Authors: Elizabeth Rose
He took a deep breath, nodded slowly, and then let it out.
“All right,” he finally agreed. “So tell me where to find the sea serpent so I can kill it and then get the answers I need.”
She smiled triumphantly and told him the directions to her village of Thessaly on the coast.
“King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia are the rulers. They are not to be harmed and neither should their daughter.”
“Daughter?” he asked, with a raised brow.
“Her name is Princess Andromeda,” she said proudly. “She is the only child of the king and queen.”
“Andromeda,” he repeated, rubbing his chin as if in deep thought. Then he lowered his hand and looked right at her. “Thank you, oh great Oracle, for your words of wisdom.”
“Yes,” she said. “I mean - the oracle has spoken!”
Andromeda watched Perseus leave the cave and nodded her head at the ease of her success. Because of her wit, her problems were solved. Perseus would kill the sea serpent and her life would be spared. She’d be able to return to her village very soon.
She climbed down the ladder, wobbling once - when she looked down into the deep, dark pit. A mist started to rise and the putrid stench was back. She heard a silent deep whisper calling her name and felt the urge to throw herself within. Dizzy and unstable, she pushed herself away. As she hurried toward the steps leading out of the cave, she was unable to ignore the warning,
shouldn’t have done that
, that came from the depths of the bottomless pit.
Her shivers came back and she ran from the cave, pulling her hood over her head to keep dry from the pouring rain. She looked back, hand on her heart to try to still its rapid thumping. Her mission complete, she needn’t return to the frightening cave of the oracle ever again.
Turning toward her horse, she slipped the reins from the tree branch and was about to hoist herself atop when the sound of a sword being pulled from a scabbard halted her.
“Going somewhere priestess?”
She turned to find Perseus holding the tip of his sword under her chin. He used it to tilt her head upward, and she couldn’t help but see the darkness that clouded his golden eyes.
“Or should I call you princess?” he asked. “After all, isn’t that your real title - Princess Andromeda?”
The girl looked up to Perseus with magical blue eyes, drawing him in, making him want to know her better. Still, the little chit deceived him, and he couldn’t be too careful. Who knew what else she was capable of doing?
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, batting her long, lush lashes. The rain washed down upon her, but cleansed away none of her lies. Her acting abilities were not convincing in the least.
“I think you do, Andromeda. Now tell me why you were sitting on the priestess’s chair. What have you done with her? I need to speak with the oracle. It’s of vital importance.”
“So you said. Put down your blade and mayhap I’ll tell you.”
Her bravado was admirable. She didn’t back down even with a sword to her throat. If only the islanders of Seriphus were a bit more like this one, Perseus could have brought a revolt upon King Polydectes with warriors half as brave as her.
Against his better judgment, Perseus slowly lowered the sword. The girl’s eyes watched him carefully, her hands still grasped atop the horse’s saddle. One toe balanced precariously in the stirrup. Thunder boomed in the distance, and she steadied her skittish horse.
“All right. Now tell me. Are you Princess Andromeda or not?”
“I said to put down the blade, not just lower it. I don’t take well to threats from warriors twice my size.”
Egads, the woman was incorrigible. He gripped the hilt of his sword tightly, using his fury to bury it into a stump of a nearby tree. As soon as it left his hand, she had taken advantage of the situation. In one motion, she hoisted herself into the saddle, kicking her heels into the horse’s side and leaving him standing alone.
“Damn!” cursed Perseus, retrieving his sword and replacing it in his scabbard with an angry thrust.
With no time to waste, he mounted his own steed and hurried after her. For a girl, she wasn’t a bad rider at all. Even with her long robe and sitting in a lady’s saddle she still managed to keep ahead of him in the forest. Rain pelted down, washing over Perseus’s face, strands of wet hair trailing across his eyes.
She rounded a bend and all he could see was her hooded cloak trailing in the wind behind her. No woman would make a fool of Perseus, son of Zeus. When he caught her, he’d see to it she never tried such a thing again.
