Again it's happening and Kassandra can't—
Alexios plummeting from Mount Taygetos by her hand with the priest following after. Nikolaos and his breastplate blood-hot in her hands on Megaris. Even Stentor on Boetia, sand kicked up and another son of Nikolaos at her mercy. Myrrine and Deimos where it all began and the words lodged in her throat, a sword to her mother's.
It's dark, like it was on Mount Taygetos and older though she may be, she's no more prepared despite a whole lifetime stretched between these moments; the Daughters might well be those Spartans ready to stand judgement on her now and Daphnae the Pythia but that's not fair. (What is when it comes to the Gods and their lives? And what she knows, Pythagoras—
But no, not him, not here, not now.)
The spear is a weight in her hands and if she could ask Leonidas what it was to wield it she would but she can't and there's Daphnae presenting Kassandra to her sisters, the Daughters, and Bryce, Kassandra thinks and Lesbos isn't so far from here though the Writhing Dead are all still and frozen, Bryce and Ligeia together she can only hope after the horror she witnessed there; here and now she stands in the chill night air, insects filling the chorus fixed in place as surely as the Medusa had fixed her with a look, no shield between them.
She sees it in Daphnae's eyes when she lays the challenge before her and wonders if Daphnae has seen the same thing reflected in hers since they first spoke, all those kills between them and every other moment shared that sour in her mouth now. None of the Daughters move. Kassandra thinks of those beasts she killed, the pelts returned, other creatures that charged in to attack and aid and swallows the bitter bile scorching her throat.
Will she spit in the eye of the gods? Hasn't she done that already? Surely once more.
But how many times does she get away with it.
Generous enough that she has her brother, her father, her mother, even another brother unasked for and her home. She can't have everything. Brasidas is gone after all. Phoibe who she couldn't save and who did nothing to deserve her fate.
Kassandra is Spartan enough too and it's her grandfather's spear that she raises to meet the challenge, a roar from the Daughters of Artemis flanking them both so like the Nemean Lion in all its fury but they walk with wolves and bears, why not all the rest of the Goddess' beasts?
Daphnae can't betray her sisters any more than Kassandra can ask her not to as they draw their weapons, Daphnae two wicked daggers from her hip, Kassandra a sword to go with the spear, blades clashing together. There's fire in Daphnae's eyes, the same that Kassandra saw that first time they met on Phokis, time and again by the temple. She slashes at her, meets her blow for blow. Spins below and under a strike that manages to catch her under the shoulder, a clean cut that she barely registers now though one she'll be sorry for later.
But later there's worse. Later—
Daphnae yells, charges, throws her full weight at Kassandra who stands her ground, taking the brunt of it with her sword to push back and knock her almost off her feet. When Kassandra charges her Daphnae isn't ready. She strikes out, and Daphnae manages to parry the sword but not the spear, the cut of the blade that sinks low and deep into her side.
The sword drops from her hand unnoticed and still the Daughters watch, fires crackling in the village below, a chorus of crickets and Kassandra's breath punched out of her as Daphnae gasps and reaches for her, words Kassandra barely hears. She can't give Daphnae last rites, not like she did Phoibe in Athens, Chara pressed into those little hands. She can't watch her die as she watched Brasidas in Amphipolis as she pulls the spear from her, hand pressed tight.
"Not now, Daphnae, stay. Please, stay with me."
Phoibe and Brasidas are gone; many others she's met along the way have slipped through her fingers but her family, the ones she loves? She has them. And Daphnae—
Daphnae is someone she loves as Kassandra is to Daphnae. A death she can't have on her hands, on her heart, on her soul. She sheathes her sword then gathers Daphnae to her with a nod for Ikaros who flies from his perch, the Daughters looking to her.
Her brother is alive and his head and body not smashed beyond recognition where they both fell before she ended up in a boat and he is and isn't—he is and isn't her brother but he's alive. Their mother is alive and has them both in Sparta and her house that she raised them in, Sparta where she and Nikolaos taught Kassandra what it was to be a Spartan, and there's even Stentor too, the pair of them fighting together that night they tried to have dinner. Even Barnabas asking in his roundabout way hadn't accounted for Myrrine and Nikolaos and their three children between (four, how to reconcile Alexios and Deimos still a work in progress even if he sails with her, tries to argue the toss as if he's ever truly captained) them about the table where two were born and one was raised.
Daphnae moans, soft, the broken cry of the Hind when Kassandra's arrow at last pierced the throat.
"I will return," Kassandra says with a voice raw as any time she's stormed the battlefield to lead soldiers, blood and smoke and sand shredding it less than whatever constricts it now. The Daughters look to her, to Daphnae in her arms and the will of the Goddess must be satisfied since they nod and touch Daphnae's arm, her face, her side, and depart to the village. To Daphnae she whispers: "I cannot lead them without you."
She takes off at as fast a run as she dares, whistling for Phobos as soon as she's clear of the village, hollering when she can, Daphnae wheezing and choking at the jostling but there's no blood at her mouth. Kassandra will take what good fortune she can at this point as she holds her close, charting the swiftest course to the ship in her head, the best chance she has to not let it end in more blood and death at her hands.
"I'm sorry Daphnae," she presses her lips to her temple, whistles again for Phobos and there, finally, are the thundering hooves as she hoists her higher in her arms then up into the saddle as soon as the horse draws near. "Forgive me, please, hold on, you're someone I could love too."
She clutches Daphnae tight and urges Phobos to a gallop through the darkness, blood leaking sluggishly under her fingers, the wind stinging her eyes as Ikaros flies above her, guiding her to the Adrestia and a shot at making things right.
"She might not make it," Nikolaos says quietly when no one else will fill the silence where they're all clustered about Daphnae up on the quarterdeck, him and Myrrine kneeling at her side where she's been made as comfortable as she might be where Herodotos used to sit. Deimos hasn't joined them, not quite, and any other time it might be funny the way her little brother grown as a bear lurks on the steps when he's a hulking wall of muscle and broad shoulders, armour glittering in the sun, ready to flee back to the deck to scowl about the sailors. Not today. Not when Nikolaos, the Wolf of Sparta turns to look at Kassandra with every line in his face grave; Nikolaos has seen as many or more wounds as Kassandra, he's lived longer after all so she can't be certain how a misthios matches a Spartan general and it's not as if they sit about and compare.
"We can watch over her lamb," Myrrine rises, fills the space between Kassandra and Daphnae, a hand on the wrist. Her mother must know what weapon inflicted that wound. They know the spear better than anyone else, how deep its bite. "Go."
"I—" What does she want to say? What can she say that she hasn't already to the wind, to Daphnae's hair escaping her circlet and where it had been so neatly pulled back before they fought. When I hunted, when I returned--Kassandra shakes the thoughts away, her legs betraying her, Myrrine's hand easy to shake free. Better to have people pay attention to Daphnae.
Kassandra's done enough.
And her legs—
A hand settles on her shoulder and she makes to fight it but she can't, succeeding only in wrenching a shoulder still aching from where one of Daphnae's daggers lodged up and under, a vicious strike she hasn't tended to, made worse from carrying her body – breathing, still breathing but only just – away from that place and the Daughters who watched as wolves watched for where she'd left Phobos. He'd ridden with worse burdens than two grown women, Kassandra spurring him faster and faster, the reins raw in one palm and the other clutching Daphnae tight against her, hand pressed to where the spear had punctured, fingers splayed over the wound. The blood is still on her hand, dried, flaking. But the hand on her shoulder? Stentor. Not her little brother watching all of it while he leans against the railing. Stentor with his face puckered up as if anything that's not a sneer when it comes to Kassandra is a labour worthy of Heracles and it has what's left of Kassandra's blood up, the itch to fight Stentor never not there but fighting got her here, more won't accomplish anything.
"You can do nothing," he tells her but she notes there's little satisfaction for a change as he steers her forward to where she can look out over the Adrestia. "Barnabas won't listen to anyone but you anyway."
"He won't listen to you, you mean, because you are---" Deimos starts but two heads snap round and Ikaros flaps his wings, hissing, and the rest trails into a low sullen mutter. "If you fall to pieces then what becomes of her? It will mean nothing."
It's a punch to the gut. But Deimos has the right of it. Stentor too. She nods. Stentor's fortunately the one to get Barnabas because one day her brother is going to push his luck and end up in the sea when he says something the captain doesn't like and she awaits that day but not today. Not any day until…Until fate decides one way or the other.
"If you can," Myrrine's voice cuts through Deimos' mutterings as he steps up – Stentor takes the other set of stairs because the gods forbid that they compromise even now – and she punches him in the arm because he's here, he won't complain, he might even understand as upsetting as that is. Stentor must see because she hears his muffled laugh. "Find Hippokrates, he might make all the difference."
Kassandra nods, shoving Deimos away when he sidles too close to her and takes a deep breath of salt air as Barnabas joins her. Barnabas who's seen her from the start of this, through highs and lows- and if this isn't a new fresh low then she doesn't know what is - smiles the same smile he's always had, creases that tell as many tales as his mouth and the map beneath their feet, an old heavy hand clapping atop her bloodied one without a care. Her smile is a fragile thing in return. The smiles she gave Phoibe too many times. That she's given Deimos when she forgets and calls him Alexios. For all the others lost along the way lodged up and under her ribs. Not Daphnae, not her.
She claps a hand over his, squeezing as much as she dares, her breath a punched out wet laugh instead of any words.
"We have a heading Kassandra?" He asks and she could hug him for lifting this from her shoulders for even a moment.
"We need to find Hippokrates, he's in Thebes."
"Ah, full sail then to Boeotia." Barnabas knows as well as (better than in all honesty, lifetime of sailing that he has) that they might need to stop depending on other vessels, on the crew, on the weather but he's smiling if grim.
