Chapter 7 - Androkles

Yet another tedious session of the council. Mostly arguing about taxes and how much each House charged for its services. Poseidon argued that the fees Apollo, Athena, and Ares billed for the chimera attack on a village predominantly made up of members of his House were far too high. Zeno is still a young Poseidon, only having taken his title ten years ago. Well, young by some standards, I suppose. Diokles is the youngest council member but has the most power, literally and figuratively. 

“Lord Poseidon, that is enough,” Diokles stated in his rarely utilized commanding voice. 

The whole Parthenon went silent, from the council members to us heirs down to even the scribe that documents the meetings. Electricity was in the air making even the hairs on my neck stand at attention. 

“D... Lord Zeus, they are price gouging.” Zeno defended, almost slipping and calling Dio by his given name. 

Shame he didn’t say it. Using a given name is a big no-no and a massive slight against a council member when you aren’t having a casual conversation. I’d like to see him get bitch out for it.

I managed to hide my amusement better than Lady Athena, Dio’s wife, Kallisto, as Diokles turned his gaze to Zeno. The usually cheerful and mischievousness in Dio’s eyes was gone as they hardened. I’ve rarely been intimidated by Dio, but he makes even my spine straighten when he gets like this.

“I said that is enough. House Ares was billed by Athena and Apollo the same amount per wounded treated. I was billed the same amount for those of my House that lived in the village the chimera destroyed.” He rolled his eyes at Zeno’s selfish argument.

“You only find it unjust because more of the residents injured and lost homes, livestock, and crops were pledged to your House. That is not price gouging. That is equality. There is a set price for the services provided, based on cost per treated and an acre of land owned. I will hear no more of this. The subject is closed.” Diokles stated before banging a gavel twice upon the stone table. 

“This council meeting is dismissed. Our next meeting will occur in one month. Only be prepared to discuss current and relevant topics.” Dio commanded.

“And heirs, remember, you are to prepare a new project they intend to spearhead during this recess. Be it to pass a new law, improve existing law, or make a change within the House that would benefit all Olympus.” Diokles nodded, standing up. Zeno grumbled but gathered his things leaving with everyone else.

“Dio, you know you’re sexy when you get authoritative, right?” Kallisto teased, stroking her husband’s face. 

I rolled my eyes as I walked past, making gagging sounds. Kallisto shot me an annoyed look while Dio just laughed. 

“Wait, little brother. Soon enough, you’ll find a wife and find yourself in love. Then I get to tease you for being gross.” Dio chuckled, shooing me with one hand before using the other to pull his wife into a kiss. 

I rolled my eyes, leaving the Parthenon to catch up with Eugenius. I furrowed my brow as I saw him talking with Myrrine, Lady Aphrodite. I’ve never been able to get a read on her or Eros. Even with my mati. But her talking with Eugenius worries me. 

I know I’m at the age where they will want to arrange my marriage. I’ll probably agree to whomever they select, as I already know I have no soulmate. Cautiously I moved closer to try and hear what they were discussing. I stopped near them and leaned against a wall to wait.

“I hear congratulations are in order. Besides what you will receive in payment from the Houses, you also received three fine horses with the offer of two more at your and Androkles’ leisure.” Myrrine smiled. 

“Hmm, yes, we were sent some horses. Androkles went to inspect them earlier today. I may consider taking another horse. But knowing my heir, he will not think to have a backup to Atlas.” Eugenius shrugged. “How did you hear of it, though?” he asked.

“I see.  Oh well, I heard because, before the council meeting, I had a meeting with Leander and Elaine, the heads of the family who sent you those horses shopping for a husband for their daughter. So, we sat with them and their daughter to discuss prospects." She explained.

Eugenius shrugged again. "Well, good luck to him. It's my understanding that his daughter was born without sight. I know there's supposed to be a saying of love is blind and all." he said, shaking his head. 

Knowing he was talking about Ismene-Eirene like that made me want to knock him out. Sure my encounter with her was fleeting, but she seemed nice. Nicer than most, given that she didn’t show me fear and even touched me. Sure, she's blind, and I didn’t give her my proper name, but that’s beside the point. She had been left for dead by other soldiers. She had no reason to put such trust in me. She didn’t have to let me carry her or hold her as we rode to the healer tents.

She snorted softly at the reply. "Well. I am sure someone in all of this city could be kind to her when she needs it and protect her when she is scared or in danger,” Myrrine said. 

"The attack spooked them more than it did their horses. They've moved back into the city,” She explained.

She’s in the city? Permanently? 

"I'll repeat... good luck." Eugenius smiled slightly. What an asshole. He doesn’t know Ismene-Eirene but is dismissive of her because she is blind.

"Androkles. Let's go. We are supposed to pick up your replacement cloak. I still can't believe you managed to lose the other while chasing that chimera." He called out to me, shaking his head disappointed. 

I pushed off the wall and walked over, acting like I’d been bored waiting. "A replacement I ordered and paid for from my wages, m'lord. And things happen on battlefields. Getting the job done is more important than maintaining appearances." I nodded, my tone calm but cutting. Eugenius needed to be reminded that he ought to step down from his high horse before I kicked him off of it.

