A/N: Remember me? I'm back! Hopefully updates will be a lot steadier after this, as my life has calmed down significantly recently. Once I'm through with this, I'm on to my LotR fic... but that's later! Be prepared for regular updates once more! Thanks for hanging in their for me!
Andromache had worked herself into a great distress by the time the door was finally shoved open. Her entire demeanor was harassed, and she had the restless manner of a caged wild creature as she paced their chambers incessantly. She knew that it would only make things worse in the end, brooding over her day, but she couldn't seem to stop herself. With a small sound of aggravation, she went out instead to the balcony; but not even that impressive sight, it seemed, could hold her attention for long. Fear and dulled horror, combined with rising degrees of tension, joined to form an intimidating force that clouded her thoughts, and she found herself pacing once more.
Soon, it seemed as if the walls themselves were shrinking in on her, and it occurred to her that perhaps her sanity had fled. Then, she considered, if I realize that my sanity has fled, has it truly fled, or do I simply believe it has fled?
There was no answer to that, and she didn't attempt to find one. Instead, she turned and looked at the door, as if it held the answer to all her questions. The walls continued to shrink as her head began to feel light and fuzzy, and she realized that to stay in those chambers much longer would be to invite lunacy. Abruptly she went to the door and yanked it open, determined to go somewhere, anywhere, only to find her path cut short.
"What are you doing?" Hector asked her, and she shifted on her feet, her nervous energy creating within her a general state of restlessness and unease.
"If I stay here much longer you will no longer find a sane woman in your rooms," she muttered, looking away. Now that she faced him, Andromache found herself facing more than a small amount of guilt for her feelings: he had requested that she not go to the wall for a reason--though, to be fair, he had yet to tell her what that reason was--and her only thought was to rail against his request.
He watched her for a moment, then stepped aside, and she looked at him. "Walk with me," he said, and after a moment, she nodded.
She felt utterly wretched. Despite what he had been through, and the self-torture she knew he put himself through because of it, he was waiting for her to explain her own unease. When, precisely, she wondered cynically, did I become so self-centered?
None of her remorse, however, changed the simple fact that she could not yet again listen to a battle as the Mytilians crushed the Trojan army, her husband at its head, between their forces and the very walls the Trojans were defending, the outcome of the clash being left totally to her imagination, which instantly assumed the worst. These two warring instincts--the need to both assuage her husband and calm her own agitated psyche--left her feeling like a wretch.
They walked until they reached the garden, which was dim in the torchlight. There was no orchard for her to lose herself in, it was true, but Andromache satisfied herself with a secluded stone bench. She sat, staring at the ground, fully aware that Hector was watching her, waiting for her to tell him why she could no longer remain in their chambers, which was supposed to be their mutual sanctuary.
When it became clear that she was not going to speak any time in the near future, Hector broke the silence with grim tidings. "The rest of the Mytilian forces will arrive during the night."
She looked up at him, startled. "They were not here before? I thought-"
"Only a portion of the army is outside our walls," he confessed, shaking his head, and she found herself rising to her feet without having told her body to do so.
"And you are only telling me this now?" she demanded. "For two days I thought-" Andromache sighed and turned away, putting a hand to her forehead in an effort to calm herself. Jut how large was the portion of the Mytilian army? How much longer would this continue? The one war she had endured in Thebe had not been so long…
"What did you think for two days?"
She whirled to face him. "That it would be over in another two, perhaps three," she informed him in a tone that could almost be call waspish. "And now I find that hardly half of the forces against are actually in place? Try to imagine, if you can, my alarm."
"Not half," he said quickly. "I told you that they had thirty-five thousand men?" She nodded. "At the moment, there are twenty-five thousand positioned outside the walls. The final ten thousand will be here by morning."
"Ten thousand," she said in a distressed tone, "is a rather large number all the same."
