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 brings me to my feet. My pulse quickens as the light cracks through the opening door, spilling a streak of yellow light along the dark wooden floor tiles. My room, although beautifully furnished with handcrafted ornate furniture, embellished with gemstones and bronze fixtures, is also my prison. My perfect life, with a picturesque loving family, is all a fabricated lie. Publicly, we put on a show, but privately, it's an entirely different matter.
Despised wholeheartedly by my father, who more than anything craved a son and heir, I live my days mostly in solitude. I gaze up at the heavens each night, in envy of the glowing moon. So flawed, yet so beautiful, just like me. To me, beauty isn't an asset, it is my curse, my undoing, and soon to be my demise. In my experience, beauty always comes with a price. Men 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 trade women like property and take whatever they want 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'm given constant reminders of my place during the frequent beatings I receive. My mother 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. As I thrived, she diminished. Father often reminds me of how my arrival sucked the life essence from within her, robbing him of the love of his life.
As much as it hurts me, I can't help feeling that his words hold truth. If I hadn't have been born, then she would still be alive. What a disappointment I must be to them both.
"Lady Kathleen, it's time for you to get ready for the celebration." A young servant girl enters the room, dressed in a grey and white cotton dress. She bobs in a curtsey, addressing me formally.
I exhale a breath of relief, grateful that it's not my father returning to finish what he started. I rub the side of my bruised face in memory of where he struck me the night before. My lip still stings in the place where his ruby-encrusted ring split the skin. I had taken too long to answer him when he questioned me. The longer I keep him waiting, the more I wear down his patience. My body is covered in bruises, old and new. Punishments that I apparently deserve. She lowers her gaze awkwardly, waiting for me to acknowledging her presence.
"Celebration?" I ask, frowning with confusion. "May I inquire as to the occasion?"
She swallows nervously, unable to maintain eye contact. "Please, M'lady, we mustn't keep M'lord waiting."
I watch as she clears the distance to the closet, then rummages through the dozens of striking gowns that hang there. She then returns with a choice between two: a midnight-blue gown, which is elegant and regal, and a pale gold gown with an intricate pattern stitched into the bodice. Her features brighten in awe of the detailing, holding it up to admire it.
"I choose the blue gown," I answer hastily, noticing how she favours that one over the other.
The inky-blue material appears sombre and dull in comparison to the golden gown. Wearing Gold would give the impression that I'm happy and that can't be further from the truth. Blue seems to match the melancholy mood I'm in.
"You may speak freely with me," I address the servant whose concentration remains solely on the task at hand. I suspect my father has given the staff strict instructions not to engage in unnecessary conversation with me.
Our eyes meet briefly as she holds out the corset and positions it across my midriff. I hold it against me as she busies her fingers, threading the laces and pulling them tighter, thus constricting my ability to breathe.
I gasp as the boned material crushes against my ribcage.
"I mustn't," she whispers from behind me. "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 nauseates me, but I understand the implications she's under. My father's wrath doesn't just reside with me. "Well then, at least tell me this; is Gregory here? Nod your head for yes." I turn to face her.
Fear flickers in her eyes as she nods.
My heartbeat elevates. "Are there rumours of an announcement?" I ask, feeling blood rush straight to my ears.
She nods again, this time releasing a timid breath.
"He's going to announce the date of my marriage to Gregory, isn't he?" I feel the bile start to creep up my throat. A sickening feeling of hopelessness washes over me and I know I'm trapped here with no means of escape.
Her young eyes hold wisdom despite her youth. I can see that she feels some sort of empathy for my unfortunate situation. All the servants know what takes place inside these walls, but all are too afraid to speak out. Father is 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 trembles as she delivers the crushing news.
So, tomorrow I'm to be forced into a loveless marriage with a man I despise. A man just as cruel and callous as my father. If this is true, then I'm as good as dead. I overheard Gregory talking with his advisors about killing me after the ceremony. Those are his closest friends who follow him everywhere and carry out his evil bidding.
I wonder which one of them had been given the instruction to kill me. Which one of his thugs has he asked to do it? And how? The same day that I'm due to be married, I'm to be disposed of, and my body is to be taken to the catacombs here in Athens.
Gregory will be free to inherit my father's full estate and all his wealth and empire. Just as long as I go ahead with the marriage. That's the agreement between my father and him.
"M'lady, your father insisted you wear this." She holds out the ring that Gregory proposed to me with. The very same ring that I refused the evening prior.
I reluctantly slide it onto my wedding finger. The cold metal weighs heavily on my sender limb, burning the skin where it rests. It serves as a glistening mockery of everything it stands for.
I have been locked inside my room, ever since my engagement to Gregory was announced yesterday evening.
The only faces I've seen are the servants who feed me, bathe me, and come to change my chamber pot. The last interaction I had with my father, he ended it by striking 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 has no idea that while my body lays rotting beneath the city, in the crypt of the wealthy, that he too would soon be joining me. Just as soon as Gregory gets what he wants, my father will 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 thinks of Gregory as the son he had always wanted. For an intelligent man, he has no idea how blinded he'd become. Grief has deluded him.
The servant finishes helping me to dress and brushes my long-golden curls until they feel as soft as silk.
She vacates the room, leaving me to ponder my own thoughts. As I walked apprehensively towards the ballroom, I formulate a desperate plan in my mind.
The guests come to greet me, offering their congratulations. Each lady of the court takes it in turns to clasp my delicate hand, admiring the diamond and sapphire ring. The very same ring that will be stripped from my withered finger, no sooner had I taken my final breath.
