When I was nine years old, my cousin Paris managed to climb up thirty feet to my bedroom, haul himself over the railings of the balcony outside, and come crashing onto the floor with a loud thump that woke me up with a jump. He recovered instantly, though, as most young boys are apt to do irregardless of how wounded they are, and moved stealthily across the room to where I sat on my bed, staring open-mouthed at him.
The first thing he did was to silence me, then he whispered conspiratorially, "I've stolen Father's horse. Let's you and I ride away on it and explore Troy properly."
He was always an imp, that handsome cousin of mine, with his dark brown curls carefully brushed to make it seem as though they were carelessly strewn over his head, and his dark eyes twinkling with mischief. Even at ten, Paris was a dandy and well-versed in ways of charming the fairer sex. I was nine and, having scarcely anybody but Paris for a companion, practically adored him.
We sneaked off without anybody knowing; not even the mean old head servant who usually glided about waiting for Paris or I to get into trouble; and he hoisted me onto the horse. Young though he was, he was a capable rider, and soon we were out of the palace and into the sleeping city of Troy.
It was a beautiful day, neither too cold nor too sunny, with fragrant breezes wafting through our hair. We ate berries, chased butterflies, stole a few fruits from the marketplace while staring at the housewives shopping, joined in a running competition, and had a generally wonderful time until night fell and we began to feel the first pangs of fear.
"Don't worry, I know the way home," Paris said, but he didn't. His normally laughing eyes were roving to and fro as though trying to recognize the looming shadows of people and the silhouettes of trees he'd never seen, and I sighed behind him, longing for home and all of its comforts. I was tired by then; there was a huge scratch on my ankle, my skirt was torn, and most unpleasant of all – my stomach was rumbling.
We rode on for a while, not seeing a single familiar object, when suddenly, out of the darkness materialized the one person whom we'd both been silently yearning for.
"Hector!" both of us shrieked at the same time, and I almost fell off the horse in my eagerness to be in my older cousin's safe embrace.
Hector must have been seething with rage, but he said nothing at that time – only held me close, stroked my hair, and wiped the tears of relief off my dusty cheeks. How secure, how comforting it was to be in those strong arms…to know that I was no longer lost, and to know that home was not so far away!
Paris, though just as glad as I was to see his brother, remained seated on the horse, his face troubled. "Do you love me, brother?" were the first words he spoke. "Will you fight for me no matter what?"
Hector looked at him sternly. "I think I should take you back," he said.
With Hector leading the way, we arrived at the palace in what seemed a mere matter of minutes. How was it that Paris and I had wandered round and round, seemingly a hundred miles away?
Just before entering the palace, Hector stopped and turned to face us. "Everyone has been worried sick about both of you," he said, more calmly than I expected him to. "Hecuba has been crying since the morning." He half-glared at us, his eyes like goblets of fire. "Neither of you know your way around Troy yet. How could you have done such a reckless, irresponsible thing?" He then directed his gaze at Paris. "You, Paris, how could you have taken Briseis away like that? Surely you know that no matter what happens, you should never endanger Briseis' life."
We hung our heads, too ashamed and too tired to say anything; and in the next moment, found ourselves firmly clasped in Hector's embrace. He kissed our foreheads and said briefly, "Never do that again." With that, he led us in, interceded to Uncle Priam on our behalf, and sent us to bed with good suppers in our stomachs.
Paris and I always remembered the forgiveness that we'd felt in Hector's kiss, and from then on vowed never to worry him again. To the two of us children, Hector was our sun, our moon, our refuge, the entire world. Uncle Priam loved both of us dearly and, even though I was only his orphaned niece, treated me as his own; but neither he nor anyone else matched up to Hector in our hearts.
We shared Hector, undisturbed, between us for the next six years – at the end of it, he belonged no more to us, but to someone else. If Andromache had not been the lovely person that she was, we would have detested her for taking Hector away and breaking up our happy little threesome. But she was so sweet, so lovable, that we fell under her spell directly and wondered no more what exactly captivated Hector so much that he watched for her coming and going, spent every moment that he could by her side, and came back home with a dreamy look in his usually somber eyes.
His marriage to Andromache was approved by everyone. Uncle Priam had always believed that none but the most deserving woman in the world was worthy of Hector; but whether or not Andromache was indeed the most deserving did not matter in the end. He kissed them both, smiled on them with eyes tearing with joy, and blessed their life together.
Paris and I crept down to the kitchen on the wedding night and quickly polished off about half of the remains from the wedding feast. We were caught by the same mean old head servant, who coincidentally came into the kitchen just when Paris was stuffing an oversized fruit into his mouth. That nasty old thing – who had surprisingly remained alive all those years – tried her utmost best to get us into trouble, but Uncle Priam laughed it off as juvenile mischief and sent us back to bed.
Years wore on, and things were changing. Paris was no longer my partner in crime. He was growing up fast; a tall, beautiful-looking young man of sixteen, luxuriating in the company of Troy's prettiest maidens…perhaps doing more than simply listening to them play on musical instruments or reciting poetry with them; but I knew nothing of it other than the servants' gossip. Uncle Priam kept me relatively sheltered – I lived my days with frequent visits to the temple and being a useful companion to Andromache.
I was not allowed to go out without a soldier accompanying me; and even then, only if I did not go out too often. Rather than having a stern-faced, non-communicative man marching silently beside me, I preferred to stay at home, nursing Andromache's newborn baby, Astyanax. Unlike other princesses of Troy, Andromache insisted on taking care of Astyanax herself.
When I was eighteen, Paris and Hector sailed away to Sparta to "make peace with them", as Uncle Priam described it. We waved them off from the shore, those two young, promising men, little knowing what disaster would befall us when they returned.
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