Penelope stretched out on the bed and closed her eyes. It felt nice to be in a soft bed after spending an uneasy night passed out on the ground. She drifted in and out of a light sleep unable to get her mind to totally relax. A great burden had been lifted from her shoulders now that she had found one of her brothers safe and sound, but she was dreading the task that would be next. How could she tell him what had happened?
Voices on the street below the bedroom window roused her from her restless sleep. She recognized Deiandra's voice and arose to look out the window and see who her sister-in-law was talking with. She thought maybe Stephan was back already, but instead she saw Deiandra talking to another woman she didn't recognize. She strained to listen, but they were too far away for her to make out their voices.
The woman looked up at the window and noticed Penelope peering out.
"Who is that at your upstairs window?"
Deiandra glanced up in time to see Penelope move away from the window. "My husband's sister."
"You didn't mention you were expecting company."
"Because we weren't expecting her. She just arrived out of the blue . . . alone."
The other woman raised and eyebrow.
"And she had bruises on her face and scratches on her arm . . . She must be in some kind of trouble."
"You didn't ask her?"
"I did, but she wouldn't say much, just that she would talk to us both when Stephan got home."
"I would have made her tell me what was going on before I let her stay in my house."
"She's Stephan's sister. I'll let him handle it."
"Look, here he comes," she pointed out as Stephan and another pair of guards approached.
Stephan lengthened his strides and moved quickly towards Deiandra as the other other two guards split up and went in different directions.
Noticing one of the guards heading towards her house, the neighbor woman excused herself and went over to see what was going on.
"Did Penelope make it here?" Stephan asked quickly. As Deiandra answered, Penelope opened the door and came towards them.
"Good. You're here. We need to get you away from here."
"What's going on?" Deiandra asked, picking up on the sense of urgency around them.
"The Tyrant Villetes has given out an order to all guards to gather all young women in the village and to bring them to the fortress."
"What for?" Deiandra asked, appalled.
"I'm not sure. We were given our orders, but none of us were told why. Many of us have been asking questions, especially since none of the girls who have been taken there thus far have been returned," he replied. "Turning over our daughters and sisters on a blind order is not something many of the guards are willing to stand for," he said lowering his voice to a whisper. "Talk of an uprising is already beginning. I want you to get the children and go to the temple ruins North of town. Some of us have designated that our meeting point. Wait there until I come back."
Deiandra nodded and began to turn back to the house.
"What can I do to help?" Penelope asked. She started to turn to follow Deiandra, but Stephan stopped her.
"You need to leave now," he insisted. "If one of the other guards spots you, they'll take you to the fortress. I'll see that you get out of town alright. Deiandra, you and the children, should be fine on your own. It's only unmarried women they're looking for. You shouldn't be bothered. Take one of the neighbor women with you that you trust, if you need help."
As Deiandra hurried into the house, Stephan took Penelope's arm and led her down the street. "We're going act like I'm taking you to the fortress, so none of the other guards will bother you," he whispered in her ear. "We'll go as far as to the edge of town together. As soon as I'm sure there's no danger of another guard spotting you, I'll turn back. I'll give you directions to make it the rest of the way on your own."
Penelope nodded and silently followed along.
As they walked she could see the guards, going from house to house, pounding on doors, dragging girls away from their homes and families.
When another guard approached them, Stephan nodded at him.
"I've checked this street. She's the only one I've found. I'll check this next house and then take her in."
The other guard only nodded and continued on his way.
When they reached the edge of town and no one else was around, Stephan and Penelope stopped walking.
"I'll leave you here. Just behind that house, you'll find a small footpath, follow it and it will lead to the temple ruins where Deiandra and some other villagers will meet you. You can't miss it. I'll be there to check on you when I get the chance."
"Be careful," he added.
"I'll be fine."
He patted her on the shoulder, before turning to take his leave. "I'll see you soon."
When the door opened and another group of guards brought in another group of young women, Trevander held his breath. He exhaled sharply when he saw that Penelope was not among those brought in.
"She's not here," he said.
"Have them walk past," the tyrant ordered. "Take a closer look before we send them away."
Trevander looked each girl in the face as she walked past. Some were obviously frightened, some seemed annoyed, most looked confused. When the last girl had passed him, he shook his head.
"None of these women are the one Onyx seeks."
The tyrant stretched his neck and groaned under his breath. "Send them to the courtyard with the others and make room for the next group."
"If none of these young women are the one you want, why are you keeping them here?" Trevander asked. "Why not let them return to their homes?"
"Onyx may want to review them herself when she arrives. Besides the needle is easier to find once you've thinned out the haystack."
As the guards escorted the girls out, Onyx entered.
"Villetes. I see you received my message and have begun the search," she said nodding her approval.
"The girls my guards have brought in are being held in the fortress. I will send someone to escort you, if you would like to take a look at them."
She shook her head. "I have already been there. She is not among them. The girls that were brought here were all local girls. Not what I am looking for. The girl I'm looking for is not from Cynara. She's Amphidelphian. Like you," she said, abruptly turning to the woman seated at Villetes' side.
She brushed the back side of her hand down the woman's cheek, making her flinch uncomfortably.
"Yes, you are from Amphidelphos, but not of the blood line I am seeking."
When Onyx turned away from her, the younger woman rose from her seat and crossed the room.
"The girl I am looking for came here seeking her brother. Find the brother from Amphidelphos and you will find her."
"My advisor is from Amphidelphos," Villetes replied. He motioned for the man to come over. "Edwin, who else in the village comes from Amphidelphos?"
"I know of two men," Edwin replied. "One is a member of your guard. The other I can produce quite easily. He's down in the dungeon."
"Have them both brought here immediately."
Edwin bowed and took leave. As he exited the room he passed by the tyrant's consort, Sapphira, who was pouring herself a glass of wine.
"Looks like you're about to be reunited with a former acquaintance," he muttered as he passed by.
She did not acknowledge his comment with any word or expression, but had to steady her hand as she tightly gripped her glass.
Since there was a break in the conversation, Trevander stepped forward.
"Now that you're here. Is there any need for me to stay?"
"He has been itching to get out and look for the girl himself," Villetes interjected. "I had him stay so he could recognize her once my guards brought her in."
Trevander held his breath, hoping he hadn't seemed too eager to look for Penelope himself, but Onyx didn't seem to read more into the comment than what had been said.
"No, you may go," she said. "I no longer require your services at the moment."
"And we will talk later," he said hopefully. "Soon?"
She nodded. With a dismissive wave, it was clear she was ready for him to go. "I will not forget what you have done here today. I never forget."