It was a hot summer’s day in Abdera, and I had borne my father’s company for as long as I could. The solarium was crowded with musicians, poets, and philosophers, each of them eager to impress my father and my eldest brother, Aniketos, who would one day rule in his stead. We were seated on a dais, and while a pair of young men wielded fans, the air was hot and stagnant, the wine turning sour in my belly. Worse, my head was beginning to throb with the precursor to one of my fits.
I leaned over and said quietly to my father, “I need some air.”
Aniketos glared at me, and Father let out that little huff of air that meant he was irritated. He gestured at the poet, who had barely begun his epic. “It isn’t seemly.”
Nothing was ever seemly for a Thracian prince, even if I was the youngest of six. “Please. I don’t feel well.”
My father frowned. “Another of your headaches?”
I nodded. While my temples were throbbing as they usually did, that wasn’t the only reason I was desperate to leave. As the lastborn son, I was extraneous, and even before I’d been injured he’d planned on sending me to the Ctistae, the celibate scetics who lived their lives isolated from women and served as priests, philosophers, and diviners. These gatherings were an attempt to rouse my interest and provide me with entertainment, but I was a poor conversationalist since I no longer had the ability to follow more than the simplest of dialogues. Epics and plays were especially frustrating, for I could not concentrate on the plot.
My father summoned one of the guards. “Hire a litter and take Lysanios directly home. Send for the physician.”
“I still have medicine from his last visit,” I said. It had been meant to restore the humors in my head and drain the excess phlegm, but so far it had done little good.
“Then take it as he told you, and let me hear no more of this weakness. This reflects poorly on your brother and I.”
Aniketos, ever agreeing with my father, waved at me in dismissal. Grateful, if mildly annoyed at their continual lack of patience for my injury, I slipped from the solarium and into the fresh air of Abdera’s central plaza.
The guard followed me, and while his face bore no discernable expression, I had the feeling that he, too, was relieved to be outside and moving. He made to summon a pair of litter-bearers, but I held up a hand. “I will walk. I’ve been out of bed for a month and am no longer an invalid.” He bowed in obeisance, although he narrowed his eyes at the deviation from my father’s orders.
I took a roundabout way through the marketplace, wandering past the stalls, taking in the liveliness of my surroundings. My guard followed closely, ready to attend should one of my attacks come upon me, but the fresh air had cleared my head somewhat, so I no longer felt as ill.
Near the end of a street I came upon a Persian trader and his array of silks, jewels, and fruit. He saw me and, grinning, held up a basket of peaches. “Ah! Prince Lysanios. My heart is glad to see you again. These arrived fresh this morning.”
I did not remember the man at all, but I smiled graciously and gave him some noncommittal greeting, yet upon seeing the peaches, a desperate need arose in me and I bought two without bothering to barter. The price was dear since it was a great deal of trouble to import them, but I cared little about handing over the last of my pocket money. I craved nothing more in that moment than the soft exterior and the juicy sweetness within.
Purchase made, I sought somewhere cool to sit and eat my treat, much to my guard’s consternation. That was when I saw the old blind man perched on the rim of the fountain, begging bowl in hand, walking stick at his side. Rags clung to his thinning frame. His hair had gone white despite his relative youth, and it hung limply over his scarred face. A memory clicked in my damaged mind. “Be careful of Thamyris,” my father had told me one day when we were in the marketplace. “He has offended the gods. He’s not someone you should be acquainted with.”
If I had spoken to the man before, I could not recall, but I did not fear him. My guard warned me with a tiny shake of the head. No, my father wouldn’t like this at all, which is perhaps why I went to sit beside the old man. His very presence drew me like a bee to nectar. Out of all those in the city, Thamyris was the one who would truly understand what it was like to lose everything. I had not battled the muses and lost, as he had, but I must have done something the gods thought worthy of punishment in order for them to afflict me with their sacred disease.
“Give me coin,” he said, “and I will tell you a tale of the greatest loss a musician and poet could endure.” He shoved his cracked wooden bowl at me. It was empty.
“I have no money left.”
“Bah. I can tell from your companion’s creaking armor that he is a royal guard, which makes you a prince. You spent your coin on baubles and weapons, no doubt.”
“No. On peaches.” I ran my thumbnail along the peach’s skin, splitting it neatly. Juice welled on the surface. “Would you like a bite?” I held it out.
Thamyris sniffed. Then he turned his head away. “You’re no better than the rest of that nest of vipers you call a family, Prince... Lysanios.”
The use of my name chilled me. “How...?”
“How not? Last time you were in the market, you were writhing on the ground in the grip of the gods. Everyone knows you, my broken prince.”
The title stung, even though I’d been hearing it whispered as I passed. The entire city knew of my infirmity, since I’d had the misfortune of being gripped by an attack in public, not far from where I now sat.
He held out a hand too twisted to pluck the harp he’d once mastered. “Give me one of your precious fruits, and I will tell you a story.”
Curious, I handed over the second peach. “Speak plainly, for long tales are out of my grasp.”
“And out of mine, thanks to the wrath of the muses.” He held the fruit in his gnarled hands, and from the gentle way he rubbed the exterior, soft as a man’s cheek, his mind had strayed to things long since past. “I will tell you of Hyakinthos.” The name was low and quiet and full of pain.
