I see the dagger. My dagger - it has been in my family for as long as living memory. Nothing in my life has ever been more inviting. Not since I was a baby enfolded in the arms of my wet-nurse have I ever been this certain of anything. And as I hold it up to the light, I consider how I might answer one final question. Should I aim at my heart, or at my womb?
I was married in a shroud, a gossamer veil draped over my face to hide the gleam of tears. Chalcione arranged my hair. Arenthe fussed a little as she fastened the rows of bracelets along my wrists. And little Daphne knelt at my feet to tie the sandals just above my pale white ankles. "Beautiful," the oldest of them whispered, stroking a tear from my face with one rough thumb. Then, seeing that I was ready, they arranged the veil across my head and shoulders.
I had heard the name Laius, but only in passing. I had heard that he was tall, and old - like a greying mountain bear. But at the age of thirteen, I was his now. I was marrying a king, and no other man would ever be allowed to see me unshrouded.
The shroud was most appropriate, I thought, ignoring the hollow pains in my chest and in my long, slender throat. Because at the age of thirteen - that was when I died.
The swaying of my litter finally ceased, and one of the bearers took my hand. I stepped from it, finally to gaze upon the face of my husband. A row of men watched me descend, a row of old, sombre faces and dark-edged manes, several of them fringed with reefs of grey. String-thin sandals slapped quietly on the smooth stone of the floor. My hidden face looked towards them - all those men with their short, thick limbs, and with their hair and beards draped over each heavy chest so much broader than my own.
On that day, I held the knowledge of the damned. My fate had been decided long ago. I was a Princess of Achaea - soon to be a Queen. I had no more control over my own destiny than I had over the path I took across the lengthy, high-ceilinged hall. Given the choice, I would just as certainly not have approached that altar. But the planets had to move along their own set paths, and so did I.
Laius' mouth was tight and broad, his face set into a gruff mask, and his long, dark hair and beard already streaked with ribbons of silver. I was tiny, small even for my age. And the Theban king was huge, vital - as unshakable as a boulder half buried beneath the Earth.
Piercing hazel eyes stared from beneath jutting eyebrows, burning, intelligent and alive. But still, I discovered with some disappointment, I could not set aside the thought that I was looking into the face of Thanatos. Death. His calloused hand reached forward as my father Oenameus passed my own hand into his. It was easily twice the size, tight around my palm, and rough to the touch like rubbing my skin against gritted sand.
My father's voice rang clearly across the room, but I did not look into the eyes of any watching men. I heard him speak as though from the far end of a steep, dividing canyon. "I give you this woman for the bearing of legitimate children."
It was done. We were married, and from this moment on, Jocasta Daughter of Oenameus was as dead as the shades beneath the ground.
In the greater part of my memory, I am watching my father as though from a tremendous distance - myself standing at the end of the palace grounds, while he stands at the other. His face in my thoughts is as the face of a marble statue, at the stage before the sculptor finally begins to shape the final details.
But his hair, I shall never fail to remember. It is long, the colour of fresh honey when the gold of sunlight shines through from behind.
Laius' hair was much darker, but when I lay with him on that first night, my thoughts were of Oenameus. It was a bad omen. I said nothing.