Ariana woke the next morning after writing down the wonderfully peaceful dream to the sounds of a battle outside and sprang to the window to see what was going on. Pirata was leading the rebels in hand to hand combat exercises. The sun was very high in the sky, practically overhead. She stretched carefully and went into the bathroom to bathe and brush her teeth. She peeled off the bandages and was surprised that she wasn’t more banged up than she was. The welt was still an angry red and there was a small amount of bruising, but the dried blood washed off easily enough.
She toweled off and slid on a light-weight linen chiton of sky blue and girded with a silver cord. She brushed her hair carefully and wound it into a roll in the back of her head and pinned it with a silver barrette. She went downstairs to the kitchen and poured herself a cup of coffee and almost felt guilty that she hadn’t checked in on Aristotles as she had gone by. She made herself a brunch of eggs and ham, with fresh milk and orange juice. After she finished, she covered her dress with an apron and washed the too many pots and pans that had accumulated. She hoped her mother wasn’t feeding every single one of the soldiers. It was bad enough to be feeding the two already! Aiding and Abetting went through her mind again…
She went outside to check the few animals they had left: a couple of cows, a rooster, and some scrawny, not even good for soup hens, but they laid wonderful eggs, and she really like the flighty things. As she crossed the yard with the rooster in her arms, she remembered climbing the huge, ancient oak tree, falling out of it, almost breaking her neck, running through the fields growing high with wheat and wildflowers, riding horses across the knolls, planting her favourite flowers in beds and vines to cling to the portico. She sighed deeply thinking of how things had changed so dramatically in such a little amount of time.
Ariana hadn’t been paying attention to where she’d been walking…she had never had to before…but she found herself out where some of the men had been.
“I got a better cock for you to pat.” The voice came from behind her and the good old rooster crowed and raised his hackles. He jumped away from Ariana and spurred the man, who kicked the bird. The rooster wasn’t going to run away from protecting his mistress and came back for another round. She grabbed her bird up before the soldier could punt him again and looked desperately for a friendly face. Even Pirata’s son would be more than welcome, but he had kept a low profile since his punishment.
A warning flashed through her mind quickly, and she released the bird so that he could get away and Goddess knew, if he could, get help for her. An arm came around her throat from behind and she found herself on the ground fighting for air. She struggled and managed a gurgling scream before a piece of cloth was shoved in her mouth and her hands held above her head. The sun was baking her bare skin as her dress was torn away and she heard an electric crackle over the lustful panting above her. She wanted to just go away from her body; to not feel what was going to happen.
The men didn’t hear the whip singing above their heads until the first lash landed. The group that surrounded her broke apart like mist in the sun. The infamous electric whip cleared the way for her rescuers. She could’ve cried with relief when she saw Pirata and Vulpes, with her rooster on his shoulder like a big goofy parrot.
The older man reached her a step before his son and lifted her to her feet. He whisked her away without a word. Her dignity was long gone and she couldn’t control the hurt and terrified sobs that broke free from her soul. The two men got her to the front door, then Pirata whispered something to his son, and returned to the scene of the crime.
As Vulpes walked her up the stairs, she asked, “How did you know I was in…trouble?” He rubbed the bird’s wattles and said, “The rooster went into the tree and wouldn’t shut up. When Ari went looking to see if you could do it, you weren’t in your room and our troops were too quiet all of a sudden…”
She left her escort outside the door and went inside. Aristotles’ eyes followed her across the room. She took off her now destroyed clothes showered with water as hot as she could stand, and put on a dress that had seen better days, being patched with various stains on it…she used it when she did the heavy cleaning. She took the barrette out of her hair and threw it on the floor.
“I’m sorry, Ariana. I’ll have to have a talk with my men. This kind of thing can’t be happening when I’m not out there with them.”
“Talk to them!” she screeched. “They should be beaten to within an inch of their lives! Starting with YOU!!!” The rebel leader flinched at her words.
