XX A Final Request XX
Attention splitting through Korinth’s crowded market Kassandra searched for the voice’s owner. Hot, tired, and aching from earlier she wanted to head to port and leave town. She was ready to sail down the coast. Ignoring potential drachmae, however, was always difficult to do.
Turning past a woman hawking pottery she found a little girl waving urgently at her. Her heart sank but she trudged over anyway. She’d never turn down a child. Not yet, anyway.
“Anything I can help you with, friend?” she asked upon reaching the girl, who seemed to have taken up residence on the side of the path next to a mostly empty sack and a few sparse bushes. The girl bounced anxiously from sandal to sandal.
“Yes!” the girl burst, eyes wide. She tugged at the hem of her burlap tunic. “It’s my pater, misthios. He sailed from Megaris—and never returned. He was supposed to be here but I haven’t found him.”
Glancing about them, Kassandra lowered onto her haunches with a frown. “You’re here alone?”
“Well,” the girl waffled, “I was with my mater and brother but they’re still with the pirates.”
Pirates? Kassandra wasn’t sure where this was headed. She hunkered down, hands clasping. “What do you mean they’re still with the pirates?”
“We were looking for pater,” the girl distractedly explained. “Mater asked one of his friends to take us aboard but…” Looking down she stubbed her toes in the dirt. “It’s a long story, misthios. Will you help me find my pater or not? I don’t have much but my pater does.”
The girl was clearly caught up in something. Making up her mind Kassandra offered a friendly smile. “Of course. But first I’ll need to know where to look. My name is Kassandra. What’s yours and who’s this friend of your pater? Do you think your pater even made it here?”
The girl shrugged, pointing at her chest. “Elidi. How should I know? My pater’s friend is Teodoro, he—well, my mater said he was a nice man.”
When she paused Kassandra prodded. “But…?”
“If he’s so nice why’s he want to sell us?”
So that was why Elidi’s mother wasn’t present. Kassandra knew where to start. She had a feeling this Teodoro knew where her pater was. Rising, she pointed to the acropolis on the hill. “There’s a woman at the temple, Anthousa—she’ll keep you safe for now. I’ll find your family and bring them there.”
Moving to pick up her bag Elidi nodded. “Yes, misthios.” She shielded her eyes from the sun as she looked toward the hill. “You promise you’ll at least find my pater?”
“I’ll search the whole region for him,” Kassandra answered, biting back the part where she assumed this man was already dead. To her, it was more important finding the rest of the family first.
Once she’d learned the father’s name she bid Elidi farewell, then set off for Korinth’s port first. She spent a few hours weaving through the docks questioning dockhands and captains alike while the sun burned her scalp. In her interrogations she learned Teodoro was indeed a pirate whose ship trawled the waters just offshore, looking for easy pickings. His reputation pitted him as a ruthless, if predictable man who enjoyed the finer things and, unfortunately, Elidi’s father was an associate.
Kassandra wasn’t sure what she’d tell Elidi but it seemed a well known fact on the docks that Erodos, her father, had sunk with his ship about two weeks prior, just north of Korinth. He’d almost made it.
By the time she’d headed back to the Adrestia she’d concocted a fairly solid plan: sail to the wreck to search for any evidence, then hunt down Teodoro’s ship. That part wouldn’t be difficult. He sailed under a gaudy flag and, per a heterae flirting with a sailor, a naked mermaid on the bow.
Busy in her thoughts she almost didn’t notice Barnabas on the docks, animatedly discussing something with a man dressed in Spartan colors. Assuming there was trouble (there was always trouble) Kassandra picked up her pace, one hand readied over her sword.
Barnabas caught sight of her first. With a smile he gestured as the climbed to dock to where they stood. “Ah, see? Here she is now.”
“Gossiping about me again?” teased Kassandra, hoping the newcomer was friendly. She smiled once they twisted, the familiar face a welcome sight. “Ah, Brasidas! I was looking for you earlier.”
