My Goodreads Quotes

Allison’s quotes

"Don't you think it's rather nice to think that we're in a book that God's writing? If I were writing a book, I might make mistakes. But God knows how to make the story end just right--in the way that's best for us."
Do you really believe that, Mother?" Peter asked quietly.
Yes," she said, "I do believe it--almost always--except when I'm so sad that I can't believe anything. But even when I don't believe it, I know it's true--and I try to believe it."— E. Nesbit

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Hespera-- Part One

Hello, readers!  As I'm sure many of you are aware, Rooglewood Press announced the winners of 5 Enchanted Roses today.  Although of course it's sad not to be chosen, I am enthralled by the talented writers who did win, and they inspired me to share my two entries: Hespera and Firn and Furan, each broken into four parts over four days for your reading convenience.

I was inspired to write Hespera by the Greek legend of Andromeda and Perseus.  When Andromeda's mother, Cassiopeia, bragged that her daughter's beauty was greater than that of the goddess Aphrodite, the gods in their rage sent a sea serpent to afflict Andromeda's kingdom.  In an effort to appease it, the king chose to sacrifice Andromeda to the dragon.  But before she perished, the dashing hero, Perseus, slayed the sea serpent and married the princess!

In terms of relating it to Beauty and the Beast, I focused on the concept of the most beautiful sister being sent to the Beast.  If she was so beautiful, and men constantly fell over themselves to please her, then why would they waste her on the Beast?  So instead of Beauty, I sent my poor stepsister into the lion's den.

Lastly, I want to thank the incomparable  Hannah Williams for reading this in advance and showering me with good advice.

I hope you enjoy!



The silver wing of the moon swept across the midnight sky.  A deceptive web of shadows lay across the hills of rock, fragmenting them into a thousand shards of charcoal and fair grey.  A man could break his leg in this beautiful, deadly landscape and never be found.
            In the event of a broken leg, first stop the bleeding, Leonatus thought automatically.  Set the bone, and bind it with a splint.  Ensure the patient rests until the limb heals.  That was what he’d read, at least.  He’d never tried it on a person.
            His chlamus flapped behind him like wings as he stumbled down a hill in a shower of loose stones, landing heavily on rocky sand.  He had no delusions about his agility: only the grace of the gods spared him from a broken neck.
            “Minerva,” he mumbled, scrambling over rocks, “if you could see your servant through this, he would be eternally grateful.”
            He waited for some symbol of divine favor: perhaps an owl startled into flight, or a comet tumbling through the heavens.  Or something.  But the gods never answered prayers that easily or subtly.  Instead he stepped off a small bluff into a miniature chasm between swells of rock.
            Hissing in a breath, Leonatus sat up, pleased at the lack of obvious pain.  His hands closed around the cool, damp sand that cushioned his fall.  The repetitive sigh of waves rose to his attention, and he cursed.  He was far off course if he’d reached the sea, with little hope of returning before dawn even if he gave up the hunt entirely.
            He didn’t know how long he sat there, defeated, before a glimmer distracted him.  Sharp, clear light, splintering across the sand.  Cold and fresh, like the diamonds that were said to fall from the sky in the north.
            Curious, Leonatus crawled down the beach, briny water soaking through the knees of his chiton.  Moonlight sparkled and skipped across the wave caps, but the metallic shining still caught his eye.  It was an old iron chain wound about the rock, silvered with moonlight until it belonged in any Soloni palace.
            “What?” he murmured, picking it up carefully so the rusted coils didn’t slice his hand.  He tugged one end and felt the unyielding firmness of rock.
            He tugged the other, and a human hand flopped into his lap.
            “Yeargh!” Leonatus yelled, and the possessor of the hand managed a faint grunt of pain as he flung it away.
            A maiden lay curled in the moon-cast shadow, her face turned away from the faint light.  She was clad in a white peplos that had seen more prosperous days.  A manacle curled around her left wrist, stained with blood like she’d struggled against it before collapsing.
            It was not immediately apparent whether she breathed.
            “Gods above,” Leonatus said, dropping down beside her.  His knee knocked her head, and it lolled; he barely caught it before it hit stone.  “I’m just a little—flustered—let me think—“
            He didn’t pause for thought, though.  His mother called him indecisive, and maybe he was, but not in medicine.  He ran his hands down her arms and legs for broken bones.  He examined her cracked lips with concern, and his palm cringed away from her scalding forehead.
            At first he thought she’d hit her head, accounting for the red tint to her hair, but he could find no cut.  He sat there stupidly, staring at strands neither orange nor brown nor yellow but somewhere between, until he realized it was her natural hair color.  She had red hair.  That meant something vitally important, but he had no time for it now.           
            “So, so, so,” he said, disconcerted.  “Dehydrated, sunburned, overheated.  Generally abused.  You’ve been out here for days, haven’t you?”
            She didn’t answer.  Her head lolled aside so moonlight brushed her face.  She was not a traditional, fine-boned Soloni beauty.  She was sharp-boned and reddened, and he thought she might be taller than he.
            “I wonder,” he whispered, “what exactly your story is.”  With difficulty and a curious foreboding, he gathered her into his arms and set off into the darkness.

