Sacrifice Ch. 07bypandarus©
Flowers weren't supposed to be black. Right?
They should be bright, and cheery. They should calm you, or make you happy—or at the very least, content. Black flowers were just...wrong. The iris bobbed on its stalk as if nodding in agreement.
And that wasn't the only thing wrong with this place, Calliope mused as she ran her fingers over the inky petals she had been eying. She glanced up from the flower and back to the sitting room door, beyond which Thelios and Lady Nagi were still engaged in a heated debate. Over what, she wasn't sure, though she could easily guess.
She'd come in to find them already at it, again, and at the sound of half-raised voices had opted to wait politely in the expansive entrance hall until they were done.
She looked back down at the flower and placed a hand over her stomach. Her frown deepened. She wondered when she'd begin to really show, and how long the pleats of her dress would hide it. She didn't care what Thelios said, she was most definitely beginning to show. It was still just a little bump, a slight swelling that one wouldn't notice if they weren't looking for it, but it was there. But when she'd asked, Thelios he'd said it was her imagination. Perhaps he simply didn't want to think about her all lumpy and blown up like a ripe pea pod. Either way she'd like to be done with this and back home before it became apparent.
The thought of the others knowing did not sit well with her. Not at all.
Calliope pursed her lips thoughtfully as she adjusted the pleats of her dress.
Perhaps he didn't see it because it was still so subtle, but maybe he just didn't want to. He wasn't angry with her, but he hadn't expressed any pleasure over the pregnancy either. In fact, he was rather silent on the subject, causing her to be so as well.
"How's old what's his name?"
She blinked and looked up at the voice, and smiled thinly. "Go listen for yourself."
"Thanks, but no thanks. I already heard enough to know to turn around and walk in the opposite direction. You know what they're on about?" Demitri brushed past her and made himself comfortable on a nearby bench.
She shook her head. "Same as before...no doubt."
They had been arguing for four nights consecutively over whether he should stay or go. He wanted to leave, but his sister seemed to think he was in some danger if he did. His other siblings seemed to agree, however none but Lady Nagi had braved coming into his rooms to tell him to his face. Calliope was fuzzy on the details, but the crux of the matter seemed to be that whatever power this Phineas fellow had stolen could be used against Thelios as well as the others, and they were all convinced there was safety in numbers. Thelios was not inclined to agree. But then he rarely was.
"I must admit...I don't want him to go." Calliope offered softly. "I don't like the thought of being left here without him."
"I wouldn't worry about that. I'd just take you home myself if that were the case. Though I suspect we'll be leaving soon enough. I'm surprised they've kept him as long as they have."
She smiled a little more warmly, then sighed. "You know I thought I'd feel much better once I'd told him about...my news...but I've had this awful sinking feeling that I just can't shake."
Demitri shrugged. "Makes sense. I've got my own idea that something is going on here that won't bode well for any of us. I don't know if it's because they lost track of Phineas or what...but good feelings have been hard to come by."
"Well that makes me feel much better."
"What do you want me to say?"
"Something to make me feel better. Obviously."
"Ok, fine, something to distract me then." She moved to sit next to him on the bench. "Tell me a story."
He chuckled. "Like a bed-time story?"
She laughed. "Yes Uncle Demitri, tell me a bed-time story."
He sobered and put his hands on his knees, scowling thoughtfully at the ground. "Alright," he said after a moment, "here's one. Once upon a time, there was a young slave, who didn't know her place. She was always chiding and bossing and making a nuisance of herself. One day she got herself knocked up...and then she was really intolerable."
Calliope laughed and shoved his arm. "Stop it. I'm not really that bad."
"Who said I was talking about you?" He cocked a brow at her and looked perfectly serious, but the glint in his eye was telling.
She wrapped an arm around his. "Fine. Be difficult, you awful man."
"Done and done."
The sat in a companionable silence for a while, enjoying the little shafts of sunlight which spotted the garden.
"Do you ever think of having children?"
"I have children. Had."
She stared at him. He looked levelly back. His sharp blue-grey eyes were cool and stoney.
