From high up in the heavens, I've observed you from afar.
The purest child who is fair of face and can outshine any star.
I weep and suffer alongside you when they cast and beat you down.
For it is my own strength I see in you, although, it is I who wears the crown.
I'm duty-bound to my sons, to find them each a bride.
From my astral throne, high above the world, there is nowhere you can hide.
The gift of love I bestow to you means beauty and youth forever frozen.
For I am the Goddess of the moon...
And you, my child, have been chosen.
The sound of the key turning in the lock brought me to my feet. My pulse quickened as the light cracked through the opening door, spilling a streak of yellow light along the dark wooden floor. My room, although beautifully furnished with handcrafted ornate furniture, embellished with gemstones and bronze fixtures, was also my prison. My perfect life, with a picturesque loving family, was all a fabricated lie. Publicly, we put on a show, but privately, it was an entirely different matter.
Despised wholeheartedly by my father, who more than anything, craved a son and heir, I lived my days mostly in solitude. I would gaze up each night, in envy of the glowing moon. So flawed, yet so beautiful, just like me. To me, beauty wasn't an asset, it was my curse, my undoing, and soon to be my demise. In my experience, beauty always comes with a price. Men would become blinded by it, and their greedy eyes clouded with lust. Beauty wields dark magic all of its own, forcing even the most virtuous man to kill, in order to indulge it.
Here, in Athens, they traded women like property and took whatever they wanted from us. Being of wealthy origin doesn't always have its advantages— I should know.
I've learned the hard way, that there is a vast difference between who you can trust, and what you can trust.
I was given constant reminders of my place during the frequent beatings I would receive. My mother had died when I was young, leaving my father bitter and scornful of the world and everyone in it. He unleashed all his anger and resentment on me as if I was the cause of her sudden passing. After my complicated delivery, Mother never fully recovered. She remained in a weakened state, prone to illness and chronic fatigue. Father often reminded me how my arrival had sucked the life essence from within her, robbing him of the love of his life.
As much as that hurt me, I couldn't help feeling that his words held true. If I hadn't have been born, then she would still be alive. What a disappointment I must've been.
"Lady Kathleen, it's time for you to get ready for the celebration." A young servant girl entered the room, dressed in a grey and white cotton dress. She bobbed in a curtsey, addressing me formally.
I exhaled a breath of relief, grateful that it was not my father returning to finish what he started. I rubbed the side of my bruised face in memory where he had struck me the night before. My lip stung where his ruby-encrusted ring had split the skin. I had taken too long to answer him when he questioned me. The longer I kept him waiting, the more I wore down his patience. My body was covered in bruises, old and new. Punishments that I apparently deserved. She lowered her gaze awkwardly, awaiting me to acknowledging her presence.
"Celebration?" I asked, frowning with confusion. "May I inquire as to the occasion?"
She swallowed nervously, unable to maintain eye contact. "Please, M'lady, we mustn't keep M'lord waiting."
I watched her clear the distance to the closet, where she rummaged amongst the dozens of striking gowns that hung there. She then returned with a choice of two: a midnight-blue coloured gown, which was elegant, yet regal, and a pale gold gown with an intricate pattern stitched into the bodice. Her features brightened with awe at the detail, holding it up to admire it.
"I choose the blue gown," I answered hastily, noticing how she favoured that one over the other.
The inky blue material appeared sombre and dull in comparison to the golden gown. Wearing Gold would give the impression that I was happy and that couldn't have been further from the truth. Blue seemed to match the melancholy mood I was in.
"You may speak freely with me," I addressed the servant whose concentration remained solely on the task at hand. I suspected that my father had given the staff strict instructions not to engage in unnecessary conversation with me.
Our eyes met briefly, as she held out a corset and positioned it across my midriff. I held it against me as she busied her fingers, threading through the laces and pulling them tighter as she went, thus constricting my ability to breathe.
I gasped as the boned material crushed against my ribcage.
"I mustn't," she whispered from behind. "If I'm caught, I'll find myself out of work, or worse." Her voice trembled with nerves. "The servant who tended your wounds the other night was flogged in the courtyard. M'lord made an example of her, for her disobedience."
That news nauseated me, but I understood the implications she was under. My father's wrath didn't only reside with me. "Well then, at least tell me this; is Gregory here? Nod your head for yes." I turned to face her.
Fear flickered in her eyes as she nodded.
My heartbeat elevated. "Are there rumours of an announcement?" I asked, feeling blood rush straight to my ears.
