He nodded and didn’t move until I’d put enough distance between us that he was sure I couldn’t strike him. I wanted to weep over that.
But there was nothing to be done except to show him that I meant what I said. His life was now his own.
Withdrawing, I returned to my room where I watched him as he put on the shoes he must have been holding under his cloak. Then he explored the small garden for hours. He must have touched everything that was there, feeling the texture and smelling it.
It wasn’t until the sun had begun to set that he made his way back to his room. I waited a few minutes before I went to the kitchen and had Petra take him a tray of food.
"Highness?" she asked as I started to leave.
"Our guest . . . is he all right?"
"He’s fine. He’s just bashful and quiet."
She nodded before she made his tray and left with it. Her daughter, whose name I couldn’t recall, smiled at me from the corner where she played by the fire.
"You’re friend seems lost, Highness. Like the puppy I found last summer. At first he was scared to let anyone near him, but I kept talking to him and leaving him food." She pointed to the dog that was sleeping a few feet from her. "Now he’s the best dog in the world. He never leaves my side."
"Everything in the world needs kindness, child."
She nodded, then went back to playing.
I watched her for a moment as old memories surged. Acheron had never been given toys even before Estes had taken him away. Back then, I would share mine with him, but they were all he’d ever had.
The girl was right. My brother was sadly lost. I just hoped that in time he would become as comfortable here as the dog obviously was. That he would learn to feel welcome in a world that so obviously hated him.
November 19, 9532 BC
I’d slept late today without meaning to. It was almost the noon hour before I awoke. And what awakened me was the most startling thing of all.
It was the sound of a child’s laughter.
I got up and pulled my red woolen cloak around me before I walked to the window so that I could look outside.
There in the garden was Acheron with the cook’s young daughter. They sat on a cloth with bread, meat, olives and figs while they talked and played a dice game. I couldn’t hear what was being said, but the little girl would squeal with laughter every so often.
When the girl decided to stand, she reached out and touched Acheron’s shoulder. He didn’t cringe at all. To my amazement, he actually picked her up and set her on her feet so that she could run inside.
For the first time since I’d found him, he was relaxed. He ate without fear and his features weren’t pinched. He glanced about openly and would actually look the girl in the face.
The girl returned with her doll which she handed to Acheron. He took it and pretended to feed it an olive. The girl squealed in delight.
Enchanted by their play, I headed outside to join them. As soon as Acheron saw me, the light went out of his eyes. I watched as he literally pulled back into himself and became instantly afraid.
"You should go, Maia," he whispered to the girl.
"But I like playing with you, Acheron. You don’t get angry at me for being silly or asking questions."
"She can stay," I added quickly. "I didn’t mean to disturb the two of you."
Acheron kept his gaze locked on the ground.
I sighed before I glanced to the girl. "Maia, would you fetch me a cup of wine from the kitchen?"
"Yes, Highness. I’ll be right back."
As soon as she was gone, I turned to Acheron who was withdrawn and fearful again. "Have you been around many children?"
He shook his head. "It’s forbidden."
"But you seem so at ease with Maia. Why?"
He wrapped his cloak tighter around himself before he spoke. "She wants nothing from me other than a playmate. To her, I’m no different than any other adult. She doesn’t mind my eyes and she isn’t aware that I’m unnatural."
"You’re not unnatural, Acheron."
He looked up at me with those eerie eyes. "You feel the pull of me. You haven’t acted on it yet, but you feel it just like everyone else. Your heart quickens when you watch me move. Your throat goes dry as your eyes dilate. I know the physical signs. I’ve seen them too many times not to."
It was true and I hated the fact that he could see inside me so easily. "I would never touch you like that."
A tic started in his jaw before he looked away. "Gerikos and others have said that, too. And when they can no longer resist it, they hate me and punish me as if I have control over it. As if I make them want me." This time when he met my gaze, I saw the anger that burned deep inside him. "Sooner or later everyone who’s around me f**ks me, Idika. Everyone."
His anger ignited my own. "And I will never touch you like that, Acheron."
The doubt in those eyes burned through me.
"What of Meara?" I asked, trying to show him that not everyone was an animal out to mount him. "She never touched you like that, now, did she?"
The look he gave me told me the answer. My stomach shrank.
"She was kinder than most."
No wonder he didn’t trust me. How in the name of Olympus could I ever convince him that I wasn’t like that when everyone else had used him? Yes, I felt that unnatural allure he spoke of. But I wasn’t an animal unable to control my urges. It sickened me that others had so little control that they would have used him so.
"I will prove myself to you, Acheron. You can trust me. I promise."
Before he could respond, Maia returned with my wine. I offered her a kind smile before I took it from her. "You two play. I need to go bathe and dress."
After rising to my feet, I headed toward my room. At the door I paused to look back at them.
Acheron was rolling the dice while Maia held her doll. He was right, there was an unnatural something about him that called out to my body. Even when he was unhealthy in his appearance, he was beautiful. Compelling.
He looked up at me and I quickly glanced away before I entered my room.
"You’re my brother, Acheron," I whispered. "I won’t hurt you." It was a promise not only to him, but to myself as well.
December 15, 9532 BC
The mild winter continued. Warm enough some days even to venture outside without cloaks.
Over a month had passed since I escaped with Acheron. My letters sent to my father with false locations helped to keep us safe. As did the men and women I bribed to give false sightings of us in other cities. I just hoped he continued to buy into my ruse until spring when it would be safe for us to travel.
