Alexios often does not speak.
When the waters are calm and Myrrine gazes at him with brows drawn tight and fingers that itch to reach, Kassandra empathizes. There is a chasm between them still, much as she’d like otherwise. They’ve all experienced catastrophic horrors, undergone trauma so visceral that sometimes it hurts to simply breathe—but it isn’t the same. Kassandra dreams of clifftops, betrayal, and an impossible destiny; Alexios, blood and masks and screams of the innocent.
He paces the deck, ever restless, while the rest of the crew give him a wide berth. The daughters of Artemis are no weaklings, nor are they afraid. They simply know not to prod at a wolf, even as tamed as it might appear. Docility can make way for agitation without a moment’s notice.
And it doesn’t take much to agitate him.
“Damn it all!”
His roar precedes a clatter of armor. Kassandra, momentarily relinquishing control of the helm, whirls around to find Alexios digging through the chest of their belongings.
“What’s wrong?” she asks, dodging a helmet as she approaches.
A growl rumbles in his chest. He discards a bow with a hearty slam and Kassandra blanches when she recognizes it as the one she inherited from Daphnae.
“Hey!” she barks. “That equipment is stored someplace safe for a reason, maláka.”
“Safe,” he scoffs. “Clearly you do not know the meaning of that word. With no lock and key, anybody can simply—take from it what they please!”
With one last vambrace discarded with the rest, the chest empties. Kassandra hovers over Alexios’ shoulder, peering inside with her hands planted firmly on her hips.
“That’s the point. It’s communal. Our crew grows; they need armor.”
He kicks it.
“Alexios.” She clicks her tongue behind gritted teeth. “Did you put something in here?”
“Yes. And now it’s gone.”
Because he’s still folded into a crouch, Kassandra lowers herself beside him instead of towering like a statue. His gaze is fixated into the empty chest, but she tries to urge it away with a tentative smile, deliberately softening her tone.
“That doesn’t mean we cannot get it back. What did you lose?”
A moment of silence stretches between them. The waves are gentle. Ikaros watches from the top of the mast, basking in the sun. As they breathe, Kassandra watches her brother’s roughened knuckles unclench bit by bit.
“It’s…” His lashes flutter as a whisper of wind casts a lock of hair into his eyes. Kassandra battles the urge to brush it away. “You will find it foolish.”
Another beat passes. “A few years ago, there was this festival celebrating Dionysus. I’m sure you can imagine it—hoards of drunken citizens, bards screeching like crows, and enough wine to soak the entire city in its stench.” He pushes his hair back and squints, looking faraway. “Everybody was vulnerable, including the nation’s leader. The Cult sent me to take advantage of this—strike him down and make him bleed the same red as his silk sheets.”
His eyes dart to Kassandra, awareness sharpening his shoulders as he braces for her to chastise him. When she merely gestures for him to continue, he does.
“It was to pave the way for a member to take his place, of course. He was too soft. Wanted to put an end to the war, and the Cult could not risk allowing his ideology to spread to the neighboring regions. Killing him,” Alexios grinds out, “felt like a mistake. As I plunged my blade into his gut, he vomited blood and wine all over my arm. Past his garbled cries, I could hear music coming from outside, untarnished and ignorant. Leaving was as easy as entering. The night was still young, and I took refuge at a fountain. I’d only just finished rinsing my hands when I was approached by a little girl of seven or eight.”
Kassandra can’t help it; she stiffens, anticipating the worst.
“She crawled on top of the marble edge, swinging her legs, and just started… talking. Rambling. She complained that her parents were acting funny, and it frustrated her. She said that I looked how she felt.”
“Were you?” Kassandra asks, tilting her head. “Frustrated?”
“Yes. I couldn't discern why I was unsettled. I’d killed thousands by then. But that wasn’t what she meant. She claimed we were both lonely.”
Her heart aches. “Alexios.”
“I scoffed at her, of course. I told her to go home, that it was getting late—too late for children to be running about—but she stayed. Started telling me about her hobby of exploring caves and collecting copper. As tiny as she was, her bravery matched any soldier’s. She ran errands around the city for meager handfuls of drachmae and charmed the local blacksmith into fashioning her hauls into bangles.
