It took some moments to realize that I had fallen asleep and was being woken with insistent shakes and terse commands to rouse myself. It required only a few moments more to recognize that the voice urging me to action was that of my mother. My women would not have dared to lay hands on me in such a manner.
"Andromache," she said, her tone demanding obedience, "this hermetic indulgence of yours ends now."
I flailed to consciousness. Had I been fully awake, I would have informed her that the behavior of others, as much as my own inclinations, had pushed me to value keeping my own company.
The sun still shone. I would not have been forgotten for a full day, so I had only lapsed into insensibility for a brief time and not been allowed to linger in oblivion.
It was on my lips to pour out my mind and heart to my mother, for I feared my opportunities to do so were quickly dwindling. But when I glanced past her and saw my women gathered silently in attendance by the door, my mouth hardened as pride asserted itself over all other impulses. I swallowed the unspoken words and rose from the bed.
The audible sigh of relief from my mother made any reconsideration of my reticence a selfish indulgence. She was pleased that I appeared self-possessed and serene. Indeed, by comporting myself thusly and not flying into a fit of rage at the sight of those women, despite what my childish side strongly exerted me to do, I felt a strange calm flow through me. Did all weary, unwilling brides feel as I did now? What of men resigned to a sentence of death? Did they not feel the same?
It was not right, I told myself, to think of life ending when a marriage was the beginning of a life shared, but I could not stop my imagination from conjuring the possibilities. Perhaps if I had been allowed to walk abroad more often, as did my brothers, I would know of such people and their thoughts, and not while away my hours uncertainly trying to divine them and their minds. I had never seen or talked to a condemned man, yet that did not prevent me from imagining how he would feel with an inescapable fate looming before him.
I was unable to further ponder the matter, for my mother's steely hand was placed in the middle of my back and I was ushered into the clutch of my suffocating guardians. I found myself whisked away under their silken wings to a chamber that had been prepared for the sole purpose of containing the myriad garments and ornaments with which I would be made attractive and ready for Hector at this first meeting.
It was obvious from the beginning of this long preparation that my ill humor had had an effect on those attending me. Silence reigned to the point where it became so agonizingly quiet that I nearly wished they would commence their insipid and infuriating talk of the godly achievements of my mortal groom.
For my part, I cast my eyes down at the gold gossamer caftan that draped over the under-gown of azure silk and recalled my horror upon the palace roof of Hector's burning presence like the sun. Would this fine and delicate fabric burst into flame and engulf me?
I had long to ponder this, for I was shuttled from that room to one adjacent the Council chamber, there to await the final summons of my father. Afterwards, I would no longer be his to command. Today I would be given to Hector in name. On the morrow, he would take me by the hand and I would become his, the largest prize on top of a pile of welcoming gifts. I cannot vouch for the depth of my father's sadness at relinquishing me to a family he had the good sense to fear, but I remember the pain I felt. I knew what he expected of me and I had done my best to obey. Looming before me was a supreme test of obedience. I could not ― would not ― disappoint him. Troy would be honored to welcome me; that was my task.
Standing by the closed door of this chamber, veil drawn over my face, I turned an ear towards the sounds from within. The door was thin, for this room often served as a way to eavesdrop on formal audiences ― all with my father's knowledge, naturally. Mother often retreated here when she wished to know what transpired in the realm of Men.
I heard the head Councilor, Strachys, finish his extended welcome to the Trojan guests. My father's voice calmly echoed the sentiments, with an aside that perhaps Hector would rather quickly move on to the business that had brought him.
Through my father's voice may have seemed steady to unpracticed ears, my own believed they detected a note of urgency ― emotional, even regretful ― to conclude the matter. Before I could stop myself, a sob escaped me. But as had become the way of things in recent weeks, I had no time to linger. The door opened at an unheard command and the gathering press of my women behind me prodded me into the main chamber.
It was a grand assembly. Even though my veil I could see the distinct shape of a large throng of people. All members of the Council were present, a tight and formidable group to the left of my father's throne. I felt their eyes on me in collective concentration that I would not make a false or embarrassing step. I already knew I had many expectations resting on my shoulders, but as soon as one foot entered that room, I felt the weight increase.
