A Certain Slant of Light: Part 2
A/N: Yes, I'm back with an update. Nobody'll ever find it, I shouldn't wonder, since I'm just updating this first story. I hadn't really meant to continue it, but Gen /would/ bother me until I came up with a new list of prompts and then it was all downhill from there.
There are a few "possible history" drabbles here. Like character deaths, exile, children, etc. Just so you know and are forewarned. 52, 57, and 81 are Gen's parents, just to clear up any confusion. I like them a very great deal. Which of these are your favorites? Or do you hate them all? (I'm inclined to hate a few...honestly, what is it with writers and making poor Eugenides suffer?)
There has never been anything quite equal to the moment (which is not, thankfully, a single experience but indeed happens every time they are alone) when he knocks aside her wall and wraps her in his arms until she feels completely and utterly safe (which is impossible, but he rolls his eyes when she says anything of the kind).
The freezing air plays a tingling pattern on her skin as she twirls around the icy rooftop, but she has never been one to mind the cold.
"Move over!" he hisses, but she gives him only an inch, all the while keeping a firm grip on the embroidered eiderdown.
"Bet you can't even spell your name," Ambiades says with a snicker.
"Bet you can't spell 'olive tree'," Gen replies, and Sophos feels horrible for almost grinning to see the elder blush.
Eddis's Minister of War does not have many expressions, but as his youngest son hardly pays mind even to his words, it is doubtful that he would notice anything subtler (and even if he did, wouldn't he just be annoyed?).
His appetite improves once the magus is away from Sounis (that is to say, once he's successfully managed to kidnap an intelligent, respected wise man out of another king's citadel and oversee the destruction of an entire fleet with only one hand).
"You stole something from me," he says, towering over her small shivering form (she's sprained her ankle in the fall, and his heart is still beating irregularly from terror, but he isn't about to let her get away with something this disastrous).
"I'm sorry," she mumbles (her face is pinched and white and for once, genuinely miserable). "I couldn't help myself."
And that's when he tells her he will let her keep his stolen heart, for all it's worth, if she'll only stop dancing on the roofs at wintertime (silly—idiotic—little—fool!) and then he picks her up and (in the name of sweet Irony) steals a kiss.
"Where are you going?" she asks, shivering as the night blows in through the window and plays with the frills of her nightgown.
"Somewhere hotter," he replies coldly, and she knows by the glint in his eye that he's already burning with revenge and that his hook will soon be the end of a very troublesome Mede (if not a thousand).
Her smile is like the kiss of death, sucking the air from his very lungs, and it is all he can do to keep pleading for mercy.
"Costis," Attolis says offhandedly. "I'm the king. I drink from gold cups three times a day."
It isn't as though he can actually refuse, but it does annoy him a little that this Eddisian is saving him from being in debt for the rest of his life and he can't think of anything polite to say in reply. He finally mumbles something about his majesty being too magnanimous and is promptly laughed out of the room (see if he ever tries to be polite to an Eddisian again).
"It doesn't look a thing like me," Eddis protests, flustered as she examines the portrait the magus has completed.
"It's how you look to me," Sophos replies, and gives her a melting smile.
He lifts his crossbow, crouching on the windowsill, until he has the sleeping woman in his sights. She is still and pale in the shadowy room, lit only by light from the near full moon at midnight coming in the south window. He smiles and clicks the bolt into place.
It is only when the assassin feels the severe point of a hook tickling the tender place under his ear that he realizes his worries about the queen's guards were misplaced.
"Don't make any sudden moves," Attolis whispers to the assassin. "I tend to be shaky when nearby to nervous sorts. And it would be a pity if this neatly sharpened point began shaking so close to the skin of your throat."
Sometimes she wishes she could give him one of hers.
The only time Ambiades and the thief have anything in common (muffled sounds of amusement, to be precise) is when the magus gives Sophos a lesson in song-writing.
