Only one more chapter after this! Can't believe it.

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Chapter 29: Haven

The wide-open gates of Phthia were not as large as those of Troy, but they were foreign, which made them all the more intimidating. Once upon a time, Adara had been behind gates, in a grand, protected city, eating good food, retiring to her own bed... Not that it mattered now.

In an unfamiliar city with nothing to her name but the herbs Daan had saved and the clothing she wore, Adara felt her heart pound and her hands shake. Her cloak and dress were all she had left as proof of her once high status, although now, after almost two weeks of travel on what was basically a raft overflowing with people and water, the hems were tattered and frayed and the vibrant colors had turned pale, bleached by travel in the sun. She didn't even want to see a glass; her hair simply felt disgusting and tangled, and there was no doubt in her mind of the exhaustion that was engraved into her features.

Now, she and Daan stood before the gates, clothed in their half-royal, half-peasant garbs, remembering as if it were a dream a time when gates opened for them. She knew there was little chance of that ever happening again as people bustled to and fro, pushing past and hardly even taking notice of them. With an executive decision, Daan led the way into the city.

It is a lesson in royalty that when one is completely lost, one does not show it. Daan, however adrift in the middle of an ocean of Greeks, kept his head high and steady. Only Adara could see how his eyes darted, observing everything there was to take in. It was both comforting and terrifying to know that he was just as disoriented as she was.

"Should we ask?" Adara wondered aloud. Daan stopped.

"Ask what?"

"Where the palace is?" She was working hard not to let her distress show.

"Just keep walking," Daan said, his tone calm. When she didn't move, he took her hand and pulled her along until her feet followed. "You would think that a palace would be easier to find, it's true, but eventually we'll have to see it somewhere. Besides, it's barely even midday. We have hours before it gets dark."

Stumbling along next to him, Adara shook her head at how he was so unperturbed.

Phthia was much larger than she had originally thought. She and Daan walked on, past the center of the city, where they believed the palace could have been, and towards the back, its other possible location. As the paved streets began to slope up with the terrain underneath, they believed they were finally getting somewhere. Coming over the crest of a slope, on a road where houses were becoming more splendid, she finally saw it.

"Thank the gods," she mumbled, thinking now how she only needed to reach it. Once there, everything would be right again. Her turbulent life would find some semblance of order in what she hoped would become her new home. She envisioned being let into the palace, barely having cast a glance around before being lifted off her feet by Patroclus. She felt a foolish, giddiness in her stomach at the thought. He'd take in her disheveled appearance and make a few jests, but wouldn't be able to stop smiling. Finally, they'd all be safe, free from the hellish trials of war. She'd had more than enough of those for a life time. They all had.

Unfortunately, her vision did not come as she'd wanted. Once at the foot of the palace doors, two guards stood at attention and blocked their path. Adara saw their eyes scanning their tattered clothing and she self-consciously smoothed her hair down in vain.

"Can we help you?" There was no gruffness or harshness in his tone, just business, though they could tell the guards didn't normally receive many people at the palace. Most likely, Adara thought, because few would walk all the way to the palace when there were so many great homes where they could spend the night if necessary.

"We seek shelter," Daan answered. Adara realized how haughty it may have seemed as the two guards exchanged looks. By the guest-friendship code, they were obligated to allow the two in, especially since their threadbare clothing offered little room for a weapon of any kind, and Daan did offer them a chance to look in the sack and see there was nothing threatening except a bunch of plants. But it was exactly their raggedness that drew attention. Who did they think they were, practically in tatters, that they could march up to the palace? Why not to one of the houses in the merchants' quarter, or even the upper society? Why come all the way to the palace?

That was precisely the thought going through King Peleus's mind as he came down the flight of stairs to greet once they had been led inside. "Welcome, guests," he said in an old, tired voice that reminded Adara of King Priam. It shocked her out of gazing around the entrance hall of the palace. It was grand, much like Troy's, with a high ceiling, columns that ran from there to the marble floor, staircases ascending up directly in front of them, and hallways starting from the center of the walls, branching perpendicular from the entrance hall, running east and west. Her own experiences in a palace were what saved her the embarrassment of going slack-jawed. She didn't really care for the scenery, though, as she looked around; she was wondering from which hallway she would hear pounding footsteps once Patroclus learned guests had arrived.

