Chapter 4

Jul. 27th, 2009 04:44 pm
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[personal profile] aemilia
“What shall we do this afternoon, Loukas?” Procopia said. Her legs hung over one arm of her chair, an elbow hooked over the other. “I'm going mad with boredom.”

“Does anything in particular strike your fancy?”

She let her head lean against the back of the chair. “No,” she sighed. “I'm quite overcome with ennui. It's your task to cheer me up.”

“You might call for dancers,” Loukas suggested, but Procopia made a face. “Or take your horses out. Or the gardens?” She yawned. “Archon Stantous is unveiling his new trireme -- it's said to be the fastest ship in the fleet.”

She curled her lip, but then said, “All right, if that's the best you can do.” Holding out her hands, she let him pull her to her feet. “I told him I would inspect his new designs, anyway, and I've been putting it off for months.”

She left most of her attendants at the palace, taking only her bodyguards, who trailed after her like big, well-armed hounds. The party had just left the gates of the palace when a woman ran up to them.

The bodyguards moved quickly, but the woman didn't move to attack; instead, she threw herself down before Procopia, grabbing the hem of Procopia's tunic and pressing it to her lips.

“Hear me, Princeps Procopia Amira, I call for justice.”

Procopia held out a hand to stop the bodyguards, who were about to bring their clubs down on the woman's bent head.

“Who are you that asks?” Procopia seemed neither surprised nor moved to find someone cowering at her feet.

The woman looked up and Loukas saw that she'd been badly beaten, her eye blackened and her nose broken. Her expression was still haughty, though, as she said, “I am Archon Halkias and I demand to be heard. I call on you and Lererious, god of law.”

“If you deserve justice, you shall have it,” Procopia answered. “Get up. Why have you not gone to the courts, instead of troubling me?”

The woman pushed herself up slowly, pain making her movements deliberate. “They would not hear me.”

“And that should have been enough for you, but since you've called my name and Lereious's, I will hear your case. Who has wronged you?”

“Archon Monomachus.” Halkias squared her shoulders; the bruising obscured her features, but Loukas thought she might be rather pretty, and her hair and dress were quite fashionable.

Procopia nodded to one of the body guards. “Fetch Archon Monomachus. Now, Archon Halkias, let us hear your side.”

“Two days previously, Monomachus hired a gang of thugs to set upon me as I made my way to the Council. They beat me grievously. I want restitution for this heinous act against me and my House. Halkias is not the wealthiest or most prominent House in Edessa, but it is one of the oldest.”

“And what is Monomachus's quarrel with you?”

“I took one of her wives as a lover.”

Procopia's eyebrows rose. “Then perhaps her actions were justified. And some would have done far worse for your poaching.”

“The beating is not my greatest complaint. I was carrying a child -- the first of my own blood to be born to me -- and I lost it because of my injuries. Monomachus knew of my condition and miscarriage was her aim.”

Procopia tilted her head to the side as she considered. A child carried more of its mother's blood; children born to female husbands were considered the purest of a generation.

Archon Monomachus arrived quickly, the guard at her elbow. A man also followed, his face pale and worried. The adulterous wife, Loukas guessed -- he wore a wife's veil, though it was so sheer it did little to disguise the long line of his neck and collarbone. Pretty enough to cause trouble, Loukas noted wryly.

Halkias's face contorted in hatred as she caught sight of the other woman and Monomachus's expression matched. If the guards had not been there, they might have set upon each other.

“Archon Monomachus,” Procopia said, her voice cold, immediately capturing the attention of all gathered -- even the spectators quieted expectantly. This was cheaper than the theater. “Archon Halkias accuses you of having her attacked in order to induce miscarriage. Do you deny it?”

Monomachus lifted her chin defiantly; the kohl around her eyes had smeared. “No.”

“You see?” hissed Halkias venomously.

