A CROWN OF GOLDEN LEAVES
by Katherine Patterson
April 2014 – N/A Continue reading “A Crown of Golden Leaves”
A CROWN OF GOLDEN LEAVES
A CROWN OF GOLDEN LEAVES
by Katherine Patterson
April 2014 – N/A Continue reading “A Crown of Golden Leaves”
“Do I believe in giving up?” -David Boreanaz
Caput X: Beautiful Lies
THE door opened slowly with a loud creak, as if the person behind it was trying not to let the noise be too loud. Annabeth’s head jerked up from the mug of black, bitter substance Meg gave her, and she tried to see through the door. She cleared her throat.
“Just me, Annabeth.”
She felt her body slump when she recognized Nico’s familiar baritone, even though he had spoken barely louder than a whisper. The son of Hades swept into the room, closing the door behind him without a sound, as though he was determined to defy the laws of physics. Silent as always, he walked over to the only table in the room, his black cape flowing behind him like he was an overgrown bat. His face remained neutral as he sat down in front of her and, without presume, plucked the cup out of her hand and took a sip.
“You realize I was drinking out of that, right?” she asked, but she wasn’t really angry. He had stolen so many drinks from her hands that it was almost a tradition now.
He quirked an eyebrow, “Since when has that stopped me?”
“Come on outside,” she lowered her voice a little, changing the subject. She wanted to look behind her shoulder to where Percy was asleep. “I don’t want to wake him up.”
His gaze drifted over her shoulder. She glanced down at the small vial of sleeping tonic in her hand and tried to ignore the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, like a stone had been dropped in there. She shouldn’t have drugged him like that, he would view it as a betrayal, but… well, she didn’t want him to try to rescue the slave girl. Or do anything even more foolhardy. She didn’t want him to get worse, the red welts on his back looked worse now than earlier that morning… or was it last night? It didn’t matter; she just hoped his infection wouldn’t get worse.
“You drugged him, didn’t you?” Nico’s tone was slightly incredulous, but not entirely surprised. She twitched her face to the left and shrugged again.
“I don’t want him to do anything stupid.”
“Like he’ll be the one to do something stupid.”
“Shut up, Death Breath.”
“Of course, my lady.” His tone wasn’t mocking, but she knew he was making fun of her— she had known him since they were children. She narrowed her eyes. He pushed himself off the chair and offered an arm, but she knew he wasn’t being chivalrous. She stood up and swept past him gracefully, tripping over the hem of her dark blue toga.
The door opened without a creak and no one pulled it but she knew it was Nico. It was like he had this ability to manipulate objects, whether they were insubstantial like shadows (which they were, more often than not) or solids like doors. Apparently, everything had some kind of shadow inside of it, which was how he was able to do that stuff.
Did she believe the explanation he had given her? Yes. Yes she did. What other explanation was there? He was a magician?
“Are we going to rescue that slave girl?”
“Not alone, I hope.” A new voice spoke up, cool and commanding, but distinctly feminine. Annabeth whirled around, her skirts billowing out with her movement. She tensed automatically, waiting for the reprimand from one of the Caesar’s—
It was the female praetor, though she couldn’t remember what her name was. She was the woman who had been with Percy on that patrol when she first met him.
The dark haired woman walked forward gracefully and slowly, almost as if she were a leopard circling her prey. Annabeth glanced over the woman’s shoulder and then off to the side— no escape there.
“Don’t deny it.” Her voice was smooth as silk. She must know she had them cornered. “I heard you— both of you.”
“Okay then, fine. We’re planning on getting that girl out, because we both know Octavius will have her executed.”
The woman in front of her frowned, and there was some strange emotion in her eyes. She couldn’t name it though; maybe it was anger or worry? “You know you’ll be his first suspect— everyone saw you two arguing with each other, and then Percy was taken away…” She didn’t mention the flogging. “In fact, I won’t be surprised if he sends you to the stocks without hesitation, if you’re lucky. Are you willing to risk the consequences?”
Annabeth bit into her bottom lip, it hurt a little, and she turned around so that her back was facing the praetor’s. She crossed her arms over her chest and tucked her fingers in. She wasn’t stupid, she was far from it. It didn’t matter what people (and gods) said. So what if she didn’t know how to read or write? She knew a little bit about strategy and diplomats from her father, and she did know a little history. That didn’t make her stupid, most girls— most men— knew less. Just because she was a woman didn’t make her stupid. She wanted to be educated; by the gods, she would do anything for an education, but she was never given the opportunity. It confused her to no end, why those boys hated being taught. They should be grateful for it.
She looked at the woman again, whose eyebrow arched up a little. Nico was leaning against one of the pillars, his arms folded and ankles lying crossed neatly, his right resting over his left.
“It… is the right thing to do.” She paused, trying to figure out how to phrase her thoughts. “I know you think that I may not be rationalizing things through, but I am. That girl… she never did anything bad, or wrong, or evil. She’s only a victim of circumstance.”
The woman pressed her lips together into a thin line. “And if she dies, and you are caught in the crossfire?”
She swallowed the lump in her throat back. Her mouth suddenly felt dry. “Then that will be my problem.”
The woman nodded. “I will help.”
“Where is the slave girl?” Reyna (as she had introduced herself) demanded, storming into the dungeons. Her purple cloak billowed out behind her, and her gold armor flashed in the dim light. That, combined with the way her dark eyes flashed and her jaw was set in a hard line made her a terrifying sight.
Annabeth followed behind her more carefully, seeing as she technically shouldn’t be there. Her gaze fell on the man, who looked a tiny bit like a rat. His teeth were rather large and his nose was turned up… and he was shaking and holding his hands over his mouth, making claw-like motions with them as he chewed on his fingernails.