"I," said the smiling king with a snap of his fingers in a voice as quiet as the slipping of sand through her fingers onto pieces of roasted lamb, "could have you killed like that."
"There was a snake in your bed?" Attolia asks, eyes cold.
Her king shrugs. "It didn't bite me. The magus would say it was professional courtesy."
Sometimes when they're dancing, the colors of the court on the edge of his vision blur into nothingness, and it's only her, spinning under the orange trees with the moonlight reflecting off her hair to pierce his heart like Cupid's arrows.
"However did you steal my heart, Eugenides?"
"With great difficulty, love. It was well hidden."
"You lied to me." Sophos' voice breaks in the middle of his sentence. "I want to know why."
She moves like a poem—her skirts sweeping the floor with a careful rhythm, her sleeves making rhymes as they sway in the breeze. Her eyes speak similes and metaphors.
"He's no king!" one of the queen's handmaidens giggles. "He puts up a fuss over which sash he wears and if his tunic isn't ironed properly."
But Phresine only smiles and shakes her head and wonders how the king discovered that pettiness was such a wonderful disguise.
"I liked his mother's fibula pins better," Eugenides says to Hephestia. "The style of the earrings he chooses seems like a deliberate impudence."
The dark red thumbprint on her cheek brings out the red in the jewels of her crown, and Costis thinks to himself that only the queen could make bloodstains seem beautiful.
"You're lying to me!" Eddis hisses, glaring at him with the utmost venom she can muster.
"No," her cousin replies miserably. "For once in my life, everything I told you was the truth."
She always hears it in her dreams, and sometimes when she wakes up mumbling it, wholeheartedly, she sees the goddess standing over her, fixing her with an expression she so often feels on her own face, reminding her sternly, "Do not offend the gods."
"Eugenides, this is not a fairy tale!" her words ring across the courtyard, and the Minister of War tries not to hear them. "Attolia is no doe-eyed princess. You will not find it to be a happy ending!"
A door slams and he hears his son's voice, shrill and furious and sounding just like his mother. "Then I will MAKE IT ONE!"
"They're coming." His hook is buried in the bedpost and he rakes his hand through his hair with his hand. "They're coming to kill you, and me, and our child, and Costis, and there's nothing I can do to stop them."
It is only after Costis watches Sejanus prance around and offer the king the wrong twenty tunics that he realizes who is really the fool.
"Why did you steal my new fibula pin?" he asks, holding her tightly by the wrist (but not too tightly—she feels as though she might break under his grasp).
"It was a gift from Ornon," she explains, and then grins. "He has horrible taste."
After they received the letter of war from the confederation of Sounis, Eddis, and Attolia with the clear mark of a hook's point marring the king's seal, Nehuseresh begins to sleep a little less restfully than he used.
"Supposing," says Gen, frowning down at the little pink face, "we forget to teach her something important. Like the color brown."
The children's laughter surrounds them like a cloud, and as he lays with his head in her lap and a peaceful smile on his face, she is quite certain that she would trade nothing—nothing—for today.
"I," Attolis drawls, "will be presented in the history books as a fool who thought his life was constantly being directed by the gods."
"What of me?" his wife asks, stifling a smile.
"Beautiful," comes the answer after a moment. "Powerful. Terrifying."
He understands that she had a difficult childhood and ascendance to the throne, but whenever she starts talking about her father or her early days as queen, she gets a weary, distant sort of look in her eyes that makes him want to carve holes in the wall and throw inkpots out the window because he was dancing on rooftops and stealing earrings from his cousins while she was poisoning her first husband and giving away her soul one piece at a time.
She releases the pent up agony and sorrow in great gulping sobs that are very uncharacteristic for her (but which would seem proper for most women to suffer on occasion) and ends up burying her face in his tunic. He puts an arm around her (the one without a hook) and murmurs a question.
"I thought you were dead." Her voice is breathless and horrified, as if all the forgotten fears and demons have returned in one fell second to haunt her mercilessly.
