Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Troy belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon and Wolfgang Petersen/David Benioff/Homer.
Four days before my lady was married and taken from me, Master came striding into the courtyard, his cloak blowing with the morning chill over his shoulders, and, standing at the threshold of the women's quarters, shouted, "Bring her here!"
None of the slaves knew whom he meant. Mistress came hurrying from the spinning, wringing her hands, her hair tumbling with her pins. "Lord, I am here, I am here! What has happened?"
"No! Bring—her. Our daughter."
They said Mistress stared at him, eyes wide. "Our daughter?" she said faintly.
"By the gods, yes! Our daughter! Bring her here!"
Mistress stood, knowing not what to do. It was her bodyservant, the Calydonian, who came on winged feet to the nursery, and told me that Master was calling for his daughter to be brought before him.
I slept, then, at the side of my lady's bedstead, to both be at her side and to watch over her during the nights. Since I was a babe, I have been both blessed and cursed with the most wakeful sleep, pulled easily enough from rest by the slightest noise, and this has served me well as a slave, especially in the years that I was nurse and shield to Mistress's only daughter, the youngest child of Eetion.
It was not long after daybreak. My lady was still asleep, and I myself had only been awake for an hour. The storage room that served as my lady's nursery was the smallest and most concealed of any in the women's quarters, and would not receive the glance of Eos until near midmorning. I was on my knees by the firepot when the Calydonian threw open the door.
I looked up, to glare at the ill-mannered intrusion, but the expression on her face made my throat close.
"Master is here," she hissed, throwing her chin back over her shoulder. "He wants the girl!"
Then she was gone, rushing back to Mistress's side.
Hands shaking, I hurried to the bedstead and shook my lady by her shoulders. "Child! Child, wake up, your father is here!"
She groaned, a low, questioning breath of air.
"Come!" I pulled back the blankets, gathering up her clothes from a near chest.
I could not bring myself to look at my lady. I was too afraid—what could Master want with his daughter? Since the day she had been born, he had not asked to see her or commanded her before him. For fifteen years, it had been for him as if he had no daughter.
Now, suddenly, he wanted her in the courtyard.
I did not look at her as I helped her into her gown, and then a shawl. I did not look at her as I fit sandals to her feet, or as I turned about myself, so frantic that I neglected to straighten her hair as I usually did. My head was overflowing with anguish and trepidation, and I could not face her.
When my lady spoke, it was slow and stammering, as if she were confused. "What...who..."
"Wake, my lady," I urged, weak with fear, and grasped her hand. "We must go!"
I pulled her into the hallway, barely noticing when she stumbled as if she were drunk. I righted her, arranged her shawl over her face, and took her to her father.
He waited, striding back and forth, cloak still cold and damp on his back. The two oldest of his sons were with him, clothed and cloaked still from the journey, and the other five had gathered in the courtyard. The three of them, Master and the two eldest, had stern, worried faces, and Mistress's own was as white as froth.
I pulled my lady to stand before Master, and then I cowered back, desperate and dreading.
"Daughter," said Master. There was a tone to his voice that made the hair stand on my neck. "Your father has found for you a husband."
I could hear the gasps of the other slaves, the gasps of the five younger sons. Master, the two older, and Mistress were mute.
"His name," continued Master, with that peculiar inflection still, "is Hector. Hector of Troy."
I gasped. I could not help myself. The whole courtyard was stricken dumb, and I could hear spindles clattering to the floor.
"When your brothers and I reached the Walled City," said Master, "we heard there that Priam sought a wife for his firstborn son. Then it was that I remembered that I, Eetion, had a daughter who had just reached marriageable age, and it seemed to me that Thebes and Troy had a common purpose."
No! Despair made the white stone of the courtyard blacken before my eyes. The Abducted have mercy!
Master had stopped mid-step, was then standing in front of my lady, his eyes fixed on her face below her shawl as if trying to see her face through the gray folds. Impatience made his brows come together in a scowl.
"Take off that cowl," he said abruptly. "I need a look at you."
I trembled. My lady remained still, unmoving.
Master's eyes widened. "Not disfigured?" He glared at me, his face flushed with the anger of the Earth-Shaker Himself and his brows trenched with apprehension. "Not ugly?"
What could I do? I shook my head, whispered, "No, no, she is not—disfigured."
Eetion's sons glanced at each other, raising their brows and their shoulders. They, too, had not seen their sister's face since she had been a babe of five, and could only guess at what she looked like.
"Daughter, uncover yourself," said Master, throwing back his head and lifting his hand. "I must know what I have given to a prince of Troy."
Still, she did not move. Master's face filled with blackest anger, and he pulled back his hand to strike my lady.
"Wait!" The Eldest and Youngest Herself must have helped me to my feet. "My lord, please—" I held out my hands, supplicating.
Master's hand lowered. His eyes told me that I would be punished later for my temerity.