Aristotles finished tucking his shirt into his pants and turned back to her. “Come with me.” She meekly followed him. Pirata had the men in formation. When the rebel leader motioned Ariana and Helen forward, she almost wished one of them would raise their ashamed faces to her so she could glare at them. He put his hand on the women’s shoulders and stated, “The Lady Helen and her daughter are the owners of this place and no harm will come to them. If there are any concerns between them and you, come to me. I will take care of it. They will NOT be used for your sport. If these ladies are hurt by anything that you do, the penalty will be 50 lashes, then hanging. It is not open to debate. This I have decreed.”
He turned to Vulpes and said, “And give Ariana back that Gods damned bird…” She stuck out her arm and the rooster marched regally from the boy’s shoulder to hers. Pirata dismissed the men and Ariana went to put the rooster back with his hens…she walked by the kitchen and broke him off a piece of bread for his valiant efforts. She dropped him and his treat off in the yard with an extra pat.
“Do you have a minute?” Ariana turned so fast all the birds scattered. She trailed Pirata to the barn and they perched on some old hay bales.
“You need to know something about him…Ari’s father was an Archon many years ago. He was stealing and lying and cheating his people so that the poor had nothing. They rose up and deposed him. In return, he blamed all his troubles on his child. He was beaten constantly…” Ariana felt another twinge of conscience because of what she had said. “Most of the physical scars are gone, but there are some mental ones that still fester. When he grew up, he knew he’d join a rebellion so that another like his father might not come to power.”
She looked him straight in the eye and asked simply, “What are you warning me about?”
“I’m just asking you to be careful around him.”
“Don’t you trust your leader?”
“With my life, Ariana. And you can trust him with yours. And Helen’s. I wouldn’t have my youngest serve with him if I thought I couldn’t. I just thought you should know.”
She thanked him and left…that was something else to think about. She felt that she could trust Pirata, maybe Vulpes, but their friend and leader, not so much. Especially if what the old one eyed soldier said was true…which she had no reason to doubt. She knew the battle scarred veteran wouldn’t lie to make her feel sorry for Aristotles. That WAS a shitty upbringing, and she was once again reminded of how good she had had it with her two loving parents.
Ariana was surprised that she hadn’t had a reaction yet to the attack on her. She hadn’t ever been that close to having had such a personal attack. Her suitors might’ve tried a grope or two, or stolen kisses, but they had been easily fended off…If no one had noticed, the rape most certainly would’ve taken place. She wouldn’t have been able to stop it…Even though it was summertime warm, she started to shiver and her teeth chattered…She fled up the stairs and into her room. She jumped into the bed, gathered some heavy blankets around her, and let herself have a good cry. In the next moment, her mother was there, rocking her like she was a baby, and looking her over from head to toe. She cried harder.
“She wasn’t touched, Helen.” Pirata stated from the doorway. “We got to her in time.”
“Thank Hera!” her mother exclaimed. “No man would have her otherwise.”
Well SHIT! Ariana thought. That can’t be all she cares about…So she asked, plainly and baldly for the truth in front of witnesses. “Why would you think that, mother?”
“Your virginity is part of your dowry.”
“How backwards is that? If there’s a value to be had it should be for what’s between a woman’s ears rather than what’s between her legs…” Ariana blushed to the roots of her hair at Aristotles’ words. If he meant it as a compliment for her brain power, she would take it as such. It really WAS a backward way of thinking. There was more to life than to just bear children: she wanted to travel like her father, learn and do and experience, just like he had. Then maybe she’d settle down with the man of her choice, when she was darned good and ready. That’s what her father got for telling her stories about property owning women, women who ran whole estates, leading armies and all sorts of other empowering activities without the help of men. She knew her own mind. She knew what she wanted and a guy wasn’t going to get into the middle of it and just plain fuck it up. If she had to be completely honest, she’d much rather Aristotles to little Yiorgios, her bespectacled, bugeyed betrothed…yeesh!