Between the mess of stuttering and Reyna’s yelling before she punched him in the gut, Annabeth managed to deduce that the slave girl had already been taken to the execution block with only a private trial.
“You realize you’ll get in trouble for that, later, right?”
“And I’ll deal with that when the time comes. I’ve got a few trusted allies that can help us…”
“Before the noon bell?”
“Her execution is scheduled for the noon bell.”
“See? Before the noon bell!”
“Annabeth? Nico? What are you doing here?”
“We— I need your help, Luke.”
“The slave girl— she’s going to be executed by the noon bell.”
“And you want to do a breakout. And you need my help and my super awesome powers to break in.”
“Don’t get cocky, Luke.”
“Alright, alright. You know, I change my mind about you marrying this Heir Apparent: he’s a good influence on you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, you’ll find out eventually~.”
“Ignore him, Annabeth. He’s trying to make you angry again.”
“Yeah, I figured that, Nico. Where is Thalia? And Piper?”
They met up with Reyna quicker than they had planned, after they found Piper and Thalia of course. Annabeth had debriefed them (and Luke) about their situation, and then had told them to come down at the eleventh bell.
However, Reyna had gotten there before them— and she had Jason with her, the other praetor.
Annabeth slowed down a little as she observed the praetors’ demeanor. Their bodies were tense and Reyna’s eyebrows had furrowed while Jason paced and ran a hand through his hair. They didn’t only look nervous, they were worried too.
“There you are.” Reyna’s relief was palpable, even though Annabeth only met her that morning. “I was only able to get Jason— my men are being watched by the Caesar’s lackeys. One of my legionaries spoke up during the Senate and I don’t want them to lose their jobs… or worse.”
She nodded. She was beginning to hate Percy’s pateras— he seemed to be crueler than her own father. She knew she and him, King Fredrick, her pateras, didn’t have the best relationship, but she knew he wouldn’t have her flogged for speaking out or defending someone.
“I understand.” She counted quickly in her head, like how Luke taught her how to do long ago. “There’ll be seven of us once Luke, Thalia and Piper get here.” Jason’s eyebrows furrowed slightly at Piper’s name, but Reyna nodded.
“We need a game plan.” Nico mentioned, and she jumped a little. He had been so silent she had nearly forgotten he was there, even though she counted him in her mental count.
She shook her head mentally and pressed her lips together. “Thalia has a fear of heights, so she’ll need to stay on the ground. Luke has a way with locks, and Piper is a charmspeaker—”
“Wait, what do you mean?” Reyna asked, her eyes suddenly sharp and clear, and Annabeth realized her mistake too late. She had just given them a tip off they were something more than merely mortals.
She turned to Nico. “Can we trust them?” she inquired, switching into Greek so that they wouldn’t be able to understand her. Nico’s gaze drifted over to the two praetors, but she kept her eyes on him.
He looked back at her and nodded. “They seem trustworthy.”
He looked like he was about to smile and lifted one shoulder. “When are we ever?”
She turned to Jason and Reyna, who both looked a little bewildered by the sudden onslaught of Greek.
“We’re demigods.” She told them, there was no point in beating around the bush when time was of the essence. Reyna blinked, looking like she had just been clobbered over her head, and then her expression cleared.
“I see… who are your parents?”
She looked at Nico, who shrugged. “I can’t see the harm in telling them; they already know we’re demigods and she’ll probably work it out eventually.”
Reyna arched an eyebrow at Nico’s words, or at least, she had lifted it a little when Annabeth looked back at her.
She said, “Piper is a daughter of Aphrodite, Luke is a son of Hermes, Nico is a son of Hades, Thalia is a daughter of Zeus—”
Jason’s eyes went as round as saucers. “Wait, that means I’ve got a half-sister!”
“You’re a demigod!?” Nico asked, actually looking surprised for once instead of his normally passive expression. He stared at Jason like he had just grown two heads, just like the hydras she had heard from in legends. Annabeth covered a smile with her hand.
“Jason! You know how the Caesar is about demigods!” Reyna hissed in sync with Nico. They went silent for a long moment, Reyna peering over her shoulder like she was expecting someone to yell demigods! but nothing happened.
“What do you mean?” she asked, when Reyna looked back at them. Reyna sent a nasty look at Jason before she answered the question.
“I believe Octavius Caesar is afraid of demigods; that he thinks they will try to overthrow his perfect rule.” The sarcasm was both clear and bitterer than the winter winds that used to burn Annabeth’s face when she was young. “I don’t know what he’d do if he found out if one of his praetors were a demigod, let alone both of them.”
“You’re a demigod too?”
She nodded. “My mater is Bellona.” She paused and then looked at them a little more carefully. “Are you a demigod? Percy said your eyes don’t belong to a mortal.”
The first thought she had was: of all things, it was my eyes to give away I’m more than a mere mortal? The second, slightly delayed, one was: wait, he noticed my eyes? What does that mean?
“Yes,” she admitted. “My matera is Athena.”
Jason whistled lowly. “Whoa, don’t let that get out. Romans and Minerva have some bad history, and then there’s Percy with the possibility of being blessed by some water goddess or god, or a second or third generation”
“What?” she asked before she could stop herself. “What do you mean Percy could be blessed by a water god or goddess? I thought he’s fully mortal.”
Jason and Reyna looked at each other, like they were having a silent conversation.
“He thinks he’s fully mortal too,” she began.
“But, there have been… instances.” Jason finished, a strange expression crossing his face. He looked like he was about to be sick but at the same time he looked ready to jump up and start singing “Three Old Sailors Got Drunk in a Pub”. “Percy’s mater, Sally, was originally from Sparta—”
“Wait, so he’s half Greek?”