The First Remembrance:

“Come on, Hespera,” her mother said.  She held out a bow, her scarred knuckles clamped around it.  “You have to practice archery.”
            She stared at the woman who did not quite have a face, just the memory of one, and didn’t take the bow.  She knew she was dreaming the same way she often knew she was awake; even if she hadn’t, her clothes gave her away.  They were fine, streaming linen, fit for a queen.  She had not worn their type for years.
            She was in the courtyard of her family’s house in the golden, tender days before the Soloni invasion.  An apricot tree bloomed amid the cool stone in a nimbus of velvety green leaves and latticed shade.  A fountain trickled faintly, which was not in her memory.  The ancestral fountain had ceased to work long before her childhood.
            Reluctantly, because it did not do to contradict the dead, she said, “I don’t want to shoot, Mother.”  Weapons figured too prominently in her childhood for her to happily take them up again.
            “You need to practice,” said the woman with weathered skin and greying amber hair.  “For when the invaders come.”
            But that’s not right, she thought.  I’m mixing memories.  They didn’t come until I was older.  We were still happy when the apricot tree bloomed.
            Her mother stood there, holding out the bow.  There was something childishly hurt about her blurred, misty face.
            “The gods put us all in our place,” she said.
            “Oh, Mother,” Hespera whispered.  “Bows and arrows could never have stopped them.”
            The leaves of the apricot tree curled, browning, and the faint-edged memory of her mother dried and fell with them.  They fluttered across the courtyard, rasping in the cracks between tiles and drowning in the fountain.  The vision trembled and tore, as fragile as the leaves.

Book I:

