Plaything of the Gods Ch. 06byLoveslust©
Note to reader:
The next two chapters will not contain any erotic material and will be all about the background story and character development. I apologize for any grammatical mistakes, misspelled words and sentences that just seem wrong. English isn't my native language, but I'll try to improve. If you like the story and would be interested in editing, send me a message. All comments are welcome.
CH6. A God calls.
Fire. Screams. The sound of metal against metal. A man shouted something in a harsh voice. A smell of burning. A man's scream was cut off as his life left him. Two men were fighting with bare hands, their weapons forgotten. More screams, more sounds of fighting. In the near dark, only a part of the battlefield was visible, but the battle was large and the fighting fierce. A shield lay discarded in the mud. Ares' symbol was clearly visible in the light of a nearby fire.
I woke up with a start, dizzy and disoriented.
It took me some time to realize I was still in the temple of Aphrodite. Ariadne was leaning over my body, and shook my shoulders. When she saw me looking at her she stopped shaking me, and stared at me with an expression somewhere between relieve and worry. She said something to me, but my sudden headache prevented me from thinking straight.
I shook my head, but the headache only worsened. Ariadne looked at me downright worryingly. I needed to get away. I sat up in the bed and wanted to get out, but Ariadne stopped me. She asked me what I was doing. I told her I needed to get away, to go to my Brothers. She looked at me as if I was crazy, and I still had enough of my senses to realize I probably sounded crazy right now. I tried to explain it to her.
"A battle is fought somewhere. My Brothers are in the battle, I know that. I need to go to them, to help them, somehow."
A look of confusing answered me.
"I had a dream. No. A message. Ares summoned me, and I have to obey."
I touched Ares' mark on my forearm, and was surprised to find it hot. The mark confirmed to me that what I was doing was right. I stood up and started to put on my clothes. Ariadne also stood up.
"Are you okay? You were trashing around a lot in your sleep. Maybe Leda or Charre could-"
"There is no time for that. Ares called me. I have to go now." I felt relieved when Ariadne simply nodded.
I went to my room, and started to pack my gear. Ariadne followed me and helped me put on my armor. I was adjusting the straps of my breastplate when I heard sounds from the doorway. Apparently, my midnight rising had awaken many of the women of the temple. I saw several women dressed in only nightshirts, though at least two of them carried knifes. Ariadne went to speak to them. The women looked at me rather hostile. I realized it must seem bizarre, seeing a man done his armor in the middle of the night.
Before Ariadne could say much, however, Leda walked in. Ariadne started to explain: "Michael had a dream. He said something about a battle somewhere, and-"
I took over.
"I had a vision. I saw a big battlefield, and I know my Brothers are fighting somewhere. They are in danger. Ares summoned me. I cannot delay."
Leda frowned, and I tried to ignore my headache and remember my manners.
"Thank you for the hospitality you've shown me, my high priestess, but I must leave now. I can't explain, but I know I need to go at once. I cannot disobey a message from my God."
"And we will help you. Antiope? Ah, there you are. Can you go and saddle a horse? Good. Michael, you can get provisions from the kitchens if you need them. Is there anything else you need?"
"Thank you again for everything, high priestess. I will manage, I think. I will return as soon as possible."
"You should. Your training is far from finished, and you'll be caught up in great events. Good luck to you, and I hope we can have a good talk when you return."
I shouldered my gear, and turned to Ariadne.
"I'm sorry I need to go, but I can't stay any longer."
She nodded. "It's okay. Go, and be sure to return safely. I will pray for you."
I kissed her on the lips and promised her I would return. I heard several women whisper, but I ignored them, and walked away towards the stables.
Antiope was apparently in charge of the stable, and she had already saddled a horse for me. I attached my gear to the saddle, thanked Antiope and rode off.
The warbands of Ares moved mostly on foot, but knew how to ride a horse and this one was willing enough. The horse was a strong and sturdy one, bred for comfort rather than battle. I used the reigns to rush the beast forward as fast as it could go. I was anxious to reach my destination in time.