He barks out the orders, the drums soon pounding as loud as her heart as the crew take up oars and song with a phere kipellon, o pai, phere kipellon pai and Kassandra doesn't look, doesn't turn back and instead prays for good winds and tides to speed their way as Barnabas settles his hands atop the railing alongside her and, when she looks at him sidelong, listens when the words finally spill up and out.
Hippokrates remembers Myrrine as well as Kassandra and if he looks askance at Deimos then he's more urgent matters at hand when they bring Daphnae to him after the Adrestia docks at the port, the crew exhausted, Kassandra tossing Barnabas a hefty pouch of drachmae for them to share before she and her family depart together. No one is allowed in and Stentor leaves to be with the crew, some muttering about looking after things and keeping them in line, and Nikolaos goes to keep watch over the ship too so it's just Kassandra, Myrrine and Deimos when Hippokrates returns.
With a list. Because there's always a damned list and something that needs to be killed and gutted and when he says boar Kassandra picks up her spear and marches off with a nod, Myrrine's hand reaching out and brushing her shoulder that still twinges. Later. Once she knows.
"Wait, I'm coming."
Deimos who's still Deimos and still correcting them chases after her, the amphora of wine hastily abandoned from where he'd been lounging outside taking up as much space as possible; sometimes Kassandra wonders at both how much and how little indulgence was afforded to him, when and where those boundaries lay when the Cult took him and raised him. He tells her sometimes, no rhyme or reason to it and even as it breaks her heart she clutches those moments tight. He's talking to her then at least. Not at her. Not some rant or speech, just her brother telling her all the things that happened in the years they shouldn't have been apart and set on a road of trying to destroy Greece and each other.
"It's gutting some boar—" She tries telling him.
"Hunting. I'm good at that, besides, we've been on your ship sailing all over; how long since we last hunted?"
It sickens her, the way he says it without thinking. Hunting, always hunting, it always leads you to death, thoughts she shakes away before he can catch up to her on those long legs and ask about the set of her jaw more than he already has. It's a strain, keeping her voice light when she answers him. "Since you came back head to toe covered in blood and gore and scared the villagers?"
Deimos grins. It's unsettling even now with his rush towards violence less than it was though there are outbursts and how much of it is the Cult, how much is the impact of the fall she doesn't know but then plenty probably say the same about her given the chance or behind her back. "All right, fine, but we need their bile for Hippokrates so don't—"
"I'm not a child." He huffs then marches ahead of her as if he even knows where he's going.
"Maláka," she mutters to his back. "Go help him," she tells Ikaros and off the eagle flaps from his perch on her shoulder, wings brushing her cheek as he takes flight to scout ahead of her as he's done for years now, great wide circles up overhead with his form silhouetted by the sun. At least this is familiar, as if nothing has changed and it hasn't, not in the grand scheme of things because even with her family back together (with the addition of one more) then nothing is truly different. There's still work to be done for a misthios with the Cult of Kosmos gone, still ships and armies quarrelling back and forth though fortunately no one here recognises Deimos.
One day they might need to worry about that, but today isn't that day.
He's waiting ahead of her, Ikaros flying in tight circles that Kassandra knows to be his sign of finding something good, ready at her signal to go and he does, diving for the eyes of the leader, a great bristling brown boar, and she nods to her brother who laughs, alive and rich and boisterous, weapon in hand. It's a noisy bloody business, doubly so for him being with her but it does halve the time for the killing though it's the gutting to get to the bile that's always the pain.
Not that Kassandra isn't professional about her business but usually once the killing is done she grabs what she has to, not always as mindful of the condition of parts and pieces as she might be unless there's more coin in it. This time? This time it matters, Hippokrates was keen to point that out to her before sending her off.
"Not your hands you beast!" Kassandra slaps his arm when she spots what he's trying, a good open-handed one where the sound is worse than the sting, her bloodied palm print on his bicep.
"It's quicker!" He complains loudly but he does as he's told so there's that, taking up a knife to get to work with a low grumbling all the while.
"We can't damage anything otherwise," she grunt as she cuts through the thickest part of the hide over the belly, guts spooling out, a writhing nest of serpents-- not, don't think about that. "We have to hunt more boar and waste time. Time Daphnae doesn't have."
"She made it this far didn't she?"
Deimos has paused, watching Kassandra instead with his arms bloodied up to the elbows, a level stare fixed on her that she does her best to ignore. "You came with me for a reason," she points out, wanting him back on track, or to at least not look at her like that.
"Hunting." But there's something about how he says it, how his mouth twists that isn't sitting right.
"And after the hunting…"
"Others did that most of the time, why would I do the boring parts?"
"Do you not know—" She tries to say it gently but she needs to be sure so he doesn't damage something by mistake and him shoving his hand in hasn't done much by way of inspiring confidence so far.
"I know!" Deimos cuts her off and it's enough of a blow to his pride to get him moving again. "But this part?" The knife is waved through the air, a gesture that encompasses both of them and Ikaros, the several butchered boar lying dead, bodies faintly steaming from their recent last exertions. "This isn't hunting."
Before she can think better of it, words spill out of her mouth, "Daphnae would disagree." Which is, of course, what catches his interest as Ikaros lands on one of the carcasses, sharp beak ripping into a wound one of them left to start tearing off out chunks of bloodied meat since it's there for the taking and no one is begrudging him. He did his share in flying for their eyes too, talons out. Kassandra's never enjoyed hunting boar when there's a whole group of them around with those damned tusks, sure that at least one or two of her scars on her legs at least have come from nastier encounters with them.
It takes Deimos longer than expected to ask his question, maybe having to get the words to sit right in his head as the two of them work through the boar, peeling back flesh and muscle to get to the tricky messy business of bile ducts but get there Deimos does. "You had your conquests, we've heard plenty. Met some of them too, they even used to be on your ship. Why is she special? Don't deny it, I'm not a fool."
"She's a Daughter of Artemis," Kassandra begins which is and isn't an explanation but she can't deny it's a factor in all of this, setting a bile duct safely in the grass next to the first she'd freed as she moves to the boar where Ikaros is, the eagle flapping over to the kill she's abandoned after shooing him from his perch. Deimos nods, brows drawn together; the Cult more than likely ran into them and sometimes Kassandra loses track of the stories Deimos has been told of life since she departed Kephallonia. "When I met her she spoke of great beasts, of hunting, so that was what I did. Oh such beasts Deimos, like nothing I had seen before or since. And each time I returned we…"
Kassandra takes a breath, steadying herself. It would have to be boar, the memories of the Kalydonian boar that swim to the surface now. It's easy, listing the rest of them. The Hind of Keryneia, the Nemean Lion, the Lykaon Wolf, Kallisto the Bear, the Krokottas Hyena, and the Kretan Bull. Deimos looks impressed when she talks through all of it, the smile coming to her face when she explains it. Even now none of it's tainted.
"The hunter was rewarded." She expects a lewd grin from him and the shadow of it lurks but there is the shadow of Alexios peeking out at her, a softness, something quiet, wondering. "So all of it—tests?"
Kassandra doesn't startle but it's a near thing; this is his voice late at ports if they're both watching the ship or drinking alone, a table away from everyone else, or out at sea with only the stars as witness, the times when he'll recount a childhood no one else was there for (his first victories in training, stumbling over how he was meant to talk to fellow soldiers, bawdy things about getting his leg over because it's not as if they've much shame about that if the subject comes up) or asking about before, when he was only a baby. Kassandra barely remembers those years, alternately bitter and sickly sweet by turns depending on her mood or the hand dealt to her but she tries for him, for them both, holds her breath and dives deep to salvage what she can, dragging it up for his blunt appraisal.
He told her and Myrrine about the lion cub atop Mount Taygetos. She shouldn't be surprised he can piece it together.
"To lead the Daughters. I didn't know until after."
"You should have." The petulance creeps into his tone and she sighs.
"Well I didn't. And I had other concerns. I found the beasts on the way. I meant to return but you," and she smiles to lessen the sting so he'll never think she regrets his place in her life and the efforts she went to see him there. "I was delayed getting the final pelt back to her. Maybe for the best."
Deimos nods and says nothing, those silences where it might be the end of the matter or it might not. She never knows with him and she slices off a thick cut of meat for Ikaros, tossing it high in the air so he has to take flight to catch it before it hits the ground. Her brother makes a noise in his throat, a guttural grunt that she thinks is exertion until he makes the sound again and she has to look over at him; he's watching her the way that he does, a question on his face.
"What is it?"
"Everything with her, is it like with me? Prophecy? Gods?"
"Alexios," it's a slip but he allows it, no rebuke for her today, "No, she wasn't being manipulated. Not that I could see. Daphnae believed. I tried." She softens her voice and it's awkward – and the gods are probably spitting in her eyes now that she's leaning over dead boars and clutching her brother with bloodied hands - to reach for him but she does it. "There was no deception, Daphnae believed. She believed I had been sent as a trial from Artemis and I couldn't walk away."
Why not punch me or stab me, she thinks, letting go of his hand and back to work. That would hurt me less you shit.But Deimos is blunt. It's just his way.
"I wouldn't see her again."
"Dead you won't see her again either," he points out and Kassandra grinds her teeth.
"I'm aware of that, thank you." The handle of her knife digs into her palm, the detailing of the hilt leaving an impression so she relaxes her grip, looking up to see if her brother's wearing a smirk but no it's still that same level thoughtful look from before. "Mater asked me—with you—"
"I know." Those two words dance around all the things they aren't ready to say yet because each time they've tried it almost comes to blows, too raw, too soon, but acknowledged at the very least. "You're Spartan and the Eagle Bearer. I think if she saw you as this leader of the Daughters or her band of them then she'd have been disappointed if you'd turned with your tail between your legs. And I know you didn't throw the fight. It isn't in you not to fight with everything in you."