After a while, she mechanically went through the motions of preparing dinner. She had no idea what she cooked, but ate it anyway. The other three at the table kept casting glances her way, but she didn’t notice, so lost in her thoughts she was. She went to bed early, still with the cogs of her mind spinning endlessly.
Those damned blue eyes were in the middle of it all…and their child…What the Hades was up with that?
It took a couple of days for her to work it all through…She’d keep her mouth shut about the dream/vision. The rebel leader didn’t need to know about it. There was no feeling of how the child had been conceived, consensual or through force. It didn’t seem like force to her, so they would be close sometime…he had looked older, so it was in a distant future. She almost wished she could figure out the exact timing…She sighed…no, she really didn’t need to know…
“Are you done brooding now?” Her mother asked, when she passed by with a tray of freshly baked bread…
It wasn’t brooding as much as heavily involved thinking…and that always took time…she’d sometimes take off to a secret glade in the woods and just ponder for hours. She felt trapped in the house with all the men around it. It had never bothered her this much when the workers were there, what was the big difference?
The rebel leader was the big difference, if she was honest. They walked around each other like wary animals, but she sensed a few tentative first steps towards a truce. Her mother and Pirata were having a great time together…it was rather sickening actually. Holding hands when they thought noone could see them. Yuck! The morning that she came out of the room with a basket of her dirty laundry and there was Pirata in her mother’s bed, just completely freaked her out…and she couldn’t even look at either of them.
Not that she’d begrudge her mother any happiness that she could get. Gods knew it had been a struggle for them. If it hadn’t been for her father’s insurance which had been extremely generous, pensions from being Archon, and other sundry little things that arrived every now and again by messenger, they wouldn’t have been able to get through it all.
A couple of weeks into the rebel’s stay, Ariana and Aristotles found themselves alone in the house. The wheat was being harvested to be ground. It always made her allergies act up so she got out of that part of it and the threshing. Pirata, Helen and most of the armed force had gone to help out because it seemed like the usual pickers were not coming because they had been taken to interment camps until they could be sorted out as to which side they were on…Actually, they weren’t on any side, just following the harvests. It made Ariana ill to think of all the nice people that had helped out being caged like wild beasts.
She was heading out to the portico to sit and read a book with her cup of coffee.
“May I join you?” He must’ve been sneaking right up behind her because she hadn’t heard him. She jumped up, dropped her book, losing her place and sloshing her coffee onto her dress and her bare feet.
“Dammit!” She swore. “I thought I was the only one here.”
He produced a handkerchief from a pocket in his uniform pants, and dabbed at her dress. It was wonderfully sheer from the moisture and there was no hiding the fact that she was a grown woman from him, a full figured one at that.
His eyes blazed like blue lasers, and he couldn’t seem to find any words…after what seemed like an aeon, he pointed to the door and Ariana ran to change…She had just been made more aware that Aristotles was a fine specimen of human male and she had seen his more than normal reaction to her near nakedness.
She splashed water on her face, hoping that her internal trembling wouldn’t show on the outside. His touching her had had nothing sexual to it, but DAMN! The butterflies that were flitting through her seemed the size of Python. She had never felt like that! Ever! They had touched briefly when passing such mundane items as a salt shaker at supper or she’d put a hand on his shoulder when it was time for lunch. She had seen him shirtless, but even on the night that she had woken screaming, she hadn’t seen him naked, she had been too afraid to even sneak a peek.
Ariana descended and went back to the porch. There was more coffee poured, the creamer and honey jar, and her book was on the wicker table. A knock sounded on the door frame and she turned. “I didn’t know how you liked it. Sorry.” It seemed like the rebel leader was back under control too. She silently thanked the Gods for that. She poured in her usual ton of milk. She liked it with no sweeteners even though most folks used honey.
In a comedy of errors, she was sitting on the near side of the table and the other chair was on the far side. Either she moved or he had to step over her feet to sit…She decided to move at the same time that he decided to step over. They inadvertently brushed against each other all way up.