“Before I loved Hyakinthos, no man had loved another. He was a beautiful boy. Apollo seduced him away from me. Zephyrus, the west wind, desired him as well, but Hyakinthos rebuffed him in favor of Apollo. Zephyrus grew jealous and decided if he could not have Hyakinthos, then neither would Apollo. So one day he caused Apollo’s discus to strike Hyakinthos on the head and kill him.”
Without thinking, I rubbed my skull, fingering the dent where I had—so I’d been told—fallen to the ground during training and struck my head on a stone. I’d been unconscious for two months and, when I woke, recalled nothing of the accident. The physicians and priests had been surprised by my survival and that I’d emerged as something more than an idiot. So I felt some kinship with Hyakinthos. The tale was familiar, and not because I’d heard it before.
My guard, usually very patient, shifted on his feet. He was anxious. I ignored him and asked Thamyris, “What was it like to touch him?”
The smile vanished. The hardness in his face deepened, muscles around his jaw tightening to the point that I wanted to feel if they were as stony as they looked. “The best feeling in the world. I thought we were safe. Isolated. But I was wrong. The wind saw. And soon, the wind came and stole him away.”
The wind saw. The words echoed in my mind like horse hooves on a cobbled street. I had a strange sensation that they referred to me, but I could not place how. The wind saw.
Thamyris was quiet for a time, head cocked toward me. It was Hyakinthos’s death, I thought, which had caused him more heartache than being blinded and crippled by the muses. His actions had caused the death of an innocent man.
I rose, and as I did, he said, “The wind sees all, my broken prince. The wind knows all.”
The words held the tang of prophecy and were too much for my throbbing head to handle. I could not fathom what about me the wind had been witness to, and the mystery left me frustrated.
I left Thamyris there to fondle the peach as if it were the greatest treasure in the world. A cool breeze came from the west, nudging me along, and that uneasy feeling returned.
The wind saw. But what had it seen?
That night, I eyed Kallias, the young Persian slave who brought the water for my bath. If I’d ever known his true name I could not remember, for he’d been given a Hellenic one when he’d entered my service. He was pretty, with dark hair curling around his ears. Innocent, in a way Thamyris could never be. He was near my age, and it was he who’d nursed me through the long days of my illness.
I sank into the pool, sighing with pleasure as the hot water enveloped me. The walk home hadn’t been far, but my usual strength had yet to return.
“Would Master like me to rub his head?”
I opened my eyes. Kallias crouched a few paces away, gaze downcast. “Yes. Do.”
He stripped and slid into the water behind me. Seated on the pool’s bench, snug against my hip, he pressed his fingers against my temples. I’d thought nothing of such closeness before. Yet now I couldn’t help but be aware of his near-nakedness and his gentle hands against my skin.
There was something in his touch which roused and comforted me. Moreover, I had the feeling he’d shown me such intimate attentions before. “This feels familiar.”
“Does it, Master?”
From his offhand tone, he was keeping something from me, but I was too tired to try and figure out what. Besides, I was enjoying his attentions too much to protest.
He moved from my head to my neck and shoulders, expertly kneading muscles grown lax from lack of use. My mind might be broken, but my body was not, and there was something in its reactions that urged me to recall something important.
But whatever it was slipped away as Kallias worked his way down my back. At length he helped me out of the bath, dried me, and dressed me in a clean robe before he deposited me in bed.
I lay for some time with the lamps extinguished, but sleep refused to come. Images overlapped one another, and I could not tell if they were true memories or fragments of dreams. Over them all, I kept hearing Thamyris’s words: The wind sees all. The wind knows all.
He was nothing more than an old blind man, crazed after his encounters with the gods, but I couldn’t help thinking that I’d spoken to him for a reason, that these words were more warning than nonsense.
Kallias noted my restlessness. “Perhaps I can ease my master into sleep with a little music?”
I cracked open an eye and stared at him. “You play?”
“Yes, Master. A little. I played for you while you were ill.”
I didn’t recall that, but it explained the presence of the epigonion in the corner of my chambers. It had been a gift to my father’s father from the famed musician Epigonus himself, but I’d never had the knack nor will for music. “Go on, then.”
He fetched the epigonion and settled on a chair with it resting on his thigh. He plucked a few of the eighteen strings, head cocked as he tuned them. When he was satisfied, he played a few tentative notes. As he began to play in earnest, I rolled onto my side and watched him with interest. The tuning was to the scales I’d been taught, but the song was not one I’d heard before. It was sweet and melancholic and stirred a longing from deep within me.
He hummed along. Likely the song had words, but Persian was forbidden within the palace walls. “What is that song about?” I asked when he’d finished.
Idly, he kept plucking strings while he answered. “It is about a soldier far from home. The wind brings him the scent of the blossoms he’d picked for his love, but when he returns, he finds she’d forgotten him, and he dies, pining for her.”
I nearly commented on how melancholy the piece was when a single word caught my attention: wind.
The wind sees all. The wind knows all. So who better to ask my questions to than the wind, and Hyakinthos’s wind, at that?
“Zephyrus likes music, doesn’t he?”
“So I have heard it said, Master.”
“If one were to travel to his cave and play for him, he might appear.”
“It seems possible, Master,” he said cautiously.
“Then we will try it tomorrow.”
The strings uttered a strident chord before he abruptly silenced them. “As you wish, Master.”
Surely it was madness to seek out a god, especially when I was in a weakened state, but Thamyris’s words wouldn’t stop repeating. The wind saw. The wind saw. Perhaps it had seen the truth of my accident? But why would a simple fall—much less a crippled prince—capture a god’s interest? I would not be able to rest until I had an answer.
