Disclaimer: All Hunger Games characters are the property of Suzanne Collins. I own nothing, nor do I plan on profiting from using her work. No copyright infringement is intended. Nothing is mine and I disclaim all of it.
A/N: Different. Yes. I decided that I was tackling this story backwards. Don't worry. It's still the same story, just mixed around in what past is present or what the future might be. You'll recognize one scene near the end. Tell me what you think. -Taryn
Mesopotamia, Western Greece
Troy fell when my sixth forefather was a youth, and thus consequently I had only ever known Trojans as slaves. Defeated, despondent people who I noticed merely as obedient drudges creeping about the palace. I paid them little attention; they were slaves after all, and I was the revered sister to princess Primrose–the only legitimate child to the King of Mesopotamia, Pandrasus–moreover, they were but just the sorry remnants of a people who had caused my fellow Greeks much trouble and sorrow.
It is not so much that I despised them, for I did not, it was just that they were people who caused their own misfortune–back when they had taken Helen to their great city and brought upon the long, brutal war–and thus needed not to have pity, nor sorrow, and certainly no hatred wasted upon them.
So I paid them no regard. I spoke to them only to speak a request (and hardly that for Frona, my nurse and companion through my childhood and even now, as I am eighteen, was usually the one who fulfilled those wants) and I occasionally nodded absently at one or another as they preformed me a particular service in general. That was my entire limit of involvement and understanding with the Trojans–they were constantly about me, but invisible to my oblivious eyes.
In fact my eyes were constantly lingering on only one person in particular. Prim.
The only reason I lived within the palace was because when Primrose had been claimed by Pandrasus as his heir and he had taken her from my mother–who was merely a breeding tool–I was taken as well, at my little sister's crying insistence.
I am not of royal blood, my father was a Greek merchant; dark haired and of olive skin.
Primrose was my opposite; some spoke of her oddity, a Dorian with blonde hair and startling blue eyes. But no one doubted her beauty, and her kindness, and her royal quality. One day she would rule Mesopotamia, aside a husband, and I had no doubt in my mind that I would be there standing at her side to offer my aid.
Mesopotamia was not a particularly notable city, I grant you, but it was important and rich enough, and was one of the very few survivors of the Catastrophe that had rocked our world for the preceding six or seven generations. Other cities may have succumbed to conflagration and earth tremors, or to the swords and hate of the tribes who took advantage of the turmoil in the Aegean world to invade, but Mesopotamia continued as if charmed, serene and safe on its tranquil bay on the northwestern coast of mainland Greece.
There was only little contact with the outside world, and I existed virtually unaware of even that small degree of contact; I could not deny how little I belonged in a palace, I was used to the life of a child who lived in the back of a whore house, watching my mother ghost by day after day. There was Prim's father, who adored her, and there were the joys and pleasures of her father's court from which she rarely strayed, which meant I would not either. Why should I have? Her father's palace contained everything I could have wanted. Everything was mine for the asking, for Primrose to have: rare fabrics from the far east, the most tempting of morsels from the kitchens, jewels as she wanted for her neck and arms, the admiration and attendance of all who beheld my sister.
The last began to amuse her more and more, particularly once she passed her fourteenth birthday and became a woman. I would try to dissuade it, but she had eyes on her cousin, Rory, and no matter how hard I tried she would not be putout. I could not order her to stop; and I wouldn't, being rough with Primrose was like beating a butterfly only for the fun of it. She was her father's heir, and whoever bedded and wedded her had not only her undoubted physical charms to enthrall him, but the throne as well. That meant deceit and power hungry men on the prowl. I had to protect her from it, yet she made that so difficult. She taunted her male admirers, naturally.
When her father held court in his megaron, every man who had a desire for the throne (and that was most of them) allowed his eyes to stray to my sister. At my place, nearer the back of the room, pushed aside, beside all the city's generals, I had to clench my fists and bite into my cheek in order to restrain myself from slapping the men across their faces. Prim would smile, in general greeting, and straighten her shoulders, perking up at the thought of conversation, unintentionally allowing them a full view of her breasts.
We followed the old Minoan fashion here in Mesopotamia (one of the king's foremothers much removed had come from Crete, I believe, bringing the fashion with her), and all noble unmarried girls displayed their breasts above their tight-waisted flounced skirts and between the flaring stiffened lapels of their heavily embroidered jackets. Modesty wasn't something people treasured in Mesopotamia. Most everyone would see a naked figure in passing or full view everyday; but I was odd that way. I preferred my fully closed jackets and my long skirts; the usual fashions of a Dorian woman, unmarried or not.
Primrose never was one who saw the more menacing sides of things. Nakedness to her was just that; bareness. She did not know that every man that laid eyes on her immediately thought of the bedroom, and those things men and women do together. Yet, all the while, they lusted for her, and she tantalized them by chance, what sorry creatures those men were. She teased and she was flaunted by the courts fashion sense, but it was done only by trivial ignorance. She had already secretly chosen her husband–having only confided in me–and in the coming winter of her fifteenth year she fully intended to drive Rory to such distraction that he would not hesitate to take her virginity the instant she offered it to him. She whispered to me late at night her cleverly thought out plan: afterward, the two of them could use her swelling belly to persuade her father that Rory was a good enough catch for her (it was irksome that he was but a second son, for I knew her father would despise that… but she was sure, painfully, ignorantly, sure, that if she was caught with child, then her father would be so delighted he would deny her nothing).
Aside my obvious reluctance to allow Primrose to do something like that, I approved of Rory. Her cousins were close to the king, though his brother, Prim's uncle, was dead, it was the eldest cousin, Gale, who had taken his place as the city's main general, protecting it day in and out.
More than once, I had caught Gale making offers to take me off the king's hands. Each time I would flush with indignation and make sure the next time I saw him I would ignore him. If I didn't the king might think I would receive him; not that Gale was unpleasant (he was rather handsome, actually) but it had more to do with the fact that marrying him meant leaving palace life, leaving Primrose, the only person I ever truly cared about. The person who with her tears and pleas, pulled me away from the life of whore houses and drinking and laying on my back to make a living. A person I owed so much to; and I hate owing people. I was sure I could not leave her. That I would never allow any man to take me away from her, not even Gale.
Little had I known, that come Primrose's fifteenth birthday, what I would later recognize as the Hunger Game's curse reached out and overwhelmed me, and the Catastrophe finally, calamitously, lay waste to my entire life.
