The father led him to a building that would have been unmistakably a government edifice, even without the “Chico City Hall” carved over its square columned façade.
The second floor contained a large area given over to “The Department of Taxes and Bounties.” It sounded a great deal more organized than the frontier town had led him to expect.
“So many of the farmers use their occasional bounty toward paying their taxes that they combined the functions.” Father Odeil led the way to the bounties desk. As usual, he greeted the man by name. “Fred, you keeping busy?”
“Nah, it’s been slow. For all the reports of bandits, damn few have gotten caught. What you got?” His eyebrows rose as Odeil brought out his grisly sack.
“These will need to be parceled out, toward taxes, mostly. We fought off a pack of them at Red Cliffs. So, one each for the Prestons’ and the Bakers’, two for the Archers. Adrasos, are you going to put a claim in on the fourth farm, there?”
“Yes, I think so. It would be a good spot to start from, but I don’t know that I have enough.”
The two women behind Fred had been listening, and the younger one stepped into another room, and returned with a large ledger book, and opened it.
“Corner Four at Red Cliffs. Abandoned unproven, taxes $322 per annum.” Fred flipped back three pages and reached for a pen.
The older woman had taken the sack, and was pulling out the skull caps. Adrasos blinked and squinted. She had a faint glow of power around her, and she was applying it to each trophy.
She nodded in satisfaction. “Nine. All Demons.” Her eyes drifted toward Adrasos and she rubbed her eyes.
Adrasos hastily closed up his shields up tighter, trying to not leak any more glow than the old woman was showing. She nodded thoughtfully, and took the nasty bag away.
Fred was making notes in his ledger. “Two for the Archers. One for the Prestons and one for the Bakers. And the other five bounties?”
“One for the Monastery, and four for Adrasos here.”
"All yours? I am impressed. That’s better than half the taxes on the fourth corner there. That’s enough to claim it, and when you pay the rest, you get title to it.” His hand hovered over the ledger.
Adrasos hesitated, then shook his head. “My family will need money these two weeks while I’m off with the troops. And the other men assisted in the fighting. Best I share with them.”
So with a hundred and eighty dollars in his pockets, he followed Father Odeil west through a maze of streets and older defensive walls and out a smaller gate. The family was camped along Big Chico Creek with a fair amount of space between them and other parties camping there. Adrasos doled out money to the guards, Yainni, his mother and Adelphie. “Don’t spend a penny more than you must, and we’ll have a home by fall.” He nodded to include the guards. “We’ll all support each other, no reason you can’t have a home farm as well, even if you mostly hunt, gold mine or chase Bandits for the bounties. For now, the Commander here is sending troops down to check around Red Cliffs. He’s short of men, and pays two dollars a day for civilians to join in and help. I’ll be going with them.”
The others met their wives’ eyes and then they all nodded. Gennadios snorted in disdain and Phadros grumbled.
“Right. The five of us, then.”
Father Odeil suppressed a smile at the sight of the men casually happening by the Greeks’ campsite. Word of three unattached women had brought out the bachelors of Chico in force, ready to haul water or split firewood in hopes of getting past the fierce tongue of Adrasteia.
“Bah. Adelphie isn’t over losing Endocrates yet, and she may be pregnant—hard to say with all this strain and upset. But truth be told, I think all these men are trying to steal my cook. Hecuba is looking rather smug over the attention and Despoina is flirting outrageously. Their reputations are going to be ruined!”
Odeil looked over to where Hecuba was reducing four hares to chunks of meat that would no doubt melt in the mouth and tingle the taste buds. “I can’t say I’m surprised. They can’t be but thirty years of age.”
And Adrasteia must have married incredibly young, to still be such an astounding beauty.
“Well, a bit more, but they’ve had protected lives up until . . . well. No use bringing up the past. Men never do think about the whole family suffering for their misbehavior.”
Father Odeil fought a losing battle with his curiosity. “I did wonder how you ended up out here. Surely your father didn’t do anything . . . outrageous.”
“Out . . .” Her forehead knit as he exceeded her vocabulary, but she swept it away with a gesture, drawing his eye to the soft mounds of her breasts as they moved. “Gennadios. I should throw him out. Trash! Find a better husband.” Her eyes strayed toward the man chopping wood for Hecuba’s fire, and the two carrying buckets of water. Her nose wrinkled in disgust.
Father Odeil choked a bit. “You cannot . . . well, there are procedures to follow . . . oh my. Husbands are not so easily disposed of, here.”
She gave a snort of dismissal. “He had better behave himself, then.”
“Indeed.” Father Odeil sighed. “I will talk to him, and perhaps mention a few things to him.”
She tucked in a corner of her luscious mouth, probably trying to not laugh at him. He smiled back, and retreated from temptation.
Gennadios curled a lip in a perfect sneer. “I’m her third husband, and even your God doesn’t know how many lovers she’s had.”
Father Odeil rubbed his head. I think I liked these people better when I could only talk to Adrasos. He tried for a neutral subject. “What is your home like? I’ve read old books about Greece, but I have no idea what happened in the War, or during the Strangeness seven years ago.”
“Huh. Minos. We’re a wealthy region, good soil, water. We have a king, we call him the God King, but everyone knows it’s just magic. He’s not a god. He’s got two sons. The oldest is a wastrel, he’s gone through seven wives so far, and who knows how many lovers. Eighteen that the public knows about. The second son married a Goddess from the next City-State, so he has to behave.” Gennadios chuckled. “Or not get caught. Adrasteia seduced him when she was sixteen, but he’s never acknowledged Adrasos. Xenocrates’ only got one legitimate child, he ought to have adopted Adrasos, to keep the other boy on his toes.”
Father Odeil thought all that over, and sighed. “Well, perhaps Adrasos isn’t magical enough to be called a God.” Dear God, that explains a lot about how Adrasos could see the bandits coming at night. Maybe even his extraordinary fighting ability.
Gennadios shrugged. “He went to the Akademi. And joined the Elite Guards.” He glowered. “Only his intervention saved our lives. That bitch went crawling to the God Prince who tossed her out and confessed all. But Heliodoros wouldn’t kill his half brother’s family, and just declared us all dead, and exiled us.”
Odeil chewed that over a bit. “Declared you all dead. What about Adelphie? Is her husband dead?”
“No. And he didn’t join us.” He spat over his shoulder in disgust. “Adrasos is such a good boy. He grabbed Peep and got her away so she didn’t get raped when the guards arrested the rest of us.” He sagged suddenly. “He is a good man. I don’t hate him. I hate me. He saved Peep, and I can’t even make myself thank him.”
Father Odeil suppressed a whimper. It keeps getting worse. “The women were all raped? By the guards!”
“Maybe not the servants. They do it to take away a woman’s magic. Some fools think that works. As if Adrasteia could be shocked by any kind of sex. Poor Adelphie, married six weeks, she was visiting when the guards came. Now that’s a shame. Some one ought to tell those poor hard working boys out there that she won’t even think about it for a year or more, nice girl like her.”
Father Odeil sat down. “What a mess. I hope you aren’t going to do anything else.”
Gennadios laughed, a bitter note in it. “Fat chance. I’m married to the most beautiful and desirable women on this whole benighted. . . continent. I need to protect my position above all. It’s . . . gotten a bit shaky.”
“Ah. That’s good.” Odeil smiled weakly and fled. He needed to do some praying. And perhaps planning. Amazing, how quickly all of them are learning English. I think they must all have some magic. But there was one thing he was sure of.
This family needed God’s help and guidance. Badly.