The Spartan commander greeted her with a bright grin, pulling her in by the forearm for a hug. Her heart lurched happily and she relished the embrace. He was always a welcome sight in these parts.
Releasing her Brasidas pressed a fist to his chest, armor glinting in the dusk. “I heard what you did with the Monger. I’m pleased he could be dealt with quietly.”
She’d felt the same earlier. Parading the Monger’s head on a pike around town seemed a nice idea, too, but she didn’t want to deal with the fallout. She’d had enough of the cultist to last a lifetime. Ignoring Barnabas’ questioning look she offered a curt nod.
“One more down. Tell me, what brings you to my ship?”
Removing his helmet Brasidas’ gaze flitted to the sea. He hesitated a moment. “I’m to return to Sparta but, as you can see, there are no Spartan vessels in the harbor. My…ship seems to have been compromised while I was away.”
“Pirates?” guessed Kassandra the same time Barnabas confirmed it. Grimacing, she folded her arms. How had they managed to avoid such trouble on the way here?
“Or Athenians,” Brasidas countered, as if that would make as much sense. Both Kassandra and her captain exchanged a guarded look. It was definitely pirates and she bet she knew who’d been dumb enough to steal a Spartan ship.
“The pirates around here are malakas,” she informed the commander with a huff. “You want your ship back? Come with me. I need to speak with one of those pirates and I bet we could get some information out of him.” Or, even better, an entire ship and Elidi’s family.
Scanning first the Adrestia and then her, the Spartan rolled his shoulders. “You plan on confronting the entire region with just one boat?”
“Ship,” she corrected, pushing between the two and leaping the gap to the main deck. “And yes, I do. Who else will? Coming?”
He’d already leapt after her. From the dock Barnabas laughed, signaling to the others it was time to hoist the anchor. “Of course he’s coming! Who’d miss this kind of fun?”
Once the rowboat hit soft sand Kassandra brought up the oars, looking around Brasidas to the moonlit bay beyond. Sure enough a wrecked merchant vessel lay half submerged along the tidal line. It’s torn sail fluttered lazily from the mast and chewed up crates littered the beach nearby. Most importantly, however, it didn’t appear as if anyone loitered along the shore. Jagged cliffs lined the beach, making it an even more isolated spot.
Behind their little dinghy the Adrestia sat a hundred meters out, dark and silent and patiently awaiting their return. Kassandra had told Brasidas of the Korinthian girl on the journey up the coast and he’d been just as intrigued as her. He’d volunteered to row out with her citing the possibility of an ambush but it didn’t appear that’d be likely.
Still, it wasn’t as if she’d refuse the company. The Spartan knew her family, her mother even. She had many questions she wanted to ask but there was always something else to focus on. And…she liked the way his gear hung. He was the epitome of a Spartan: brave, calculated, and strong. Very strong. She still smiled thinking about their meeting in Korinth. He made her proud to be Spartan despite the circumstances.
But now was not the time to think of that. He’d already hopped into the shallows, torch in hand, and was wading toward the wreckage. Jumping out she did the same, saltwater stinging battered skin beneath her greaves. She slogged to the shore first while he climbed the ship’s side, both searching for any sign of the girl’s father.
She didn’t know about him but Kassandra wasn’t having any luck finding anything amongst the debris. A colony of crabs had commandeered some busted, empty crates, stiff bolts of cloth were piled with seaweed, and…that was it. There was nothing that’d identify the wreck as Erodos’ aside from what she’d heard back in Korinth. The cleanliness was surprising, however. Either scavengers had already been here or someone had done a good job picking up after themselves.
Tossing a scrap of moldy leather to the sand she was beginning to think this wasn’t an accident.
Brasidas’ sandals thudded in the sand. “I found a foot.”
“A foot?” Kassandra met him halfway to the boat, scrutinizing it’s dark shape. It was going to be one of those jobs. “Just…a foot.”