"Oh. I'm...I'm sorry. Were...did they..." she couldn't quite bring herself to finish the thought and turned away, embarrassed.
"I don't know."
"What happened?" she dared a peek in his direction. He was looking straight ahead.
"War. I was from a small village. It was hit while I was off fighting elsewhere. It's likely they were taken as slaves."
The silence they returned to wasn't quite so comfortable.
"I don't know what to say." She whispered.
"Nothing to say."
There was another long silence which lasted until Lady Naga broke it by coming out of the sitting room with Thelios on her heels. They both wore dark expressions.
"Well there's a cheery lot" Demitri muttered.
She allowed herself a silent chuckle, but kept the bulk of the smile from her face as the other two neared them. She didn't think they'd appreciate her amusement at their expense. They were both glowering, and where Thelios was intimidating enough, massive as always and stalking like a irate lion, Lady Nagi cut an even more daunting figure.
Calliope had never seen her face so hard. Her movements were quick and sharp, causing the usually slow, hypnotic whisper of her long, serpentine body to turn into something more akin to the sound of a blade being suddenly drawn from its sheath.
"How goes it my lord?" She asked mildly as he neared them. He glared. She smiled gently.
He looked like he meant to pass them by, then paused, allowing his sister to continue on ahead of him. "Demitri, find out about transport. You might need a ship..." Lady Nagi stopped and cast her own glare back toward her brother, "if," he continued, emphasizing the if and dimming the lady's ire somewhat, "we need it. Which we may, and on short notice. See what you can do."
Demitri nodded soberly and rose. She caught his eye briefly and noted the told-you-so expression lingering there. She tilted her head in concession. She was hardly surprised.
Her eyes flitted back to Thelios a half-second later and found his expression significantly less legible. She stood as well, positioning herself on the edges of his personal space. He no longer seemed immediately upset with her after the dancing incident, but his temper had been short in the days that followed, and she had been careful to step lightly around him.
There was also the matter of his not having, well, touched her since that night as well. She had attributed it to his lingering disappointment with her, and hoped that it too would eventually pass. He still expected her to share his bed as they slept, so she had decided that it couldn't be as bad as all that.
"Is there anything I might do to be of assistance?" She offered, already knowing he wouldn't say yes.
"Not as of yet." His words were clipped and his glare unabated...and still, despite this, she felt an inexplicable desire to shift closer to him. She resisted the impulse, not forgetting they were in company, but she couldn't push it completely from her mind.
It was distracting enough that it took her a few moments to realize they were simply standing there watching each other in silence.
Demitri coughed and excused himself, and she blinked, wondering how long she'd been staring. She cleared her own throat and stepped back with a curt bow of her head.
When she caught Thelios's eye again she could see his gazed had gentled significantly. She might even admit that it seemed almost...warm. Her cheeks heated and she turned away, hoping she was giving the impression of hastening off to important business. Of course by the time she'd reached the haven of the bedroom she realized she had no reason to be there and, after a minute or two of puttering and consideration, returned to the main entrance hall of the suites.
Luckily Thelios and Lady Nagi had moved on, though they were replaced by another, stranger figure.
It was a woman. A woman wearing a concealing white veil similar to what she had worn when she played for Penelope. The figure seemed to look around then paused when she saw Calliope and approached her.
Calliope grinned when the woman lifted the corner of her veil and revealed it was Penelope herself hiding under the disguise. "What's all this for?" Calliope asked with a laugh, gesturing to the covering.
Penelope shrugged. "I didn't know who knew about the dance, so I thought it best not to give too much away by advertising our association. Didn't want to get you in too much trouble.
Calliope looked down, recalling that she hadn't spoken much to Penelope since that night, and hadn't brought up the argument with Thelios. It didn't seem like appropriate information to be sharing with others.
"I suppose it was a wise precaution then." She offered, "Though my master knows now, so I don't suppose the veil is necessary."
Penelope pushed it back so that it fell down the back of her hair instead.
"You look like a priestess like that."
She laughed. "Well if I can't make my way here, perhaps I'll be sold as a temple whore. I'll have the clothes at least. But to the point. I came to talk to you."