"A good ideal to have, Lord Androkles," Myrrine interjected. 

"And thank you for the wishes of luck, Lord Ares. Poor girl is without any trusted help. As you bring up her blindness, I wonder what can be done to help her.” She looked at me pensively.

Why is she looking at me like that? Does she know anything about my chance encounter with Ismene-Eirene?

“Her servant girl was badly injured and still hasn't made it back to the city. Of course, getting any specially trained animals is expensive and difficult to come by here. Poor girl must feel quite locked in a cage.” She mused sadly before bowing politely to us. It’s an interesting point she brings up. And as the breeders of hounds, our House could possibly provide such a service.

"Have a good day, my lords.” She brought herself up and walked off, her husband and personal guard moving in beside her to guard her.

Eugenius rolled his eyes and walked out, expecting me to follow. "Good luck with your endeavors, Lady Aphrodite,” I said, with a curt bow to be polite. 

Then turned to follow Eugenius. Myrinne glanced back at me with a polite yet distant smile. Lady Aphrodite had never been outright cruel, and the mati around my neck never seemed to warn me of her wishing me ill. However, that didn't mean she seemed entirely trusting or trustworthy. 

"I most certainly hope I am, Lord Androkles..." Lady Aphrodite said. And the way she said that made me uneasy. 

What she’s said about Ismene-Eirene. How she may feel like a bird in a cage stuck with me as I walked with Eugenius. There were days I often felt that way, or at least like a dog with a chain around its neck. Any time I tried to pull free, the chains would tighten till I gave up. 

“Lord Ares, I’m sure you have other things to attend to. I can fetch my cloak on my own. I will meet you back at the house for dinner.” I offered. 

“Nonsense. I want to be sure you have it and it is up to par.” Eugenius waved my suggestion aside. I need to get rid of him. Even if just a few hours to myself, I need them. 

“Oh, but didn’t Lady Kyltië mention over breakfast she wanted to go to House Hephaestus to see about some toys and trinkets to be made for the baby? It wouldn’t look right for her to go without you at her side.” I said, hoping to leverage his wife and child as cause for my freedom. 

He furrowed his brow, considering this. He’s very protective of his young wife. He worries she, even pregnant, may think of taking a lover. Not that many of Hephaestus House would be top of any woman’s list of lovers, but it worked. 

“You’re right. I should not let Kyltië go alone, especially to shop for anything involving my next son.” he nodded. “I’ll see you at the House,” he added before leaving me alone.

Thank Zeus! I’m free!

Or at least I thought I was. But as I was leaving the tailor with my replacement cloak, who should find me but Diokles.  "Andy, hey, little brother.” Dio smiled, greeting me. 

"Are you following me, Lord Zeus?" I sighed, nonplussed at the public familiarity. He knows I’m not too fond of that. But he does it anyway, and I can’t stop him. 

"Not particularly. I was coming here on an errand just like you." Diokles shrugged, smiling—what a stark contrast to when he laid down the law with Zeno earlier at the meeting.  

"I'm on my way to meet with Leander about some horses,” He explained, looking at me like he knew some secret.

It’s been two months, and this is the first he’s brought that family up. Why does he think I'll know that name? Even if I do, why should he think it’s important? Am I that transparent? No way he knows. 

"Well, I was just getting a cloak." I shrugged. 

I didn’t want to put too much stock into how much Dio knows. There’s no way he’d know about Leander’s daughter. No one should. 

"Ah, about time. Lord Ares has complained about you losing it during the last battle. But honestly, what's a cloak to fighting a chimera?” Diokles smiled. 

"Come on, Andy. You can help me decide on horses. I hear they sent your house five.” he encouraged, putting an arm around my shoulders and making me walk with him.

"Apparently, I don't have a choice, Lord Zeus.” I sighed. 

"And it was three horses, Dio... I mean Lord Zeus." I corrected him while also correcting myself. 

Even after the four years since my father stepped down and Diokles took over, I would sometimes slip in public and call him by his name. The curse of having spent my formative years with him and that he is always so friendly to me, calling me brother. It is a habit I have been trying to break.

"Two were optional if Lord Ares or I wanted them. But I haven't a need for a horse. I have Atlas.” I added. 

"You can still call me Dio. You'll be my peer on the council in less than two years.” Diokles smiled. 

"Ah yes, you and Atlas. It's like I live in a parallel dimension, except instead of a big brother Aiggie and his horse Kosmas it's my little brother Andy and his horse Atlas.” He laughed, voice carrying, as we made our way to the training pens. 

There were several staff members out and about. Most avoided us once they saw me, ducking their heads and quickly focusing on their tasks or finding other things to do. Not that I’m not used to that sort of treatment. There were even other women riding. The grounds were extensive to have room for horse training and roaming space. Generations of work had gone into purchasing and working the land.

As we walked and carried on our conversation, unknowingly and with little care for who may overhear, I wondered if I might catch a glimpse of Imene-Eriene. I blame Lady Aphrodite for her being on my mind. I've not thought of her in two months. Okay, that's a lie. I've thought of her most nights.

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