“She pulled one from her sack and handed it to me. It was sturdy. Shiny. Her latest creation. When I tried to give it back to her, she said it was for me. I told her that I wasn’t going to pay her anything for it, that she’d better find another customer, but she—she said it was a gift.
“I held it for a while. Eventually, she dozed off against my side. I still don’t understand how she could look at me and think that I was safe enough to do such a thing. A stranger outfitted in armor and weapons. Maybe she assumed that I was part of the army tasked with keeping her home safe. I let her nap for a little while and then shook her awake so that she could tell me where she lived.”
He finally unfolds, standing up. Kassandra follows suit.
“As I escorted her home she held my hand and nagged at me until I put on the bangle.” Mystification colors his tone. “At her doorstep, she thanked me. I left the city under the stars and journeyed to my next destination. My next target.
“It was so bland and unassuming that the Cult took no notice. If they had, surely I would have learned some kind of lesson about the uselessness of sentiment. I’ve worn it ever since.” Some of the frustration creeps back into his posture. “Until the other day, when I stored it inside of this very chest for safekeeping! It’s been dented in battle, out of shape and caked with age. I planned to take it to a blacksmith for restoration but it’s gone!”
Lifting her hands, palms outward, Kassandra says, “It can’t have gone far. If it’s as battered as you say, nobody would have stolen or sold it.”
Alexios isn’t placated.
“I’ll ask the girls if they’ve seen it.” Eager to iron out the wrinkle between his brows, she adds, “We’ll find it, Alexios.”
He grunts in response.
With a sigh, she makes her way down the steps and gazes at her plentiful crew. She rubs at the back of her neck and resigns her evening to finding a needle in a haystack.
They don’t find it. The next morning, Alexios is more withdrawn than usual, clearly affected by the loss of something deemed important to him. Kassandra hasn’t given up, certain it must be somewhere on the ship, but progress is halted when a sickness spreads among the crew.
Half of them are afflicted. The girls are pale and trembling, unable to row for more than a few minutes at a time before vomiting into the sea. Myrrine, still in good health, mothers them into resting. Their voyage slows because of it, but the weather is clear and their foreseeable path is void of pirates.
Kassandra changes course to Phokis because it isn’t tremendously far away, and if anybody can offer some kind of respite, it’s Lykaon.
Alexios battles the illness the same way he approaches everything else: with bullheaded stubbornness and a pride that prevents him from asking for any kind of assistance. He clutches at the edge of the Andrestia, standing on uneasy feet; Kassandra has to bully him into resting.
“Sit down, Alexios.”
He won’t look at her. Beads of sweat drip from his temple to his jaw.
“I’m fine,” he says, moments before he heaves the remaining contents of his stomach overboard, an uncanny splash disrupting the usual ebb and flow of traveling waves.
Muttering a slew of curses under her breath, Kassandra stomps toward a stack of blankets and rags they keep for a variety of purposes. One such cloth is plucked away from the others with an impatient hand and then subsequently doused in cold water over the side of the ship.
If she didn’t already know that grabbing him would result in a dagger at her neck, she’d have resulted to physical engagement long ago. She decides to try a similar approach, but—gentler. More calculated.
While he stares miserably into the water, looking paler than she’s ever seen him, she reaches slowly for his wrist. Dazed, his eyes shift with the movement.
His exhale is rough. The tips of her fingers make contact with his clammy skin.
“Come, brother,” she tries again. “We’ll soon reach land. In the meanwhile, sit with me.”
A grunt resounds low in his throat. His hand twitches out from beneath Kassandra’s and, after a terse moment, he nods. Relief washes over her like a cool breeze. Leading him toward the stern of the ship, off to the side where the shade falls during this time of day, she catches sight of Myrrine some distance away, watching them with a hawkish gaze.
She isn’t the only one who notices. “Her fussing is just as bad as yours.”
