“You, I think,” Pasiphae says. She looks directly at Ione, her face blank as any mask for all its painted beauty. “Would you like to be the new handmaiden to Ariadne?”
“Yes, my lady,” Ione says.
There is much that Pasiphae is not saying, here in the hall crowded with other servants: old and young, married and unattached, pretty and plain, ones who remember the king before Minos and ones come to the city just last month. Every woman of the palace except Pasiphae’s own girl is listening, and therefore there will be nothing said worth hearing.
Pasiphae, Ione knows already, is promising her at least a raise in pay and status. On the very surface of it, becoming the personal handmaiden of Ariadne—princess and heir and goddess-on-Earth—when to this day she has been nothing grander than a serving girl is a tremendous honor. For that alone Ione will be grateful.
But Pasiphae is offering her more than that, is surely asking of her more than that, because Ariadne is not just princess and heir and goddess-on-Earth, she is Pasiphae’s enemy.
So when Pasiphae asks, “Will you walk with me to my chambers, that I might instruct you on your duties?” it is with more than mere diligence that Ione agrees.
“I have long been impressed with your grace in handling the serving-dishes,” Pasiphae says, as they walk. Ione waits for the hook or the sting. “You have a large family, I believe, to have learned it in?”
And ah, there it is, scorpion-sharp. Ione feels a thrill of mingled terror and fascination. “Yes,” she admits. She could detail her family for Pasiphae, but Pasiphae doubtless already knows not just who they are but who among them could most efficiently have their livelihoods ruined by Heptarian and his followers, or perish in a tragic fishing or riding accident that is no accident at all. “It is because of my family,” she says, desperate to turn the conversation to her advantage, “that I came to seek work in the palace.”
“Oh?” Pasiphae’s smile is sweet, the better to hide the poison in it—and the strength.
“Yes. I have hopes of…many things.” Ione swallows and lets the bravery of fear fill her up and spill out her mouth. “I want my sisters to be able to marry well, and my oldest brother to be able to buy more land for our father’s farm when it is his—and perhaps eventually my other brother his own boat, too, and my older sister has no wish to marry but would go to Delphi to serve Apollo there, if he will have her, and we cannot—”
Pasiphae says, “Peace. And you? What would you have for yourself?”
Ione looks her in the eyes. “Comfort. Security. Safety.”
“Good things to wish for,” Pasiphae says, and sweeps aside the curtain at the entrance to her chambers. “Come in.”
Ione enters. The queen’s chambers are shadowy, blissfully cool after the heat and glare of the day outside, filled with rich fabrics and the glint of gems and precious metals.
“It is important,” says Pasiphae, “for a palace servant to be loyal.”
“I am, my lady.”
Pasiphae’s eyes glitter like the edge of a sword. “To whom?”
“The crown,” Ione says, fumbling. She knows the fumble for what it is: a mistake, and cowardice.
You, she means, but she lacks the courage to say so in so many words, here in this palace which is still Minos’s, which should still one day be Ariadne’s. If Ione gambled, which she does not—or rather she does, now, this is a gamble like none the men who waste their fortunes away in taverns could even dream of—she would, she will, place all she has on Pasiphae to be the victor in any contest she enters. Ione will be loyal to Pasiphae, because Pasiphae is clever and cunning and ruthless, and Pasiphae wants the crown with a sharpness that dreamy Ariadne cannot or will not feel and with a hunger Minos has long since sated, and Pasiphae will punish anyone who stands in her way and (if Ione is lucky, if Ione is good) reward those who have aided her.
“The crown,” Pasiphae repeats mockingly. Her voice is cool and level as water in a bowl, but Ione hears the mocking for what it is. “The crown itself? The metal, whoever wears it?”
Ione’s heart beats hard against her ribs. “No, my lady.”
“Its wearer, then?”
“My lady,” Ione says, and silently begs Pasiphae to understand it as she means it: as answer more than equivocation.
“There are rumors the king has fallen ill.” Ione doesn’t expect the sudden flaring of Pasiphae’s eyes, wide and speaking in the smiling mask of her face. Terror curls cold hands around Ione’s lungs and squeezes, crushing the air from her chest. Quickly, frantically now, she goes on, “My loyalty is to—those who are holding Atlantis steady even now.”
“Ariadne, then?” Pasiphae asks. Her face has stilled; perhaps she never noticed the motion of her eyes. Perhaps she thinks Ione is too stupid to understand what that unguarded moment of shock might mean.
Well, then, Ione will play stupid a while longer, and pray for wit.
“I should of course honor and obey the princess,” she says. “She is the heir; she is owed my loyalty.”
“Of course,” says Pasiphae. “It would please her to know that her handmaiden could be loyal to her…” She looks at Ione like she would cut her open and lay her heart bare to know the truth of it.
“I am loyal to you, my lady,” Ione says helplessly. Near-hopelessly.
“You know,” Pasiphae says, and pauses. Ione’s nerves, already strained, begin to fray with the tension. “You know, I do believe you may be. You seem an intelligent girl.”
Ione can’t help the sigh of relief that whooshes from her, emptying her out and letting her draw in clean air. “Thank you, my lady. I am honored, my lady.”
“Loyal to me…” Pasiphae’s gaze flicks up and down Ione, as if she’s looking through her. “Why?”
“Because you are queen and Ariadne is not,” Ione says. It may not be enough. She closes her eyes and adds, “Because I fear your anger and crave your favor.”
“Good,” Pasiphae says. “You understand me. And Ariadne?”
Dreamy, Ione thinks again—all tangled up in possibilities, unable to fit what could be into the harsh limits of the world and unwilling to let go of all those impossible possibilities. “I will do as you wish while I serve her.”
Pasiphae smiles. “Good. First you must earn her trust; this should be easy enough. Korinna was her right arm, and the loss of her is a grave wound indeed to Ariadne. Be another Korinna for her. Carry her secrets and help her in her petty schemes. Start now while she is still numb and unthinking and feels nothing but regret—help her, but watch her, and do not betray yourself unless it is worth the loss of her confidence. Before too long she will trust you, out of habit perhaps but trust nonetheless. You have a little of Korinna’s look about you.”
“Were they lovers?” Ione asks. She would rather not prostitute herself, even for the queen, just to be better able to win and then shatter someone’s trust. She will be Korinna’s ghost everywhere but in Ariadne’s bed, if she is given a choice.
“Who knows?” Pasiphae shrugs, graceful and uncaring. “It would hardly matter to her marriage either way. They loved each other, certainly. If that boy had been killed Ariadne would have been hurt, yes, but briefly, like the pain of lancing an infection. And then, the poison gone, she would have returned to herself and to reason. Not so now. I should have made her choose between his life and Korinna’s. He would be gone, and I would not have lost a skilled handmaiden.”
She looks sharply at Ione, who is grateful—deeply, terribly grateful—that she had already suspected that Korinna’s death had come by another’s hand, and that that hand worked the queen’s will. As it is she can look back at Pasiphae without startling or flinching.
“Good,” Pasiphae says again. “You may yet serve me well.”
“I hope to, my lady,” Ione says. She folds her hands together, in case they tremble, in case Pasiphae sees.