Primrose sifted slightly, turning her shoulder just so, the movement causing her breasts to catch the morning light as it flooded through the windows of the megaron. About the room I saw others pivot to notice that action as well. I scowled and I felt Gale shift in his position next to me; he was smiling at me. I turned away, my thoughts too focused on worry of my little sister.
Early today, as I was rising from my bed, Primrose confessed to me that today was the day. The day she seduced Rory and made certain of her marriage. Despite my disapproval, she had told me she knew what she was doing; and yet, I'd been live-wired all morning. Something in the air that day tasted foul.
The day, would not be a good one. Some deep, chilling foreboding was swimming deep in my bones, warning me, and I knew it had to do with Primrose.
She had dressed carefully that morning, donning the stiffest and thickest of her flounced ankle-length skirts, knowing that their swaying as she moved drew the eye to her hips. I had begged her nurse, Tavia, to leave her well covered, but Primrose overrided me, and had the nurse tighten the wide embroidered girdle that extra notch so that her waist narrowed to the span of a man's hands. And above the narrow waist and her sweeping flounced skirts she donned the very best of her jackets; its stiffened emerald linen fitting tightly to her form. Only its bottom two laces were tied, leaving the rest of the jacket open to frame her breasts, as she was allowed to do as an unmarried woman. Her light hair was left to curl and drape over her shoulders most becomingly.
She looked her absolute best that morning and, from the admiring glances that fell her way, I knew it would not be long for trouble to weed its way into our midst. Every man in the megaron who saw her lusted for her; she was the only female figure that seemed to ghost about the court, half-dressed, always smiling, a key to riches and power. Even her own father, I think, for I saw the tip of his tongue moisten his lips as his eyes lingered on her breasts. It was not unknown for a king to take his own daughter to wife, especially when she was his only heir, but if her father had thoughts in that direction, then I should shortly have to disabuse him of them. Primrose deserved happiness, not abuse, not to be used by men as my mother and her mother endured; Prim saved me from my drudge life and I was determined to do the same for her. It was the only way I could see to pay her back.
I was not oblivious to the hopeful glances Prim sent Rory's way. Eight paces away, Rory's mouth lifted in a knowing smile as he beheld her, and he shifted, aroused. He would be hers within the night. I knew it. She knew; for I saw her relax, slipping away from the provocative pose.
I only stood straighter. Gale chuckled softly at my side. "Give her some leash," he said.
"She's not a dog," I snapped right back. "She has no leash."
"I hear you don't even let her stray beyond the kitchens passed dusk."
"You are not the man I thought you were if you listen to that woman's gossip," I said.
Gale's smile dimmed somewhat, but his grey eyes remained bright in his tanned face. He liked bantering, especially if it was his pride called into question. "Clearly you do not know the difference between gossip and truth." I opened my mouth to reply, turning my eyes to him, instead of my sister, for the first time, but he beat me to speaking. "When was the last time you left the palace, Katniss?"
I snapped my mouth shut, crossed my arms over my chest, and lifted my chin away from him. Indicating with a hand gesture, I told him to be silent, as a messenger approached the king, a letter held out for receiving. Gale grew instantly attentive.
We watched slowly, as the king's face twisted from interest into offense and Gale put a hand on his sword at his hip. Readying to do what? Kill the messenger for delivering such an appalling letter? I shudder, then repress a small jump, at the king's loud exclamation; "What is this?"
Primrose did flinch. So startled out of her own thoughts she was that she nearly slipped right off her throne. I looked to make sure she wouldn't, before I turned back to her father, Pandrasus. He stood before his throne on the raised dais of the megaron, one of his legs thrust back as if to retain contact with his golden seat, a piece of somewhat tatty parchment in his hand. His shoulders were back, and stiff, as if in affront. His belly was thrust forward, as if in challenge, and his face was flushed, his eyes bright, as if in outraged anger.
He looked magnificent–all the women in the chamber must have been set a-trembling, and even the men might have felt a touch of unease, but I managed to turn my mind away from the king's undoubted regal power.
Prim's father shouted again: "What is this?"
Several servants cowered before the king, falling to their knees, and the soldiers about the walls of the megaron had stiffened, hands to their swords as Gale was.
Her father waved the parchment about, still shouting. I had no idea what it contained, but it was undoubtedly the reason he had summoned his court early this day. I hoped it would not detain us long, so that I could reel Prim in before she had a chance to try out anything with Rory.
I glanced again at my sister, and I saw that she had eyes for no one else but him, and the linen of his waistcloth bulged most promisingly. Perhaps he would need to...
"Listen!" the king commanded, and began to read.
"'I, Peeta, leader of all those who survived the fall of Troy, send greetings to Pandrasus, king of the Dorian Greeks in Mesopotamia. I am come to demand that you immediately free all Trojans from your slavery, for I find it intolerable that you should treat them in any way other than that which their nobility demands. Be moved to pity them, and bestow upon them their former liberty and grant them permission to live wheresoever they please. Furthermore, as example of your grand benefice, I demand that you shall also grant your former slaves the means to remove themselves from Mesopotamia... five score of ships, well stocked with food, water, wine, and cattle, that they might begin their new lives far away from here in grand manner. I await your decision in the forests to the east of Mesopotamia, knowing that you will do what is best for your people, and your own greatness.'"
The king finished the detestable letter, then threw back his head and roared with laughter. "I have heard of this Peeta!" he said. "Primrose, shall I tell the court of what I know?"
Everyone looked to the princess, seated to the left of him, her throne a few notches behind and below his. In her eyes I caught a glimpse of surprise (she was not often directly acknowledged, especially when it came to courtly matters) but she was quick to compose herself. "Of course," she said. "Unless what you know is unseemly."
"Oh, it is unseemly enough, but I think you should hear it."
I had never heard of this Peeta, so I was somewhat interested now. We'd had those Trojan slaves for hundreds of years and no one bothered to care about them; and now we had someone claiming himself their leader?
"A Trojan," the king continued, and I would have dismissed Peeta from my care instantly save that he had so impudently demanded such nonsense from our king. From the tone of his communication, one could almost have believed that Peeta thought himself an equal of Prim's father. It was laughable. Ridiculous! I found it difficult to believe that a Trojan had found the temerity to write thus to Mesopotamia's king. He must suffer from a malaise of the mind. I shivered at the thought of how Prim's father would deal with him; or more accurately, Gale.