“Mithra, Ariana.” Was all he managed to say. The coffee was forgotten as he crushed her to him. She felt as though her body was butter melting in the sun…His kisses became more forceful, and she tentatively ran her hand up his chest to his shoulder feeling the hair under her fingertips. She fit into the shape of him like a hand in a glove He finally broke the embrace and stepped away to the far side of the porch. He ran his fingers through his hair as she sunk into the chair because there were no bones left anywhere in her body.
“Thank the Gods”
The older folks’ arrival couldn’t have been better timed. They looked between the two younger people…Pirata swore softly.
“You cannot do this!” Her mother shrieked.
“We didn’t do anything.” Ariana protested.
“This is your future, I’m worrying about.”
“Oh for the Gods’ sakes, Mother! I am STILL a virgin! Your money is still safe!”
“Do you have anything to say, mister?!” She turned on Aristotles.
“No, kyria. I have not violated your daughter.” He explained why she had changed clothes and Ariana produced the evidence.
Pirata didn’t look any less dismayed. He sighed heavily and dropped into the chair Ariana had vacated.
“Ari, our coming here wasn’t an accident. I knew where this place was. I had been here with your father a few times. I met Helen back then.”
The rebel leader looked stunned. “What are you getting at?”
Ariana pieced it together first. ”It’s possible we’re half siblings.” Oh Gods. Ewww! No wonder her mother was so shocked when she saw Pirata. “Your father left Athenai, came here and started over with a new family.”
“That son of a bitch!” My mother swore. “I never knew!”
“He kept it quiet, Helen. He would’ve been tracked down and denounced as the traitor he was and then you and Ariana would’ve been denounced too. And the two of you would’ve been probably executed…”
Shit…Could it be any worse? What about now? Same deal seemed like it applied only now they KNEW that they were harboring criminals…Who was to say that the current Archon didn’t know about this place too? Ariana asked the question.
“Only Zeno and I knew about this place. And now that he’s gone…” The one eye shrugged. “Now Ari does too.”
“That’s not all of it is there?” Ariana looked straight at Pirata. “Ari…” the name felt familiar on her lips. “He wears the crest of your house, not Zeno’s like I do…” It was a custom to tattoo the children with a crest or monogram of the father’s house.
Ariana’s tattoo was an interwoven A and Z, but Pirata‘s, Vulpes’ and Ari‘s were a fox head.
“Ari’s my foster son.” She tapped her foot and waited for the whole truth to finally emerge…
“I was seduced by Lena, Zeno’s wife, as revenge because he was ignoring her. I was young and stupid and cheated on my sons‘ mother. Lena told him during a fight and we had words…”
“Had words! Bullshit! Pirata! He took your eye!”
The others on the porch gaped at Ariana, except for Ari.
“I think I’ve known all along. You took me into your home when Zeno left. Your wife never liked me and I thought it was because I was just a foster child…Now I know the truth. Thank you, old friend.”
She crossed to Ari and took his hand. She got a quick flash of her father beating his son for the smallest offense, until the little boy finally stood up to him at the tender age of 8. He was then cast off to the Vulpes clan to wave the mistake under his true father and his wife’s nose. Pirata had never treated Ari any differently than his troop of legitimate sons. All 10 of them!!
The older couple left the younger one. Helen still wasn’t happy about the closeness they were sharing, but at least her daughter was still chaste…she couldn’t even remotely say that about her and Pirata though…
An hour later, the veteran called to Ari and Ariana that it was supper time. Once again, she had no idea what she ate. Her mother was a good cook too. She got let out of dish duty because Pirata took up that slack for the night. She figured her mother and he wanted some alone time too.
It was sunny out, but dusk was coming, so they decided to take advantage of it.
