Title: From Ashes Reborn
Rating: M (eventually)
Summary: AU. Troy has been sacked and destroyed, but could another alliance rise up to reclaim it? Andromache and Paris work separately under different circumstances to make that a reality, and in the process make unexpected discoveries about love and power.
Disclaimer: The characters do not belong to me, but rather to Homer and Warner Brothers, and I'm making no money from this. The original characters are mine.
Note: This is a "what if?" after the credits roll. Some things I've kept from the movie, others I've used from myth, and the rest I've either made up or been ignorantly inaccurate about. The Greeks are alternately called the Achaeans so that one term doesn't become repetitious. I would list all the changes, but that would take some of the joy out of it – I would think. If you want the movie, watch it. If you want The Iliad, read it. This isn't meant to be either, just something (hopefully) fun/interesting/original, etc. If it's horrendous and mediocre, I appreciate feedback all the same. Readers have been the best teachers I've encountered so far. I began this last August and there are 8 chapters already written. I told myself I'd never post another WIP ever again, but some habits are impossible to break…
Above them, Troy burned.
The unleashed Greek fury, a dull roar and thunder of carnage, echoed through the narrow, dimly lit passageway. Joining this oppressive tune of war were gasps of exhaustion and wretched sobs of grief and fear as pasts were destroyed overhead. And the futures of all were uncertain at best.
Andromache held her torch high and looked behind her at the group she was leading through the underground corridor. Hector had not ordered her to bring others with her on the escape route, but she knew he expected more feet than just hers would run along the sandy path. No matter their station or worth, her husband would have wanted to see any Trojan be spared from the swords of the Achaeans.
Her serving girl, Iasemi, was immediately behind her, arms full with the heavily swaddled Astyanax. The babe was silent, and for this Andromache was grateful. Until Paris managed to rejoin them, she was the unwilling commander of this band. She could not be general and mother, and it was only duty -- coupled with naked desperation -- that was preventing her from shedding the former mantle in preference of the latter.
Treading tightly on fair Iasemi's heels was the boy Aeneas, struggling under the burden of his old father. As Andromache swung her torch, she saw one firm hand clasping the old man's to hold him upright against his shoulder. The other hand was gripped around Priam's sword, and such was the determination she saw in the rigid set of his jaw that Andromache did not doubt for a moment he would wield it swiftly and surely. His age, green and untried, was no impediment. She was certain that, should they be accosted, she would be thankful for whatever protection he could provide. That is, until Paris overtook them.
He will find us, she thought. He must.
The night after Hector's body had dissolved among the embers, she had stolen away from the funeral games and macabre revelry. She would not begrudge them the celebration of the death of their heroic Prince, whose sandals now left the rocky battlefield behind to tread the earth of the Underworld. King Priam's good subjects prided themselves that the countless warriors below were finding their already glorious company's lustre intensified one hundredfold by the added presence of Hector and his shining helm.
Andromache could not say her loss was greater than theirs, but her heart felt it. That night, as others celebrated, she had taken up a torch, just as she did now, and she walked the corridor alone. She counted the paces, anything to preoccupy her mind and at least temporarily banish the images of Hector's dead, defiled body lying rigid on the bier. While those above her had sung of the many warriors who had met glorious ends, her steps became a tally of the women of those warriors – their wives, mistresses, and mothers, sisters and daughters. Everyone they left behind when that final breath was drawn.
On she went, and by the time she had reached the end of the tunnel and saw the waters of the Scamander sparkling in the moonlight, she was no longer alone. She felt the commiseration of generations of widows bidding her welcome, and her skin seemed to burn with an unearthly touch. A breeze from the river brought a familiar scent and she turned to see if Hector was truly standing beside her. She had never felt his presence so strongly before, and it infused her with a will she recognized as not wholly her own.
Andromache now called upon that strength as she fled, and wondered if her husband had managed to escape the trappings of Hades when she felt her strides become longer and without hesitation. The Prince of Troy's steps had often rung throughout the halls of the palace, and she heard such echoes from her feet shimmering along the stony walls.