"A Trojan," the king said again, his voice venomous, and he spat on the gleaming floor of the megaron. The phlegm sat there, glistening in the sun as it streamed through the windows, a fitting response to this man's slur. "He is an exile, even from his own people," the king continued. "He tore his mother apart in childbirth and then, when he was a youth of fifteen, slew his father with a 'misplaced' arrow. He is a man who has murdered his parents, who is condemned, even by the Trojans" –he spoke the word as an insult– "and now, having come to disturb my peace, he thinks to demand I set my slaves free! Ah!"
One of Gale's friend's, the king's adviser, a man by the name of Sarpedon who was known for the prudence of his advice, stepped forward and raised his head as if seeking permission to speak, but Prim's father waved him back to his place.
"Primrose, beloved," the king said, holding out the parchment to her. "You are my daughter and my heir. What would your answer be to this man?"
I shook my head, this would not be good.
Prim's eyes were wide as she moved herself from her throne. About the room people admired her; the mighty Pandrasus, asked her for advice when he had waved Sarpedon back. How he must admire her to do such a thing.
She walked forward, her steps springing with her nervousness, unknowing of how pleasingly such movement would make the loosely bound curls and her ivory breasts sway and catch the sun. With a meek hand she took the parchment from her father.
She did not read it.
"He is ridiculous," Prim said, and tore the parchment into two, then two again, and then even again, until the thing lay scattered about the floor in tiny pieces. "He cannot know of your greatness to send such a thing. Do not our laws state that such disrespect should be rewarded only with death?"
Her father laughed, proud of her. "Well said, daughter. Shall I kill him for his impudence then?"
Only I saw the gleam of wilting in Prim's eyes as she nodded obedience to the king. She knew what he wanted to hear; not what she really thought. "Indeed, Father. You are too mighty to let such impudence pass unheeded."
And, oh, Hera, how I wished in the weeks and months to come that I had stepped forward and spoke against her. Such thoughtlessness on my part, and hers, and the kings. Was Prim to blame for what ensued? Or should I blame myself for not taking that stupid piece of parchment seriously?
"As my daughter wishes! There shall be a slaughter so great that when next you bathe it may be in Trojan blood!" The king laughed again, hearty and confident. "Gale!" he called to his brother's eldest son. "Set the trumpets a-blowing and the archers a-racing to their chariots! We shall go a-hunting this morning!"
I watched Gale motion the other generals to him and, surprisingly, instead of pushing me out of their gathering, they left me to my space at Gale's left. I could not help listening to their talk of war. What they planned to happen. Traps Gale would set up just beyond the city walls. Where the archers would be placed according to the Trojan leader's position.
I was so enthralled with that one moment, that I forgot that I should have had both eyes on my sister.
When I had recalled what my little sister planned for that day I started and turned away from the circle of men, eyes seeking the familiar head of blonde hair. There were little people left in the megaron and I instantly walked toward the nearest exit, hands twisted into my skirts, holding the fabrics up to free my booted feet.
I raced to her bedchambers only to find her nurse waiting in there, equally worried. I cursed foully, and many of the servants and soldiers, bustling about in preparation of the battle, threw me uncertain glances. I knew what they thought of the dark haired, grey eyed, sister of the princess; bold, too loud, and bullheaded.
After checking Rory's rooms and all his family's, I came up frustratedly empty handed. Where would they go? Where? I thought to myself, pacing a palace corridor. That's when I heard Prim's laughter, coming from slightly afar, leading me to a small storeroom. The door was closed, and, presumably by the sound of clatter inside, I was a bit too late.
I stood there, blankly for several disorienting moments, when I felt someone shove passed me and reach for the door. Prim's nurse, Tavia, ripped open the storeroom door, revealing to me a sight I never wanted to witness. I turned away the instant I caught an eyeful of Prim, lifted against the wall, legs wrapped around Rory's waist.
"Princess!" Tavia wailed, and I heard Prim's gasp of pain as Rory dropped her, her own weight pulling the two awkwardly to the stone floor. They fumbled apart, hands quickly working to right their clothes, but Tavia paid this no more mind as she ran over to Primrose, patting incoherently at her face and hands and sobbing something unintelligible.
I managed to gather my head and moved my feet, surreptitiously trying to avoid acknowledging the presence of Rory in the least. I pushed the fussing Tavia away from Prim, steadied my sister and righted her skirts before I pulled her by the arm out of the storeroom. I felt more than saw her turn her head to share some sort of look with Rory; whether they completed their act of rebellion, I wouldn't want to know, I only propelled my sister faster from the room until we reached her bedchamber.
Once inside I turned to her and she numbly stared at a point beyond my shoulder. I tried to level my voice, but it was rasped if not waspish. "So. Was it worth it?" I asked her.
Prim's blues eyes found mine and she smiled, thinly. "I think I want to bathe. But one of the daughters from court said that it could effect the chance of pregna–"
I shook my head, making her voice come to a halt. "You are a silly girl. You think yourself ready for a baby, but you do not even know the truth from falseness when it comes from the mouth of a pampered child." I sighed at her naivety and cupped her face in my hands. "I'll go retrieve Tavia and you can have that bath, as long as you promise me when I return, you'll still be in this room."
"Promise," Prim chimed and I kissed her forehead, then departed.
By the time she was washed and changed, she was bright and bubbly again, no longer demure and thoughtful. I pulled her to our shared bed and she whispered to me her secrets as she always did. She told me what happened with Rory. What she feared and what her dreams were. She couldn't wait to know for sure when she was with child; she wanted me to tell her the moment I'd noticed symptoms. Primrose confessed she wished she'd made love with Rory sooner, that way when Rory had returned victorious from battle, she could tell him the news and double his joy.
I nodded and agreed and stayed silent, stroking her hair, when necessary. But when she was half asleep, murmuring the last part, I was reminded of the letter the king received today. That cold, soul tugging foreboding returned to my mind at the name Peeta, roiling around in my thoughts, as though storm clouds come to rain on my mind.
"Gods help Gale, for a man who seeks to claim himself the Trojan's saviors," I whispered into Prim's hair before, I, too, gave into the pull of sleep.
Peeta moved cautiously across the slope of the hill, ducking behind the trunks of the thick beech, elm, and oak trees and the occasional outcrop of limestone rock that had erupted forth from the earth.
All about him, hidden within shadows and behind trees, stood still, silent men armed with swords, daggers, and lances, their bodies protected with hardened leather corsets, greaves, and helmets. Small circular shields were slung across their backs, ready to be pulled about and used at a moment's notice. Their faces, as any reflective surface on their bodies or armor, were dulled with dirt.
