"Feeling a bit nervous, my dear?" the tyrant's adviser whispered to the young woman. He continued on despite her annoyed glare and best attempts to ignore him. "No need to be, but I suppose this will be the first time you've been face to face with your former lover since . . ." he trailed off, satisfied that he had sufficiently riled her, as the doors to the chamber opened.
When the door opened a dark-haired man bound by the wrists and ankles with chains was escorted into the room by a guard. He surveyed the room with an air of confidence. His hard glare scanned the room with only a brief pointed look at Sapphira, who looked away with forced indifference, as he was led to the front of the room where the tyrant and Onyx were seated.
As the prisoner approached, the old woman arose from her seat and stepped closer to get a better look at him. She scrutinized him closely.
Villetes watched her closely. "Well?" he said after a moment.
"Yes," she mumbled with a smile.
"This is who you're looking for?" he asked eagerly.
"No, but closer. This one is also a son of Adameus, but from the womb of Halia."
The man in front of her looked at her with confusion.
"Now-" she began, but before she could say more, the doors opened again and two guards escorted Penelope and Trevander into the room.
The old woman's eyes grew large and she leaned forward eagerly as Penelope was brought before her. "Yes. So here she is." She pushed past the prisoner who had been brought forward. "We won't be needing you after all."
With a nod of his head and a slight gesture of his hand, the tyrant had the man taken away, back to his cell.
"So we meet again, my dear," the old woman said to Penelope. She eyed the girl up and down, searching for something that she sensed was not there.
"It is you. I was the one they were looking for," Penelope barely breathed out the words. "Why?"
"The blood of Telephane flows through your veins. For him, she was the fire and the fire will always return to its source. It flows in you."
Penelope stared at her confused. She had no idea what the old woman's words might mean, but they sent her heart racing with panic. She wanted to ask the old woman what she meant, but her mouth felt dry and she was unable to speak.
"Now, where is it? You had it with you earlier, but not now," the woman said slowly. Her eyes flitted about searchingly as she tried not to just see, but sense the presence of the item she sought.
"What is it that you want from me?" Penelope said boldly, finally finding her voice again. "I haven't taken anything that belongs to you."
"Perhaps not taken, but it's been in your possession. The stone of Hephaestus. It follows you and I need it."
Penelope shook her head. "I don't know what you're talking about. I don't have any stone."
"Where is your pack, child? The one you carried with you to the tavern."
"I - I left it," Penelope said hesitantly. Her mind was racing. She couldn't tell them the truth and lead them to the villagers' hiding place, but if she could only let the old woman see that she didn't have what she was looking for, this could all be over. "I can get it for you."
Standing next to her, Trevander stiffened and held his breath.
"Let the girls you're holding captive here go and I'll retrieve my pack and bring it back here to you. But I have to go alone."
This time Villetes stepped forward. "No, you are not the one who makes the terms. You will tell us now, where is the stone of Hephaestus?"
Penelope's breath caught in her throat as the tyrant stared her down. She wanted to protest, insist that she didn't know what the stone of Hephaestus was, but his presence loomed over her so great and with so much power, she felt compelled to comply. She had no choice.
"I left my pack at my brother's house,"she said quietly, certain that he would immediately call her out on her lie. "If I do have this stone you're looking for in my belongings, it would be there."
"My guards will escort you there," he said. His tone, though no less demanding, seemed somehow softer. It seemed if he had shrunk from an overwhelming force before her to just a mere mortal again, though one to be respected and feared.
"As will I," Onyx insisted. "I will see for myself."
As the guard, grabbed Penelope by the arms and prepared to escort her away, the door to the throne room suddenly burst open and another member of the tyrants' service rushed in.
"Sir, there's trouble in the village. Many of the villagers and some of the guards are planning a revolt. Fighting has already started in the village."
The tyrant's face fell into a deep frown. "This will not stand. Gather our forces, those that are still with us. We need every able body at our disposal. Edwin," he called to his advisor. "We will need to plan quickly. You men, go, secure the fortress. I will need a detailed report of what's happening."
Once he barked out his orders and the guards in the room scurried to obey, Onyx stepped forward.
"What about the stone of Hephaestus? Who is going to see that the girl will take me to it?"
"There's no time for that now. I am risk of losing power if I do not act now," he barked at her
"Don't forget where and who that power came from in the first place," she said pointing a long bony finger at the medallion around his neck. "Don't forget the power that is to come for you when I get a hold of the stone of Hephaestus."
He took pause to hear her words and when he spoke again his tone was more subdued and with more reverence toward the old woman. "I have not forgotten and will not forget," he promised. "If you are unable to handle the girl on your own, with your young man's assistance, I'll have her sent to the dungeon for safe keeping while you fetch the stone yourself. I cannot spare any of my men at this moment, not even for the stone of Hephaestus."
Onyx frowned. The arrangement was not ideal, but it would suffice. She nodded her consent and Villetes called for one of his guards to have Penelope taken to the dungeon before returning to the crisis at hand.
Trevander stood, watching the events unfolding around him so quickly that he was a bit lost.
"Come. To the brother's house," Onyx bade him. There was not much else for him to do but follow.
"I have another guest for you," the guard who led Penelope to the dungeon said to the prison guard as he transferred her to his responsibility.
"They aren't keeping her upstairs with the other girls?" he asked as he opened the nearest empty cell.
He shook his head. "She's the one the old hag was looking for.
As the second guard looked her over, she smiled weakly and shrugged.
"She's to be kept here until Villetes or the hag ask for her. Right now, there's trouble happening in the village. Villetes has called all guards to his service. We're to secure the fortress and report back for further orders."