He didn't reply, and she returned to the bench, staring at her hands folded in her lap for a moment before looking back at him. "This experience," she said lowly, "is one I am wholly unaccustomed to. Any knowledge I can have is knowledge I am grateful for." He looked away then, and her voice trembled slightly as she added, "Without knowledge and logic, I have nothing to set against my imagination, which has, I assure, been running rampant for the past two days."
"I had no intention of deceiving you," he said emphatically, his voice as low as her own.
Andromache shook her head, smiling despite herself. The situation really was not in the least bit amusing, leading her to conclude that the smile was the result of some sort of hysteria. "I know that," she replied. "What I do not know is why you never told me."
"If I knew, I would tell you," he muttered darkly, running his hand agitatedly through his curls.
She considered for a moment, watching him as he paced away from her a few steps and surveyed their surroundings. Perhaps… perhaps he had not told her in order to protect her. At first thought, this reasoning was senseless, but upon further deliberation, she found that it probably had, in fact, been his subconscious reason for not telling her. All his life, it had been a part of his responsibility to protect the weak, which included women. He had been raised to protect women in general, and his wife in particular, when he had one. This, of course, included a woman's mentality. If one were to follow this reasoning, she rationalized, it would then follow that he had been raised to keep information from her if it meant protecting her well-being.
Of course, this line of reasoning, though admirable, excused nothing. "I believe," she said hesitantly after a moment, "that I know why, even if you do not. Perhaps, then, I may propose something."
Hector turned to look at her and gestured for her to continue. She flattened her hands on her thighs and swallowed, then said, "I have found, over the past two days, that I can no longer simply sit and wait for your return. I-" She faltered and looked away.
"Go on," he encouraged quietly as he came towards her slowly.
"I- I find that… watching to a battle cannot possibly be so horrific--and traumatizing--as listening to one. Everything is left completely to the imagination, and Mytilian men sound remarkably like Trojan men when they're dying."
Taking one of her hands in both his own, Hector sat beside her and asked, "What, then, do you propose?"
She hesitated a moment, then looked at him and said, "We both know that withholding the size of the attacking army is of little consequence to me, particularly at this time. I would like, however, for you to let me go to the wall."
"You don't need my permission. You know this," he said guardedly.
"But I wish to have it," she admitted. "I won't go against your wishes, not in this."
He studied her face for a moment before saying, "Answer me one question."
She looked away, turning to study the garden with eyes that didn't really see them. "Have you ever listened to a battle? Not been a part of, not watched, but listened." She looked back to him then, her gaze possessing a hint of desperation and distress that hadn't been there before. "You know nothing. Your home could be on the verge of being overrun, and all you hear is a great roar. And the fallen could include anyone. I have reason to believe that to listen to another battle will send me over the edge of sanity. You have to remember, I've never been through anything like this."
He was silent, and Andromache feared that she had crossed some unknown line. She quickly made to recompense, clutching at his hands and leaning towards him earnestly. "I realize that you must have some reason for asking me to remain, and that reason could hardly be negligible, but I-"
Hector reached up and placed a hand gently over her mouth. "Stop apologizing for being human," he murmured quietly, giving her an assessing look as he dropped his hand.
She reached out and gently rested a hand on his arm, more distressed than she cared to admit. Andromache wished for nothing more than to take back her words and assuage his obvious unease. Taking back those words, however, would not retain her sanity through yet another day similar to the previous two. Not only that, but retracting words once they have been uttered was nothing but a dream, and attempts at compensating for words already uttered typically had ill affects--the latter she knew, unfortunately, from experience. Thus, she remained silent as she gripped the cloth at his shoulder in one small fist.
"I only make this request out of desperation," she said lowly. "Please try to understand."
Turning to look at her, Hector bestowed an assessing look on her before looking down at her hand in his, which he was caressing gently. "Do you know why I asked you to remain away from the wall?"
Andromache bit her lip, removing her hand from his shoulder and placing it in her lap. Hector released her other hand, and she clasped them together tightly. Almost hesitantly, she answered, "No."
