Chapter 1: Before
Classical Era - 5th century B.C.E.
“Faas! Faas, move!” She shook him like a rag doll, or at least tried, given what her headache had just done.
His face twitched slightly before becoming completely inanimate, a frozen scream taking over. As Lesya turned from her brother, still clutching his chiton, she saw the city’s reflecting motionless dance creep upon their bodies like a python, squeezing any life they had before Lesya’s explosion of mint blue swirls.
Hooves pounded from the distance, matching Les’s breathing, the men shouting just as she had when she hit her head on the turf. As they became witnesses to Lesya’s mess, two of the city’s officers jumped off from their mares and surrounded the clinging Lesya, ripping her clothing from her back to reveal the ink marking her.
“This young woman has Tithonus’s curse.” Once the man spewed his accusation, she was bound and torn away from the scene, her face damp and childlike, thrashing for her sibling.
Lesya’s hands looked like two giant cotton saucers, blanketed to keep the city safe from another unexpected outbursts of hers, prisoners as she was the night before, a fiend to the villagers she possessed temporarily--one of them her brother.
The ruckus of Athens caged her in a spell unlike Tithonus’s’, rattling her ribcage so that she was a puppet to their dagger stares. “People of Athens, silence within the jury. We gather here in this court to present the actions of Lesya Haelis as of yesterday evening.” Gaius, the eldest of jurors, stood in representative of the rest, who remained as extensions of the cobblestone court building. Les poured her innocence into her eyes. “As the city’s officials reported to us earlier, this young woman has been convicted of poisoning the city with a dark spell. As harmless as it seems at first sight, there have been other suggestions that edge suspicion of whether the gods have had doing in this sorcery. Lesya Haelis was found marked with Tithonus’s curse in Themistocles’ market, alongside many of our citizens frozen and still like statues.”
Murmurs of the survivors amongst the crowd rushed a coat of water to Les’s eyes, eyeing her with suspicion. They stretched each truth using their Hades tongue, making the ink on her back as a plague they were bound to be infected with. She searched within the stands for her brother, who had his eyes on her in the entirety of the speech, never backing down on the accusations deflecting on him.
Gaius banged his cane to echo their attention back on him. “Enough. It seems not even our practitioners could explain the cause of this, but as a mere reflection of Teos, with Hermes’s blessing. Practicing this sort of magic is forbidden, and punishable by death to the Haelis name.” By law, Athens approved for the consequence to be fitting for Les and her family. Dread summoned a cold sweat to cover the Haelis family. “However,” continued the greying juror, “a curse given by the gods cannot die without a beset of something greater to follow.” His gaze moved to the ground, cutting off any sentence he would have placed of the girl, alerting the rest of the jurors to join his stance.
Gathering until they were a miniature cloud coloured gateway, the jury discussed as loudly as the Mediterranean breeze, almost recreating the time-frozen incident they were trying to come to a verdict for. Acting as the door, Gaius listened intently to their suggestions, which muddled between each piece of evidence presented to them, not to mention with the entire lives of the Haelis family in their hands. After letting himself be silent, the elder man finally proposed his suggestion to the group, and their voiced rose in pitch, almost restarting their discussion once again.
Hearing an olive leaf drop to the ground would’ve made more noise than the court after Gaius raised his hands to his colleagues, who dispersed from their group and took their seats again. And mayhap, even the clink of Gaius’s teeth being clamped together could’ve rung. “Athens, although we try to cure the effects of Tithonus’s curse on the bewitched, we cannot ignore the possibility of Lesya Haelis to endanger all of Greece with a different ministration of the gods’ curses. So, the jury and I have agreed to sentence this young woman into exile and order her release within three days with no further contact with Greece or her family until it is determined that there is nothing to fear. She may have the chance to return if the gods forgive her sins. That is all.” Gaius could have not gotten out quicker if his cane had allowed it, his beard reaching down to touch the ground.
While he escaped, the rest of the jurors gathered to vocalize the finishing remarks of the court, blanketing the city’s cynical happiness. “We forbid you to interact further with anyone, Athens or otherwise, and expect the city’s officials to escort you to the Albanian borders and ensure you have no plans to return. Everyone else will be fined if found speaking with the convict. And though the Haelis family is spared, you will not have a name to be accepted here to.”
The court began to empty out, person by person, guiding the light from the windows to reach the doors with their clothing and equally brightened smiles, mothers clutching untouched children, and family severing dead branches clinging onto them like parasites.
Les watched as she was abandoned in the taunting Dike ambience beating her responding Adikia, staying with the help of the officer’s restrain, feeling the pull of her stubbornness to keep her tears behind her lids slip. Sinking to the ground, her curtain of hair hid the waterfall cascading from her spear-like chin, nails vainly digging into the baked brick, making her arms look like columns supporting her. She shook, however, in spite of it, racking her sobs that even her widow’s peak blurred into a sunken hill of hair. The officers, unmoving even with her infant pleas, heard enough for the day and retreated to the entrance. “We will escort you home once you gather yourself.”
Her pillar arms danced with their steps, letting her crumble further into the floor in dread of her walk to the house she couldn’t call home now. She never though ink would orphan her, be responsible enough to strip her of her identity of even an entity.
