Somehow, Penelope had stumbled in the right direction during her flight from the tavern the night before and the road that she woke up next to was the road to Cynara. It only took a few hours of brisk walking to make it to the village. After stopping briefly at a stream to splash cool water on her face and arms to wash away the mud that was caked on them from her night in the woods, she arrived in the village just before midday.
The village market was bustling with activity as vendors advertised their wares and customers haggled for a good deal. Cynara was a bigger village than Penelope’s small home town of Amphidelphos. Even though it seemed larger and more crowded, it also seemed somehow less chaotic. There was an odd sense of silence hanging over the busy activity of the marketplace. Somehow the villagers seemed more subdued and almost wary as they went about their daily activities.
Wandering through the marketplace, it didn’t take Penelope long to notice the cause. In almost every direction that she turned she saw military guards, soldiers, standing at the ready, watching everything that went on around them.
Penelope wandered through the center of the marketplace, taking in the sights and sounds and trying to find her way around this new and unfamiliar place. Suddenly she realized that this was the first time she’d been to a strange city all on her own, where she didn’t know another soul. She stood in place for a moment feeling lost as the bustling crowd swirled around her. As she looked around at the people, buildings, and market stalls, she wondered, “How am I ever going to find Stephan in this village . . .if he’s even here? I could be searching for months.” She was trying to think of a more efficient method than knocking on the every door in town or asking every person she saw if they knew her brother when the sound of a trumpet startled her from her thoughts.
“Make way! Move aside! Prisoners coming through.”
Penelope was jostled to the side of the street as the crowd parted and a procession passed through. A reverent silence fell over the marketplace as a wagon, carrying a group of three or four chained men, rolled past. It was surrounded on all sides by guards who were dressed in the same uniform as the ones she had seen scattered around the marketplace.
The tension in the air was palpable and made Penelope feel uneasy. The people around her seemed to try to hide their displeasure by avoiding eye contact with the caravan. The situation was not one to be cheered and the people seemed to be too afraid to boo, so they compromised with an unsettling silence.
Once the procession had passed, the crowd closed up the vacant space behind it and resumed its former activity of chatter and movement. Penelope alone seemed to remain silent and still. She turned her head to watch the procession leave. As it turned the corner away from her, one of the guardsmen who had been on the opposite side of the wagon turned his head and she caught a glimpse of his face in profile.
She gasped when she saw him, “Stephan.” Before she could move, the caravan disappeared around the corner, leaving her to wonder whether she could believe her eyes. Had that really been her brother or had she just imagined his face in that of another?
Not wanting to take the chance, she rushed towards the procession moving as well as she could between the people in the crowd. Reaching a tight spot where the crowd was at a stand still, she dodged back and forth impatiently, looking for a way through. Finally, when the crowd started to thin, she took more aggressive measures, pushing past people, squeezing through narrow gaps attempting to make headway.
When she reached the edge of the village the crowd faded away and she could see the procession ahead of her, making its way to the open doors of a heavily guarded fortress.
Penelope took off in a full sprint, struggling to call out her brother’s name between gasps of air, but she was too late. The procession was too far ahead. Though she tried to shout, her voice didn’t reach them and though she ran, her feet weren’t fast enough. The wagon and the soldiers guarding it were inside of the fortress and the front gate slammed securely behind them before she could catch up.
She ran towards the gate, but the two guards standing on either side intercepted her and each one grabbed her by an arm. “Woah, hold it right there.”
She struggled to break through and make it to the gate, “I need to be let in. My brother’s inside.”
“You can’t go in,” one of the guards spoke as both men tightened their grip. “Only those approved by the tyrant are allowed inside.”
“But my brother . . .”
One guard motioned to the other to let go and then shoved Penelope to the ground before drawing a sword. “Go home and don’t let me see you near these gates again,” he warned.
“I -“ Penelope started as she moved to pick herself up from the ground. The guard stepped forward menacingly, causing her to scoot backwards. Before she moved far or could get fully to her feet, she felt a hand touch her shoulder. Though its grip was light and not forceful, she flinched.
“You can put away your weapons,” a voice behind her said in a pacifying tone. “I’ll see that she goes home and doesn’t cause any problems.”
Penelope turned slowly to see the young man who had been sitting alone at the tavern the night before. He held his hands up in a peaceful pose as he looked to the guards for their answer.
The guard eyed him a moment before returning his sword to its sheath and motioning the pair away.