I followed the road I had run more than a week ago back towards the forest. The sun was rising when I found the path were I left the forest the last time. I entered the forest, and hoped my sense of direction was good enough to find the place were my brothers had been ambushed again. I had to slow down considerably to find the path I had taken before in such a hurry, but recognized enough to know I was heading in the right direction.
Suddenly I heard a whistle. It could have been just a bird singing, if I didn't knew that particular whistle. It was used as a signal. I unsheathed my sword and stared out into the forest. I saw no one, but I knew someone was close.
"Who's there?" I called out into the forest.
Discretion was no option, as the whistle indicated someone had already spotted me. I suddenly missed the comforting weight of my shield. I heard the rustling of leaves and the snapping of twigs, before three men appeared. They all wore heavy armor, a long spear and a shield. I was glad to see Ares' symbol on their attire. They looked at me with a look of distrust, their spears raised. The man closest to me spoke out.
"Who are you?"
"I am Michael of Thebe. I serve under general Demostrate. Where is the battle?"
The men looked at me in surprise. They seemed more at rest, though they did not lower their spears.
"There is no battle here. There have been skirmishes, but nothing serious. Nor have we heard of anyone else patrolling the area."
"I am not patrolling. I was sent away to sent a warning. Now please let me trough. I know there is still a battle somewhere!" I tried not to shout, but I knew I was wasting my time here while my vision had clearly shown me a battle. The men quietly argued, before their leader spoke to me again.
"We will escort you to the camp, where your general will tell us if you are indeed who you say you are. If not, pries-commander Zeuxis will decide your fate. Do not try anything stupid."
I nodded, dismounted and followed them. Doubt assailed me as the men flanked me while we walked through the forest. In my dream, it had been night. It was morning now. Was I too late? No, the guards would have known about an attack. For a moment I doubted I had truly had a vision and not simply a nightmare, before I discarded that thought. The message had been clear. Besides, the news Zeuxis was here surprised me. The priest-commander of Thebe would not be here personally if all was under control. Things would surely made sense once we were in the camp.
The camp was located close to the site were me and my Brothers had been ambushed. The camp itself turned out to be larger than I thought it would have been: Its size indicated it housed eight or nine warbands at least. The palisade around the camp was erected with the usual precision, and it showed no signs of struggle.
One of the guards left us, but returned with Demostrate at his side. I was relieved to see my general. He was in good health, and seemed quite happy to see me. He hugged me in a kind manner and sent the guards away. I knew my general rarely showed his emotions openly, so his warm welcome surprised me.
"Michael! It's so good to see you're well. We were all worried when news came you needed more time to recover. Come, I'll take you to your Brothers."
His words were kind, and I loathed myself for being the bringer of bad news, but I knew my message was important.
"My apologies, Demostrate, but there is something I need to do first. I'm afraid I have bad news."
His face turned to worry. "What is it, Michael? You are healthy again, are you?"
I saw the stern expression on his face and knew he would want a full report. I had no other explanation but for my vision, and I knew it would take a long time to convince my general the vision had been real. He was a warrior, not a priest. Priest-commander Zeuxis was probably my best choice. He could rally the men and prepare for battle.
"Priest-commander Zeuxis is in the camp now, right? I have an urgent message."
Demostrate frowned. "Zeuxis is here, yes. But you can report to me, and I will take your message to him."
"I need to speak to the priest-commander now. Please, my general. You know I would not ask this if the need was not great."
Although I knew he did not like this breach of protocol, Demostrate nodded and led me trough the camp. We approached Zeuxis' tent, and were allowed in. Zeuxis and several other generals were already there, and looked at us expectantly. Demostrate saluted and spoke.
"Apologies for interrupting, commander. This is Michael, the runner who delivered the message. He says he has urgent news for you."
Zeuxis nodded to indicate I could speak. His blue-grey eyes found mine. The older warrior was a veteran of many a battlefield, and a wise and strict commander. He was shorter than I and most of his hair was grey, but his broad shoulders and piercing gaze were imposing. I forced myself not to look away as I bowed and began my story.
"Greetings, priest-commander Zeuxis of Thebe. I am Michael, your humble servant. I fear we will soon be under attack, and we need to prepare for battle. I-"
Zeuxis cut me off.