“Halkias had no right to bear that child -- it came from blood she stole from my very House,” Monomachus sneered. “Her own blood runs so thin she sought to thicken it by laying with my wife. I merely made sure the bloodlines stayed pure -- which is an archon's greatest duty.”

“What is the boy's House, then?” Procopia asked, direction the question to Monomachus -- wives were not able to give testimony.

“Kalligas. An excellent House, one that breeds strong children.” The young man kept his eyes down; he, too, was bruised, though it was not the work of street thugs, Loukas guessed.

“You must not keep a very close watch on your wives, if the boy was able to run off with Halkias so easy -- so how much can you really value him?” Procopia replied, her contempt evident. Monomachus would have protested, but Procopia turned to Halkias. “And though I can appreciate your desire to improve your line, better you didn't seduce someone else's wife to do it.” she drew a deep breath. “My judgment is that House Halkias shall forfeit a sum of thirty gold pieces for the seduction of the wife of Monomachus, to be given to the state coffers.” Archon Monomachus smiled, but Procopia went on, “And House Monomachus shall pay the same for the assault upon Archon Halkias's person. The adulterous wife shall receive fifty lashes in Lycus Square.”

The young man cried out and tried to throw himself before Procopia, but a guard restrained him.

“But that will surely kill him,” said Halkias, a hand to her breast.

Procopia looked at her. “It very well might. Adultery cannot be tolerated; a wife's fidelity is the cornerstone of the family. He must be punished to serve as a warning to others.” she nodded to the guards who hustled the women out; the young man's wrists were quickly bound behind his back as they dragged him away.

“What tedious business,” Procopia said to Loukas, after the street had cleared. “Shall we be off then? My apologies over the delay.”

---

They found Cyrian at the docks, standing on the wharf with the breeze whipped at his hair and clothes as he watched the trireme moored along the dock. They hailed him, and he turned, surprised.

“Ah, sister. I didn't realize you were attending Stantous's demonstration.”

“It hadn't been my intention,” Procopia replied, exchanging a quick kiss. “But there is so little in the way of entertainment with the season winding down. I find myself sadly bereft of diversion. Poor Loukas has been charged with my entertainment, and he suggested seeing the silly boats.”

Loukas ducked his head as Cyrian glanced at him.

“Do you have much interest in the nautical science?” Cyrian asked, walking with them down the pier, where a ship was waiting to take them out to better observe the demonstration.

“I'm afraid I don't,” Loukas confessed. He had a tendency towards seasickness, and just looking at the boat moored to the dock, made him a bit queasy. He wondered what had possessed him to suggest this outing. “One boat looks much like another to me. I'm afraid horses are my one area of expertise, though I do enjoy philosophy.”

“I wouldn't have thought you a philosopher. I'd pegged you for a man of action rather than thought.” Cyrian laughed, heading up the gangplank with ease. Loukas followed, but kept a tight grip on the rope and didn't look sown into the dark blue water. Procopia came after, seemingly unconcerned by the creaking of the planks, though she watched her footing on the wet wood.

“You're much like my sister, then. She has little enough use for ships,” Cyrian said.

“I have plenty of use for them, I just don't find them as interesting as you do.” Procopia leaned out against the railing, looking toward the horizon, where the turquoise water darkened to slate.

“Bah, horses. What good are they?” Cyrian replied. “Can they keep the Redini in their place or run down a pirate vessel?”

“At least they don't sink,” Procopia returned sweetly.

Cyrian snorted and shook his head sadly, turning to Loukas. “I know it would be utterly lost on Procopia, but perhaps you would like a tour? Education, after all, is the key to appreciation.”

The idea of traipsing about the dank underbelly of the ship didn't hold much appeal, but Loukas could think of no acceptable excuse. Threatening to vomit might prove effective, but could hardly increase Cyrian's estimation of him.

In the end, he didn't have much choice; Cyrian took his elbow firmly and led him away. The ship had sails, but the oars were lowered to pull them away from the dock, the oar master's voice audible from below deck, calling the strokes.