He sighed and was instantly on his feet, leaving Andromache to stare up at him anxiously. "I wished for you to not see," he muttered, well nigh inaudibly, running a hand through his already unruly curls.
"Wished for me to not see?" she repeated, perplexed. What, she wondered, could he possibly mean? What did he want to protect her from?
Or hide from her.
She, very quickly, pushed that unhappy thought away.
Hector sighed once more, looking rather as if he didn't know how to phrase his words. Andromache thought to rise and go to him, but reconsidered when observed his completely impenetrable expression; better to let him come to her when he was prepared to do so, she reasoned. After a long moment, during which Andromache grew more and more anxious, he finally spoke.
"The man you married," he said darkly, looking at the surrounding flora rather than her, "is not the man you would see commanding the Trojan army."
Andromache raised one brow. 'I believe I married the leader of the Trojan army; how could he not be the same man?' she wanted to ask. When it appeared that he wasn't going to continue, she commented, "My brother once said something similar to his wife. As I recall, she threw a cup of wine at his head."
He looked up at her in surprise, then gave an ironic sort of chuckle, rubbing his hand across his brow. "Did he earn such a reaction?"
"In her view he did," she informed him. "She was angry with him for believing that she would think less of him because he did what was needed."
Hector looked at her for a moment, and she met his gaze unwaveringly. The core issue, she had realized, was that he feared her reaction to his actions as a warrior. He looked as if he might speak, then stopped, and Andromache rose and padded over to him. "Our marriage," she reminded him gently as she walked, "was not an arranged one. I was given a choice, and I chose to come here. With you." She reached out and, with a small smile, pressed his knuckles, calloused and scarred as they were, to her lips. "No battle could possibly change the reasons that brought me here."
He sighed and brought his other hand to clasp hers as he leaned down to brace his brow on hers. "Your loyalty amazes me even now," he muttered.
"Then perhaps you never met the right sort of people," she reasoned in an attempt to lighten the atmosphere.
Her attempt at levity failed spectacularly. "Andromache…" He straightened and bestowed her with a look that was so uncharacteristically anxious that she nearly laughed. Realizing, however, that this was a very unwise thing to do, she managed to restrain herself. "I become very nearly a different person when in such states of affairs. I think of nothing by his weapon and my own. Not for a moment will I consider you, or your opinion-"
"I should hope so, I daresay," she interrupted bluntly, with little tact. "I would much rather you not think of other things when in combat. Imagine my distress if I thought you to be thinking of giant squids rather than staying alive!"
"Be serious, Andromache."
She sighed, realizing that these were fears that only experience would assuage. "I must admit," she said quietly, "I find it troublesome that you distrust me in this matter. Nothing, save a further questioning of my devotion," she added pointedly, "could sway my affection." She crossed her arms over her chest and raised on brow. "I am beginning to realize why Megara threw that cup at Erastus," she said dryly. "Am I allowed to throw something at you?"
Hector blinked at her, and then very suddenly laughed. "Do you truly expect me to give you permission to throw something at me?" he asked, truly amused for what she knew to be the first time in days.
"No," she said with mock thoughtfulness, her eyes glittering. Simply inspiring some levity into her husband's countenance was enough to make her smile. "But I thought I might make an attempt at courtesy nonetheless. I propose this: If I do throw something at you, I promise that it will be empty when I throw it."
Neither the Princess nor the Heir of Troy slept well that night. Each of them did their best to give the appearance of sleep, for sake of the other, but neither truly rested. Unfortunately, it was not until the early morning, when her husband had arisen and begun to prepare himself for the ordeal ahead, that Andromache realized this. Still bleary from sleep, she slowly levered herself upright. The first sign she was given alluding to her husband's exhaustion was the simple fact that he didn't realize that she'd woken.
"You're exhausted," she stated quietly.
Hector looked over at her, saw that she was indeed awake, and came over to her, resting a hand on her slender shoulder. "There is quite some time yet before you will need to be at the wall. Paris will come for you," he said quietly, reaching up to smooth her hair.