For basic care to be considered ‘fussing’ reinforces Kassandra’s perception of Alexios’ life as Deimos, but she doesn’t say anything about that. Merely, “You’d do well to get used to it. We look out for each other, for better or for worse.” She lowers herself down, propping her back against the side of the ship, and pats the spot beside her. “Do you feel any better?” Sometimes a good hurl will ease whatever pains she’d been bearing—usually after consuming too much wine.
“No,” he sighs. “I ache everywhere. I’m—exhausted. Every time I try to sleep, pain strikes me here.” A petulant gesture to his abdomen.
“Try again.” This time, she pats her lap.
He shoots her a look, lips drawn into a scowl. “What?”
“Put your head down. Right here.” She lofts both brows and tilts her head with a quick, considering purse of her lips. “Maybe you’ll be able to nap for a little while. Can’t hurt to try.”
Alexios appears to believe that it will very much hurt, still regarding Kassandra with that pinched, incredulous expression. But to her great surprise, he shifts, slow and wobbly, to fully recline against the stern floor, propped up only by an elbow. Kassandra keeps her arms placid and unassuming at her sides until he inches toward her upper thighs, gradual. Even once his cheek makes contact with her, he holds his head at a stiff elevation, reluctant to rest the entirety of his weight against her—or unsure that he’s allowed to.
The first touch of the wet rag to his forehead makes him flinch. Still, he stays put, even when she drags it gently along the curves of his face to wipe away dirt and sweat.
“How does that feel?” she asks, lips twitching at the corners when she feels him sink against her ever-so slightly. “Better?”
“Mm,” is his noncommittal response. She interprets it as a good sign, as it’s not an outright rejection, and doesn’t stop. Once she’s finished cleansing, she folds up the cloth and dabs it slowly across his forehead, which emits the most heat.
Suddenly, Alexios seizes in place, his knees dragging closer to his stomach in a fetal clutch. His jaw tightens in conjunction with a wince.
“Again,” he seethes. “Damn it!”
“Shh, shh,” Kassandra soothes. After a moment of debate, she strokes her fingers through Alexios’ hair to keep him steady through the waves of nausea and pain. His nose digs into her thigh with pitiful whines, his earlier reservations set aside for now. “This will pass. We’re docking soon. Then I’m taking you and the others to a healer.”
“You trust this healer?” Alexios pants.
She thinks of Lykaon’s grandmother and his willingness to end her life over the false prophecies that led so many people to pain and suffering—and the ultimate decision to spare her, favoring forgiveness over bloodshed.
“Yes.” She squeezes the back of her brother’s neck and smiles when his sigh sounds lax rather than agonized. “I think you’ll even like him.”
“Why do you say that?”
“He’s a good man. Gentle.” Best to tell him now, while he’s weak. “He’s the grandson of the Oracle that told Nicholaos to dispose of you.”
Blasé, she says, “He’ll be pleased to have the chance to make it up to you by saving your life.”
Alexios growls. “I’m not dying.”
“You could be.”
“Mm,” is what Kassandra has to say to that, mimicking Alexios from before. No, she doesn’t think he’s dying either, but it’s kind of fun to rile him up like this. Satisfying. “Still—be nice. Don’t blame him for the sins of his bloodline.”
Alexios says nothing.
She tugs at his hair and he hisses. “Alexios.”
“Fine! Fine. If you say he can be trusted, then…”
“And if he can make this go away…”
“I’m sure if it.”
Alexios sags against her, tension dissipating. “Very well.” She blinks down at him, pleased, and resumes petting him. After a moment, she grabs the cloth again and returns to cooling Alexios’ brow. His breathing slows and, somehow, he drifts into a pallid slumber.
The tightness in her chest is overwhelming, nostalgic. Holding Alexios, so frail and vulnerable, like she’s a little girl again and he, a precious newborn… She’d only ever dreamed of experiencing this again.
If only it were under better circumstances.
They rent a dozen horses from a stable in Pilgrim’s Landing. Alexios rides with Kassandra, holding onto her from behind with a weak grasp. He summons Herculean effort to remain upright but it falters midway, and he slumps the entirety of his weight against Kassandra, radiating misery. She doesn’t mind the proximity. She has an inkling that Alexios doesn’t, either.