“And the boot it was in,” he proudly announced, holding up said foot with a dripping rope tethered around the ankle. “Think it was him?”
Kassandra made a face. She hoped not. “Either this was his or he deals in slaves. But the rope…”
“It was him,” Brasidas concluded with a confidence she didn’t yet have for the case. “Someone tied him up. Sank the boat and let him drown with it.”
“Or he escaped,” she argued, marching for the wreck. He had to have missed something. “This is wrong. There’s got to be more to it.”
“You said he’s friends with this Teodoro,” Brasidas mentioned, trailing behind her, watching while she clamored to the deck. “Perhaps he was a pirate, too. He could have crossed paths with the wrong crew.”
The Spartan could be right. He probably was. But…spying a large gouge in the planks Kassandra staggered below deck, calling for the torch. She thanked Brasidas when he lowered it down, peering into the gloom with new doubts. There had to be more than a foot.
She found it in the form of a leather bound tablet nestled between several broken planks. Drawing the torch close she unwrapped it and peered at smudged but still mostly legible wax.
“Erodos is encroaching on our territory. He’s sailing to port in three days time, his ship is the Pegasus. Take what you want and sink his shitty boat. Long as I never see him on the water again I don’t care what happens. Eight hundred drachmae guaranteed to your crew.”
Hauling herself out of the galley she brought the tablet with, rather incensed over the whole thing. How could anyone be so cruel? What was Erodos dealing in that made him a target?
“Someone wanted him dead,” she growled, hurrying for the deck’s edge. “We need to find Teodoro. He’s a friend of Erodos but he locks the family up? I think you’re right, Brasidas. That malakas is going to pay.”
His gaze followed her while she jumped to the sand, laughing at her sudden bravery. “You have quite the temper, Kassandra.”
She was already racing for their rowboat, feet rushing through the shallows. Many times she’d heard that but only he made it sound like a compliment.
A great crash thundered across the water, cheers and calls of varying insults following. From the stern Kassandra twisted to offer Brasidas, Barnabas, and Herodotus her best ‘told you so’ look. The Adrestia’s bow had just careened into the side of it’s third pirate ship of the night, nearly splitting it in two and sending the vessel leaning awkwardly. Dozens of sailors and thugs scrambled to hang on, either to the deck or to salvage that’d already fallen overboard, but they wouldn’t make it, not today.
“Arrows down!” she screamed over the groaning, burning noise, hurrying to the deck’s edge. She’d been polishing her sword all night for this, eyes keenly scanning the wreckage for Teodoro. Other ship’s they’d decimated stated this was his boat, and the several prisoners already below deck had described him as a tall, broad shouldered man with sun bleached hair and a large scar over his left eye. Surely he wouldn’t be too difficult to find.
Ikaros found him first, the eagle crying overheard as he circled a patch of rough debris-laden water. He clung to salvage like the leech he was. Ordering her crew to board what was left of the ship Kassandra beckoned her lieutenants to the lead—Bayek, the Egyptian and a skilled hand; and Odessa, the only archer she’d ever trust. Each had been ordered to search for a woman and child amongst the crew. They crossed first, slaughtering what remained, and she dove into the waves, intent on reaching Teodoro’s flailing figure.
He’d now managed to haul himself atop the salvage he’d found. Surfacing beside him Kassandra shot an arm out, yanking him by the foot and pulling him right back into the ocean. He screamed like a child—she hoped Erodos hadn’t crossed the Styx yet and might live to hear about that.
Teodoro struggled like a harpy, limbs thrashing wildly. Careful not to end him right there Kassandra wrapped her legs about his waist, one elbow tightening around his throat. They bobbled just beneath the dark surface in a flurry of bubbles and bits of wood. Her heart was only beginning to pound, needing air, once his struggling grew weak. Only then did she bring him to the surface, paddling for the Adrestia soon as she could find it amidst the chaos surrounding them.