"You asked me to keep an ear out, yes?"
"Well, I don't know if it's helpful, but I heard that some of the others are rather cross with your master. I overheard one of the slaves complaining to one of the girls in my...cohort, that his master was about ready to do something himself to spare the rest of them."
Calliope frowned. "Do something?"
"Well he was talking in generalities, but the gist seemed to have been that they're worried that if your master leaves he'll cause problems for the others. Who knows how. The going opinion is that he'll put himself in danger," Penelope gave her a serious look, "and you for that matter. Which is something to consider."
"I see." This wasn't really news. "Anything else?"
She shrugged. "Not really. If you like you should come spend some time with me in our quarters, you might hear something else that's pertinent. After all you know your master's business better than I."
If only that were true, she thought sardonically. She nodded.
"Come, why don't we take a walk at least, you can tell me what your master thought of your dancing. I bet I was right, yes? He loved it?" She led her out into the hallway and they worked their way back to her rooms, with Penelope chattering away and Calliope giving ambiguous answers. After all, he had never given an opinion on her dancing other than to express his anger and disappointment that she hadn't been honest with him about it. She was loathe to bring it up again by asking if he liked it. Her curiosity couldn't quite overcome her shame or her desire not to irritate her master any more than she already had.
As they made their way through the maze of corridors Calliope looked around them thoughtfully, realizing once more that the palace no longer overwhelmed her. She passed by its wonders almost blind to them...though two women she recognized as nymphs of a sort still made her breath catch in her throat when she sighted them. She wasn't sure she'd ever get used to them and their ethereal perfection.
The many household slaves barely even caught her notice. Kara had been right about that. When one paid attention it was rather interesting to see the differences in how they all moved and carried themselves. You could tell the regular slaves from the...specialty slaves. Or at least that's how she'd been coming to see them. Women like Penelope, who had some particular beauty or skill which made them more useful or entertaining, and therefore more valuable than others. The fact they knew their worth showed. It showed in the way they walked, regally and smoothly, and sometimes lightly, their chins up, their lips curled into a ghost of a smile, their eyes easily meeting those that dared meet theirs.
Unless they belonged to a simple household slave, in which case they were ignored. This seemed to suite the poor creatures who kept their eyes to the floor, and who, in comparison, seemed to stoop and scurry as if half-expecting to be struck. They were the most mouse like around the inhuman masters and mistresses of the place, but, she noticed, were wary around the slaves of higher standing.
Speaking of which...
They paused to greet a number of 'specialty' slaves, women of Penelope's acquaintance, and Calliope was obliged to contribute to their joint exercise of contrived politeness.
She was quickly distracted, however, when she spotted Thelios's brother, the Host, lingering with what looked like a number of human men. Two of them looked like the sort of servants that had been sent to Thelios with messages and another appeared to be a regular household slave. That is if their manner of dress was indicative of anything.
What was keeping her attention was the fact that he seemed to be watching them back, and as she flicked another glance out of the corner of her eye, she could swear he was looking specifically at her. She looked again and felt sure of it. There was an odd expression on his face, one which made her gut clench slightly.
"Penelope," she leaned in, whispering under her breath, "am I daft or is he staring at me?"
Penelope waited a moment then gave a discreet glance of her own. "Can't tell," she muttered, "could be looking at anyone here."
Somehow that wasn't convincing or comforting. "Mm." Was all she said, still watching cautiously out of the corner of her eye. She watched as he smirked and made some comment to his men. Then he looked right at her, catching her gaze and causing her mind to freeze up.
"Hm?" She started slightly, turning to the sound of her name.
"Anahita was just asking a question..." Penelope prompted.
Calliope smiled apologetically at the slender, dark haired women across from her. "My apologies, I was momentarily distracted. What was it you asked?"
The look she got in return was somewhat disdainful, but Calliope chalked it up to being put out at having been ignored. Besides, it was a common enough look, and she was no longer bothered by it. She kept her own expression as sweet and guileless as she dared without it seeming forced...even if it was rather.