“This healer,” he rumbles.
“Lykaon. He knows about his grandmother?”
“Yes. When we met, he’d been planning to kill her to atone.”
“And?” he demands. “Is she dead?”
Kassandra shrugs. “Maybe. At the time, I convinced him to let her live, but she was a brittle thing. She could have passed by now.”
Alexios’ arms tighten around her waist. “You let her live?”
“She can’t do anymore harm,” she reasons. “And it didn’t seem right. What purpose would killing her serve?”
“Bah. Vengeance doesn’t soothe a wounded heart. What’s done is done. Besides, she was manipulated by the Cult the same way you were. You can’t fault her for that.”
“I can,” he insists. “Just as I can recognize that I deserve a fate worse than the second chance I’ve been given.”
Her chest contracts. She eloquently expresses her emotions with a snappish, “Shut up.”
The rest of the ride is spent in silence. Alexios breathes heavily against her neck and by the time they reach the Chora of Delphi, the sun has dipped below the treetops. She slows Phobos’ gait to a trot as they approach the healer’s tent, the rest of her crew following close behind.
Thankfully, Lykaon isn’t occupied with a patient; he’s scribbling notes onto a stack of parchment when the sound of hooves interrupt his concentration.
He glances up, lips parted into a surprise that gapes further when he recognizes who has led the charge.
“Hello,” she says, sheepish. Extracting herself from Alexios proves to be challenging; his energy has been completely sapped. As Lykaon rushes to assist, she needlessly clarifies, “We could use some help.”
Carefully, they gather the afflicted and lay them under Lykaon’s tent, which only just provides enough shelter for everybody.
“So many,” Lykaon whispers, lips downturned as his eyes roam over their forms. “Kassandra, I’m not sure if I can heal them. This is most certainly a sign from the gods.”
If Hippokrates had been closer, she’d have gone to him instead. As it is, she turns to Lykaon and grasps him by the shoulders. He winces as her fingers dig into him.
“You can. I know it.” She shakes him. He sways under her strength. “Tell me what you need.”
“Fresh water,” he says after a beat. “Chamomile. When have they last eaten?”
“Two nights ago. They haven’t been able to stomach anything since then.”
“What have you been feeding them?”
Kassandra crosses her arms. “Fish, before we set sail. Dried meats, bread, and apples on the ship.”
“I see. A light soup should suffice for now...”
Just then, Myrrine returns from hitching the horses. “I’ll take care of that. Point me in the direction of the market.”
Lykaon blinks at her, and then Kassandra.
“My mother,” she clarifies.
“You found her!”
His delight is so genuine that Kassandra can’t help but smile. “My brother, as well.”
“Incredible. To think your family could reunite, even after everything…” He shakes his head. “Perhaps another miracle is not so far fetched.”
With that, everybody in good health is assigned a task, and the extra hands mean that Lykaon can work quickly and efficiently. “All of the vomiting left them severely dehydrated,” he explains, tipping a cup of water into Alexios’ pliant mouth. Kassandra’s impressed that Alexios is cooperating at all, but she supposes his instinct to survive supersedes his pride. That, or he simply doesn’t have any more energy to throw a fit.
Myrrine procures the necessary equipment to make soup. Broth, celery, carrots, and a few cut up potatoes—but no meat. She withholds the salt and seasoning per Lykaon’s instruction and hands out small servings to each member of the crew. While they eat, Kassandra hunts down chamomile and mandragora.
Lykaon concocts some kind of mixture of the two, light on the painkiller, and serves it a little while after everybody has finished eating. Nobody has thrown anything up yet—a vast improvement already.
Kassandra checks on Alexios, who is lying down after having drained the tea.
“You were right,” Alexios rumbles.
Ah, the satisfaction that phrase brings. “Oh? About what?”
“He is kind. Caring. We spoke while you were gone.” He digs his cheek into the pillow he’s pressed up against and avoids meeting Kassandra’s eyes. “I feel much better than I did waking up this morning.”