“This is one of the older ships in the fleet, of course. Not the bulky, boxy shape.” Cyrian glanced over his shoulder as he led Loukas toward the back of the ship -- or aft, as Loukas soon learned. “She's slower, but one of the sturdiest. She helped break the Blockade of Tychos. Of course, that was some thirty odd years ago. She's not quite the ship she used to be, and she'll be retired soon enough.” Cyrian patted the ship as though it were a beloved pet.

They'd reached the aft railing, the rudder cutting the water behind them. The ship's wake marked their path in a foamy white trail.

“I've been making some inquires.” Cyrian shaded his eyes in the bright sun. “Regarding your ... interests.”

The distant profiles of dolphins weaving heir way through the water had distracted Loukas, and it took him a moment to realize Cyrian no longer spoke of nautical miles and berth capacities.

“Oh?” Loukas said, looking from the dolphins to Cyrian, pushing his hair from his eyes, his fingers catching in the tangles.

“Indeed.” Cyrian braced his forearms against the railing. Out at sea, the new galley rolled up, and Cyrian sighed a little. “She does have such nice lines. Look at that silhouette.”

“You're toying with me.” Loukas leaned next to him, feigning interest in the ship.

Cyrian laughed. “A little, yes.” He gave Loukas a sidelong glance and then checked back over his shoulder. A few sailors moved about the deck, well out of ear-shot. The wind and the crying gulls guaranteed they wouldn't be overheard. “Several in the Council are planning on presenting a tax on any grain reserves held in excess. For the benefit of the poor, of course.”

Loukas's fingers tightened on the railing. “Damned bleeding-hearts.”

“But my father intends to veto any legislation presented. Yours is not the only interest that would be compromised by such a tax.”

“Really?” Loukas said with interest. “Who?”

Cyrian hesitated, looking sly, as though he wasn't sure he wanted to give it all away. “Archon Tzykalas,” he said finally. “Among others.”

Loukas recognized the name, though he'd never met the Archon.

“My thanks, princeps. Your help is most appreciated.”
“Cyrian.”

“Thank you ... Cyrian.” Loukas stumbled over the name, feeling his cheeks heat.

“You're welcome.” Cyrian turned around, though he still leaned against the railing. “And I needn't tell you this shouldn't become common knowledge. The Council needs to think my father is giving them a fair chance. They will be unhappy to realize their efforts are in vain.”

Loukas nodded. “Of course.”

“Good.” Cyrian pushed off the railing. “Now how about we finish that tour?” At Loukas's stricken look, he laughed. “A joke. I should like to go and see what my sister thinks of the new ships.”

---

Whether or not Archon Stantous's ship was really as impressive as he'd claimed, Loukas couldn't say. He watched it maneuver over the water, its oars like the legs on a centipede, pulling the sleek bow through the choppy waves. The ship pulled ahead of her bulkier counterpart, the bronzed prow catching in the sun.

“She's agile,” Cyrian said as the ship turned, jackknifing the opposite direction in half the time it took the older ship.

“She'll have to be. Stantous has scrapped most of her armor; if a fat Redini penteconter catches her, she'll sink as easy as a toy in a child's bath,” Procopia said, but she looked pleased. “Finally something to catch those damned galleys the Kleistans use.”

The pirates who made their base on the Kleistos archipelago preyed on any ship unable to defend itself on the Amarna ocean. The Edessan navy regularly destroyed what make-shift camps they found, but there were always more of them, swarming like flies in a cesspit.

“I'm tired of losing a quarter of the ships in my harbor to those scavengers.”

Loukas agreed absently, but his mind was still on Cyrian's words.

“The real question,” Cyrian asserted, “Is where is the palace going to fund these new additions to the fleet?”

The galley lapped the lumbering penteconter once again, though Loukas thought she was slowing -- the crew was surely tiring.

