Pamela’s curls, usually so carefully styled and pressed to either side of her head before being draped with flowers, hung loosely around her neck. The makeup that usually adorned her face had mostly been sweated off. And she wore nothing, not even a slip. Mopsa was used to seeing her like this, each morning and each night as she and Pamela’s other maidservants carefully adorned her. But never from behind, feeling Pamela’s warmth against her own, never with her arm around Pamela’s waist and her hand resting on her soft stomach, never with Pamela’s hand holding hers even in her sleep. Mopsa was struck by how beautiful the princess was close up, and then blushed, remembering how many times Pamela had called her beautiful that night. It must have been hundreds and hundreds: she’d whispered it in her ear, shouted it into a pillow, stated it calmly as an oracle before going to sleep.
“Mopsa,” she’d said, stroking Mopsa’s tousled curls, “beautiful, divine,” before laying down and taking the maidservant’s hand in hers.
And in that moment Mopsa truly felt beautiful. She became conscious of the glow of her own clear skin, the light dancing in her own eyes, the way her own hair fell in the moonlight. Her ears grew hot, and she could only respond, haltingly, “gracious your form and your eyes as honey / desire is poured upon your lovely face Aphrodite has honored you exceedingly.”
“--Sappho,” she added, when Pamela looked confused. “She’s all the rage in Lesbos. You should hear the rest of her work, there’s tons and tons of it.”
Pamela laughed. “I’ll be honest. I want to agree, but...Aphrodite favors you far more than she ever favored me.”
Mopsa felt incredibly lucky. So much so, coupled with her exhaustion from the long night’s events (and oh, how many events) that she forgot her usual apprehension around falling asleep, and by the time she’d closed her eyes and rested her cheek on Pamela’s soft shoulder blades, she’d journeyed into the land of Queen Mab.
She was sitting beside Pamela, in her chambers. She braided the princess’s hair as Pamela wove a bright and vivid tapestry, depicting scenes of women dancing on Lesbos. Then suddenly: an enormous, expressionless horde of suitors, more than she could possibly count. At first Mopsa only watched with dread as they brushed past her, each glaring at her with ice-blue eyes.
They were separating Mopsa and Pamela, surrounding her, drawing weapon descending one after another, an overwhelming force. The blows didn’t hurt, but each one laid down a new jolt of fear, until the suitors swarmed together into one gargantuan man, spike-eyed, sword-armed. Mopsa tried to run, but she was frozen to the floor as the creature, taking Pamela by one hand, lunged for her throat with the other--
And she jerked upright in the tent beside Pamela, sweat and tears blending as they ran down her cheeks. She found herself wailing, and clamped her hands over her mouth lest she wake the others.
It was Pamela, sitting up beside her and rubbing her eyes. “You really should be quieter in your sleep,” she mumbled, clearly not quite awake yet. “If you’re not careful I could get a hnshhx...some shmfff…..some bags under my eyes, could you imagine?”
Typical Pamela. Mopsa’s cheeks felt suddenly hot. “How dare I disturb her highness’s b-beauty sleep.” But her heart wasn’t in the snippy remark, and she leaned forward and hugged her knees, feeling oddly small.
Soft arms encircled her own, and she felt Pamela’s chest pressed to her back. The other woman pulled back after a moment to rub Mopsa’s back. Her hand was warm and gentle, rubbing circles into Mopsa’s skin.
“Darling.” Pamela must have truly awoken. “Oh, forgive my barbed tongue. It’s true I need my beauty sleep, but I’m a beast when I first awaken, I’m sure you know this. The thorn that grows upon the rose. Was it visions? Suitors, perhaps?”
The comforting gesture, strangely, made Mopsa begin to cry harder, and she allowed herself to sink into Pamela’s embrace. Even though she knew, rationally, that everything was fine, still her heart raced with fear, as if the enormous man would burst through the door at any moment. “How did you know?”
Pamela pressed her lips to Mopsa’s shoulder. Carefully. She did everything for Mopsa so carefully, Mopsa had noticed, which was strange, coming from someone who was normally given to being careless. “I’ve had the same,” she whispered, confessionally. “A long line of men, and I have to choose between them, but I always choose wrong…” She looked at Mopsa. “I guess there was only ever one choice.”
Mopsa flushed. “My--my Pamela.” She turned towards her, and buried her face in the other woman’s shoulder. “I wouldn’t like to go back to sleep.”
“Come,” said Pamela. Let’s go for a walk in the moonlight, and simply talk until you’ve all but forgotten these dreams.”
Pamela slid a shift over her own head and one over Mopsa’s, and they left the tent. The night air was cool on their skin, and the two walked for hours, hands entwined, talking about dreams, oracles, and the adventures they’d had while separated. Mopsa noticed Pamela stealing glances at their hands, as if to check Mopsa was really holding her hand, as if to check that this was real. It was.
By the time they reached the tents again, the sky was glowing a soft pink. Mopsa groaned. “I’m sorry, my dear, I’ve kept us up so late, and now tomorrow we’ll be exhausted.”
Pamela tilted the lady-in-waiting’s face to hers. “Don’t be silly, love,” she said. “I told you I’ve had such dreams myself. And you’ve always been so kind to me, I…” She hesitated. “I’faith I always wanted to do something kind for you.”
She smiled, and moved to unbutton her shift. “Besides, it’s not morning yet.”
Mopsa smiled back, and fastened the door of the tent.