This is scenario development for an ancient Greek/Roman inspired low/historical fantasy story about godhood, dehumanization, and violence. The main character (for now) is Enio Dexanihilites, the only daughter of a countryside warlord who serves as a client for a more advanced city-state. The driving force behind the conflicts is her marriage to a powerful man from this city and its cascading effects on their immediate associates, especially Enio’s brother Therion, a famous soldier, and her father, who attributes every hardship in his life to punishment for some great blasphemy he once committed. It’s sort of percolating while I work on a new novel and an upcoming web project.
Enio loves Therion as dear as breath itself, and Therion loves quiet. So she doesn’t say anything as he comes in, stinking of the insides of men and his own sweat. She just gets up and shuffles up to him, ready to undo the clasps on his armor. His face is painted crimson, thick grease and pounded cinnabar, since blood cannot be trusted not to turn brown. Real blood lays in rusty flakes all over him, matted in the coarse hair on his legs and arms. His armor, at least, was cleaned, but his red cloak is stiff from the stuff. The smell of him is abhorrent. It makes Enio’s eyes water.
That, of course, and not the knowledge that he is about to start yelling. Therion may hate loud noise but he can raise a din like the best of dogs. The poets are already giving him epithets, Enio thinks, as she peels his breastplate from him. His tunic is yellow with grime. Screamer, they’re calling him, and Spear-Shaker, and Shield-Pounder, and Butcher. Enio wonders if her father is pleased. All those names are his fault. All the miseries of his children and all the miseries of the children upon which his son is loosed, those are all blood on his hands. Not that he’s actually come home bloody any time in the last few decades.
Stripped of armor and clothes, dressed only in the flaking, rotting blood of who knows how many people and his crimson face-paint, Therion is terrifying. He’s the biggest man Enio has ever seen, broader than any two others, barrel-chested and long-legged. Scars creep like grapevines on his skin, blooming into clusters where there are burns or spear-wounds. One of his nipples was overtaken by scar tissue and his navel, where he was joined to Mother, disappeared while he recovered from his first evisceration.
He crouches down, head still level with Enio’s ribs, and she upends a pitcher of hot water over his back. Most other men his age have a wife to do this for them, but Therion is about as interested in marriage as he is in agriculture.
When is he gonna start shouting? Enio has been dreading this for weeks.
Therion doesn’t make a sound, just stays there until the water runs clear, then steps into the bath proper, which is sunk into the floor. The crimson paint will have to be scraped off, and he’ll have to do that himself. He gets anxious when others approach him with anything vaguely blade-shaped, even a strigil. Anxious is the word Enio uses, of course, because outside of her own inner monologue, ‘furious and prone to snapping fingers, breaking wrists, you know, all the things that can be expected when one is violently disarmed’ is a bit of a mouthful. He looks like his real father, red paste caked in his beard, massive and scowling in the flickering candlelight of the bathhouse.
He sucks in a deep breath. Enio’s own breath stops. Then he plunges himself under the water, and the sound of him bellowing is just audible under the churning bubbles. Enio watches him digs his fingers into his scalp under the water. His feet come out of the water and brace on the opposite side of the bath.
The Screamer, the poets call him. She wonders if this scream is just as loud to him as the ones during battle. She guesses that these things aren’t really meant for her to know. Even Therion has his secrets. She goes to fetch some fragrant herbs, mostly so she doesn’t have to look at his contorted face anymore.
The bathhouse opens up to an interior garden, kept divided from the rest of the courtyard by tall walls. It’s full of flowers and herbs and any other thing one might want to throw in a bath. Things that are pleasant to look at while you’re soaking. Enio appreciates it, though she’s not sure Therion does, and Mother loves it. Enio is still at one of the trees, pulling buds from a low-hanging branch, when Therion splashes back to the surface, gasping for air.
“Did you even fight him, Enio?” he demands.
Enio comes back with two handfuls of flowers, nods affirmative as she drops them in the water. She can’t meet Therion’s gaze.
“Did you speak, Enio? Did you speak?”
It takes her a moment to get her voice to work.