Reyna’s lips thinned and her eyes narrowed, but she nodded. Annabeth was beginning to feel a little sorry for Jason, but he seemed to oblivious to the death stares his female counterpart gave him. Maybe he was used to her being close to attempted murder.
“Don’t tell him that though; his mater died when he was seven while she was crossing the Mare Nostrum, and he has that grudge against Neptune.”
“He dislikes Poseidon?” Nico asked from behind her, and she jumped a little. He had been so quiet she had forgotten he was even there. “Why would he hate Poseidon? I mean, Poseidon is one of the fairer gods.”
This time Jason looked a little reluctant. Reyna’s eyes flashed over to Nico, pinning him under that piercing stare she had. It made Annabeth feel vulnerable, her stare, like it could strip her bare and read each and every one of her secrets.
“You speak like you are family,” she observed. Nico’s lips quirked a little. “You act like you know him.” The tiny smile slipped off his face and he looked at Annabeth without moving his head, like he was asking permission.
“I do,” the admission slipped from his lips carefully, like he was testing their reactions. Reyna only stiffened, while Jason’s eyebrow shot up in an eerie imitation of Reyna. Maybe it was an imitation of Reyna. “I’m… Pluto’s ambassador, of sorts.”
Reyna’s eyes went wide, and Annabeth wondered if it was because of the admission or if—
“Shh!” Reyna hissed, “Act normal!”
“What? Why?” she asked before she could stop herself, and Reyna let out a soft giggle and wrapped her arm around Jason’s.
Jason looked dumbstruck. Nico looked disturbed.
“Oh, silly!” she said in a slightly higher tone than usual, but it somehow kept that down-to-earth quality in it. “You’ve got to have at least three drinks before you can relax fully. Right, darling?” her eyes turned on Jason, who smiled a smile that looked more like a grimace.
“Reyna, you’re more than a little tipsy, again. I think we need to get you to your villa.”
Reyna batted her eyes and leaned against him, her fingers sliding up his arm. “Oh, I see where you’re going with this.”
Annabeth didn’t even bat an eye, she was growing used to the bold talk in this city. Nico, however, turned gray and then a little green.
And then Nico looked at her.
“Whatever you’re thinking, I didn’t do it.” She said automatically, then she looked over his shoulder. A pair of guards disappeared around the bend.
“Okay, they’re gone now.” Jason muttered, and Reyna straightened her posture. He glanced down at her and raised an eyebrow. “Really though, was that the best excuse you had?”
“‘I think we need to get you to your villa,'” she mimicked his earlier words, but with a sultry and higher tone of voice. Jason’s ears turned a little pink.
“I was just reacting, okay? And besides, you were the one who—”
“I had to keep in character—”
“Oh yeah, that’s definitely you when you’re drunk, and then somehow we get into my villa and—”
She slapped a hand over his mouth, it looked like it hurt, and glanced at her and Nico with a sheepish expression on her face. Annabeth resisted the urge to gag, and only grimaced. Poor Nico had turned himself into a shadow, probably to hide the fact that he was either puking his guts out or doing something else. Like sanitizing his ears.
“I’m pretty sure Annabeth, and Nico, don’t want to hear about what we do in our free time, Jason. Honestly, how you’re a praetor is beyond me…” she shook her head. He pulled away from her hand and grinned.
“Yeah, but I’m not the one who does the talking during the Senate meetings: you are.”
Reyna returned the grin briefly, before she turned to face Annabeth again. She wondered if it was possible to melt into a puddle made out of water and blood; she certainly felt warm enough.
“Sorry, I keep forgetting you’re not from Roma.”
She waved her hand dismissively. “That’s a good thing then; I fit in. Anyway, they should be arrive in a few—”
There was the sound of feet pounding against the ground, and heavy breathing. She looked up and saw an average height, black haired woman clutching her stomach and using the wall to keep her balance.
“—Minutes.” she finished.
“S-sorry,” she gasped. “G-guards.”
Nico materialized out of the shadows, a grin on his face. “You mean you were just busy with Luke.”
She straightened, clutching her side with one hand, and rolled her eyes.
“Shut up, Death Breath,” she took a deep breath and exhaled. “I’m not that irresponsible,” she paused and took a few more deep breaths. “Besides, I haven’t seen him since this morning.”
“That’s just disgusting, Thalia.” Nico muttered, screwing his face up. Jason’s expression brightened from confusion while Reyna looked like she was about to groan for some reason.
Thalia cuffed him on the back of his head. “We’re married, Nico. What do you expect?”
“A little more modesty?”
“Enough,” Annabeth interrupted before they could get into a full on feud complete with lightning and earthquakes. Jason approached Thalia and said something about being a son of Jupiter and they were siblings and blah blah blah. Then he hugged her while Thalia spluttered something. Reyna rolled her eyes like this had happened too many times for her to be bothered about it. Nico looked like he was trying not to smile.
Luke appeared from around a corner, and he stared as Jason and Thalia battled it out in a full-out toggle/hug war, even though they were supposed to be serious right now… Or whatever it was that they were doing— it kind of looked like he was trying to choke her.
He looked up at Annabeth. “Why do I get the feeling she wasn’t in agreement with this treatment?”
“Oh, she wasn’t,” Nico looked way too gleeful over this. Annabeth raised her eyes to the ceiling for less than a heartbeat before she met his gaze again. Luke glanced at the two siblings before he shrugged, like he didn’t want to know what they were arguing over.
“LET GO OF ME, I’M NOT IN ANY WAY RELATED TO YOU!”
