, my brothers might spot me and that would count as finding me. If they didn't and I got back to the palace, that would be cheating and I wouldn't win. If I didn't come down though, then Hector would go to the palace himself and I would miss the chance at a chariot ride and getting answers to my questions about far off Ilium.

"Not a nymph then," he teased as I dropped out of the tree and landed on my feet.

"No." I thought it was a funny assumption, but I did lean in and press my lips to the tree's warm bark, silently promising to come back with the song for her as soon as I could. Then I looked back at the stranger.

"But we can't stay in the olive grove too long," I instructed, still set on, if not winning anymore, at least not losing.

"All right," he agreed, starting down the dirt packed path and I was pleased by his understanding of how important it was. As I fell into step next to him, half skipping, even with my stork legs, to keep up, he asked:

"Why?"

"We're playing Minotaur," I explained the importance. "I'm one of the Athenians."

"Ah." He nodded brows down. Obviously, he was well aware of the importance of not being caught by the Minotaur. "Then why don't I pretend to be Theseus?"

I laughed, both at the thought of him trouncing one of my brothers, hero to their monster, and also because he slanted me a look from the sides of his dark eyes that was laughing and said it was all right for me to laugh as well.

"That's not the way it's played," I chided him. "Besides, I'm not Ariadne."

"No," he agreed and his face changed. "I wouldn't leave you alone on an empty island."

The way he said it made me feel suddenly awkward and I looked down at my dirty feet. It wasn't that I was unloved… just - unimportant. I didn't mind when my brothers forgot to include me in one of their games or the other girls forgot to tell me sometimes when they went out for picnics or wash chores. I wasn't good and I wasn't bad. I just was. Sometimes important things came up and I was forgotten. I had never before felt as if it was important not to be.

"Quiet?" my companion teased me and I looked up to see he was watching me with a smile in his dark eyes. It made me smile back.

"I don't always chatter like a magpie!" I protested.

"But I like magpies," he insisted, then returned to his teasing. "So if you're not a nymph and not a magpie, what should I call you?"

"Most everyone calls me Egret, but my real name is - oh!" and I broke off because we had reached bottom of the hill. "They're beautiful!"

"Oh-They're-Beautiful. No wonder everyone calls you Egret instead," he said but there was pride in his voice as he stepped up to the two horses that had lifted their heads at his approach and whickered.

"No," I admonished. "My name is Andromache. Your horses are beautiful."

And they were, as only horses from Ilium could be. My father had a matched set in his own stables that had been a gift from King Priam and, even though they were aged now, they were still the most magnificent animals in our country. These two were a mismatched pair, a gray and a spotted brown, but they were both tall and broad-chested with beautiful long legs and great warm eyes in their wide heads. Hector walked over to them and they tossed their heads and stretched out their noses toward him so that he could pet each of them in turn.

"Yes, they are. But don't tell them; they're horrible when they're full of themselves." Hector offered his hand to me. "Come and meet them. Andromache."

Hesitant, I took his larger hand and he drew me over. Chariot horses were fierce and barely tamed. They trampled men down at a command and knew no fear. Hector was reassuringly larger than I was though, and he obviously had no fear of them. I felt safe with his support and was soon offering my hand for the horses to snort over.

"I wish I had something to give them. A sliver of fruit or grain," I lamented and he chuckled, hand warm where it resting on my thin shoulder.

"They're spoiled enough," he mocked his horses with the same gentle teasing he'd given me and they glowed under it too. "This is Epimenides because he's a lazy brute and the brown is Marsyas because he likes to whistle."

I had forgotten I was supposed to be afraid of them by then and looked at the brown horse.

"Horses can't whistle," I protested, and in answer Hector blew out between his teeth, creating an odd, toneless whistling. Marsyas immediately picked it up, almost silent but there. I laughed, delighted, and pressed a kiss to the horse's wide forehead.

"He does whistle! How clever!"

Hector chuckled.

"Now he'll never stop," he teased. "Come. We'll go to the palace and ask for shelter for the night. He can't show off when he's working."

I gave Marsyas' soft nose one last stroke, then followed Hector to the back of his chariot. It was a small, comfortable wicker one and, short of a small bag that probably held provisions, empty but for a bow and quiver of well wrapped arrows. I clambered up into it easily, well acquainted with this kind of light chariot. Sometimes my father would let me ride in his when he was going out hunting or to some of the farther fields. I had even, once or twice, been brave enough to climb up into his larger bronze plate war chariot that was housed unused in the stables. Hector stepped up into it as well, unlacing the reins from their hold.

"You did that so quickly I feel I should ask if you drive," he said and I noticed he did not start the horses forward but instead held the reins slack in his hands and waited. Wide eyed, I turned my head to look up at him, wishing, suddenly, fiercely, that I could. Instead, I was forced to shake my head.