Before the gods had stricken me, I had been no stranger to hardship. My brothers had raised me well, and I had clear memories of being in the training yard and sparring until I was as strong and agile as any of them. I was determined to regain my strength no matter the cost, though I was more than a little concerned that one of my fits would befall me at the most inopportune time.
Even so, I had Kallias pack a few rations and swore him to silence. In the cool grayness of dawn we relieved the stable of a mule rather than one of my father’s prized stallions, since I did not want to draw attention to myself. Thus provisioned, and with my slave walking at the mule’s side and ready to lead it if need be, I took the road leading out of the city.
Zephyrus lived in a cave, far to the west. Every child knew its location, though few actually managed to find him. Luck seemed to be in our favor. The west wind was a constant companion all along the coastal road. Zephyrus saw all, and, I hoped, knew all.
The sun was past its zenith before we descended the long rocky slope leading to Zephyrus’s cave. There was no sign of him, save for a breeze flitting in from the ocean.
“Play,” I told Kallias.
He found a large boulder to sit on and began tuning the epigonium. The slow creep of waves upon the shore added a soothing backdrop, as did the gulls squabbling with each other over a clam.
Kallias performed well for having walked most of the day. The music was calm and soothing, full of the same tenderness as the day before.
Yet nothing happened. The bright sun made my head ache. I paced, uneasy, wondering if this was going to work at all. “Play the song from yesterday. Sing in your own tongue, if you must.”
He pursed his lips, looking worried, but he gave in. He coughed to clear his dust-choked throat, and began.
Once, perhaps, I had understood Persian, but now words and meanings all jumbled in my head. Yet the mere shape of the words added another layer to the already mournful tune. If it hadn’t been for the need to summon Zephyrus, I would have bade him stop. The sadness and longing tugged at my heart, and I would have preferred something cheerier.
It must have tugged at Zephyrus’s heart too, because the wind whipped up, and all of the sudden he was there between us, gazing at my slave as he played.
Zephyrus looked human save for the large wings at his back. His skin had a burnished, golden sheen, and his white feathers looked so soft I was tempted to run my hands through them. But handsome Zephyrus paid me no mind; all his attention was on my slave, who continued to play wide-eyed as he stared at a god.
“Well done,” Zephyrus said as the song ended, and Kallias blushed at the praise. Zephyrus leaned over and kissed him full on the lips, and Kallias’s skin darkened even more.
Then he turned to me. “Lysanios. You are looking very well indeed.”
He held out his arms, and before I could react, he clasped my face and kissed me. He tasted of spring and fresh water, and I breathed in the scent of flowers. Sensation burst through me, bright and pure as sunlight. His body rubbed against mine as if our flesh were a part of the same whole, and my phallus rose eagerly to meet his. In a swift, energetic motion, he lifted the hem of my tunic and slipped his phallus between my thighs. His rubbing was so vigorous I had not the wit to speak or protest as my body reacted with a wondrous sort of violence.
Zephyrus let me go, leaving me panting and spent. My legs shook, and I sank onto a nearby boulder to rest. My heart and head pounded, and the ground seemed to tilt. I wasn’t sure what had just happened or why a god thought it acceptable to accost me on our first meeting, pleasurable though it had been.
“Lysanios?” Zephyrus asked. He sounded worried.
I stared at him. He stared back.
He cocked his head and studied me. “Are you well? I heard about your little... accident.”
The answer, I had repeated so often I had it memorized. It was a good thing, for I could think of naught else but the god’s touch. “I tripped. There was a stone.”
“Yes. There was a stone.” His silver eyes searched mine, then flicked to Kallias, who plucked an innocuous little tune. The air around us chilled, so much that goose pimples rose along my arms. “No. You aren’t teasing me, are you? I can see it in your eyes.”
“No, sir. I would never...” I scanned his face, looking for something familiar, and found nothing. My temples throbbed from the effort.
Zephyrus grew cold and fierce. The chill around me became so intense that I shivered, unable to warm myself despite the heat of the day. He rounded on Kallias, who cowered between the rocks, curling his body around the harp to protect it. “You should not have brought him here! Not while he yet lacks his memory.”
“Why not?” I demanded. “What am I supposed to remember?” So Zephyrus knew the truth after all. I grabbed his arm, well aware I might offend him and frustrated beyond belief that they shared some secret I did not. “Leave Kallias be. It was my idea to come. He follows my orders.” When Zephyrus didn’t acknowledge me, I added, “The wind sees all. The wind knows all. That’s what Thamyris told me.”
The great wings slumped as at last Zephyrus turned toward me. “He’s an old fool, who should know when to keep his tongue still.” He took my face in his hands. The cool touch sent a thrill through me that left me weak and wanting even after such a vigorous coupling. “I suppose I should be glad you remember that much.”
“Why did you do it?”
Wrinkles formed in his brow. “Do what?”
“The discus. Hyakinthos. Why?” I cursed myself for stumbling over my question.
“Oh. That.” He gave me a pitying look. “Apollo always wins everything. Yes, I wanted Hyakinthos, but better to lose him forever than to see Apollo win yet another prize.” He stroked my head, fingers resting lightly against the once-tender area at the back. “You feel a kinship toward him, don’t you? I assure you, my dear Lysanios, I did not send that stone careening into your pretty head. That was someone else’s doing entirely.”
A chill overcame me, and I was certain it was not the god’s doing. The wind saw. “Who did? What did you see?”