Shaking, white with terror, unable to watch what I did, I reached for my lady's shawl and pulled it away.
I was looking at Master's face as I did so. I saw how it changed. I saw his eyes go round, his mouth open. I saw his arms go slack from his shoulders, the shoulders as they lurched.
Where I had expected to see rage, I saw wonder.
Mistress's face had whitened to bone, her reddened mouth gaped. The sons of Eetion were all on their feet, their eyes as wide as their father's, and I heard one breathe, "By the Foam-arisen!"
I could not understand it. I had awaited disappointment, blame, perhaps hostility—but this?
I raised my head, and glanced, from beneath the edge of my own shawl, at my lady.
My mouth opened, but I could not speak. My breath came short, yet I could not catch it. The Earth seemed to shake below my feet, but I did not fall.
A girl was standing there. A girl as small and slender as the stem of an asphodel, a girl with eyes as green as the waters that lapped at the shores of my own Ithaca—
—a girl who was not my lady.
They said, when Mistress birthed her eighth and final babe, that she was tired of childbearing, her life already filled to overflowing with her seven sons. They said that she barely looked at the daughter they pulled from between her legs, barely glanced at the mewling girl before giving her over to the midwife, who then turned to the door of the birthing chamber and put her straight into my own arms. I was already an old woman, then, aged by use and the beds of whichever men wanted me, be he Master or one of Master's guests. In any other house of Thebes, the only daughter of a man such as Eetion would certainly not have been given to a low-ranked slave such as me to care for, but Eetion, as all knew, did not want his daughter, and his wife did not care. Unwanted, the babe came into unwanted hands.
How I pitied the whimpering thing. Poor child, born into a family that had no need of girls with their overabundance of boys. To a father who only sighed at the dowry he would have to provide, to a mother who would not look at her. To seven brothers, for whom she would only ever be a nuisance and a victim.
From that moment on, before she had even taken her third breath, she became mine. I was mother, nurse, and shield, all at once, for the first fifteen years of my lady's life. I kept her from getting in her mother's way, from chafing her father with her presence, and out of the reach of her brothers, at least as much as I could. A room in the back of the women's quarters that had until then been used to store cloth became my lady's nursery, with some haggling on my part, and for fifteen years, that was where I raised her.
What a small, frail child she was. Wan, with a shoulder's length of flaxen hair, and eyes of indeterminate shade, difficult to see for how downcast they always were. My lady's seven brothers were comely boys, tall and white and dark of hair and eye, merry in their cruelties. Mistress had been, when she was a girl, the loveliest maiden-bride before Helen, and Master had been said to be as fair of feature as none had seen before in the city, and all their children share these blessings—but one.
My lady had none of her parents' looks. Her eyes had no color, her hair was too thin, her breasts and hips too small, and the paleness of her skin suggested not the refined upbringing to which she should have been entitled, but the shut-up life of the rejected. I tried to feed her well—milk, honey, the white meat of fish, the fattest parts of fowl and joint of boar—but I could not get enough of anything from a table laden for others, and flesh would not cling to her bones. I tried unguents to bring a shine to her hair, but all those concoctions did was smell so badly that my lady's eyes spilled over for a moon. I went to the priestesses of the Cyprus-born and brought home oils that they assured me would make my lady lovely in the eyes of men, but instead her skin reddened and itched and she could not sleep for days.
Despite all my efforts and prayers, she remained what she was, a small, weak child with a small, weak voice. At night I wept, when she could not see, for I knew what happened to girls who could not catch a husband, and especially to those whose families had no use for them.
Poor thing. Despised by her brothers, neglected by her mother, and a burden on her father, with no one but an old, useless slave to protect her.
In a house such as Eetion's, slaves are numerous enough. No one asked after me, wanted my service, or cared what I did—I was, as I said, too old for anything. So I spent fifteen years at my lady's side, putting the spindle in her hand, showing her the weaves for which I had been much-sought in my own youth, hiding her from her brothers, begging her mother for the wool with which to clothe her, quarreling with the other slaves when they refused to serve her. I determined early in her childhood to do everything I could to prepare her for a difficult life. Plain as no one else in her family was, she could not rely on her face to get her a husband, so I gave her other qualities—my lady could weave a cloak in a day, a cloak patterned in the lovely Ithacan style that few know here at the far edge of the East Country, and spin a roomful of rough wool into thread so fine that spiders mistook them for their own silk. My lady knew all the herbs known to women, knew how to chill a fever, relieve a cough, and even staunch the hot blood of an arrow-wound. She knew the properties of oil, all of the sacrificial rites to which women should attend, and even midwifery—which all practical women should know—and could recite all of the most important songs and stories, though her voice was nothing particular.