“Come on,” the young man said, holding his hand outstretched to Penelope, a silent offer to help her to her feet.
She automatically took his hand and reluctantly accepted his assistance, for the moment. “I have to get inside,” she persisted as he started to lead her away.
“They aren’t going to let you in.”
Penelope looked back at the guards before sighing and admitting to herself that he was right.
“Look, I’m glad I found you-“ he started, but Penelope had turned away. Instead of following him down the road back to the village, she turned off to the side and headed down the grassy slope towards the woods. He watched her a moment, confused, before chasing after her, “Where are you going?”
She walked on without answering or acknowledging him until she reached the edge of the woods. Then she turned back to face him. “If they won’t let me in, I’ll wait out here.”
“Wait for what?”
“My brother. He went in with the procession just now. He has to come back out sometime.”
“You can’t stay here. You have got to get away from this place.”
Ignoring his warning, she took a seat on the ground and settled into place.
He sighed in frustration, “Aren’t you listening?”
“I heard you,” she said without looking at him, her eyes were fixated on the front gate.
He sat down next to her.
“You don’t need to stay,” she said with a quick sideways glance towards him.
“But I do. I’ve been looking for you all morning.”
She looked at him quizzically. “Why? Who are you?”
“My name is Trevander. What's your name?”
“Penelope. Why were you looking for me?” she asked, more confused and curious than before.
“To warn you. Onyx knows you’ve come here and she’s on her way here to find you.”
"Don't you know?" he asked surprised. "The old woman who invited you into her room at the tavern last night."
“She's looking for me? What does she want with me?”
Trevander was surprised by the innocence in her tone when she asked that question. She seemed to have no idea what was happening around her or what circumstances she was caught in the middle of. “She says you have something that belongs to her.”
“No, I don’t,” Penelope objected. "I didn't take anything from her room, but my own belongings."
"Maybe she meant that you have something that she wants, that she thinks should belong to her."
For a moment Penelope's mind flashed back to the night before in the tavern and how the elderly woman, Onyx, had stared so intently at her while she was stuffing her belongings back into her pack just before she passed out. She remembered waking in the night to see the old crone hovering over her, trying to pry her pack from her arms. She frowned as she tried to make sense of what had happened and what Trevander was saying to her.
“I couldn’t have anything that she would want. I don’t have anything of any worth.”
“Whether you do or not, she thinks that you do which is dangerous enough. She knows you were coming here, so you need to leave this village as soon as possible.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” she said firmly, eyeing Trevander with distrust. “I came all this way for a reason and I’m not going until I see my brother.”
This approach was getting him nowhere, so Trevander decided to try a different line of reasoning. “Have you ever heard of-“ He trailed off mid-sentence when he realized that Penelope was no longer listening to him. Her eyes were fixed on the front gate of the fortress as it slowly started to open. When a group of guards walked out, she slowly rose to her feet.
Recognizing one of them, for certain this time, she ran forward and called out, “Stephan!”
Trevander called after her to stop, but she paid no attention. The guards had turned at the sound of her voice and the ones who had detained her before were already reaching for the hilt of their swords. Trevander jumped up and ran after her.
She was halfway to the fortress before he caught up to her. He grabbed her arms from behind and pulled her to a stop. “What are you doing? Are you crazy?” he hissed in her ear. He struggled to keep a hold of her as she did her best to pull free from his grip.
"Are you?" she shrieked as she tried to pull one arm forward and then the other, attempting to wrestle her way out of his grip. "Let me go!"
One of the guards shouted at them and ran towards them with his sword drawn. Trevander tried to coax Penelope away, but when he started to move the guard shouted, “Stop! Let go of her!”
Stunned, Trevander did as the guard asked. When he released his hold on Penelope, the guard lowered his sword and Penelope ran in the guard's arms. In a second, the other guards were upon Trevander, dragging him forcefully away from Penelope and the other guard.
Stephan broke away from his sister’s embrace, “Penelope, what are you doing here?” Noticing the dark bruise on her cheek and the long scratches on her arm, he asked with concern. “What happened to you?”
Self-consciously she hid her arm and turned her face aside.
“Did he do this to you?” Stephan asked, motioning towards Trevander.
Penelope turned to look at the young man, surrounded by the tyrant’s soldiers, and then shook her head. “No, I don’t even know him. He just came over and started talking to me while I was waiting for you to come out of the building.”
