Saturday, May 31, 2014

Retelling Challenge: "Ronan of the Noble Heart" -- Hazel West

Here's mine! Hope you all enjoy =)

Ronan of the Noble Heart
A Retelling of Kate Crackernut

Author’s Note

Recently, I rediscovered, while looking through my books, my copy of “Noble-Hearted Kate” by Marianna Mayer, which is a loose retelling of Kate Crackernut with undertones of Tam Lin. I had originally had another idea for my challenge story, but since it wasn’t going anywhere, I decided to take up this one instead. I love Celtic folk tales of all kinds, and this one, while simple, is exciting, and, in the original, has a strong heroine (very common in the Celtic tradition) and goes into a lot of the troupes that one usually sees in Celtic fairy tales. It is also partly the Irish version of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, for the prince in the story must go each night to dance in the Faery hill and he cannot tell why, and the king, his father, is beside himself with what to do, so when Kate comes along while looking for a cure for her sister’s curse, she offers to sit with the prince and ultimately finds out what’s ailing him. What I think I loved most about the story and what Marianna Mayer did a lovely job with in her retelling was the bond between Kate and her sister. I love brotherly or sisterly stories best, and though there is a bit of romance between Kate and the prince she rescues, at its heart it is a story about the love the two sisters share.
Going to rewrite it, I thought a nice twist would be a traditional gender-swap. The hero is a prince and the damsel in distress is an actual damsel. Apart from that, the story as itself is mostly the way it is told traditionally, but I embellished it a bit, of course, and added more detail especially to the princess’s rescue which is rather glossed over as things are in fairy tales. If you would like to read the original, a version can be found here:

