The Road Not Taken

The Aeneid

She wonders, sometimes, what it would have been like if he had left. She wonders what would have happened if he had listened to the words he was fated to hear, if he had walked down to the shore that day and hoisted his sails. She wonders where that would have left her. She wonders what her own fate would have driven her to do.

She cannot help these thoughts that rise, unbidden, into her mind, as she watches him looking into the sea. He does not know she sees him, but she notices every detail: the way his eyes yearn, sinking deep over the horizon; the way his heart strains and flutters against his chest, searching for a place that lies over glittering water, pungent with destiny.

He tells her he is happy, but his smiles are faded and there is something that gleams behind his eyes as he watches their son frolicking in the waves. He tells her that he is a man now, much more than he ever would have been, and that is something they cannot take away from him. She knows he would have been a different man had he left. She has never been prouder of him, never loved him more, than the day he defied the gods, dismissed the winged messenger and watched the strands of his destiny skitter irrevocably away. He dismantled his ships, dismissed his men, and that night he came into her chambers and loved her. She was so sure she had won.

He would have been a different man had he gone; a man that would have sparked and blazed and eventually burned out in his glory, not a man who rules her city as if it were his own, with ease and caring; who loves his wife and children with fierce devotion; who has given up everything to be where he is now. Not a man who grows pensive in his old age; who smiles and reveals an empty shell; whose eyes reflect sails. She wonders if he would have been a better man.

Over the years she watches him as he cradles her children, as he takes his place beside her and pledges his loyalty. She watches as he lays the stones for her walls, watches as under his guiding hands they become his. Watches as he permits his men to leave, in twos and threes, across the wide sea, in search of a promised land. He gives them his blessing, commissions a ship and sends them on their way. His feet are planted firm beside her, but she is the only one who sees the way his eyes yearn. And even as she watches, she knows it will never be enough.

Pride has always been her one great flaw. She is proud at being a woman-queen, proud of her wealth and power, her city and people. She was too proud to acknowledge what he had given up, but she asked him once, driven by a fear of retribution at the hands of the gods. But he only shook his head, caressed her cheek and smiled.

"There is no destiny but the path we choose," he told her. "And I chose my destiny. There is nothing else."

It comforted her. Even so, she could not shake the heaviness in the pit of her stomach; the feeling of a destiny that fluttered, winged and unrelenting, somewhere just out of their reach.

Now, through the haze of years gone by, his words return to her. Now she watches him standing by the shore, staring at the sea, and swallows her pride. She reaches for his hand and whispers into his ear. "Don't leave, Aeneas."

His fingers brush hers, but her ears are filled with the roar of a thousand wing beats.

Author's note: I wrote this ages ago for a classics class, and for some reason just recently came across it lying around in my hard drive and on a whim thought I'd just post it up. It's been years since I've been on this site but glad to see it's still going strong. Hope you enjoyed. (Full credit goes to Robert Frost for the title, btw :)