"My scouts tell me these barbarians flee before them. They tell me they would not dare to attack us again and most of them seem to have left the area for good. Do you believe they are wrong?"
"I do, commander."
His eyes studied my face, a look of concentration on his face.
"I had a vision. Ares showed me a battlefield. I think it was meant as a premonition. I believe the camp will be attacked tonight."
As soon as I finished talking, the generals began talking among each other. One of them clearly said "absurde" while Demostrate next to me began apologizing.
"I'm sorry, Zeuxis. I did not know he would-"
Zeuxis cut him off by stepping forward, his eyes on me.
"I do not know what you believe, boy. But I would know it if we were in any danger. If Ares would have sent a warning, I would've known it."
"You must believe me! I know what my dream meant. If we do not prepare, we-"
I knew how feeble my claim was. Zeuxis obviously didn't believe me, and by telling him we were in danger I doubted his judgment as commander.
"Do not think I do not know how to lead my men! There are no signs of battle. I do not know what kind of games these women play, but I am not impressed."
I was taken aback by his words. He grinned viciously.
"You are not the first one to be ensnared by Aphrodite's women. I knew something was wrong when I received a letter saying you were delayed, and now you tell me such a story. Those manipulative whores are up to something, and I want to know what."
Pride welled up in me. I knew it was not my place, but I spoke out anyway, erecting myself so I was taller than the older man in front of me.
"You will not speak of the servants of Aphrodite in such a way. Your words betray your ignorance. Aphrodite-"
Demostrate tried pull me away by my arm, but I pushed him away. All of them were fools for not listening to me. Zeuxis looked stunned: Probably because nobody ever dared to speak up to him in such a way. I glared at him as I opened the collar of my shirt, barring the black tattoo in my throat.
"Aphrodite has claimed me. I will not allow you to insult her in my presence."
My words had been directed at Zeuxis. Demostrate now grabbed my arm and forcefully tried to pull me out of the tent, hissing he would flog me personally before Zeuxis would punish me. I realized I had dishonored him by speaking up, and for a moment doubted I had done the right thing as he dragged me away.
Suddenly I was hit by a headache so strong my knees gave away. Demostrate let go of my arm immediately as if he had burned himself. Still on my knees, I forced myself to look at Zeuxis, who was now clutching his arm as well. I twisted my arm up, revealing the mark of Ares. The black mark of the crossed swords was no longer black, however. The mark I showed to Zeuxis and the generals was bright red, and burned hot as the day I received it. Zeuxis said nothing but showed me his arm, a mark clearly red against his naked skin. He nodded.
"Ares calls. Prepare the men for battle!"
I was sitting in a chair in Zeuxis' tent not much later. All kinds of emotions reeled through my body as around me the generals were making plans and were sending instructions to prepare for the coming battle. I ignored them all, a massive headache preventing me from thinking straight.
"Here. Drink this."
Zeuxis offered me a goblet. I looked up to him in surprise.
"I know how you must feel after Ares has sent you a message. The headaches are killing, though you get used to them. This wine helps some, too."
I greedily drank from the goblet. The red wine was strong-flavored and had some spices in it. It did seem to lessen the headache somewhat, and I thanked Zeuxis. The older warrior nodded and studied my face.
"You are really Aphrodite's servant?"
I nodded and showed him the tattoo on my throat. He thought for a long time, before he spoke again.
"Aphrodite has claimed you. Ares normally only speaks through a priest-commander, but he spoke to you while giving me only vague signs. I do not know what to do with you."
He closed his eyes for a moment, before reopening them. I realized he spoke to me as he would to someone his equal, not instructing me as he would a young warrior.
"For now, rest a while. Rejoin your Brothers when you are ready. You must be anxious to meet them again. Help them to prepare for the battle. Ares' signs are clearer to me now. Before nightfall, we will have to fight."
Zeuxis stood up and began talking to a general. I sat down for a while and waited for my headache to diminish, before standing up and going to my Brothers. I had not seen them in a very long time, and today's events were troubling. Still, it would be good to see my Brothers again.
