Within a day, everyone in the palace knew about the discussion between the two princes and, after subtly inquiring of the servants, I discovered that the snitch was Hektor's former manservant. The young man had been transferred to Helenus' employ after the crown prince's death and overheard them on the way to the former's rooms to clean his armour. Out of loyalty to his late master and fearing for my safety, he had spread the word by telling the rest of the servants and maids, including the cook. The latter had told her kitchen staff to refuse any requests from anyone to add something to the food or drink that she herself did not approve while my cousin's handmaiden had made passing mention of the matter to the king's manservant – right in front of Priam's guards.
Subsequently; a guard began following me around the palace, unobtrusive but very much present, regardless of the hour. When I asked who had sent him, he reported that he had caught Helenus trying the handle on my door at least four times in the last few days, when I was clearly not in my rooms. He had, therefore, suspected something was amiss and sought to secure my safety because, in his words "that is what Prince Hektor would have wanted". That was the last straw for me. I ordered him to report his observations to the king while I went and told my cousin about the whole mess so that she was aware of the potential danger to Astyanax. I then asked Polyxena to stay with her and told both Briseis and Cassandra to put on functional dresses and meet me in my rooms.
For the next four days, after the midday meal, I trained them on defensive manoeuvres with the blades and also taught them hand-to-hand combat, in case they ever found themselves under attack while unarmed. I could not depend on the guards- or even the gods, for that matter - to defend those dear to me and so I set about arming them as best I could.
If you want something done right, you must do it yourself or effectively teach others what you have learned so that they can emulate you I thought as Briseis nailed her third consecutive moving target straight through the heart with a throwing knife.
After training was completed, I gifted each of them a long dagger in a leather sheath, for them to carry hidden beneath their gowns at all times. I was proud of them both, for it had taken them very little time to acquire the knowledge that Althea had passed on to me when I was only a year or so younger than Briseis, and I slept better knowing they could use those skills at a moment's notice.
Briseis had clearly overcome her discomfort with her older female cousin because she took to spending the evenings with Cassandra in her room while I spent quality time with my own cousin. But on the eighth day of Hektor's funerary games, Cassandra suddenly withdrew from the court and bolted her door against the world, refusing to allow anyone in – even the young maids who poured her bath.
Then, that night, Helenus shoved his way past the servants who were leaving my room after having emptied my bathwater. Having just bathed, I was clad in only my nightdress and robe and was brushing my hair out when he barged in, in full armour, then kicked my door closed and shoved the bolt into place.
It is rare for one in such a situation to be both unlucky and fortunate at the same time. However, only a split second after I took up my hunting knives and breathed a prayer to my lady for speed and strength, I found out that such a thing was entirely possible.
My state of dress put me at a distinct disadvantage and my would-be-attacker knew it. However, Helenus – for all his cleverness and battle prowess – had forgotten one little thing. Which was that it was incredibly unwise to assault those who were favoured by immortals.
Because, at the precise moment that Helenus stepped toward me, another oft-unwelcome visitor appeared behind him in a golden flash then grabbed him by the neck and lifted him clear off the floor. Since one threat was taken care of and mortal weapons wouldn't even scratch the other, I set my blades down on by vanity then straightened and, with a wan smile, bowed my head respectfully.
"Welcome back, Lord Ares".
The only way I could have been more relieved to see the god of war was if there had been two of me but, as the prince dangled from said god's unbreakable grasp, Helenus looked decidedly less enthused.
I couldn't imagine why.
"Worry not, mortal, I am not going to kill you...yet. But I do wish to see how well you can swim while in full armour"
The only sound Helenus could make in response was a high pitched squeak then Ares carried him out onto my balcony and the doors closed behind him. I soon heard a faint splash, which should have been terrifying because the nearest body of water was the pond at the other end of the gardens but my senses seem to have deserted me and I began to giggle like a girl-child.
Unfortunately, once I started, I couldn't stop and was still laughing when Ares stepped back through the doors and closed then locked them behind him. "Does my anger amuse you, woman?" he asked in a deceptively calm tone but his eyes were glowing with blue fire and I quickly shook my head "no, it was...not...you, my lord" I managed, giggling between the words "he sounded...like a...mouse".
"Indeed" he agreed but made a strange face, evidently unsure of how to handle my fit of amusement, then began to remove his armour while I tried to compose myself.
"I spoke with your father" I said once my voice was steady again.
He set his helmet down on my couch "I know". Of course, he did.
"Why do you favour mortal women, aside from Aphrodite?"
"Primarily because I am not related to them as I am to most of my own kin, however distantly" he replied flatly, laying his breastplate next to the helmet "and second because I get bored seeing the same faces for centuries on end. Mortal women are all different from each other and certain women are unique among their kind, in both appearance and spirit".
"Like me" I finished for him and he nodded then threw his back-piece and bracers down on top of the breastplate.
"Have you ever handled a sword?" his question took me off guard and my brow furrowed in confusion "yes, once or twice. Why?" I answered but he did not answer, merely raised his eyebrows, then removed his sandals. When he threw his kilt carelessly aside and walked towards me, as naked as on the day of his birth and clearly aroused, I realized that I had misinterpreted his question and my cheeks burned.
"I thought you were untouched" he was glaring at me and it was almost painful for me to swallow because my mouth had gone dry. "I – I am...a-and when you asked if I had handled a sword, I thought you meant a metal one" I stammered and took a step backwards.
Apparently, I had gone out of the proverbial pan and into the fire.