Andromeda rounded the bend, looking over her shoulder for the man called Perseus. She now regretted tricking him in the cave of the oracle. Had she asked him outright to help her slay the sea serpent, he might have considered it - though not likely. But now she’d caused his anger to flare and she didn’t want to know what he’d do with her if he ever caught her.
She rode and watched, but still he did not appear around the bend. Mayhap he’d given up the chase. After all, he said he didn’t have time for slaying a sea serpent, so he probably didn’t have time for chasing her through the forest either. Satisfied her pursuer had abandoned his chase, she stopped near a trickling stream to rest.
She scanned the ground around her before dismounting. Lungs heaving for air, she dropped to the ground, wringing out her wet hair. The rain diminished slowly as the storm passed her by. Her throat feeling parched from speaking in a foreign voice, she dropped to the water, splashing her face and neck, and drinking her fill. She willed her heart to slow, hands on her knees, staring into the stream.
That is when she saw him. His reflection from the tree above appeared wavy in the water. When she turned to look up, she felt as if a heavy weight had been dropped upon her. He had the audacity to jump atop her, laying her back on the ground. He straddled her body with his legs, and she could only be thankful he’d thought to remove his sword. He pinned her arms over her head, and as much as she struggled, she couldn’t move.
“Let go of me,” she yelled. “Who do you think you are to be doing this to me? I’ll make certain they have your head for this!”
The rain gone now, the sun broke through the clouds, illuminating him from behind. Even with his wet scraggly hair, he looked like some sort of god sitting atop her, the grin on his face only angering her further.
“As you already know - I am Perseus.”
“I’ve never heard of you, nor do I really care. Now get off me!” She had heard his name mentioned by the oracle but knew nothing about the man.
“My mother is Danaë, daughter of King Acrisius of Argos.”
He looked at her as if that should mean something, which it didn’t. The names sounded familiar, but did nothing to impress her.
“Why should I care?”
“Son of Zeus?” he asked as if she should know him. “The all-powerful king of the gods,” he finished.
“Son of Zeus?”
She had known he was a demi-god but she never considered he would be the son of Zeus. She stopped struggling and took a closer look. The sun shone a halo of light around his body, almost as if Zeus himself were gracing his son. His regal features did indeed boast the presence of not only a king, but also a god. A demi-god, as the oracle had said he was. He truly would be the perfect one to fight off and kill the sea serpent of Nereus. Still, he angered her with his bold actions probably as much as she’d angered him. She turned her head, exhaling, wondering what to do.
“I’ll release you as soon as you tell me the truth. You’re Princess Andromeda, aren’t you?”
He leaned over, his mouth so close to her face she could feel his breath on her cheek. She turned to look at him and wished she hadn’t.
He stared at her lips and she couldn’t help but stare back at his. At five and twenty years of age, Andromeda knew she had no excuse for still being a virgin. No excuse, except the fact her parents secretly hoped some day the princess of the oracle would accept her back to train her. Her virginity intact, she would have no reason not to qualify for the position.
“And what if I choose not to tell you?” Her eyes roamed from his mouth to his eyes and then back again. The man truly was irresistible.
“Then I will hold you here until you do. I find this position rather intriguing. Don’t you?”
Not only the position, but the man called Perseus intrigued her more than anything had in all her days living as the princess of Thessaly. Still, she would not let him know this. He needed to respect her, be he son of Zeus or not.
“I have a position I find much more intriguing than this. Let us see if you agree.”
Since his legs were spread in a straddle, she used the opportunity to raise her knee toward his groin. But he had anticipated her action, and dropped his entire body down upon her. His attraction for her pressed against her stomach and she knew if she did not break his hold soon, he would be ravishing her right there on the ground. She turned her head and sank her teeth into the flesh of his forearm.
“Arrrgh,” he groaned, quickly releasing her arms and sitting upright.
