There was dust on the front step. Not because it was rarely used, or because the long legged people that owned the house simply stepped over it. The dust was new, and not quite settled as gusts of breeze stirred it. Little white clouds jumped and sped in the dying sunlight, encouraged by the movement of family.
Kassandra blew the dust away for good as she sat next to the basket it had come from. She picked up one of the rags filling the basket, examining the quality of the fabric and pulling it tight to test its strength. Seeing it strong, Kassandra placed it down on a small pile of similar fabric.
“Don’t mix the piles” her brother grumbled, staring at his spare chiton in the twilight, needle in hand. “I need linen, not a mix.”
“I think that is linen” replied Kassandra, leaning a little closer to Alexios’ handiwork. Though they were rich in drachme, he insisted on repairing his old clothes, from before. She thought it was only a little mad: when her own clothes tore, she bought new ones.
“What are you doing anyway? We can buy new if you’d like”, she said.
He didn’t turn from his work, instead leaning a little further towards it, and away from her.
“Or we can buy more fabric for the repairs. These look to be your old milk cloths.”
He stopped then, and turned his head first to Kassandra, sad glint in his eye, and then to the rags. His old milk cloths? Why would his mother keep his old milk cloths? Alexios picked one up and fingered it slightly. It was a very ordinary piece of fabric, cream in colour, without the stains of the others. Touching the unhemmed edge, he called for past memory and the warmth of love to fill him. And when it did not, he dropped both the cloth and his work and quickly rose to standing.
Kassandra, surprised by his turn, looked up at his full height, no longer the demi-god, but all the boy who was lost. His hair lacked shine, his muscles lacked the tone of constant fight, and his beard was more fully obscuring his face. A pale face, attempting imperviousness. He was never impervious, of course, he felt everything until it became simply noise. Any memory which struck him: the touch of a brand, the cackle of a whip, or the reminder of cold stone floors, pushed him beyond his known comfort and beyond the noise he’d expected. He felt now: the sting of what that noise drowned out.
He started walking west, towards the setting sun.
Kassandra looked after him, but did not follow. She would wait until his tears were shed. She instead picked up the rags that he had carefully selected.
“Mater”, she called into the house. “How do you tell linen from the rest?”
“It’ll likely be rougher and more loosely woven than other fabric; that’s why it is cooler to touch. It’ll also have less diagonal stretch” Myrrine called from the dining table, where she was setting out three plates. Her step-son and husband were at the training grounds, and would miss dinner.
Kassandra examined the rags, and compared them to Alexios’ chiton. Rougher and loosely woven?
She delicately picked up the needle that Alexios had abandoned, and looked at his work. A simple stitch, worked unevenly. The area was usually bound by a belt, so had little strain on it. She guessed that his armour chaffed at the area, causing the weakening fabric and the hole. Kassandra left the parts that he had sewn, and started a blind stitch from the wrong side. Less conspicuous. She wanted Alexios to not be reminded of his armour every time he looked at the garment.
It took her a little time, and her mother eventually provided her with a torch by which to do the work. Kassandra was pleased in a way, being able to quietly do this task for her brother. It was unassuming; neighbourly. A task a friend might do in exchange for a good laugh. She placed the finished item on his cot, and went to find him.
He heard her coming, as he usually did. He hadn’t asked his mater if that was normal or not: whether being able to sense the arrival of someone in particular was something everyone could do. He wondered if Kassandra could sense him, too.
His legs were dangling over the edge of the temple wall, as the cool night air moved along his shoulders and through his soul. He felt incredibly exposed without his leathers. It had only been a few days since he sold them, gaining enough drachma to buy his mother a new chest for her things. He’d broken the last one in one of his sleep-walking episodes, convinced it was keeping a white and black mask hidden. She’d forgiven him, of course, but he still insisted on its replacement.
“I ate your portion of dinner” Kassandra said, sitting down next to him. “I hope you don’t mind: mater certainly did.”
He gave a weak smile, acknowledging her joke but not giving her the benefit of a laugh. They looked over the mountains together, both unwilling to break the silence. Soon, the call of a faraway bird interrupted the revery. It was Icarus, floating towards them on a favourable tailwind. He swooped, and settled between them, offering Kassandra the skink lizard he had just caught.
“Thanks”, she said hesitantly, holding the lizard between her pointer and thumb. Unsure what to do with it, she placed it down next to her brother. Icarus squawked indignantly, sensing the rejection of his offering. “Just eat it yourself Icarus, you deserve it.”
“Your chatter is making me uncomfortable” barked Alexios, eyes still wet.
“I wouldn’t have to chatter if we had something, anything to talk about” Kassandra replied.
“Then let’s talk about the weather, or the state of the treasury, or the kids currently being fed to lions at the bottom of that hill, or weaving skills, or masks, or how I can’t run more than a mile anymore when I used to be able to run fifty, or how Mater never forgot us even though we forgot her or-”.
“You didn’t forget her; you just weren’t told about her” Kassandra interrupted, fully facing her little brother now.
“Which is as good as forgetting. I had nothing to forget, just the dark. She was nothing to me.” His speech was breathless by the end, pushed through clenched teeth.
“She’s here now. We’re here now. We can meet each other again.”
Alexios blinked rapidly, and looked at his hands. The hands that had strangled, struck, and bled his sister. The sister who was facing him, now, in vulnerability without weapons or armour, to hear him weep for his lost mater.
Why does your mind always go there? he thought. She could be in armour and still love you.
He stood up abruptly, and grabbed for the paring knife that he kept at his hip.
“I don’t need anyone. I’m going. I just need-, I just need to go and find some tree to cut down.”
Kassandra, hiding her mild fear at the knife he was holding at her eye level, nodded. She turned her back to reach her water skin, and force a calm tone.
“I’ll be back at the house. When you get home, I’ll show you how to sew a blind stitch.”
But he was gone.