Across the way, another few slopes rose, a gorge between them. Warriors similarly lined the shadowy spaces of the forest on the other side. There were almost eight hundred all told; this included the men Peeta was expecting Mesopotamia to send.
He smiled at a nearby fighter and they tugged their lips uncertainly in reply. "What do you think," Peeta whispered. "A fine day for victory?"
"The best," the man replied.
"And the perfect place," commented another mud-clad Trojan. "They shall charge into the gorge and we will have them trapped."
Peeta nodded absently. That had been the plan all along, though a small piece of him had hoped the king would see reason. That was of no matter. He had to do this. Freeing his people seemed like the only thing he could do to redeem himself. And if anyone could do it, it was him.
Between the two slopes of the gorge gurgled a shallow river. Its clear waters slipped over the sand and gravel of its bed as if it had not a care in creation, and yet, watching, some of the waiting warriors wondered how that could be, given that surely the Acheron's waters carried within them the moans of warriors long dead and trapped by Hades. Even if not contemplating the waters that flowed from Hades' realm, every one of the silent warriors was tense with the waiting.
Surely Pandrasus would not ignore Peeta's taunting letter? Surely he must soon issue forth from his citadel?
"He will not ride up this gorge." Marvel slid on his haunches down the slope to join Peeta. "He will know it is a trap. Pandrasus may be many things, but he is not stupid; he will have his brother's son, Gale, with him, a tried and true general."
"He will come," Peeta said, knowing the doubts that riddled Marvel. The man had chanced everything on Peeta's plan to come here. "They both will. And they will both slip into the trap."
What trap? Marvel wondered. We have the advantage of height, to be sure, but the floor of the gorge is flat, and wide, and Pandrasus and Gale will have their chariots filled with archers. Moreover, who is trapped?
Not a hundred paces farther into the gorge the river sank into a sheer face of rock, descending into Hades' realm, and if Pandrasus blocked the entry to the gorge, then Peeta's and Marvel's men were dead, trapped here for Pandrasus' army to pick off at their leisure.
Marvel had left Mesopotamia's noble housing only yesterday at the calling of Peeta, the only remaining Trojan power in all of world, to anyone's knowledge. True, he'd been kicked out of his own country, but behind him he had a formidable group of companions; who had been with him every year of exile. In truth, Marvel had only agreed to help Peeta free the Trojan slaves–in turn betraying his king–because his mother used to be a Trojan and Peeta promised the riches of the city would be his to keep, as Peeta did not plan on staying long.
"Peeta–" Marvel began, his nerve finally failing as he realized he wanted to be anywhere but here (riches or no) and then stopped as one of the forward scouts waved a coded message.
"They're coming," Peeta said and signaled the men on both sides of the gorge to move slowly down the slopes to prearranged locations. He moved his head so he could stare Marvel full in the face. "It is too late to change our plan now, my friend."
Gale rode in the lead of sixty-five chariots. He clung to the handrail, his feet firm against the stiffened leather-and-wood deck, bracing his body against the lurching, jolting movement of the transport.
Beside him the charioteer hung on to the reins of the team of three horses, his shoulders bunched against the strain, his eyes narrowed in concentration, keeping the horses to a slow trot, even though they wanted to race.
On either side of Gale chariots fanned out, archers braced beside the charioteers, their quivers of arrows tied firmly before them to the front walls of the chariots. Behind this forward wave came Pandrasus, the king, his uncle, leading the second wave of some fifty chariots. And behind this came almost a thousand men, jogging easily, their shields across their backs, swords sheathed, helmets firmly placed, minds and hearts set on proving their own glory against the descendants of the Trojans their forefathers had defeated.
Among them jogged Rory, desperately trying to keep the grin from his face. Gale had attempted to deny him the fight, in worry for his younger brother, but he could not for Rory was fully sixteen, a man by any standards; and Rory would not allow himself to be left behind within mother's skirts.
From the gates of Mesopotamia they had turned to the wide road that led east along the banks of the Acheron river. Two thousand paces from the city the road began to narrow and then climb, slowly at first, but then more steadily, and Gale waved the forward movement of the army back to a more sedate walk: no point in having his fighters arrive breathless.
The ground rose to either side of the river, thickly wooded, and Gale peered closely at it, not wanting to be surprised by a sudden attack from the trees.
Nothing. The day was as still as a grave.
Gale put up his hand, halting the column.
Before him the Acheron issued forth from a gorge, the floor wide and easy to maneuver in to be sure, but still a good place for a trap. If he were Peeta, this would be where he would set it. There was movement behind him, and Gale turned.
Pandrasus, directing his chariot forward to view for himself.
"They must be in there," Gale said to his uncle, the king.
"The fool said he'd wait in the eastern forests. But where? Would we be better riding in, or sending the infantry?" Pandrasus grinned. "They think themselves cunning, but perhaps they have outmaneuvered themselves. We leave a squad of chariot here, should they think to come running out toward us, and the other chariots, and all the infantry, we divide into two forces and take the back tracks behind the hills. They surely have not the numbers to cover both the gorge and the back paths–even if they know they're there. Then we come on them from above with both arrows and swords."
"They are trapped. They cannot escape this gorge from the other end, for the mountains are too steep, and we have this single escape plugged," the man driving the chariot agreed.
Gale began to eye the trees again, as Pandrasus said, "They are truly a worthless foe," swiveling where he stood in the chariot to give the signal for the men to break into two groups and climb the paths behind the Trojans.
"Wait!" said Gale in a most peculiar voice.
"They will not come," Marvel said to Peeta, staring with squinted eyes down the distance of the gorge to where the Dorian and Greek army stood. "They are not that foolish. Look! Even now the king turns to give the signal that will see us dead!"
But Peeta did not respond.
Marvel turned to him, and gasped.
There was a woman now standing beside the crouched Peeta, a bow and a quiver of arrows across her back, her hand on his shoulder, and she was surely no mortal woman.
She turned her head toward Marvel, and bared her teeth, and her face was as that of death.
"Wait," Gale said again, his voice slow, lazy, seeming almost drugged. "I think we have been mistaken, uncle. See? This is no gorge, not at all, but a flat field, newly harvested of barley. Even a mouse cannot hide among that stubble."
Pandrasus looked, not understanding, then blinked.
How could they have been so mistaken as to have seen a gorge before them? There were no mountains, no forests, no river. Instead there lay before them a flat stubbled field, and see! There lay the Trojans, unprepared, sitting about campfires drinking cups of unwatered wine! These fools could be overcome with a squad of toddlers wielding nothing but their bone teething rings.