Adara and Daan bowed graciously, thanking him for his hospitality. Peleus nodded, only doing what any good host was expected to do. "I'll take you to your rooms," he offered, leading the way up the grand staircase and to the right. Adara glanced down every corridor, hoping to see the only person she was looking for.

King Peleus raised an amused eyebrow at her search, but said nothing when she caught his eye. Instead, he left them to bathe in their guest chambers. "Fresh clothing will be brought to you, and it would please me greatly if you would join me for supper when you are finished."

"Thank you, King Peleus," Adara said for them both. The king smiled, eyes twinkling, because he wanted to know more about these two interesting travelers, who knew his name despite not being told. True, she could just know it, but there was something about them; they're appearance that was most certainly not Greek; the way they carried themselves even in peasant garbs.

Walking down to the dining hall, Adara had accepted the fact that Patroclus was not yet at the palace. If he had been, she knew he would have been waiting for her arrival, standing at the entrance with the guards, or even down by the shore, studying every vessel that came into the harbor. If he'd even heard the news of guests in the palace, he'd have come running. And, he would have been at the table. She sighed, but knew all there was left between them was time.

While the building did not render Adara speechless because of her acquaintance with such finery, the supper left her mouth watering as she glanced over the array of meats, fruits, vegetables, and breads. These delicacies she was was used to, but after two weeks with very little opportunity for much food other than stale bread, it was heavenly.

Though ravenous, she didn't pile her plate high with food and managed to contain herself enough to eat like a civilized human being. She politely accepted wine, but didn't drink much of it, instead drowning herself in cool, refreshing water.

King Peleus waited for his guests to finish eating before asking them questions, as was tradition. But soon after the plates were taken away, he asked, "I would like to know your names, if you'd please, seeing as you already know mine. Where have you come from?"

Adara smiled while Daan answered. "My name is Daan, son of Lisium. This is my apprentice, Adara. We are healers. We are-" He hesitated a moment, wondering how the king would react to their origins. "We are Trojans."

King Peleus nodded, obviously aware. Adara wondered if he knew about Achilles. She assumed he did, remembering that Peleus' wife, Achilles' mother, was the goddess Thetis. Perhaps he was like Priam in more than voice; the Trojan king had held a peaceful conversation with the murderer of his son just as Peleus was speaking to them.

He steepled his fingers and put his elbows on the table, leaning closer, curious. "How did you come to be here? There are many great cities that must have been far easier to reach than Phthia along your way, are there not?"

Daan deferred to Adara to answer that question. "We were given explicit instructions to come to Phthia and seek shelter with you, King Peleus."

"By who?"


Priam stared at her for a moment, confused. "My nephew?" She nodded. He shook his head, readying himself for what he knew would be a good tale. "And how exactly did you become acquainted with my nephew?"

"If I may," interrupted a beautiful, melodic voice. All heads turned to see a woman enter the dining hall. She was not as young as she once was, but her aging could not have been more graceful. Her only wrinkles were from laugh lines and smiling, looking completely natural and barely noticeable as features of age. She walked with her head high and her posture perfectly straight, shoulders slightly back. Her hair, almost silver, flowed freely to the small of her back. "I would like to hear this as well."

All three rose for the goddess Thetis, Adara and Daan bowing as Peleus beckoned her to the table before Adara began. The smile on the goddess's face was radiant, and her eyes twinkled with a laughter that told Adara she already knew the story and was there to hear it again.

While King Peleus - and Daan, too - was hearing it for the first time, Thetis was nodding her remembrance with every event, beaming or laughing or taking the opportunity to express her condolences, usually adding, "It's true," to each of Peleus's incredulous looks and even to Daan's single outburst of, "Wait, what?" There were a few details she left out of the story that she was sure Thetis was aware of, but the secret behind the smiles stayed between the two women.

"Unbelievable," Peleus stated simply when she was finished. "How long has it been since we've been told such a thing?" he asked Thetis.

Adara laughed at his enthusiasm and Thetis answered, "Far too long, I think. And Daan," she continued, looking to him, "we want you to know that the offer stands. It would be a great honor for a man of your experience to be our healer."

"Oh, absolutely," Peleus added. "We would be able to set up a full system for the city, if you liked."

Daan bowed his head appreciatively. "Thank you. That would be incredible."

"Excellent!" Peleus's excitement made his wife laugh as he continued discussing possibilities with Daan.

Thetis turned to Adara. "Four days," she said quietly.

"I'm sorry?" she asked, confused.

"He'll be here in four days."

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