“YES YOU ARE! WE HAVE THE SAME PATER!”
Thalia froze, and Jason took advantage of the fact by wrapping his arms around her neck and attempting to throttle her. Annabeth stepped away from the siblings. It wouldn’t take too long for her to figure out who had let slip they were demigods, since Nico wasn’t as talkative as she was… and Thalia had been the one to lecture all of them on not telling anyone they were demigods. Something she seemed to think Annabeth needed, since she did it twice just for her.
You don’t know how scary Thalia was when she got out on a roll. Her eyes were like lightning, and storm clouds literally swirled around her as she bent over you despite the fact she was tinier than most people.
“Annabeth?” Thalia’s tone was a mixture of sweet and angry as her bright eyes snapped on her. Annabeth held her breath, she was about to blow up in three, two—
“Did you tell them?”
“About that… it just, kind of, slipped?” she laughed nervously when her eyes narrowed.
“Let me get this straight, they—” Thalia pointed at Jason, then at Reyna, “—know about our lineage? Yours too?”
Annabeth would have replied to that, she really would, but there was the sound of footsteps pattering against the ground of the hallway. She glanced over her shoulder where Piper was bent double, clutching her stomach.
The bell began the half hour ring.
“What’s the plan?” the daughter of Aphrodite asked, looking up at Annabeth, probably expecting her to assume the role of the leader.
She glanced at Reyna, who nodded, a neutral expression settling on her face.
Annabeth switched her gaze back at the others, all of whom were looking at her. Her hands suddenly felt clammy and her mouth went dry, but she tried to ignore those. She was just nervous. That was all— she could easily ignore being nervous. It didn’t matter that she had six people looking at her, expecting a plan to bust a slave out of a high security cell.
“This is our plan…”
“Nico, Luke, you’re with me, since I’m going up to that girl to get her and I need your shadow traveling abilities. You, Luke, I need your lock picking abilities in case she’s chained to the post. We’re going to have to split up at first though, Nico, I need you to keep an eye out for trouble just in case. Luke… please, please don’t pick-pocket anyone.”
Seven people rushed to where they belonged in the crowds.
“Jason, Piper— you two together. Piper, since you can charmspeak, if anything goes wrong you can smooth things over, and if worst comes to worst then Jason’ll be able to fly you out of there. I want you two to go to where she is going to be executed.
“Thalia, Reyna… just blend in the crowds and act as our lookout.”
Annabeth chewed on her bottom lip and pressed herself against the walls as the people parted around her, making way for the Caesar and his imperial guard. She hoped he wouldn’t recognize her— or Nico, or Luke, for that matter. That was the last thing they needed. Octavius would realize something was up the moment he saw her not with Percy.
Something clenched inside of her and her palms suddenly felt sweaty. Gods, what would happen to Percy if he did catch her? The last time she had done something reckless, he had been the one to pay the price. What if he would have to pay it a second time? The Caesar didn’t seem like someone who forgave and forgot easily— and she had a feeling he didn’t give second chances either.
But this wasn’t like last time… she had spoken out impulsively, without a plan. This time, while it was reckless, at least she had a plan.
There was a difference. And hopefully, if there were consequences, Percy won’t be on the receiving end of them. Or anyone else for that matter.
Her shadow suddenly became long, even though the sun was set at it’s highest point, and she tightened her hold on the dagger. She had no idea why she was keeping the bloody thing; she had no idea how to use it really. What had happened with that guard was just a fluke. A very lucky fluke, granted, but a fluke all the same.
A pale hand, paler than death itself, popped out of her shadow. Annabeth knew who it was, she had told him to keep an eye out for trouble after all. The shadow twisted and churned, like the sea on a rough day (she should know what it looked like— she had been at sea for six months), then his left arm appeared, and then his other arm and head. He let out a small grunt and his fingers closed in on the pavement not covered by her shadow, and he hauled himself up. Part of his body hung over, like he was in a lake, and the shadow was the water while the ground was the ledge.
“You realize one day someone’s going to notice that, right?” she asked.
Nico’s head jerked up and his whole body went rigid, almost like he was surprised when she spoke, and she held his gaze for a moment. He shrugged, not smiling, and picked at his fingernails.
“I doubt it. You’d be surprised by what people would believe if the supernatural happened just to make things fit to their own version of reality.”
She held her hand out, and he took it. Annabeth had no idea what he talked about when he said stuff like that, she didn’t really understand it, but maybe she would one day.
“Anything interesting?” she inquired, pulling him to his feet.
He pressed his lips together into a tight line and his eyebrows furrowed together into a frown. A strange expression crossed his face, almost like he was baffled or worried. Maybe he was both.
“I don’t know,” he said slowly, enunciating every word carefully. “I couldn’t Shadow Travel through her shadow. It’s almost like…” he trailed off and shook his head. “Never mind, that’s impossible. All living things have a shadow. I probably was just tired.”
She nodded, sort of understanding what he was trying to tell her.
“Come on then. Luke’s over there and we need to get to her.” She resisted the urge to glance at Octavius, who was walking up to the dais overlooking the executioner’s block and waving toward the crowd, which was stomping their feet on the ground and calling out for her blood just between the pauses. “We’ve got half a bell ring, at most.”
She thought of Leo, a son of Hephaestus. Leo was a genius, utterly mad maybe, but a genius. He pretended to act reckless, and he joked around a lot, but she knew it was all a front. He thought things through, unlike Thalia and Luke and Piper and… her. He was far from reckless, and that made him one of the most abnormal Hellenes she had ever met.
“What are you thinking about?”
“Leo,” she answered. “He’d probably have rescued Bianca by now, or at the very least, have a more solid plan. Maybe one day he and Percy would meet.”