"Ride!" whispered Pandrasus. Then, screaming, "Ride! Run! Mow them down!"
There was a sudden thunder of hooves, then a roar of voices, and Marvel jerked his head back to where the Dorian and Greek army now rode and ran unhesitatingly into the gorge. They splashed through the shallows of the Acheron, some tripping over in their haste, their comrades behind them treading on their backs in their haste to propel themselves forward.
The chariots came first, leading the charge, then hardly a breath behind them came the infantry, swords and lances raised to shoulder height, faces screwed up in battle lust.
"Pandrasus! Pandrasus!" they screamed.
"Peeta," Marvel whispered, overcome.
"Wait," Peeta said, and beside him the strange goddess tightened her hold on his shoulder.
Gale found himself screaming with the men, screaming in blood-lust and triumph. He pounded the back of his charioteer, urging him forward, forward, forward, while to his right Pandrasus did likewise.
None of the men saw anything save what the goddess had put before their eyes.
"Wait," Peeta whispered again.
Marvel could not tear his eyes away from the Mesopotamian troops. They were well into the gorge now, charging as if they had no care in the world, as if all that lay before them was a family of mice who had given themselves to the slaughter.
As the road narrowed deeper into the gorge, most of the men and chariots had been forced into the shallow river where, given the firm surface of the river bottom, they still managed good headway.
But headway toward what? Marvel wondered. Then he gasped, horrified, even though what was happening would win them an almost bloodless victory.
Suddenly Gale screamed, but this time in equal parts outrage and bewilderment. He reeled backward, too late. There was no stubbled field! No Trojan army sitting heedless and drunk about campfires!
There was only the steep and densely wooded gorge walls rising to either side of him, and a river underfoot…
…a river underfoot that had abruptly risen to thigh height…no. Waist height. Or was it that the river bottom had given way to the treacherous quicksand of the marshes? Were the men, the chariots, sinking into the very heart of Hades' realm itself? Gale could not find his level head he treasured so much.
"Uncle!" he screamed to Pandrasus who was riding in one of the few chariots still on the solid banks of the river. "Save yourself! Get yourself and as many as you can back to Mesopotamia! Find Rory!"
"We move," Peeta said, and stood, waving his left hand in signal.
Marvel glanced at him. The goddess was gone now, and Peeta was grinning at him with a strange light in his eyes. "Will you be staying then, comrade?"
It was a slaughter. Gale's archers managed to get off some arrows but they were soon overwhelmed by the Trojans on foot–who, graced by the gods–walked across the river as if its waters were solid rock.
What men of his that had not succumbed completely to the unrelenting riverbed were all but trapped to their hips, unable to do more than parry a few blows with their swords, or jab uselessly with their lances.
"Gale!" came the desperate cry, and Gale turned in horror.
There, only a few paces away, was Rory. Another warrior, an old friend of Gale's, Thom, had gained purchase on a sinking chariot, and had dragged Rory to a momentary safety. Both were covered in the slime of the river, their weapons gone, their faces crumpled in horror, their eyes shining at Gale in a frightful hope that somehow he would save them.
Gale gave a wordless cry and stretched out a useless hand even as his own chariot lurched, its horses shrieking, and began to sink.
The Trojans, augmented by the men of Mesopotamia that Marvel managed to get to betray their king, surged into and among the trapped army. It was as if they were once again in their youth and on the practice field, sticking their swords into straw dummies. Some of the men screamed, some pleaded, some swung weapons uselessly. All died.
Marvel fought–if fighting it could be called, slaughtered, more like–at Peeta's side, when he suddenly realized that Pandrasus, together with perhaps five or six chariots and a hundred men, were escaping out of the gorge.
"Peeta!" he cried, grabbing at Peeta's left arm to gain his attention.
Peeta stilled instantly, his sword almost fully unused at his side as he walked among the collide of the two armies. "What is it?" he asked, his voice still strangely calm.
"Pandrasus escapes," Marvel said, staring in horror at the charioteer. "He–"
Peeta leaned back, twisting his sword in his hands, catching the sunlight on its perfectly unblooded blade. Marvel jerked his own sword from the neck of a charioteer. The man's head rocked, and Marvel realized, sickeningly, that the charioteer's hands were the only thing holding his head on. Then the hands collapsed nerveless, and the head dropped, splashing into the river. For an instant the body still stood up to its waist in water, and then, gently, almost apologetically, it too sank beneath the waters of the Acheron.
"It is of no matter," Peeta said, and it took Marvel a moment to realize he talked of Pandrasus, not of the dead charioteer.
"We must send men after him! If he manages to lock himself into the city he can hold out for a year, maybe more! The city is well stocked for a siege, and we hardly manned to conduct one! Peeta, you said we need Pandrasus to supply us with ships, and provisions, and…" Marvel slid to a halt, wondering why he was giving this speech when Peeta was grinning at him as if Pandrasus' escape was of no consequence.
"I do not think we shall have much trouble gaining an entry to the city ourselves," Peeta said, then extended his sword to a group of sinking chariots some ten paces away. "Look."
Gale called out to his brother, a fury stringing itself through his heart for whatever dark trick the Trojans had pulled to confuse himself and the others so much. "Rory! Thom! Gods, I am cursed to have led you to such an inglorious death! Rory hold your chin higher, for the gods' sake!" I can't lose you in that way, he thought, then shouted, if only because he knew the river would take him, too, "Don't die, either of you gits!"
"And there is no need for them to do so," said a voice behind Gale, and he whipped about.
A man stood in the river, as if on solid ground, his sword sheathed, holding out his hand for Gale to grasp. He was tall, and solidly built, and beneath his boar's tusk helmet his eyes burned black and fierce amid features clearly Trojan. "There is no need for either you or your companions to die," the man said, and waggled his hand a little in his impatience.
"Peeta," Gale said, his voice flat. "Are you to walk through life as god-favored as your ancestor Aeneas?" And then, as he heard the sound of sucking mud behind him, and Rory called out in horror, Gale dropped his sword into the river, let go his rage, and grasped Peeta's hand.
Within the hour, no casual passerby could have believed that a battle had recently been fought in the gorge, and that scores of chariots and horses and hundreds of men had been consumed by the river. The Acheron burbled peacefully over its shallow bed, the cool shadows of trees quivered to and fro at the edges of great pools of sunlight, and birds and small animals rustled within the forests that lined the gorge walls.
The only thing that might have indicated a battle were the groups of men who sat cleaning their swords and armor in the patches of sunlight. But, then none of them were wounded, or even out of breath, and they were calm and cheerful, and if they were cleaning swords then that might have been merely because of the damp of the morning dew.