“Well. I think the proper question is should I tell you what I saw?” He was playing with me, running fingers through my hair, rubbing my skull. The ache faded, and I let out a sigh of relief. He gave me a patient smile, then leaned down to whisper, “Better yet, what did you see?”
The question wafted through my mind, probing dark and damaged corners. Nothing came to light, save my frustration. “Tell me. Please.”
But Zephyrus, like most of his ilk, enjoyed his games and his secrets. “I can’t. You see, that would be interfering in the affairs of a mortal, and I really shouldn’t do that.”
“So coupling with me wasn’t interference?”
He laughed. “No. That was pleasure. For both of us. Pity you don’t remember the first time.”
“Pity,” I echoed, and caught sight of Kallias. He no longer looked fearful but envious. I wondered if it was me or the god he longed for. Perhaps both.
I nearly asked, but Zephyrus started and turned his gaze down the road where we’d come from. He urged me to my feet and practically thrust me at the mule. “Go. There is trouble on the road. It’s best if you aren’t near here. Do not seek me out again. And you,” he said, waggling a finger at Kallias, “keep better watch over your... master.”
And with that, Zephyrus spread his great wings and flew away.
We were perhaps halfway back when Aniketos met us on the road with a small contingent of soldiers. Dust raised behind the galloping horses. Kallias pressed against the mule’s neck and shoulder, clearly afraid.
Aniketos jerked his stallion to a halt. The beast pranced and snorted as it circled Kallias and I. “Lysanios. Here you are. Father was worried about you.”
There was a threat in his voice. Out of instinct, I tousled Kallias’s hair, needing the comfort of his presence as much as he needed mine. My brother didn’t miss the gesture. “Where have you been, Lysanios?”
“I...” But words stuck in my throat. The setting sun glinted off his bronze cuirass and helmet. The brightness drove daggers into my skull. Dizziness took hold, and I felt myself sway in the saddle.
“Master?” came Kallias’s distant voice at the same time my brother swore.
Limbs twitching, I tipped out of the saddle and into my slave’s arms.
The ride home was a blur of illness and pain. Kallias rode and held me in the saddle while one of Aniketos’s men led the mule.
“Where were you?” Aniketos demanded once I’d been put to bed, but I could only stare at him dully, having not the wit to answer. “Fool,” he muttered, and turned to Kallias and gave him a slap that sent him reeling into the wall. “I warned you, useless wretch.” He stalked off.
So it was Kallias who bathed me and spooned broth into my mouth, and after sleeping late into the morning, I was well rested. My headache had dissipated into a dull, bearable throb behind my eyes. I looked for Kallias, but the pallet beside my bed was empty. “Kallias?” I called, but there was no answer. Perhaps he had gone to fetch a meal, but I couldn’t help but feel uneasy. I went to wash my face, and that was when I found him.
He was huddled in the corner of the bathing room, gagging, hunched over a basin of bloody water. At first, I thought he was ill and perhaps poisoned, but when I bade him speak to me his expression grew desolate.
Chilled, I reached for his bloodstained chin. He jerked away, like a spooked horse. I kept my grip gentle but firm, and he finally yielded, opening his mouth to show me the grisly aftermath of his punishment.
In a rage, I strode out of my room. Two guards blocked my exit. “Take me to my father. Now.”
My escort led me through the palace and out to my father’s solarium, where he lounged on a couch as he looked over the day’s missives. A harpist sat nearby plucking out tunes, and the summer-sweet scent of flowers wafted on the breeze. My brother, I was relieved to note, was not with him.
The wind sees all, I thought. I hoped Zephyrus would see this.
I did not wait for my father to acknowledge me. “Why did you order my slave’s tongue cut out?”
Without looking up, he said, “Not I, Lysanios. Aniketos told me how you were led astray on the south road. He said that slave had been whispering tales in your ears and it was best to silence him. I thought it better to rid ourselves of him, but Aniketos would not allow it, on account of how dedicated he’s been in looking after your...condition.”
“I’m not ill, Father. I’m not mad. And Kallias hasn’t told me anything. It was my idea to ride out yesterday—”
“A very poor idea. You had a fit on the road. You might have died had not Aniketos found you.”
Even my battered mind realized this was a conversation I could not win. “True enough,” I said, although it pained me to agree to such falsehoods. “If I may, Father, I have a question for you.”
He looked up at last, wearing an indulgent smile.
“Somebody struck me, didn’t they, Father? Someone threw that stone.”
His smile flickered for just an instant, but his tone remained patronizing. “This is what I mean, Lysanios. That slave of yours has been filling your head with lies. He had to be silenced for your own good.”
Bile burned my throat. It galled me to know Kallias’s mutilation had been my fault, but I refused to give up. “Who threw it? Why?”
This time, my father’s expression changed to his most angry, and I couldn’t help but flinch away. “Enough. You tripped and struck your head on a stone. Both Aniketos and I witnessed it. Now go to your room and stay there,” he ordered, and for the guard’s benefit added, “See that he does not leave without my permission.”
Shaking with rage, I headed back to my rooms with the guards trailing. I was a prince. They would not handle me roughly unless I gave them cause, and that I would not do.
They were sensible enough to send for broth and cooked, mashed apples for Kallias. The bleeding had stopped, but he was in pain. When the physician came, ostensibly at my father’s orders to examine me for signs of madness, I begged him to aid Kallias. He did so, reluctantly, and left behind a medicine to aid with the pain.