Thankfully someone tossed her a rope and they were hauled up to the deck while the battle for the vessel’s remnants raged beyond. Dragging Teodoro to her usual roost Kassandra threw him to the deck. A puddle immediately formed beneath them both. She stood over him as he dazedly moaned, desperate to reorient himself.
“Do you know what I’ve been doing all night?” she spat, arms shaking off. “Eh? You’re difficult to track, Teodoro. Now, you answer to me.”
“I answer to no one” he retorted between hacking coughs. Doubling over he retched up putrid seawater. “Who the fuck are you?”
An imposing figure stepped beside her, Brasidas’ spear dripping red as he pointed it at the pirate. “She’ll be what haunts you in your dreams in a moment. Where’s my ship?”
Daring to look up the pirate paled at the sight of a true Spartan, backing up until he hit the edge of the stern. “Your ship? I didn’t—who’s ship?”
Kassandra passed around Brasidas while he prodded at the pirate, focus flitting to the rest of the deck. The Egyptian was crouched and speaking to a young, shivering boy. Odessa stood over a woman dressed in rags, bow aimed and readying a new arrow to finish off a final thug. Other than those two there were no survivors. She whipped back to Teodoro, Brasidas’ muttered threats growing loud.
“Those two,” she interrupted, a finger jabbed over one shoulder. “Where’d you pick them up?”
The pirate’s eyes went wide and he shook his head. He was obviously thinking hard. “Th-them? That’s my…ah, wife?”
Both Brasidas and Kassandra exchanged a smoldering glance before she focused on the pirate once more, smirking unkindly. “You know who I am, Teodoro? The Eagle-Bearer—chosen by the gods themselves to deal with malakas like you. Tell us where his ship is and what happened to Erodos or else you’ll find out exactly what I’m capable of.”
“‘Chosen by the gods themselves’!’’
Laughing loudly, Brasidas leaned forward in his seat, head in his hands, mimicry of her battle cry very accurate. His cheeks were pink, the bottle of wine they shared almost empty. Across the galley table Kassandra tipped back in her chair, grinning proudly and laughing with him.
“You’d be surprised how effective it can be.”
It was highly effective to the point she didn’t care what it sounded like any longer. She took another drink from her mug, draining it, pleased to see Brasidas relaxing in her company.
They had coordinates to his ship (it was resting in a cove south of Korinth), Elidi’s mother and brother were safe above deck, and she even had an idea where the girl’s father was. He wasn’t, in fact, dead but rather rotting in a bandit camp which also happened to be south of Korinth. Therefore, the south would be her next stop. For now, however, they’d be sailing the rest of the night and what better company to have than the Spartan?
He agreed with her statement, still grinning. “Sometimes all that’s needed is a bit of help from a higher power.” Warm brown eyes fixed on her. “Though if I saw you coming I would surely assume you were Athena herself.”
Kassandra’s teeth flashed, flattered. She’d heard that before but again, he made it sound like a true compliment. Setting down her mug she raised her hands, fingers working with her words. “More like Eris. Everyone thinks I want them dead—not true. Not unless it’s worth it.”
“Your conviction is admirable,” he observed, hazy look indicating he was thinking of their raid on Teodoro’s ship. “Sparta could use someone like you.”
It was as if he’d forgotten he’d been quite the achiever as well, goring several captains before they so much as touched the Adrestia’s deck with their feet. Beneath them the ship groaned, regular calls from the crew muffled right above. Kassandra shifted and folded her arms over her chest, legs propping up on a seat next to him.
“It’s better in your hands,” she replied, more than happy to meet his gaze. “I wish to find my mother, Brasidas, nothing more.” As an afterthought she added, “And destroy the cult. That’s all.”
“The cult is real,” he sighed, draining the last of his cup. “For years I’ve only heard rumors but to know it’s truly there… How has no one known?”
As if she had an answer. Kassandra knew little about them besides the fact she wanted them destroyed. They’d ruined her family, her life, so it was only fair to decimate every bit of influence they had.
