A/N: Well, my attempt at Homeric fanfiction is finally here. I'm going to try and cover the period between Hector and Andromache's marriage and the beginning of the war, which should be about a year and a half, focusing on the relationships between the members of the house of Priam. Andromache is going to be my main narrator, because she's my special favorite and I want a female voice. I might have some chapters from the perspectives of Helen, Hecuba, and Cassandra. Also possibly Creusa and Laodice. Prepare yourselves for lots of Trojan women.
"And here, close to the springs, lie washing-pools where the wives of Troy and all their lovely daughters would wash their glistening robes in the old days, the days of peace before the sons of Achaea came."
-Book 22 of the Iliad, translated by Robert Fagles.
She stands knee-deep in the shallows, the rippling water pulling at her skirts. The lake is much like the one beyond the walls of her city, but much larger, so huge that she cannot see the opposite edge. No matter how she strains her keen eyes—falcon's eyes, one of her brothers had always told her, half-jealously, as his own eyes were too weak to see the center of a target a hundred paces away—all she can see is grey mist, shrouding the corners of the world from her view. Although she has not yet visited the ocean, and only overheard merchant's stories, she supposes that this must be something like it. The wind from across the water is cold on her cheeks, but the waves themselves are soft and warm.
She sees the woman coming from far away, striding gracefully through the water. No one could naturally move that fast through waist-high lakewater, but the woman comes as rapidly as if she were gliding. She looks unnatural as well, beautiful as summer, with glossy hair black as jet, clear blue eyes and creamy skin. The wet cloth of her gown clings tight to her shapely body. The girl catches her breath, stumbling clumsily backward, away from this goddess, for surely she must be. The woman lays a smooth hand on her forearm, steadying her in a surprisingly strong grip.
"Don't run, child. I won't hurt you."
"Who are you?" the girl says, her voice barely a whisper.
"Don't you know?" says the goddess—Aphrodite—as if there was never a question, which there probably wasn't.
She bows her head, suppliant.
Aphrodite places both of her palms on the girl's face, and lifts her head, gazing into her eyes. Something small and bold stirs inside the girl, cutting through fearful awe, and she does not look away.
The goddess draws them closer, kissing the girl on her forehead.
As her eyesight fades, she hears Aphrodite's voice murmuring into her ear.
"I have a gift for you. May it bring you strength."
In later years, she will know why the goddess had not wished her luck.
When Andromache struggles back into the waking world, the dream is still heavy in her mind. She opens her eyes, still awestruck, and now very confused. Sitting bolt upright in bed, she stares around the room, afterimages of smoky mist and smooth blue-green water searing against the shadowy corners. Outside, the summer sky is spread broad and black and twinkling with stars, the first streaks of fiery daylight appearing in the east. Across the room, there's a golden light cast against the wall, a distorted ring shape.
Although the room is warm and stuffy, Andromache feels a quick, sharp chill deep in her bones. She slides out of bed, padding across the room on quiet bare feet. The source of light rests on a cedar chest. It's a metal circlet, meant to hold her hair and veil in place. When she holds it in her hands, the heft of the thing tells her it is, in fact, gold. The band is embossed with a rippling pattern, like ocean waves must be, and three white pearls are set at each side. The cold, shivery feeling returns when she confirms that she's never seen the piece in her life.
I have a gift for you.
She steals over to the servant girl slumbering in a cot at her bed's foot. Leaning over, Andromache takes the girl's shoulder and shakes her gently.
"Galene, wake up. Wake up!"
Galene struggles to a seated position, pushing herself up on her elbows. She rubs at her eyes, clouded with sleep.
"Go back to bed, Lady Andromache. It's too early. You shouldn't need to dress for hours. See, the sun's not yet risen."
"Galene, did anyone come in here last night? Did my mother mention having any jewelry sent? I woke up and found this laid out."
Andromache holds out the circlet, keeping details of her strange dream to herself. Galene's eyes widen, wondering.
"Oh, my lady, it's beautiful." Her hand reaches tentatively out, and she glances shyly up at Andromache through her lashes.
"Yes, you may touch it."
Galene caresses the wave pattern, brushing one of the pearls with her thumb.
"I didn't hear or see anyone come in. And, look, the door's still barred. How would this have got in here?" The younger girl begins to look afraid. "What if nymphs or spirits climbed the palace walls, my lady?"
No nymphs, but a goddess.
"I'm sure it's merely a wedding gift, Galene. Nothing to worry about. I'll ask my mother whether I should wear it for the ceremony." The steadiness of Andromache's voice surprises her.
Galene nods, looking calmer. "You should try to sleep again, my lady. You'll need to be well-rested for tonight."
Andromache assumes Galene is referring to the wedding feast, which will go past midnight, as opposed to the eventual consummation of her marriage. The other girl is quite young, barely thirteen, and her expression at the moment is completely innocent. Besides, she's too timid and conscious of her place to make a comment like that anyway. However, Andromache is old enough, and nervous enough, to see another meaning in her words.
She tries to focus on the feast itself, which will surely be magnificent, with all the summer flowers decorating her father's hall, the boars, cows, ducks, and lambs she's seen roasting whole in a line of spits in the palace kitchens, and the music and dancing she loves so much. However, the thought of going to her new husband's bed for the first time is still frightening, even though she knows Hector is a good man who will treat her well.