The faintest edge of gold crept through her lashes, and Hespera awoke.  She blinked at the morning sunlight, vividly gold like lion’s fur as the sun lazily reached above the mountain’s edge.  The graceful, swooping lines of the sky, shell-like blue and stirring white, were cut off by the solid window frame.  It was the same cool grey as the hills of rock, and she remembered its name was marble.
            The last dregs of sleep dispersed as she gazed around the small room.  Diffused light drifted across her cot and the bare expanse of floor.  Shadows, accompanied by distant voices and the ever-present scent of baking bread, fell across the doorway that led… to wherever she was now.
            She lay on a soft bed beneath a sheet of linen that, no matter how finely woven, chafed painfully against her skin like she’d leaned against the bread oven.  She hissed a breath as she hooked it away from the red stain that covered much of her skin.  She could feel the heat of it trapped against the sheet.  But aside from her sunburns, she was reasonably comfortable, except she had no idea where she was.
            A voice rose beyond the door, and Hespera hastily dropped the sheet.  A man stood in the doorway, raising his eyebrows to see her awake.  Her heart fell when she saw he was Soloni, judging by his fair hair, strong nose, and blue eyes.
            She would not have recognized him but for his hands.  He had beautiful hands: nimble and graceful even when still, free of redness or calluses.  They curled lightly around a terra cotta drinking vessel and pitcher.
            “Good morning,” she said.  “Um.  Who are you?”
            You,” he said, brow furrowing, “should not be awake yet.  That poppy should’ve lasted for several more hours.”  He stared at her; she shifted, uncomfortable.  “Of course, I might’ve misjudged your muscle mass,” he said, not to her.  “You’re very strong, you know.”
            “Thank you,” Hespera said, and he blinked, startled from his thoughts.  “Where am I?  Um… who are you?”  She struggled to even her voice.
            “A minute, Hespera.”  He sat down with the same hesitant grace as his hands and carefully poured a measure of water.  “Drink this first.  You’ll feel better.”
            She had it nearly to her lips before her eyes widened, and she asked, “How do you know my name?”
            “You told me.  Last night.  I didn’t think you’d remember waking.”
            “No.”  To hide her confusion, she sipped from the vessel.  She knew secrets; what else had she said?  But the cool, sweet spring water slipped easily down her throat, and he grabbed her hand before she could drink it all.
            “Not so much,” he said, frazzled.  “You did have heat poisoning less than two days ago.  You should—don’t even think about getting out of bed!”
            She considered ignoring him, but the bed was softer than her pallet, so she leaned back.
            “Please tell me,” she said.  “Who are you?  Where am I?  What were you doing in the hills of rock at night?  Who does that, anyway?”
            It was rude of her, and she winced, but he surprised her by settling comfortably into the chair and crossing his ankles like one prepared for a long story.
            “I was looking for someone,” he said.  “Admittedly, not you.  My name is Leonatus Sergius of Solon, and I am your humble physician.  And if I may ask a question myself—um—why were you chained to a rock?”
            She swallowed.  She had not anticipated surviving to explain herself.
            “That’s… rather a long story,” she said.  “You see, it’s on account of… the dragon.”
            “A dragon?”
            “A dragon,” she agreed, embarrassed.  “Which has reportedly decimated the poor gladiators of our hospitable coast.”
            “Oh, no,” he said, dismayed.  “So logically, they decide to solve the matter by sacrificing a fair maiden to the monster.”
            “Yes,” she agreed.  “The year is twenty-seven, but they still feed maidens to dragons.  Although it went awry when the dragon entirely failed to show up, let alone devour me.”  She smothered a giggle in the linen sheet.  “I wonder what they’ll think when they return to find an empty chain and no signs of a struggle.”
            “My, what a tidy dragon,” Leonatus suggested, amused.  “Now, to answer your second question, the where one: you are currently in the kitchens outside the royal library of Paramos.”
            He examined his fingers, bunching and extending them to watch the play of tendons beneath skin while Hespera controlled her expression.
            “It’s the library of Solon now, isn’t it?” she said lightly, but her voice trembled.  “There is no Paramos anymore.”
            “None at all,” Leonatus agreed absently.  “Only a scattered race of slaves.  And that is why I and a handful of others are cataloging the scrolls here, in order to bring them back to the capital so that the royal scholars, whom I dislike, might pore over them at the exclusivity of me.”  She could hear the jealousy in his voice.  “All at her imperial majesty’s orders, of course.”
            Her eyes flew open.  She had taken him for a scholar, but if he was the empress’s man, he stood so far above her that she couldn’t see his shadow from a mountaintop.  Her mind flew back to his name.  Sergius.  Had she heard it before?
            She glanced up to meet his blue eyes, only the second pair she’d ever seen.
            “That’s why you must stay here for a time, Hespera,” he said.  “Because now you know about the library, and it is a closely guarded secret.  The royal library of Paramos is the largest in the known world.  Many would risk life and limb, or at least someone else’s, to have even a fraction of the knowledge it contains.”
            He hesitated, toying with the jug of water.  “That’s why I was in the hills of rock that night.  One of my companions—my tutor, Apollonius, who practically raised me and whom I trusted with my life—absconded two days ago with as many manuscripts as he could carry.  I was trying to follow him when I found you.”
            She heard the frustration in his voice.  He had traded the chance to win back ancient knowledge for one woman.
            “This Apollonius,” she said, unsettled.  “I saw him.  He came by before you did, weighed down with heavy packages.”
            “Not too surprising, although frustrating that I was so close,” Leonatus acknowledged.  “I didn’t think he would take the sea route.  It heads back to Epiphanes, not the capital.”
            “Were the scrolls he stole terribly valuable?”
            Leonatus grimaced.  “Yes and no.  Yes in that they in themselves were irreplaceable; no in that the world can probably get by without another map of the capital.”
            He caught her eye and smiled wanly.  “I don’t want to trouble you with this.  You nearly died and should focus on healing now.  We’ll be finished one way or another in a few weeks, and we can return you to Epiphanes on our way back.  No doubt your family will be glad to see you.”  His eyes were fleetingly quick and sharp; they unsettled her.  “Are you a princess?  Why did they pick you for the dragon?”
            His smile was a stark contrast to her sinking heart.  The slight discrepancy in their conversation, which had bothered her, became frankly, brutally clear.
            She didn’t have to tell him the truth.  She could smile blithely and lie; she could even make herself out to be a princess, an irony that would’ve made her laugh if it hadn’t tasted so very bitter.  But even as her lips formed the first nonchalant word, Hespera knew she wouldn’t, because he had saved her life.
            “I-I’m sorry,” she said.  “I thought you knew, or would’ve guessed.”  He was a nice enough man.  Perhaps it wouldn’t change anything.  She met his gaze.  “I’m not a princess, sir.  I’m a slave.”

