The morning light filtered through the curtains. Ada opened her eyes and stretched her arms, enjoying the cool breeze blowing through the open balcony doors.
Where am I?
She sat up with a start. Threw off the linen sheets. Rolled her painful neck. She wasn’t used to sleeping in such a soft bed—Chloe’s bed.
“Morning, sleepy.” Chloe rolled over with closed eyes and pulled her back down.
Ada tensed so hard she shook. She bit her cheek and held her breath. Tried to focus on something beside the girl on her arm. The ceiling was covered in ornate carvings and frescos of farms and wars and gods and people. She traced the lines of the carvings, tried to memorize every scene, every shadow. The trembling stopped, but she didn’t dare turn her head.
Chloe dug her fingertips into Ada’s shoulder and rubbed it gently. It felt, so nice. Ada gasped as quietly as possible and went back to holding her breath.
“You were sleeping when I came back.” Chloe wrapped around Ada’s arm, holding her still. “I didn’t want to wake you up. Will you forgive me?”
Ada opened her mouth to tell her it was okay but managed only a muted squeak.
With a yawn, Chloe sat and slipped her feet out of bed. Ada did the same, walked across the cool stone floor, and tried to fix her hair in the mirror.
Chloe handed her a brush and walked to her closet. Her silk gown clung to her lithe body, even after she untied her belt.
A wide-open archway led to a washroom on the far wall. Ada walked over, pulled her hair back, and rinsed her face in the sink, while Chloe scrambled around behind her. What if people knew she spent the night here? What would that mean?
She didn’t want to think about it.
The mirror over the sink reflected her brown eyes, her tiny freckles, her loose strands of hair. Ada smiled at herself. She didn’t look too bad. Not repulsive anyway. She brushed out her hair a while longer.
“Ada.” Chloe stood in the middle of her chamber wearing a purple chiton and matching himation. A silver circlet rested on her head. Candles burned on the altar. “Before you go, I have something for you.”
Ada walked slowly over, stomach fluttering. Words wouldn’t form in her mouth. She stopped and stared at Chloe’s gorgeous smile. Why was this so terrifying?
Chloe picked up a bow in a leather case from her bed. She held it out to Ada in her palms. “This sacred bow was a gift from the gods, meant for you to protect your people.” Ada reverently took it in both hands. “Our people.”
She drew the bow partway out. Ran her fingers over the darkly stained wood. The limbs were as thick as the one she had lost. She should be able to bend it.
Her eyes met Chloe’s. Ada blushed at her smile. There was something special about the bow. If it fell on her to hunt the creature, she wasn’t afraid to try.
“Thank you,” said Ada. “I won’t let you down.”
Ada stood at the top of the palace stairs. Birds sang from the trees lining the road to the market. She smoothed the wrinkles from her himation and adjusted the straps of the pack one of the servants had given her. The broaches. The bow. She had lost everything, but thanks to Chloe, she was better off than ever. It was a blessing she didn’t deserve, but she didn’t hate herself for taking the gifts like she would have a few days ago.
She felt whole inside. If it was from the meditation or from waking up beside her, she didn’t know, but she liked it.
The same guards from yesterday stood outside the palace doors. They waved to her, asked her to have a pleasant day. She passed through the inner gates and into the city, wondering how she looked. Did she pass for a citizen? Royalty even? No. Probably more like a house slave.
Vendors set up their stalls while oxcarts fought for their half of the road. People shoved by all around her. Ada moved with the crowd, flowing like water. A citizen-soldier jerked to the side to avoid a cow pie and slammed his shoulder into hers. She looked back, heart beating fast, thinking of an apology to keep him calm.
He smiled warmly at her, seeming to think nothing of it. He smoothed his chiton and adjusted his cloak self-consciously.
She curtsied. “Excuse me, I didn’t see you.”
“My fault entirely. May Athena bless you.” He turned and walked into the market.