"Hurry!" she cried, hoping the others would find it within themselves to push onward, though their knees might be weakening. They were very close to the river now, and even the frightening certainty that dangers awaited them outside could not dampen her desire to leave this infernal tunnel. Like a conduit, it would carry a river of Greeks, who would discover this escape route when they razed the entire city. The count of the royal dead would lack Hector's wife and child, the hope of Troy's rebirth, and the barbarians would give chase. Gods willing, by the time that occurred, a great distance would lie between invaders and refugees.
Iasemi gave a startled cry when, in her desire to match her mistress's pace, her foot caught in the hem of her garment and she stumbled forward. Her fear was not for herself but rather the young king in her arms, for she immediately assured Andromache that all was well and apologized for her clumsiness.
It was on the tip of Andromache's tongue to reply that bruises may have been spared only to suffer worse in a short time, but she would not let the others be burdened with her despairing thoughts. Each one had no doubt already pondered any number of bleak fates.
The end was near. The torch she held began to flicker and snap madly from the wind that quickens flight in any narrow space. Soon she saw the branches of bushes that masked the open doorway from sight of the river, and called out to the others to stop. The passageway was filled with the sounds of gasps, coughs, and scuffling feet.
"The moon is out and will offer its own light," she said, keeping her voice low. "I shall extinguish the torch so that we will not provide the Greeks with a beacon. Now, walk straight and take your rest."
Parting the foliage, she stepped through and held one bush back to make it easier for the others to exit. As they emerged, she counted them and felt her shoulders slump heavily when the last person entered the balmy air along the riverbank. Of the twenty-three she knew had entered the tunnel with her, only seventeen remained. The others had fallen behind or to the side, left by their fellow fugitives to either die or continue at their own will.
Though there was ample room, the group did not venture to divide, not even for a short distance. Once the soft grasses of the flood plain were beneath their feet, they sank down onto the verdant carpet and expelled the last of the stifling subterranean air from their lungs.
In this tight cluster, Andromache saw Helen assist Aeneas with his old father, setting him gently onto the ground and tending to the wound he had sustained on his brow. Another woman, bearing the leather case of a well-stocked healer, began to go from person to person, asking if she could be of any aid. Andromache could not recall her face as one that had entered the tunnel, but if Fortune had seen fit to grant them this favor, she would snap it up eagerly. Survival may be realistic after all, she thought.
After seeing that all were resting and regaining their strength for the next push onward, Andromache turned to Iasemi and took Astyanax from the girl's arms. "Sit," she told her. "You have done well."
Iasemi smiled as much as her exhaustion would allow and gratefully took a place beside a mother who was struggling to keep her daughter quiet. The toddler had a grimy fist jammed into her mouth and was on the verge of tears as she stared into the distance. Andromache followed the child's gaze and saw the cause of her fright. A lake of fire shimmered in the distance, every stick, thatch, and slain Trojan feeding the flames of its own destruction. From wall to wall it was burning.
"There, there," Iasemi soothed, taking the bundle from her back and setting it before her. She untied the knot and retrieved something Andromache could not see, but the girl's inquiring look asked permission to give the weeping child an object to calm it. Andromache nodded assent and when Iasemi pressed the item, with some effort, into the child's clenched fist, she identified it as the small carved lion Hector had whittled on that ill-fated voyage from Sparta. He had left her in the very first stages of pregnancy and the hope for a son had, he said, sustained him in times when he felt overwhelmed by his brother's stupidity and selfishness.
Andromache felt her breath catch at the sight of it and she was flooded with both sadness and relief. Iasemi had been grabbing anything she saw that might be of use – Andromache knew some inconspicuous traveling garments were in that bundle and she herself had shoved in a pouch of dried dates and figs – and the girl had not forgotten the needs of a child.