Stephan nodded and patted his sister on the shoulder before going over to the two other guards to speak to them privately for a moment. After asking them to keep an eye on Trevander until Penelope was safely out of sight, he returned to his sister and began walking with her towards the main road.
“I’m so glad I found you. I was afraid you wouldn’t be here,” Penelope said. After months of wondering and worrying and fearing that she’d never see her family again, she felt like she could cry from sheer relief.
“But what are you doing here? Are you here all by yourself?” Stephan asked confused. “Has something happened?”
Penelope blinked back her tears and fought to find her voice. That inquiry was so simple compared to everything that had happened since she'd seen her brother last. He had no idea. She didn’t know where to begin.
“What is it?” he asked anxiously, the concern deepening in his tone and expression.
Penelope struggled to say something, but was unable to find the words to begin. She felt so worn down after trying to stay strong all this time, she felt like suddenly she had no strength left.
“Stephatonius,” one of the other guards called him.
“Give me a minute,” he snapped back.
“We don’t have a minute. We have to get to our posts.”
“Then you go ahead,” Stephan replied warily and turned back to his sister. “Now what’s happened?”
“But you have to go?” she asked, her statement as much a question as not. “I don’t want to get you in trouble.”
“Penelope,” Stephan said exasperated. “Obviously something’s happened, otherwise you wouldn’t be here like this. Just tell me what it is.”
“There’s a lot to tell and I don’t know how to say it all right now. When will you be off duty? Can we talk then?”
“Not until after dark. But are you alright? If you need me now. . .” he started to offer, but there was an air of reluctance to his voice.
Penelope shook her head, “No, I’m fine. It can wait. There’s nothing to be done. I just needed to find you and see that you were alright,” she said, embracing him.
Stephan hugged his sister close. His brows furrowed with concern as he wondered what she was doing here alone and why she was so reluctant to tell him anything. But duty called and if Penelope refused to speak, there was no forcing her. "If you're sure you're alright," he said as she stepped away from him. When she nodded eagerly, wiping at her eyes, he continued, "Why don't you go to the house and see Deiandra and the children. I'll come home as soon as I can."
When Penelope agreed, Stephan gave her the directions and said a quick goodbye before hurrying off to his post.
While Stephan and Penelope were talking, the two guards who had been watching the entrance to the fortress held Trevander back.
"Hold it right there. We need to ask you a few questions."
Trevander stood still and nodded his compliance, but his eyes were on Penelope and her brother.
One of the guards took a hold of Trevander's face and turned it towards them. "Look this way," he said. Then they turned Trevander so his back was to the fortress and he was no longer able to watch Stephan and Penelope.
"What's your business here?" one of the guards asked.
"I was looking for the young lady."
"What for?" the guard asked. He glanced briefly over Trevander's shoulder before looking him in the eye.
"I don't see what that has to do with anything," Trevander said evenly. It was obvious to him by the guards' apparent disinterest in their questioning that this interregation was nothing more than an excuse to detain him while the girl was led away. He had trouble hiding his anoyance at the pretense.
"We don't care what you do or don't see," the guard snapped at him. "When a guard of the tyrant asks you a question, you will answer. Now why were you harassing this young woman?"
"I wasn't!" Trevander objected. "I was just trying to prevent her from getting herself killed when she stormed at the fortress."
The guards again were looking over his shoulder. They didn't seem to care what he had to say, but they didn't like the tone in which he answered. The guard who had been questioning him, shoved him towards his partner and held up his sword. "Check him. Make sure he isn't carrying any weapons."
Trevander waited impatiently as the guard patted the sides of his body and checked the pockets of his cloak.
"Here's something," the guard said, removing the letter from Trevander's cloak and tossing it towards the other guard.
"It's a message for the tyrant. I was asked to deliver it," Trevander said as the guard examined the folded and sealed paper.
"I'll see that he gets it," the guard said as he started to put it in his own pocket.
"I was asked to deliver it the tyrant himself personally," Trevander objected. He had debated with himself as to whether he would deliver the message at all. Since the letter was sealed, he had no way of knowing what information he was conveying for Onyx. Yet not delivering it could result in much worse consequences. Now he was left with little choice.
"No weapons," the guard concluded as he stepped back after finishing his check.
The other guard nodded, "Fine, but the tyrant won't see just anyone."
Trevander pointed to the mark of the seal on the back of the letter. “Tell him the message is from Onyx.”