But Kallias wouldn’t eat, not even when I held a spoon to his lips. Knees to his chest, he sat in the corner and stared at the wall with such anguish that it broke my heart.
“It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have asked to go.”
There was no response.
I reached for him, but he flinched and drew back. I didn’t try again.
Morning found him in his usual place, curled on a pallet alongside my bed. Sunlight streamed through the windows, warming his skin with a healthy, burnished glow. Craving rose in me, and I stroked his soft cheek.
He woke at my touch, eyes hinting at what he could no longer say. What do you need, Master?
“Why didn’t you tell me we’d visited Zephyrus before?”
Instead of making an attempt to answer, he rose and poured the basin of water for my morning ablutions.
I grabbed his arms, sinking fingers into his tender flesh. “Tell me.”
But he was frozen with terror. No matter how much I shook him, he would offer no answer. My frustrations rose, and with them, the throbbing in my temples. I sank onto the bed, nauseated, while Kallias held the bottle of medicine to my lips. I drank a few drops, but the pain didn’t cease. There was a gale in my mind, swirling my thoughts like dead leaves.
Kallias knew some terrible secret. So did my father, brother, Zephyrus, and likely Thamyris.
The wind sees all. The wind knows all. So why didn’t I?
The physician’s attentions did little to aid me, but I far preferred him to the priests Father had once brought to speak enchantments and incantations over me in an attempt to drive out whichever god had seized me. Mad or not, I could not dispute the fact that my memories were scattered at best. Kallias was careful to remove any metallic ornaments lest their glare trigger another attack. My head ached continuously, and neither Kallias’s gentle hands nor the physician’s medicine provided any relief.
Someone had thrown the stone. Someone had endeavored to kill me, and the who and why of it eluded me.
Kallias played for me. And when his fingers were too blistered to continue, he lay beside me, massaging my head or rubbing circles on my back. I barely ate, ill as I was, and I poor Kallias was woken throughout the night by my cries of fear and frustration. I startled awake in cold sweats, aware of something terrible but, vexingly, not what.
My father paid the briefest of nightly visits, and my brother Aniketos came more briefly still. He would take one look at me, shake his head in disgust, and wander away with instructions to Kallias to look after me. Sometimes he ordered Kallias to accompany him, and Kallias would return some time later, haggard and bruised, and would offer no explanation as to what had passed. When I offered to tend his injuries, he refused to let me touch him. There was nothing I could do. He was but a slave, and my brother was ruler in all but name.
“I’ll kill him,” I said one evening when Kallias had returned with his eye swollen shut, but that earned me such a look of panic on his face that I dared not say such a thing again. I didn’t stop thinking it, though.
Our only reprieve from tedium came when the physician ordered me to take some fresh air, so we strolled around the garden every afternoon until the day we found Aniketos sitting on a stone bench and idly using a stone to sharpen his sword. “Enjoying your walk, brother?”
I gazed past his shoulder at the road leading out the gate and into town. “Yes, though I wish I could go to the market. I have a craving for peaches.”
My brother laughed as heartily as he did during the comic plays—as if he were mocking everyone’s flaws while possessing none himself. “That’s a poor excuse, you wretched boy. I know why you want to sneak out to the market. My guards have eyes to watch you and lips with which to speak of your deeds. I know you’ve spoken with that old fool Thamyris. He took advantage of your poor broken head. I bet he took advantage of your body, too. You’re no better than a whore.”
“Thamyris has done nothing.”
His stern look boded ill. “No more games, Lysanios. I know why you went west. Enjoy your time with a god? Did you get what you desired?” His gaze dropped to my waist, and I flushed, filled with shame.
My fury turned into a boiling rage. Blood thrummed in my temples. “You have no right—”
The glare my brother gave me was enough to frighten Zeus himself. “What did he tell you?” He grabbed my tunic and yanked me close. The movement jarred my aching head and I cried out.
“I don’t know.” Because I didn’t. None of what Zephyrus said had made sense.
“Liar. I’m not the fool you think I am.” He gestured, and two of his guards came forth. I froze, readying myself against them, but it wasn’t me they were after. They grabbed Kallias and turned him.
Aniketos took up the lash himself. For a moment he studied Kallias’s curved, heaving back.
Then he struck.
Whip bit flesh with a sickening crack. Blood sprang up along the cut, red as the poppies which bloomed on the hill nearby. The blooms were just like those which had allegedly sprung from Hyakinthos’s blood.
“Do you remember now?” he asked me. After years in the army, his aim was accurate and hard.
I couldn’t tear my eyes from the wound. “I don’t know what you want.”
The lash struck again, raising a welt along Kallias’s spine. He neither cried nor begged for mercy. His face was as rigid as a marble statue, the expression cold and empty.
Crack went the whip a third and fourth time, once against his lower back and then across his thighs. Yet it wasn’t the pain, or lack of it for me, that bothered me so much as the destruction of something beautiful and kind. Like Thamyris, I had challenged a greater entity and lost, only it was my slave who was suffering for it. My brother struck again and again, uncaring of where or how hard his blows were.
Anger rose so fiercely that my vision clouded. A bitter taste flooded my mouth, and it was all I could do to utter my accusation before the attack took hold. “You threw it, didn’t you? You threw that stone!”
I grabbed his wrist. A mistake, because he slammed the butt of the whip into my gut. Pain burst in my belly. I collapsed and doubled over, barely able to breathe. My limbs began to twitch.