However, if that passerby had stopped, and peered closer, he might have seen that the swords and armor plate being so carefully cleaned were stained with the blood of men, and that, under one tree sat two men and a younger one, all dejected, and all carefully guarded.
Glimmer, who'd watched the battle from high above the gorge, had drifted down to join Peeta, Marvel, and, the last of Peeta's most trusted companions, Cato (a man who had traveled with Peeta nearly everywhere in his exile).
Now the group of four sat under a tree some little distance from Gale and his two companions, Thom and Rory. During the brief battle of the Acheron, Peeta had realized quickly Gale's value–his insignia were clearly those of an important man, and the two younger men he'd been calling out to were just as clearly very dear to him–but it was only in the past minutes that Gale had told him exactly who he'd captured.
"Pandrasus' nephew? And his brother? A best friend, too? Far better than I'd hoped," Glimmer said, noting how the little brother sat close to the older, and how Gale kept a hand on the boy's shoulder, as if trying to offer him both comfort and protection.
"The youngest boy," Cato said. "What do you know of him?"
The question was directed at Marvel, since he was the only one of them that was from Mesopotamia. He was feeling elated about the battle, and how easily Peeta had won. He knew he had made the right choice now and was eager to tell them what he knew. "His name is Rory. The second eldest son of the king's dead brother–"
Peeta nodded his head, as he stared absently into the foliage of the tree above them. "Okay–"
"I wasn't done," Marvel cut in and Peeta dropped his eyes to him. "Rory is also the most beloved of the king's daughter, the sweet Primrose, and he would be the most missed because of that."
"What of the eldest? Gale? Does the king not favor him more?" Peeta asked.
Marvel hesitated before replying. "Aye, I think so. If you'd asked me that fifteen years ago, I would have said the king would have wanted Gale back first, but as his daughter has grown, so the king has grown more devoted to her. He would not risk her tears."
"Would he put her before his people? His city? His top general?"
"Peeta, be careful what you scheme," Cato said, his brow furrowing as he realized what Peeta considered.
"I only do what I must," Peeta said, sharing a brief stare with Glimmer, then walking toward the three prisoners. "Gale!" he said as Gale and his bother stood, wary-eyed. Thom stayed seated, wounded in the knee. "Have my men treated you well? Do you have need for anything I might provide?"
Gale glanced at Thom, but the lumbering man gave his head a dismissive shake. Gale curtly dipped his head in a no to Peeta. "What do you want of us?" he said. His posture was tall and erect, his manner dignified. He'd moved very slightly, placing himself between Peeta and his companions.
Peeta nodded at Gale to acknowledge his words, but spent some moments studying the little brother behind his back. He was a handsome young man, and very obviously well nourished both with food and with love. Considering things, Gale could not be much older than Peeta's own age (of some twenty-three years), and so the younger brother was still a very young man, in a state of terror, which despite how Rory tried, he could not quite hide it behind his cloak of assumed bravado and defiance.
They were too proud, Peeta realized. All three of them, too well nourished by their fathers and their society in the belief of their own nobility and invulnerability. This day's fiasco must have come as a considerable shock to them.
Peeta's face remained impassive, but inwardly he regarded the three boys with envy: they were soft and callow youths, served superfluously with their father's love, or a mother's, or even just a brother's — by the gods, had he not been forced from his own country, and denied his heritage by the time he was fifteen? He had not been gifted youth or carelessness.
He heard Glimmer cough behind him and reminded himself why he was here.
Gale, or possibly the king, had made a critical error in allowing these boy-women to ride with his army. Now, both Gale and his companions–and Pandrasus, come to that–were going to have to pay the price of that error.
Peeta's eyes flickered back to Gale, whose stance had stiffened noticeably in that time Peeta had spent studying his brother. "What do I want?" Peeta said. "I want to offer you your lives."
"For what payment?" Gale said. "I am no traitor to my king and my city like Marvel here." He looked like he wanted to spit, but then thought better of it.
"If I had not been so reviled throughout my life for the blood of my Trojan mother, then I might not have turned traitor," Marvel said, not overly perturbed by Gale's scorn.
Gale gave Marvel one more particularly baleful glare, then addressed Peeta once more. "I say again, what payment do you demand for our lives?"
"Only that, in the dead of the night that is to come, you approach the gates of Mesopotamia and call out to the sentries. You shall tell them that you, and the companions who shall be with you, are fellow Dorians and Greeks who escaped the slaughter in this gorge and who have now only just managed to make their way safely back to the city. You shall ask for entry, and, I have no doubt, you shall be granted it. Pandrasus will be glad to see his nephews once more."
"No," Gale said. "There is nothing you can do to make me agree."
"No?" Peeta whispered, and then, in a move so fast that neither Gale nor his companions could thwart him, he seized Rory by the black hair of his head and dragged him away from the two others, to the ground at Peeta's feet.
Gale and Thom started forward, their faces appalled and angry all in one, but a score of Peeta's soldiers moved to halt them.
"No!" Rory cried out fiercely. "I'm willing to die for this."
Peeta's hand tightened his already painful grip in the boy's hair, and twisted his head so sharply that the little brother could barely move. He didn't look at the warrior he held in pain, but stared unwaveringly at Gale's face, who drew in a deep, horrified breath, his grey eyes riveted on his brother.
Behind Gale's back, Peeta caught a glimpse of golden hair catching a stream of sunlight that had fallen through the leaves overhead. Then he saw the glint of a knife's blade as it swung outward, hooked around the older companion's throat and pressed itself into his adam's apple.
Gale whipped around and flinched toward the woman pressing a knife into Thom's neck, but Glimmer raised an eyebrow and he froze, at the threat of one flick of her wrist.
Gale groaned at the intensity of fear in both companion's eyes, despite their will to hide it, and dragged his eyes back to Peeta.
"Will you do as I ask?" Peeta said, very calm, his own gaze steady on Gale.
"I…" Gale was more than torn.
Peeta's hand drew out the sword at his hip, placing the blade hard against Rory's throat. The boy gasped his unease and tried to twist away, succeeding only in opening a shallow cut across his throat. His entire body trembled, then stilled, as he set his teeth and his dark grey eyes stared intently into Gale's, determined, terrified.
Gale hissed his seething. "You wouldn't dare," he finally decide upon saying. "Kill them and then you have nothing save me, and I will never betray my king. You wouldn't dare!"
Around them, all of Peeta's companions, including Marvel, exchanged glances.