My father greets me with outstretched arms. He uses his usual rehearsed line that he saves only for false public displays of affection such as this.
"Kathleen, my beautiful daughter. You look delightful, my dear."
I manage a smile in response and allow him to embrace me. I freeze rigidly as he whispers in my ear. "Do not embarrass me tonight like you did yesterday," he hisses a whisper of warning.
Over his shoulder, I notice Gregory cast me a steely glare. Dressed in his full military uniform, he looks every part the highly decorated commander of the Greek naval fleet. His brown almost-black eyes are devoid of any emotion as they blaze into mine. I can't call him handsome because he isn't. His disdainful gaze is cruel and unrelenting as it travels along my gown, appraising me inwardly.
I shudder, not wanting to know the kind of discourteous thoughts that are filtering through his mind. No doubt, how I look beneath the ruffles of silk. I have no reason to believe that he would be gentle and considerate. Not with the lack of respect that seems 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 pull 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 fan my face with my hand and force out an uneven breath.
The ballroom shimmers with a flickering amber glow and heat emanates from the thousands of candles that dance above the brass fixtures. They hang from the ceiling and along the walls in ornate sconces, increasing the temperature of the crowded ballroom.
He can't refuse me in public. Not with important people standing within earshot.
His eyes narrow at me with raised suspicion. "The balcony only. You are not permitted to enter the gardens," he agrees with reluctance.
"Of course," I reply while keeping up the facade.
Placing a hand to my abdomen, I pretend to feel sickly, needing some air. I snatch a silver goblet from the tray of a passing servant, sparing a backward glance at my father. His posture relaxes as he falls for my act, losing interest in my departure. He has seen me here, that's all that matters. His attention diverts elsewhere as he mingles with the guests. The wheels of my plan are now set in motion, all that remains is for me to escape the grounds without being apprehended.
I slip away down the halls, amongst the giggling couples who are embarking on extramarital trysts in the shadows and behind tapestries. None of them are likely to rush back with the news that I'm absconding. They place too much value on my discretion.
My father's guards are temporarily entertained with a show from one of the copulating couples, regarding them with voyeuristic eyes. Such behaviour isn't uncommon in Greece. Intimate group liaisons have been taking place throughout history and were practised before Roman times.
I take full advantage whilst the guard's attentions are diverted. My efforts prove successful as I slip past unnoticed, hurrying out through the neatly maintained grounds and disappearing into the night. I take a drink from the wine goblet, gulping down the contents as I hurry. The velvety red wine serves as a comforter, calming my nerves and providing me with much-needed courage.
I don't have 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 means that I'm not going to be destitute, but would need to barter my way to freedom.
The light of the moon shines bright tonight and I knew it to be the last day of summer. Something about it brings me comfort. The silvery light illuminates a pathway towards a man who has just finished loading a horse-drawn cart.
"Excuse me!" I call out, just as he's about to crack the reins.
He turns around, abruptly at first, then his features soften as he notices me approaching. "What can I do for you, miss?"
"Are you heading for the port?" I pant, desperately.
His brows scrunch as he checks behind me. "Are you alright?"
"Please, I need a ride to the port," I beg. "How far will this get me?" I hold up the silver goblet as payment.
He jerks 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 holds a hand out to help me up.
"Thank you," I reply, gratefully. "You sir, are a lifesaver." I smile a wide thankful smile.
He appears to be in his mid-to-early forties. Beneath the hat he wears, his unkempt greying hair falls across his eyes in thin strands. Dirt smears his features and his worn and tattered clothing hangs loosely from his slender frame. Despite his apparent lack of fortune, his eyes are kind and the warmth that is harboured within them tells me that he's trustworthy.
Maybe it's the way he lights up with moonlight when everything else looks dark, but it's as if he has been sent to me when I needed someone most.
He tips his worn hat slightly in a friendly gesture. "The name is Theos. No need for formalities with me, my dear." He cracks the reins and clicks his tongue. The horses obey his command and pull the cart at a hasty pace. I relax, breathing out a huge sigh of relief.
I see Theos casting fleeting glances at me from the corner of my eye and I return a polite smile. It would be rude of me not to make some sort of conversation but I was struggling to find the right words to say. I'd never been out of the grounds of my father's estate without a chaperone before, and I'm feeling incredibly vulnerable at present.
"You're in a hurry to get somewhere, or should I say away from something?" Light-hearted amusement softens his words.
"You have absolutely no idea," I laugh nervously.
I wonder if my father has sent someone to fetch me from the balcony, and what he's likely to do once he discovers that I'm missing.
I couldn't go back. I wouldn't. I 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 travel for an hour or so to the port. Theos doesn't question my circumstances, which I'm grateful for. Instead, he counsels me on what ship to board. One called 'The Freedom' which I think sounds rather fitting. It's named after the freelands to where it was headed.
The port is filled with cargo ships that are either being loaded or were ready to set sail. I catch my first glimpse of The Freedom. It is a modest size vessel that has three white sails.
There's a small cluster of people offering payment in exchange for passage to wherever it was headed. The crew seem to take whatever token payment they were being offered, allowing people to come aboard.
"Here we are, miss. I'm sorry, I have forgotten to ask your name," Theos apologises as he holds out a hand to help me down.
Right there and then, I hesitate. Do I dare reveal my name and have him disclose my destination to whoever comes questioning?
I look to the light of the moon and decided to tell him a little white lie. One that would hide my true identity.
"Luna. My name is Luna," I deceive with cautious intent.