He crouched beside me. Malevolently, he tapped the side of my head and said, “If I had thrown it, dear brother, you’d be dead.” With a noise of disgust, he rose and tossed the whip aside. At a flick of his hand, the guards released Kallias, and he collapsed to the ground.
The fit took hold in earnest. This time, no one came to my aid.
When both Kallias and I could stand, we limped back to my chambers. Two guards flanked the door, no doubt to prevent any attempt at escape. I paid them no heed save to beg them for medicaments. One of them fetched a servant who arrived with a basket of lotions, oils, and poultices, then quickly departed.
Kallias had been such a quiet, dependable presence over the years that I’d taken him for granted. I didn’t like seeing him hurt. “Sit,” I said, and gestured to the chair.
He remained standing, gaze cast to the ground.
I tried again. “Sit, and I will tend your wounds.”
His mouth set in a stubborn line as if to say, These wounds do not pain me.
But they did. I could see the strain in his body as he kept still so as not to ignite any further agonies. “Sit. Now.”
He compromised by kneeling on the ground.
It was not entirely out of goodwill that I dabbed at his cuts and welts and slathered them with unguents. I was careful, yes, but I also took my time, finding a small thrill in the feel of his body beneath my hands. The nape of his neck glistened. The slope of his reddened shoulders excited me more than it should have.
Yet he trembled like a deer caught in a trap. I frightened him. Or perhaps my brother had.
“Stand,” I said, and he did, giving me a view of his lovely legs and a hint of what lay beneath his loincloth. He stood stiff and still as a marble column while I gently spread ointment over his calves and thighs.
We did not look at each other. I could have reached higher. I wanted to. But this was not the time. I forced myself to calm despite the rising heat in my body. “Why does he hurt you?”
He turned his head away.
“Please.” I stroked his cheek, seeking another way to pry loose whatever he knew. “I wish I knew your name. Your real name.”
At that, his eyes sparkled with something besides pain. He went to my desk and withdrew a quill, ink and parchment. I watched, amazed, as he wrote a word, once in Persian, then again in Hellenic.
Slaves neither read nor wrote. At least, most of them did not, which meant Kallias was no ordinary slave. It took an eternity for my muddied mind to translate, but once I did, it made an appalling kind of sense. “Mirza. That means ‘prince,’ doesn’t it?”
A nod. He held the scrap of parchment over a candle. We watched it burn.
“Were you a prince?”
Another nod, this time accompanied by such overwhelming grief that I could not help but draw him to me. He leaned into my touch, just a little. I was sorry to have caused him so much pain.
“You were captured during a battle?” It wasn’t uncommon. Cities and rulers were frequently deposed. My father ruled only because his father had sacked Abdera and claimed the throne.
This, too, was affirmed, and I wondered at the irony of a prince serving a prince. It was no wonder he’d borne both slavery and beating with determination and grace. He’d been raised to determination and grace. And if he’d been afraid of Zephyrus, well, I would probably have reacted the same when meeting his gods.
“Why stay with me? Why serve me?”
In answer, he kissed me. There wasn’t the electric shock there’d been with Zephyrus, but his sweet insistence was all the more endearing. He knew me better than anyone. After the months of nursing me during my illness, after all the baths, and indeed, after watching me with Zephyrus, he knew exactly how to rouse me.
Much as I wanted him, I hesitated. This was forbidden. Not because I was master and he the slave, but because he was the enemy. The citizens of Abdera had fled there to escape the Persians. My father and brothers had battled against them. No doubt he now bore secrets they might find useful. Either that, or he could be bartered as a prisoner of war.
And there was no more shameful place to keep him hidden than at the side of the youngest prince, who was now conveniently gone mad because he’d seen—what?
What had I seen?
One-handed, Kallias—Mirza—loosed his loin wrap and let it drop. Then he reached for mine.
The wound in his mouth had healed, although words remained beyond him. It didn’t matter. His hands and lips said enough.
In the evening, one of the servants brought a basket of peaches, courtesy of my brother, as a final, cruel joke. They sickened me to look at them, but I waved at Mirza to take one if he wished. He did.
Seeing him with the peach, the way his face glowed in delight, made a memory fall into place. This wasn’t the first time I’d brought him one of the treasured fruits. I’d loved begging them from my father and then secreting one away to give to Mirza because I knew he was homesick.
I stared at him as he inhaled the sweet fragrance. “I promised to take you home.”
From the way he started, I knew I was right. It had been a childhood vow, one made when I was but thirteen and so taken by his beauty and gentleness that I would have promised him the moon and stars if it meant he would stay near me. There had been a gentle wind that day, out of the west, heralding spring. It had circled around us as I’d kissed him.
The wind had seen. And Zephyrus, disciple of Eros, the goddess of love, had witnessed my promise and blessed it.
My head pounded as I pieced together more memories. The first time I’d touched Mirza, terrified of being rejected, Zephyrus had come. The details remained more sensual than visual, but I recalled the god’s excitement as he helped us through our first fumbling attempts at love and, more than once, joined us.
But the wind hadn’t been the only witness. “Aniketos,” I said, feeling suddenly cold.
Mirza turned away.
“He saw. He heard me call you Prince. It’s my fault.” My brother’s mixture of anger and satisfaction had been a tangible thing, and he’d used his knowledge against us. The hatred I had for Aniketos wasn’t new. “I was going to kill my brother to get you home.”
He went pale as milk and trembled like a newborn lamb.
