.. | the walls of astyanax | chapter 5
If nothing, Achatës kept Cenna's mind off of everything else. He found that no matter what he said, what rude retorts he came up with, Achatës could not be angered or deterred. Instead, it was usually Avicenna's face that flushed with fury. The old man watched them both with no emotion showing in his face, though he kept favoring Achatës with strange sidelong glances.
A few more days passed with no events. In fact, where he had once surmised that the silence would kill him, Avicenna decided it was the monotony that would destroy him in its place.
Achatës, when not watching Cenna like a hawk, spent the days sitting in the sunlight with his face to it. Avicenna spent them in his dark little corner, scowling at the other who usurped the only source of warmth. At night he would either doze or spend the time relocating to get away from the other, who was always up for some form of conversation. Usually it was questions Avicenna didn't care to answer.
He turned down most of the food that was offered at one point in the day, giving his ration to the old man who accepted gratefully. Avicenna partook of the water to sooth his chapped lips, but couldn't bring himself to eat the food. Though his stomach growled to watch his companions eat, he would turn his head away whenever Achatës' gold eyes were turned on him.
"You should eat something," he remarked one evening, wiping his fingers on the ragged remains of his tunic, "else you'll waste away to nothing."
"It's just as well," Cenna replied, turning away.
"It's not the best food, but it's edible. But I suppose it's not good enough for a spoiled brat like you."
"How dare you!" Avicenna was on his feet, though his legs were sore and cramped. "You, you barbarian!"
Achatës smiled up at him, amused as Avicenna leaned against the wall and slid back down it.
"See? You're weak. Eat something or I'll shove it down your throat. I won't have a dead corpse for company." He held out a darkened piece of some unidentifiable vegetable.
Grudgingly, Avicenna picked at it, if only to appease his cellmate. From then on, he was persuaded to eat something at least, usually motivated by the fact that if he was not strong enough to move about the cell, he could not escape his cellmate.
On the twelfth day of their imprisonment, Avicenna began to wonder if they really had been left to rot away. They had seen no one but each other, not even a guard as their food was shoved through a small opening in the door's lower half.
That morning, as Achatës lay on his side dozing next to the old man, Avicenna took his place in the little sun rays for once. He closed his eyes to the morning, knowing why the other was obsessed with it. It was comforting. It felt good, and he sorely missed being outdoors.
Surely Pyrrhus had been found already. Did he still live?
Achatës shifted and sat up just in time to see a shadow fell over Avicenna's face. Both their eyes turned up to the little window in startlement.
A pair of dark eyes peered down at them.
"Sybil?" Achatës whispered, struggling to his feet and moving to the wall.
The woman's eyes teared up and she covered her mouth. She moved away and looked around herself, then back into the cell.
"Thank the gods!" she cried softly.
"Hush!" he said. "How did you find this place? You should be home now!"
She knelt, bunching up her robes and looking around again. "Helanike stayed for days after the festival. Her father is still in council trying to gain your reprieve. But-"
She closed her eyes. "It doesn't look well." Another tear fell and her voice trembled. "People saw you both fighting before the races! They don't believe it was an accident-"
Achatës glanced back at Avicenna, who hadn't moved. He was gazing up at the woman.
"Sybil," he whispered, "where are you now that you can just look down into here?"
She looked about for a third time. "The tower walls. These cells are below ground, except for this hole. I'm on the ground right now," she whispered. "But all the others have been sealed up! I can chip this one away with my fingers-" To demonstrate, she pulled away at the crumbling rock.
Avicenna jumped up, staggering a bit on weak legs and his head spun for a moment. "Since the guards never come in, they'd never know it was there!" he hissed at Achatës.
The woman nodded. "It's hidden by boulders down on this side."
Achatës nodded. "Sybil, where is Helanike?"
"She's with Semele and Euphrosyne. There's nothing else she can do but wait-."
"Then why aren't you with her?"
Her eyes softened. "I wanted to find you," she whispered. "And I had help. There was a boy that I met outside the gates. He said he had found this not long ago and described you to me. I made him bring me here."
Avicenna moved a bit towards the wall, his neck hurting from craning up to look at her. "What did he look like?"
Her large, slanted eyes caught his. "Pale," she said.
Achatës paced along the wall, gauging its height. "Sybil, go now before you're seen. Come back tonight. If we can chip the wall away, we may be able to get out."
Avicenna fixed him with a look, his mind buzzing with the woman's description of the boy. "How will we get up there?"