My veil was dense enough to make any attempt to search for Hector embarrassingly obvious, so I went straightway to the throne and knelt at the feet of my father, pressing my forehead to his golden sandal. I wanted to be done with this ridiculous farce.
"Exalted King Ëetion, beloved father and sovereign ruler, I submit to you for one last time. I am yours to command. Deliver me into the hands of my husband with—"
I stopped, the well of memory suddenly dry. A distinct gasp of dismay came from the direction of the assembled councilors. My face flushed hot, but the veil masked my embarrassment.
"—hands…husb— Deliver me with the love and mercy—" I wouldn't let it be, even long after the last possible moment of saving face. I'm certain some of the those grizzled old men believed their own daughters, had they been in my position, would have acquitted themselves better. How unfortunate for them that it was my unschooled, miserable self who had the blood and dowry suitable for a Trojan prince.
"—with the love and mercy that you have shown me all my years," I finished quickly, grasping at the words my mind was vomiting forth in such jumbled fashion.
I lifted my head to look into my father's face. At such close quarters, I could see that he had been garbed in his finest raiment. He looked splendid, despite having been dressed in his official robes and jewels so hastily in order to greet his early guest. In fluid obedience, I rose and stood waiting.
"Prince Hector," my father said, "we thank the gods for your quick and safe arrival and may they bless this union with their continued favor. I give you my only and beloved daughter, Andromache."
I waited, for it would be immodest to look at my groom before I was formally accepted by him. I kept my eyes cast down, thinking thoughts I can no longer recall.
"The friendship between our two lands is strong, indeed," said a voice behind me, sounding like the low, warm note of the finest reed instrument. "And it is in the interest of all to solidify that, but—"
Although I still did not look at anyone, I heard a small, nervous shuffle of stiff robes and the agitated jangle of gold. I imagined that every council member was leaning forward in tense expectation.
"Prince Hector, if we have unwittingly given offense to you or your esteemed father, the sovereign Priam, we shall rectify it with haste and pleasure."
I suppressed a snort of disgust: Strachys, Father's head advisor, was spouting his usual sort of unctuous charm. Always so concerned about others! Always ready to inconvenience himself to great lengths to insure others were not bothered! "Others" meaning all but myself, of course. He had been the most vocal among the many advocates for this Trojan union and it had been apparent from the start that he thought of me only as a valuable bartering tool. During this whole lengthy process, I had not been spared his admonishments as to what constituted appropriate virtues and behavior. Were I made of clay, able to be pummeled and shaped to his liking, I was certain his joy would have been boundless.
"Offense? Hardly," said Hector, and he laughed softly, as though amused at the fussiness of these old men.
To my sudden and delighted surprise, it was a pleasant sound, and my ears immediately desired to hear more. If looking upon him could turn me to ash, hearing his voice had no such lethal effect. Oh, it was all becoming so ridiculous! How I managed to not shift from foot to foot like some impatient child, I will never know. My mind became an endless, repeated phrase: Let this be done, let this be done, let this be done.
Strachys continued his obsequious game to ferret out the reason for the prince's earlier hesitation. "Then perhaps you wish to see her first," he said. "You will find that we have not exaggerated or otherwise misled you as to her virtues and beauty."
To my relief, my father's hand shot up in warning. "Enough, Strachys. Our honorable guest is not here for horseflesh, but a wife. We owe him dignified proceedings in this matter."
My annoyance at the loathsome advisor, stoked by my stifling garb and foul mood, slipped what little rein I had had on it.
"And what of me?" I demanded. "I would gladly suffer a little dignity myself."
The satisfaction I felt was short-lived. My father gestured sharply in anger in a wordless order to hold my tongue. I bowed in meek apology, hands to my forehead in supplication, and began to withdraw. I had not gone two steps before I felt a strong, warrior's hand gently grasp my elbow, which then quickly disappeared before propriety could be outraged. After all, I still was not yet his.
