A/N: Well, I finally got it together and finished Chapter Two! There is a semi-graphic description of an animal sacrifice in this. You have been warned.
"She flung to the winds her glittering headdress, the cap and the coronet, braided band and veil, all the regalia golden Aphrodite gave her once, the day that Hector, helmet aflash in sunlight, led her home to Troy from her father's house."
-Book 22 of the Iliad, translated by Robert Fagles.
Before long, Galene returns from the kitchens, laden with oatcakes, goat's-milk cheese, and sliced apples. She hovers nervously by the door, watching for the coming of the queen and her ladies. Andromache eats with as much haste as she can without spilling anything, sitting cross-legged on the bed. Her brother picks stealthily at the cheese when he thinks she's not looking.
When the sounds of rustling skirts and quiet chatter come whispering up the women's quarters' corridors, Hilarion, with more than a little of a startled rooster's fluttering, retreats quickly. He pauses briefly on the way out to kiss his sister. Unseen outside the door, she hears the murmur of voices as he greets their mother.
Queen Sostrate sweeps into the room, tall and graceful, followed by a small gaggle of attendants. Andromache leaps up, bowing her head respectfully. The queen crosses the floor swiftly to embrace her daughter. Enfolded in her mother's arms, the tension in Andromache's shoulders starts to release.
Around them, the other women busy themselves unpacking trunks. One of them, accompanied by Galene, hurries into an adjoining chamber to begin drawing a bath. As they prepare to dress Andromache as a bride, the queen reassures her daughter in hushed tones.
"It's not wrong to be frightened before a marriage, child. Never suppose you're the only one."
"How did you know I was scared?"
Her mother laughs softly.
"Because I know you, my daughter, and I know young brides. I remember, when you were just a little thing, you asked me once if the setting sun would light the hills on fire. You've always been an anxious one. And I remember how nervous I was the day I married your father."
She pauses, her voice gently teasing.
"Besides, your brother told me."
Andromache smiles ruefully. She should have guessed Hilarion wouldn't have kept silent.
"You're lucky to have a summer wedding. Mine was in midwinter, and unusually cold. I thought I'd freeze in the litter between my father's gates and the great temple, though I was wrapped in blankets. I would have been shivering with worry even if I wasn't already with the cold, though."
Andromache has heard stories of her parents' wedding before, but never this part. It is difficult to imagine her dignified mother, now with delicate wrinkles clustered in the corners of her eyes and grey hairs woven in with her dark braids, as a bashful bride no older than herself. Difficult, but not impossible.
"Look at me, child."
Her mother's eyes are warm. Surprisingly, they are also damp, though she smiles.
"It's no evil to fear change. However, you must remember that showing fear is not always wise. No sane man is unafraid when he rides to battle, but very few will admit it. We women can play the same tricks as warriors. Hold your head high and smile if you can, and you'll be all right."
Andromache will be Hector's queen as well as his wife, and queens, like her mother, do not cry easily. She swallows hard.
"I will. I promise."
But she is far from a queen yet, and so she clings tightly to her mother and speaks softly, letting herself be a girl for just a bit longer.
"I'll miss you, Mama." The name she called her mother as a little child slips out, past the thickness of unshed tears in her throat.
"We'll miss you too, my daughter. All of us. But—"
"We need to say our farewells bravely. I know."
They hold each other for a long moment more, as if gathering the feeling of the other into their memories. Then, slowly, they let go.
Andromache knows no future bards will sing of her beauty, and she is too practical to mourn this for long. Neither her face nor her form is exceptional, although she is by no means ugly, or even plain. Beauty is just not a thing one would associate with her.
Today, she is almost disturbed when shown her reflection in her mirror's polished bronze surface, for she is so splendid she barely recognizes herself.
The features of her face are mostly unchanged, although her wide-set, alert dark eyes are edged in black paint. But the brilliance of her clothes and jewels lends a different light to her. She looks older, and almost magnificent.
Her one vanity would have to be her hair, which is indeed beautiful, thick and a rich deep brown. Although it will be covered by her veil, as usual, the women have dressed it in a far more elaborate version of her usual plaited knot. Twisted into position at the nape of her neck, it is still glossy and blackened from the bathwater.
The pins holding her braids in place are set with garnets, as are her heavy earrings. If, as they say in far-off Greece, milky rock crystal is water frozen so hard it cannot melt, then surely these deep-red gems were once droplets of blood. The pieces are new, gifts from the Trojan treasuries. The golden bands encircling her bare upper arms, however, are of Theban work, once her mother's. Molded dragon's heads snarl at their ends, biting gently into her skin.
It is her dress, however, that is truly glorious. With her mother and her brothers' wives, she has labored over it for weeks now. Cut of fine light wool, purplish-red in color, the flounces of its skirt embroidered richly with vine leaves and summer flowers, it is the finest dress she has ever owned. Tiny discs of gold are sewn into the edges of the fabric, shimmering when the candlelight catches at them.
The finery leaves her feeling both liberated and self-conscious. All at once she is weighed down and brilliant, shining. It's an experience that makes her somewhat light-headed.
The queen herself veils her daughter, letting the light sheet of pale purple linen float onto Andromache's braids. Tucking the ends of the cloth into place, she slides the goddess's gift over it. The cold gold of the circlet presses against Andromache's forehead, smoothing lines of anxiety from her brow.
Queen Sostrate bends down, her lips brushing Andromache's cheek.
"Blessings go with you, my daughter."
Her voice is whisper-soft, meant only for one girl's ears.