Book II:

“Don’t hit the dough so hard,” ordered Prisca, the library’s only other slave.  “You want to knead it, not kill it and loot the corpse.”
            “Oh, I’m sorry,” Hespera said icily.  “I have no idea what came over me.”
            She frowned sullenly at the familiar mess of earthen vessels cluttering the tables and the scented bundles of herbs hanging from the ceiling.  She could’ve been lounging in her comfortable room, but instead she told the truth and was banished to the kitchens.  Typical Solon.
            Her eyes widened when Prisca passed her a vase filled with finely ground flour, the best she’d ever seen.
            “Start a new batch,” she instructed brusquely.  “The starter is by the stove.  Don’t skimp.  Remember you’re baking for nobility, not some merchant.”
            “Excuse me,” Hespera said indignantly, hunting for a clean bowl.  By all the gods, the kitchen was a mess!  “My master was Themistocles, the greatest owner and trainer of gladiators in Solon.”
Prisca’s dry, wrinkled hands stilled.  “Themistocles?” she said calmly.
Hespera nodded, taken aback by her voice.
“Have you told Master Leonatus of this yet?”
            “No,” she said dryly.  “I did not get into the particulars of my relationship with the Soloni Empire.  Besides, Themistocles... he starves his animals to make them more vicious.  He fed a woman to a lion once.  He’s not,” she allowed, “my favorite topic of conversation.”
Prisca sighed.  “Don’t mention it to Leonatus, then.  Themistocles and my master are bitter rivals.  They once dueled in court, and Leonatus came off the worse for it, poor boy.”  Her soft, lined cheek rose in a sad smile.
Hespera pondered this as she scattered the precious flour through the starter, wrinkling her nose at the familiar scent.  “What’s his family name?”
“Sergius,” Prisca said with pride.  “The oldest, most respected family in Solon.”
“But he’s a physician?”
“He started the training.”  Prisca’s face fell.  “I understand his mother objected vehemently to it.  She is a woman who often gets her way at the expense of others.”
Hespera set the covered dough aside and accepted an older batch from Prisca.  She pushed the familiar, tacky dough with the heels of her palms, folding and pressing it into something of worth.
“Oh, thank goodness,” said a voice from the door.  “If I had to bake another loaf of bread, I would head straight back to the capital.”
Hespera turned to see a man in the doorway.  He was almost beautiful, with pale eyes and fine features at once strong and thoughtful, like they might be carved into marble.  She could have spent days pondering his eyelashes.
“No scrolls in the kitchen,” Prisca said swiftly.
The man sighed and, without stooping, dropped the bundle in the hallway, which Hespera was sure Prisca had not meant.  He stepped over them into the kitchen, eyes running over the sorted pots and dark smoke stains on the wall.  Unlike Hespera, he had no need to stoop beneath the hanging herbs.
“You’re Hespera, then?” he asked in a lyrical voice.  “It’s about time you were up.  Can’t stand baking myself.”
“No?” Hespera said in the pause, uncertain if this required a response.  It evidently did not, because his eyebrows drew together.
“I,” he said, “am Hesiod Faustus,” and there was a horribly awkward pause, like he expected her to recognize his name, only she didn’t, so she smiled to cover her confusion.  “Renowned poet of Solon?”
Prisca cackled.  “She hasn’t heard of you, Master Hesiod.  Perhaps you work isn’t as popular as you believe.”
 “I don’t follow poetry much,” Hespera hastened to add.  “On account of my being a slave.”
He ignored her.  “Prisca,” he said petulantly, “when is lunch today?  I’m starving.”
Prisca muttered something beneath her breath and stooped to check the oven.
“Barley bread,” she grunted, covering her hands with cloth pads to slide it out.
“You always make barley bread.”
“If you stop bringing me barley flour, I’ll stop making barley bread.  Don’t complain; it’s good for you.”
Amazingly, Hesiod did not press the issue, though he huffed and slunk out, gathering up the scrolls as he left.
“How many people are here?” Hespera asked curiously.
“Counting you and me?  Four.”  Prisca dumped two steaming loaves onto a tray, slapped down a knife, and hunted for an amphora of wine to serve with it.
“Only four?  But this place is big enough to hold hundreds!  Why so few?”
“Because it’s a secret,” Prisca said.  “Priceless knowledge, hidden secrets, etcetera.  Have you served before?”
“Yes,” Hespera said before she could think better of it.
“Then you’ll serve today.”  She eyed Hespera’s long amber hair with distrust.  “You ought to pin that up.  Only Paramons wear it down.”
Hespera ignored her.  She hooked her fingers through the collection of terra cotta drinking vessels Prisca indicated, then balanced the tray across her forearms.
“The dining room is in the main building,” Prisca said, hovering behind her.  “Don’t go into the room with the scrolls or the master will have both our heads.  Take the first right when you come to the statues of scowling women.  I’ll be there as soon as the relishes are done.”