“I’m glad,” she says warmly. “Now you can finally get some rest.”
He releases a noise of affirmation. Kassandra pats his hand and smiles when he doesn’t yank it away.
“Sleep well, little brother.”
Distancing herself from the recovering crew, she finds Lykaon and sits beside him, satisfied to see that he’s also taking a break after working so hard on a treatment.
“Tea?” he offers as she nears, lifting a cup.
“Thank you.” The ceramic warms the pads of her fingers. “Is there anything else you need me to do for you?”
“Always the errand-bound misthios,” Lykaon says, chuckling to himself. “No, no. Everything’s under control—for the time being. Please, take some time to relax. I imagine this ordeal has been quite stressful for you.”
Kassandra takes a sip. “The sickness, or the war?”
He shrugs. “Both.”
“It isn’t often that I get the chance to breathe. More so now, at least, with the disbandment of the Cult. Things are easier with my family together again.”
“I’m happy for you. Truly.”
She doesn’t doubt that. But, “What about you? I find it hard to believe that you haven’t found anybody. You’re young, handsome, dependable, intelligent…”
“Please. You flatter me.” He lifts his gaze to the horizon. “A handful of patients have tried to pursue something with me. I’ll admit I’ve succumbed to fleeting pursuits, but the idea of settling down is… off-putting. Strange, because I’ve only ever lived here—but maybe that is why I am so compelled to leave.”
It’s something that Kassandra understands, in a sense. Commitment is difficult when all parties involved aren’t willing to traverse the same path.
“Kassandra... Your brother. Is he…?”
Kassandra raises her brows.
She barks a laugh before she can stop herself. “Emotionally? No. Physically? Probably also no.” It isn’t funny, Alexios’ trauma, but she hadn’t expected the physician to prospect him of all people and Kassandra isn’t particularly skilled at translating shock into a reaction that conforms to societal standard.
She twists her body around so that she can look at her brother, who sleeps like the dead and snores loud enough to prove that he’s not. She sighs. “I can’t speak for him. I have no idea the state he’s in and what he wants.” Then, she turns back to Lykaon and gives him an appraising stare. “But you would be good for him, I think.”
“Possibly.” Even with the reclamation of their home, they simply aren’t the kind of family to settle—not anymore. Lykaon did just express a desire to traverse the unknown, and keeping a healer on board would prove to be useful. She stows away the consideration for now.
“Well, enough about me. Have you found somebody special, Kassandra?”
Her lips spread into a wry smile without humor. “Aphrodite has placed a curse on me.”
“Why do you say that?”
“There was a woman, Daphnae—a glorious hunter with a challenge on her lips: find and kill these miraculous beasts all around Greece and return with their pelts. They were grueling battles, but thrilling.” Kassandra bends one of her legs and drapes her arm on top of her knee. “I came to her several times. During the last, she begged me to kill her.”
Lykaon’s breath hitches. “Why in the gods’ name—?”
“That’s exactly why—for Artemis. For her daughters and tradition. She could not be convinced. It was her life or mine.” She closes her eyes and expels a slow, deep breath. Being a survivor is not always something to celebrate. “And then I met Kyra. Beautiful, passionate Kyra. If I had to describe my type, it would be her. She threw a knife at me the first time we met.”
“Charming,” Lykaon says.
Kassandra opens her eyes and flashes a wicked grin. “I thought so, too. As did…” The grin fades. “Her lover, Thaletos. They weren’t fully committed, and she felt deeply for me, but… Between Kyra and the glory to which he felt indebted, he thought his only redemption was to be found in killing me.” She scoffs. “Spartans. Anyway, I did what I had to do to defend myself. Kyra… did not take kindly to it. Understandably so. But it soured the spoils of our victory, and tainted the fantasies we shared of us in another time and place. I left before the night ended.”
She pushes Kyra’s heartbroken expression out of her head and shrugs. “At least she’s still alive. Just—when does it end? The bloodshed, the needless killing? Is love even worth pursuing when it’s bound to result in pain?” Her hands curl into fists. “Oh,” she adds, unable to contain her desperate crack of laughter, “pardon me. I nearly forgot to mention that the leader of the fucking Cult had seduced me.”