"So did the gods," Eugenides replies dryly, wiping away her beautiful tears, "but I told them I wasn't ready yet."
He reclines against the window—watching the cloud of dust rising from the long parade of elephants and the smoke from burning villages as the two fuse together and twist over the sun to make everything gray—and wonders how long before the Mede army is at his gate.
"I once said I didn't like to kill," the king snarls, his eyes bright with emotion (Fury? Horror? Sorrow? Fear?). "And then you killed my queen."
"Ah," the Thief hisses. His cousin straightens and says, "Gen? What's wrong?"
"Nothing," he says, but the hand he proffers is dripping crimson even as he laughs derisively at himself. "I'm clumsy. That's all."
"Haha—haha! See, Costis, I laugh at your jokes. And you never return the favor."
"Maybe it is that his majesty's jokes are not very funny."
"…have I mentioned I can have you executed?"
"Ha. I take it back. His majesty can be funny on occasion."
"Would you rather be beautiful or kind?" he asks her outright one day.
She doesn't even have to think before she answers him. "Kind."
Unexpectedly, he sighs and says glumly, "Me too."
She was never allowed to stand in direct sunlight, for fear the heat might mar her delicately colored skin. Thanks to her husband's dark skin, their children will never suffer the same fate (and whether this is good or bad, she cannot yet say for certain, though she has an inkling that she knows deep down inside).
The howl fills the halls of the empty ruin that was once a castle, ripped from a raw throat like a string of endless, unspeakable curses spat at the gods, soaked with the blood of innocents and the knowledge that what you have become is no longer human.
"I like this," Gen says, twirling a black curl around his fingers (it's been taunting him for the last five minutes, hanging just under her ear like that). "You and me. Together."
"And not fighting," Irene adds dryly, leaning against his shoulder with a half-sigh that nearly breaks his heart.
He hooks his weapon-hand in the curtains and yanks backward with the strength of ten men, tearing gaping rents in the rich mulberry fabric. She has never seen him like this before.
"Where are they?" he asks, panting, eyes bright, clenching his trembling hand on the back of the chair, using the other to drill a hole the size of a hook's point in the wood to keep it from doing other damage. "Where are my children, Eddis?"
"Promise me you will protect him," says the old man, staring blankly at the babe lying on the altar of Eugenides. "Promise me you will keep him from harm."
"You know I cannot, my friend," replies the voice of a god, full of regret and pity. "But I will see that he gets his fair share of blessings."
Sometimes, after they give him lethium, his mother sits at the library window and talks to him and tells him not to be such a fool because since when does cutting off someone's hand mean there isn't room for love?
"Isn't he perfect?" she whispers, unconsciously echoing verbatim the praise of every woman who lives to see her firstborn babe.
But Sophos cannot reply. He can only take the bleating bundle she holds out to him, eyes glowing to see his startled expression, and look down at his newborn son, hopelessly helpless and vulnerable and utterly dependent…on him.
It is this moment at last in which Sophos is reborn—when suddenly he loses the last hints of "Zecush" in his gentle face and takes on fully the mantle of the Lion of Sounis.
"Eugenides?" she whispers, wrapping one hand around his fingers and the other around the baby's as they stand at the railing of the ship and look out over the plain that once was Attolia. "Is this the end?"
"End, love? There are good people in our country. The Medes can cause rebellion—can cause democracy to boot the monarchy once and for all—but they cannot destroy the good and right within our people. Attolia still has Costis. And Phrestine. And Aris-whatever-his-name-is and Ion and Heiro. They will see all is made right."
The exiled queen feels tears pricking at her eyes, and suddenly feels very young and afraid and alone as she has never felt before. "They have a country. We've lost ours."
"Have we? We'll see it again one day. I'm sure of that," says her husband. "Meantime," he adds, withdrawing his hand from her grasp and wrapping it firmly about her shoulders, taking a pause long enough to plant a kiss right where her hair falls gently across her temple, "we have all the rest of the world."