Yet she was not beautiful, my lady, and this is a crime for which there is no forgiveness. No matter what I taught her, no matter how much I told her, her one hope lay in the dowry her father would provide. I could only pray that Master would not be remiss in it, that he would remember his rank if not his fatherly obligation, and at least offer a bride's portion fit for a well-born girl, and then perhaps my lady would be married to a sensible, stolid man who would appreciate the comforts his wife could give him and think not so much on her lacks. Then perhaps the Apportioners could allay some of the hardship to which they had condemned this poor, blameless child, and my lady could at least live out her life in comfort.
Those were my hopes for my lady. Hopes for a life that was not as difficult as it could be, without longing for impossible things, where in her safety and her children, perhaps, she could find some small joys, though they be simple and modest. And, too, there was always the hope that, as she matured, perhaps she could become, if not beautiful, at least sightly, when she had grown into her long, bony frame and her hair had darkened with age.
Those were my hopes—not for glory, but for mercy, and a decent man.
That day, when Master's mouth formed the name of Hector, I thought I would die of grief.
Not my lady. Not my pale, neglected lady, who would be wretched even below slaves if she were somehow married to a man like Hector. How they would scorn her, the highborn women of Troy! How her husband would hate her, would go to other women for pleasure while he forced himself to lie with his wife for the sake of sons. How she would suffer, even if her father should dower her with a thousand golden ships and a veil of silver, for the plainness of her face!
But if she were not married to Hector—if Eetion had to go back on a marriage that he had already promised to Priam of Troy—
Where would his wounded pride turn, but on his daughter?
So as I pulled the shawl from my lady's head, I prayed, with every part of myself, with every bit of my love for my lady—Hestia, please!
—and saw, when I uncovered my lady's head, that this was not my babe at all.
The girl's hair was a skein of gold, as if the Misshapen Himself had forged it. I had never seen anything like it before, and have only ever seen one other with anything like it since, and that was a man. It shone under the rose-kissed fingers of the Sun-bringer as I have seen Mistress's golden armbands glimmering in the light, armbands that she said were solid gold and gifted to her by Eetion when he had been younger and often coming home from wars.
The girl turned, away from Master, to look at me, and her expression was that of a child who did not know what was happening.
Master closed his mouth. His sons were staring at their sister, a sister whose face none of them had seen for nearly eight years, a sister whom they had always dismissed from their minds and their thoughts as easily as if they had no sister at all.
A sister whose face could have been the Foam-arisen's own.
Mistress seemed to be made of stone where she stood. Eyes wide, her mouth opening and closing, she finally managed, after a moment, to gasp between her teeth, "Daughter?"
The girl turned toward Mistress.
Master's eyes...they were still wide. He had regained himself, had raised a hand to his beard, and he looked at his daughter from breast to hip to foot.
"By all the gods," he said, in a low rasp that filled the courtyard. "The bride prices I could have got for you, and I have dowered you to Hector!"
The girl stared at Eetion. The others stared back.
"Woman!" Master's eyes turned to me, and in them I saw broken bones, swollen flesh. "Why did you not tell me!"
I opened my mouth, to say what I do not know—perhaps She is not your daughter! or What can I say to those who do not listen? I opened my mouth, but my tongue was made of clay, and then I saw his arm go up, to come down, perhaps, against my face—
And then the girl moved.
A single step. One step, and she stood between Master and me, as upright as a temple pillar. She raised no arm, she made no cry, she only stood and looked at him, back straight and head unbowed.
Master stilled. His arm hesitated.
"No," said the girl, and her voice rang against the walls like a sword beaten against a shield.
In years past, Master had beaten slaves to death for less, killed other men for less. Not even his boys, his beloved sons, could have been so bold as to say such a thing to him, or behave in such a way. Mistress staggered back against a wall, a hand clutched to her breast.
But Master's face was white. He looked at the girl, the girl he thought to be his own flesh, and his eyes filled with something like fear.
His arm lowered.
"For you, daughter," he said, but his voice trembled in his mouth.
The girl did not move, and said nothing.
Abruptly, Master turned away, almost knocking down his two oldest sons. "Well, Wife? Why do you stand there? The prince comes in three days! The daughter of Eetion must have clothes!"
He walked away, through the gate and into the men's quarters, shouting for his own bodyservants. His sons looked at each other, uncertain what they should do or say, and they stared at their sister, their golden-haired sister.
Who turned back, to me, her shawl in a heap at her feet, and held out a hand.
I stared at it, and then I looked up at her. At a girl, the girl who was there where my lady should have been, who I knew was not my lady.
Who was, in a small, hesitant, disoriented way, smiling at me.
Beneath my breath, I whispered, "Who are you?"
The smile broke. Fear filled her eyes, fear and confusion and panic.
And in those familiar things, I seemed to see again my lady.
One and the same, a voice murmured in my ear. One and the same.
The gods come most often to slaves and old women.
I took her hand.
"My lady," I said.
The gods had answered my prayers. That night, I went to the temple and made offerings to the Virgin One, and wept for knowing my lady was safe.
Three days later, Hector came, and took the girl away.