A Homecoming (2)
09/21/2015 § Leave a comment
“When will he be home?”
Damaion of Adenapolis, or of Caedis, as people were beginning to call him these days, looked up from the letter he’d been writing to see his youngest daughter standing in the doorway of his study.
She was a sight to behold, a glorious mess. Her hair a veritable crow’s nest, her dress wet and clinging to a point of indecency, her cheeks red as sunset from running about the house in slippers… And all of it brought into sharp relief by the bright green of her eyes—her mother’s eyes—beaming as if with some huge, irrepressible joy…
He did not know whether to laugh or frown, looking at her. He knew he ought to scold the girl. She was the lady of the house, after all, during her mother’s absence. There were responsibilities that came with that, not least of which was to present yourself with dignity and authority, so as to instill the proper respect in those bound to your servitude. But no one in the whole household had ever expected Zoe to fulfil those responsibilities, and at any rate he was never any good at scolding the girl, so he let it pass. He knew full well he was being lenient with her, overly so. Not at all like he had been with Ianna and Markos, his older children. It had something to do with her being the youngest of the three by nearly a decade; something about the way her tiny hands had reached for his face when he first held her all those years ago, a sickly infant born before her time, but alive, blessedly alive, after two stillborn babes. He could never be hard with her, and Zoe knew it as well—too well, as a matter of fact, much to his wife’s chagrin.
Now she was nearly a woman grown, his Zoe, and a beautiful one at that, by some miracle of the god. Once coltish and scrawny as a bog-child, she had come into possession of a rare kind of beauty in the few short years since her flowering, even as to lead many a young shepherd in the hills of Caedis to pine after the magistrate’s beautiful daughter. There were even songs about her now, praising her many virtues while likening her—favourably, of course—to the river and tree Zynyas from the Chalchidean myths, famed for their beauty but also known for their penchant for copulating with lesser mortals—who more often than not happened to be some hapless shepherd boy.
His wife had raged about the songs when they first began to make rounds in town and had asked him to find and punish those responsible, but he’d thought them woefully and amusingly misinformed, and had not minded too much. Yes, it was true that Zoe was the very picture of youth and beauty as such things were in women. And yet, as evidenced by her present state, there was no amount of grace in the girl to command what she had been given, which indeed was a gift from God, neither he nor his wife (insofar as he knew) having been the subject of any shepherds’ song in their youth. It was something a woman of noble birth ought to learn to use, to elevate her station and that of her family in the world. But Zoe remained, despite her mother’s best efforts, more or less oblivious to her own beauty—and in fact her obliviousness was the very thing that rarefied it all the more.
Like a wild horse, was his wife’s way of putting it, whenever they discussed Zoe’s future. They were doing much of that as of late; she was of age to be married, or near enough. He had in fact just been writing to a friend in the capital to enquire about a potential match, and the conventions for a formal portrait for ladies at the Emperor’s court.
“Good morrow, daughter.”
Zoe produced a half-hearted curtsy and strode forward and sat in a chair across from him. “When will he be home, papa?” she asked again.
Damaion shook his head and gestured to a woolen cloak hanging from the wall to his right. His body slave promptly took it and offered it to Zoe, who pouted a little, but did accept the cloak and wrapped it about her.
“Have you said your morning prayers?” he asked.
“Lying is a sin, daughter.”
Zoe sat up straight and made the holy symbol in what he knew to be mock seriousness. “I object to your implication, sir,” she said. “On my father’s good name, I swear I have said my prayers.”
“You have said your prayers this morning, when you awoke?”
The girl would not answer. Damaion smiled at that, in spite of himself. “Your brother will be here by midday, or thereabouts.”
“Will he come through the town?”
“I imagine he will, yes.”
“Papa, I’d like to greet him there. As a surprise.”
“And tell me, who among the household must I burden with the honour of your company?”
“There’s no need—”
“Oh, I rather think there is, daughter. I haven’t forgotten what happened the last time I let you roam free in town. Have you?”
Zoe flushed at that, deeply. “I am perfectly capable of handling myself!”
He laughed aloud this time. “I’ll have to tell that to your mother when she gets back. Besides, even were I inclined to allow you—which I am not—you know very well we haven’t anyone to spare today.”
“Papa, please, I do not need a—” she began to protest, but stopped herself short. A sweet little smile came to her lips. “What about him?” she asked, glancing at his body slave. “He’s served you for the morning, has he not? Surely you can spare him for a few hours, to watch over your own flesh and blood?”
Damaion turned his gaze to his body slave, who stood by the wall next to him with arms behind his back, impassive as a statue, eyes fixed straight ahead. He had been meaning to send the boy to town with the letters for the courier, and to settle a business with the town’s blacksmith.
As Zoe sat waiting for his answer with a knowing smile, he weighed his options. If denied and left at home, Zoe would surely find a way—no, ways—to be a hindrance to the servants and slaves, which would necessitate a real scolding, which he rather dreaded giving. The harm in letting her have her way, on the other hand, was probable but not certain in any way. And it would be a pleasant surprise to Markos, he thought, to be greeted by his sister before he reached home.
So, in the end, Damaion sighed his consent—but not altogether without a sense of misgiving.
“You are to stay with him at all times, and he will conduct my business first. I do not wish to hear of how the magistrate’s daughter started another tavern brawl. Am I understood?”
The girl clapped her hands in delight. “Yes, father.”
“Now go dress. Brush your hair. And say your morning prayers.”
Zoe got up, nodding mindlessly, and turned to go.
“Walk,” he said after her, going back to his letter.
She left the study in measured, soft steps, still wearing his cloak. Damaion began counting inwardly, and heard, scarcely as he reached three, the girl break into a run with a bright laughter.
“Loren,” he called his body slave.
“Never have a daughter. Not if you can help it.”