The dungeon guard nodded and nudged Penelope into the cell. Once the door creaked shut and was securely locked, the two men turned and went upstairs.
Penelope could hear their footsteps clomping up the stairs and the sound of a second door slamming shut before she was surrounded by absolute silence.
She sighed heavily and said down on the small worn cot that took up most of the space in the tiny cell.
There was nothing to do now but wait. Wait for Onyx and Trevander to discover that her pack was not at Stephan's house and to come back and demand to know where it really was. She pondered what to do then. She could only hope that she could convince them to let her go to the hiding spot alone to retrieve the pack or maybe by the time they returned the trouble in the village would have died down and she would be able to go to the spot without giving the others away.
Before she could think about it for very long she was interrupted by a voice in the next cell. "Psst."
She looked around. Noticing a small barred window above her cot, she stood up on the cot and peered through.
"Psst! Brandieus girl." He looked up and saw her through the window. "That is you isn't it? You are one of the Brandeius."
Penelope recognized the young man who had been led out of the throne room as she was brought in. He was a Tarpus. "Yes. Penelope," she replied.
"I am Rudicles."
"Yes, I know," she said. She had recognized him immediately. She knew that he and her brother, Nikolaius had once been in love with the same woman, the young woman she had seen in the throne room. She was about to step down when he spoke up.
"Wait . . . what's going on up there? They called me up there, looking for you apparently. Why?"
"I really don't know," Penelope replied indifferently.
"Did you or your brother have me brought before the tyrant?"
"No," she replied. "I had no idea you or any other Tarpus was in Cynara. I thought I left them behind on the road here," she remarked bitterly.
"From where? Amphidelphos? I thought there were no Brandeius left in Amphidelphos after-"
"After your family attacked my home? Murdered my father and my brother and who knows how any other of my family members who I have not seen since that night?"
"No, after your brother murdered my brother," he said coldly.
"That is a lie."
"Believe what you will . . . you were there. You heard with your own ears. He threatened me when he discovered Sapphira chose me over him. Is it any coincidence that mere days later my brother was killed and yours gone from the village the morning after?"
"Nikolaius didn't kill Griffith. He wouldn't have killed him. Not ever. Do you really think he would have killed another young man over a woman? To spite you?"
"I would have let him have her if I had known. He could have been the one sitting in this dungeon these months instead of me and my brother would still be alive."
Penelope bit her tongue and instead of protesting asked, "Why are you here?"
With a snort and a roll of his eyes Rudicles replied, "To keep me out of the way. The all powerful tyrant Villetes can't even get and keep a woman without locking the competition away. He'd better hope and pray I don't get out of here and a chance to repay him and that adviser of his, Edwin. I have a debt to repay both of them and I never forget my debts."
With some prompting from Onyx and the promises of increased power from the Hephaestus stone which could make the difference between victory and failure in the village, Villetes agreed to spare his adviser long enough to tell Onyx where Penelope's brother lived and one of his guards to escort them to the house on his way to scout information about goings on in the village.
The guard escorted Onyx and Trevander close enough for them to spot the house, before going his own way.
Onyx entered the house with Trevander trailing warily behind. She surveyed the room through narrowed eyes and directed Trevander, "Look upstairs. I will check down here."
As Trevander made his way up the ladder to the loft, he weighed his options. What should he do if he found what Onyx was looking for? Should he hand it over to her, should he hide it? Maybe he could hold it back until she gave him some real answers? He wondered if even had a choice on the matter. Even attempting deception could work against him, if she really knew as much as she just seemed to know about things. And even though he, as just a very average man, seemed to be stronger than her, he had a sense that he was actually in no position to really over-power her or make any real demands of her, unless they were agreeable to her.
He sighed and wondered if maybe the best he could hope for was to not be the one to find it.
He slowly searched the upper rooms, somewhat in awe that he was in this situation at all and in no hurry to reach the point where he might have to make a decision.
"It's no use," Onyx's voice from behind startled him. "The girl lied, it's not here."
"Are you sure?" he asked. He was surprised that she hadn't even asked him if he'd found it.
"I would know. I would sense it. There is an energy to the stones that radiates from them." She closed her eyes as she spoke, remembering the sensation. Then her eyelids snapped open, suddenly. "I would sense it if it were near."
"About the stones. I want - I need to know more-"
"Patience, child. There is time. There will be time for the answers you seek. But now I need to find the stone of Hephaestus. It was here, so close. I cannot rest until I find it and have it in my possession." She was already turning and heading down the steps as she finished. "We must return to the fortress and make the girl tell us what she did with the stone. I will not let it slip away from me again."
During the short time they had been in the house, the situation outside, in the village, had changed dramatically. Tensions were rising, fighting was spreading. Onyx did not like what she saw across the courtyard.
"What is Villetes' doing, in the battle himself?" she muttered to herself. "Why doesn't he leave the fighting to his men?"
With Villetes' in the thick of the battle, going after the girl might mean trading the possession of one stone for another. That was not a trade Onyx was willing to make.
She cursed under her breath and turned to Trevander. "You will have to go back to the fortress and get the information out of the girl, while I keep an eye on things here. Do whatever it takes. Just get the true location of the stone or get it for me, if you can."
Trevander seemed doubtful. "Me? I don't know . . ."
"Do not doubt yourself so. You are the true son of Thanicles and he has served me well. Help me and I will reward you even more greatly than I have rewarded him."
The thought of what she could be suggesting made Trevander's stomach turn.
"The stone of Hephaestus could lie in your hands. The answers you seek will be given in due time, if you assist me."
Trevander nodded his head. "I'll go talk to her," he agreed.