"That's the nicest thing you've said to me."
"You're having a bad day," Deimos wipes his hands on his thighs, making an even bigger mess which she shouldn't find endearing but it is. "I'm trying."
"I appreciate it." She can't tell him what was running through her head during and after that fight but maybe later she can try to make a start, instead she tries another smile, unclenching her jaw. "I'm glad you're here."
"We've done terrible things. She might think that too." Deimos sighs heavily through his nose. "About you. But you said the right things to me and here we are. You say the right things…well. Go run back to Hippokrates, mater says she took me to him once; let's hope he heals her now."
Kassandra nods, Ikaros taking flight, blood trailing behind him. Deimos shouts for her to send Stentor to him on her way back.
Hippokrates doesn't need the bile for Daphnae but he takes it so gratefully that Kassandra can't even find it in herself to be truly angry when the deception comes to light, Myrrine taking the real medicine when Kassandra just stands there. She should be fuming but it's too much. Just one more thing. So she thanks her friend, wishes him well, and listens to his instruction. Nikolaos is waiting when they bring Daphnae back to the Adrestia past Stentor and Deimos arguing loudly over where they can put this boar meat so it won't go to waste.
"Sparta then?" Barnabas asks, the crew taking up the oars. "She looks stronger than she did. More colour in the face."
Kassandra can't say anything about that and if she looks too long at Daphnae, she won't look away. "Sparta," she confirms instead, dredging up a smile. "Home."
Their family home in Sparta is crowded enough at the best of times what with five grown people in it, all of them capable of starting and ending fights so Nikolaos finds a space close by easily enough, the idea in his head before they get off the ship; titles and names carry all of them far and no one bats an eye at Kassandra and Stentor bringing Daphnae through the streets. Kassandra is of Leonidas through Myrrine after all. And, well, there's the time she killed one of the kings. Daphnae's unconscious through it all, thankfully, her eyes fluttering but not aware of anything going on about her the same as she's been in the days – gods, days already – since they fought and between the pain, the blood loss, and whatever Hippokrates gave her to lessen each of those and encourage her healing, it's not counted towards anything approaching true rest.
Kassandra knows all too well collapsing in her armour when she can go no further, the bruises and more already forming, grit beneath the eyelids and it's miles from lying down in a bed and surrendering to sleep. Nothing that a person would call restful.
So this time when Daphnae is made comfortable, washed as best Kassandra and Myrrine can between them without waking her, dressed in a tunic of Kassandra's with her torn, bloodied, dirty one cast into the corner to be dealt with later. Kassandra allows herself to sleep at last too, trusting someone else to guard the door or wake her if something happens. She lies close, just short of touching Daphnae. Someone – Nikolaos maybe, she can't imagine Deimos or Stentor doing it and Myrrine's as exhausted as Kassandra herself having stayed awake in solidarity with her daughter – drapes a thin blanket over them before morning, hushing Kassandra back to sleep when she tries to reach out for them.
If she dreams, she doesn't remember it, Daphnae not waking her either until morning arrives and Kassandra can't escape it. Morning always comes too soon and it's the sun slanting in through the low window and into Kassandra's eyes that has her awake against her will, someone rattling around downstairs, low voices too muffled to make out the words; outside Sparta rising and getting about the business of being Spartan for the day to come, soldiers already out training. Daphnae shifts where she's stretched out next to Kassandra who squints through her lashes, reluctant to give herself away yet because they have to talk. It's not something she's had time to think about, she thought she'd be up, she'd have eaten, maybe washed because she's been stewing in her own sweat and salt spray for longer than she usually would by now, and her life has been a series of the immediate concerns: where to go, what to do, let her live, don't take her from me—
Her hand has settled on Daphnae's hip in the night, fingers curled as if she feared she'd disappear in the night. But no, Kassandra knows the reason and it's too early for it, and the only person she's spoken to at any length is Deimos and it's not that he doesn't count – even if he was Alexioscompletely he's her little brother, he doesn't count on that merit alone – but only having their boar hunting to go on inspires little confidence. Where is the Eagle Bearer, the misthios now? Alkibiades would laugh at her, maybe scoff and shake his head, some clever remark that would have her cursing and snapping back just to show him. She could do with that now.
It's the guttural groan of pain dragged from Daphnae that forces Kassandra upright when Daphnae tries to sit and collapses back, a hand pressed to the bandages hidden beneath her tunic.
"Careful, lie still Daphnae, it's still fresh. It may bleed again."
"Kassandra?" Even if her name is a croak through a cracked, dry throat it's the sweetest sound Kassandra's heard after the last whispered dying words and ragged moans before silence took Daphnae and she allows herself a smile as she rises for the wine kept in the room, pouring a small cup.
"Slow," she encourages, holding the cup to Daphnae's lips, her hands and Daphnae's keeping it from spilling or choking her when she drinks, eyes closed.
"Did I—" Daphnae pushes the cup away into Kassandra's keeping with a small cough, settling as best anyone in her current condition can and Kassandra doesn't hurry her. Daphnae was ready to fight to the death. Daphnae did, the wound is proof of that but desperation, love, stubbornness, all of those on Kassandra's part and Daphnae's strength, the very last of it, ensured it didn't take. "No. The Fields of Elysium and I'd be free of pain, I wouldn't…I wouldn't be wherever I am drinking wine from your cup Kassandra."
Maybe it's just Kassandra's imagination but her name sours in Daphnae's mouth as the woman grits her teeth, pushing herself to sit up straight. Kassandra's hand hovers, close enough to feel the heat of her but not to touch.
"We're in Sparta; I brought you here after taking you to Hippokrates for healing," Kassandra explains, keeping her voice low though she doubts anyone would intrude unless called for but she knows she'd be eavesdropping so that's reason enough for caution.
"Why? Why would you do that Kassandra? I made it plain—"
"We fought!" Well so much for her plans because Daphnae's mention of how ready she'd been for what had almost happened has Kassandra's fraying temper getting the better of her but Daphnae says nothing and does nothing but reach for the wine, clearing her throat. "You know that we fought, the wound you have is proof enough of it but you were saying these things when it was done and I couldn't—I couldn't—" Her voice betrays her, the lump in her throat rising to choke her as her eyes burn. "What was I meant to do Daphnae? Leave you there?"
Daphnae's jaw clenches, hand pressed to the place that has to ache now she's up and moving even as little as she is. Kassandra bites back a curse.
"I would have given you last rites." Phoibe's face swims to the forefront of her mind, that little girl who should have stayed on Kephallonia, who shouldn't have been in Athens in the first place, Phoibe who should be with Kassandra now in Sparta where she can have a home. Brasidas too, dead on a battlefield instead of seeing his part in all of this come good. "But you were breathing, still breathing. And I—"
"Left my sisters who are your sisters now." Daphnae says it quietly but it's no less a condemnation. "Spat in the eyes of the gods."
"I've done that for years." Kassandra shouldn't say that but she does, she's not thinking any of this through. "But I didn't abandon them." She gets to her feet, less naked than she's been before Daphnae but this time she feels it in just her tunic and her hair unbound, in desperate need of a wash and something to hit. "You should eat," she says before anything worse can come out of her mouth the way it so often does and Daphnae needs to keep her strength up. "How's the pain?"
Through gritted teeth Kassandra takes a slow breath and releases it. "Do you want anything for it?"
"More of what Hippokrates gave to me?" Daphnae guesses and Kassandra nods only to get a shake of the head in response. "No, my mouth tastes as if something died in it and my head is full of wet sand, I can stand it."
"All right but if you change your mind…"
Daphnae says nothing which leaves Kassandra with the task of finding a pair of sandals, fastening them outside the door so she won't have to be in the room any longer. Not when the dead are crawling out the walls howling their names so soon, Daphnae barely awake and unhappy. Maybe more than that but it'd be unfair to judge her on just waking after an ordeal when Kassandra herself wouldn't want to be judged by anyone in that condition. Still, it stings. She sets her jaw against it when she makes her way to the kitchen to rummage about for better wine and water, finding a plate to fill with anything easy to eat; the sun is up and heating the room with the rest of her family settled comfortably outside, unable to see her from where they are. If she's quick and quiet she can get in and out before they notice her though it doesn't solve the question of what to do about Daphnae's current condition. She piles grapes onto the plate, bread, even finds a small pot of honey and she's about to head back with it when there are footsteps, a shadow blotting out the sun.
"She's awake then?"
Turning, she looks up at Nikolaos standing in the doorway, a weary smile on his face as he steps into the kitchen, washing his hands after breakfast. Only able to nod dumbly, she's aware of how like a normal morning this is. And how remarkable even that is and the lump catches in her throat, tightened by a noose at the same time until she's lightheaded, her free hand grasping the table, knuckles white from the strain of holding herself up.
"Yes." Kassandra moves to pass him but he's blocking the only way out so it's not going to be effective unless she barges past him. "I should—"
"By all means but eat something yourself too, sit down, the worst is over."
The Wolf is canny because he knows, damn him, that it's not but she jerks her head in a nod, delivering the meal, rebuffed at any attempt at conversation, offers of medicine, so she heads back to find him at a table he's set for the two of them, reclining comfortably.
"She had some arrangements to make, friends to catch up with – there's a couple of good skilled healers that we wanted to have aware of this should we need them. And I told Stentor and Deimos to make themselves scarce too; gods only know what I've unleashed."
Her laugh is brittle. "I'm sure you'll hear them before they're carving up all of Sparta between them."
