A.N: I thought I'd take a break from the usual fandom, and write a story that has been prodding me since I-don't-know-when. I've always been interested in Cassandra, the supposed 'mad princess' of Troy, as well as all Greek mythology. Please read and enjoy!
I'd like to give thanks to World Book Online and Google for aiding me in my research of Troy!
Hecuba held the young child in her lap, smoothing the silky dark hair atop her head. The girl's chubby little feet banged against Hecuba's silk-clad shins as young Cassandra idly waved her short legs. Priam, Hecuba's husband, watched the children with a fond smile, his thick-fingered hand resting on Hecuba's shoulder. The Queen of Troy bent over the little girl, marveling at her long, graceful fingers and the child's beauty, even at so young an age. Turning, she stroked the warm head of her son Helenus, who knelt next to her, solemnly sucking a thumb and holding a fistful of her silken skirts in the other chubby hand. They were twins; they were her perfect little children. Though they were not her first children with Priam – goodness, no! – Hecuba would admit unblushingly that they were her favorites.
It had been several years since Cassandra and Helenus were born. For those several years, Hecuba had been captivated with the radiant, beautiful babies. It seemed almost too good to be true, Hecuba reflected. They were exactly what she had dreamed of: they were sweet, they were well-behaved, and they were beautiful. She looked over her shoulder at Priam, and they shared a small, secret smile. Turning back to Helenus and Cassandra – they drew her eyes like magnets– she patted their warm heads and wondered. How could these children – so flawless with their pale skin and wide, wondering eyes – be hers? Hecuba, with her brownish hair and intense eyes, looked nothing like the small children who nestled against her. She laughed to herself, quietly.
Cassandra shifted in her lap, resting her small head against her mother's chest. Her delicate pale features with their perfect doll's mouth glowed pleasantly up at Hecuba. Helenus frowned petulantly from under his thatch of dark hair, jealous of Cassandra. Hecuba smiled. "Why, my children," she said teasingly, not expecting them to understand, "You are so beautiful that perhaps Aphrodite and Apollo themselves would be jealous of your beauty!" Cassandra's smile faded into puzzlement. "'Frodite?" she said curiously. "'Pollo?" Hecuba laughed softly, holding the little ones close.
Priam, behind her, frowned. She could almost hear the frown; she could feel it as his thick-fingered hand tightened on her shoulder. Her Priam was so respectful of the gods. She was not impious, she wanted to tell Priam. She chanced a look over her shoulder, and she saw his strong-jawed face set sternly. She quickly turned back to the children, almost not wanting to apologize to the gods to spite her pious husband. A split second later, she regretted the vagrant thought. Forgive me, Aphrodite. Forgive me, Apollo. She sighed, letting Priam pick up Helenus.
She turned. Apollo stood in the shadows at the corner of the room. Hecuba stared, wondering at herself, wondering at the arbitrary thought that had leaped into her head: this is Apollo. Surely she could not see the gods. Was she going mad? She asked herself, and a sudden sunburst of unreasonable fear blossomed in her stomach. It was simply a young man, perhaps a musician or storyteller, by the look of his lyre, and he had stepped into the room to pay his respects to the King and Queen's new children. Yes, that was it.
The young man's golden hair seemed to be spun of sunlight itself, falling about a handsome face that was lightly creased in a frown. His full lips turned down at the corners as he stared at Hecuba. His blue eyes moved to Cassandra, and he stood as still as a statue, lyre clasped in two large hands. Hecuba drew breath to scold the boy for his insolence – just think of that! He was scowling at her baby, not even greeting the royal family! – but when she looked for the young man, he was gone. She shook her head. Young people. Hecuba gave a mental shrug, smoothing her dress – unnecessarily - and adjusting the beautiful blue stone that rested on her chest, the chain glinting in the light. She absently pulled Cassandra closer to her breast, staring at a hanging on the walls – one she swore she had never seen before, patterned with a motif of horses.
The horses stood still, staring straight ahead with their nostrils flared, and their lips pulled back from their tombstone-like teeth in a grimace. Their eyes made Hecuba shiver with illogical foreboding, for the weaver had given the grim horses eyes like sockets in a skull. A stylized motif of flames curled about the edges of the wall-hanging like red tongues. The tapestry was nervous-making, Hecuba thought to herself. She would have a servant remove it from the wall, for it was not fitting in a place where children lived and happiness abounded.
Her cheerful mood somewhat dampened, Hecuba looked away from the hanging and down at Cassandra, who was also staring at the weaving with a chilling intensity, her young face blank. Hecuba shivered. She stood up, balancing Cassandra on an out-thrust hip, and pulled the hanging from the wall. There.
Cassandra looked away from the hanging, her perfect features immediately breaking into a smile. "Mama," she gurgled. Hecuba smiled, never growing tired of the childish sentiment.
Calling a servant, Hecuba put the giggling Cassandra into her arms and stood in the middle of the children's room. She ought to change, to prepare for the evening meal with Priam. Absently brushing her brown hair behind her shoulders, she smiled at little Cassandra and Helenus. Calling some motherly nonsense to them, she stepped out of the room and traveled down the corridor to change.
The maid smiled fondly at the young ones. How Hecuba spoiled them! But they were delightful!
"Do you want to play?" She crooned to Cassandra and Helenus, the former sucking her thumb and the latter scratching his nose with a chubby finger. She smiled, cooing motherly nonsense as she had seen Hecuba do. She wanted children of her own, she thought. Mother had said that she had a way with children. She smiled, remembering. Shaking her head to clear the memories, the maid pulled an assortment of new toys towards the children. Hecuba had had them purchased just recently, and the girl was bursting to make the children happy.
The toys were beautifully crafted. There were Greek hoplites, little soldiers for Helenus to play with. There were little dolls for Cassandra. And there were little horses, beautifully shaped little horses carved of dark glossy wood, their manes and tails painted with white lacquer. The light reflected warmly from the warm, polished wood.
Helenus smiled, reaching for the little soldiers. He plopped happily on the floor. He would probably break them, the girl reflected without anger, but rather with a motherly affection. No matter. She looked back at Cassandra, seeing that the child had picked up one of the exquisite little horses.
The maid frowned, as Cassandra drew the unmistakable shuddering breath of an upset child, and tears began to roll down her rosy cheeks.
Hecuba paused in the buttoning of her evening-dress as a sound reached her ears: the unmistakable sound of a child wailing. Her dress sliding off one shoulder, Hecuba disregarded her half-dressed state and rushed down the corridor, her dress swishing urgently. This must be how an animal feels when her young is in danger, Hecuba thought with a strangely calm detachment as her conversely panic-stricken body raced down the hall to the children's room.
She stopped in shock and confusion. Cassandra stood in the middle of the room, holding the little toy horse in front of her face, her face contorted in an expression of absolute terror.
Hecuba rushed forward, dashing the toy from Cassandra's hands and picking the child up in one sweep. She held the child close to her breast, balancing her on a hip and wiping her tears away with the other hand.
The toy, fallen to the ground, made a sharp cracking report as it hit the floor. They all jumped and stared at the little horse, broken in two, the smell of wood filling the air, the dark hollow empty space inside the horse's belly.