I found them working on the palisade surrounding the camp. As soon as they saw me they came running towards me, and it took a while before they were finished hugging me and stopped talking all at once long enough for me to hear what had happened to them.
Of my Brothers, only Akaikos had died, though several others wore bandages. Eustatios still had a bandage around his middle and told me it had hurt like hell when they had removed the arrow, but he was all right now.
After I had left them to send for reinforcements they had waited for several nerve-wrecking hours while the barbarians moved around, but dared not attack. They only movement my warband had made was to make sure they were covered from all sides from enemy fire. The barbarians had tested their cover and even tried to get closer to it to attack it, after which my Brothers had sallied out from the cover, killed two barbarians and then retreated. They had not dared to attack after that, and it was somewhere after nightfall when the first reinforcements had arrived.
The reinforcements had crept up to the barbarians watching them and killed some of them, before the rest had fled. Zeuxis had arrived the following day and ordered a systematic search in the forest. There had been several clashes with the barbarians, but they often retreated quickly. They were somewhat unorganized, and their intentions were still completely unknown, though they seemed to hate the followers of Ares with a passion.
After they had finished talking, they looked up to me expectantly. Demostrate had not told them much, and they wanted a full account of everything that had happened to me. I gave them the general story while we all erected wooden spikes around the palisade to discourage enemies from trying to breach it.
I told them of my battle with the barbarians in the forest, of the track to the hot sun and told them of my fainting at the temple. They did not seem to hold this against me: They seemed to respect the fact I had ignored my own health to ensure their safety. I told them I had received a sign from Aphrodite, and was initiated. They inspected the tattoo, but knew I could not talk about the initiation itself. I was glad it was secret: I could not easily have talked to them about it. Still, my Brothers had heard stories of the temple of Aphrodite, and told me how much of them were true.
I wanted to give a vague and evasive answer when I caught Eustatios' eye. He was grinning at me, and I suddenly could not help blushing. My Brothers wolf whistled, congratulated me and teased me all at once until Demostrate thought it was enough and told us to get back to work. I told my Brothers I had met a cute girl in the temple and that we sort of had a relationship. My Brothers expressed jealousy, though I knew they meant well and seemed happy for me. I told them I was to be trained in Aphrodite's ways, but could not tell them much more about it.
I told them I had a vision, and that the pries-commander had then received a similar message. My Brothers then discussed everything they knew about the Gods, traded old stories of people who were called on by the Gods and started wild theories, only to conclude nobody knows the ways of the Gods but the Gods themselves. Though their stories offered little practical advice I enjoyed hearing them talking. They seemed to regard me as somewhat special now, but they had seemed to accept me back as if I had never really left at all. I was one with my Brothers once again.
After we had finished with the palisade a runner came up to us and told us of the plan for the upcoming battle. Zeuxis had sent out more scouts, who had finally found the hiding place of what appeared to be a large army of barbarians massing nearby. We would only defend the camp. Zeuxis was sure they would come out and search for us, and the warbands of Ares would meet them on the open ground in front of the camp, where we could freely move. A small part of the army would stay out of the camp and hide in the forest. My warband was chosen as one of the two warbands to wait in ambush, separated from the main army. This was to be our job: to try to flank the incoming barbarians and attack them from behind.
As we ate our meal together the stories silenced and everybody became more tense, preparing for the upcoming battle. After we had checked our armor and were given our final instructions, we were sent out to wait in the forest along with a warband consisting entirely of skirmishers. We hoped the dense forest and the dusk falling in would keep us undetected as we waited and waited in silence for a sign of the enemy.
Waiting for a battle is never easy, especially not if you are to remain undetected. The main army could at least make noise while they prepared themselves mentally for the battle ahead. All we could do was check our gear once again, stay low and pray silently to our God. We looked at the forest ahead, and I told myself not to be nervous; patience is a virtue that is taught to every warrior, and we were well prepared for battle.
Finally we saw several men coming up from the other side of the forest. Several other men joined them, until they formed an army larger than our own. I did not know how many they were, but I knew we could defeat them if only our flanking strategy worked. The barbarians reorganized into groups at the edge of the open ground held by Zeuxis' men, and started shouting insults and brought out bows. The battle had begun.