“All that matters is they’re going down,” she quietly replied, thinking back to the Monger. He was the twelfth cultist she’d killed thus far. She wasn’t sure if she was any closer to bringing them to their knees but each head was a step closer. She nodded at Brasidas, determined to show she would take care of the cult. “Believe me, they’ll wish they never sought me out.”
He couldn’t help agreeing. “Living on Kephallonia this entire time and not a soul ever tried finding you, until now. I wonder why? Your mother…she was heartbroken after the fall. In her place I would have also fled.”
“You would not,” she teased, cheeks warming, ignoring his question. She didn’t know why the cult had waited for so long, either. “You? A true Spartan? Spartan’s don’t flee—they attack head on.”
“Sometimes it’s better to save your strength,” he cautioned, smiling regardless. His hands clasped between his knees. Kassandra’s gaze subtly drew up his inner thigh before returning to his battle-worn face. He knew exactly where she’d been looking, smirking wryly. “Not every job can be taken, yes? Some are better left for a different time or, in your case, another mercenary.”
“I accept all jobs,” she softly argued, rising to sit closer to him. The ship gently rocked beneath her feet, enhancing the pleasant buzz she’d picked up from the wine. “I always finish what I start.”
“I’ve seen,” he remarked, relaxing once she took up the chair next to him. In the candlelight he appeared haggard yet she couldn’t chase her mind from thinking about him. Friendly, level-headed, easy on the eyes…what wasn’t there to like? She wanted to witness him in a real battle, wanted to see what he was truly capable of. He didn’t seem to desire bloodlust any longer, a surprising thing for a Spartan. She had to believe it was because he’d witnessed much in his lifetime.
His focus moved to her knees, one hand reaching out to squeeze the closest. When he spoke his voice was low, pensive almost. “You live by a caliber I don’t often see, Kassandra. I’m honored to share wine with you.”
They would dance around the issue all night if he kept this up. Pushing it forward Kassandra grasped the bottle before him, downing what was left before offering a knowing look. “I could say the same of you. More, actually. I’m pleased you found my ship, Brasidas. Perhaps you’d like to stick around? I can think of many, many ways to keep you occupied.”
His teeth glinted, lowered lids pulling up to meet her playful gaze. “I must return to Sparta. But…it will be several hours until we reach the cove Teodoro mentioned. I bet I could show you a thing or two.”
Brightening in the way only wine could make one glow Kassandra leaned in closer. Every scar on his face intrigued her. Every line, every blemish she could stare at for eons. She nudged her knee with his, enjoying herself. “Like what?”
“Let me show you,” he replied, voice going quiet. Ducking, his lips met hers in a soft brush of a kiss. Kassandra felt her body gravitating toward him. Setting down the bottle she scooted to his hips, one arm snaking around his waist and the other finding his cheek. He reciprocated, pulling her up and across his lap, strong hands keeping her steady. Their kiss deepened, bodies pressed tight to one another, and Kassandra’s eyes shut in a daze. Anything that lay beyond Brasidas was promptly forgotten.
They stumbled into her dim quarters soon after, having snuck past the rest of the crew on the way over. Brasidas secured the door behind them before they both tumbled onto her bedroll, hands exploring where they could, the heady scent of wine filling their senses as they mostly managed to continue their kisses. On her back Kassandra attacked his neck, leaving dark splotches and earning sweet groans from him. In return his fingers tangled through her braid, destroying it as his lips pressed over her temple, her ear, her cheek, and back to her intoxicating mouth. Neither had spoke since they’d begun but really, there was no need.
Nudging both knees between her thighs he worked her tunic up and over her hips, belt shifting with it. Kassandra shrugged it off the rest of the way, throwing everything at the wall in a hurry. Before her she watched with relish as Brasidas stretched his back, gear and tunic pulled off in one smooth move over his head. She smiled like a malakas, his Spartan identity on full display in the form of a well toned physique, muscles padding his arms and thighs like she imagined Oceanus, or even Adonis, might have.