She used the advantage of the distraction to slip away and headed for her horse. Raising the hem of her skirt, she ran over the damp ground, scurrying to mount. She had almost made it, but halfway up, two strong hands encircled her hips, pulling her back down to the ground. She slammed against the hardness of his chest. His hands gripped her shoulders firmly, but without hurting her.
“I don’t have time for games, wench. Now answer my question or I’ll be forced to tie you up to a tree for the night.”
She didn’t like the sound of that. Not at all. She could see there was no way out of this situation. She would just have to tell him the truth.
“Yes,” she said, raising her chin boldly to look him in the eye. “I am Princess Andromeda, daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia of Thessaly. Now that I have given you what you want, I demand you release me.”
He looked at her curiously and she wondered if he’d heard of her before. Her affirmative answer seemed to satisfy him in a sense, but the hardness of his eyes led her to believe it angered him, too.
“What were you doing on the throne of the oracle?” His fingers slackened and it surprised her to see him lowering his hands to his sides. She glanced downward, planning her escape as she answered.
“I came to the oracle seeking my own answer.”
“How to kill off the sea serpent.” He nodded slightly.
“Yes.” Her eyes traveled back to his, the intensity of his gaze burning a hole right through her. “I spoke to the oracle, but the priestess weakened and was unable to give me my answer. I climbed the chair to talk to the oracle myself.”
“I see.” He took her horse by the reins, an obvious precaution so she wouldn’t try to leave again. His own horse wandered out from behind a rock, munching on grass. She could see his sword strapped against its side. “More likely you didn’t get the answer you wanted and thought to seek out another.”
She jerked back, surprised he should be able to read her so easily. This man, most amazingly, maintained her interest.
He tied the horse to a tree and in two strides stood directly in front of her. She backed up, feeling a tall, rocky wall directly behind her.
“What did the oracle say?” His face came close again, too close for her own comfort. “How is it you are to stop this sea serpent? Do tell me.”
She couldn’t tell him. Wouldn’t. She didn’t doubt for a moment if he knew the truth, he would see to it that she was chained to the sacrificial rock himself. Instead, she directed her attention to the former part of the oracle’s answer.
“The oracle said that only a demi-god like Perseus could slay the sea serpent.”
She had told the truth. Part of it, anyway. She could only hope he did not demand the rest of the answer.
“And why would the oracle say that?”
He reached out with one finger and rubbed it lightly against her cheek. Her eyes closed at the intimacy of his touch, her heart beating faster.
“I . . . I don’t know. I suppose because it’s true.”
He lifted her chin with two fingers, his thumb now stroking her cheek. She noticed him staring at her lips again and unconsciously she wet them with her tongue, just waiting.
“Was there more to this prophetic answer?”
His breath whispered past her wet lips and she felt a surge go through her. Just a little closer and his mouth would be covering hers. Her eyes closed in anticipation.
“Yes!” she exclaimed, then realizing what she had done, opened her eyes wide. Her heart beat against her ribs and she felt her resolve caving in.
“What is the rest of the answer? What other way is there to slay this horrible creature?”
She planned on keeping quiet, but the pad of his thumb tracing her lips as light as a feather distracted her. She dropped her guard as her eyes closed again and she whispered her answer.
“The oracle said the sea serpent could be stopped with a sacrifice.”
She waited for his mouth to touch hers, but it didn’t. His thumb stopped and he withdrew his hand. Her eyes opened when she heard the chuckle in his throat.
“And what kind of sacrifice did the oracle suggest, dear Princess?”
Her hackles rose when she saw the mocking in his eyes. He had never planned on kissing her. He had only used his savvy tactics to seduce the answer from her. Suddenly, she felt very foolish.
“If you want to know, then ask the oracle yourself!”
She pushed past him, but he grabbed her wrist and pulled her back to him.
“That is exactly what I plan on doing. Now mount your horse, Princess, because you are coming with me.”