This is a story I wrote for my Mum's birthday...I hope you like it! (It will be in two parts!) It's based on Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin, but that's based on the Aeneid, so it's about the Aeneid. Enjoy!
P.S. taking a leaf out of my best friend's book...I don't think I've ever lived in Ancient Latium, so I assume I'm not Virgil!
All I want is the wind in my hair to face the fear but not be scared…
I laugh as Sagitta gallops faster and faster along the river, her black mane whipping in the wind, her tail flying out behind her. I cling tightly to her neck as she flies across the beach at the river mouth, slowing to a stately trot as we approach the edge of the water. As she halts, I slide off her back, giving her a pat on the neck before she wheels around, galloping off again to the north. I stand and watch as she disappears into the distance, before gathering up the end of my long white stola, and sitting in the shade of the cliffs.
I tip my head back against the cool rock, letting a droplet of water fall onto my nose and roll down my face – almost as if I am crying. But I'm not. I refuse to cry here – well, I refuse to cry at all. I never have – not since I grew up.
I focus my gaze on the bay, watching the soft undulation of the blue-green sea water as it meets the clear blue of the river. Suddenly I start upright – narrowing my eyes at a line of black shapes in the distance. Ships; black ones with bristling oars protruding from the sides. Ships. I wonder why they're here.
All afternoon I watch the ships get closer from my seat under the cliffs. As they draw near, I hear the faint song of the oarsmen and the muffled beat of the oars against the water. Still I stay seated, back propped against the cliff, face expressionless as I watch them go past me and down the river.
When I go home, I find my father sitting in his chamber. "Father, I saw a fleet of warships go up the river this morning," I tell him.
He looks at me; his face sad. "So soon," is all he says.
They're just like water off my wings…
There are lots of things I can tell you about me.
One, my name is Lavinia.
Two, I am the daughter of King Latinus and Queen Amata of Latium.
Three, I have long dark brown curls and blue-green eyes with long lashes and pale skin – I am often called the most beautiful girl in the whole of Latium. When people see me, they presume that I sit inside in front of my mirror all day – that no girl who looks like I do could possibly be real. But that's as far from the truth as it gets. I spend all day every day outside – climbing trees, riding my wild mare, Sagitta, gathering food, hunting.
Four, I have many unwanted suitors. The most persistent of which is Turnus, King Turnus of neighbouring Ardea. He is handsome, so my women say, but he is an arrogant fool in my opinion. Knowing my mother, though, I am likely going to spend my days married to the said arrogant fool, which is not the future I have envisioned for myself.
The aforementioned suitor is visiting at the minute – naturally, I have disappeared into the woodland as I do whenever he comes to stay. I am perfectly safe from him here as no-one knows my woodland as well as I do – no-one has a hope of finding me. I know when I return, my father will be reproachful, as always, and my mother will berate me for not acting like I'm supposed to. Like a princess. But I always stand with my mouth closed and my head down and listen patiently to her lectures, before quietly going back to my room to lie down.
Laughing at my depressing thoughts of Turnus, I swing lightly down from my tree, retrieving the bow and arrows I stashed in its trunk. I sling the quiver over my shoulder, and start to walk deeper into the woods, like a shadow. My friend, Silvia, says I move like the wind – I'm there, and then I'm gone. I laugh at her, and say that I've learnt the art of walking quietly, not crashing through the forest like she does. But then she pulls my braid and tells me that not all of us can be gifted the way I am. I think I detect an undertone of jealousy in her words, although she hides it very well.
As I walk, I listen to the birdsong, relish the feeling of the warm sun on my face and the soft earth beneath my bare feet. My senses become more alert as I climb a hill, and cross a stream. This is bear and wolf territory now – and a small, slight seventeen-year-old is no match for a wild beast. I have to be ready to climb a tree or run, whichever comes first.
But as it turns out, the threat is not from wolves or bears. As I enter a small glade with a streamlet flowing from a great rock in the centre, I hear voices – voices of a hunting party. I start – I mustn't allow myself to get caught! I cast around me for a suitable tree – my eyes settling on a great old oak, the branches curved like a ladder. In a flash, I am up it, settling comfortably in a fork high off the ground. I am just in time – no sooner am I alighted upon my branch, a party of men pour into the clearing. But…these are not like any other men…these are different…I've never seen them before, and Turnus would be hunting with his companions – dumb idiots who I have had the pleasure of meeting many times before. The lead huntsman – a tall, dark, handsome man who looks to be in his late twenties, early thirties looks around him. Another man comes and claps him on the shoulder. "Aeneas, face it. Your prey is well and truly gone," he says to great laughter from the other men.
The man called Aeneas smiles slightly – a peculiar half-smile that makes him look more like a god than a human. "Achates, my friend, you misunderstand me. I thought I saw a streak of white – not prey."
"White?" a young boy who could be no more than fourteen, asks.
"Yes," Aeneas says, a small frown creasing his forehead. Another man next to the one called Achates nudges him, and points upwards.
"Your prey, I think," he says loudly. "Right there in that tree."
Well, no chance to hide now. Aeneas turns around, his gaze falling upon me. I keep my face impassive as I look down on them, meeting Aeneas' dark eyes. Inside, my heart thumps frantically as I try to stop a blush colouring my cheeks.
"Good morning, sirs," I say haughtily.
"Good morning," the one called Achates replies cheerfully. "Lovely morning, isn't it?"
I incline my head ever so slightly. "Beautiful." I make no move to continue the conversation, and neither do they. I am still very aware of Aeneas' eyes on my face. The boy speaks up next. "Father, is she a nymph?" he looks puzzled.
"What do you think?" Aeneas asks – directing his question to the boy, but still staring at me. His voice is warm and deep, reminding me of rich honey dripping...That is enough, Lavinia.
I answer it for him. "I am a girl, not a nymph."
"And may we know your name?" he asks me this time.
I raise my head and glare coolly at him. "Lavinia."
He bows his dark head very slightly. "A pleasure to meet you, Mistress Lavinia. We will be on our way."
And with that, he and his men depart the clearing, leaving me alone with the birds.