Once a long time ago in Ireland, in the days of the High Kings, there was a king and a queen from different kingdoms who decided to marry. Each had a son of the same age, one as red as fire, and the other as dark a night. Despite the king and queen’s fears that the boys would not get along, they instantly settled into a friendship as great as any two brothers of blood, and were nearly inseparable, sporting, hunting, and fighting together.
            As it neared the eve of their eighteenth birthday, the king and queen decided it was time for the boys to find suitors so they began to introduce them to the princesses of the nearby kingdoms. As it turned out, the girls all seemed to prefer Conner, the dark one, over Ronan, the fiery one, and it was true that Conner was the more comely of the two with his sharp features and glowing, ready smile, while Ronan possessed a plainer face spotted in freckles and wild red hair that would never be tamed. But he never held it against his stepbrother, for he could never hate Conner for any reason, and they laughed and joked about the girls, uncaring about most of them as it was anyway.
            Unfortunately, the queen decided to take it upon herself to be jealous for Ronan’s sake, for he was her son, and she wished him to gain the hand of the best princess in the land instead of Conner. So she sought a way to make this happen and ultimately turned as so many do in folly, to the Fair Folk.
            It turned out that in asking for her son to be made the fairer of the two men, the Fae decided to play a trick and instead of making Ronan the fairer, they would simply make Conner the uglier, but it mattered little to the queen how it was accomplished, as long as her son was the only one adored by the princesses. The Fae gave her a spell to put into Conner’s drink that evening and promised good on the bargain by the next morning. The queen did as instructed and that night put the mixture into the goblet of wine Conner drank from, hoping to see results by the next dawn.
            When dawn came, Ronan woke to the cry of his brother, and ran to his room to see what ailed him, his sword at the ready in the chance there was an attacker.
            “Conner, why do ye yell, brother?” Ronan asked as he pushed the door open and then halted in shock as he saw the other man standing in front of the mirror, hands frantically passing over his face that was no longer the face of a handsome young callant. Indeed, his whole head had been somehow transformed into that of a goat!
            “Ronan, I know naught what happened!” Conner cried in despair. “I woke up and saw this! Surely it is some enchantment! Certainly it couldn’t have been the pudding. What shall we do?”
            “I swear I will do all I can to fix it,” Ronan said decidedly, clapping a hand to his brother’s shoulder. “For you shall not be thus forever. It is surely some evil that has been done to you, and I fear it has come from my own mother.”
            Ronan had come to the conclusion quickly enough. It had not escaped his notice how his mother treated Conner with scorn and oftentimes Ronan as well for not sharing her feelings toward his stepbrother. If anything, her hatred of Conner had only made their friendship stronger, and Ronan would not let his brother languish in his current state a moment longer than he could help.
            “Come, Conner, we shall ready for a quest,” he said and took up a cloak which he wrapped around his brother’s shoulders with a hood which he covered his disfigured head with.
            “But surely this is some magic of the Fae,” Conner said. “And if that be so, then where shall we look for a cure?”
            “I know not yet,” Ronan said with a shake of his head, not allowing himself to be turned aside from his task no matter how impossible it might prove to be. “I know only that I will make you well.”
            And so the two gathered their swords and shields and saddled their horses and rode off across the lands, and out of their own kingdom, to the part of Erin that held the Greenwood, which was the kingdom of the Fair Folk. If there were any place they would be able to break the curse, Ronan knew this would be it.
            But the journey was long, and Ronan knew not how much longer it might prove to be, and he thought it would be goodly to have an occupation so they would not languish for want of vittles and coin. It was in his thinking that two strong young men could find any sort of occupation, even if one had the head of a goat.
            One day on their travels, they came into another of Erin’s lesser kingdoms and went to seek work at the king’s hall. They had only rode into the outer courtyard, before they came upon a maiden, looking out to the Greenwood, and seeming to be sad of heart. A lovelier maiden, Ronan had never seen before. Her hair was the color of gold, and her eyes the green of the Wood, but she was pale with grief, and her hands wrung in her skirts as if she were troubled deeply of soul.
            Ronan dismounted and handed his reigns to his brother as he went to see what ailed the maiden.
            “My lady,” he said as he approached and bowed to her courteously as she turned to him. “Forgive me for intruding, but I cannot help but see you are sad.”
            She looked up at him and offered a small smile that did not touch her emerald eyes. “I apologize for seeming such. It is only that my sister is ill these last several months, and no one can figure why. I do know, but I am not allowed to say, which is why no one can help her.”
            Ronan saw the anguish clear in her features and felt her pain all the more when thinking of his own dear brother, and how he seemed unable to help him as well. He recognized some foul work at play, and became determined to help this girl and make her sister well.
            “I think I understand your plight,” he said kindly and motioned to Conner who had come over to listen to the maiden’s tale. “My brother has been cursed for the jealousy of my mother, and I have been crossing all of Erin to find some cure for him. Perhaps if I can help make your sister well, I will also be able to find the key to his ailment.”
            “We are looking for work,” Conner said from under his hood. “I assure you, we will do all we can.”
            The maiden smiled at Conner, this time with a little bit more of it reaching her eyes. “My father is offering goodly pay for any who will find out what is ailing my sister,” she said. “He has hired men and women alike to watch over her while she sleeps, but none are ever there by morning.” Her face turned dour again. “You understand that if you take this task upon yourselves, you might never be seen again. No one knows what happens to those who sit by her bedside.”
            Ronan took her hand in both of his in the way of a knight swearing fealty to his lord. “I daresay that none have been as determined as I, my lady. Now bring me to your father, so that we may offer our services to him.”
            The maiden, who was called Anna, led them into the hall and to her father the king. Ronan and Conner bowed before him and spoke their business.
            “My lord, your daughter has told us of her sister’s plight, and we wish to sit with her the night and try to solve the mystery of her ailment,” Ronan said.
            The king looked sadly upon the two young men, wondering vaguely why the one was hooded, and thought of the waste it would be if they disappeared before the next dawn. “You two are young and brave, sure enough,” he said. “But you would be better serving in my hall with my warriors. As much as I want my daughter back, I do not wish to see young men throw their lives away.”
            “Do not doubt my courage or my determination, my lord,” Ronan said, his voice steely and firm in the hall. “I swear that I will cure your daughter, and if I am to die trying, then so be it. It would only rest heavily upon my head if I did not do so. I understand something of the matter, for my brother shares a similar plight. I beg you give me three nights, my lord, and if I do not have your daughter back to you whole by then, I shall let whatever powers have hold of her take me and be glad of it!”
            The king was heartened and astonished by the fiery young man’s determination and his heart swelled with fondness and respect. “Then you shall sit with Princess Kate this night, and do all you can. I wish you the best of luck, my noble callant.”
