Penelope, following her brother's instructions, soon found herself at her designated location, the temple ruins. The area was secluded, quiet, and serene. Penelope walked around the area observing its crumbling stone walls, pieces of abandoned pottery, and remaining tall pillars, before finding a place to sit and wait for Deiandra and the children to arrive.
Penelope hadn't been waiting long when she heard the sound of footsteps approaching. She jumped up from her seat on the ground and backed up against the stone wall, wary of who might be headed her way.
When a group of villagers appeared from behind the trees, Penelope relaxed. She nodded hello before returning back to her seated position.
Gradually more people from the village, mostly women, children, and the elderly, began to arrive. Before long Deiandra and the children arrived with the neighbor woman Penelope had seen her sister-in-law speaking with before.
Deiandra nodded at Penelope, but was soon called away by someone she knew. Her nephews shyly brought her her pack before running off into the gathering crowd.
Before long the silence of the place was gone, replaced at first by whispers of the villagers, then by the voices of many simultaneous conversations. A stranger to all, Penelope stood on the sidelines, listening, picking up bits and pieces of conversations. With each new group of villagers to arrive at the ruins, new bits of information were relayed and speculation about what was happening began to grow.
"Taking our daughter's from us? Villetes has crossed a line this time!"
"But why does he want all the young women? How long does he intend to keep him?"
"I don't know, but if I were a younger man I would go to that fortress and take them back myself. He has no right!"
"I heard it wasn't just Villetes' doing," a voice from somewhere else said. "There was an old woman who arrived at the fortress today. They treated her like someone very important."
Penelope struggled to listen to that line of conversation, but it was drowned out my others. The shrill voice of Deiandra's neighbor cut above the others.
"You mean they took my daughter for no reason!"
"None," the woman across her shook her head. "He's not even looking for a local girl. They're looking for someone that was just passing through the village."
Penelope's heart began to beat faster in her chest. The old woman . . . someone from outside of the village . . . she thought she heard someone mutter Amphidelphos. She swallowed hard, her mouth suddenly feeling dry. Was it the old woman . . . Onyx? Was she and the tyrant looking for her?
Trevander's words from earlier in the day were echoing in her mind. It had to be. Onyx was here, looking for her, or the something she thought Penelope had in her possession. All of those girls were taken from their home and their families because of . . .
When Penelope looked up, Deiandra's neighbor was storming towards her angrily. "It's you they're looking for, isn't it?"
Penelope opened her mouth to speak, to deny the accusations, but found herself unable to make a sound.
"You show up out of the blue, unexpectedly, mysteriously, and suddenly the tyrant is taking our daughters out of our homes, looking for someone. You're the reason my daughter was taken from me."
Penelope looked around, others were taking notice. Whispering, their eyes were turning towards her.
"Don't deny it. How come you're here when others are not?"
Deiandra spoke up, "Stephan warned us before the other guards could come to the house. I know he would have done the same for your daughter too if he'd had time."
The woman ignored her and began probing Penelope with questions. "What did you do? What does the tyrant want with you? Why did you come here and cause us all of this trouble?"
"I don't know," Penelope shrugged. "I don't know what's going on or why anyone would be interested in me. I just came looking for my brother."
"Well then, there's only one way to find out. I'll take you to the tyrant myself. Demand that he trade our daughters for you!"
The crowded began to murmur loudly and as the woman stepped towards her, Penelope could feel the entire crowd closing in on her. She shrunk back, not sure what was going to happen.
"What's going on here?"
"Stephan!" Penelope breathed a sigh of relief when she saw her brother and another guard approaching the grove. She stepped closer to his side.
"What's going on?" he repeated.
Before Penelope could answer, the neighbor woman chimed in, "Like you don't already know," she huffed. "She's the one they're looking for and you're keeping her hidden here while Villetes is keeping our daughters hostage."
Penelope looked into her brother's face. "It's true, isn't it? It is me they're looking for." The sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach told her that it had to be true.
"What happened before you came here?" he asked her gently.