Ah, ah. Reign it in, Kassandra. You’re starting to sound hysterical. Nobody will take you seriously if you fall apart.
She rolls her shoulders, disposing an invisible weight, and rushes to gulp down the tea. It’s lukewarm by now but she relishes the flavor nonetheless. Lykaon’s gazing at her with pity and it makes her skin crawl. Why had she droned on like that?
“Might I suggest an offering to Aphrodite?” He treads lightly, balancing good humor and tact in a way she could never. “Goodness, Kassandra. What have you done to earn her scorn?”
After draining the rest of her drink, she sets the cup aside and flops back onto the ground.
“I don’t know. But if I cannot find love, then I pray that you will. You have my blessing, Lykaon, but I meant what I said. Alexios is—there is no delicate way to say this—inhuman, at times. He wasn’t properly socialized. The Cult fashioned him into a weapon.” She raises a hand above her head and reaches for the stars. “I will fight for as long as I live to protect him, and to—prove that he is somebody worth loving. Could you see yourself doing the same?”
Pretty heavy stuff for somebody who just wanted to know her brother’s relationship status. But she’s not expecting much, other than to gauge Lykaon’s intent.
“When I look at him, I see somebody in need of healing. Beyond the physical.” Lykaon’s voice is soft and wandering. “Am I drawn to the challenge of fixing him, or do I crave the presence of a vulnerable soul?” Kassandra can hear him smiling. “Or maybe it is simply love at first sight.”
“Maybe,” she echoes, amused. “I wouldn’t mind bearing witness to a storybook romance.”
“I wouldn’t mind partaking.”
They laugh, taking care to keep their volume low. Kassandra closes her eyes and relishes the warmth that unfurls from her stomach. She yawns.
“Get some rest,” Lykaon says, shuffling beside her. “I pray tomorrow brings good news.”
So does she. Banning thoughts of lost love, she drifts away.
A tentative hand on her shoulder jolts her awake. She hadn’t been dreaming, really, and it felt like mere moments since she had fallen asleep. Yet the sun has risen once again, painting the town with a golden warmth. To her side is Myrrine, catching her eye with a small note of concern.
“Kassandra? Apologies, lamb, I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“It’s fine.” At least she didn’t greet her mother with her spear. “Is everything alright?”
“Better than.” Myrrine beams. “The crew has recovered.”
“See for yourself.”
Pushing herself up, Kassandra takes stock of her surroundings. A few of the girls still sit below the tent, chatting amongst themselves and sipping tea. They look a little pale, soft and wavering around the edges, but otherwise no worse for wear. The rest of the crew mingles in small groups, some even chatting among the locals, while the others fawn over a friendly stray dog, its tail thumping erratically against the dirt.
Myrrine, with her maternal sixth sense, answers Kassandra by gesturing her hand. Kassandra’s eyes follow the movement to find Alexios seated next to Lykaon. They’re a few feet apart, but engaged in some kind of tentative conversation. Alexios doesn’t look relaxed, per se, but he isn’t hunched over in pain and that’s good enough for Kassandra.
Her shoulders sag with relief. Whether her gratitude should be placed with the gods or the healer, she can’t quite say, so she absolves to dish out a healthy serving to both parties.
“Lykaon believes that some of the fish we ate the other day were poisoned,” Myrrine says, eyes never leaving her son. “Which would explain how a few of us escaped this illness.” She sounds a little dubious, justifiably; karmic selection seems just as apt.
Kassandra hums, deciding not to offer an opinion.
“And the sweating, vomiting, excretion—were all necessary to expel the poison.”
At least something came from all of the suffering, then. Something other than death.
Kassandra shifts her gaze to the little girl at Lykaon’s flank rocking back and forth on her heels. She recognizes her, Kassandra notes with some shock, as the child she’d first seen Lykaon treating. He’d done so well to soothe her anxieties that day; Kassandra recalled doing the same for Phiobe and felt beyond of herself in that moment, lips hiking into a smile beyond her own accord while she ached from the inside out.