"I'll think of something!" the woman chirped.
Achatës smiled radiantly up at her and she returned it with wistful, loving eyes. "Go," he whispered. "We'll see you tonight."
The day was hell to go through for the both of them with separate plans spinning in their heads. Achatës busied himself with pacing and chewing his lower lip which Avicenna had come to accept as a characteristic habit of his. The old man however, seemed not affected by the chance of escape. He sat as he always did in the corner, mumbling something unintelligible to himself.
Avicenna, however, sat brooding over the woman and her chance meeting with a pale boy. Was he just jumping to conclusions that it had been his slave that she'd met in the market? If Pyrrhus had somehow escaped and found that hole in the wall, why hadn't he said something? Shown himself?
He would find out. His heart was fluttering too quickly with excitement that he couldn't even contemplate the danger that surrounded an escape attempt. If that woman were seen-
"She's discreet," Achatës suddenly said.
"You look worried. Sybil's discreet. She knows how to hide."
Avicenna's brows furrowed. "Is she your wife?"
Achatës looked a bit uncomfortable. He rubbed the back of his neck. "No, she's not."
The Athenian said nothing else about the matter.
Night came, and with it, Sybil. Her flushed face appeared in the window again, shadowed by the darkness. Achatës was up in a flash, whispering up to her in hushed tones. Avicenna sat where he had all day, his arms crossed.
Suddenly without further delay, the crumbling rock began to fall as it was pulled away by two pairs of hands. Achatës moved away as some of it fell into the cell itself, hissing up at them to be more quiet and careful.
Avicenna struggled to stand up, using the wall for support, waiting. Waiting to see the owner of the second pair of hands. They were barely visible as he squinted up in the darkness.
Sybil appeared again, able to fit her shoulders through the hole. She smiled at Achatës as she threw a rope down.
Achatës, in one swift movement, had grabbed Avicenna by the waist and pulled him bodily to the opposite wall, winding the rope about his free wrist.
"Let me go," Avicenna hissed, pushing against his chest. "They'll never be able to pull us both up-"
"You'd never be able to do it yourself either," the other replied, setting one bare foot against the wall.
Avicenna struggled once more, but the arm around him was like cast iron. Achatës was much too strong and he himself had only been forced to eat enough to keep himself somewhat alive. He would be dead or near it if his cellmate hadn't begun forcing that excuse for food on him.
The rope was pulled up the wall with inhuman strength and speed. Achatës, with his free arm, pulled himself and Avicenna over the edge with striking ease, grunting only a little as he thrust the Athenian up and then made the rest of the way by himself.
Avicenna lay staring up at the sky, breathing fresh air and feeling cool grass beneath his back. Gods. Twelve days was like a lifetime in there.
A pair of warm hands pulled him to sit up, and he found himself staring into familiar dark gray eyes. His brow furrowed at the slave, but he said nothing as he was helped to stand.
Achatës had gained his feet and he stood up tall, exhaling deeply the night air. He smiled broadly, but turned back to the cell where the old man had hobbled to his feet but still stood at the opposite end from the hole. Achatës moved to climb back down for him, but the man waved his hands frantically, backing as far away as he could.
Avicenna used Pyrrhus for support and peered down. "What's the matter with him?" he hissed. "He doesn't want to go?"
Achatës was watching him. "Apparently not," he whispered. He again moved to climb back into the cell but the prisoner grunted and looked as if he were ready to yell, which would bring the guards. Achatës moved back at the warning, as if afraid to move.
The old man made waving gestures for them to go and leave.
"We can't just leave him in there," Pyrrhus said softly.
Achatës was silent. "We have to. He doesn't want to come." He finally noticed the small woman and he swept her into an embrace as she wrapped a heavy long cloak about his bare shoulders. He ducked his head to her shoulder and lifted her from the ground.
Setting her down, he gave one last look at the old man in the cell. "He's got plenty of light now, and he'll eat our rations. The guards won't know we're gone if the food keeps disappearing. Not for a while anyway."
"But-" Avicenna spoke up, having knelt to the ground again with Pyrrhus's arm over his shoulders.
Achatës shook his head. "We have to leave. Now." He embraced the woman again and didn't give the cell nor its occupant another glance.
The young Athenian leaned against his slave. "Pyrrhus-"
"Not now, Cenna," the slave breathed. "We're not out of danger yet. I brought some food and I suggest you eat it. We must be on our way."