She espied a large, flat rock behind her and she retreated to it, her knees weakening with every step. When she could relieve herself of this aching physical burden, that of bearing her own weight, she did so with a stifled moan.
As if he had been waiting for the moment when his mother's attention would be undividedly his, Astyanax gave a whimpered cry and rubbed roughly at his face. When she shifted him from one arm to the other, she realized why he was fussing so. "What is it, little Prince?" she whispered. "You wish some of Troy's treasures were secreted elsewhere?"
With one hand, she divested him of the large swaddling cloth and laid it over her lap, then placed Astyanax on it with something approaching reverence. His diaper was removed, only to reveal that he wore another one. Between them lay a glittering, jumbled collection of coins and jewelry of bronze, silver and gold, with assorted gems. It was only a pitiful fraction of what she had possessed, scooped up in the brief minutes after the first cry of murder within Troy's walls had been raised. Rings, clasps of twisted gold, and earrings – some lacking a mate – could be sold or bartered on this escape.
She was beginning to calculate their worth when she heard a voice beside her and jumped upon seeing the healer sitting on the rock, the hard leather case resting between them. Andromache's hands flew to the cloth and flipped it closed to cover the riches.
"Did I startle you, my princess?" the woman asked kindly. Now, at such close quarters, Andromache saw that the woman was elderly, her hair white and almost translucent in the moonlight.
"No!" Andromache protested, too loud and quick.
The woman clucked softly under her breath in what seemed to Andromache like amused indulgence. She was about to chastise the woman for her impudence when Astyanax became the new object of the healer's attention. "My, you have grown!" she exclaimed, reaching her arms out to the babe, who stared at her, transfixed.
Andromache stared at the woman in confusion. "Were you of our house?" she asked. "I do not recognize your face."
The woman did not reply at first, instead slipping Astyanax out from under the swaddling cloth, a motion that jingled the treasures concealed beneath. "What a rich little fellow you are!" she cooed softly. "Rich in all the things that matter."
All the while her son was being fawned over by this strange woman, Andromache found herself unable to object. Just as the moon found purchase in the old woman's hair and reflected it, so did her body possess a power, an aura of authority that seemed contrary to her small size and age. Priam's wife had never been so queenly and commanding, and Hecuba had been highly esteemed, even by subjects of other kings. Even the task of questioning this woman required a measure of effort and will, for the words came from Andromache's mind easily enough, but as they reached her tongue, she felt an inner warning to speak carefully.
"Have I––?" she began.
"Yes," the woman replied, interrupting, though her eyes did not leave Astyanax, now being dandled on her knee. "You have seen me before." A smile of perfectly white and even teeth focused its charm on the boy and Astyanax could not resist. He gave a small baby squeal and kicked his feet in delight.
The woman giggled and Andromache noticed that Helen, from a short distance away where she was still tending Aeneas' father, looked up in alarm. She rose to her feet and advanced to where the two women sat, but Andromache held up a hand to halt her. Helen stiffened then reluctantly relaxed, but she did not return to her seat on the grass.
"I have not paid much heed to matters of late," the woman said, the sudden forthcoming words startling Andromache. "This war has made my house a disagreeable place and I have sought distance from it, letting others behave as monstrously as they desire."
Andromache found her tongue, though the woman's words confused her utterly. "You are here with us," she consoled. "We have need of you now, so I shall never say you have abandoned your duties. I shall tell your family this, should you wish me to."
The old woman exhaled, a sigh heavy with regret, made more weighty when she looked over her shoulder at the crimson aura rising higher and higher into the night sky. "Troy begins anew tonight," she said, gaze still on the leaping flames. "I would call it a birth of some sort. Death breeds Life, and so I am here."
She gathered Astyanax into her arms. As she turned to hand him back to his mother, Andromache saw not an old woman with wrinkled brow and neck, but a beauteous young creature. The arms that held Astyanax were pale and smooth, and on the dark lustrous curls rested a small diadem, affixed with a small, silver crescent moon.
