“What is this, Alexios?” Stentor snapped as he woke up to find his wrists loosely bound in front of him and without his clothes, armour or weapons anywhere to be seen.
“It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?” In contrast to Stentor, Alexios was fully clothed and armed, sitting on a chair next to the door as if he was expecting someone. Or wanted to prevent Stentor form leaving.
Stentor pushed off the bindings and crossed his arms over his chest, glaring at Alexios. “This is ridiculous.”
“It’s tradition”, Alexios replied with a shrug.
“Is that why you lured me to this shed last night?” Stentor had readily agreed when Alexios had suggested spending some time away from their parents.
“Hey, this is my house”, Alexios looked genuinely offended. “I used to live here.”
“I am not your bride, Alexios.”
“You are if father doesn’t find you until tonight. Don’t worry, I am playing fair. I left a note for him on the ship.” That was actually more than what was required by tradition, but of course neither Nikolaos nor Myrrhine probably knew where Alexios’ house was located on Kephallonia.
“Or until I escape”, Stentor pointed out. Had he been a girl, honour would’ve demanded of him to at least try to escape, even if it would an easily foiled plan.
“Or that”, Alexios said a little too uncommittedly to sound genuine.
If he demanded it, Stentor realised, Alexios would let him go. But did he want to go? His pride demanded yes, because he was no one’s bride, but there was something else at stake here. Alexios and he had been sleeping together for nearly a year now but this was the first push for more commitment.
And appropriately for Alexios, it was dramatic, over the top and strangely touching.
“First I need to hear what you’re offering my father as a bride price.”
“What?” Alexios sounded surprised at Stentor’s demand.
“The Bride Price”, Stentor repeated. “I am a Spartan Polemarch who has won many battles for Sparta. You better compensate my father adequately.”
A delighted look passed over Alexios’ face but Stentor pretended to not notice. “Well, I have a house.”
“I am worth more than a shack on a godsforsaken island so far off I can see the edge of the map on the horizon.”
Alexios had the audacity to glare at him. “I meant the house in Sparta.”
Stentor tilted his head approvingly. “Go on.”
“Spartans do not go to sea.” Or at least traditionally they hadn’t, but this seemed to change, too, like so many things. Stentor wasn’t sure if it was a change he appreciated or not. Even after sailing with Alexios for more than a year in the name of diplomacy and spreading Sparta’s glory to the world, he didn’t feel completely at ease, not like Alexios did.
Now it was Alexios turn to roll his eyes. “And part of a vineyard on Kos.”
“Really?” That was the first time Stentor had heard about that.
“And it’s the last you ever going to heart of it. The wine…is not very good”, Alexios shuddered.
“If it so bad, why mention it in the first place?” Stentor asked.
“You wanted to know what I could offer you, so I told you the truth.”
“And the truth is that you’d offer our father part of a vineyard that produces a wine so horrible the memory makes you shudder”, Stentor summed the situation up dryly.
“The point is that I’ll offer father everything in exchange for your hand”, Alexios huffed.
He tried to downplay it, but Stentor could see he was naxious for an answer. The question was whether Stentor could commit to him, whether he thought this relationship of theirs held a chance against the winds of time?
“Then perhaps I should make a counter-offer”, Stentor replied and rose from the bed. He took the rope that he had pushed off earlier and wrapped it loosely around Alexios’ wrists.
“And what – “
A sharp knock on the door interrupted him, followed by Nikolaos’ voice calling his name. “Stentor, are you in there?”
Stentor looked Alexios straight in the eyes when he raised his voice and replied, “I am not. You must be mistaken.”
Myrrhine’s fair laugh could be heard in response. “We must have gotten the wrong house, Nikolaos.”
“So it seems”, Nikolaos replied gruffly. “Alexios?”
“I found your letter and you have my – “a rustling of clothes could be heard followed by a small hiss, “our blessings in your endeavour.”
“Take care”, Myrrhine added, “And we’ll expect you back on the ship in a few days.”
“Thank you”, Alexios called out to them. “I will see you soon.”
They waited a few more moments until the steps retreated into the distance, then Alexios laughed and wrapped his arms around Stentor, kissing him passionately.
Stentor understood his elation only too well. Their father’s approval of their relationship, of Alexios’ push for commitment and recognition in the eyes of Sparta, meant more than he could say.
“So”, Alexios said when he eventually broke the kiss, but kept his arms around Stentor. “Your counter-offer?”
“Such an offer is hardly needed since my father has already approved yours”, Stentor replied. “Although if the wine from that Kos vineyard is as bad as you said, he might withdraw his blessing once he tasted it.”
“In that case we are never going to sail even near Kos”, Alexios said, grabbing Stentor’s thigh and hoisting him up in his arms. Years ago, his strength had been a thorn of envy in Stentor’s side. Now it only excited him.
“You are a ridiculous man”, Stentor said but kissed him anyway. “Besides, my father’s blessing is only part of the tradition.”
“What else is there?” Alexios asked, nipping at the delicate skin of Stentor’s throat.
“Take me to bed”, Stentor phrased it like a command and for once Alexios was only too happy to obey. As he shed his armour and weapons, Stentor watched him with a new hunger that he hadn’t felt before. Perhaps it was the knowledge that all of this, all of Alexios was his and his alone that made him ravenous. It was a hunger he never wanted to sate.