“Good morning, Iris,” Lykaon greets, fond. Alexios stares at her with his brows pulled together, apprehension gripping his muscles tight.
“I brought you some flowers,” she says. “I thought it might cheer up the mercenaries.”
“Oh! That’s very kind of you.” Smiling, he turns to Alexios. “Well, misthios? What do you think?”
The words don’t seem to penetrate the haze around Alexios. Something passes between him and Iris, something nearly tangible, and Iris’ jaw drops the moment Alexios points at her.
“You. You’re the one from the festival.”
She blinks. “You walked me home!” She wiggles in place as if holding herself back. “I never thought I would see you again, after mater and pater decided to move. You look… better.”
Lykaon’s expression is poised into one of comical disbelief. He looks at Kassandra for clarification, but she only dismisses his curiosity with a wave to be addressed later. She watches Alexios, anticipating his response.
“I… I am.” He deflates, then, scrubbing a hand over his face. “But I lost your bracelet. I—I wore it every day. Until just the other night…”
To his evident surprise, she simply giggles. “That old thing? It’s okay. My stuff’s much better these days. I use materials way more durable than copper now.” She shoves the flowers into Lykaon’s limp arms and reaches for Alexios’ hand. “Come! I’ll show you. We can replace the old one.”
She manages quite easily to tug Alexios out of his hunch. Once he’s standing, he meets Kassandra’s eyes, hesitating.
“Go on. We’ll gather our things and depart when you return.”
He nods. Iris yanks him toward the dirt path leading into town while he lumbers beside her, slightly curved at the shoulders to accommodate her small stature. When they’re gone, Myrrine releases a watery breath, gathering her and Kassandra’s things. Lykaon prods Kassandra’s shoulder, gathering the bouquet of flowers into one hand.
“What was that?”
Kassandra huffs a laugh. “Fate, I think.”
He fiddles with a sprig of lavender, contemplative.
“Lykaon,” she says, “come with us—aboard the Andrestia.” He snaps his gaze back to her, eyes wide. She leans in, undeterred. “We could use your expertise and care. With us, you can expand your studies. I can introduce you to Hippokrates; something tells me that the two of you will get along well.”
“You know Hippokrates?”
Kassandra squeezes his shoulder and winks.
“I…” He takes a deep breath. “Alright. I mean, yes—I’ll do it. I would be a fool not to.”
She claps him again, satisfied, and stands to check in on the rest of her crew. She accompanies the women to the bathhouse and returns to Lykaon assisting Myrrine with loading up the horses. He has a heavier load than the rest, having gathered what’s left of his medical paraphernalia and stacks of notes. The daughters of Artemis regard him with curiosity—some, those he had healed, with excitement—and assist him with preparation for travel.
Back to business. Kassandra straddles Phobos, Alexios posted behind her, while Lykaon shares with Myrrine. Now that Alexios has enough life in him to sit up straight, she’d anticipated him to keep as much distance as he could—but he appears to be comfortable, or at least content, and holds one tentative hand at her waist while the other hangs beside him. A new bangle hangs off of his wrist, made of iron and embedded with precious gems.
“Am I a horrible person?” Lykaon asks. “Leaving the people of my hometown to survive without me? Am I plagued with hubris to think that my presence bears any significance at all?”
Kassandra’s no good at philosophizing. She attempts to scrounge up some kind of response before Alexios surprises them all by speaking up first.
“You should not… stunt your own growth. Perhaps one day you can return and—share what you’ve learned.” Kassandra feels Alexios turn away from Lykaon, his breath a comfort against her shoulder, and toward the sun-drenched horizon. “Leaving can be a struggle, especially when you feel bound. But there is more for you out there. For all of us.”
Lykaon doesn’t respond right away. When he does, there’s a smile in his voice. “I think you’re right, Alexios.”
“To more, then,” says Myrrine, tugging at the reins.
Her brother nods, resolute. “To more,” he and Lykaon echo.
They ride. Alexios’ wrist glints at each turn.