A summer wedding might be preferable to a winter one, but the sun beats down on the city, and only a few breezes swirl in the thick air, even on Thebes's highest hill. Sweat runs in little rivulets beneath her bodice, pooling at the small of her back and in the cleft between her breasts, and those heavy tiered skirts stick to her legs. All the city's nobles, as well as the Trojan delegation, have packed themselves into the temple of Zeus, which does not improve the temperature.
Before the god-statue, the high priest raises his hands to the heavens and cries out for Father Zeus's blessing. He is a big man, round-bellied, and sports a thick graying beard. He must be much hotter than she, but that does stunt the enthusiasm of his preaching.
Andromache is far too nervous to listen to his words as well as she should. She finds herself staring around the temple, looking everywhere except the man who will be her husband. From Hector she averts her eyes.
The Trojan nobles are ranked in the place of honor at the temple's front, filling one side of the space, the side nearer to where Hector stands. Her father, mother, and brothers stand at the other side. Most of the Trojans are older men, but one is no older than Hilarion, with curly black hair and the merest scraps of a beard. His head is tilted upwards, towards the roof. She follows his gaze to the elaborate carvings in the temple's wooden beams. Above them, goats trot across the ceiling, and eagles perch haughtily in the corners of the room.
Behind the richly dressed aristocracy, common people mass in the temple square, some clustering in the great doorway. A gaggle of young boys have climbed into the windows, and squat up there, looking down on the proceedings with wide eyes. Andromache envies them their places, where what little wind there is can cool them.
The room is full of whispers. Whenever so many people gather, silence is impossible. Someone's foot beats a fretful rhythm against the flagstones. Glancing around, she notices that it is Hector. She finally raises her eyes to him. He is as still as the god-statue itself other than that thumping foot. Beneath his gleaming bronze helm, his brow is furrowed and his lips set in a grim line. His fists are clenched at his sides.
Andromache realizes that he is nervous, as her brother claimed. Somehow, this knowledge calms her roiling stomach slightly. Soon, however, a new worry rears up to frighten her. What if she doesn't please him? What if he thinks her plain or dull or too shy, and that is why he looks so harsh?
She steps to the side, slightly closer to him, and, slightly breathless at her own daring, knocks her hand against his. Hector flinches, surprised, then looks over at her, raising his eyebrows.
Andromache gives him a quick, bashful smile. She can feel her cheeks flaming. Thanks the gods, he smiles back.
In front of them, the priest lowers his arms, a broad smile spreading across his plump face, and calls for the congregation to process outside. The words have been said, and the massive stone altar waits beyond the doors. Once that ritual is complete they will be man and wife.
Hector takes her hand in his, and they follow the high priest. His grip is firm, if slippery with sweat. His hands are large, long-fingered, and rough with a soldier's calluses.
Andromache's weighty wine-colored skirts scrape against the stone floor. The gold discs sewn into her hemline chime and glitter.
King Eetion and Queen Sostrate follow them. Until she is Hector's queen, her wedding day will be the only time Andromache is first behind the priest.
Temple servants shunt the throng aside, to make room for the nobles crowding outside. At the edge of her vision, she sees one of the little boys in the window scrabbling down from his perch and darting into the mob.
The sun blazes directly overhead, like the eye of some great blue beast. The very color of the cloudless sky is blinding. It is noon, and heat shimmers in the heavy air.
Andromache walks almost as if asleep. The dream she dreamed the night before was more real to her than this. Her head is spinning; whether from heat or hunger or fear she does not know. She holds tight to Hector's hand and puts one sandaled foot in front of the other.
The altar is a broad swath of white stone, carved from some Theban hillside. Lesser priests lead a black bull through the square, draped with garlands of flowers. The crowd reaches out its many hands, touching at the animal's smooth sides. Perhaps touching the marriage sacrifice will bring them luck as well.
Andromache and Hector take their places on other side of the priest. An acolyte passes alongside them, pressing a tool on each of them. Andromache holds an earthenware flagon, heavy with water. Hector's hands clasp a bronze knife, the blade curved and cruel.
The black bull halts before the altar, well-trained and docile. All the ritual's participants know their roles just as well. As Andromache steps forward, the priest calls out.
"O Immortals, bless this beast, make him pure and obedient to your will."
Andromache upends the jug, and water sloshes out onto the bull's head, running down between his ears and along his heavy jowls. The animal tilts his head downward with the force of the water, nodding his consent to the sacrifice.
"O Immortals, let his death be swift and smooth."
Another acolyte strikes him on the head with a wooden mallet, quick as a viper. The beast falls to his knees, stunned. Hector moves into position, bends to one knee, and cuts his throat with the knife. Red blood sprays out, splattering the white cloth of her husband's tunic. It spills over his strong hands and pools on the altar's pale stone.
"O Immortals, let his life's blood feed this union, bringing to it luck and fertility."
The bull slumps forward in death. Hector stands back, blood dripping from his fingers. Andromache slants the head of her flagon, and the last of the water runs down over him. He wrings his hands beneath the stream, letting the stains wash away. On the altar, spilled water mingles with spilled blood. Sunlight glances off the dark pink surface of the resulting puddle.
The high priest slides another knife from his belt of gilded leather. He bends down to slash the dead bull's belly open, pulling a tangle of viscera from the slit. Andromache is no stranger to seeing meat butchered, but the sight of the bull's organs certainly brings her no pleasure. However, when the priest and his jumble of acolytes pronounce that they have seen the signs, and know them to be good, she smiles. Andromache may be joined in marriage to a man all but a stranger, but the gods have sent them lucky omens. And so she smiles.