She nodded again, this time releasing a timid breath.
"He's going to announce the date of my marriage to Gregory, isn't he?" I felt the bile creeping up my throat. A sickening feeling of hopelessness swept over me and I felt trapped here with no means of escape.
Her young eyes held wisdom despite her youth. I could see that she felt some sort of empathy for my unfortunate situation. All the servants knew what went on inside these walls but all were too afraid to speak out. Father was of noble blood, so who on this earth had the power to help us?
"Forgive me, M'lady, I heard your father discussing matters with your fiancé. The wedding will be held tomorrow." Her meek voice trembled, as she delivered the crushing news.
So, tomorrow I was to be forced into a loveless marriage with a man I despised. A man just as cruel and callous as my father. If this was true, then I was as good as dead. I had overheard Gregory talking with his advisors about killing me after the ceremony. Those were his closest friends who followed him everywhere and carried out his evil bidding.
I wondered which one of them had been given the instruction to kill me. Which one of his thugs had he asked to do it? And how? No sooner would we be married, I was to be disposed of, and my body was to be taken to the catacombs, here in Athens.
Gregory would be free to inherit my father's full estate and all his wealth and empire. Just as long as I went ahead with the marriage. That was the agreement between my father and him.
"M'lady, your father insisted you wear this." She held out the ring that Gregory had proposed to me with. The very same ring that I had refused the evening prior.
I slid it on my wedding finger, reluctantly. The cold metal weighed heavily on my sender limb, burning the skin where it rested. It served as a glistening mockery of everything it stood for.
I had been locked inside my room, ever since my engagement to Gregory was announced yesterday evening.
The only faces I had seen were the servants who fed me, bathed me, and came to change my chamber pot. The last interaction I had with my father, he had struck me across my face for refusing Gregory's proposal. He told me that it would go ahead regardless of my wishes and then had the guards drag me to my room.
The foolish man had no idea that while my body lay rotting beneath the city in the crypt of the wealthy, that he too, would soon be joining me. Just as soon as Gregory got what he wanted, my father would no longer serve a purpose.
He didn't even believe me when I told him about what I'd heard. He accused me of fabricating a story, in order to free myself from the arrangements. He thought of Gregory as the son he had always wanted. For an intelligent man, he had no idea how blinded he'd become.
The servant finished helping me dress and brushed my long-golden curls until they felt like softened spun silk.
She vacated the room, leaving me with my own thoughts. Whilst I walked apprehensively towards the ballroom, I formulated a desperate plan in my mind.
The guests came to greet me, offering their congratulations. Each lady of the court took it in turns, bringing my delicate hand up to admire my diamond and sapphire ring. The very same ring that would be stripped from my withered finger, no sooner had I taken my final breath.
My father greeted me with outstretched arms. He used his usual rehearsed line that he saved only for false public displays of affection such as this. "Kathleen, my beautiful daughter. You look delightful, my dear."
I managed a smile in return and allowed him to embrace me. Freezing rigid as he whispered in my ear. "Do not embarrass me tonight, like you did yesterday," he hissed a whispered warning.
Over his shoulder, I noticed Gregory cast me a steely glare. Dressed in his full military uniform. A highly decorated commador of the Greek naval fleet. His brown almost-black eyes were devoid of any emotion as they bore into mine. I couldn't call him handsome because he wasn't. His disdainful gaze was cruel and unrelenting as it travelled along my gown, appraising me inwardly.
I shuddered. Not wanting to know the kind of discourteous thoughts that were filtering through his mind. No doubt, how I would look beneath the ruffles of silk. I had no reason to believe he would be gentle and considerate. Not with the lack of respect that seemed to radiate from him in waves. I would much rather throw myself from the tower rooftop than allow him to touch me in any way at all.
I pulled myself away from my father's superficial embrace. "Father, I'm feeling all peculiar because of the excitement. May I be excused to the balcony, so that I can get some air?" I fanned my face with my hand and forced out an uneven breath.
The ballroom shone with a flickering amber glow, and heat emanated from the thousands of candles that were lit inside the brass fixtures. They hung from the ceiling, and along the walls in ornate sconces, increasing the temperature of the crowded ballroom.
He couldn't refuse me in public. Not with important people standing within earshot.
His eyes narrowed at me with raised suspicion. "The balcony only. You are not permitted to enter the gardens," he agreed, reluctantly.
"Of course," I replied while keeping up the facade.