Curse the gods, she thought, sipping ambrosia and feeding her pomegranate from the Underworld. Thanks to them, she’d miss the years she had to grow with her brother.
Peplums flew from every open access of the house, the soil climbing on top of them to ensure they stayed as marked as her. Taking their leave at the sight of her garments fluttering to form, the officers returned to their duties to the rest of the city. Unadmitted, with the humble glow of the candles reflecting against her clothing almost made it look bearable for her to watch, until her equally illuminated mother swung the door off its hinges with her slim arm.
“You,” her finger spoke, moving as wildly as her bloodshot eyes, “what unspeakable sins have you done to curse our name?”
Les abandoned the idea of retrieving her things as her mother swallowed the short distance between them. Shaking her head, the young woman was ready to shorten her merciful sentence by fleeing at the moment, until Faas swept against the slight breeze of the twilight day and cased his sister in his arms, ending any confrontation between mother and daughter.
“Faas, release her at once,” mother chided child, who was too preoccupied to obey his orders and instead began to almost rock the sister who had long left her crib.
He swallowed, forgetting himself. “I could go with you, Les. Curse or not, you’re too young, and... and it’s not fair anyway.” He pressed her against him further. “I’ll lose everything for you if it meant you could stay.” He would die to fulfill the un-oathed duty of his to protect her.
Behind them, their father soon arrived to restrain the hysteria possessing his wife, hearing the honest words of his son, and almost wanting to soothe the visible fear of Lesya leaving for a world she knew nothing of, bowing his head as he left his children speak without uncontrolled interruption from their mother. “Faas, I don’t want you to—give up everything. My fate has been sealed by the gods themselves, and I can’t deny them anymore than I already have, apparently.” She forced her eyes to contain her ember tears. “I just want these last three days to be with you, yes?” She blinked away the tears that threatened to spill before he came, almost content he was squeezing all the breath from her.
His hand slid from her back to her hand, placing an inanimate object in her lazy grip around his waist, swallowing as she squeezed it, recognizing the shape of his gift, not allowing herself to expose her face to him. Everything around them was still--their breathing was almost as nonexistent as the chaos around them.
Yet, they were ignorant of the commotion of voices migrating in their direction, the stones bouncing on palms of hands, and the hushed movement of clothing ruffling beside legs of stone. They only felt the small pebble of rage that hardly pelted their skin before opening their eyes from the moment. Faas and his sister turned simultaneously, before the second man of the Haelis family made it seem there was only one child in the household.
The swamp of people paused their rocky march. “Step aside, we only want her.”
Faas, however was a fair match, the steel in his eyes unwavering as they. “You stand a better chance at killing me, so make your move, Lesya is staying where she is.” Her grip tightened ono his, the skipping of her veins contagious to her brother.
“The court might be in favor of us if we consider your offer.”
Les shifted, scanning for an escape. “They won’t be in favor of anyone if you don’t silence yourselves. She’s already been ordered to leave, much younger than the other victims of Tithonus if you haven’t remembered, so I dare ask what issue we have here.” She had road to seek for months.
“She’s unlike the others, you explained it all. Not only did the others only inflict themselves, they were never as powerful as she demonstrated, and it can only mean she’s an ally of the Underworld.”
The air was heavy with their threats, so much so, Les could make out every movement behind her and Faas, and bolted as soon as she distinguished a heavy stone within the deadly ruckus, aiming for the endless road to the beach.
“Les!” The wave of rioters flooded as soon as he turned his guard down, too late to create a chance for him to rescue his sister from the hail of rocks.
Despite the burning sores they were creating on her skin, Lesya used the force from each hit to send her further, clamming down on her gums so one sting of rawness could avenge the other. Especially when there was a rawness in her eyes rivaling both the sharp rocks and the locking of her jaw. The sand that rasped her china skin didn’t help her case, as much relief it brought to know that she was at the beach.
She felt like a washed up fish, feeling the sand brush against her lungs, between the crevices in her body as she climbed sideways on the sand. Through the gritty haze, she spotted several long shadows treading the water. Choosing on impulse between the mob and the sea-dwelling strangers, Les sprayed sand everywhere as she dragged herself from land to water, pushing against the walls of saltwater to fulfill her banishment.
Her head bobbed in and out of the blue horizon, swallowing careless gulps when she looked back at the shore, swung her head at the ships in the same movement. Les realized she was becoming a similar beast to what her people had warned Faas about, given the effortless fight she was enduring reaching the ships.
But it was less concerning than her intruding presence as she hitchhiked into the boat, meeting the end of their blades. Drenched and surrounded, she spoke without hesitance. “Exile. I’m trialed by witchcraft against my gods.” She was sure they would end her after the confession, given she was a pagan, but she stood as their counterpart when they retracted their weapons and let her dampen their boats.
One of them braved himself in front of her, his brow as curled as his hair, examining her. “Tithonus, no less.” Watching her face expand in surprise, he reached over to rip his tunic from his back, bearing the same ink that stained her. “He couldn’t have enough with me, so he began to raise his own army.” He ignored the girl to address his crew. “She stays for now, until we find another way.”
Agapetos threw her garments. “Welcome to exile.”
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