"I left home yesterday morning and stopped in a tavern on the way here when it started to rain," she recalled. "There was an old woman there, a very old woman, who offered me some food and a place to sleep. She thinks I have something of hers, but I couldn't possibly. All I have I took from home," she said, puzzling the thought over in her mind. "Maybe I should go to the fortress. Tell them it's me. Find out what they think I have that they might want. Maybe then they would let the others go home."
"Yes, do!" the neighbor woman called out.
"No!" Stephan said sternly. Then he turned back to Penelope and repeated more gently, "No."
"Nobody is going to see Villetes and no one is going back to the village yet," Stephan said, addressing the crowd. "There are many of us, as you all know, that have been dissatisfied with what has been happening in this village since Villetes has come into power. We were all afraid to say anything or do anything about it, but this last act has pushed us too far and it's time to take action."
"Many of the guards as well as many of the civilian men in the village are organizing a revolt against Villetes. We believe we have enough on our side now to take him out of power."
Gasps and murmurs went up in the crowd and he could sense their uncertainty.
"Don't you see the power he has over us has gotten out of hand? Today he's taken our daughters and our sisters away from us."
"Not yours," the neighbor woman scoffed, but her words went unnoticed.
"What will it be next? It won't stop unless we put a stop to it. This is where we take our stand. If any of you are able and willing to fight, we welcome you with us. Those who are not will be safer here until things in the village settle down."
"And you're going to get our girls back, unharmed?"
"That is our number one priority," the other guard stated firmly.
"In the meantime, no one should do anything rash that could complicate what we're trying to accomplish. No one is to blame for what happened today except Villetes himself," Stephan paused to look at Penelope, but when he turned his head his sister was no longer at his side. "Where's Penelope?"
Deiandra looked around her. "She was right here a moment ago."
Stephan searched the crowd but Penelope was nowhere to be seen.
While Stephan was talking, Penelope took the opportunity to slip away unnoticed. She knew what had happened in the village had to do with her arrival that morning and she knew it was up to her to set things right. If she went to the fortress, presented herself to the tyrant and she was the girl they were looking for, they would have to let the other girls go. If she found out what they wanted from her, she could understand what was going on and hopefully they would understand she had nothing that they could possibly want. If they knew she was of no importance then wouldn't they leave her in peace?
Her stomach flipped at the thought that one of those "ifs" could be wrong, but what else could she do? No matter what her brother or anyone else said, she couldn't let those other girls be kept from their homes and families if this was about her.
She made her way through the marketplace. Busy and bustling earlier, it was now quiet and nearly deserted. The stillness of it was ominous, eerie.
When Penelope felt someone touch her shoulder, she jumped and quickly spun around.
She found herself face to face again with the young man, Trevander.
"You startled me."
"I'm sorry," he apologized sincerely. "What are you doing out in the middle of the marketplace. Don't you know the guards have been rounding up young women?"
"Yes, I know," she replied.
"Onyx is in Cynara. She and the tyrant are looking for you."
"Then it was me," she said quietly. Her suspicions confirmed.
"You'd better get out of here before one of the guards catches you."
"Let them," she replied. "I was on my way to the fortress anyway."
"Are you crazy?" he hissed.
"If it's me they want, once they'll find me they'll let the others go," she reasoned, but her tone seemed uncertain.
"Not necessarily. I don't think you realize what you're dealing with. The tyrant himself is dangerous enough, but Onyx . . ."
"What am I dealing with?" Penelope interrupted. Her tone taking on a new boldness. "What do they want? What do I have to do with anything?"
Trevander crinkled his nose and exhaled sharply. "I don't know," he reluctantly admitted.
"Well, I'm going to find out."
Penelope turned on her heels and started towards the fortress.
"Wait," he said, reaching for her arm. "You need to stay away from there."
Before Trevander could stop her, he was too late. Two guards appeared from around the corner of a building and started their way.
"Halt!" they called out, causing both Penelope and Trevander to stop in their tracks.
The guards recognized Trevander and addressed him. "Is this her? You found her?"
Penelope looked at Trevander suspiciously. When he didn't speak up immediately, she did. "Yes, I'm the one."
"Come with us. Villetes would like to see you."
Penelope nodded and started towards the fortress with a guard on either side of her and Trevander trailing behind.