"No. He wouldn't," said Glimmer, "But I would." And in one single appalling movement, Glimmer jerked Thom's head back with one hand in his hair and with the other sliced the razor-sharp blade hard across the man's throat. Bright blood fountained across the gap between Gale and his best friend.
Gale started forward with a horrified cry, but the Trojan soldiers grabbed him, as Rory gave his own terrified shout and Peeta tightened his hold on his hair and both of them were held firm as Glimmer let go of Thom's head.
The man grabbed at his throat, his staring eyes on Gale, his mouth in a surprised "O," then collapsed to the ground. He curled up into a fetal position, his hands frantically scrabbling at his throat, his features somehow desperate. Then, as the blood continued to spurt with the strength of his heart's beat, his body fell slowly still.
Glimmer leaned forward, wiped the blood of the blade with Thom's hair, then replaced it into her belt. She smiled brightly at Gale, who looked horror-struck, at the thought of this blonde woman, killing the broad shouldered, thick headed best friend he'd had since boyhood.
"You will do as I say," Peeta said.
Gale turned on the Trojan leader, livid, but paused at the sight of Rory still on his knees.
"You will do as I say, or I will take this last hostage and kill him, too, and I will lay both their blood soaked bodies in the dirt before Mesopotamia's gates so that their mothers may see them, and may know that you moved not to save them from the terror of their deaths." At Glimmer's feet, Thom gave one soft, wet sigh, and died. Rory started crying, silently and Gale face twisted in both hatred and anguish. "Is that what you want?" said Peeta softly. He had not once glanced at Thom's dying.
The three sentries on duty atop Mesopotamia's gates had watched the straggling group of twenty-five or thirty limping, bloodied men approach the gate for some minutes before one of them threw out the verbal challenge.
"Hold! Name yourselves, and your business!"
The group, some ten paces from the gates, came to a stumbling halt, the stragglers at the back taking the opportunity to catch up with the main group. One of the men stepped forward so that the sentries could see his face clearly. "I am Gale, nephew of Pandrasus, escaped finally from the nightmare of the gorge. Can you not see me, and know my face?"
Several paces behind Gale, Glimmer dug the blade of her dagger a little deeper against the neck of Rory. "Be careful what you say!" Peeta hissed at Gale. "And remember, that should you betray me once we gain the city, you also betray the life of your brother!"
Gale's back stiffened, but he gave no other sign that he'd heard Peeta. "General!" the sentry called back, the relief in his voice obvious to all who heard it. "General! We thought you dead!"
Gale made a belittling movement with his hand, earning another hiss from Peeta. "And I thought myself dead, too, but I, with these my comrades" –he indicated the group behind him– "managed to fight our way clear. We hid in the forests for the day, and have only finally found our way back here at this dark hour."
"And the Trojan warriors?" the sentry asked.
"Gone, we think," Gale replied. "We saw no sign of them in the gorge as we made our way back to the city."
"Wait, Lord," called the sentry, "and we shall open the gates for you."
The sentries, unsuspecting, unbolted the inner gates, leaving them standing open, then drew back one of the two massive cypress and bronze-bound outer gates, allowing the small group of men through. But when the two sentries who held the door made to close it, five or six of the stragglers at the rear of the group suddenly lunged at them, planting silent daggers in the sentries' throats, and the men slid to the ground making no more noise than a whispered sigh.
Several of the Trojans pushed the gate closed, but did not bolt it. Others pulled Gale and Rory back toward the gate, keeping knives at their throats as they gagged them with linens torn from the men's own tunics.
"Marvel!" Peeta hissed, and Marvel nodded, threw aside his disguise, and took some twelve men to secure the immediate area and silence any guards on the walls. When his soft whistle told Peeta the guards had been dealt with, Peeta signaled one of the Trojans waiting at the gates. The man opened the gate, slipped outside, and mimicked the soft call of a rock partridge.
Instantly, scores of shapes rose silently from their hiding places behind the vines in the fields to either side of the road leading to the gate, and moved forward.
Peeta turned to Cato, "Find the king's bedchamber. Silence him as best you can, although not permanently, then bring him to the megaron once you send word that the palace is secured. Make sure you gather anyone of rank to the room."
I slept badly. I tossed and turned, twisting the fine linen of the sheets into sweat-matted ropes, and causing Primrose, already wearied by the king's bad temper in the face of defeat that morning, and the grief that pulled at her heart for the absence of Rory, to slip away from me, deeper into the blankets and hogging them all.
I rolled onto my side, shivering in my nakedness. I kept my eyes closed in a plea for sleep, but my mind was racing for what I had witnessed today within the megaron. The king's appall at what happened in the gorge, though he could not properly tell anyone what happened or why they had charged into the river, was upsetting to the stomach. Anyone could see the fear in his face for this Trojan leader, Peeta, and I hissed to myself, angry, because I too felt a prickle of tears in my eyes at the thought of the unreturned cousins.
All afternoon I had dealt with an inconsolable, sobbing Prim. She kept denying the reality that Rory and Gale wouldn't come back, even though the king seemed sure they were gone. I tried my best to soothe her pain, then eventually, I got her to sleep.
It seemed wrong that Gale did not come back from the battle. Primrose's nurse and mine own had gone about collecting gossip and information for us, which for that I was grateful, but the news they had was grave. The Trojans had tricked Prim's father into a trap, and then used the black arts–as would cowards–to ensnare her father's army in a slaughter. The king escaped, but only because of his heroism and skill, while most others had died.
Gale? Rory? Dead? My mind sorrowed for the thought and Prim's could not grasp that concept, and could not pass beyond that concept. She thought nothing of the greater implications of this defeat, had no thought of the other men I knew that must have died, but only tried without success to grasp the concept that Rory might be dead.
Throughout the day I went out of my way to silence anyone who deemed to blame Prim for this battle's failure. Thankfully, there were only a few who scorned the king for entrusting the decision on his daughter, and the rest blamed it all on that man, Peeta. A coward. A man who used dark magic. Murderer to the sweet Rory and hard Gale.
Primrose stirred in her sleep and her arms found me. I rolled back to her and held her, whispered nothingnesses in her ear, and stroked her brow with my hands, until she was relaxed in dream once more. "Only you," she breathed in dream, sagging into the sheets.
I sighed, recalling what she had vowed in her fit of tears. "If not you," she had sniveled, blowing her nose on the hem of her skirts, "then no one. No one save you, beloved Rory, shall ever lay his mouth to mine!" Slightly hysterical that vow may have been, it made her feel better. Mistakenly, I'd driven her off of that, begged her to eat and drink (for I had slipped some sleeping syrup into her wine) to maintain her strength through guilt of keeping her promise.