Andromache ignored this and scooted herself closer to him, then leaned forward to lean her head on his shoulder, wrapping her arms around his waist and holding tightly. She felt his arms close about her, and her world was suddenly much closer to righting itself. That world, however, was by no means completely righted--Hector was still about to step onto the field of battle, a thought that frightened her a great deal more than she cared to say.
She had feared for her brother's lives before; the occasional bandit raid had called for them to don armor, and she had been anxious for them, afraid that they would not return to her. But that anxiety had been nothing compared to the terror she felt when Hector moved to wear armor. Sadly, she had yet to figure out why this was so.
In that moment, however, she wanted nothing more than to take the coward's path and beg him to stay. She knew, however, that any such request would be in vain. Her husband's nobility was beneficial and detrimental by turns: Hector would never distribute orders that he himself would not aid in carrying out. Worse, however, was the knowledge of how terribly unjust of her it would be to make such a demand of him. It rank amongst the cruelest things she could do to her husband, and she was all too aware of it. And so, she settled for saying what she knew she had to.
"Be careful," she whispered emphatically, squeezing her eyes shut against the urge to scream, "DON'T GO!" "Please be careful."
"I will," he said comfortingly, his hand smoothing her curls. Then she remembered something he had said the night before and jerked back to meet his gaze.
"Swear to me," she said vehemently, "that I will not cross your mind when you are on that field." He frowned, clearly perplexed, and she grabbed his tunic and shook it a bit. The action was highly ineffectual--causing her husband a fair bit of confusion was the most influential impact the movement had--but she felt better for doing it. "Until you are safe behind the walls, I do not exist. Promise me."
"I hope you realize," he said slowly, "that it's highly unlikely that I will forget your existence."
Any other wife, she realized dryly, would have been thrilled by such an admission. Andromache ignored this. "I expect you to return to me alive and in one piece," she said in a tone that brooked no argument. "In order to do so, you must focus your energies on surviving, not fretting over me."
She was very near to panicked by now, terrified that she would somehow be responsible for some distraction that got him killed. The idea of attending Hector's funeral was more than she could bear.
"Very well," he said. "I promise."
Andromache let out a sigh of relief, her eyes sliding closed as she leaned back into his embrace. "Return to me," she said, more to herself than anything. "That is the only thing that matters."
"I know, my love," he murmured, and she realized that he'd heard what she'd said. Realizing that her momentary panic was, doubtless, doing more harm than good to her husband's moral, Andromache abruptly straightened and struggled to offer him a smile.
"So long as you realize that," she said. "I will be most upset if I find you unable to return."
He gave her a small smile and kissed her forehead before wordlessly standing to finish his preparations. For her part, Andromache simply stretched herself out across their bed in an attempt relative calm, resting her head on her husband's pillow. It was, perhaps, one of the most difficult things she had ever had to endure: Hector was standing a fairly short distance away, preparing himself for a battle that she had brought upon him, and it was all she could do to not beg him to remain behind, with her. She knew perfectly well why she couldn't, but no amount of reasoning would banish the ideas.
After finishing his preparations and kissing her, he left quietly, and Andromache was left on her own. She sighed, staring up at the stone ceiling as the sun began to rise. How often had her brother's wives felt such a dramatic urge to bar their husbands within their chambers? She could recall no specific incidents, but then, war was highly uncommon in Thebe. None of her family members had face a situation quite like hers. They had faced similar, it was true, none quite the same. She had no example to tell her if she was being irrational or if her fears were justified.
Feeling rather lost, Andromache climbed out of the bed and began to make her own preparations. If her husband was to fight, she decided, she would at least do him the honor of looking well before his people. She struggled to push away the thought that how she looked would not matter in the least if he were dead, deciding to fall back on a bit of advice Megara had once given her.
"If ever you need confidence," the woman had said, "take care with your appearance."
Andromache had always found this to be very useful advice; now, however, she was very much afraid that no amount of good appearances would give her the confidence that she needed.
Next chapter out in about a week, I hope.