The suspended silence was quickly filled by Strachys. "Prince Hector, this outrage will not be repeated, we assure you! The princess may have momentarily forgotten her place, but it must be a result of the usual maiden's fright."
"Honorable Strachys, your concern is appreciated," Hector replied.
Although I was still limited to seeing the scene before me enacted through my ears and cloudy shapes hovering on the other side of my veil, I sensed a thread of thinning patience in my betrothed's voice, but then it seemed to slip gently into a humor I was fast coming to like.
"And," he went on, "if a hot word or two is the arsenal my bride possesses, then I think Troy will endeavor to survive." Some muted laughter greeted this obvious jibe at the councilor and I wondered if my father was trying to smother a smile. "As I was saying," Hector resumed placidly, "my father and I recognize that a union between our houses is in the interests of all and we will honor it, but I do not agree that it is a matter to be concluded with such haste. Andromache?"
I turned my head slightly, but refused to look at him. My hesitation was apparent, for my father said, "You may answer him, daughter. Remove your veil as well, if you wish. That time has come, I think."
With trembling fingers, I grasped the hated item and tugged it from one of the clasps. Despite the chamber being filled with the scents of perfume from sheltered old men and sweat from the hard-traveled Trojan retinue, I welcomed the ability to breath on my own terms.
"Yes, my lord?" I asked, my eyes still cast downward.
"Look at me, Andromache."
No protest came from my father or his band of patronizing imbeciles, so I had leave to do as Hector commanded. This was the moment I had dreaded. I wanted to say that I dared not, that I feared what might strike me if my eyes met his face. Already my limbs were beginning to tingle with a budding warmth. Surely this was only the beginning of the inevitable flame that would consume me if I looked upon him. Much as I wanted to shove those stupid fears behind me, I found I could not.
Suddenly I felt like a cheaply-painted temple priestess. I feared my women had put too much color on my cheeks and around my eyes, turning my face into a frightening object. I would terrify the man, looking like a garish trinket. I would be no prize for Troy, but merely some oddity to place on a shelf — interesting for a time but soon forgotten. Already I could hear the gold and bronze on my foolish headdress clink and clatter louder than a clumsy servant bearing a loaded dinner tray.
Again, I heard the expectant breath from the corner where that group of old women, the councilors, hovered. How I longed to have the power to dismiss them!
With as much subtlety as I could summon so as not to betray the true extent of my fear, I swallowed and took a deep breath before raising my eyes to my future husband and lord.
And immediately I realized just what a ridiculous fool I had been, stuffing a lifetime of frights into the past several hours, turning a man — a mortal — into a figure usually used to terrify unruly children.
But no description of a bedtime monster ever gave it eyes such as Hector's. I'm often asked what was the first thing I noticed about my husband because, to some, there are too many attributes that demand simultaneous attention. And I tell them it was his eyes, no question. The darkest brown I had ever seen ― strangely strong and unyielding ― yet conveying a compassion that I had never expected from one who, to some, was a breathing collection of martial virtues. I remember thinking that he was a soldier and he would kill without hesitation, but those eyes would not let an enemy fall without a glimmer of regret at his action, at a life lost.
I found myself anchored to those eyes and clung to them as to a mooring in a storm, feeling reassured for the first time in a lamentable long while.
"What would you ask of me?" I noted that my voice still trembled, but it was not like a leaf clinging to a branch on a windy day. The more he stood beside me, the more strength I felt, in turn imbuing me with confidence. I suppose it was impossible to stand next to the Tamer of Horses and not feel something. As I would discover later, jealous men had a different reaction when in Hector's presence and blood ties did nothing to lessen that.
"I realize very little has been of your choice," he said, "but I hope that you will not hold that against me. Or my people."
"No, my lord," I replied calmly, all the while marveling that I was able to meet his eyes so bravely. "I do not. It is others who have earned my anger."
"Andromache…" My father's voice, a clear, warning rebuke.
I bit the inside of my cheek and tried to banish whatever rebellion might linger in my now-exposed face. At least the veil, as uncomfortable as it was, had allowed all manner of expressions to flit across my face undetected.