I must have been mad and desperate to think I could have attacked my father and Aniketos unawares while they wrestled in the yard. They’d fought in dozens of battles, and while I could wield a sword, I was no match for experienced soldiers. Aniketos wouldn’t have hesitated to slay a traitor, even if it was his own brother.
“You stopped me. You threw the stone.”
At that, Mirza wept.
Nothing I could say or do throughout the night would soothe him. My handsome prince sobbed in my arms. From the beginning, I’d known who and what he was. It had been our secret and the means to keeping him alive, until Aniketos had found out.
“I know you didn’t mean to hurt me.” It was little wonder he’d tended me so earnestly. If I’d died, he would have lost any chance of returning home, yet during my illness and the following days, he’d been nothing but honorable toward me. I owed him; if not as one prince to another, then as a friend.
I grasped his shoulder. “I won’t wait any longer. I’m going to keep my promise. Right now.” Though I knew leaving suddenly was rash. We couldn’t steal supplies or horses without being noticed, and I wasn’t sure where to go. If we ran into one of the Persian armies, his return might be expedited, but I had no idea where they might be located. “Do you know how to find one of your armies?”
A short, determined nod was all I needed.
Guards had been posted outside my room and patrolled the grounds. There was a way past them, but it was a dangerous route I’d not used since I was a child. The balcony outside my window wrapped around the second floor. One of the walls was older than the rest and was crumbling, providing a few slippery hand- and footholds.
I gestured out the window. Mirza understood instantly, though he patted his head, which meant he had the same fear I did; if I had one of my fits while climbing the wall, I likely wouldn’t survive.
Then he took my hand and squeezed. I won’t let you fall. We had more to lose if we made no attempt at all.
After midnight, we took our chance. Guards on the ground rarely looked up, and in the darkness we moved along the balcony unseen. Once I reached the south wall, I had to work blindly, going by feel, scraping knuckles and heels against the rough surface. More than once, my foot slipped and I had to catch myself and pray that if the guards heard the falling stone dust they thought it was an animal rather than an escaping prince. Each time, Mirza was there, hand against my arm, reassuring.
At length we made it safely to the ground, though my heart pounded with the exertion and fear. There was more waiting for a guard to pass, then we crept to the corner of the palace’s wall. This was half as high as the palace, and since every entrance was watched, we had no choice but to climb over. I hardly dared breathe once I started the ascent. If a guard saw a shape crawling over the wall, I’d be taken for a thief and shot. I doubted my father would mind in the least, given his earlier threat.
But the gods were with me. I made it up and over the wall without sighting a guard, but Mirza had just reached the top when we heard a roar from inside the palace.
Every guard went instantly on alert. Mirza didn’t wait; he slid halfway down and dropped into my arms. We collapsed onto the ground, panting hard, then lurched to our feet and ran toward the city just as the gate burst open behind us.
Guards spewed forth. Our only hope was to lose them in the twisting streets and alleyways. We wound ahead, passing houses and shops until we ended up behind the gymnasium. To my surprise, a familiar old man was sitting on a bench in a courtyard between the gymnasium and a full cistern.
I took Mirza’s hand and led him over. “Thamyris. I beg a boon of you.”
He cocked his head, turning blind eyes to face us. “Ah. Prince Lysanios, broken no longer.”
I doubted that. My head hurt badly enough that it was difficult to keep my balance. “Help us. Please.”
“Us? Ah, yes. Your hidden prince.” He pointed at the cistern. “Take shelter in the water.”
We just had time to slide in and find a shadow to hide under before Aniketos rushed into the courtyard alone. That was like him; determined to mete out his punishments without help. “Where are they?” he demanded of Thamyris.
The old man remained calm and placid. He waved a crippled hand. “I saw no one pass by here.”
“Fool. Of course you didn’t see them.” Aniketos slapped him. “Where did they go?”
“Where no man will hurt them again.”
Enraged, Aniketos burst forward, dagger drawn. Thamyris had time for one final, knowing smile before Aniketos slit his throat.
A torrent of red gushed from the wound. Aniketos dropped the corpse, unconcerned with the blood coating his arms and legs. “Come out, Lysanios, so I can do the same to you.”
A chill wind whipped through the cistern, prickling my skin. A voice came from the darkness. “Oh, Hades is going to have fun. He’s been waiting for that one for a long time.”
Aniketos gave a yelp of surprise. “Come to gloat, have you, Zephyrus?”
“I never gloat over death. Only justice.”
I saw the god now, a glowing figure standing near one of the pillars. I had no idea how long he’d been there, but I didn’t wait. I hauled Mirza out of the water and shoved him into Zephyrus’s arms. “Take him. Please. Get him home.”
Mirza grabbed my wrist, but I pried his fingers loose while Aniketos glowered. Even he dared not confront Zephyrus.
“No. With the gods as my witnesses, I promised. I won’t let him hurt you anymore. You have to go.”
Tears streamed down his cheeks, and he made a strange, choked sound. Zephyrus leaned down and made a show of sniffing his hair and face. “I smell distant seas and fragrant flowers, heady incense and spices. I scent the sweat and fear of a terrible journey, and the love of one prince for another. I will see him safely home.”
He bent down and pressed his lips against my forehead. The kiss warmed my bones and flooded my aching limbs with strength. I closed my eyes, taking it all in. Then, with one last caress of cool air, they were gone, and I was alone with Aniketos. I should have been afraid, but now that Mirza was safely away, I had no care for my own safety.
“Lysanios. Traitor.” Aniketos spat on the ground near Thamyris’s body.