"But how did you-" He caught the answer to his question before he could finish it. Patroklos, his prized horse stood flicking his long tail, harnessed to the tether of the rope that had pulled them up. How in Hades had Pyrrhus managed to make off with a treasure so big and noticeable from their house? Beside him stood two blacks hitched to a chariot that was most likely stolen.
"It came from the festival," Sybil was saying as she adjusted the cloak about Achatës' shoulders and moved with him to the small chariot. "It would be easier than separate horses I thought, since I don't ride. If you drove-"
"I won't," Achatës suddenly bit out. The woman blinked at him, but said nothing else.
Pyrrhus handed Avicenna a wrapped parcel of food and climbed into the chariot.
"I'll drive it," he said.
"Pyrrhus-" Avicenna limped towards it, but Achatës caught him as he stumbled. The man seemed bigger now for some reason than he had in the cell.
"I told you to eat, you brat," he said as he wrapped his cloak about the both of them to trap warmth. He looked up at the slave in the vehicle with one eyebrow furrowed as if judging something.
"You drive with Sybil. That thing won't hold all of us and it's quicker with less weight in it." He sized up the white stallion who stood grazing indifferently. "We'll ride him."
Then he shot Avicenna such a look that the Athenian was silenced before he could protest. Instead, Avicenna sighed and let himself be supported. Achatës cut the harness off of the stallion.
"And if we're seen?" Sybil asked, having stepped up behind Pyrrhus and grabbed hold of the railing. She draped a cloak over her head and stood holding it in the front with a white-knuckled fist.
"Run like hell," Achatës grunted, straining to pull himself onto the white's back and setting Avicenna, who in silent protest was making himself as heavy as possible, in front of him.
Pyrrhus tossed the stallion's reins to him and they were off at a slow trot. No one would be out this time of night, much less in a terrible hurry. So if seen, they were cause enough for suspicion.
Avicenna, between chewing roasted rabbit and a vine of sour grapes, chanced glances at his slave as they rode. He was aching to have it out with the boy, if only to find out what had occurred in the last twelve days in his household. What had been done about Euchenor's death? Where in Hades had Pyrrhus been all this time if he had not been captured?
They spent the night making their way out of the city. Avicenna dozed to the soft rocking of the horse's gate, finding that Achatës' arms about his waist made a somewhat comfortable nest he could lean into. He wasn't even bothered by Achatës' occasional bouts of mumbling to himself as he remarked on how it was much too easy to escape this way. It was suspicious and dangerous.
Sometime before dawn, they reached the outskirts of the city with no incidents. Avicenna was tired of riding and he was sore, but thank the gods his stomach was full. He felt better already, though his mood could stand a little brightening. He knew he should at least have been happy to be alive but simply could not manage the energy for it at the moment.
Despite the comfort of having a solid source of warmth riding behind him, Avicenna's movements were hindered. He shifted, unable to doze any longer and finally sitting up straight to watch the night pass by them and listening to the soothing, muffled sounds of the horses' hooves on the packed dirt road.
As he looked around, he saw that the woman had donned another cloak against the cold. Pyrrhus, naked to the waist, stood with a straight, rigid back, and would not take his eyes from his task to meet Cenna's, or even accept some covering.
"It's too quiet," Achatës said again softly.
"Be glad," Avicenna whispered. "We shouldn't be running away like this. It's cowardly."
He heard Achatës snort. "I'll be very happy to drop you and your valor right here if you like."
After a moment he said, "Why in hell would you stay anyway? Once they find out we're gone, they'll be coming after us, anyway. We'll be safer the farther away we are. Perhaps in my home."
Avicenna crossed his arms to the cold, mildly annoyed that the man made sense.
He watched Achatës stretch dark, sinewy arms to either side of him. Brawny arms that belonged to a wrestler, or a soldier. A man who grew up fighting. It wasn't the first time he'd admitted to himself that his traveling companion was handsome enough to rival a demigod, or maybe even a true god if he cleaned up a little. Avicenna had never in his life truly been attracted to someone before, much less someone so strange and foreign to him, not to mention considerably older.
"Home?" he mused as he pondered this new feeling.
"Lacedaemon," Achatës answered.
Sparta. Avicenna's blood froze.
When Achatës nudged him, Avicenna snapped from his brooding and jerked himself away from where Achatës' arms touched his sides.
"Don't touch me."
The Spartan cocked his head to the side at the Athenian's sudden aversion to him. "Cenna?"
"Leave me alone."
part 6 | back to part 4 | back to main