"We can only hope." There's nothing subtle about the way Nikolaos is watching her or how he pushes the plate across the table so Kassandra plucks a handful of grapes, giving herself something to do. "She say much?"
"You don't waste time." Maybe she shouldn't sound so irritated with him but everything is gnawing at her as she takes the wine, rinsing the stale taste from her mouth.
"I've missed too many years," he tells her. Which isn't a lie but it's on the tip of her tongue, black as her mood is, to point out how much of that is his doing. They're working on that, all of them. "And I've seen enough battles and wounded soldiers same as you."
This time Nikolaos drinks, waiting for Kassandra to finish eating and drinking more herself – if she didn't know about Pythagoras then it would've come out later, she can't do patient the way pater can – before the frustration catches up to her and turns to despair. Too tired with so little sleep to guide her judgement, only the sleep of the dead still with the stink of the fight clinging to her because there hadn't been time—
"I didn't plan on her being this angry," Kassandra says at last without further prodding because Nikolaos doesn't need to, reaching across, a heavy hand on her arm. "She thinks I abandoned her sisters but I couldn't—" And it tumbles out, all the awful words upstairs she thought to keep to herself or share with Myrrine who's known hurt and heartbreak enough for a lifetime to offer advice, and probably Barnabas since he's been alongside her to see all her joys and sorrows. Then all that she said to Deimos on their hunt follows, and everything in her head when she and Daphnae fought. Kassandra hardly recognises her own ragged voice by the end of things as she gulps down water to soothe her throat (not wine, she wants to keep her head a little longer) when at last there aren't words, only a wild thing howling in her chest, a chasm that can't be filled, that reaches all the way to Hades, hands reaching out, clawing—
When she grabbed for Nikolaos' hand she doesn't know but it's clutched tight by the time she's done. He's wearing a grim smile but it's a smile all the same, drinking from his cup.
"Eat a little more. Gods, this family." They both muster a laugh at that and something must've startled Ikaros, that or he's worries because he glides in before landing, hopping across the floor to peer up at the table with a hopeful tilt of the head that doesn't go unnoticed. "You've eaten twice your weight in boar since we left Boeotia," Nikolaos tells him. "Go hunt if you're hungry."
Ikaros hisses, flapping his wings to land on Kassandra's shoulder with both wings spread before he starts picking through her loose braid.
"Soldiers get that way sometimes," Nikolaos continues undeterred by the eagle making his presence felt the best he can. "It happens: you think you were close to death, to the Elysian Fields and then you wake. You wake when others didn't. That you had some task to complete with your death You might need to give her time. Maybe you should tell her that."
"You think she'll listen?"
"I didn't think you were so easily defeated. If you love her—" She smacks at his hand but won't deny it. "I think you should tell her. Don't lose time, Kassandra, we only have so much. How many chances can you snatch back?"
Nikolaos stands, looking around a life she knows he thought was lost to him, to all of them; they had their first dinner together again in this house where he taught her to fight and defend herself in front of her mother holding a tiny Alexios, safe and beloved, nothing able to hurt either of them, cuts and bruises the worst she could conceive of then.
How many has she met since becoming a misthios who aren't so fortunate?
"I won't, pater," she vows because it doesn't sound like anything else when she says it.
"Good. And Kassandra?" He pauses on the way back out the door, a small smile on his face.
"Have a bath. Don't try talking to her stinking like that."
Days pass of Daphnae sleeping and eating and watching with the wary eyes of so many wounded cornered animals whenever Kassandra disturbs her; food or drink, a bath, her pain, changes of clothes, stitches that need to be checked and cleaned now that the bandages are off. The rest of the family introduce themselves in those moments, taking the time to swap stories though how one-sided it is, Kassandra's not sure because she's not someone to lurk by the door. Barnabas stops by too, a man who's the only uncle Kassandra's ever going to have, ready to regale with all his stories and stay for dinner until a day dawns when Kassandra is dressed and ready to find things to do (Deimos wasn't wrong, what does she do when she's not being a misthios though they've not any goats, enough head-butting with him and Stentor about) to find Daphnae dressed and ready behind her.
"I need fresh air and to see something that isn't the walls of your mother's house. Lying idle doesn't suit me."
"All right," Kassandra agrees, leading the way downstairs where everyone is still eating breakfast allowing her to just lean around the door. "We're heading out."
"Enjoy yourselves." Myrrine calls as Kassandra almost makes it to the door before a clamour of voices call her back.
"So close," she mutters under her breath and Daphnae laughs quietly. "Yes?"
"If you pass the blacksmiths I've a couple of blades waiting." Stentor tosses a coin purse that Kassandra catches, turning again before Nikolaos coughs.
"We could use a few things at the market, mostly bread. If you're going that way."
"Of course. Mater? Deimos?"
Myrrine smiles and Deimos rolls his eyes, flapping a hand for her to get lost so she goes before they end up being roped into breakfast with everyone because that's not high on her list of plans yet.
"Is it usually like this?" Daphnae asks when they head out the house together, a hand out to Phobos where he's stabled who recognises her and whickers softly, sunlight dappling over his dun coat to bring out the gold in it as his tail swishes lazily.
"It's still new but the chaos? Yes. Always." Kassandra can't bring herself to grouse though, smile as she watches Daphnae with her horse. "We can go as far as you want, I can pick up the blades at any time but we should probably head to the market first to make sure we've got something for dinner." Not that Kassandra won't be watching for the first sign of pain or exhaustion creeping in, ready with a suggestion to rest or head back: Sparta has plenty of distractions.
Daphnae pats Phobos on the neck, whispering something in his ear too soft for Kassandra to hear before she nods. "You may lead."
"Planning on stealing my horse and riding off?" Kassandra's joking but maybe it's a fear she has now.
"I don't know Sparta, how far would I get still with those stitches from Hippokrates still in me?"
"Don't sell yourself short, you'd find a way-" back, only she doesn't say that as it hangs between them with everything else: can Daphnae go back? Where does anyone stand after that fight between them with Daphnae still alive even though they fought and down she went? Kassandra doesn't know. "To the market first or I'll hear nothing but complaints for days."
Sparta's market is loud but orderly, Kassandra known well enough to get good prices with a little gentle persuasion as Daphnae looks to the sprawl of hills and mountains above, past where the hoplites tend to the crops that feeds them all, where young Spartans face wolves and live to tell the tale of it or not. Daphnae hadn't told her of any raised from childhood among the Daughters – there must be some, even those born into it despite of (or perhaps even because of) the lack of men about – and she wonders as she buys a little more in case they want lunch for themselves how similar they might be. Not that they get to talk; Daphnae is questioned about the circumstances of her arrival – gossip travels fast than sailors spend their drachmae – and being with Kassandra, staying with her and her family, it only has people prodding for more. And Kassandra always finds something to look at or a person to listen to with half an ear to give more than just the illusion of privacy so she's not spying.
It's not as if either of them has had much space to themselves, she won't intrude on these conversations but still, she can't help but overhear.
Good friends. Injured in battle. Kind enough to let Daphnae recover with her.
No lies but there's plenty left unsaid as Kassandra pays the blacksmith and leaves with Stentor's blades slung awkwardly over her shoulder, Daphnae seated on a low bunch next to the rest of Kassandra's goods, taking in the bustle of people about her. She looks up when Kassandra emerges, shaking her head, the shadow of a smile on her face.
"Give me your bow and quiver, stop shoulder everything," she says, hand outstretched.
"You're—" Kassandra knows her mouth, no, her whole face is twisting with the effort to think through her words with so many witnesses who can spread anything stupid she might say back to her family as well as the Adrestia's crew. "You're wounded."
"And you've not carried heavier things in a worse state in your time? Coming back from the hunts you were sent on?" Daphnae rises and waits, her hand still held out for the bow to be placed in it which she admires when Kassandra does hand it over, just a moment to run her fingers over the detailing before she's slinging it into place and the quiver next. "I've spent days resting, I'm hardly about to break."
"Fine." Kassandra's already conceded but a shadow lies under her tongue that would speak with the voice of the Pythia if she let it. "Where next?"
"Can we eat somewhere that isn't here?"
"I know just the place, somewhere more private and out of the streets. Probably should've brought Phobos but I think he's earned a rest."
"He's a noble beast."
Kassandra snorts, a few steps ahead as the ground inclines on the steep path on their way out of the city, away from the noise, people, and buildings, out in the trees and wild spaces where she spent so much time as a girl with the spear in hand when her mater let her. "He's an idiot who'd try eating your hair if you tether him and camp out overnight."
"He carried us both a long way."
Kassandra doesn't trip over her own feet hearing that but it's a near thing. "Who told you that?"
"All of them," Daphnae tells her, a small shrug to go with it that Kassandra just catches out the corner of her eye. "Everyone had their own part of the story to tell but it was Stentor – he's the short-haired one, the one your pater took on?"
"Yes, that's Stentor," Kassandra confirms the same way she might say 'yes, that's that maláka'.
"He told me."
"Not what I expected from him." Kassandra can guess that the shape of her family has been laid out at least from what Daphnae's already said so at best she's only going to have to nudge the fit of the pieces to have the picture make sense.
"They're trying. All of them. Making me welcome in Myrrine's house – he's no grievance with her or me, only that I have poor taste in his opinion and could do far better." Daphnae sounds amused and Kassandra can picture the curl of her mouth when she says it.
She's probably grinning more now that Kassandra's red all the way up to her ears in the way precious few have achieved and from nothing at all in the grand scheme of things. Stentor's not getting the drachmae back from his blades just for that but any other thoughts grind to a halt when Daphnae reaches out, fingers catching Kassandra's elbow as she turns, loose stones catching beneath her heel. Daphnae's cheeks are flushed and she's bent slightly at the waist, getting her breath back slowly and carefully.