But just as soon as this vision appeared, it was gone – and Andromache scrabbled for a coherent thought or properly reverent utterance.
"Do you remember me now?" the old woman asked mischievously.
Artemis' eyes danced, as though she found the inept comprehension of mortals boundlessly amusing. Her solemn moment over Troy's devastation and the machinations of her immortal kin had been short-lived, but Andromache wondered if that was the way of all the gods – capricious about mortal concerns, for they were but mere trifles for ageless beings. She had been raised to revere those deathless gods, even as she feared their callous and tricky whims.
"It was my duty to be at his birth," the goddess said, "as I am at all childbeds, whether as this old crone or another. So many labors are a trial, even for a goddess. I have never had my hand gripped so tightly as you did. But this little one was worth it." She chucked Astyanax playfully under the chin. "Zeus loved Hector greatly, and I thought it fitting to see you on your journey tonight."
Helen had visibly exhausted the rest of her tightly-reined patience and drew up to Andromache. "Sister," she said, speaking to the Trojan princess but looking at the old woman in bald curiosity, "how much longer do we dare wait?"
Andromache opened her mouth to speak, having been struck dumb by the goddess's playful reminiscing of Astyanax's birth and confession of Zeus's regard. But Artemis seemed not at all disturbed by this intrusion and looked up at the Spartan queen in kindly interest, like that of any old woman. "We cannot leave without Prince Paris," she said. "And we shall not."
Helen looked to Andromache, her hopeful expression begging it to be true. When Andromache nodded mutely, Helen smiled in silent gratitude, but then brought a hand to her mouth and sobered, conscious that her visible happiness was ill-suited. Andromache glanced at the passageway, wishing that the branches would part, Paris would emerge, and this strange madness could be left behind.
"He will appear shortly," Artemis told Andromache. "He has a champion that will not see him harmed." She rose from the rock and took up the leather case, slinging it over her shoulder. A stray turn of the moonlight transformed the case into a fine archer's bow, and a quiver of golden arrows shone upon her back. Andromache's eyes quickly went to Helen, certain that she would have seen this metamorphosis, however brief. Helen was visibly curious, as though uncertain of the old woman, but not stunned or amazed at the presence of a goddess. The goddess had decided to reveal herself only to Hector's widow. Artemis cupped Helen's chin in her hand and said, "Aphrodite will bring him to you safely."
"Your confidence bolsters my own, good woman," Helen replied.
Artemis smiled and let her hand fall. Then she turned to Andromache and bent low. "Go with grace and safety," she whispered. "I shall be seeing you again in the future." She straightened and looked at each woman in turn. "Both of you."
With a final smile, she left them and made straightway through the gathering of seated Trojans, pausing once or twice to kneel beside one of the suffering fugitives and produce a vial or other healing item from her case.
While Helen's attention turned to the passageway, her hopes for Paris's swift arrival apparent in both face and body, Andromache watched the old woman walk on. She swore she did not blink, but suddenly the goddess was gone, leaving not a trace in her wake.
I shall be seeing you again. The gods and goddesses had many attributes and any one of them was prayed to for a number of everyday things. Farmers, shepherds, hunters, virgins, and birthing mothers all had prayers to offer the moon goddess, but Artemis had made little Astyanax the center of conversation. Andromache brought a hand to her stomach as she cradled her son with the other. Was this to be Hector's final gift to her?
Helen's surprised cry brought her out of her thoughts. Stumbling through the foliage was Paris, bow clenched firmly in one hand. In the other, he held Briseis by the wrist, the girl weeping and following her cousin with visible resignation. Even as they left the tunnel for the cool and cleansing air of night, Briseis cast a regretful look at the door, as though she would rather return to it than continue onward.
Andromache deposited Astyanax onto the swaddling cloth and quickly refastened the outer diaper, the treasures once more securely hidden. She called Iasemi over to her and instructed her to make a sling of the swaddling cloth so that it would be easier to bear him. This done, she hurried over to Paris and Briseis. Helen had her arms thrown around her beloved's neck and was kissing him with relieved fervor.