“Yes, I did, I promise.” It’s quavery, not steel-cold and collected like it was when she argued with her father. “He didn’t listen. I promise I fought. I promise.”
She goes around to the other side of the bath, where Therion leans back, and crouches at his shoulder like she has for years. Therion doesn’t look at her. The heat of the bathwater has melted some of the greasepaint. Not enough to come off but enough to ooze, to smooth the cracks back out. He looks even less human than before.
Less or more? Enio supposes the distinction isn’t that important. Either way, it’s an inhuman look. He looks like he would eat the heart out of her father if he could get away with it.
He could. Who, practically speaking here, could physically stop him? And they’re always saying he’s half-god, anyway. It would be his divine right to gorge himself with human blood, to gnash raw meat and living bone between his teeth. Like an animal, like his real father, the Ravager, god of war and killing.
Filial piety? It stops Enio from sabotaging her father’s plans. Some might say that for Therion to turn Dexanihilus Philodorites into a shrine of butchery would be filial piety of the highest degree.
Therion is not only big, he is fast. He grabs Enio with both arms and yanks her into the hot water with him before she even notices him tensing. The splash douses one of the nearby candles. He crushes her to his chest and curls around her, smearing crimson paint into her hair. She worms her arms from between them and wraps them around his bull’s neck and makes absolute certain that she does not speak.
She’d like to cry. She’d like to say, “I’m scared, Therion, do something.” “I don’t want to go, don’t let him send me away.” “Please, please, help me.” But then he might, and she will have murdered her father. It is the one who swings the sword that does the deed, not the sword itself.
She says nothing. Since Therion loves quiet, she’s gotten very good at it.
“Bastard,” Therion spits, nuzzling closer, grinding the paint in deeper. “He’s a landlord, not a fucking pimp. How dare he sell you like a whore.”
It is not beyond him, Enio knows, that all father sell their daughters. But, more so even than other men, Therion gets swept up in his rages.
“To some city rat. They shit in the streets like dogs in cities. It’s no way to live. Didn’t I just get back from toppling a city?”
A city the one to which she will soon be going called ‘enemy.’ They make alliances just the same as citadels.
“Do you even know the man’s name?”
“Quintilus Magnus Paterdorus,” Enio supplies. “They use the new nomenclature in the city.”
“New nomenclature!” He exclaims it like she’s just accused them of infant sacrifice. “Too good for the gods, I suppose!”
Mother says they’ve got beautiful temples to the gods, including the Ravager. A temple to the Mother that will bring tears to Enio’s eyes, and craftsmen who make in-home shrines to shame the temples here in the citadel. This information won’t mean anything to Therion, so Enio keeps it to herself. She’s a bit nervous about it anyway. When she goes away, her name will be changed. Enio Quintilla Paterdora. Her current name was modeled after the by-names of the gods; in the city they have, to use their word, ‘secularized.’
Footsteps sound, but Therion doesn’t turn her loose, so Enio can’t see who it is. They’re light though, and the brush of fabric on the floor says it must be Mother. Indeed, there’s a pause, then a sigh that can only be hers.
“Therion, let your sister go, you’re hurting her.”
Therion does loosen his grip a bit, but not enough for Enio to actually escape. Just enough for her to push past his shoulder and meet Mother’s face. The lines are deeper than they were this morning. Worry weighs the corners of her mouth down, turn her pleasantly fat cheeks to jowls. Her son’s behaviors weigh heavy on her at all times. Fear for her husband must be on the forefront of her mind, too. Enio’s sure that after years and a dozen other children by him, she must have developed some fondness for the man.
She comes alongside the tub and leans down, chubby hand dwarfed by her eldest son’s massive shoulder.
“This is how it was going to be, man of my heart,” she counsels. This isn’t what Therion wants to hear, of course, but from his mother he’s got no choice but to listen. “Maybe if your other sisters had lived… but Enio is all that remains.”
“That’s just more reason she should stay here.” Therion’s arms tighten around Enio’s waist and now he’s getting the paint on her dress, too. It’ll have to be turned into a tunic, the cinnabar, the symbolic blood, will never come out.
