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Daphnis stopped just inside the tavern door and waited for her eyes to adjust to the dim interior. She’d learned the band of mercenaries called the Tychantes had already reached this Arcadian village of Pheneus when she enquired at the blacksmith’s and he told her about the group of five strangers who entered the tavern not long before her arrival. Now, after inspecting the handful of patrons in the small room, she decided the man at the far corner table most closely matched the spare description of the band leader provided by the smithy. For some reason, she had anticipated someone older and far less comely, so she wasn’t prepared for how the sight of him affected her. With a pang of regret she must be disguised as a man to accomplish her mission, she crossed the room in bold, confident strides until she reached the table.
Deepening her voice, she asked, "Are you Leucos?"
While waiting for him to acknowledge her presence and answer her question, she examined his face. As she looked over his strong brow and jaw, well-defined cheek bones, and sensuous mouth, he raised hooded eyes the color of polished oak to stare up at her.
"Who wants to know?"
His words resonated with warning, and that pleased her. The glamour she had cast to disguise herself as a male succeeded; he didn’t see her as a woman to seduce and conquer. Her natural feminine state would serve no purpose other than to cloud the issue with lustful tension and prejudice. Fortunately, her mother had given her a name which passed for both male and female, so she wouldn’t have to lie about that.
"My name is Daphnis. I’m looking for Leucos because I want to join the Tychantes."
She expected laughter from him, but he surprised her by remaining curiously quiet for a moment. She knew joining the Tychantes would not be easy, but the fate of so many relied on her success. One way or another, she could not fail.
His eyes turned cold, and his gaze raked over her. She reminded herself again he couldn’t detect her femininity.
"Go home to your mother," he growled, lifting his cup and draining it of its contents.
The remark upon her youthful countenance came as no surprise, but she had no way to remedy her appearance without using more energy on the glamour than she could spare. "I’m older than I look. And more experienced."
His mouth slanted in a sneer of disbelief. "How many wars have you fought? How much blood of those you’ve slain in battle stains your blade?"
Having anticipated such questions as well, she replied, "None. But I’ve trained with the best–Cheiron."
His eyes widened. "The Centaur?"
She nodded without expounding on the glory of the renowned teacher. His reputation spoke for itself.
Then Leucos’ scornful laugh echoed throughout the room. He poured more wine from the amphora into his cup. "Next you’ll be telling me you’re the son of a god."
Studying his face and the weathered lines around his eyes crinkling in humor, she hid her surprise. She thought because of his extensive travels and experience he would have already met an immortal or two along the way. Some of them enjoyed mingling with humans and meddling in their affairs.
"Zeus is my father," she said simply.
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