Although the Trojan delegation has been at Thebes for nearly two weeks, she's never been alone with Hector, always accompanied by councilors or ladies in waiting, and he's never seen her unveiled. Hector is handsome enough, tall and wiry with even features and long dark hair. But she's wise enough to know physical beauty is no reflection of the soul. One of her father's council, though considered handsome, looks at her and the other court women like they're pieces of meat. His cold dead-fish eyes make her legs shake beneath her skirts and she feels sorry for his poor wife.
Hector, however, also has kind eyes and smiles easily, which speaks far better of him than how he looks. The last time she had seen him she was a girl of eleven, four years earlier, when they were officially betrothed. He was already a young man, though narrower across the shoulders than he is now. She was shy and apprehensive at first, but he had talked to her like one of her brothers. He had learned somehow that she was said to be a talented singer, and had managed to coax her into singing for him.
When she had met him for the second time weeks before, he had asked her if she still sang. It gratified her that he had remembered her as she used to be, but she, shyer now that she was older and understood more, had not yet sung for him.
Andromache looks very different at fifteen than she had at eleven. The last time Hector had seen her, she'd been a short, delicate little girl. The summer she had turned twelve she had shot up like a weed, and spent a long time tall and flat and feeling stretched. Over the last year and a half, however, she's begun to look like a woman, her hips and chest curving outwards, her body preparing to bear children. She's still rather slender, though, unlike Galene, whose figure is already more rounded than Andromache's will ever be. She is thankful for her height, because Hector is a tall man and her head barely reaches his shoulder as it is.
Anxious, and perhaps a little excited—she has been visited by the goddess of love and beauty, after all, which is surely a good sign—she cannot fall asleep, even when Galene's soft even breathing reaches her ears. She sits with her back against the bed frame, still and silent and watchful, as the dark sky bleeds into day.
Andromache is roused from her stupor by the sharp clatter of fists knocking against her door.
"Open up, little sister!"
She stands up, her back aching in protest, and hurries to the door, as Galene begins to rouse herself. Lifting the wooden bar closing her room off from the corridor, she swings the heavy door inward. Hilarion, the youngest of her seven older brothers, is standing outside, grinning enthusiastically.
"I thought you'd be awake. I thought I could get you to yourself before Mother and all the ladies came clucking in like hens to dress you."
In spite of her somber mood, she can't help but smile. Hilarion's name, which means "cheerful", was well chosen. Of all her teasing, loving, protective, sometimes smothering brothers, he is the closest to her heart. While her eldest brothers are already married, with babies of their own, Hilarion is only three years older than she. He is also the brother who has acted as her spy these last two weeks, carrying her stories of Hector, as he acts with the men and boys of her father's court, showing off their hunting and fighting skills.
It is not prowess with a sword or boar-spear that interests Andromache, however. Does Hector joke with the other men? Does he talk only of the hunt and of war, or do other topics occupy his interest? She holds Hilarion's information close to her heart, secretively, each detail helping her form a rough idea of who exactly she will wed today. Hector can hold his own among all seven princes of Thebes, she knows, a talent she herself somewhat envies. He doesn't talk for the sake of hearing his own voice, but he's not quiet either. He can quiet a spooked horse with calm hands and voice, and spoke well of Thebes's beauty, and of Troy's.
Troy's great citadel and mighty walls may be as lovely as Hector says, but her plains, between the ocean and Mount Ida, are not yet Andromache's home. She knows she will leave a part of her behind in the courtyards of King Eetion's palace, and in her city's rugged hill country. But the thought of travel spurs a secret excitement in her as well. She has never left Thebes, and part of her wants to see the surrounding lands, and finally glimpse the ocean. Troy is a greater and richer city than her ally, Andromache's homeland. Perhaps she could someday return to Thebes. But being parted from her parents and brothers will be more painful than anything else. Only Galene and a few other servant women will accompany her to Troy.
Thinking of good-byes, she runs to Hilarion and embraces him suddenly, pressing her face into his chest in sudden tears.
Hilarion, in unusual seriousness, pats her head gently, and only a little self-consciously .
"Andromache- it's not forever. I'll come visit you when Father can spare me, I promise. Hector's sisters will welcome you, and soon you'll have a baby to take care of. You won't be alone."
She wipes her eyes, angry at herself for crying.
"I know. But it's hard to leave."
"You're brave for a little henchick, sister. You'll be fine."
Her laugh is shaky but true.
"Fetch some breakfast for my sister, would you?"
Galene doesn't realize she's being addressed at first, then jumps to attention with a little squawk of fright. Andromache has noticed the shy glances she sends Hilarion when he visits them, and has guessed that Galene finds her brother handsome, and knows nothing could ever come of it. Hilarion is not the sort of prince to play around with servants girls.
After Galene hurriedly throws a wrapper over her tunic and scurries off for the kitchens, Andromache and her brother sit on the side of her bed.
"If it's any consolation to you, he's plenty nervous too."
"I got up early to see you, and saw him getting up to go to the stables."
"He went riding? What if he's late for the ceremony?"
Andromache's mind rapidly constructs a nightmare scenario where she stands alone before the altar in Thebes's great temple, dressed and ready and abandoned.
"No, you silly little girl. He just went in there to be with his horses. I imagine it calms him."
"Don't call me silly!" Andromache smacks his arm gently. Hilarion smirks.
"I can't really call you a little girl anymore, I suppose. You'll be a married lady by noon."
She takes a deep breath, allowing the air to settle into her lungs and rest awhile before she releases it. Leaning her head onto her brother's shoulder, Andromache nods in agreement, her face thoughtful.