“Once, I would have killed you to protect him.”
“You couldn’t then, and you certainly can’t now.” He laughed and held his torch near a bit of his shiny brass armor. The metal glinted. “You’ve cost me my bargaining chip against the Persian armies. They wouldn’t attack so long as we had one of their royal sons hostage. Abdera will soon be under siege, and it will be your fault.”
I closed my eyes, but light still flickered against the lids. Pain crept up softly to settle inside my skull. “And you cost me my mind and my love.”
I reached into my pocket and withdrew the peach I’d secreted there. With it came the memory of Mirza’s face, the bliss as he held a token from home. I could die happy, remembering that.
“What right have you, of all people, to consort with a god? I will rule this city one day. I’m the one who should have the patronage of a god. You—you’re no better than a whore.”
His words no longer had the power to hurt me, but the light did. Agony erupted in my head. Bile rose up my throat. A faint tremor ran through my bones.
“Time for a fit, isn’t it, dear brother? No one will disbelieve me if I say you fell and struck your head, and this time it was fatal.”
My legs weakened and gave way. I collapsed onto the edge of the cistern, my brother’s form blurred through a haze of pain and nausea.
His steps echoed against the stone as he approached me. He crouched and pressed the blade of his knife to my throat. “Enjoy your visit to Hades.”
I grasped the peach, marveling at the texture, remembering the softness of Mirza’s cheek and the thrill of Zephyrus’s lips against mine.
The wind sees all. The wind knows all.
As if in proof, a gentle breeze snaked around the pillars, teasing my hair and robe.
From nowhere—thrown by one of the guards? A passerby? A god?—a stone flung itself through the darkness and slammed into the side of Aniketos’s head. He yelped and drew his hand back, his dagger making a shallow, stinging cut in my throat as he did so.
I didn’t hesitate. His odd position left him off-balance, and he wasn’t expecting me to grab his cuirass and use all my strength to tumble us into the cistern.
Water covered my ears and eyes, but I had the advantage, neither being taken by surprise nor laden with heavy armor. I climbed onto my brother’s back and pressed him down, never letting him gain enough purchase to stand. Anger lent me strength to see this violence to its end.
The wind stung my face and cheeks, raking my skin with furious little claws. The sensation made me think of the Erinyes, the infernal goddesses determined to punish men for their wrongdoing.
I hated my brother. But it was not my place to punish him.
I slid from his body, gasping. He didn’t move. I yanked at his cuirass, but the cistern was too deep and he was too heavy for me to do more than get his head above the water. I cradled his head in the crook of my shoulder and slapped his cheek. “Aniketos!” Water dribbled from his nose and mouth. I shook him. “Aniketos!”
My voice echoed in the courtyard, but no one came. Tremors raced through my body. Aniketos let out a strangled cough, one just large enough to give me hope. I struggled to keep still, unwilling to lose control and let my brother drown. “Not yet. Please, not yet.”
Then I felt the wind, a gentle, cool caress on my cheek. I tilted my head back, took in a lungful of fresh air, and shouted for help.
This time, there came clanking metal and creaking leather. Footsteps pounded through the courtyard. Strong arms drew me out of the cistern just as I lost control of my limbs and senses.
I woke exhausted and wrapped in a blanket in the courtyard. For a long time, I stared at my brother’s body lying next to mine. He’d been stripped of his armor, making visible the steady rise and fall of his chest. Thamyris, too, lay where he had fallen, a strange smile on his frozen face. The guards surrounded us and shuffled uneasily until my father arrived.
He took in Thamyris’s blood-soaked corpse and Aniketos’s sodden one, then gazed at me with terrible grief etched into his face. “Lysanios,” was all he said. “My mad son.”
I didn’t correct him, having little idea about just what I was. I knew only two things:
I was not Hyakinthos.
I had been struck, and survived.
In the end, I went to the Ctistae as my father had planned all along. Aniketos lived, but being deprived of air for so long had left him addle-witted. With my eldest brother no longer fit to rule, my other brothers returned from their campaigns and squabbled between themselves for position. They were all too happy to let their youngest, broken brother disappear into obscurity. My father never spoke to me again.
I lived with the priests throughout the winter, meditating and helped in the gardens. Anything that required a great deal of thought remained difficult. For their part, the priests were tolerant of my idiosyncrasies and occasional attacks, and there were a few knowledgeable physicians among them to mix me a potion for the pain when I needed it. A few of them thought madness a gift given by the gods, so I enjoyed relative peace and comfort and even a modicum of respect.
Then spring came, and with it a gentle west wind that caressed my cheek like a long-lost lover. I hadn’t seen Zephyrus since that fateful night, and I missed him. So I let him lure me away from the temple and down the trail leading to a pleasant, trickling stream. Sunlight sparkled on the water, driving darts of light into my eyes, and within a few heartbeats came the telltale twitching of limbs.
I recalled nothing else for some time. When I came to, I wasn’t lying on the hard ground but within the warmth of someone’s arms. I opened my eyes to see a familiar, handsome man dressed in ornate robes befitting someone of a high station. “Mirza?”
He smiled. He’d grown into himself; freedom had granted him a healthy complexion and muscles firm beneath my exploratory hands.
There was no hesitation this time. This far from the temple, there would be no witnesses. Mirza drew off my robe and I his, and we were joined for the first time completely and without fear.
The wind sees. The wind knows.
And all three of us, prince, exile and god, were content.