"Are you all right?" Kassandra asks, embarrassment and frustration forgotten with her attention for Daphnae and any wild creature that might stumble upon them thinking the pair of them are any easy meal but it's just the two of them, Daphnae's breathing evening out.
"I'm fine." There's a hand pressed low on her belly but no blood when she lifts it away. "These must be ready to come out soon I think, the walking is pulling at them in new ways."
"Hippokrates has a good hand for it, far better than some, but it's not what I'd call pleasant." At least all of them know someone to get them out because Kassandra usually deals with them herself on the Adrestia as Barnabas shakes his head now that he's used to it, only complaining if he thinks the wound is too fresh for her to be worrying at it. "Ready? We're close."
It's a spot Kassandra's come to on her own when she's needed peace since her first return to Sparta, nothing remarkable about it beyond providing a sheltered spot beneath tall trees with a commanding view of the surrounding area to cut down on the chances of being ambushed but mostly she's only ever come across deer who startle and bleat before darting away again, sometimes the odd patrol in their gleaming armour. Not wolves with salivating jaws or any other unsavoury characters who want to make their name and seem to want to make it trying to kill her. Rain hasn't fallen since before they arrived in port, the morning dew long dried so there's nothing unpleasant when they seat themselves on the grass, so like the times before, by the Temple of Artemis on Phokis. Ikaros finds them soon enough, wheeling low just to check where Kassandra is before he's off again. They say little as they dig into the food and wine together; somewhere not too far there's a squeak, high and alarmed so Kassandra assumes that Ikaros has found his own meal too and might join them at some point too.
"Glad to be out of the house then?" Kassandra asks when she can't think of anything better to say despite how easy it used to be to talk to Daphnae. That was before she fought her to the death. It changes things. Nothing gets to stay the same when death reaches for anyone and she knows that far too well but they're here, at least, and talking, which is a damn sight more than she thought would happen when Daphnae's anger was a coiled serpent ready to strike at her.
"You've all been gracious and kind but my life is here, the outdoors," Daphnae replies as a shadow passes over her face. "Or it was. I don't know what it is now Kassandra."
"You can still have that life Daphnae, I never wanted to take that from you but I couldn't—you meant, no, you mean too much to me to just walk away for good that I'd never see you again."
Daphnae doesn't turn to look at her, a quick glance out the side of her eyes before she's looking about at the trees again. "We don't need to go over what was said but I want to hear why you did what you did now that I've had time to get over the shock of being alive and in a completely different place to where I last remembered being when I expected death."
"I almost lost my whole family once on Mount Taygetos," Kassandra goes to point but the peak is hidden through the canopy so she drops her arm back to her side then thinks better of it and leans on her elbow, trying to make herself as comfortable as she can for this. Daphnae's not saying something – she always looks at Kassandra when they talk. "I was only a child, there was a prophecy from the Pythia and the ephors said there was no other choice but for my brother Deimos – he was Alexios then – to die. He was thrown off the cliff. But I…I tried to stop it and I knocked him and the priest both over the edge. They—they called me traitor and Nikolaos dropped me. Mater protested. She'd protested the whole time but Nikolaos held to Spartan law and I was thrown off; I survived, escaped with my mother's spear that belonged to Leonidas before her."
Kassandra stops, taking a deep breath to steady herself. It's not been so long since she went through all this with Deimos to try to bring him back to her and Myrrine both, to try and have him see sense.
"Obviously we all survived it but I spent years thinking my brother was dead and I never knew what happened to mater. Nikolaos found Stentor – he told you about…"
"About your meeting in Megaris?" Daphnae nods at Kassandra's prompting and reaches out, closing the distance between them. "He told me. Being declared dead, finding you again and how he'd been aiding Stentor. That you could've killed Stentor too."
"I could've killed many people – I lost—I lost a good friend of mine to Deimos, he should've been here. I wish he could've been here to see it. Brasidas would've had a good life with the worst of this ended but he died and it was—well it was. And I couldn't save him. And Phoibe," Kassandra swallows, grabbing the wine as if it can stop her voice from cracking when she says the girl's name when it happens every time because it never stops hurting. "Phoibe should've been safe on Kephallonia or able to come here now that there's a home, instead she died in Athens in the plague. Just a little girl, always getting into trouble, always smiling, wanting to help."
Kassandra smiles, takes a deep shuddering breath before she says one last thing on that matter. "She would've made a wonderful Daughter of Artemis if she'd been older or found it earlier."
"Many come to us who've known great loss. I think," Daphnae draws her knees to her chest then seems to think better of it, rubbing at where her stitches are and maybe they do need to come out if they're bothering her this much, "Had you been the one to be where Deimos is then perhaps you might have found us and known some sort of peace in your life."
"I don't know, the Cult had a long reach."
"The Cult didn't know us."
"True, true. So…" Kassandra turns to look at Daphnae because she can't not look at her, she has to know where she stands with her when it comes to this, when she's laying her soul bare before her (but not, there's more, there's more she has to say to her but gods she doesn't want to). "That's why I couldn't leave you there. Even if you'd died on the way I wanted to give you last rites but when I saw you holding to life—"
"How much time does anyone have and how much have we already lost?" Daphnae asks and Kassandra is back in the kitchen. The words aren't the same but something close enough and Ikaros is near and something had caught his attention then; had Daphnae crept to her door? Had she heard Kassandra and Nikolaos talking? Or had they been loud enough already?
It's then that Kassandra knows what else she has to tell her, something unshared that the rest of her family haven't even begun to guess at for all the stories that they know as she listens to the wind rifling through the leaves on the trees, green and fresh, full of new life: this year will be a good year even if the war is still being waged but at least without the Cult to pick at it.
"There's something else to tell you that might help with it, if you'll listen. I don't think it ever left me."
"I haven't left yet Kassandra; I'll hear what you have to say before I make any decisions."
"I had to go to Lesbos some time ago and there I met another Daughter of Artemis, Bryce. Her lover, Ligeia, had gone missing and Bryce had been blamed; the locals wanted to push her off a cliff but I was there and I rescued her, killed the mob. I said I'd help her find Ligeia." It seems so long ago now but as with many things, as soon as she speaks of it, the old hurts make themselves known the way that old scars and bad breaks ache in the cold and after long days. "There was a temple called the Petrified Temple and even now it's…it's a terrible place Daphnae, I wouldn't want any person to look upon it and to have it on Lesbos? Unthinkable."
Today isn't the day to tell Daphnae of Pythagoras – one day if Daphnae doesn't want to forget her face after this then yes – so she pauses, considering what to leave out, what to keep in, sifting through it to keep the core truth of it intact to not do a disservice to anyone involved.
"The Daughters there had a key – I won't lie to you, I had to steal it from them but I found the key and Bryce and I made it inside and she heard Ligeia's voice. You have to know, Daphnae, that outside this temple? The bodies were frozen but of stone. People fixed in terror I've only seen when someone is running for their lives, the trees dark and gnarled, this low mist all the way there and a temple you would barely recognise."
"Nothing like Phokis?" Daphnae asks, concerned, her hand reaching for Kassandra's who clasps it between both of hers.
"Nothing at all."
"We made our way inside and Bryce heard Ligeia's voice and raced ahead of me. I tried to catch her but she was already speaking to someone and I promise you, I wouldn't lie about this, she was speaking with Medusa."
"Medusa?" Daphnae's eyes are wide, her voice soft and filled with quiet horror and sorrow. "Oh my sisters what terrible fate befell you both?"
Daphnae believes in the will of Artemis enough to be willing to die for it, that Kassandra was the next leader come along, should it be surprising to her that Daphnae takes her at her word on this? "Bryce was…Medusa turned her to stone. Ligeia had already fallen victim."
"You slew Medusa?"
"Good. My sisters are avenged." They both know they're not Daphnae's sisters in truth, not with so many branches of the Daughters scattered across Greece but Kassandra knows what the sentiment comes from and this has been lodged in her too long now, every time she returned to Daphnae after and never said a word, any time she had to fight or pass by an encampment of Daughters. "You've never spoken about this before, have you?"
"Who would I tell Daphnae? Who would believe me, or listen, or care?"
Daphnae catches her face in both hands so Kassandra can't look away, an intensity that she doesn't want to shrink from but scorches through her, as if Daphnae sees beneath her armour, beneath flesh and bone to whatever lies beneath all of that to what only the gods are able to see. "You could've told me for everything else that we shared before now."
"I didn't know if you and I—" It's petulant, the urge to get to her feet that she has to squash as suddenly as it rises but gods she's talking about all the dead and almost-dead that follow in her wake, the destruction she leaves behind her and Daphnae is holding her face in her hands so it's not as if she can just wrench herself away wither. "Has anything like this happened before? A Daughter fighting and surviving?"
"I'm sure it has where someone has been left not so dead and crawled off to lick their wounds in private but no one ever records what happens to them, not in any of the stories that we have. If others have them, I don't know." Daphnae leans back and takes the warmth with her, Kassandra sorry for the loss as she follows before catching herself, not wanting to crowd her, not yet, not talking the way that they are, careful as any negotiations. "I don't know if I can return to them at all or even anywhere they might be, they might kill me if they see me."
"Why would they?"
"I lost, Kassandra, I was defeated as their leader."
"But you live! How is it not enough? You live and I don't know how to lead them Daphnae; if you heard that part or remember it then it wasn't a lie."
"Look at all you've done Kassandra – do you listen to the stories they tell about you? Even those your own family tell? Others would have given it up for a lost cause or had more dead along the way but not you. You've lost people," Daphnae sighs and leans back to give them both space to breathe, "but you've a family even you thought impossible."