“Get someone else to,” Loukas said. “That's what my mother would suggest.”

Procopia smiled wryly. “Easier said than done.”

Loukas thought about it. “Perhaps if you told the arists if they fund a ship, they can have half the bounty it takes off the Kleistans.”

“Not a bad notion, though it'll be hard to get the crew to part with the booty once they have it in hand,” Cyrian observed. Loukas shrugged. “By then you'll already have your ship.”

Their ship moved back toward the dock, the exhibition ended, and sailors threw ropes down. Loukas escorted Procopia and Cyrian to the palace and turned for home. He passed through the Lycus Square, forgetting until he did so the day's earlier judgment.

Blood of the guilty had dyed the whipping post black generations ago, but Loukas thought it glistened with a fresh coat now. He quickened his footsteps, still catching the meaty scent of it as the wind changed.

He wondered if the man had died.

---

Alexia arrived late to help him prepare for his lesson. It concerned Loukas; tardiness was not one of Alexia's faults. Loukas idly braided pieces of hay together as he waited. Perhaps he would be able to persuade his mother he was past the age for a tutor. His exploits at Court provided a much more useful education than the religious texts and poetry Medicus insisted upon. Loukas could not even remember Eugenia herself with a book of poetry.

Alexia slipped into the barn, leaning against the door as she closed it behind her.

“You're late,” he said, fingers still twisting the strands of hay.

“But I've got good reason.”

He looked up and she smiled slyly, her eyes sparkling. “Oh? How's that?”

“House Damatrys was honored with an esteemed visitor.”

“Ah,” Loukas said. “Quite understandable, then. Shall we get started?” He pulled out his book and opened it.

She sat down, clasping her knees to her chest. “Aren't you going to ask me who?”

“It's none of my business, I'm sure.”

“I really do loathe you,” she said, pinching him.

“Ow! Fine. Please, please, please, Alexia -- I beg you, who was your esteemed visitor? I think I'll die if I don't find out.”

“A little forced, but I suppose if that's the best you can do....” She leaned in to whisper conspiratorially, “Princeps Cyrian.”

Loukas's hand slipped and he tore a corner off a page. “What, really?”

“Yes.”

“He came to House Damatrys?”

“Yes.” She frowned. “Is it really that difficult to believe?”

“No, of course not,” Loukas hastened to say, as Alexia brow furrowed, studying the page.

“His mother came from Damatrys,” Alexia said, peevishly. “She was a great beauty.”

“Of course.”

“So it's not that unusual.”

“Of course not.”

“Can't you find anything else to say?”

Loukas held a breath to keep from saying some rather choice things. Anger would get him nowhere, and now he was genuinely curious. “Did the princeps have any specific business, or was it a social call? Er, not that he needs a reason to see his beloved mother's family.”

She toyed with the fraying binding on her volume. “He'd heard of his sister's dreadful behavior towards me and wanted to apologize. We are blood kin after all.” She paused and sniffed delicately. “I was only too happy to accept such a gracious apology.”

“I'm glad he's been so generous,” Loukas said carefully. “He can be quite accommodating.”

“And that's not all; he's invited me to ride with him tomorrow afternoon.”

“Really?” Loukas couldn't quite mask his surprise, but Alexia didn't seem to notice.

“And he suggested I invite you along as well. I said you would love to come.”

“Of course.”

“There you go again. You really must think of a new reply. You sound like a parrot.”

Loukas ignored the jibe. “Did he say anything else about Procopia?”

“He's quite frustrated with his sister, though he didn't say as much. He's too keen a diplomat. So you will come? You've become an especial friend of his.”

“I am sure we are not nearly so close,” Loukas said, keeping his eyes on the page. “But I will definitely attend.”

---

Alexia rode a sorrel mare, an easy-tempered animal that had to be coaxed into anything other than a slow walk.

“Please try to keep up,” Loukas said, reining Rayna in to keep from pulling to far ahead. “You're the one who was worried we'd be late.”

