Chapter 3 - Androkles

I shouldn’t be here right now. I’d been told to head directly to the commanding officer for the unit upon arrival. I wasn't supposed to stop. Lord Ares wanted me to see and learn but not take risks. It didn’t matter that part of my gifts made me more robust than most. I could still be injured, and I could still die.  

I’d kept my eyes forward as my small unit moved through the ruins. I tried to ignore the cries around me. I kept reminding myself that it wasn't for me to clean up and tend to the wounded. But then something told me that what people tell me I should do doesn't always make it right. 

I’d been the one to notice her. To witness her stumbling. The others kept moving forward, and I should’ve too. Yet something told me to stop and help. So I broke from formation, and here I am, tending to the wounds of this blind girl.  

I don’t even know why I told her my name is Andy. Only Diokles calls me that. I’m not particularly eager to lie. But then again, it isn’t a lie. Andy is a shortened form of my given name. And, well, she has been through so much. I doubt she’d have accepted my help or remained this calm if I had told her my proper name. Even out here, I’m sure they have heard of me.

Lord Androkles the Destroyer. I fucking hate that title. I hate that all of Olympus knows it, even if they don’t know my face.

"For your sake, I hope so as well, Ismene-Eirene. They will know more at the healing tents." I nodded, ensuring my knot was tight.  

I noted the tone she used when she said each name. Whomever Alkaios was, he was important to her and most likely dead.  

"Okay, that's the most I can do. I'm going to pick you up and place you on my horse. Atlas is a good horse. He’ll stay steady for you." I explained what I was about to do. The last thing I needed was for her to panic and flail about. She nodded as I explained what I was going to do.  

I carefully got my arms under her, lifting her and placing her onto my saddle on the back of my 16-hand gray eleia horse. She made a pained noise as I put her on the horse. I suppose that is to be expected. She didn't seem afraid to be on a strange horse. She almost visibly relaxed as she put a hand on the withers, fingertips trembling for a moment before stilling.  

"You are a powerful and brave horse, aren't you, Atlas?" she spoke gently, forcing herself to be calm.  

Whoever this young woman was, she looked around my age. She knew that to panic or be afraid on the back of a horse was to make them panic.  

With her safely up, I climbed up behind her. I was keeping her steady between my arms while I grabbed the reins. She didn't seem afraid to be in my arms. But she doesn’t know who I am. I’m sure this wouldn't go so smoothly if she knew who I am.  

"Was Atlas always his name?" she asked softly, fingertips still on the horse's withers as if she received strength from the horse.  

Atlas, of course, held steady. He was bred to be a warhorse and, more importantly, a horse of Ares. Like any animal, horses can sense certain dangers. As an Ares, similar yet different from a Hades, I am seen as dangerous to animals.  

I clicked once as I guided Atlas into a turn to head back to the healing tents my group had brought the members of Apollo House to. "If it wasn't, I was not told. I named him four years ago when I chose him as my horse." I explained.  

"His trainers may have called him something else two years before he became my horse." I shrugged my shoulders.  

Atlas easily navigated his way through the rubble. It was rare that anyone was this... relaxed around me. Then again, she couldn't see my face to know me, and I’d not given my proper name. 

She rode on Atlas easily, leaning back slightly into my chest to make it easier to stay up. She had lost much blood and was rightfully tired. She needed the support, and it was easier for me to control Atlas if I had room.  

"I hope the horses are okay, too.." she said. I’m not sure exactly what she meant by that. But this village is more closely related to Poseidon, and many of the residents here are tied to that House.  

"I... I smell fire and hear... people," she said, her voice just as soft as before. "Is... Is it as bad as it sounds?" she asked. 

"I cannot be sure about the local livestock. My unit had only just arrived to assist and replace any unable to fight.” I explained with a calmness in my voice.  

War was part of me, so all this was peaceful in a strange way. I glanced casually around. The village was in ruin. It would take months to rebuild, and I’m sure many were dead.  

I explained. "It is not good. I can sense the fighting moving further away as the chimera tries to escape. For now, the village is safe. The members of Apollo and Athena houses will search for survivors like yourself.” 

She stiffened a little when I said ‘livestock.’ I felt she wanted to argue that definition but decided not to. To me, any hooved animal that was bred and raised to aid people either as food or in transportation, like a horse, is livestock.  

"Thank you... I heard horses run by and some soldiers, some people. But...” she said, her words trailing off.

Of course. None of the soldiers stopped. And my House wonders why we have such a bad reputation.

"We have been ordered to go directly to the commander's location to be assigned where we are needed. So we are to leave the civilians to Apollo and Athena's Houses.” I explained.  

Not that it thoroughly excused anyone ignoring the wounded civilians they passed. "But they are still some ways back and may not have reached you in enough time,” I added.  