"King Eëtion," Hector said, "I would not ask such a thing of you if I did not believe its necessity, but may the chamber be emptied?"
Muttered protest came from the expected quarters and I looked to my father quickly, hoping that my surprised expression would not be construed as a desire to keep myself surrounded safely by those troublesome old men and the intimidating, impersonal crush of the rest of those gathered.
But I had nothing to fear. After a moment's pause, I saw my father's mouth curve ― ever so slightly! ― in understanding. He turned to that revered group and then to the general assembly and gestured to the door with respectful dismissal. "There is no need for this large audience. Prince Hector and I have this well in hand."
Strachys made a move to protest, but stopped and bowed in acceptance. I followed the councilors' retreat avidly, my eyes never leaving the figure of Strachys. He ventured one glance in my direction and a plain warning marked his brow: Do nothing to foul up our plans, you foolish, stupid girl. It was so plain he may as well have shouted it.
"I believe he is upset with you," I heard whispered behind me.
Against my will, I laughed, and Strachys gave me a final, parting glare as he joined the departing throng.
The doors closed and a sudden silence descended over the room. I had not noticed how much noise the shifting feet and stiff garments created. But it was broken when I looked to my father and my headdress set to jangling about. With barely-concealed impatience, I grasped it in both hands and removed it, the pins and clasps dragging tendrils of hair out of the intricate style my women had fashioned. I held it carelessly by one hand and swept the tangled, defeated hair out of my eyes.
A paternal, resigned sigh. "Andromache…"
"Don't despair, Father," I told him. "I know this is traditional for a bride to wear, but Strachys is no longer here to be outraged. Prince Hector must have thought he was getting a shipment of metal rather than a wife."
Father slouched back in his throne, visibly relaxed now that so many expectant eyes were no longer upon him. He was so different from Mother, who wore the mantle of royal duties as though she had been swaddled in it. I had never seen him truly happy and at ease when under the scrutiny of his subjects or in the demanding presence of that band of old men who undoubtedly harbored dreams of ruling themselves.
"Prince Hector, my daughter knows her duties, but she may not give that impression."
The humor that I had suspected earlier surfaced again. "I have yet to take offense, Eëtion. You will discover that I am not easily provoked, least of all by a charming maiden such as your daughter."
At this, he smiled down at me and my girlish instincts warred with those of a daughter of kings, exposed to the subtleties of politics and diplomacy from an early age. Were these honeyed words insincere to their core? Had I been mistaken when I looked into his eyes and thought I had glimpsed his soul?
Numbly, I watched him take my hand that hung limply at my side and he held it with a gentleness I soon discovered had earned him the name of Tamer of Horses. I mean no insult to myself when I liken his gesture to that of steadying a nervous mare. In the ensuing months, I learned Hector was as adept at wooing men and women to his bidding as horses.
Even now, I cannot recall exactly what happened after Hector took my hand. I imagine we both recited what was expected of us and my father dispensed some sage words about friendship, honor, duty and loyalty. I assume I did nothing embarrassing because Hector never teased me about it in later years when we had become entwined as friends and lovers, bonded into one breathing, beating entity that felt nothing ― not even a god ― could rend it asunder.
When Hector kissed me, I stirred as from a dream. Troy and Thebe. Hector and Andromache. It had happened. I was now another's. His. The way opened before me and I saw what lay head. A mighty city to learn and a vast palace to administer. A fearsome king for a father. A warrior for a husband, one unbeaten on the field and admired by most, envied and desired by many. Would I be able to survive it all?
So many doubts began to assail me but I felt no urge to run. A palm calloused by years of handling reins gently cupped my cheek. I then felt my skin turn to joyous flame.
And I smiled into the face of my sun from the north.
So it took a real sappy turn, I guess. Did it ruin the story? I'm still undecided… I hope Andromache's final thoughts are consistent with her dutiful nature - she's seen that it has to be done, Hector is very agreeable and strong, and she will make the best of it with a glad heart. Does that make sense? Anyway, please review!