"So why then was there no other way for us Daphnae? There were words whispered in ears to set me on this path but I've seen other bands of Daughters who don't live as you and your Sisters or as Bryce did." Explain it to me, she doesn't say, already sounding desperate, have it make sense because I can't see it. It's becoming a habit now, her with a voice that's hardly had time to recover as it strays back towards the hoarseness borne of bellowing on the battlefields but Aphrodite help her there's as much as stake here as there's been on any bloody stretch of sands contested by Spartans and Athenians. "If it's me alone and that this has to come to an end because of this then you can say so, I won't be—"
Offended. She's going to say offended. Or angry. Well she'll be angry but not at or with Daphnae specifically. Hurt is the thing she can't promise because she will be.
Daphnae stops her from saying a single word, tugging her closer with a hand on the shoulder strap of Kassandra's armour, fingers curling close to the metal of the breastplate warmed by the sun, Kassandra's hands finding Daphnae's ribs and spanning them; Daphnae kisses her the way she did every time by the temple on Phokis when Kassandra handed over her spoils, Daphnae who tangles her fingers in Kassandra's braid, tugging the hair loose, startling a moan from her. This is the Daphnae she came to and could smile with no matter what happened elsewhere because there was no Cult at the Temple of Artemis, no war, no people pulling her every which way, just the hunt and only ever the hunt, and no matter how brutal a slog the hunt itself might have been it was worth it when she stopped and talked about it. About seeing a thing no one else had. If she clings tighter to Daphnae than she might have in the past, nips her bottom lip to swallow the little moan then Daphnae doesn't complain, only pulling away when they have to breathe. They're both laughing but it's soft huffing, breathless, and there's heat coiling low in Kassandra's belly.
"Is that answer enough to that question?" Daphnae asks, the tilt of her chin a challenge. Kassandra looks at her lips, swollen and red and inviting, and doesn't know if she wants to tackle her into the grass or be tackled herself.
Both would be good. Better than good. No one's about to disturb them.
"You know me well enough to have your answer," Kassandra replies as she tries to right her armour again where it catches under her arm.
"We have to talk about it though and away from everyone else. The sooner the better. It's as you say," Daphnae settles herself closer to Kassandra, both of them leaning back with their arms interlinked so that Kassandra's hand is over Daphnae's hand which is pressed against the grass, the palm spread wide. "Different Daughters will have their own ways, spread as far and wide as we have and some are more hostile than we are I'm guessing."
"Some send their wolves and bears after me if I come too close to them, firing arrows, chasing after me until I lose them. Sometimes there's no choice but to fight until they turn tail or I'm the one left standing." If it grieves Daphnae to hear it, she doesn't show it but they aren't hers so maybe it's not the same thing, only senseless death or keeping outsiders out.
"That's the way of things, wanting to protect your family."
"I can understand that."
"Some of them and others, they know the call of the goddess. They feel it here," Daphnae taps her other hand to her chest, over her heart, "and deeper still, it drives them through the darkest doubts, the deepest fears, past all the pains that brought them to us."
Kassandra wets her bottom lip – and catches Daphnae watching her do it – the question she wants to ask a stone in her gut that would drag her down, down, down. "Did you—"
Kassandra doesn't get to finish before Daphnae nods, answering her without hesitation. "Yes. I'd known her years. I took her life and laid her down in the grasses. I watched as our sisters who were mine now said their goodbyes and knew that one day that it would be my turn." She turns her palm over, linking her fingers with Kassandra's. "I thought it would be one of them, not an outsider, the misthios with an eagle but perhaps that shouldn't have been such a surprise."
Kassandra doesn't know what she's supposed to say to that, a hundred things catching in her throat, so many of them revolving around how unfair it was, how she didn't want any of it, not without Daphnae. She kisses her instead, slow and gentle, grounds herself with it as if that's going to calm her galloping heart. Rests her forehead against Daphnae's and gathers her closer.
"This isn't talking about it," she says and Daphnae laughs low in her throat, lips pressed to Kassandra's collarbone.
"No, it's not, come. We'll walk. Less temptation that way. And I've barely seen any of Sparta have I?"
"You haven't, I'm a terrible host, all my friends in Athens would be ashamed." Or not, Kassandra can think of at least one or two who'd approve if no one was shown around when there's someone like Daphnae to divert her attention away from what she should be doing. "Anything to watch for here?"
"Nothing terrible, mostly wolves but young Spartans should be testing themselves against them so we might not need to bother and they don't come so very close, not at this time of day at least." Kassandra glances up through the trees to check as she helps Daphnae to her feet and the sun has moved on the sky so the wolves will still be lazing about their dens, unwilling to come prowling unless disturbed. "Once you've had your stitches out we can go up into the mountains if you'd like and through Eurotas."
"I've heard tales; I'd wish to see it with my own eyes now that I'm here. And to see the Adrestia at some point which bore me so swiftly here." Daphnae slings Kassandra's bow off her shoulder into a comfortable grip should she need it, taking up her share of the supplies; if they'd brought Phobos with them they'd have had less to carry but he'd have been an extra set of eyes in the way Ikaros isn't, another consideration, limiting where they can go, maybe interrupting them.
Her horse has few manners but Kassandra's had Ikaros years and hasn't taught him any, what luck would she have with a horse that somehow manages to put up with what she urges him through on the promise of food, water, and a rubdown when all's said and done?
"She's a good ship with a skilled captain – how many stories has Barnabas told you by now?"
"Enough that I'm amazed you still have ears left, oh, I wanted to ask – did you truly kill the creature that took his eye?"
"I did! I didn't believe him when he spoke of it; you've met the man, the stories he tells? I thought it was just the things sailors would speak of but then there I was, out on the Isle of Thisvi and I can't even remember why we stopped there and I found a vault beneath the cave on the Isle. It was…unnatural. Not like a normal cave. He was huge, Daphnae, a great lumbering beast." Kassandra can remember it clearly now as she speaks, both of them walking slowly and scanning for anything that might be on the horizon but nothing stands out, only birds singing to one another and to their left the marching song of Spartans rattling past on the path off to the agoge. "He was twice my size at least, maybe three times? When he moved or attacked the ground shook as if a whole herd of beasts rampaged. And such anger! Ares himself has only ever known such rage."
"And the one eye?" Daphnae asks, swept up in the story.
"One great eye, I swear it almost seemed to glow. When I slew him, this cyclops, he wasn't a great creature anymore. Only a man but…less. As if all the life had been pulled from him, a corpse left to bake in the sun."
"A cyclops and Medusa, the legendary beasts, what else have you fought?"
Kassandra smiles and turns on her heel to look back at Daphnae. "We make it to the top of the hill and I'll tell you about the minotaur."
"How long does it take to pick up two blades?" Stentor's outside when Kassandra and Daphnae return, Kassandra dropping his blades into his lap on the way inside before he can say more, the supplies for the next few days carried in with them though after the way they ate lunch, Kassandra doubts she and Daphnae will be joining everyone for dinner. "Hey! Where's the rest of the drachmae?"
"Feeding the family – you want to eat too don't you Stentor?" Kassandra shouldn't give in to her pettier urges with him but it's easy and she's already handing over a basket to Deimos who takes one look at Stentor and another look at Kassandra and the way she's screwed up her face, the mock innocence in her tone and he knows.
"I need to sit a moment," Daphnae says, excusing herself.
"I'll join you soon," Kassandra calls after her as she listens to Stentor grumbling away to himself, Nikolaos glancing over where he's cooking – good rustic food for keeping soldiers fed and not a single person in this household complains about it – as Myrrine takes a basket and starts to unload the contents, patting Kassandra on the cheek.
"Thank you lamb. A good day?"
"Better than expected."
Myrrine smiles, gently hip checking Deimos out of the way who shouldn't be so easily moved but he goes, grumbling to himself and mouthing 'don't leave' as if Kassandra's the one going anywhere as he moves things about to make it look as if he's doing anything. "You were gone longer than I expected, if I didn't know Barnabas had taken the Adrestia to go pick up Iola and Leda I'd have thought the two of you had sailed off."
"Mater," Kassandra grabs her hands without thinking for all the years she wanted to and couldn't. "I'd never leave without saying goodbye if any or all of you were staying in Sparta without me."
(One day her parents will want to settle. Their time of going off to sea with Kassandra will be over. Stentor will be next if not before, his loyalty tied closer to Nikolaos, to Sparta, but she'll have Deimos for as long as he wants to sail with her. They've so many years to catch up on, all of them.)
"I know, I'm only teasing. Did you two actually manage to talk or…"
"What else would she do for all those hours? Look how low the sun is now," Deimos adds where he's reaching for whatever Nikolaos is stirring on the pot only to have his hand smacked away, a petulant scowl on his face as he rubs his hand. Deimos, the weapon of the Cult of Kosmos, defeated by a wooden spoon.
"We talked, Deimos. Maybe one day you'll find a nice boy or a nice girl and that's something the two of you can do, walking through the forests together and up into the hills," Kassandra suggests and she wants that for him but not so badly that she won't tease him over it first.
"They've plenty to talk about," Myrrine interrupts before it can escalate as Stentor comes inside, looks over all of them – Deimos smirks at him and folds his arms – before he stomps off to wash up. "How did she seem? Her wound might need tending to."
"I'll have a look at her stitches when I go up if she'll let me, she said something about them pulling so I don't know if they'll be ready to come out or not, maybe you should send for the healer tomorrow to have a better look than any of us."
"Of course. Are things more settled? I know you were troubled with how you left things when she first woke and she…well, I can't say I know her as well as you but I could understand some of her fears from what she said to me when we spoke." Myrrine sits but doesn't beckon for Kassandra and Deimos is still lurking so she goes to actually help with what he's not doing, bundles of herbs to be hung up and he follows her lead when she starts.