The woman's dainty chin lifted sharply, causing her strait, shoulder length hair to undulate like an inky, silk sheet. Calliope wondered if it was practiced movement, and then though of her own mass of incorrigible black curls and wondered how Anahita managed to keep her hair so incredibly smooth. Her only recourse was to simply force it into tight braids using a touch of oil and a good deal of practiced expertise.
"I was simply asking after your master. I noticed he has been missing in the evenings again. Has he taken ill? Or is he fighting with the other masters again? I noticed they seemed to be having terse words a few days ago...more than usual that is."
Calliope tried to keep her face placid and mild as she regarded the woman. Internally she was watching her face, looking for some hint at what she might be driving at, who she might serve...oh god but she was becoming paranoid.
"I cannot say. It amused him to come, now I suppose it does not. His reasons are his own, and it is not my place to question them."
"I doubt you'd get much of an answer if you tried." A deep, male voice smoothed from behind her.
She started and turned to find the Host standing next to her. His startling nearness made her take a step back, a movement she tried to cover with a quick half bow. "Forgive me my lord, you startled me." She husked. He, like the rest of Thelios's relations here, was rather large compared to the humans, and she was obliged to look up at him to meet his gaze. Of course he wasn't nearly so tall or broad as her master, so his size was less intimidating than it ought to have been.
He smiled, exposing wolfish teeth, not too unlike Thelios's, if not more subtly arrayed. She decided she didn't like the smile. It was too knowing. It seemed too personal...like something Thelios or Demitri would tease her with. She definitely didn't like it coming from him.
He continued, not bothering to acknowledge her apology. "I'm sorry to hear we no longer amuse our dear brother. Though, if you were to grace us with a performance some night soon, that would certainly draw his interest. Don't you think?"
She tipped her head in a conciliatory manner. "I did not mean to say that he doesn't enjoy the entertainment offered, my lord." She hastened, "I was simply expressing my lack of knowledge where my master's motivations and desires are concerned."
He looked amused by that. "Oh, somehow I doubt that." The expression he wore was most definitely one to make her blush and she winced internally as she felt it begin to creep slowly up her throat. "But won't you come and entertain us? My brother would not object to that at least, though he finds so much else to object to."
She cleared her throat softly. "I am sorry my lord, but I have little to offer in that regard. For the rest, I cannot answer but for my own part; my master would indeed object to my performing. He has forbidden it." That ought to put that notion to rest, she thought hopefully.
A strange look came over his face and the knowing quality in his smile seemed to intensify. "Is that so? How strange. I must have been mistaken."
The nerves she had managed to suppress returned and it took every ounce of will to hold it in check. He didn't know. He couldn't...could he? "Mistaken, my lord?"
He looked pointedly at Penelope and she felt her stomach fall. "It's nothing." He smiled more broadly and made a dismissive gesture. "I know how hard it is to talk your master into anything, but do try...it will do him a world of good, I'm sure. If not, you might come anyway, without him." His gaze returned and raked over her.
"I would not be so bold, sir, to abuse my Lord's honor in that way." She clipped out as politely as she might. "Nor my own," she added, "with such flagrant disobedience."
He arched a brow and brushed a long red lock of hair from his brow, then smiled again. The motion drew her eyes to the long, curved horns sweeping back from his forehead, like a rams. "And what of hidden disobedience?" He challenged with a smirk.
She lifted her chin in response. "They say, my Lord, that honor is a public currency. Private fault is just that: private—kept between the concerned parties. And it must remain so...or else it is not what it is. Don't you think?" She silently dared him to answer that, refusing to quail under his direct gaze.
It wasn't he who answered, however. Penelope laughed lightly, taking her by the arm again. "Dear Calliope, such a heavy thought for so light a thing!"
The tension broke somewhat as the Host turned a curious gaze on Penelope instead. "What thing do you speak of?"
"Why, honor, of course!" She smiled brightly between the two of them.
He chuckled. "I've heard it called many things, but not light."
She too chuckled, then rolled her eyes at Calliope. "Don't look so stern." She chided, before turning her bright smile back on the Host. "It is indeed light, my Lord. As light as air. For what is honor but a word, and what are words but a hot breeze between the lips."