“I’ll be fine, Prisca,” Hespera said, and the elderly slave reluctantly retreated to the kitchen.  Hespera had neglected to ask directions on leaving the kitchen building itself, but after a few wrong turns, she found a doorway and stepped out, blinking, into daylight.
The royal library and its small kitchen clung high to the mountainside above the hills of rock.  Not far from where Hespera stood, the ground fell away to breathtaking folds of grey stone, undulating and cascading far below.  She could not fathom the depth of it, and they were barely halfway up the mountain.       
 In the far, vague distance, muted to hazy grey, a still plume of smoke marred the pale blue sky, beyond it the sea.  That was the only sign of Epiphanes and Themistocles’s manor.  It looked so small and insubstantial, framed against the vastness of the sky, that Hespera questioned her own memories of the place.  Had she really been betrayed and sent to her death?  Or had that been a thirst-driven dream as she stumbled through the darkness with Leonatus?
It was like the drop down the mountain.  So vast she couldn’t even see it.
Slowly, Hespera turned around, banishing the dizzying, dazzling drop behind her.  She gazed up at the royal library of Paramos.
Grey columns rose to the sky, bearing up a carved roof.  Stone women—goddesses, perhaps, or nymphs—stood in the niches between columns.  Their long, loose hair fell to their waists in the Paramon style.  Hard eyes glowered beneath their plumed helmets, and Hespera imagined that they assessed her with experienced precision.
She shivered beneath the collective stares of the warrior queens of Paramos.
Voices shook her from her reverie, spiraling down through echoing hallways of stone.  She followed them past the main doorway, full of strangely scented air and shadows.
“—completely ridiculous, Leo.  He practically raised all of us.  Even Prisca liked him, and Prisca doesn’t like anyone.”
Hespera tipped her head down demurely and glided in with the tray.
The sizeable courtyard of the royal library, worn by rain and chipped with use, grew thickly with roses.  They were everywhere: climbing the silent walls, spilling across the flagstone paths, creeping across the long-disused stone table and benches.  They twined sinuous, many-knuckled fingers around the statue that stood knee-deep in the now-silent fountain.  It trailed long fingers in the stagnant water, choked with rotting petals.  The wind waved the roses gently, tripping and rippling through seas of petals as pink as a sunset, twining gently against the turquoise sky, bleached by the waning sun.  Only two men sat at the long table and benches clearly intended for more.
“If he truly stole the scrolls, we’ll have to go after him,” Hesiod said.
Dazed by the magnificent beauty of the forest, Hespera clumsily filled the vessels with rich wine, then pure water filtered by the mountain as it welled up in glassy pools.  The clear liquid and the dark, like blood, rose in cloudy shadows.  Hespera looked up from the deepness of it into Leonatus’s eyes.
Something there gave her the courage to whisper, “Who p-planted these?”
“No one knows,” he said.  “It’s not documented.  But only the Paramon royal family came here, so it must’ve been one of them.”  He smiled around.  “Who knows how long ago they planted these?”
They were the most beautiful things she’d ever seen, even in her father’s house as a girl.  She marveled at them while she stood and held the wine, poised for service.  Prisca bustled in with a sort of aged grace, bearing a tray of relishes, and Hespera half-gasped when she sat down with Leonatus and Hesiod as though she was as free as they were.
“Leonatus,” Hesiod reminded him.  “We were taking about Apollonius.”
“Yes,” Leonatus agreed tiredly.  “Knowledge is power, but the scrolls he took were nearly worthless.  There are countless maps of the capital, many better.”
“Then why?” Hesiod asked.  “It makes no sense.”  The question hung in thoughtful silence.
At last, Leonatus said wearily, “We cannot know.  All we can do is finish our work and return to the capital as quickly as possible, before it becomes vital that we do know.  We have perhaps three weeks of work left.  He cannot make it there and back again to anywhere worth going besides Epiphanes by then.”
“Personally,” Hesiod said, “I hope he makes it no farther than Epiphanes before being robbed and murdered.”
Leonatus leaned forward, pain etched on his face.
“He was a friend, Hesiod,” Prisca said sharply.  “For a very, very long time.  You can’t know what would cause a man to betray his friends.”
Leonatus slumped.  “Perhaps we pushed him too far.”
Prisca smiled sadly.  It was the softest expression Hespera had seen on her face.  “No farther than we push ourselves.”
            “Unlike you,” Hesiod disagreed, “I value a dry and likely useless collection of primitive knowledge to a lesser degree than I value, oh, say, my life.”
            To Hespera’s surprise, Prisca and Leonatus both fixed him with cold stares.  He shifted beneath their collective gaze.
