First Chapter – From princess to priestess
A.N. I'm going to rewrite my story from the beginning because when I first posted it I was in a hurry and I was not entirely happy with the results.
Since I was born I've always be considered strange. People would look at me with wide eyes or whisper to one another in my presence. At first I supposed that was just because I was the King's daughter.
My first encounter with Apollo dates back to when I was about seven. I had accompanied my mother to his temple and she had left me alone to give our offer to Laxani, the high-priest.
I was standing in the temple's main hall, looking at Apollo's beautiful statue, when I heard a melodious and sweet voice calling my name. I looked around but no one was in sight and with a shiver I understood that the voice came from my own head.
"Cassandra" he said again, softly. I knew he was Apollo.
I felt strange, almost as if I was floating. But when I looked down my feet were still on the ground.
"Do not be afraid, my dearest child. " he murmured.
That very moment a female snake went out from the basket she had been resting in and slowly slithered towards me. Unlike my mother and my sisters I had always liked snakes so I didn't back away.
"You can touch her. She knows you from a long time and she will do you no harm." Apollo's voice said confidently in my head.
I kneeled in front of the snake and outstretched my hand. She slowly wrapped around my arm and eventually rested her head on my shoulder. She was warm and her presence was almost reassuring to me so I easily accepted the contact. She eventually went back to her basket and after a moment my mother went back with Laxani.
Upon seeing my confused expression she snorted: "Cassandra, would you please try to focus on something. You're always lost in your own world."
"Do not blame your mother, she does not know that I am talking to you. Keep it to yourself for now" Apollo's voice murmured, almost laughing. "Now go with your mother. Feel free to come to my temple and to touch my sacred snakes every time you wish".
-O- -O- -O-
That very year my father decided that I had to study like my brothers. I was happy – I've always liked to learn new things- but I knew that usually women didn't study, not even princesses.
"Are Polyxena and Laodice going to study as well?- I asked my father when he informed me of his decision.
"They're not." He answered briskly.
"Then why am I going to?" Priam sighed and looked at me tiredly and I feared that I had pushed my curiosity too far.
"At the appropriate time you will know." He said in a definitive tone.
So my twin brother Helenus and I went to study with Hermes' priest, Aesacus. He was very old and my father's advisor from many years but he was also playful and gentle and liked to tell stories, which I loved. He especially loved Cretan stories because his father was Cretan.
"… and so Dedalus built this construction and called it 'labyrinth', and the Minotaur was imprisoned inside it." He told us one day.
"And what happened next? Tell me, please!" I pleaded, excited. "Will you wait a moment, my child?" said Aesacus smiling "You always want to know what will happen next, this is your biggest flaw". Years later I understood how right he had been.
"As if it was the only one" Helenus muttered, but I heard him nevertheless.
"Do you really think you are so wonderful?" I snapped. My brother and I had never been on good terms. I felt that he was jealous of me because of the attentions people paid to me and he just couldn't understand that I didn't want those attentions! And besides Aesacus was one of the very few people that didn't treat me differently from my other siblings.
"At least I'm not insufferable like you, Cassandra!" he retorted, and I slapped him on the head while he punched me on the arm.
"Now you will stop beating each other!" said Aesacus sternly, and we went immediately still and silent because it was very unusual to see him angry. "As for you, Helenus, you shouldn't always try to sting your sister. And as for you, Cassandra, I don't like it when you slap your own brother and besides you should learn to wait and see, sometimes. You can't always know everything from the beginning! Now, if you are finished arguing… the Minotaur only ate human flesh…"
"Bleah!" we chorused. We tried our best not to argue and not to beat each other at school but sometimes we just couldn't help.
Aesacus taught me how to read, write and sing (music has always been very important in Troy since it was Apollo's city) and many wonderful stories and songs that I still remember. We later became good friends, despite the difference in age.
-O- -O- -O-
"Cassandra, are you ready? We shall go to the temple!" Hector shouted from the gardens.
"I'm ready!" I shouted back, approaching him and smiling widely to my beloved older brother. He was our family's joy and my favourite brother, always ready to share a joke with me but always to give me advice should I have needed it. On the contrary I almost didn't talk with Deiphobus, Licaon and the others, not to mention Troilus, who was just born, and Paris, who had been sent away.