"I took advice offered." Nikolaos must know, he nods his head just so as Kassandra passes another tied-off bundle to her brother. "And we know where we stand on things that we didn't before. Maybe we should have. But it was enough for one day I think."
"Good. I'll set something aside for you both if hunger catches up with you."
Deimos nudges her, leaning down to speak in her ear as Myrrine talks softly to Nikolaos, something about this one or that being promoted, can you believe it. "I know you've got his leftover drachmae. I'll say nothing. For a price."
"Buying my silence?" Kassandra raises an eyebrow, head tipped back to stare up at him, eyes wide with mock incredulity.
"I can tell Stentor." He pitches his voice low, eyes darting back to see if their parents are paying attention but they're deep in what's become a debate over the agoge or the state of the war, nothing with any bad blood but plenty of heat and it warms her heart. Or it would if Deimos wasn't being a shit. "Imagine the chaos."
"Fine. A quarter of it."
"That's robbery!" She hisses the words at him, tempted to stamp on his foot but it'd cause a scene and it'll only be so long before Stentor returns and might catch them at what they're doing.
"You're the misthios in this house," he retorts, arms folded and clearly proud of himself as she sighs, pulling the pouch free from where she tucked it away safely early in the day, counting the coin out carefully into his hand. "See? Wasn't so hard was it?"
"Wait until we spar next time," she mutters and just as he's putting the coin away she ruffles his hair, darting out of the room, almost barging into Stentor who complains loudly but she doesn't care, almost giddy with this abundance of good fortune landed so unexpectedly in her lap. Her family about her, Daphnae awake, walking about and more importantly talking to Kassandra, picking up where the two of them left off before they fought one another, it's almost too good to last but she's not going to question it. She's going to grab it with both hands and enjoy it.
Washing up, she returns to find Daphnae in her room that they're sharing, both on the same pallet together that they've made comfortable with blankets, pillows and furs picked up and given from others that Kassandra will have to track down and thank later when she has all her wits about her. Daphnae's undressed down to her underthings which wasn't an uncommon sight before and isn't one now but after today it has her cheeks heating even if Daphnae's only inspecting her wound, fingers carefully tracing about what promises to be an impressive scar no matter how careful Hippokrates was with his stitching.
"How is it?" She asks, closing the door behind her with her foot to ensure their privacy. No one just barges into any room here, they always knock first.
"I'm going to have to fight itching it for hours but I can't have it covered. I've put some salve on it so once that dries it should help." Daphnae looks doubtful and sounds even moreso and Kassandra can sympathise for she's never been accused of being a good patient, not even once in her life.
"They're going to leave food for us if we want something later, I think my parents knew we wouldn't be hungry after getting back so late." Kassandra strips off down to just a tunic at first, setting her armour and weapons down with care on top of a chest before she shrugs the tunic off too so she's as bare as Daphnae stretching out on the pallet as if she's had a terribly long day filled with hardships and not one of the more relaxing and pleasant days in a while. "Do you want a distraction?"
Kassandra's well aware of how she looks, lying back with her arms folded above her head, her muscles on display, the taut line of her abdomen bared, almost all her scars ready to be inspected and Daphnae's seen all of that before but it still gives her pause, and Kassandra still finds she can give her a cocky grin that Daphnae snorts at, reaching over to smack her hip with fingers that carry the smell of her healing herbs, the lingering tackiness of the salve cool on her skin where they touch.
"You're terrible," Daphnae tells her without heat but she joins her, lying next to her even though there's just about space enough that they don't have to lie pressed so close, hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder. "A distraction wouldn't hurt."
"We could go hunting tomorrow if we wake early enough; the merchants always overcharge for meat and isn't it better to hunt it yourself, to enjoy your own hard work. The last of the boar Deimos and I killed must surely be done by now."
The crew won't want to eat boar for months to come and neither does Kassandra after having found it in near everything she's eaten – Nikolaos is cooking it downstairs now – and hopefully the Adrestia won't still be stinking of it by the time Barnabas sails back with her, Iola and Leda in tow which should be soon. Then she can show her to Daphnae.
"I'll need a bow then, I'm not quite ready to chase down a deer yet," Daphnae says ruefully, a hand reaching for her stitches that Kassandra snatches up in hers, clasped between their bodies.
"You'll never go wanting for weapons here, or armour for that matter. I don't know where half of it comes from."
"Somehow," Daphnae rolls over onto her side, "I don't believe you on that count."
"Fine, fine, you caught me: I'll need something to do when peace comes to us at last. Maybe I'll take up smithing somewhere."
"Have you actually thought about it?"
"Sometimes," Kassandra admits, rolling over too so they can be face to face for this, so Daphnae can see the truth of it in Kassandra's eyes for herself because she deserves that much. "Deimos asked me what I'd do, if I'd milk the goats and it's true that there's not much profit for a misthios when there's not fighting. Now that I have a family, a ship, things to come back, people I want to return to? I think about it more than I ever did. In fact I don't know if I ever gave it a second thought on Kephallonia."
"Too early for the Daughters to figure into your plans? You'd be welcome there Kassandra." Daphnae props herself up on an elbow and her hair is loosed, spilling over a shoulder, sleek and shiny and she reaches out to run her fingers through it as she brushes it out of the way. "They need a leader. They need you."
She sighs, her smile tight but fond: there are many things to admire about Daphnae after at all from the picture she makes lying here beside her to the iron will that runs right through her. "I'm not going to abandon them, you needn't fear that but what do I know about being their leader?"
Daphnae is quiet a long time, thoughtful, prising her hand free of Kassandra's to allow her to take hold of the hand that held the spear, raising it to press her lips to the open palm. She's slow to let go when she speaks, lips brushing against skin hardened by calluses. "Don't doubt yourself when it comes to this. You completed the tasks set before you and bested me. You're fit to lead."
"Not day to day. I don't even know your ways."
"I wasn't there every day – you aren't some official in a city and you'd be taught what you needed to learn same as anyway is when they become part of something." She hits Kassandra, light enough that it doesn't hurt but a blow that rings out in the quiet of the room, an open hand on the meat of Kassandra's hip; Daphnae doesn't miss that Kassandra bites her lip, pressing closer. "We Daughters see to ourselves. Defence, disagreements, disputes, all things they'd help you with as they did me when I was in your place."
"And what of you Daphnae? What will you do? What shape does your future take now?" Kassandra's other hand settles on Daphnae's hip and isn't moved away, keeping them both close and it's natural then that their legs end up tangled together but she couldn't point to an instigator if she tried.
"I don't know." It comes out with a smile that's close to sorrow, clinging to days past and Kassandra wants to wipe that away but she can't. "My life had a plan until it didn't – someone would come, slay the beasts, and if they didn't in my lifetime then a new leader would step up and that would be it. I'd die on a hunt because I was too slow. Or fighting someone who thought to get the better of me and managed it. Or illness would take me. Or perhaps I might even have grown old after passing on my wisdom, my hair gone grey then white with my sisters gathered close to see me to the afterlife. But always I was a Daughter of Artemis."
"You still are, no one can take that from you. Not a thing that's in your heart," she says and means it, leaning forward just enough to brush their foreheads together, breath mingling.
"I can't be one alone. Joining another band this late…it wouldn't work. Not for me. And it would follow me, and I couldn't live like that Kassandra. I couldn't. It just…" Daphnae breaks off, shaking her head, too close for Kassandra to make out anything else but how wide and wet her eyes are, shining too bright in the low light of the room.
"I understand." Kassandra wets her lip and forges ahead. "Would you come back with me?"
"To Chios? To the village?"
"Yes. Barnabas is bringing Iola and Leda here to bring Sparta and so they can join the crew again for a while and meet everyone but I'm going to go back. I…I left in a hurry. With a temper."
Blood everywhere. Phobos in a lather by the time she was done spurring him on with the sails of the Adrestia in sight with the Daughters who took in the sight of Daphnae's body saying nothing in the dust behind her. Had they said nothing about Kassandra's actions because she was already their leader? Were they following as they thought they should when she carried Daphnae off with her? She could kick herself if that's the case and gods it's something she should have thought of by now but life hasn't allowed for many things and it's only now that she and Daphnae have talked about what any of it entails, what changes come of leadership.
But Nikolaos had followed her too.
She should've known.
"I won't let any harm come to you," she tells Daphnae when there's no response, filling the silence that's fallen over the room.
"Of that I have no doubt." Daphnae takes her hand again to rest it over where the salve has dried. "We'll go hunting in the morning. Then soon I'll see your Adrestia. But no firm decisions will be made before then."
"Agreed." Easy enough after all when only days ago she didn't know if Daphnae would speak to her again and days before that again she was half-certain she'd be dying on her.
Kassandra makes to roll onto her back, to settle for sleep, not tired exactly but willing to take the hours she can in a real bed with a roof over her head with nothing to disturb her but Daphnae hauls her back in short order. "Did I say I was done needing a distraction?"
The heat from earlier when they'd kissed breathlessly under the trees is kindled again, Kassandra grinning as a wolf grins, all teeth and wicked promise. "Tell me when you have in mind."
"Why don't I show you instead," Daphnae murmurs in a low voice and just like that she's straddling Kassandra's hips and holding both arms above her head. "Keep them there misthios. And try to stay as quiet as you can so no one comes to rescue you."
They wake curled against one another in the early hours when the dawn is barely upon the world, the dark blues of night giving way to pinks and orange with not even the birds awake; Ikaros only opens one liquid black eye and closes it again when Kassandra hushes him after he flew in during the night, smoothing over the softest feathers above his beak. Kassandra helps Daphnae to pick out armour that fits her from what she keeps about the room, a mismatched set with a simple hood, adjusting the buckles and straps so nothing chafes and if it ends with more stolen kisses then there's no one but them to speak of it. Daphnae takes her own blades and chooses one of Kassandra's better bows, getting a feel for it while Kassandra gathers her weapons.
