Chapter 5 - Androkles

We’d been fighting and driving the chimera back for four days before it was finally far enough into the mountains that we couldn’t go after it. Now we were marching back. Some soldiers would return to their posts while my unit and I returned to the capital. 

As we rode in formation, I was alongside the commanding officer at the front. I’d tried not to think about the blind girl during the fighting. Though I found my mind wandering to her in the hours, I rested. Holding the mati my elder brother had forged for me in the mortal realm.

Often I’d found the mati would give me a sense of warning, of foreboding when someone had ill intentions. Often I felt this when my father or Eugenius would speak of my future. I also would feel it around town and even among the soldiers of Ares. Their fear of me differed from the evil I felt from my father and Eugenius. 

But with her, with Ismene-Eirene, the girl with two names, the mati didn’t give either of those reactions. It felt warm, like when I’m around Diokles. 

While I hoped she and her family were well, I dreaded that we would be riding past the healing tents. Though I’m sure, someone had told her who I truly am by now. And my cloak will be sent as far from her as possible. Not that I would try to ask for it back. I’d reported it ruined en route. I can’t take that back. And I’ll have to pay for another to be made when I return to the capital. 

If her parents were found, I could only imagine how terrified they would be to see my cloak in her possession. I am sure they fear me and what leaving my cloak with her must mean. But it meant nothing. She was hurt and cold, so I gave it to her to keep her warm. 

That’s all. I want nothing from her or her family. They have nothing to fear from me.

As we passed the tents, none of the armies bothered looking. But I noticed something strange from the corner of my eye. A woman was sitting on a horse, looking around with someone from Apollo next to her. Taking a closer look, I realized the woman wasn't technically looking anywhere, as it was the blind girl from before. I noticed the man from Apollo House looking at me. I saw the fear but also the question in his eyes.

Crap. What am I supposed to do? Does she want to approach me? To return my cloak?

I couldn’t have that. I couldn’t have her ride over here to return the cloak in front of the whole army. I shook my head ever so slightly to say no, for both our sakes. It would not just slow the march home if she came over here. The commanding officers would see she had my cloak, and my story about losing it wouldn’t hold water.

And if she came out here, everyone would see and judge her and what she is to me. Even if she is nothing to me, they will think there is more between us. I won’t risk her reputation like that. It’s better this way. And given that, I saw the Apollo member visibly exhale and relax his shoulders at my dismissal. He was happy not to have to ride out with her. 

He leaned over to Ismene-Eirene and spoke to her. Probably telling her I declined their approach. Then I saw her adjust how she was sitting to look at me, or at least to the best you could expect of someone blind. As she moved, I noticed my cloak folded on her lap and something gold shining on it. 

Oh, Hades. What does she have with my cloak? Please tell me she didn’t want to give me a gift. That would not have been something I wanted my army to see.

She bent her head in thanks towards me. Thankfully none of the others noticed her. Those that had seen her didn’t seem to give her much thought. She was just someone who’d been injured during the chimera attack thanking us. I nodded, not wanting to draw any attention to myself or her. 

She didn't get rid of my cloak. Did she want to return it personally?

Now I was wondering what her angle is. But the mati told me she didn't have any ill intentions. But still. What girl in Olympus, blind or not, would keep my cloak, let alone want to return it personally? I found myself glancing back and watching as she was escorted back. Getting one final look at her profile. When I saw her, she'd been covered in dirt, blood, and bruises. 

Today she was cleaned up, long wavy rich chestnut hair braided along her hairline from left to right, then down to hang over her injured shoulder. Dressed in a simple blue chiton, her arm was still in a sling; she looked healthy. I was glad about that, at least. Now I just had to return to the capital and deal with Eugenius. I was putting all this and her behind me, never to be seen or spoken of again.

Upon my return, I was not surprised to be called into a meeting with Eugenius. I greeted, bowing my head. "Lord Ares." 

"Androkles. I heard you not only arrived late but without your cloak. That is a direct violation of this House rules. If any other soldier showed up out of uniform, he'd get thirty lashes. Explain yourself." Eugenius demanded from his throne. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. 

Oh, please try to assign me lashes. You'd be the one who'd have to give them. No soldier has the guts to raise a fist, least of all a weapon against me. And I sure the fuck wouldn't take a lashing from you without a fight.

"While traveling through the ruined village, I became separated from the others. The terrain was in upheaval and hazardous. I had to travel another way around, causing me to be delayed. And that route was not without difficulties as my cloak became torn and entangled in the rubble. I felt it was unimportant to try and retrieve it from the debris in its state. I will pay to have a replacement made.” I said, giving the exact details I had given the commanding officer. 

Eugenius was silent for a moment. He was thinking over my answer. "This delay you encountered. It was nothing to do with a horse, right?" He asked. 

I raised an eyebrow because that was an odd and rather specific question. "No, Lord Ares,” I answered. 

"Hmm. No centaurs in the area either, right?" He asked. This questioning was getting weird. Has he been drinking? Perhaps too much ambrosia to celebrate the victory?

"Not to my knowledge, sir. I saw none. Is everything okay? Was there a concern of centaur involvement in the chimera attack?" I asked. 

"It's nothing. You're dismissed. Go put in your request for a replacement cloak to be made." Eugenius waved a dismissive hand at me. 

"Yes, Lord Ares." I bowed again and left the room.

He was acting weird, even for him.

I reached into my tunic and held the mati as it started to burn. It felt like a warning that something was coming. Eugenius was up to something, and the mati was warning me. I couldn't figure out what. But then again, he's always up to something. It is probably best that he doesn't know about what happened. I wouldn't want his attention or, worse, my father's turning to that poor girl. She's suffered enough.

I put the events of the chimera attack behind me and returned to my regular duties. I was putting my focus on preparing to become Ares when I turned twenty. My days are scheduled out for me, with little free time for myself, which should make not thinking about that girl, Ismene-Eriene, easier. In a way, it did. 

While I was busy training, doing administrative work, and attending council meetings, I didn’t think about her. But when I’m alone in my bed with only my thoughts. She keeps creeping into my thoughts. I wouldn’t say I like it. The fact that it has persisted for over two months aggravates me.

As I sit at the table to eat my breakfast, ignoring Eugenius and Kyltië, I mentally go over what I need to do today. I’ve my training after breakfast, and then I’m supposed to inspect some new horses we received from a Poseidon House horse breeder. The breeder had property in that small town outside Pella that the chimera ravaged. 

He sent us horses as a thank you. And, if we wanted them, provide new horses for myself and Eugenius. Not that I’m interested in a new horse. I’m pleased with Atlas. After that, we have a council meeting, and I need to pick up my finished cloak from the tailor. Then, strangely enough, I was free for the rest of the day.

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