She stepped out of the road and watched the people pass. They didn’t see her. They only saw her expensive clothing. Hairs on her neck stood on end. The flaring anger startled her. She kept her breath even as she locked eyes with another passing soldier. He nodded to her, smiled, stepped a little to his right to give her room.
Foreign residents, citizen-soldiers, helots, and slaves treated her as if she were perfectly invisible. The crowd slowed and packed into the intersection where the meat market was holding the daily auction. Imported fish and local lamb. Shadows of the hanged men stretched in the morning sun. She looked at the stalls, trying to ignore it.
But she couldn’t.
Behind her, a familiar voice called out. “Ada! Over here.” A young man in an ill-fitting chiton waved to her from behind his table. His shaggy hair covered his eyes like a child. Flies swarmed over day-old fish.
“Heron!” Ada stopped back a few feet.
A trickle of blood ran from his nose. Two Histrian men in dark blue cloaks had pushed behind his table, drawing worried glances from passersby. They were both in their thirties. One wore a wealth of gold jewelry, yellow diamonds, and amber. The other carried an unusually long sword of foreign design. No doubt the spoils of war. Behind them, a young woman walked with her head bowed, a basket of produce in her hands.
The soldiers turned towards Ada. Longsword puffed his chest. “Is this vendor your slave?”
“No. We…” Ada shook her head. “are helots from Nysa. Whatever he said, I’m sure he didn’t mean any disrespect.”
Jewelry grabbed a pair of fish from his table and threw them in his slave’s basket. “Thank you for your gift. You’re forgiven.”
Longsword put a hand on Jewelry’s shoulder. “They’re the King’s pets.”
Heron smiled and held out his hand.
Jewelry scoffed, dropped a few coins in his palm, and walked off. The girl lingered for a moment. He grabbed her by the arm and yanked her after them. She looked back at Ada with fear in her eyes.
She watched them go. “You shouldn’t piss them off. You know they’re going to take it out on that girl.”
“They’re pieces of trash. The first thing guys like that do when they get rich is buy a slave to torment.” Heron shrugged. “Way of the world.”
“Whatever.” Ada turned and walked towards the crowd.
“Wait, your brother is looking for you. He’s on the north road. Your family is really worried about you.”
She barely heard him. The tops of the soldiers’ heads poked above the crowd. It hurt, remembering what she was. “Hey, give me a bow string and half your arrows.”
“What? Why? Where’s yours?” he asked.
“Doesn’t matter, but I’m about to walk home. I’ll pay you later.”
He smiled and leaned towards her. Flies danced around his head. He placed a string made of sinew in her hand with ten arrows. “You can pay me back by making me dinner.”
Heron could be a block of wood for all she cared. He was attractive, or at least symmetrical. Just a little taller than her. His broad chest was well muscled from carrying his merchandise. Ada shook her head. She didn’t feel anything for him.
“I’ll bring you some coin later.”
He sat down heavily on his stool and shrugged. “Forget about it.”
Ada waved without looking back. She imagined herself following Jewelry and Longsword. How many helots had they murdered? Thinking of them touching that girl made her blood hot. If she could spot them going into an apartment, she could come back later and do something about it.
A pair of little boys in ragged chitons led an ox into the market with a soldier and his wife following behind. They cursed at the children, telling them to hurry. Probably weren’t their blood. An old man led a young girl with a rope tied around her neck. More property. Her pale skin and red hair were typical of their enemies to the far north.
Who was she kidding? Maybe Heron was right. Way of the world. She hated that about him. Should she throw her life away to get revenge for one random slave? Ada hated herself for doing nothing.
She left through the city gates and took the road north, looked back at the city and the palace at its heart. One day, Chloe would save them. She had to.
For now, she’d focus on saving her people from the demon. She drew the bow, bent it around her knee, and attached the string. Took the leftover sinew and tied her arrows before tucking them in her belt.
Next week, chapter 6 continues. It was a little long for a single update, so I wanted to split it up.
Let me know what you think in the comments!