            “It’s not primitive,” Leonatus said quietly.  “It is far more advanced than anything we now know.”
            Hesiod knit his eyebrows.  “But how can that be?  It is hundreds of years old.”
            Leonatus sighed, leaned back in his chair, and laced his fingers.
            “Civilization has not progressed greatly in the past three hundred years,” he said.  “We’ve been stuck in a rut because there are simply too many kingdoms.  Too many factions, forming alliances and breaking them, persecuting the search of knowledge and destroying what exists already.”
            He opened his mouth, stopped, and rested a hand against his forehead.
            “To understand this, you have to begin with Paramos.  It covered what is now Solon, Timaeus, Cleitos, Euanthe, Melissa, Cyprianus, Gallus… almost too many to name.  While Paramos reigned, it was a golden age of knowledge.”
            “This is Paramos we’re talking about, right?” Hesiod said dubiously.  “It’s a society based on war.”
            “Not at first,” Leonatus allowed.  “Not until the senate of Paramos broke down into a monarchy.  Factions splintered off to form new kingdoms, and suddenly Paramos, which had gone unchallenged for hundreds of years, faced a new generation of rivals.  It dwindled and weakened, but on the way down it learned the way of war.  If warfare can be perfected, then Paramos did so.”
            “But we defeated them,” Hesiod said proudly.  “The Soloni Empire beat the masters of war.”
            “We shouldn’t have,” Leonatus said quietly.  “We only won because we used our gladiators.  Slaves who had only fought for entertainment before.  We swamped the Paramons with unwilling numbers, and that”—the lines on his young face deepened—“is how we defeated Paramos.”
            “And Hesione, and Hagne,” Hesiod tallied.  “The Caelian.”
            “We haven’t conquered Caelia yet,” Prisca objected.
            “No?”  Hesiod smirked.  “Their entire royal family is slaves in the Soloni palace.  I’d call that conquered.”
            “We shouldn’t have done it,” Leonatus said quietly.  “We gambled with diamonds to win coal.  And now the gladiators know they can win."
            “That sounds like treason, Leo,” Hesiod pointed out.  “Your mother would hardly be pleased.”
            “But it’s true.”
            There was something deeply sad and… personal in his face.  Hespera glanced away, but she couldn’t shake the thought that she’d witnessed something sacred, something she should not have seen.  Her eyes met Hesiod’s pale ones.  He forced a smile.
            “So, Hespera.”  He dropped a courtly, mocking bow that nonetheless brought a smile to her lips.  “Would you mind very much, fair maiden, putting into context the colorful fact that your master abandoned you in the wilderness for a dragon?”
            She smiled at him.  “I’ll tell my story if you tell me yours,” she said, hoping that wasn’t too forward.
            “Easy enough,” Hesiod said.  “I’m the warrior poet.”
            “What?” Leonatus coughed, choking on his wine.  “Since when have you fought in any wars?”
            “I haven’t,” Hesiod said with dignity.  “But I’ll have you know that I took fencing for several years.”
            “I know,” Leonatus said incredulously.  “I took it with you.  We’re both terrible.”  He turned his gaze to Hespera.  “There’s not much to know, at least in my case.  I’m from the capital.  My mother destroyed my ambitions as a physician so that I might pursue a short, disastrous career in politics, which concluded with my being chased from the capital by a mob with torches and pitchforks.”
            “He’s exaggerating,” Hesiod said.  “It was really just his sister Aelia and I.  I don’t remember having torches.”
            “And you, Prisca?” Hespera asked.
            “I have arms, and can therefore carry things.”  Prisca sniffed.  “So Leonatus brought me along.”
            “At your age,” Hesiod said amiably.  “Piddling about in an old dusty library.”  He glanced hopefully at Hespera.  “The dragon?”
            Hespera mused over the tale as she tilted a wine glass, swishing the dark pink liquid across terra cotta.
            “I’m afraid it won’t be as interesting as you think,” she said modestly.  She glanced up at a scratching sound.  “Master Hesiod, are you taking notes?”
            “Don’t spoil the moment!” he said sharply.  “Keep going!”
            “Right…”  She cleared her throat.  “I was not born a slave.  I was born Paramon.”
            Leonatus choked on his wine.  Prisca clapped him firmly on the back until Leonatus’s elbow knocked over the cup.  Hesiod shouted as wine spattered his paper.
            “I’m sorry,” Hespera said testily.  “Is that a problem?”
            “No!” Leonatus said, coughing.  “Not at all.  You’re Paramon.  That’s great!  I just—am reviewing everything I said about Paramos and wondering if it was horribly offensive.  Stop smiling at me,” he said.  “You’re making me uneasy.  What did I say about Paramos?  I love Paramos!”
“She could teach us to fence,” Hesiod said, and Prisca shushed him.