I still remember that day very well. One night my mother was wakened by a horrible nightmare and my father called Laxani to interpret it. I didn't hear what he said and my parents wouldn't tell us but when Paris was born they sent him on mount Ida with a shepherd.
Later I had dreams about him and I understood.
"This place is always so quiet, but you feel such an awe…" Hector murmured once we had gotten into the temple. From some time I had noticed that I didn't belonged to my family. I loved Hector dearly and I felt affection for my parents and siblings but that palace just wasn't my place. I only felt at home in Apollo's quiet temple.
"As with Apollo…" I answered without thinking, and Hector turned swiftly to me.
"What? Have you seen him?" he asked, bewildered.
"No. I… how to say that? Felt him"
"Felt? What does it mean?"
"I heard his voice and a sort of warm aura around me… but I was alone" I knew that it wasn't clear and that I seemed crazy but that was.
"And how do you know it was him?"
"I know, Hector."
I regarded him seriously, then murmured into his ear: "If I tell you a secret, do you promise you'll never tell anyone?" with the conspiracy tone that only a eight years old child could have.
"Of course, little sister!" he smiled.
"I want to become his priestess. Do you think they will let me?"
"Yes, I think they will" he said confidently and I felt reassured: my older brother was always right.
"Has he asked that of you, Cassandra?"
"No. But I know that I belong here."
"And what did he say to you?"
"He said my name, several times. Then…" I was about to tell him about the snake but I hesitated.
"You will not believe me" I said doubtfully.
"Come on, little sister! Tell me!"
"In a corner there was a snake. He told me to caress it"
"You did that?"
"Yes! I couldn't resist his voice"
"Weren't you afraid?"
"Not at all! That was Apollo's snake, he wouldn't have hurt me!"
Hector's expression was a bit disgusted; he wasn't afraid of snakes, but he sure didn't want to caress one of them as if it was a cat!
"But it's beautiful! They are soft and warm…" I tried to explain.
"Of course, they are adorable!" he commented sarcastically.. –"Indeed they are! Look!" A snake lied in the corner and I approached it.
"Cassandra, are you sure you are allowed to do so?"
"Yes. Apollo told me that I must never be afraid of his sacred snakes because they know me from a long time. I didn't understand the last part, though" I added, still confused by Apollo's words. Shrugging, I sat on the floor and gently caressed the snake. With a slow, sinuous movement the animal encircled my arm until he licked my ear, then he went back to its place in the corner.
"You see?" I smiled at Hector. He was speechless, his mouth open; we went back to the palace without a word.
-O- -O- -O-
"Hector" i murmured as he polished his spear.
"Yes, little sister?"
"I want to ask our father's permission… to enter Apollo's temple. Would you accompany me? Please?" I felt it was time. Some days previously I had had an epilepsy crisis – they had told me because I didn't remember it at all- and from that moment on I had been feeling Apollo's presence in my mind all the time. He didn't talk to me, he didn't seem to interfere with my thoughts but I knew that he was there. Occasionally I would feel a burst of emotion that came from his mind and not from mine. I just knew that I had to enter his temple.
"Of course!" he took my hand and we headed to Priam's quarters. My father wasn't surprised to hear my wish:
"My daughter. Now the time has come for you to know that. Soon after your birth you were chosen by Apollo. One night, while you were sleeping in his temple as is the custom for newborns, he sent a snake to lick your ear. From that moment on we have known that you would've become his priestess. So yes, I give you my permission. You will enter as soon as possible". With that I finally understood why people murmured around me and why Apollo's snake knew me from a long time.
So at twelve years of age I entered Apollo's temple. The high priest, Laxani, was as old as Aesacus but they were completely different; while Hermes' priest was playful, extroverted and sweet, Laxani was sullen, serious and a bit grumpy. But he taught me about snakes and healing as well as about the rituals and the God himself, and he was gentle but gratefully not awkward towards me, probably because he knew what it meant to be chosen by a god. Soon I understood that his grumpiness protected a somewhat fragile soul and I came to terms with his strange personality.
Soon after my arrival another girl came to the temple as a novice; her name was Myrrhine and she was just a bit younger than me and more shy and reserved. At first she treated me with awe because I was the king's daughter but after some time I managed to befriend her. She was the only girl who seemed to understand me, unlike my sister that would only worry about their hair, their looks, weaving and so on.