"No," I admitted. "I'm just a girl. I'm not supposed to drive." I explained it as if he would not have known that already. I looked at the leather plait reins in his big hands. "I wish I had been born a boy." An often thought and one that was not mine alone but belonged to the whole family. They wanted a boy because another boy would have been useful. I wished it for simpler reasons. My mother had no interest in my brothers. She said their blood burned too fast. Hector watched me silently for a minute and then he took my hands in his. He wove my fingers through the reins so I was holding them properly, as I had seen both my father and his chariot driver do.

"Horses respond to your voice as much as the touch of the rein," he said, "so you must be firm in both your grip and your tone when you do this." He closed his hands over mine and flicked the reins with a commanding "Hah!" The horses started forward immediately and I could feel the power of them through the leather in my hands. It was amazing and I laughed.

My companion gave a soft, humming sound of approval, hands over mine so he could guide the horses and I could both see and feel how he was doing it. After a minute he said: "My sister Cassandra also wishes she was a boy. My mother often tells her that it is better to be a woman because at least women are allowed to use their brains to make decisions."

Thinking of my own brothers, it made me smile. It was true. Thinking rationally didn't much factor into why they did the things they did.

"But boys get to do things," I disagreed after a moment. "Girls are just supposed to sit around and look pretty." So I'd been told often enough and with enough exasperation. The stranger behind me made a thoughtful noise and adjusted the reins slightly so the horses set their feet toward the middle of the path. After a minute, he stated:

"Don't underestimate the power of women, Andromache. Men do it all the time and suffer for it. A woman can make a man forget the blood on his hands and the weight on his soul, make him hurry to be home at the end of every day. Or she can make his life miserable." It was the first time someone had named the lack I felt in my own life and my own future. Power. Even so much of what my mother did was a bid for power, for control of the world around her. I had always been powerless and had always expected to stay that way. Except – Hector said otherwise. I had never heard a man speak about women that way and I rolled it over and over in my head, knowing that it was important… and that somehow, it would be more important the older I got. Hector finished. "Men can control a woman's body but it's women that have the power to control souls."

I thought about it as the trees of the grove went past us and the horses kept up their comfortable walk, Hector's hands on mine sure on the reins. Finally, I tipped my head back to look directly up at him since he was standing behind me.

"You're not hurrying home," I said quietly and watched his lips move, sadness and humor.

"I'm not married, Andromache."

I thought about it a minute, watching the road again. He said it oddly, not at all the way my brothers talked about marriage. He talked about women much nicer than my brothers did too. I liked the thought of having power over a man's soul. It reminded me of the kittens I was forever sneaking into my room. Nurse always took them away when she found them but I enjoyed sleeping with them against my chest and listening to them purr when they were happy. I liked taking care of them. I'd never thought about men's soul really, much less that they might need taking care of. I thought I liked the idea though. It certainly made me feel better about that distant, vague dread that was marriage. It might not be glorious but most glorious things seemed to center around killing and I'd never wanted to do that. Taking care of someone's soul though, seemed important.

"Hector?" I asked after a moment, tipping my head back again to look up at him. He tipped his face down in answer even though, since he was really the one driving, he kept his eyes on the horses. He made his humming noise to show he was listening. "Why aren't you married?" I asked and surprised a laugh out of him. His dark eyes looked down at me for a moment, smiling again.

"How old do you think I am?" he asked.

"My cousin just got betrothed. She's eleven summers," I stated factually.

The short, thoughtful hum of his and then he shook his head.

"I am a bit older than that," he admitted wryly. "I just don't have much to offer a woman." His shoulders shrugged casually but I saw it bothered him by the way his eyes narrowed as they watched the road ahead of us, as if he'd been stung or cut. "Besides, men usually have to make a name for themselves first. We don't marry as early as you girls do."

I fidgeted a bit at that. He didn't say anything I didn't already know, except about his status in life. I didn't like the way his voice sounded when he said he didn't have much to give a woman though. He was nice and friendly and answered my questions. He didn't tease me meanly and he let me drive… after a fashion.

"Well, I think you're very nice." I said it in my best grown up voice just so he would take me seriously. "I would marry you."

He laughed at that but I didn't get the impression he was laughing at me.

"Your father might have something to say about that," he teased, but his hands tightened into a pleasant squeeze on mine and it made me feel warm inside again. "Now," he said it in the tone of someone with a wicked idea, "shall we see how fast my lazy horses can pull this basket?"

If he had been looking for me to say no, he

never should have asked.

We arrived in front of the palace, if possible, even more dusty and sweat streaked and disheveled than we had previously been. He showed me how he turned the horses as he braced with his legs and called them to a very competent stop in the outer most courtyard, dramatically spraying sand from the bronze rimmed wheels.