"Shh," I hushed Prim and closed my eyes. I told myself I would wake in the morning and she would be fine, and the grief would not fall so heavily on her heart, and... I drifted to sleep, content that I should pass the night in dreams of better times.
Instead, I dreamed most peculiarly.
I found myself standing in a stone hall, of such construction and such overwhelming beauty that I am sure it was of the gods' making. Above me glowed a golden vaulted roof, to either side of me soared great stone arches that lined the shadowy side aisles of the hall.
At one archway, I could see a countryside, where a majestic silver river wound its way through gentle verdant hills and fertile pastures. It was an ancient and deeply mysterious land, such as I had never seen nor even imagined. Oddly, it felt like my homeland, and yet this was nothing like the hills surrounding Mesopotamia.
I looked back to the hall. There was a sound of laughter, and from the very corner of my eye I saw the figure of a small girl dashing between the stone arches. I was weary all of a sudden. Then a great joy swept over me, that did not feel like mine. I knew, somehow, that there was a man here, in this hall with me, somewhere. A man I loved beyond any other, and he me.
I turned a full circle, but I could not see him. I shouted a name, but I could not hear it nor taste it on my tongue, yet I knew it was not Gale's, but the man's whom I loved. I frowned, and looked more carefully, and saw instead two women standing at some distance from me.
One was…one was a tall and elegant woman, while the other was a much smaller and darker woman, mysterious like the land I had glimpsed beyond the arches. The paler woman put her hand on this dark woman's shoulder and bent to her, and spoke in her ear.
Although I could not hear, and certainly not comprehend, I had a sense of a great many words being spoken and, also, most remarkably, a sense of a vast amount of time passing. And then, just as I walked closer, and opened my mouth to speak to them, the smaller dark woman took a step toward me, then another, and then she was rushing at me, and she threw her arms around me in the tightest embrace I'd ever been given by anyone other than Prim.
"Oh, Katniss," said the woman, with much love.
I knew her name somehow, instantly, as though she pushed the knowledge into my head. "Seeder?"
Seeder pulled away, smiled and cupped my face in her hands. "Beloved child," and before I could react, or take a step backward, she kissed me chastely on the lips and her hands on my face turned to smoke.
I ripped myself away one pace, but when I looked up, there was no one standing in front of me. The tall slender woman was gone, as well. I was alone. The hall was empty save for me, and suddenly it seemed a very forsaken place indeed.
The dream was so nasty I woke with a start. I lay a hand on my belly, feeling a warm heaviness in its lower extremity. For a moment, still befuddled by sleep, I wondered if my womanliness throwing its burden upon me, then I realized that could not be as they'd only completed themselves a mere week previous.
I frowned, and thought to rise and pour myself some wine so that I might put the dream from my mind, but just then the door opened and a shape approached the bed.
I thought it must be Tavia, Primrose's nurse, and I was glad, for I would need her to take her turn watching Prim this night, so I might take a walk and clear my head. I opened my mouth to tell her as such, then closed it with a snap.
This wasn't Tavia.
It wasn't even the strange dark woman of my dream.
Nor the pale one.
"Get up!" the shape said, and I realized to my total stupefaction that it was a man.
In the instant between when he spoke and when he strode to the bed I lunged forward and threw the blankets around my waist over Prim's still sleeping form. Thank the gods I'd drugged her for she was still in sleep and the man did not glance beyond my form as he reached for me. Then the man, this intruder, grabbed the hair at the crown of my head and dragged me naked from the bed, "I said to get up, girl!" and I knew then that this was no one I knew; no one I could trust.
He dragged me several paces away before I managed to regain either my feet or my voice. I kicked at him with a foot. He evaded me easily, and in the next moment delivered a stinging blow to my breasts. I gasped in twin shock and pain, and he gave my hair a vicious twist for added measure. "I have no time for kicking, squealing girls," he said, his voice harsh. "Now keep quiet and do as I say!"
Fear struck me, as vulnerable as I was at that moment, but I refused to let myself be dragged away from Primrose, unconscious and unable to defend herself. Overwhelmed, with adrenaline in my blood, I threw myself one way, then the other, to unsteady the man. He stumbled but caught the door-frame. I splayed out a hand, fingers seeking, reaching, and just barely grasping the edge of an expensive vase near the door. Shocked, and tired–difficult with someone's hand twisted tight into the hair of one's head–I swung my arm out, hoping for his face, and knew I made my target when the vase shattered
He seemed to tense, his fingers twisting tighter into my hair, so tight I bit into my cheek as not to cry out, before his hold loosened, the shards and dust of glass snowing across my hair and face. The man swayed a little on his feet, dazed and I used all my effort, a curt jerk of my body away from him. I picked up the nearest object; a solid silver tray which sat Primrose's barely touched dinner. The plates of food clattered to the floor as I flung the tray outward and brought it down on the man's head with as much force as my body allowed.
He fell, with a loud grunt and the thud of tangled limbs.
I stood above him, breathing deeply, staring at the blood that leaked feebly from scratches across his neck and scalp. There was a horrifying moment where I considered that I might have killed him, then I noticed his rising chest, and shuddering breaths. Not dead. Good. I can live live with that, I had thought, dropping the silver tray.
Just as it struck the ground and I turned back to the bed, to retrieve Primrose and find somewhere safe for us or to report this intruder to the guards, a hand shot out and pressed into my mouth. I flinched, whirled and found myself facing three men; and I felt two of them grasp me tightly in their hands.
The other paced toward the bed and snorted at the sight of a groggy, bleary eyed Prim looking up at him confusion. "Looks like we got ourselves a double prize," he said. He picked Prim up in his arms, his thick biceps not straining in the least underneath the weight of the girl in his arms. Prim only mewled something unintelligible, as I threw myself against the arms of the two men who I had no hope of surprising or overwhelming.
"We have not come to rape you, but to take you to the megaron. If you remain quiet, and amenable, you will come to no harm," the man said, making his way to us. I managed an almost nod, a jerk of my chin, and he grunted and, passed by me. I moved to follow, attempting to rip my arms from the hands of the men, but they simply dragged me along, each holding one shoulder of their own.
I could not see their faces in the dark chamber and hall beyond, and I did not look too long to check, but somehow I had no doubt these men were Trojan. And not one of them the tame slaves I had known all my life.