Cyrian rode out to meet them with a cheerful wave. They meant to ride down to the beach. The street sloped gently downwards, stalls lining either side, merchants shouting their wares. Loukas pulled back a little as they entered the market district, navigating through the press of people. The noise of the city made it difficult to hear Cyrian and Alexia's conversation, but Loukas was content to watch the crowds.

“Loukas, are we going to lose you?” Cyrian called back and Loukas spurred Rayna, who caught up easily. “Surely your mount can manage better -- isn't this the same who carried you so ably on the hunt?”

“Yes, she's a fine animal -- she could out pace that over-bred gelding of yours. You spoke truly when you said ships were your area of expertise, for it certainly isn't horseflesh.”

“This is a fine saddle horse,” Cyrian said, affronted. “His dam won at the Ardalia festival three times.”

“He might be descended straight from Theros, but he's still got an ugly gait.”

Cyrian looked Rayna over. “Fine words from a man riding a pony parading as a horse.”

“She's little, but she can outrace most in your stables and out jump all of them.”

Cyrian didn't answer, his disbelieving look reply enough.

“She is,” Loukas protested. He nodded to a fruit vendor's cart, apples stacked precariously high. “She could take it without knocking loose a single.”

Cyrian pulled his horse up suddenly, and Loukas hurried to do the same before Rayna ran into him. “I wonder how much you're willing to stake on that claim.”

Loukas look back to the cart, reassessing. Alexia laughed. “It's all right if you don't, Loukas. We all make boasts we don't really mean.”

“I do mean it,” Loukas said. “But I can hardly race her down a busy street. I'd be sure to trample someone.”

“I can order the street cleared,” Cyrian said cheerfully. “I'll even help drag out the cart so you may have a better angle.”

“How much would make it worth your while?” Alexia asked, wearing a smug little smile.

“Yes, do name a sum,” Cyrian said. “A feat like this would be worth almost anything.”

“Ten gold pieces?” Alexia suggested.

“Make it fifteen,” Loukas answered, eyes narrowing.

“Done,” Cyrian said and dismounted. “Here, Alexia, come and help me.”

They got the street cleared in short order, commandeering the cart and dragging it into the middle of the wide street. Loukas considered the jump, glad that it was at least level here. Several urchins were charged with redirecting traffic, and Alexia and Cyrian stationed themselves on either side of the cart, arbitrators of the bet.

“You can forfeit now, Loukas,” Alexia called as he rode Rayna down to the end of the street.

“But not without disgracing your House,” Cyrian added.

Loukas gritted his teeth, not deigning to answer.

“All right, my lovely,” he muttered to Rayna. “Let's show them how you fly.” She sensed his nerves and danced sideways a few steps, but he steadied her. With a shout, he set his heels to her sides. The buildings passed, but he say only the cart looming before them. He stood in the stirrups as it rose up before them, leaning far out over her neck as she rose, the bright fruit a blur under them. He didn't have the time to draw breath before they were over and landing.

He knew instinctively from the jarring landing that something was wrong. There was a sickening wrenching, and Loukas kept falling. He had only a moment nauseating fear before he hit the ground.

---

Loukas was aware of pain first and then sound -- someone was calling his name. He forced his eyes open, slowly focusing on Cyrian and Alexia's worried faces.

“He's awake.”

“He looks a little cross-eyed.”

“Oh Great Mother, his brain's been scrambled. Archon Kommene will kill me,” Alexia said. “Loukas, can you hear me?”

“Yes,” Loukas said, trying to push himself up. “And my brain's not scrambled.”

“But how could we tell?” Cyrian asked wryly. “Sit still for a moment; you've had a nasty fall.”

“Rayna?” he managed as a wave of nausea hit him.

“She's here. She wouldn't go far without you.”

Loukas sat up, despite Alexia's protest and regretted it as the world spun. Something past Alexia's shoulder caught his eye. “Is that my saddle?” It lay on its side in the gutter.

