Aricles cocked his head as he felt Bathymaas’s presence behind him. Strange how he was so attuned to her. Even before the scent of sweet lilies reached his senses, he’d known she was here with him. “Am I needed, my goddess?”
“No.” She paused by his side to touch the handmade pole he held in his hands. “What is it you do?”
He pulled at the line. “I’m fishing.”
Her frown deepened. “Is this how it’s done?”
“It is. Would you like to try?”
“I’m not sure. What does one do to fish?”
Aricles smiled at her innocent question. While the other members of his band lost patience with her inability to understand human activities and emotions, he found her quite beguiling and endearing. “Come and sit with me, my lady, and I’ll show you.” He removed his cloak and laid it down on the ground to protect her clothing and to give her some padding from the damp grass.
In the daintiest and most graceful manner he’d ever seen, she sank down by his side.
He carefully showed her the metal hook he’d made. “You bait the hook.” He picked up a worm from the small clay pot where he’d gathered them a short time ago and showed her how.
“Does that hurt them?”
“I try not to think about that.”
He wiped his hands. “Once it’s anchored to the hook, you place it into the water and wait for a fish to take the bait. Then you pull the fish to shore and capture it.”
She watched as he tossed the line in. “How long does it take?”
“It could be right away or hours from now, or even not at all.”
That seemed to confuse her even more. “Does this not bore you?”
He shook his head as he heard his brother’s insults in his mind over his favorite pastime. “Not really. I find it relaxing to sit with my thoughts and listen to the wind whispering to me through the trees.”
“You do have a serenity about you that others lack.”
That was a polite term for what Galen called his boorishness. “I’m a simple man, with simple needs.”
She ran her hand over the carvings he’d made on the pole. They were for the god of water, Ydor, who was said to favor fishermen. “And what are those needs you speak of?”
Aricles scratched at his chin. “Good company. No conflict. And a full belly is always nice.”
Bathymaas was amazed at his short list. “No love or shelter?”
“Shelter can be found anywhere. A cave or tent. As for love… I’m quite happy without it.”
How very strange to her. “I thought all men wanted to be loved.”
“Personally, I’d rather not have the pain of it.”
“Is that why you’re not wenching with the others?”
Aricles laughed. “What they’re about today has nothing to do with love, my lady. That is a physical act that doesn’t involve their hearts.”
That made even less sense to her. “Then why aren’t you with them?”
“What can I say? My brother wenches enough for both of us.” Aricles paused as he saw her trying to understand his flippant explanation. She was so intelligent about most things, but when it came to human emotions, she was as childlike and innocent as Malphas had warned them. “The honest truth, my lady… when I was a boy and staying with my grandfather, my aunt came in late one night. She was hysterical and in tears to find herself pregnant from a man she thought loved her. She’d given her body to him and when she conceived his child, he’d confessed that he’d only been dallying with her and had no interest in making her his wife. My grandfather told me that women, unlike men, quite often confuse sex with love, and that many women attach great significance to the physical act. I loved and adored my aunt, and when she killed herself days later, after she’d gone to her lover and he’d again insulted and denied her, it tore a hole in my heart. I vowed that I would never hurt a woman like that, and that I would take no lover except for my wife.”
“But you’re not married.”
“And that is why I’m fishing instead of wenching.”
“Oh,” she breathed then hesitated as she digested his explanation. “So you’ve never had a woman?”
Cringing internally from that question, Aricles blushed. “And I would deeply appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone that, my lady. Men can be quite insulting over such things.”
“Honestly, I’ve never been quite sure. It seems to me they would be grateful that it’s one less competitor in the market, and yet that’s not how they see it at all. Rather they think it makes a man weak and effeminate to not tup every female he meets.”
Bathymaas tried to make sense of that as something began to tug at the pole in her hands. “Is this a nibble?”
“It is, indeed.” He moved to sit behind her and wrap his arms around her so that he could show her how to pull the fish in. The warmth of his body and rich, manly scent of his skin made her head reel in a way it never had before. For some reason, she wanted to bury her nose against his skin and revel in it…
How very peculiar.
His rock-hard muscles flexed around her as he lifted the pole to show her a wiggling fish. “There it is.” He moved away so as not to get the water on her dress.
He carefully placed the fish in a small wicker basket then wrapped the line and hook around the pole.
“Is that it?”
Aricles nodded. “I only need one for a meal. Some people fish for sport and release the fish after they catch it, but I only do that when it’s too small or young to be eaten.”
He was ever kind and compassionate to all things. In spite of the fact that he was a lethal warrior, Aricles was a very gentle man.
“May I watch you prepare it? I’ve never seen anyone do that before, either.”
“Of course, my goddess.”
He moved farther up the bank to where a small firepit had been prepared. Pulling out a knife, he sat down to remove the fish’s scales.
She studied the graceful way he set about his task. “You move with such expertise…”
“I’ve been doing this a while.”
And that made her curious about him. “Aricles? Would you mind if I joined you again to fish another day?”
“I would be honored.”
Bathymaas sat back and continued to watch him prepare his meal. Most likely, she shouldn’t spend time with just him, and yet it wasn’t right in her mind that he was alone when she knew people, as a rule, didn’t like solitude. It only seemed fair and right that he should have someone to talk to on his days off, too, while the others sought other forms of companionship. Not to mention, she liked being able to ask him questions and have them answered. Unlike the others she knew, he didn’t lose patience with her. And it helped her to better understand sentient mortals.
