Penelope repeated the directions her brother had given her over and over in her mind as she quickly made her way through the village of Cynara to where Stephan and his family lived. Luckily his house wasn't far and she found her way there easily.
Penelope smiled brightly when she spotted her sister-in-law Deiandra standing with her back to her as she strung damp laundry on the line to dry. Deiandra and Stephan's two young sons laughed and shrieked as they dodged underneath the hanging clothes and chased each other around the yard.
"Hi," Penelope greeted them as she reached the gate of their small yard.
The boys stopped in their tracks and stared at her a moment before running back to their mother.
"Don't you know me anymore?" Penelope asked light-heartedly. Her voice caught her sister-in-law's ears, causing her to quickly turn around.
"Penelope!" Deiandra called out, happily surprised. "What are you doing here? Boys, don't be rude. Go say hello to your Auntie Nell." When the boys ran off to the back of the house, she turned back to Penelope to apologize, "I don't know what's gotten into them. Come in. Are you here alone?"
"Yes," Penelope answered shortly as she walked through the gate.
Deiandra grabbed her shoulder, halting Penelope just as she had entered the yard. "Girl, what happened to you?" she asked, motioning towards Penelope's bruised cheek and scratched forearm. "Are you ok? You aren't in some kind of trouble, are you??"
"No, I'm ok. It's a long story."
"Oh," Deiandra said thoughtfully. Her mind working quickly to put together everything she was observing. "And you're here alone? You came all this way on your own?"
"Yes," Penelope answered. She knew, naturally, there would be questions about the unusual circumstances of her unexpected appearance, but she hated being put on the spot.
Before Deiandra could comment their conversation was interrupted by a baby's cry.
"Excuse me," Deiandra walked over to a wooden cradle sitting the back of the yard behind the laundry line and picked up a small, newborn child. She cooed to the little one, "Shhh, it's alright. Mama's here."
"You had a baby?" Penelope asked, surprised.
"Yes," Deiandra smiled brightly. "I found out we were going to have her after Stephan and I moved to Cynara. This is your new neice, Hesta. Would you like to hold her?"
"Okay," Penelope replied and carefully took the baby girl in her arms.
"This is your Auntie Penelope," Deiandra said, leaning over Penelope's shoulder to smile at her infant daughter. She stepped back to speak to Penelope. "We've wanted to come back to Amphidelphos for a visit to see the family and let everyone meet Hesta, but it was too difficult to travel in the winter and with a newborn and it's very hard for Stephan to get away because of his job."
"What is his job, exactly?" Penelope asked, curiously. "I found Stephan in the village, that's how I knew to find you here. He was with another group of guards. They took a cart load of prisoners into a fortress."
"Yes, he's a military guard," Deiandra answered and quickly changed the subject. "Where are my manners? You traveled all this way and I haven't even invited you inside. Do you want to come in and sit down? Are you hungry?"
"Yes," Penelope answered as she followed Deiandra into the house.
"Aleous, Leitus," Deiandra called to her boys. "It's time to come inside now."
Once the door was closed and they were all inside, Deiandra continued the conversation as she prepared a light snack for her guest and her children.
"Do you know why your brother decided to move us here?" Deiandra asked. "Were you told much about it?"
"No, not really."
"Do you remember the crowd Stephan used to hang out with when he was younger? One of them, Edwin, came to Stephan a year ago and told him about a job opportunity here in Cynara, the job he has now as a guard in the military of the tyrant Villetes who rules Cynara."
"Why would he want to be a guard or look for a job away from the farm? That doesn't seem like Stephan."
"There are a lot of reasons why he decided to do it. Wanting a career in the military wasn't necessarily one of them. It just happened to be what the job was."
"The family really missed having him there during the summer and especially during the fall harvest. It was hard for Father and David not to have his help. I don't think any of us understood why he decided to leave."
"I know. It wasn't an easy decision to make. The hardest part was moving away from all of our family," Deiandra replied. "So tell me, how is everyone?"
Penelope hesitated. She wasn't sure what to say. "I don't really know."
"You don't know? How could you not know?" Deiandra asked, sounding confused and concerned.
"I-" Penelope started slowly. "I'm really tired. I had a long trip here. Would you mind if I rested for awhile and we talked more later, maybe after Stephan gets home? It would be easier for me if I could talk to you both at once."
"Oh, ok," Deiandra said, startled. She was eager to ask more, but she held back her curiosity and honored Penelope's request. She knew there was a story here, but she would have to wait to find out what it was. "The bedrooms are upstairs, you can lay down in our room."
"Ok, thanks," Penelope said and retreated up the stairs, buying some time to work out how to tell her story before her brother got home.
Trevander walked through the winding stone hallways of the tyrant's fortress, a guard on either side of him leading the way. He had debated on whether or not to deliver the note Onyx had given him. If it hadn't been carefully sealed, he would have read it himself. Faced with the guards outside of the building, he had made his choice quickly and there was no turning back. He hoped he wouldn't regret it.
The guard stopped at a large metal door and Trevander came to a halt with them. One of the guards knocked once before and waited for a voice to command, "Enter," before opening the door and going inside.
"We found this man hanging around outside the gates. When we searched him, we found a sealed note. He told us he was asked to deliver it to you personally."
"Let me see the note," the tyrant ordered. One of the guards stepped forward and handed it to him. Another man standing beside him, handed him a dagger which he used to cut the seal and opened the letter.
Trevander watched the tyrant closely, trying to gather some hint of what the note said, but the tyrant's face remained emotionless as he scanned the contents of the letter.
Finally, when the tyrant looked up, his eyes met Trevander's. "You're the son of Thanicles?"
Trevander instinctively stood up straighter and squared his shoulders. "Yes, I am."
He waited for some kind of response from the tyrant regarding his heritage, but he showed no sign of approval or disapproval. Instead the tyrant turned to the man standing next to him.
"Edwin, gather your officers. Have them gather all the young women in town, anyone that seems to be between the ages of 13 and 20 years and have them brought here."
Before Edwin could respond, Trevander spoke up. "In the letter, Onyx wants you to find a specific girl, one who she met last night and was supposed to come here to Cynara. Is that correct?"
Instead of answering, the tyrant only raised an eyebrow, so Trevander continued. "She sent me here to follow her and find her. I met her last night. I know who Onyx is looking for. If you send me out, I'm sure I can find her easily."
"No," the tyrant said slowly and thoughtfully. "You can serve me better by staying here. If you've seen the girl that Onyx is looking for and know who she is, you can point her out among the other girls before Onyx arrives. Edwin . . ."
"I'll instruct my officers immediately," he responded before leaving the room.
"You shouldn't have to wait long, my operation is very efficient," the tyrant said to Trevander. "In the meantime make yourself comfortable and let me know if you require anything."
Trevander wanted to speak up, wanted to say that he didn't want to wait here, that he just wanted to go. He was only asked to deliver the letter, not to help carry the contents through. Something in the tyrant's voice or demeanor made it impossible to object and he felt that he had no choice but to obey orders and hope he wouldn't be detained here too long.