“Food.” The wood door of the hut crashed open and light streamed in. A woman stood in the doorway, rifle cradled in one arm, covered basket in the other. She set the basket down, scooted it toward him with her foot, and stood back warily. “You eat now.”
The English was awkward, intonation wrong, like she was just parroting the phrase. She was a short woman, probably about thirty though her weatherbeaten face looked older. Short and thickly built, she looked strong. She was wearing cross-strapped leggings and a rough wool tunic with an ammo belt. One side of her head had the usual thick dark peasant braid, the other cut short and bristly. Made her square features look lopsided beneath a black headband with a white design of a spiral and a staring eye.
He gritted his teeth and leaned over to pull the basket closer. Ignoring the hunks of bread and cheese, he grabbed the plastic water bottle and took long greedy swallows. He leaned back to catch his breath, eyeing her. Moisture glinted over her hair and shoulders. Clearing his throat, he thanked her in Greek. “It’s raining? That’s good, with the drought.”
She looked startled. “Only a little, a storm from the earthquake.” Then she caught herself, gripping the rifle tighter. “You speak Greek, yet you come from America?”
“Piraeus, now. Where am I? Why are you keeping me here?”
She frowned. “We would have killed you, but we think you’re not one of the mercenaries invading our mountain. You were with Ariadne Demodakis?”
“That’s right.” They must not have found her.
“If we didn’t believe that, we would kill you now. Though she won’t need you when she joins us. We allow men only for the ceremonies.” A cryptic smile. Her head tilted toward his chest. “Did she give you that necklace?”
“I— Yes, she gave it to me.” He realized with annoyance he was touching the polished crystal again, and he dropped his hand onto the blanket. “What do you mean, when she joins you?” Corybantes, that was it, Ariadne had said that . . . last night? He racked his brain. News clips hadn’t said much about them, really. But there was something. . . .
“No more questions.” Her eyes shifted uneasily from the pendant. “Take the food out and push the basket back. There’s pain medicine, too. Your leg is broken, so don’t think you can escape.”
He tossed the basket to her feet. She picked it up and backed to the doorway.
“How long are you going to keep me here? What do you want with me?”
“Rest. You’ll be questioned later.” She started to pull the door shut.
“Damn it, wait! You can’t just—”
“We do what we will, what no man tells us.” She turned back to regard him impassively. “You look like strong stock. If you obey, we might let you recover to be crowned the vine king. To claim the throne and its pleasures for the rest of your life.”
“What?” His head was throbbing again. “Vine king? But you allow no men. . . .”
Again the odd smile, before the door latched shut. “The vine king reigns only for one night.”
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