“I was born in the final days of Paramos, when it was increasingly clear that the kingdom could not hold itself together much longer,” Hespera continued.  Hesiod’s pen ran across the page.  Leonatus lowered his eyebrows in thought.
“It was a long war, and by the end of it, I didn’t have much family left.  The remaining Paramons were few enough that Solon could take us all as slaves.  My family had been wealthy, and we didn’t adapt well to slavery.  We were sold in different directions.  Although I found my father again, I haven’t seen my mother or siblings in over ten years.  I don’t know if they’re still alive.”
She looked like she’d swallowed her words, and they made her ill.
“I’ve been to every corner of the Soloni Empire, shunted from master to master, sold so many times I’ve lost count.  I’ve been to Anthousa and Isocrates, all the way down to Pherenike by the sea.  Eventually, the tides of slavery washed me up on the shore of Epiphanes, where I landed in the servitude of a notable gladiator-trainer for many years.  A woman there raised me; by the time she died, I’d learned enough of the domestic slave’s trade to earn my place.”
“Then they chained you to a rock in the sea,” Hesiod said.  “I understand perfectly now.”
“I’m getting there.”  She wet her lips with wine.  “This summer, a serpent preyed on my master’s men.  He makes his living by training gladiators and animals to fight, so this was a calamity.  It only took gladiators, but he feared it would move on to tigers and leopards, or the valuable southern lions.  He needed some way to appease it, to slacken its appetite.”
She smiled thinly.  “The people of Solon always give the fairest maiden to the dragon.  So he chose me.”
“Because… you’re the fairest?” Hesiod said, as politely as one might ask.
“Not even close,” she assured him.  “The fairest maiden was his courtesan, Charis, renowned for her fine white skin.  But no one is going to waste a girl that beautiful on a dragon.  Charis, out of self-preservation, suggested me.”
“What a despicable woman,” Leonatus said indignantly.
            “She’s very young,” Hespera said mildly.  When that failed to appease him, she added, “She’s also my sister.”
            His mouth fell open.  “How—“
            “By adoption,” she added.  “Her mother was the woman who raised me.”
            “And then what happened?” Hesiod asked eagerly.
            “You know the rest,” Hespera pointed out, puzzled.  “I nearly died before Leonatus came.”
            “Yes, but we can edit him out of the final draft,” Hesiod said, scratching happily away.  “Bless you, Hespera!  You’d make an excellent play, or maybe an epic poem.”
            “I can’t believe it,” Leonatus said, disconcerted.  “Your own sister gave you to a dragon?”
            Carefully, Hespera refilled the wine, giving the movement every ounce of her concentration so it fell in a perfect arc.
            “She was… different, towards the end,” she said finally.  “She was always vivacious, but she became prone to unpredictable fits of violence.  She didn’t eat much, but she had the strength to be hateful.”  She glanced at Leonatus, fear warring with the hope in her eyes.  “She wasted away.  It was like she was sick.  Could a disease cause that?”
            “Maybe,” Leonatus said.  He didn’t look at her, but she could see sympathy in his face, and she knew the truth.  Of course Charis had betrayed her.  Of course Hespera was unwilling to admit what her little sister had become.
            The conversation lagged into silence, and Hespera returned to her position as cupbearer.  Leonatus toyed with the bread, but his thoughts were clearly far off.  Not until he reached the crust did he put his knife down with sudden force, eyes lighting up with an intensity that Hespera was coming to recognize.
            “Hespera,” he said.  “You’re a domestic slave.”
            “So that means you bake bread.  Specifically, you knead dough.”
            “Leonatus,” Hesiod said wearily, “I have no earthly idea what you mean, and neither does poor Hespera.”
            “What I mean,” he said, articulate in his indignation, “is that you therefore have very strong arms.”
            “Um.  I suppose,” Hespera said.
            “I think I know what you mean,” Prisca said slowly, “and before you say anything else, are you sure?”
            “We have no choice,” Leonatus said simply.  “Hespera is strong enough to carry scrolls.  She can help.  We must bring the scrolls of the library to safety or perish in the attempt.”  He half-smiled.  “If only because my mother will kill us if we fail.”
            “But I can’t read,” Hespera protested.
            “That doesn’t matter,” Leonatus said breezily, a smile shining through his face.  “All you need is to recognize letters of the alphabet so you can sort scrolls.  We only need someone to teach you…”
            “I will be glad to,” Hesiod said gallantly.  “Consider it done.  When does she need to be ready?”
            “Um… this afternoon?”  Leonatus sighed.  “We need all the help we can get.”
            He stood slowly, holding his arms like they pained him.
            “Come on, Hespera,” he said.  “Let me show you the library.”