Much to their credit, and to my dismay, the servants descended upon us at once along with one of my oldest brothers. Hector was my discovery, one I'd been rather proud of, but my brother immediately took over and I was hauled away by several of the maid servants before I could even protest. It wasn't fair at all and I was sullen in response to their rebukes about the state of my hair and clothes. Nurse was even worse and upbraided me ruthlessly about my unladylike appearance and behavior.

"I did not gallivant!" I protested finally as I stood in the bathing area. She poured cold water over my head.

"You're an unmarried woman and your father will soon be receiving suitors for your hand. Princes don't want a wild woman that cavorts with strange men."

"I didn't cavort either," I told her, not entirely sure what cavorting was but from her tone quite sure I hadn't done it. "He was lost and I brought him home."

"Like some wild dog," she disparaged. "It's a good thing he's a nobody or the rumors he could spread about you, looking like a rat's nest and acting like an inn keeper's daughter."

"I always look like a wild rat," I snapped back at her since it was her favorite comparison of me. "And he's nice. I'm glad he's not one of those princes that always come to compete against my brothers during Fair Season."

She dumped another pitcher of water over me halfway through my derisive remark about boring and self-important princes and I tried not to give her the satisfaction of sputtering. The cold water had felt good at first but now it had stolen all my hoarded body heat and I was getting cold. I hated cold more than anything else, even more than wet or hot. I shivered and Nurse was immediately contrite. Which, unfair though it was, was the reason I had shivered…

"You little dear." She hefted herself down off the stool she'd started having to stand on to pour my baths over my head and wrapped me in a thick towel. "You have no idea what men are really like. They only pretend to be nice to make you trust them."

I couldn't exactly protest that, remembering all too well some of my father's friends that pretended to be sweet to me and then made belittling comments about me when they thought I was out of earshot. It made the tips of my ears burn and I pressed my lips tightly together. Maybe Hector was laughing with my brothers about me right now. I went back over what I'd said, while Nurse tried to dry my hair and thought, now, how stupid and childish I must have sounded to him. My brothers made fun of me often enough so I could easily hear their laughter in my imagination. Inwardly, it made me cringe in embarrassment and I shut my eyes, pretending it was because Nurse was pulling my hair as she tried to comb the tangles out of it. I was suddenly very glad I had been dragged away right away by the slaves. Sometimes people didn't wait until I was out of the room to start their jokes and I was sure I wouldn't have wanted to hear Hector's comments about me. I'd been looking forward to dinner but now my stomach hurt.

"There, there," Nurse awkwardly stroked my half-combed hair. "I'm sure you were a very good hostess until your brother arrived." She went back to pulling the comb through my hair. "Though I don't know what we would have done if he'd been a raider and taken you for ransom."

I sniffed, pretending it was because of the water still dripping down my face at random intervals. I knew very well what they would have done because my brothers had teased me about it often enough. They would have left me there. Nurse knew it too. It wasn't that Thebe didn't have wealth. It was just that it was better spent on things that didn't involve gawky awkward daughters who didn't do what they were supposed to often enough. It wasn't all bad. I wasn't adverse to the idea of being a sea raider.

"The Lady wishes to see her daughter."

Nurse jumped and I froze at the voice, invisible shivers running through the muscles buried deep in my back. The scar on my shoulder throbbed painfully and I didn't turn around, knowing the liquid poison voice of my mother's maidservant anywhere. My stomach, which had been hurting, suddenly felt very cold and very empty. Nurse's hands tightened painfully in my hair.

"But she's not dressed. I haven't even combed her hair out," she protested and I was grateful for her attempt to buy me at least a little time. Threnody shook her head; I could hear the chiming of the tiny silver bells she wore in her dark hair.

"The Lady wishes to see her daughter."

It was all that needed to be said. Chest shaking painfully inside, I wet my lips and nodded.

"I'm coming," I answered, voice flat because I was too scared to give it any other inflection. Wrapping the towel around me as if it was Jason's Golden Fleece and could afford me some protection, I turned to my mother's dusky servant. Nurse's large hands fluttered helplessly in the air in the side of my vision.

"It's not my fault she looks this way. I was trying to make her presentable. It's her own fault for running so wild."

"I will be sure to tell the Lady you're not responsible for her daughter," Threnody intoned solemnly and I knew she was mocking Nurse without inflection or word. I didn't even try to take the comb or find clothes. Mother would find something wrong with me no matter what I did if she wanted. With a last nod to Nurse, not trusting my voice, I started toward my mother's servant and fell into silent step behind her as she departed. Inside me my heart raced like a little bird's.

I had just finished one of my lessons with my mother two days ago. I was just now starting to feel better and I'd been able to go outside for the first time just today. Usually mother didn't want me again so soon after a lesson and my throat and mouth were dry over why she might be calling me. Threnody gave no indication but I had long ago stopped expecting one. My mother could be in a foaming rage and Threnody would look the same as she did when my mother was all soft, wordless songs and smiles. I thought I understood why.

One so often changed into the other…



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