“Yes, it's why you fell. Your girth gave out.”

“You're lucky you didn't break your neck,” Cyrian said gravely. “Do you think you can make it back?”

“Uh. Yes, I think so,” Loukas said, and they helped lever him to his feet. His legs were shaky under him, but they held. He collected his fallen saddle, his head pounding. The knot he'd tied still held fast, he realized, but the stitching itself had snapped. That was strange -- no, impossible, all his tack was kept in excellent condition. He looked more closely; a few threads were ragged and frayed with the force of their parting, but others -- many others -- were cleanly cut, neat as a tailor's work. The girth had been sabotaged.

“That little wretch,” he snarled under his breath. He rode Rayna bareback, Alexia strapping the damaged saddle behind her own as they made their way back. Each step jarred Loukas's sore body and throbbing head.

At home, he led Rayna in and bid farewell to Alexia and Cyrian, who, having Loukas safely delivered, decided to keep their plans.

A groom quickly took Rayna from Loukas, his mouth falling open as he took in the state of both Loukas and the saddle. Loukas limped into the house, forgoing medical attention until after he'd seen his mother. He nearly ran into Eleutherios as he rounded a corner.

“What happened to you?” Eleutherios asked, taken aback.

“As if you didn't know very well, you snake,” Loukas lunged, taking hold of Eleutherios's tunic and shoving him into the wall. “You're responsible.” Loukas shoved him again. “Don't even try to deny it.”

“What's going on here?”

Loukas released Eleutherios, stepping back and turning to face Eugenia, who'd just exited her study. “I trust there is n explanation.”

“Forgive me for disturbing you, Mother,” Loukas said. “But Eleutherios has wronged me.”

Eugenia studied the pair of them before beckoning Loukas forward. She took his chin in hand, turning his head as she inspected the damage. “Come in, then. If you insist on disturbing the entire House, the problem becomes mine.”

They followed her meekly, giving each other ugly glances behind her back. She settled on her favorite couch, the two of them standing before her like criminals before the court.

She looked to Loukas. “What has your brother done?”

“Eleutherios weakened the girth of my saddle so that I fell from Rayna. I very nearly broke my neck.”

Eugenia turned to Eleutherios. “Is this true?”

Sweat had risen on Eleutherios's brow, and his throat worked convulsively as he swallowed. “The girth was only suppose to loosen, not give entirely. Loukas did the same to me -- ”

Eugenia held up a hand. “Excuses are not acceptable for an arist of Edessa. You nearly killed your brother.”

“Doubtless that was his aim,” Loukas interjected with a dark look.

“Silence -- do not think I am unaware of your part in this squabble.” She addressed Eleutherios again, “And your actions were unconscionable. You've brought shame on your brother and House. You have behaved as a lowly as a slave and so you shall be treated as one.”

Only slaves were whipped from the post out back behind the chicken coop. The entire House went about their tasks as Eleutherios was led out by the housekeeper and stripped to loincloth, but the slaves muttered to themselves and the children stared. Loukas treated his bruises, able to hear his brother's cries even from the kitchen. He paused and then continued applying the thick poultice.

Continue to chapter 5
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(no subject)

Date: 2009-10-26 12:45 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
i wonder who start the bickering between Eleutherios and Loukas.
it's pretty worsen isnt it.

Ayune01

(no subject)

Date: 2009-10-26 12:57 am (UTC)
rubberbutton: (Default)
From: [personal profile] rubberbutton
Well, they're brothers -- I think they were born fighting. :P

(no subject)

Date: 2010-02-11 06:58 pm (UTC)
tmelange: (Default)
From: [personal profile] tmelange
Eep! I feel like something terrible is about to happen to Loukas. He's right on the edge of trouble in a lot of ways. lol Marvelous story development, and great charcaters. I'm liking Cyrian, but I don't know if I really should. lol

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Aemilia

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