Perhaps these excursions would benefit them both.
March 3, 12,251 BC
“They’re incredible, aren’t they?”
Bathymaas wasn’t sure what Caleb meant. “How so?”
“Sorry, goddess. I forgot you can’t understand nuances… The way the brothers move. As if they are one mind. Back to back. Perfect synchronicity. I don’t know if it’s from being brothers or twins. But I’ve never seen anything like it. If we had an army of them, we’d need no others.”
She agreed. They were incredible fighters. While the other four were the best of their breeds, they weren’t able to defeat Galen and Aricles.
“Are they ready to fight?”
Caleb screwed his face up. “I don’t know. Battle brings out either the worst or the best in everyone. Sometimes both. Hard to predict until they’re in it, how they’ll react.”
“They will stand united.”
“Spoken by a woman who has no feelings and who has never had to fight for her life against a harrowing number of vicious enemies.”
Bathymaas touched the scar on the demon’s neck from a battle wound that had almost taken his head. Even before her birth, he’d been a warrior. “Were you ever afraid?”
“For myself? No. I never cared if I lived or died. I just fought.”
“Does it help if you care?”
“Again, goddess, depends on the person. Everyone is different.”
She watched as Aricles swung at Haides’s head and then countered an attack from Phelix. “He is our best, isn’t he?”
Caleb nodded. “He’s the one I’d want at my back.”
That was the highest testament Caleb could give. “How ironic that our best is the one who least wants to fight.”
Caleb snorted. “No, goddess. The real irony is, the demon who was born to end their kind is the one training them to hold back his own.”
“You were never evil, Malphas. You were born of equal parts.”
“And suckled on venom and hatred, solely. I completely disagree with you, my lady. The only good in me died a violent death. Vengeance is all that sustains me now.”
But she didn’t believe that. She suspected Caleb denied his decency to protect himself from more harm. Otherwise he wouldn’t be here with her, helping to train her soldiers. He would have joined his mother and sought to end the world they were trying desperately to save…
Just as Aricles had denied himself any real pleasure or frivolity. To protect his brothers and father from the demons that often preyed on their small farm while his father was deep in his cups, Aricles had learned to fight like their attackers. To stay sober and vigilant at all times. She’d seen the scars on his flesh from the battles he’d had as a boy. A boy who should have been protected from harm, not left as the sole protector of his family. Battles his father knew nothing about. It was what had led Galen to learn to fight, too, and was a large part of why Galen hated their farm so much.
If I’m to fight and die, it’s going to be for glory and money. Not to save pigs and cattle.
But Aricles fought only for his family.
His quiet nobility was what she respected, and his intellect fascinated her. For a man who lived on a farm, he knew a great deal about philosophy and politics. And even more about nature and science.
Had Aricles been born noble, he would have been a brilliant statesman.
She arched a brow at Caleb’s unexpected profanity. He started forward to where Monokles and Hector were about to kill each other, but before he could reach them, Aricles disarmed both men.
“Here now! Is that really what you intend?” Aricles asked Monokles. “You want Hector’s head?”
“He didn’t pull back.” Monokles gestured to the wound on his arm. “I’m bleeding! And I want his ass for it!” He lunged, but Aricles caught him again and pushed him back.
With the patience of an ancient priest, Aricles patted Monokles’s shoulder. “And when the pigs dance, the cows feast.”
Monokles scowled. “What language are you speaking?”
“It’s an Atlantean saying. Don’t give in to your temper. Angry eyes are blind, especially in battle. The best way to lose your life is to be so focused on the sword that dealt you the wound on your arm that you miss the knife coming for your heart.” He glanced over to Hector. “Never forget that one hand washes the other, and both wash the same face.”
That finally curbed Monokles’s temper. “You should have been a philosopher, Ari.” He held his hand out to Hector. “Brothers?”
Nodding, Hector took it and smiled. “Always… Come, let’s get that injury tended. I’m sorry I didn’t check the length of my attack. It won’t happen again.”
Bathymaas watched as Caleb led them off while Aricles waited for her approach.
“My lady.” The rich, deep timbre of his voice never failed to raise strange chills on her skin.
“When the pigs dance, the cows feast? Another of your grandfather’s sayings?”
He grinned sheepishly. “It is.”
“You should write them down.”
His laugh added more chills to her. “If for no other reason than to make Galen insane.”
“He hates those sayings. It’s why he withdrew so quickly when I spoke it. He thinks they’re as hokey as I am.”
“I don’t think you’re hokey, Aricles.”
“Because beauty sees only beauty… and you are the most beautiful of all.” With a crisp salute that heightened the definition of his well-sculpted muscles, he followed after the others.
Bathymaas bit her lip as she watched after him. She shouldn’t feel anything at all, yet…
Aricles fascinated her.
And she couldn’t wait to talk to him again when they were alone.
May 30, 12,251 BC
Bathymaas sat within the circle of Aricles’s arms, holding the pole, while they fished and he read her a letter from his father about his brother Perseus’s upcoming wedding. Over the last few months, she’d begun to look forward to their quiet afternoons and she didn’t know why. Other than the sound of his voice did very strange things to her breathing and skin. She had no understanding of it at all.