Chest slowly rising with his breath Brasidas sighed in lust, studying her just as intently. He lowered himself, transfixed by his new partner. “By the gods, Kassandra. Athena surely envies you.”
“I cannot be compared to the gods,” she smartly whispered back with a coy grin, nails gently raking across his sides as she coaxed him closer. “Come, Brasidas. Let me have you.”
He didn’t protest, manhood pressing against her belly as he offered another kiss, tongue melting with hers. Reaching down he stroked the soft patch of hair covering her nethers, gently working through her folds to find her inner heat. She gasped at the welcome intrusion, legs spreading wider. His teeth grazed her lip, smile broadening, pleased she was already wet.
Those strong hands quickly moved on. He caressed her hips, pulling her closer to him. Her entrance stretched to accommodate him once he entered, burying himself until he could go no further. Beneath him Kassandra flushed, lower lip jutting in a needy pout. He adored it, dipping to suck it between his teeth, then lowering further down her chest to latch onto an attentive rosebud.
She cried out in newfound pleasure, thoughts focused entirely on the Spartan currently nuzzling her. His hands found hers, fingers overlapping and keeping them pinned above her head until further notice. After a moment’s adjustment his hips rolled, slowly at first, busy with the rest of her toned body. He dropped closer so their skin met from groin to chest, his head buried in her shoulder, their breath mingling.
Kassandra let her head fall back, hair spilling every which way, savoring the feel of his presence combining with hers. She saw stars behind her eyelids as he grew more insistent, hips pounding into her, manhood rubbing right along her most sensitive spots. He was clearly just as lost in his own passion, panting in her ear, one arm wrapping tight about her in an effort to bury himself deeper. She basked in the heat enveloping her. Enticing him aboard and managing to land in bed with him like this was everything she’d imagined and more.
The harder he went the more her brain fizzled, mind focused on the euphoria spreading from between her legs and rising up her belly. She bit back the moan creeping up her throat, nipping at his neck to keep it contained. He growled with approval, manhood swelling, strokes becoming quick and sloppy. The switch drove her wild and she pushed back with her hips.
When she broke she couldn’t help gasping on his damp skin, baring down while her body flooded with a feeling she used to imagine only the gods could attain. Fingers digging into her Brasidas followed suit with a low groan. He seemed to be going at record speeds until abruptly pushing off, a hand grabbing his aching member. He spilled himself over her lower belly, jaw unhinged and gasping until he was finished.
Beneath him Kassandra lay completely still. Her muscles were useless as jelly, energy gone, too blissed to do anything more. She only wore that accomplished grin she liked so much, pleased to see Brasidas appeared impossibly more handsome when he was completely spent. He faltered to her side, collapsing on his back and catching his breath. She carefully rolled toward him, hugging herself to his well-muscled chest. A strong, calloused hand squeezed her shoulder soon after.
“The fates were kind in bringing us together,” he observed once both their hearts stopped pounding, voice low and gravelly. It pleased her ears greatly. Eyelids fluttering shut Kassandra nodded. Sure they still had a ways to sail, Elidi’s father to rescue, and the Spartan’s ship and crew to free, but it’d been well worth the trouble. Elidi’s request had given them both a small amount of freedom in their off hours. The arm embracing her indicated he appreciated the trip, too.
“Sparta,” she murmured, cheek rubbing over his pectoral. He smelled wonderful, like a true warrior. “If I return there, I’ll be sure to look for you.”
His chest filled with a soft rumble of delight. A thumb stroked over her other cheek. “Please do. I would enjoy nothing more.”
Happy she couldn’t see his face Kassandra’s grin became that of a malakas once more. Curling tighter to him she’d already made up her mind, the idea of Sparta both daunting yet exciting. She’d need to find her mother in the near future—that way, she could determine the logistics of returning there sooner rather than later.
“I’ll be there,” she promised, one leg lazily draping over his, the boat creaking as it rolled over another wave. “Soon as I find Myrrine.”