Placing a hand to my abdomen, I pretended to feel sickly, needing air. I snatched a silver goblet from the tray of a passing servant, sparing a backward glance at my father. His posture relaxed as he bought my act, losing interest in my presence. He had seen me here, that's all that mattered. His attention diverted elsewhere, mingling with the guests. The wheels of my plan were now set in motion, all that remained was for me to escape the grounds without being apprehended.
I slipped away down the halls, amongst the giggling couples who were embarking on extramarital trysts in the shadows and behind tapestries. None of them were likely to rush back with the news that I was absconding. They placed too much value on my discretion.
My father's guards were temporarily entertained with a show from one of the copulating couples, regarding them with voyeuristic eyes. Such behaviour wasn't so uncommon in Greece. Intimate group liaisons had taken place throughout history and were practised before Roman times.
I took full advantage whilst the guard's attentions were diverted, in order to slip past unnoticed, hurrying out through the neatly maintained grounds and disappearing into the night. I drank from the wine goblet, gulping down the contents as I hurried. The velvety red wine served as a comforter, calming my nerves, providing me with some much-needed courage.
I hadn't time to bring any means of money. Although, my engagement ring would fetch a handsome price, and the silver goblet would prove useful as payment. This meant that I wasn't exactly destitute, but would need to barter my way to freedom.
The light of the moon shone bright tonight, and I knew it to be the last day of summer. Something about it brought me comfort. The silvery light illuminated a pathway towards a man who had just finished loading a horse-drawn cart.
"Excuse me!" I called out, just as he was about to crack the reins.
He turned around abruptly at first, then his features softened as he saw me approaching. "What can I do for you, miss?"
"Are you heading for the port?" I panted, desperately.
His brows scrunched as he checked behind me. "Are you alright?"
"Please, I need a ride to the port," I begged. "How far will this get me?" I held up the silver goblet as payment.
He jerked his head, gesturing for me to climb up beside him. "Keep it. I'm heading that way anyway, so you might as well ride alongside me." He held a hand out to help me up.
"Thank you," I replied gratefully. "You sir, are a lifesaver." I smiled a wide thankful smile.
He appeared to be in his mid to early forties. Beneath the hat he wore, his unkempt greying hair fell across his eyes in thin strands. Dirt smeared his features and his worn and tattered clothing hung loosely from his slender frame. Despite his apparent lack of fortune, his eyes were kind, and the warmth harboured within them told me that he was trustworthy.
Maybe it was the way he lit up with moonlight when everything else looked dark. But it was as if he had been sent to me when I needed someone most.
He tipped his worn hat slightly as a friendly gesture. "The name is Theos. No need for formalities with me, my dear." He cracked the reins and clicked his tongue. The horses obeyed his command and pulled the cart in a hasty pace. I relaxed, breathing out a huge sigh of relief.
I could see Theos cast fleeting glances at me from the corner of my eye and I returned a polite smile. It was rude of me not to make conversation but I was struggling to find the right words to say. I had never been out of the grounds of my father's estate without a chaperone before and I was feeling incredibly vulnerable indeed.
"You're in a hurry to get somewhere, or should I say away from something?" Light-hearted amusement softened his words.
"You have absolutely no idea," I laughed nervously.
I wondered if my father had sent someone to fetch me from the balcony, and what he was likely to do, once he discovered that I was missing.
I couldn't go back. I wouldn't. I had made up my mind to board a ship that would take me to wherever. The further away from Greece, the better. Perhaps to the Americas. They would never find me there.
We travelled for an hour or so, to the port. Theos didn't question my circumstances, which I was grateful for. Instead, he counselled me on what ship to board. One called 'The Freedom' which I thought to be rather fitting. It was named after the freelands to where it was headed.
The port was filled with cargo ships that were either being loaded or were ready to set sail. I caught my first glimpse of The Freedom. It was a fairly modest size vessel that had three white sails.
There was a small cluster of people offering payment in exchange for passage to wherever it was headed. The crew seemed to take whatever token payment they were offered, allowing people to come aboard.
"Here we are, miss. I'm sorry, I have forgotten to ask your name," Theos apologised, as he held out a hand to help me down.
Right there and then, I hesitated. Did I dare reveal to him my name, and have him disclose my destination to whoever came questioning?
I looked to the light of the moon above me and decided to tell him a little white lie. One that would hide my true identity.
"Luna. My name is Luna," I deceived, with cautious intent.