“Be careful.” Pirata warned. She presumed it wasn’t about sex. At the very least they weren’t related by blood, thank Hera! No relation at all really. She had known anyways…the dream she had of Ari’s child had pointed that out for her. Ariana knew that Ari would be honorable, at least she hoped he would be. He hadn’t done anything more than a quick kiss when they had gone through the front door.
Helen had once told an old school friend that you could walk for days before coming to all the edges of our property. Ariana had never tried. She had heard stories of people getting “taken” in the woods and thought it was all scary stories so the kids wouldn’t go in and get lost. She had taken Yiorgios once to the edge of the forest and he wimped out and didn’t want to go in after he got there. She had gone to her special place and waited for him to come too, but he had never showed and she had gone back to the house to find him crying that he had lost her in the forest. Ariana had been grounded for a month. If it had been Ari, she knew that he would’ve followed right in after her.
A tugging at her wrist made her stop. Ari had paused to talk to some of his troops. She wasn’t afraid of anything happening to her anymore. She felt safe and protected with Ari nearby. She wandered a bit more, but stopped short feeling a presence behind her. It was Vulpes, smiling shyly.
“I haven’t thanked you for saving me, kyria. I’m sorry you got hurt too.”
“That’s alright. I was stupid and it was my own fault.”
“Would you like me to walk with you? Ari seems to be tied up…” She had noticed that too. He was stopping and talking to whoever came up to him.
“That’s okay, Vulpes, I’ve been walking these woods since I was a child. I’ll be fine.”
She continued on a couple of steps, before he grabbed her arm, glancing nervously back at the encampment. “But, kyria, it’s not safe anymore.”
“Release me this instant!” She yelped, more frightened than angry. He looked guiltily at the ground as Ari came stomping over.
“What’s going on here?!” He wanted a good answer and quickly.
She spoke soothingly. “Not a thing. Your foster brother just wanted to let me know that if you were going to be tied up for any length of time, that he’d see me safely on my walk.”
“Get back to camp, Vulpes!” The kid slunk away. Ariana wanted to go with him. They hadn’t done anything wrong, but she felt as if she had been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.
“I don’t want my soldiers to get the wrong idea about my arraboniastikia.” Ariana knew her mouth was hanging open…
“Ari, I’ve been promised to Yiorgios Pallas. We‘ve been betrothed since I was 10 years old.”
“Do you love him, Ariana? Can you say that he makes your heart beat faster? Or make your knees give way?”
She wanted to tell him “Yes!” but couldn’t lie. She shook her head. “If I break the contract, we’d lose our house. His family lent us the money for the taxes when my father left. It was part of the agreement.”
“Is it just the money? When this is all over, I will have that and more. I can repay the loan to them.”
“I’m not a mercenary, Ari. If there was more time, I could fall in love with you. But I know that the time’s not right, and you’ll be leaving…” her voice broke. “And I will have nothing left to give to my husband.”
This conversation was not going to end well and she knew it. She was in love with the blond blue-eyed rebel, and in lust with him too…she needed some time alone to think and she’d only be able to get that peace in one spot…
She gave Ari a lingering kiss on the lips and slipped into the woods. He stood stunned for a few seconds before he pursued her. She knew the small paths and thickets to hide in to evade him. He was pretty good though, almost finding her twice. At last she made it to the safety of her secret spot. There was a standing stone, and a tiny brook, with a lovely natural arbour that formed a cave overhead.
She heard him calling out for her, but resisted answering. If he found her now, there would be only one conclusion and it would involve her giving herself to him and that just couldn’t happen. Not with the loan and the dowry hanging over her head. It was finally almost full dark. There were no rustling in the bushes of the night animals starting to forage and that wasn’t right and she suddenly got a frisson of fear rising up her spine.
She turned at a footstep beside her and a dark shadow reached for her. It wasn’t Ari and the animal/zoo smell of the arm that grabbed her wasn’t human…Before she was able to fight whatever it was off, two more hands grabbed her throat and pressed. The waning light turned into complete blackness and she was lost to the world.