"Briseis?" Andromache put her hand on the girl's shoulder and felt her trembling. She enveloped her in her arms and let Briseis take what comfort she could.
"He's dead," the girl whimpered.
Andromache's hand paused in mid-stroke above Briseis' curls. "He?"
Briseis did not reply, but the wretched moan and misery told Andromache that the child's Greek captor had at last been slain.
Andromache smothered the sound of triumph that rose in her throat. How many days had she waited, hoping the murderer of her husband would finally find his own thread heartlessly cut by the Fates?
Instead, she clasped Briseis tighter, for she had no quarrel with the girl. Who was she to condemn someone who had fallen in love with her captor? For eight long years prior to wedding Hector, she had been a royal hostage at Priam's court, forced to sacrifice her freedom to pay for her father's foolish treason. Misguided by greed, Eëtion had aided and abetted the coastal pirates that harassed and plundered Priam's trading ships, his percentage of their profits a strong incentive to allow them to hide in the many coves and inlets on the southern coast of his kingdom. Priam had demanded insurance that he would never again disobey, and so Eëtion had sent his youngest child to Troy, a prisoner to be released at Priam's pleasure. An advantageous union with a son of King Mesthles of Maeonia had to be forsaken – a fitting punishment, Priam said, for a vassal king who deserved to suffer a little robbery himself. Andromache's loneliness in a land of strangers had lasted for several long years, but the unexpected happened when she found herself falling in love with her captor's kind and peerless warrior son and heir. A love that, to her boundless joy, Hector returned in greater measure than she could have imagined.
No, she could not condemn Briseis.
She gave the girl a final reassuring embrace and looked over at Paris. The youth was visibly weary and worn. The quiver on his back was empty and Paris always kept it filled. He had spent them on many Greeks, his aim being so true that she was confident not a one had been wasted.
"Thank the gods you found her," she told him. "We were separated in the confusion. Where was she?"
Paris shifted in discomfort and cast a doubtful glance at Briseis, still huddled in Andromache's arms. When Helen caressed his brow and threw her arms about him in wild relief at his safety, he seized on the distraction and returned the embrace, moving away from his brother's widow and his cousin.
Andromache closed her eyes and rested her cheek on Briseis' curls. Her hair smelled of smoke and char. She and Paris must have fled with the fires licking at their heels. Knowing Briseis, she would have lingered over the corpse of her Greek lover as the embers rained around her. It was something that she herself had been denied and the thought of it burned her heart. Helplessly, she had watched Hector cruelly borne away through the rocks and sand to mingle with the dust from Achilles' chariot wheels, mutilated in his own native land. When she had finally been able to touch her husband again, as he was borne reverently into Priam's palace by the Apollonian Guard, he was but a shade of what he had been at their final farewell, his entire body debased at the hands of Achilles, the Myrmidon monster.
Andromache shrugged off these gathering feelings, knowing they could serve no purpose now. Future, not past. She sensed that if Hector could speak, he would urge her onward, just as Paris was now doing to the fugitives. One asked him if he would not take some rest himself, but Paris vehemently declined. Men and boys, women and children were rising to their feet, prepared to follow their prince. Andromache felt a weight lift from her shoulders at the sight of him taking command, though she did not have as much confidence in Hector's brother as she wished. Seeing Helen by his side was a constant reminder of his unpredictability and infuriating tendencies.
"Briseis, we must leave now," she said, soft yet insistent. "All of us need to walk fast and sure."
Without a word, Briseis pulled away from her and walked listlessly in the same direction as the others. Andromache watched her sadly, Briseis' grief pricking her own. She gestured to Iasemi and the girl hurried over, Astyanax bouncing against her chest from his snug position in the sling.
"Iasemi," she said, "I hope you have more strength within you than what I can see."
"Why is that, my princess?" the girl asked, puzzled.
"Because it seems we now have two we must care for."