“Therion, don’t be childish, and don’t be so selfish. Enio deserves to have a husband. And children of her own.”
The air turns to aspic as Therion’s opinions on that come bubbling up his throat, only to be swallowed.
“Yes, Mother,” he growls.
“You will be supportive of her while she is adjusting to the idea. You will be sympathetic. You will not start a physical altercation with your father, do you understand me?”
Mother never treats Therion like a half-god, nor does she give any credence to the idea that he is anything other than the son of Dexanihilus. She says she feels like she’d remember if she lay with the Ravager. And, she’s always sure to point out, even if the Ravager was his actual father, who’s the one that clothed Therion, who bathed him, who taught him how to use a sword, how to read? Who’s the one whose house Therion lives in?
Mother is afraid of Therion, of course. But she never lets it stop her. Enio wishes she was half as brave as Mother.
“You’ve betrayed me,” Therion says as Mother rises.
She freezes, face turning white as her dress for a moment.
“…maybe so,” she finally says, voice tight with fear and the heaviness of her admission. “Maybe I did, Therion. But if so, it was for your sister. I wish you’d stop acting like you’re the only person in the whole world who loves her.”
He has nothing to say to that. Even furious, Therion’s not so stupid that he thinks Mother doesn’t love Enio.
Enio’s not so stupid that she thinks Mother had nothing to do with this marriage. It was probably Father’s idea, of course, but Enio’s father isn’t entirely without decency. He wouldn’t send Mother’s only living daughter away without her leave. It might even have been Mother’s idea to send her so far away. Where Therion can’t get her husband.
Mother has always cared far more for decorum than Enio’s father. Thus far, Therion has never crossed the line from which there can be no backtracking. The fact remains that his treatment of his sister is… inappropriate. Most people ignore it. Therion, after all, is half-god, and so good at all the intricacies of war and killing that he can be forgiven for his personal defects. Those that disapprove make excuses on his behalf. Having lost his other sisters and brothers to war, they argue, who could blame Therion for being so close to Enio? Who could blame him for not trusting her safety to other men? It was other, lesser, mortal men who couldn’t protect her before.
Enio knows it’s more than that. So does Mother. Whether or not Enio’s father knows isn’t really her concern. Decorum demands that Therion be less familiar with his sister. Male nudity is nothing between siblings, but this has nothing to do with the bath and everything to do with the scream. Everything to do with the fact that Therion’s closest confidant is not his best friend or a boy lover or even his teacher, but a nineteen year old girl, who ought to have children by now.
Mother had Therion when she was fifteen years old and had just gotten married to Father. Enio has lost four whole years, and, at the pace her mother was going, that’s three children. The blame for this can be squarely placed on Therion.
Enio doesn’t want children. Mostly because she grew up knowing that Therion hates loud noises, and babies are famous the world over for not knowing how to shut up. That she’d leave her father’s house never occurred to her. But of course he can’t marry her to any of the locals. They all know Therion would leap at the excuse to kill the man who dared try to sleep with his sister.
In Therion’s mind, Enio knows, no man will ever be able to sleep with her. Any who tries is nothing but a rapist. Whether this is a symptom of lifelong soldiering or her own reservedness or the war that stole their other siblings, it’s what he thinks. Mother’s request might not be enough to stop Therion from trying to fight Enio’s father. Therion believes the man is giving a stranger leave to violate her.
Enio doesn’t let herself think of whether or not that’s the case. She doesn’t want to start crying.
“They’re going to kill me,” Therion says into her stomach. His hands have begun to tremble.
“Worse than kill me. They’re gutting me.”
He pushes her back. Tears well up in his eyes, make them glitter like jewels under his twisted brows.
“Everything good about me is wrapped up in you. If they take you away from me—” His voice breaks and the tears drop, cutting slow trails through the crimson paint. “—if they take you away, everything human about me will die.”
“That isn’t true.” She keeps her voice low and calm, as Therion prefers, and pushes his hair back from his face. It’s red, like Mother’s, and like the Ravager’s.
“You know it is. The only thing that separates me from a wolf is you.”