She isn't expecting Daphnae to help her dress. Or to be crowded up against the door and kissed until her blood is singing, a thigh between hers that if she just—
Daphnae pulls away and Kassandra can't stop the groan of frustration.
"There's hunting to do. You can claim your reward after – you have forgotten how it works, have you?"
"You're terrible," Kassandra complains with no real heat as they creep downstairs together on light feet to saddle Phobos and lead him off so he can carry back whatever they kill; Daphnae's has bruises in the shape of Kassandra's fingertips beneath her armour and Kassandra has more than one bite that isn't quite hidden if someone goes looking for it. "To the hunt then."
In the end the wolves come instead of bothering the boys in the agoge when there's a far greater challenge that the beasts must sense and then a couple of deer that they butcher side by side in easy silence with the entrails tossed for the surviving creatures that still lurk nearby. Phobos flares his nostrils when they sling the bounty over his back to lead him home but he behaves and Ikaros joins them here and there, beak and talons flashing, a swift blur when he darts as wolves snap at him and bite down on air instead.
Again, they're late home. There are more bruises and bites and now scratches hidden – or not – beneath their armour.
But they've been hunting. And no one should be looking so close anyway.
The stag brought down by Daphnae's arrows is the main meal to welcome Iola and Leda to Sparta, Kassandra caught up in an embrace from the former that threatens to crack her spine from the force of it; not many people can hoist her up clear off her feet but Iola has a bear's strength and Kassandra laughs when she's free, her and Leda's embrace less forceful but no less warm. The table is outside to seat everyone comfortably with Myrrine at one end, Nikolaos at the other, Stentor and Deimos as far apart as they can get so there's less chance of anything serious being instigated because they're a couple of small boys when they get going. Daphnae takes being introduced once again with good humour as she sits between Kassandra and Leda, across from Barnabas and Iola.
"More dinners like these and we'll need to start borrowing from the neighbours or the barracks," Nikolaos says after they've toasted to good health and good friends, everyone digging in as soon as they get the chance.
New guests takes some of the heat off Daphnae and someone else at Stentor's elbow does him good because wonder of wonders he's a smile on his face as he and Leda talk, Iola leaning across the table to better talk to Daphnae as Barnabas catches Kassandra up with the state of things.
"—more pentaconters out there now than coming here, we'll need to do something about that Kassandra," Barnabas says as she pours him another glass and Deimos' eyes are bright; a trireme is good, a pentaconter is far better.
"Did you engage with them?" Deimos asks. "I should've come with you instead of sitting about here."
"You've not been sitting about, you've hardly been in this house," Myrrine interrupts. "I know you're off training or sparring, otherwise you're—"
"Mater!" It's embarrassment, a scandalised plea and Kassandra laughs.
"But did you have trouble Barnabas?"
"No no, we left the Athenians and the Spartans to it. The pirates though, ah, Iola can tell you more about that when she's done talking to Daphnae. Still, something should be done."
"And by we you mean me."
"Hey, I'm coming too, it's going to be we."
"I forget Deimos," Kassandra kicks him under the table, missing Myrrine by a scant inch – enough to garner herself a warning look that she'll have to apologise for later – that he tries to return but Kassandra's faster, tucking her legs closer beneath her seat. "Barnabas is the captain; I'm the commandant…what does that make you again?"
"Obviously the next in line as commandant if you're not there."
Nikolaos at the other end of the table chokes, Stentor patting him hard on the back until he waves him away.
Deimos scowls at Kassandra but the conversation is moving on, back to the work Kassandra's going to have to pick up; the Adrestia is back, Iola and Leda plan to join the crew for a time with her parents and Stentor remaining in Sparta, she needs to know what, exactly, is out there and so does Deimos. And Daphnae. There's no other way for Daphnae to leave Sparta.
"We can deal with them, bound to be good drachmae and more in it for all of us and calmer, safer seas for everyone else trying to make an honest living."
Barnabas beams and lifts his cup in a toast to her. "That's what I thought. Oh, and the Adrestia is ready to go whenever you are. I didn't know how long you were planning on staying in Sparta this time but Daphnae? She looks well. And if you're hunting together—"
"Iola tells me you killed a bear to help save her life?" Daphnae's interruption neatly cuts out Kassandra's need to reply or make some excuse because she doesn't have a neat easy answer for Barnabas, much as she'd love to have one though she thinks that she does. But she won't answer for both of them.
"What a beast that thing was though I doubt it measures up to Kallisto." Iola smiles, her eye twinkling. "A good warm-up for you then to go about your beast slaying ways."
"Every hunt is a challenge Iola; did she tell you about her former smuggling ways Daphnae?"
"That she did. Though," Daphnae grins and under the table her hand settles on Kassandra's thigh, warm in the cool night air and it's all Kassandra can do not to jump, "you never told me how you managed to smuggle a bear onto your ship."
"I might not be a smuggler anymore but there are some trade secrets I'll take to my death with me." Iola's voice is full of pride when she says it and Barnabas turns to look at her with his good eye filled with love that Kassandra laughs, glad that they have this, that Barnabas is here with his family too. "Ah, it'll be good to be back sailing with you again, there's pirates who need put in their place."
"How are they getting pentaconters?" Deimos asks, leaning forward to be included in the conversation and that draws everyone in, Leda and Stentor too from whatever they've been debating on Daphnae's left.
"From what we could see," Leda begins, picking up the story this time, "it seems that instead of sinking ships they're crippling them and then taking them from their own. You can still make out hints of Athenian blue and Spartan red beneath their own colours and…whatever passes for decoration, I don't know why they need to do that to their ships but that's what they do to them. When I was in Attika to catch up with friends it had caused problems in getting supplies without relying on smugglers."
"The smugglers are feeling it too," Iola adds, shaking her head.
"There's been nothing heard back from a good crew." All eyes turn to Stentor, his voice softer than Kassandra's heard it in a long time and it reminds her of that first meeting in Megaris before she knew who he was exactly, who bound them to one another and she reaches for Daphnae's hand. "If you're going—"
"I'll find out what I can Stentor."
Dinner is a quiet affair after that and Kassandra's glad to have an easy excuse to leave when Daphnae starts to lean more heavily against her though as soon as they're inside – Myrrine gives her a pass on clearing up because of that and well Kassandra knows it – she takes her by the hand, both of them racing upstairs as if they're girls escaping the chaperones neither of them had. (If Markos had tried, Kassandra would have laughed until she was sick and told him off but he didn't and well, here she is, she's not about to go spending too much time dwelling on the state of her love life and what might have been if she'd had her parents there to guide her.
It's not as if either of them can say much. Nikolaos perhaps but Kassandra's met Pythagoras and there's still a conversation she labels as really, him in her head. Lineage is one thing, taste is another.)
They don't quite make it inside Kassandra's room before Kassandra crowds Daphnae against the wall, catching her by the wrists to press her back; Daphnae can break her grip but she arches up into it enough to meet her lips even if they're laughing and smiling too much for it to be much of a kiss. Kassandra's never minded. It's better when it's not always so serious, when you can still have both kinds of fun without it breaking the mood until a voice – Deimos, his carries because everyone has to hear him- drifts upstairs and Kassandra groans.
"Come on, inside. You're a terrible influence."
"Me? What did I do?"
"I nearly upturned the table or didn't you notice?"
"Oh so it takes that little to undo the mighty misthios?" Daphnae's wearing a wicked smile and she pushes the door shut then gives Kassandra a shove in the direction of the bed. "How easy it will be to undo you. Undress for me."
"I'm yours to command."
And true, she almost bites through her lip and palm to keep quiet – soon there won't be people about, they can be as loud as they were before – as Daphnae settles between her thighs, clever hands and an even more clever mouth, Kassandra returning the favour until they're both spent, sweat cooling on their skin as they catch their breath, Daphnae's head pillowed on her shoulder. Kassandra kisses her forehead, too lazy and sated to make the effort to do more, ready to drift off when Daphnae speaks, lips against her skin.
"How soon can we set sail?"
Myrrine and Nikolaos embrace them both tight at the docks not long after first light because it's all the better for the Adrestia to catch a good wind and pirates are notorious for drinking late anyway so there's every chance to catch them off their guard. The ship is laden with all the supplies they can carry for the voyage, a few more missions to be undertaken as Kassandra promises to keep in touch however she can, that she hasn't forgotten Stentor's request, and yes she'll keep an eye on her little brother who scowls only when he's caught smiling.
"Take care lamb," Myrrine says one last time as she pulls both of them close to her.
"We know you'll make us proud," Nikolaos adds. "Safe travels wherever you all of you end up."
And with that they're away, Iola and Leda on the deck with the crew – all women, all of them fighters and Daphnae looks, nods, and nothing else needs to be said because she wasn't awake for this last time, she didn't know - as the singing begins again, Kassandra humming along to a gentle ego de'soptron een, o'pos aee vie'pis mi, other voices ringing out and soaring high above the crash of waves as Barnabas guides the ship out into the open waters and beyond.
They have a heading of Chios and the Huntress Village there. Kassandra doesn't know how to live up to Daphnae's legacy but as she looks to the woman next to her, smiling and singing along with the rest of the crew, leaning against the rails as the wind tugs at her hair, Kassandra doesn't have to.
Together. They'll be together for it and she won't be alone, taking back what fate tried to snatch from her as the crew sings on, Kassandra joining in with mi'ron, gi'nae, geni'min, opos ego seli'pso before she catches Daphnae by the chin to kiss her smiling mouth.