Nico hummed. “Maybe they will. You’re going back to Athens every second Autumn, right?”
She thought back to one of the last conversations she had had with her father.
“Only during every other Autumn? But what if I hate it there!”
“That is not my problem. Learn to like it.”
“B-but— father— are you sure? It’s nearly a full two seasons to get from here to there. Do you want me to be so far from you?”
“Enough, Annabeth. I have been too lenient in allowing you this long to go unmarried— you have grown wild. Soon enough, you will be your new husband’s property and his headache.”
She grimaced as she remembered what happened after that—her yelling at him she was no one’s property, and that the Athenian aristocrats were brainwashing him. It was probably her fault they had drifted apart so much, but she couldn’t do anything about it anymore. It was too late to fix things between them.
“Yeah,” she said softly.
She missed her old friends, and she missed Athens, but… something inside of her didn’t like the idea of leaving Rome. It didn’t make any sense; the violence was horrible, and she had a nasty feeling she had only seen the beginning of it, but there was just something about it she just couldn’t place her finger on. She had new friends here, she no longer felt like she was being choked by a leash despite her heavier responsibilities, and there was Percy.
Yeah, there was definitely Percy. He… was complex, last night had proven that; she wanted to understand him. She didn’t even know why anymore; she felt like it went beyond him being her husband. She just really wanted to understand him. Why he was this way, how he became this way, try to understand why he was determined to forgive Octavius for everything he’s done wrong, even though logic clearly stated that the Caesar was corrupt behind redemption.
She jerked her head up. Nico was ahead of her by a few paces, and he was looking at her with a strange expression on his face. She must have stopped walking.
“Yeah, sorry. I’m coming.”
He shook his head. “No, not that. I just want to say that your plan is good for something you came up with on the spot.”
A warm feeling filled her then and she quickened her pace until she was standing next to him. She was lucky she had such a good friend.
“Thanks,” she said, and smiled.
His cheeks turned a little pink and he rubbed the back of his neck, then turned away to avoid meeting her eyes.
Reyna somehow ended up walking next to her and Nico. Annabeth had no idea how it happened. One moment, Luke was walking next to her —silently— and then the next, Reyna was just there. She hadn’t even heard the praetor walk up, or Luke walk away! It was like Reyna had popped up like a ghost.
So, naturally, she had to stifle a shriek. She probably would have shrieked if they weren’t on a mission to rescue someone’s life.
Reyna looked like she was struggling not to smile.
“You and Jason, huh?” Annabeth asked, attempting to diverge from the subject. Reyna’s face turned impassive.
There was something strange about Reyna’s tone. It was tense, but there was a mixture of something else Annabeth couldn’t quite place. It made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.
“What do you mean guess?” She turned to look at her, but Reyna kept her eyes fixed on a spot up ahead.
“It’s complicated. Then again, it’s always complicated when you love someone.” Her tone was bitter, and Annabeth couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. Maybe her ‘happy relationship’ with Jason was just for show. Maybe she didn’t really love him… or maybe she did, and he didn’t return the feelings. But it seemed like both of them were completely heads over heels.
“You’re lucky, you know?” Reyna’s voice was suddenly soft. Annabeth couldn’t help but look at her. “You love Percy, or can grow to love him, and I think he can come to love you back, even though you just met.”
“What?” she was pretty sure she had misheard Reyna. There was no way she loved Percy, maybe she liked him, as a friend, but loved? That was pushing it. She barely knew him. There was no way she could love someone she just met— it just didn’t make sense.
Reyna smiled slightly, looking slightly happier. “You’ll see eventually.”
Annabeth was just about to ask just what she mean by that, when the crowd suddenly began muttering. The bells began to chime, and she felt like someone had just dumped a bucket of icy water over her.
They were too late.
“No…” Reyna murmured next to her, stopping as well.
The slave girl was being dragged up to the hanging block, her hands tied in front of her and her hair falling everywhere. One of the guards spat at her, and another said something which made her flinch away. A third placed his hand on her shoulder and steered her up, his grip making the ratty clothes made of towels bend.
The people had split apart like a stream did to rocks, leaving her in full view of the Caesar, so even if they tried to save her, they would be caught. And Annabeth knew it would be like this for the rest of the way— the men would humiliate and beat the girl, and the crowds would part like the sea. They would just stand there and watch.
It made her feel sick.
“No!” Nico suddenly lunged forward, his voice suddenly much shriller than she remembered it ever being. “No! No!”
She exchanged a swift glance with Reyna then, as one, surged forward and wrapped her arms around the his wiry, flailing frame.
“Bianca!” He screamed, “Bianca!”
“Nico!” Annabeth grunted when his elbow made contact with her stomach. “What in Hades is wrong with you?!”
The slave girl’s head whipped around at the name, and her eyes somehow met Nico’s. He stopped attempting to wrench her shoulders out of their sockets, and he seemed to be trying to say something to her, but the girl only shook her head sadly. A nasty suspicion was forming inside of her head.
Nico had had a sister. He had been Spartan, and he had been a slave, before her father stepped in. He had been bought because he was a man, and a son of Hades. But his sister was a woman. He still was a slave, technically.
“Bianca!” he pressed his hand against the arm Reyna was holding against his chest, restraining him. “Bianca…”
And then the slave girl, Bianca, smiled sadly and met Annabeth’s eyes. She shook her head slightly, and then one of the guards pushed her.
“Move, wrench,” he said. She tried to bite him, but he pulled away just before she did.
She tossed her head back and her long, dark hair swayed down her back. In that moment, she resembled one of the ladies in her father’s court— tall, graceful and beautiful, but slightly detached and unapproachable.
Annabeth felt like she was about to begin choking, and she shoved her way out of the crowd.
“Please, we’ve got to save her. There’s got to be a way to save her.”
Nico was pacing in dizzying circles. Annabeth felt horrible. She wanted to scream, she wanted to punch something, she wanted to march right on out there… she wanted to cry.
And yet she was doing nothing. There was nothing that could be done now. She was gone, just like that. Hanged.
He looked at her pleadingly.
“Annabeth? There’s got to be a way.”
She shook her head. “There could have been a chance to create a diversion, but the Caesar would know who made it, and the consequences—”
“Damn the consequences!” Nico’s voice was fierce, interrupting her. A lump rose in her throat and she pressed the back of her hand against her eyes. There was nothing she could do now; the slave girl was dead. “Annabeth; what’s gotten into you? It isn’t like you to hesitate. This is my sister we’re talking about— there’s nothing worse than—”
“Nico!” she raised her voice. He stumbled back, like he had been physically pushed, and she reached out to place a hand on his shoulder. “Nico, she’s gone. Your sister is dead.”
He stepped away from her, shaking his head. His mouth was moving, but he wasn’t saying anything. The look on his face was enough to express the accusations he wanted to throw at her.
Something inside of her seemed to pull when she saw the tears in his eyes.
“What’s happening to you?” he finally whispered. “You’re becoming someone I don’t know.”
He spun on his heel and disappeared into the shadows.
Luke moved forward, and she looked down at the ground.
“I’m sorry Luke,” her voice broke a little. “I tried.” She clenched her fists.
And then he spun on his heel and walked away.
As soon as he was out of her sight, she crumbled to the ground and felt a choking sensation rise inside of her. She felt like she was going to suffocate. Not only that, but she may have just lost two friends and maybe Nico was right— maybe she was changing too much. This wasn’t her. It couldn’t be. What happened to her? Was she turning heartless? How could she choose to do nothing while another human being was being march to their imminent death?
She wanted to claw her insides out and tear them into a thousand tiny pieces. Why was she the one who had to choose this? She knew people say it’s better to have the freedom of your own choice then having someone choose for you, but no freedom was worth being the one to have to make this choice. There had been a chance to save that girl if she had decided to just damn the consequences. She was a hypocrite; she had let someone die, and had essentially done nothing. She had just told Percy that you had to damn the consequences and do what’s right, but then she had turned her back on that and now an innocent girl was dead…
What was wrong with her?
A scream escaped her lips as the tears finally began to fall out of her eyes.
Later on, Annabeth somehow found her way to Meg’s chambers. She didn’t remember how, or when she started moving. It was all so surreal. It didn’t even feel real— she probably would have thought this was a dream, but it wasn’t. She dreamed in black and white. There weren’t any gray areas; everything was defined. And this wasn’t defined. Everything felt wrong now, twisted and distorted beyond belief. No colors anymore, just gray. There was nothing beautiful left.
“Percy?” she whispered, walking over to where he slept. His chest wasn’t moving up and down, and she her breathing suddenly picked up. He couldn’t be dead, if he was dead then she probably would try to kill someone, or march down and punch Thantos in his face.
Tears began to form in her eyes again and she stepped forward, reaching out tentatively. She placed her hand on his arm. It felt warm. Then his chest shuddered.
She couldn’t begin to describe the relief she felt in that moment that rushed over it in a tidal wave. It left her knees weak and her body tingling and now she really was crying again. Her hand shook as she sat down next to him, then she moved it up until it was resting against his chest. She pulled her legs up and hugged them with her free arm, just looking at him.
He looked peaceful in his sleep, like a child almost. His forehead was smooth from frown marks and his eyes were closed, but he didn’t smile or frown.
She placed her head on top of her knees, closed her eyes, and wrapped her other arm around her legs. She tried to make herself as small as possible, so that maybe she would be protected from this cruel world known as reality.
She had lost at least two friends today. Thalia was ignoring her, and Piper’s replies were clipped and short. Nico probably hated her right now, and he didn’t forgive mistakes easily, which meant it was doubtful he ever really would forgive her. She hadn’t seen Luke in hours.
What would everyone back in Athens think of her right now?
“Guess there’s a consequence for every action I take.” She muttered. A laugh began to bubble at her lips, and she saw no reason in keeping it in. “Try to save the slave girl, and endanger you. Try to keep you safe and lose your friends. I don’t understand why.”
She raised her head and looked out of the window. The moon was out, and the stars shone in the sky. They reminded her of the diamond she saw once when she was little; sparkling and mysterious.
“Why did I have to choose this?” she asked quietly, and ran her hand across her face. She felt hollow, like her insides had been carved out and everything that made her Annabeth was gone. “Why was it me?” She looked at his face and almost smiled. He looked so different when he was asleep. Moonbeams shone down on him, and it was clear of his usual scowl or smirk. He looked relaxed.
She bit her bottom lip and suddenly lifted the sheets on the bed. She felt undeniably nervous, and she thought of the guard’s leering gaze before she pushed it into the back of her mind. She was not going to be scared of Percy; he was defenseless.
She shifted herself until she was under the sheets too and moved until there was no air against them. Her body began to relax and she closed her eyes, leaning her forehead against his chest. She doubted he would even realize it, and if he did, she’d make him forget somehow.
At least she was safe right now. No more questions; no more choices. At least he wouldn’t judge her right now… he couldn’t. She knew he’d probably hear about it eventually, but for now, she was safe.
What an odd word, “safe”. She didn’t even know the meaning of it anymore. It had been so long since she had actually felt safe.
Maybe it was what she deserved. Maybe she was a bad person after all. How on earth was she lucky enough to get Percy as her husband again? She certainly didn’t deserve him…
“I’m sorry, Percy.” She whispered as she fell asleep, even though she knew he wouldn’t hear it.
A Crown of Golden Leaves
“Virtue is the truest nobility.” -Miguel de Cervantes
Caput IX: A Hidden Nobility
TIME seemed to blur together for Annabeth until she had no sense of it left. She was left entirely alone to her dark thoughts—and the crippling onslaught of guilt. What had she done? How did it turn out this way? All she wanted was to stop Octavius from ruthlessly slaughtering a young girl—and then she somehow got Percy into a horrible situation; and that girl was probably in a worse state than when she had been in the coliseum.
All your fault, a voice inside of her head reminded Annabeth. After all, doesn’t this happen every time you try to do something good?
Annabeth shook her head at the rather nasty voice and began to pace. There was that one time I saved Nico though.
You were the one who blurted out he’s Spartan.
She clenched her jaw and very forcibly made her mind go blank. It was just her conscious talking—and besides… maybe Octavius wouldn’t really go through with the lashings. After all, he was his son, and it wasn’t like Percy had kidnapped someone or anything. In fact, he had only spoken out because of her big fat mouth.
“That’s right,” she whispered, stopping and looking at herself in the mirror on top of her dresser. She looked tired in her reflection, and her hair had fallen out of the elegant bun Percy had fixed. “Octavius wouldn’t do something that horrible. It is a punishment fit for kidnappers and rapists and murderers, and even then that’s soft.”
But a voice that sounded suspiciously like her brother, Malcolm, was whispering; but you aren’t in Athens* anymore—this is Rome.
She shoved that voice to the back of her mind. She was just being silly— and paranoid. No father would do that to his son. It just wasn’t right.
Unless, of course, you were Hades. But even then, he had done that to Nico by accident— made him seperate from his sister.
There was a loud squeak —the door, probably— and Annabeth spun around. A guard stood in the frame, his arms folded over his chest, eyeing her with a gaze that made her skin crawl with goosebumps. A horrible feeling formed in her gut, and she tilted her head up and squared her shoulders back. Someone had told her that to show weakness left you vulnerable to attacks.
“His Excellency says you may leave now.” Continue reading “Caput IX: A Hidden Nobility”
A Crown of Golden Leaves
“Human nature is not black and white but black and grey.” -Graham Greene
Caput VIII: An Example of Humanity
SOMETIMES, Annabeth wondered what she had done to make the gods hate her so much. She really did.
She wondered why they had gifted her with a sharp tongue, quite often in fact. It would be so much easier if she was compliant like some of the other princesses to the city states—like Sophia from Somos.* Then she would be perfectly fine with marrying some Heir Apparent that should had never even met before. Although, she was very lucky when it came to Percy…
In fact, she wondered why Athena had ever given her the wonderful gift of wanting ever more knowledge about the world around her, but she couldn’t read. So, alas, she couldn’t read Aristotle or Plato or Euclid or Archimedes or any of the rest. In fact, it was only by luck that she had been able to listen to the adventures of the great Hero, Odysseus, when she had been a little girl. Back then, it hadn’t been considered improper for her to intermingle with the common-born children.
That, along with the bloody destiny to be some kind of ‘Champion of Olympus’ or something.
Actually, she wished she wasn’t a princess of Greece. She was still miffed about the fact that her father had forced her to marry Percy. Though, she had to admit, Annabeth was incredibly lucky when it came to the fact that he was her husband and not some creep…
But that didn’t change the fact that she had had no choice about it.
Suddenly, there was a slight sound, like the creak of a foot walking up the wooden stairs. Annabeth blinked and looked up quickly, realizing with a bit of a start that she had been glowering at the arena for quite some time. The slaves had been brought back.
It was Percy.
His face was pale and drawn though, as though he hadn’t slept properly last night, though that was silly. Annabeth hadn’t heard any indication that he was awake, seeing as she knew that it was impossible for him to keep still for some reason. Perhaps he had a great shock? Or maybe he had injured himself and was steadily losing blood?
But there was no blood…
“Percy?” she asked as he sat down next to her, promptly leaning over and propping his forehead in his palms. She placed a hand on his bare shoulder and rubbed it like her father used to when she was stressed over something. His body relaxed and he looked up at her with those big green eyes. They looked scary though; they looked more the sea when it was storming outside. Rough, untamable and dangerous.
His eyebrows joined together in a frown, and he opened his mouth to reply. “I talked to the—”
“Perseus, Annabeth!” Continue reading “Caput VIII: An Example of Humanity”
A Crown of Golden Leaves
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” -Nelson Mandela
Caput VII: The Slave Girl
“IT’S alright being scared… it’s alright being scared… it’s alright being scared…”
Percy climbed the stairs that went up to his… and Annabeth’s chambers, her words echoing inside of his head.
“I know you’re no coward…”
But he was a coward— she was the brave one, she had just displayed that when she started to speak out against Octavius like that. In fact, he should arrest her for treason against the Caesar, but for some reason, he just couldn’t. He couldn’t even summon more than a slight twinge of annoyance on his pater’s behalf, and that almost made him feel scared for some reason. Not even Rachel could get away with talking like that against the Caesar, and he had loved her. A lot. But somehow, Annabeth could…
And he wasn’t sure if that was because he was older then he was back then, or if it was something more.
“You’re thinking again,” a smooth voice spoke up, and Percy didn’t even jump. He just plunged on ahead.
Percy rolled his eyes, “Not particularly. I’m getting a cloak, Reyna. From my chambers.” He added for good measure, finally glancing at the brunette. “And I’m pretty sure you don’t need to guard me in my own resting place.”
She smirked, “Why I wasn’t even thinking about guarding you. I just wanted to go on a pleasant stroll with one of my closest friends.”
He arched an eyebrow, “No, you would go on a pleasant stroll with Jason. You just tag along so you can taunt me.”
Reyna shrugged, looking unconcerned. “Guilty. But you already knew that.” Percy struggled with his temper for a moment, and she added on, “So, why are you going back to your chambers?”
Her expression turned sage, “Ah. What did she do?”
“…she taunted me.”
His friend laughed, abandoning all attempts at looking wise. Percy looked at the ceiling and nodded his head from side to side, waiting for her laughter to die down. Continue reading “Caput VII: The Slave Girl”
A Crown of Golden Leaves
“Friendship is the beginning of love; love is the beginning of life.” -Anonymous
Caput VI: Something More
PERCY listened to the announcements with only one ear. The other was on the conversations around him—mostly between Octavius, Morrigan and Artorius. It was mostly small, boring talk. “How was the weather back in England?” “Do you like Roma?” Stuff like that. But once, Octavius asked which route Artorius was going to use to get back to England. Percy wasn’t sure why, but a bad feeling stirred in the pit of his stomach. Octavius had asked the same question once a few years back, when an ambassador and his son had come over from China. Percy ended up becoming friends with Wang Fei* during that long visit; and they had promised to keep in touch with ink and parchment.
Fei never replied.
He shook his head to clear his thoughts. Annabeth shot him a weird look but he ignored it skillfully. He would never understand why the Chinese kid never replied. Maybe he only pretended to be Percy’s friend and forgot about him when he got home? That certainly happened a lot when he was younger.
But Fei never had the same air around him like those others did, like he was trying to get to Percy because of his title. As if he did want to be his friend. He never, not once, radiated that same superiority that made Percy feel uncomfortable around the other princes and lords.
He wasn’t even counting the ladies that had swamped him after Rachel died…
Percy tightened his hold around Annabeth’s hand and felt a stab of gratitude. He really was lucky she hadn’t been like the rest of those ladies. There was that spark of intelligence in her eyes that was missing from the others, and even though she didn’t know how to read or write, Percy could tell that she wanted to. Even if it was on a subconscious level.
Maybe that was why he felt that spark of attraction, that day when he had met her…? Although, it certainly felt stronger now than when he first met Rachel when that ship had docked. It was a lot stronger, actually. It had almost felt like lightning had struck his body.
Not, of course, that he would know what that felt like…
“Percy, your father is talking to you.” Annabeth’s voice hissed in Percy’s ear. He jumped and looked at his pater.
Octavius looked like he was struggling with the urge to wring Percy’s neck, but he took a few deep breaths, as if he was composing himself, and released them with a gusty sigh.
“The Gladiator Games are beginning, Perseus. I would suggest you watch them and analyze their weaknesses.”
The way Octavius said suggest implied it was an order. Percy nodded automatically and sighed as his pater turned away. Annabeth looked at him, her eyebrows furrowing together into a single line, but he ignored her and switched his gaze on the arena. The crowd was cheering, stomping their feet and clapping their hands, making a ‘thump thump boom’ sound.
Percy didn’t join in; he never had. Thank the gods it wasn’t considered proper for the royals to join in. Continue reading “Caput VI: Something More”
A Crown of Golden Leaves
“Change is inevitable. Change is constant.” –Benjamin Disraeli
Caput V: What Should Be, Will be
PERCY was tempted to hit himself in the head with the book of battle history he was reading. Hard.
But instead, he managed to place it down, gently, on the cushion next to him and stared at his pater. His pater was watching him carefully, as if he had sensed his exasperation. Percy was determined not to give him any excuse to use him again to do something bad… or Annabeth.
Percy hadn’t realized it until after he had left his —no, their— room, but he was now responsible for her safety as well as his own. And eventually the Senate would want them to make babies…
Ergh. That actually kind of terrified him for some reason… and probably Annabeth as well. Maybe that was why she had been so shy last night, and it wasn’t like he had helped ease her worries…
And he really needed to stop thinking of her. Especially if he got a dreamy look like Hazel said, then His pater would look at him weirdly…
Percy shook his head, stopping the thoughts right there. No. He did not get a dreamy look and his pater wouldn’t look at him weirdly… like he was at that moment…
A Crown of Golden Leaves
“Most days it feels as if the world is whirling around me and I am standing still. In slow motion, I watch the colors blur; people and faces all become a massive wash.” -Sarah Kay
Caput IV: Iridescence
Iridescent: showing many colors
Annabeth looked up from the surface she had been sitting on and peered into the white mist. Her eyes narrowed and her heart began to pound rapidly under her chest—ba-boom, ba-boom, b-ba-boom, boom, ba-boom.
A gust of wind that blew her hair across her face, though she was in a place that was suspended in time and space, and the white mist cleared. A tall, black-haired woman was walking toward her, grim-faced as ever.
She stood up and curtsied, lowering her head so that she would not have to look into the goddess’s gray eyes. “Mother,” she greeted, forcing her voice to stay steady and unemotional.
“Rise,” Athena commanded in a flat voice. Annabeth lifted her head slowly, just in case the woman was angry for some reason. She could never be sure with her mother.
“Why are you here? Why have you come into my conscious? My lady?” She added the last part hastily, realizing her tone had been less than respectful, and the goddess’s lips twitched for a moment before her face became hard.
“Have a guess, Annabeth. You are not that feeble-minded.” Continue reading “Caput IV: Iredescence”