ghost ryter said...

Have to admit, you had me as soon as you mentioned 'Greek legend'. ;) I'm intrigued!

Hannah said...

Yay!!! Hespera is an awesome story! And I can't wait for Firn and Furan, because I loved that to pieces!

Ana @ Butterflies of the Imagination said...

Well, at least Anne Elisabeth Stengl has three more fairytale retelling contests, and then another themed contest series after that, right? I sure hope I can enter next year.

I really enjoyed reading this first part of Hespera, and I have now deemed you the Queen of Beautiful Description. :) I can't wait for the next installment.

Anonymous said...

Oooohh very nice, I can't wait for the second part!

Allison Ruvidich said...

Haha, thank you so much, guys! : D I'm so glad you like it... The second installment will be posted tomorrow. I don't know if I'll go straight to Firn and Furan after, or if I'll give it some breathing room between stories. : D Thank you!!

Sarah said...

"You’re Paramon. That’s great! I just—am reviewing everything I said about Paramos and wondering if it was horribly offensive. Stop smiling at me.”

That is an awesomely awesome line. :D Just sayin'.

I love this story- your dialogue especially is awesome (and funny).

Allison Ruvidich said...

Haha, thank you, Sarah! That was in the first draft, then I chopped it out for a while. Eventually it found its way back in. : D I'm glad you like it!!

Savannah Jezowski said...

Your descriptions are very lovely!! I have such a feel for the setting

Allison Ruvidich said...

Thank you so much, Savannah! Let it be known that I cannot WAIT to read Wither! Lilybet sounds like a girl I will adore. : D