The drugs were gone from Acheron’s body now and I scarcely recognized the boy I’d found chained to a bed.
His hair shiny and gold, he had gained weight and could easily be mistaken for Styxx now. All except those swirling silver eyes, and his quiet, introverted personality. There was no boisterous swagger, no annoying bragging.
Acheron was thoughtful and respectful. Grateful for any kindness shown to him. He could sit for hours and not move or speak. His favorite activity appeared to be just sitting on the balcony that looked out over the sea, watching the waves crash into the shore, watching the sun rise and set with a fascination that amazed me.
Or playing games of chase and dice with Maia. The two of them shared a bond that warmed my heart. Acheron never hurt her or raised his voice. He very seldom even touched her. And when it came to her incessant questions, he had more patience than anyone I’d ever seen. Even Petra commented on it and how grateful she was that Maia had found a willing playmate.
Earlier today, we’d been out in the orchard, trying to find fresh apples even though it was past season. Acheron had finally admitted to a preference for the fruit-it’d taken me weeks of trying before he would admit a preference for anything.
"Do you think Father will come soon?" he asked.
I swallowed in fear. I don’t know why I’d kept up the lie. Except that the truth of Father’s feelings was something I didn’t think he needed to know. It was easier to tell him that his family loved him-that they all felt toward him as I did.
"I would like to meet him," he said as he peeled an apple with his knife. It was the only one we’d found and though it wasn’t quite fresh, Acheron didn’t seem to mind. "But it’s Styxx I’d like to meet most. I can only vaguely recall him from before."
From before. That was the only way he’d refer to the time in Atlantis.
He’d ceased speaking of himself as a whore, said nothing of torture or abuse, not even when I asked him for details. His eyes would become haunted and he would hang his head low. So I learned not to ask, not to remind him of anything about his years spent with our uncle.
The only telltale sign of his time there was still the way he moved. Slowly, seductively. He had been so thoroughly trained as a prostitute that even here, he couldn’t shake those movements.
The only other reminder of his past were the balls in his tongue that he refused to remove and the brand on his palm.
"It hurt too much to have it pierced," he’d told me when I’d asked about the balls. "My tongue was so swollen that I couldn’t eat for days. I don’t want to have to experience that again."
"But you won’t, Acheron. I told you, I won’t let them return you there."
He’d looked at me with the same indulgence he’d given Maia when she told him that horses could fly-like a parent who didn’t want to spoil the child’s delusion with the truth.
So the balls remained.
But then so did Acheron.
January 20, 9531 BC
I sat for hours today, watching Acheron. He’d awakened early as he often did and walked down to the beach. It was so cold that I feared he’d become ill, but I didn’t want to infringe on his freedom. He’d lived so long with rules dictating his every movement and opinion that I never wanted to impose any limitation on him.
Sometimes the mind’s health was even more important than that of the body. And I believed he needed his freedom more than he needed to be protected from a small fever.
I kept to the shadows, just wanting to observe. He walked for almost an hour in the freezing surf. I had no idea how he withstood the coldness of it, yet he seemed to derive pleasure from the pain.
Whenever one of the sea animals from the water washed ashore, he took great care to get it back into the water and send it on its way.
After a while, he climbed up the craggy rocks where he sat with his legs bent and his chin resting on his knees. He looked out across the sea as if waiting for something. The wind blew his fair hair out and around him, his clothes rippled from the force of it while the water plastered the light golden curls of his legs to his skin.
Still, he didn’t move.
It was almost noon before he returned. He joined me in the dining hall for our midday meal. As we were being served, I saw the jagged cut he had on his left hand.
"Oh, Acheron!" I gasped, worried about the deep gash. I took his hand into mine so that I could examine it. "What happened?"
"I fell against the rocks."
"Why were you sitting up there?"
He pulled away, uncomfortable.
That only worried me more. "Acheron? What is it?"
He swallowed and dropped his gaze to the floor. "You will think me mad if I tell you."
"No, I won’t. I would never think such a thing as that."
He looked even more uncomfortable before he spoke in a thin tone. "I hear voices sometimes, Ryssa. When I’m near the sea, they’re louder."
He closed his eyes and tried to withdraw.
I gently took his arm and kept him by my chair. "Acheron, tell me."
When he met my gaze, I saw the fear and anguish inside him. It was obvious this was something else that had caused him to be beaten in the past. "They’re the voices of the Atlantean gods."
Shocked by his unexpected answer, I stared at him.
"They call to me. I can hear them even now like whispers in my head."
"What do they say?"
"They tell me to come home to the hall of the gods so that they can welcome me. All but one. Hers is stronger than the others and it tells me to stay away. She tells me that the others want me dead and that I shouldn’t listen to their lies. That she’ll come for me one day and take me home where I belong."
I frowned at his words. By his eyes, everyone knew Acheron was the son of some god. But to my knowledge no demigod had ever heard voices of the other gods. At least not like this.
"Mother says that you must be a son of Zeus," I told him. "She says that he must have visited her one night, disguised as Father, and that she didn’t know he’d been in her bed until you were born. So why would you hear the voices of the Atlantean gods when we’re Greek and your father is either Zeus or a Greek king?"
"I don’t know. Idikos drugs me whenever I hear them until I’m too dizzy and numb to notice anymore. He says it’s a figment of my mind. He says . . ." His face stricken, he looked away.
"He says what?"
"That the gods have all cursed me. It’s their will that I serve as I do. It’s why I was born so unnaturally and why everyone wants to sleep with me. The gods all hate me and they want to punish me for my birth."