            Ronan bowed again and he and Conner went off with a vassal to be shown a room for them to stay in.
            “Is this madness, Ronan?” Conner asked quietly as they unloaded their packs on the beds of their room.
            “Perhaps,” Ronan said with a careless grin as he unbuckled his sword and set it against the foot of the bed. “But that girl knows more than she can say, and is under some spell as to be unable to speak it. She only wants her sister back, and for that I cannot blame her. I will do all I can to make it so.”
            “She is extremely beautiful,” Conner said teasingly, with a hint of wistfulness in his voice.
            “She is that, indeed,” Ronan said with a laugh, catching his brother’s longing and deciding he would make no eyes at the Princess Anna himself. “But now all we can do is wait for the night to fall. Now come, brother, I have a few things I need to acquire before tonight.”
As the sun began to set, Ronan climbed the stairs to the tower room, which Princess Anna showed him as the room where her sister, Kate, was kept. He had decided that he would take the watch alone so that if anything happened to him that night, Conner would be able to keep the watch the next night.
            Anna opened the door and in stepped Ronan, seeing upon the bed the loveliest maiden he had ever seen. She had long auburn hair and what he expected would be a rosy complexion if not for her illness. He could not tell the color of her eyes, but he felt they would be something fairer than any he had seen. Her sister was beautiful, but there was something about Kate that was more so, and he knew that in the way of the Faeries who liked to be surrounded by beautiful things, she would have been sought after in their courts.
            “Are you sure of what you are doing?” Anna asked him frightfully as she stood with him in the open door. “If you are lost then your brother will likely never see you again. I would not risk that even to see my own sister well.”
            Ronan gently took her hand in his. “I have sworn to your father and I will swear to you. That if I do not return your sister to you in full health by the end of three days then I shall ask her captors to drag me away for my own shame. I vow, princess, that I will restore your sister to you.”
            She smiled with one last glance at her slumbering sister. “Do be careful then, noble callant. I shall keep your brother company ‘till dawn, for I do not think either of us shall sleep this night.”
            She left him, closing the door behind, and Ronan went to the bed that held the princess and sat in a chair beside it. He sat and watched her in her sleep, and she hardly moved, seeming too exhausted for anything but rest.
            And then, at midnight, a change came upon her. Her eyes opened and then she rose slowly as if in a trance and gathered a cloak hooked on the end of her bed and pulled on boots of soft doeskin then moved to the door, opening it and going out.
            Ronan stood as she had and watched her in curiosity. And then he took up the items he had procured earlier. A shamrock, which he slipped into a handkerchief and put into his pocket, for that would cause him to see past the Faery Glamor and find his way home; a knife of iron, for the repelling of the Fair Folk if he was forced to it, and lastly, his tunic and cloak he wore inside out so that he would not lose his way, and no Faery would be able to play tricks upon him. Guarded thusly, he slipped out the door and followed the princess as she made her way through the castle and out the back gate that led into the dark Greenwood.
            Ronan followed several paces behind, his hand tightly on his dagger as he kept her in sight, wondering how far she would travel.
            And then ahead, he saw a beautiful light, and heard the strains of beguiling music and knew that he was close. He caught up to Kate at the gate to the Faery Hill and slipped inside when the guard let her in.
            Inside the Faery Hill was a swirl of dancers, pleasing the queen in her court. Kate was instantly whisked off by a handsome Fae prince and swung into a dance, even though her feet nearly dragged the floor and she wept with exhaustion. Her dress had been replaced with one the like of which Ronan had never seen before, made of fine silks and so light, as the other ladies of the court. And her boots had been replaced with delicate dancing shoes made from green leaves. And her eyes, he finally realized, were the finest blue he had ever seen, and he wondered what she would look like in joy if she was so beautiful even in sorrow.
            Then Ronan became distracted from the whirling dancers by a small Hobgoblin jumping around and cackling for the entertainment of the Lesser Fae of the court, swinging a wand of Rowan.
            “Sure, and it’s true,” the Hob was saying. “This wand can undo any curse brought upon one by the Fae. Just three strikes of it, and poof all back to how it was!”
            Ronan watched with interest, and when the Hob turned to go back among the Fae, he tapped the creature on the back and tried his most innocent smile to cajole him.
            “Hello, dear Hob, I was wondering about that wand of yours. Might you be persuaded to part with it?”
            “Might be, might not, depending on the price you’re offering,” said the sly little creature, flipping the wand with a grin. “But nor will I tell you what it is.”
            And with that he skipped off and snatched a bowl of nuts from another Faery with a possessive snarl, and Ronan watched with interest as the Hob sat and greedily ate all the nuts, setting the wand aside while he did so.
            However, he had no more time to think of his plans that night, for Kate seemed to have ended her dancing and the prince allowed her to leave, weary and even more exhausted than before she came. Ronan swiftly followed her out and watched as she walked back to her father’s hall in the same trance that she had left it. As he followed her through the woods, he realized the path they were following was scattered with hazel trees, and upon the ground were the same nuts the Hobgoblin was greedily eating. Stooping along the track, Ronan collected the nuts and filled his pockets to bursting with them, a plan forming in his head for the next night.
            Back in the tower room, Kate fell upon the bed as soon as she got there, and Ronan spread a quilt over her before he sat to watch the rest of the night, waiting for morning so he could discuss his plans with Conner.
When the sun rose, Conner, Princess Anna and the king came up to the tower room to find Ronan sitting by the bed as if he had not left all night, cracking some of the nuts he had taken from the forest and eating them to tide him over before he broke his fast.
            “Ronan!” Conner cried in elation to see his brother safe and sound. He ran to him as Ronan stood and threw his arms around his neck.
            “I am well, brother,” Ronan told him as he turned to the king and princess. “And I will yet keep my promise to you. I will restore your daughter to you by the morning of the third day for I know what ails her and how to fix it.”
            “Thank you!” the king said, but Ronan shook his head.
            “Do not thank me yet, my lord. For I have not yet delivered your daughter to you safe and sound. Now I must discuss things with my brother, and get some rest before my vigil this night.” He left with Conner to their own quarters and a servant brought a hearty breakfast for them to eat in private while Ronan told his brother all that had transpired the night before.
            “Not only do I think this Rowan wand will heal the princess, but I believe it will do the same for you, Conner,” Ronan said. “The Hob said that it would cure any under a faery’s curse.”
            “Do you really think it so?” Conner asked, anxiousness in his voice. “Do you not think it is too much of a risk? What if you are found out? You will be forced to stay in the Faery halls forever, as a vassal to the queen.”
            “If at all I fail,” Ronan said. “You must take up my sword and free the Princess Kate. I fear she will not last much longer; she is so exhausted.”
            “Princess Anna worries much for her,” