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“Eris, no!” Therion watched helpless as she slipped on one of the rocks and tumbled headlong into the Kifisos River with a resounding splash. Therion did not understand why he felt the need to rescue her, he did not know why he jumped in after her, but soon he found himself battling the icy current that dragged her away. The intelligent thing would be to let her go. She was insignificant to the function of his band of men, but he could not let her die. So he paddled downstream, with strings tugging at his heart as he saw her bob up and down and then she did not resurface. “No!” Powered by adrenaline, he swam faster, his arms growing hot with friction. There was nothing for it, he took a great gulp of air and dove under the surface.
“Therion! What are you doing?” Evios’s voice rang in his ears, but it was too late for he had already taken the plunge. The current was strong and his muscles screamed as he shot towards the floating stream of starlight hair. He had to get her now or she would drown. It could already be too late, but Therion dared not wait any longer. With a final burst of strength, he shot towards her and snatched her from the grip of the current. They broke through the surface of the water and Therion choked in the air, but Eris was not breathing. Swimming as quickly as he could against the powerful waves, he managed to haul himself and Eris to shore. When they were safely on the banks Therion started pushing on her chest, her stomach, trying in desperation to get her to choke up the water.
He pounded her chest so hard that she vomited water into his face and proceeded to cough violently.
“Was that necessary?” Her voice was weak.
“Eris, what the Hades!? Why didn’t you tell me that you couldn’t swim?” On an impulse, he reached into hug her, completely ignoring the fact that she had just puked all over him.
She responded with a faint smile. “How many times do I have to tell you? My name is Aerona.” Her voice was so soft he could barely hear her.
“Aerona.” The name was musical in a He cringed as she heaved on his chiton again. He was about to pick her up when his men came rushing over.
“Polemarch! What the Hades? You could have been killed! She’s a captive, surely we can afford to let her drown.”
With Aerona in his arms, he stood. “Shut up, Sinon. Men, we make camp here, we’ll get moving again tomorrow morning.”
“But, Polemarch…” Hermokrates raised his hand in protest. “We could make it to Atens by nightfall if we keep going.”
“Not another word. I said we stop here and stop we will. Any other complaints?” Therion glared at his men and to his relief, none of them dared challenge him. “Amyntor, take my tent, I’ll keep the watch tonight.” He didn’t care if his men exchanged glances and words behind his back. All he could think about was the girl who had just thrown up on his clothing. There were a few moments of awkward silence before the men decided it would be best to busy themselves setting up the tents.
“Stay here.” He set Aerona on the ground and watched her take the squirming ball of fur into her arms. “I’m going to go pitch the tent.” He started over to the clearing where they had started setting up and in a hurry gathered some sturdy branches to prop up the faded canvas. However, when he got back she had disappeared. After a moment of panic, he found her down by the river again, washing her face and clothes.
When he approached, she barely glanced up at him, but Liolin greeted him with bared teeth. “Yes, I can see him. Hush now.” She frowned at the wynog and then turned her gaze to Therion. “I don’t know about you, but tired as I am, I don’t fancy going to sleep covered in bile. Here.” She handed him a handful of roots. “Soapwort.” She swished some of the roots around in the churning water and scooped up the suds to put on her hair and face. Then she stood up and started back towards the clearing.
“Wait! Where are you going?”
“You want to wash don’t you? I figured you’d like some privacy.” She started away again, but Therion called after her again.
“Aerona, I…” He held up the bundle of roots with a sheepish grin on his face. She snorted.
“If you need help, just ask.” She came back towards the riverbank and a faint rose colored her cheeks when Therion took off his shirt. She knelt down beside him. “Look. Like this.” In one hand she took the roots and in the other the shirt and she dunked them both in the river and then started scrubbing at the shirt with the gnarled clump. When sufficient suds had formed, she tossed the roots aside and let the current rinse out the fabric. “There.” She handed it back to Therion, and he noticed that she was trying very hard to avert her eyes from his bare skin. After a moment, she got up and started walking again. Therion leapt up to follow her. It was only dusk, but he figured after all of this they had better get some sleep before getting to Atens.
He followed her to the tent and was about to go in when she turned to him with questions in her eyes. “Aren’t you on watch, Polemarch?”
“Yes…I” He reached out to touch her arm and noticed that her dress was still wet. “Your clothes are wet.”
She shrugged. “I don’t have another dress and I can’t very well go walking around in undergarments.”
“You’ll get sick like that.” He pushed open the flap of the tent. “You shouldn’t sleep in wet clothes. I’d be happy to keep you warm if that’s what you’re worried about.” Therion knew full well that that wasn’t her concern, but it was worth a try. She fascinated him and he wanted to hold her. He wanted to protect her. No Atenian woman had ever had this effect on him before.
“Pole…Therion…I…” Her cheeks turned bright red.
“Your honor is safe, I promise you.” Aside from the blush on her face, Therion couldn’t tell what she was thinking at all.