"Then... I doubly thank you for doing this, Andy,” she said. "I don't know where I would have ended up. The streets are so... different. I don't even know where I am right now.” she admitted. "I don't know how bad I am. But I hurt so much, and I'm cold, so...” she sighed.  

"Thank you for saving me,” she said, her hand leaving the horse exploring, finding the reins, and following them up to rest on my wrist. Tears continued running down her cheeks.  

"Thank you,” she repeated.  

I was not sure how to react to this. I wasn't used to being thanked. And, well, crying? Shit, I didn't know what to do about that. I wasn't a guy that women cried around.  

"Um... you are welcome. We aren't far now from the tents the healers have set up.” I assured her.  

I could feel the cold in her hand as she touched my wrist. I shifted to reach an arm up to the red cloak hat attached to my armor’s shoulder, disconnecting it and bringing the fabric over her.  

"Here, use this as a blanket,” I instructed. 

She tilted her head when I moved, shivering slightly in surprise and at the sudden temperature difference as I wrapped her in the cloak. The fabric was of fine quality, I am, after all, the heir of Ares, but it smelled of armor oil, sweat, and horse. Her hand in her sling moved painfully to bring it a little tighter around her. 

"I hope your commander doesn't punish you for disobeying. You are soldiers, our protectors. And you've saved at least one life. I’m sure you'll save more today.” she spoke softly, leaning more into me now that she had the warmth of my cloak. I smiled a little. 

Punish me? That is laughable.

I’m heir to Ares. I am technically above the commander I was to meet. It was strange to hear her thanks and even more to listen to her imply I may save lives. I’m not someone that is supposed to save lives or at least isn't expected to.  

"I am certain I'll be fine. I do not often disobey orders.” I assured her, not sure how to respond to the part of saving lives.  

I could see the tents and the flags of Apollo and Athena's houses. More people came into sight, so it was louder. People were shouting instructions for things like needing more medicine or dressings and people in pain. And when they saw me, the talking seemed to stop or at least dulled.  

"Lord Androkles....what's he doing here? Is that...a woman with him?" the whispers started to float around in our wake. 

"I'm glad..." she said tiredly.  

She was trying so hard to stay awake. But the warmth of the cloak and smells were driving her fear away. What was keeping her awake and alive was diminishing. The noise of the triage and doctors roused her before her eyes completely shut. But even if I don't save more lives today, I did save the one in my arms.  

"You were kind to stop..." she whispered before I felt her go slack in my arms.  

She was still breathing, just had finally lost the battle with consciousness, head laying back on my arm, body slack against me, supported only by my arms and chest. 

I was used to whispering to people talking about me behind my back. I ignored them as always.  

"Ismene-Eirene?" I asked, realizing she'd gone slack in my arms.  

"You there... healer of Apollo." my voice took on a commanding tone as I pointed to one of the surgeons.  

"This woman needs treatment. The chimera attacked her.” I explained as a healer rushed over. Something tells me he didn’t want to risk angering me by having me wait.  

"She is Ismene-Eirene, daughter of Leander and Elaine. She got separated from someone named Rae and Alkaios.” I instructed as I helped get her down to the healers. “Check your tents to see if any are here.”  

"Ye...yes Lord Androkles." the healer stammered.  

I nodded as I knew they'd take care of her now. And without another word or asking for the cloak, I left. 

I left the healing tents and returned to where I was supposed to be. As I arrived, I felt many eyes looking at me. I was late. I didn’t care. I was technically out of uniform as I didn’t have my cloak. But again, I didn’t care. I had done something that didn’t fit the ‘destroyer’ mold I was expected to fill. I had saved someone’s life.  

As I brought Atlas to a stop next to the commanding officer, he looked at me. Upon taking in my appearance, he noticed my lack of cloak and the blood smears on my chest plate from where she’d leaned against me. It looked like he wanted to say something. So I carefully removed my helmet and arched an eyebrow looking the commander dead in the eyes.  

"My apologies for arriving late. Circumstances arose that could not be ignored, but I'm here now. So where am I to be stationed, sir?" I stated calmly.  

I doubted he would argue or speak against me. But part of me wanted him to. I wanted him to question me. Because I’ve been itching to put someone, anyone, everyone in their place about me. But as I thought, he said nothing.  

“Glad you were able to make it, Lord Androkles. Riding through that town is difficult with the structural damage. I want you to take a small unit and flank the beast to the right. We may not be able to kill it, but if we can force it back into the mountains, we can stop further damage.” he instructed.  

I nodded as I put my helmet back on and rode to follow orders with a hand gesture to my unit to follow me. The entire time in the back of my mind, I thought about that girl, wondering if she was okay. The wound from the chimera hadn’t looked deep, but I am no medic. I also hoped she found her family and that they were okay.

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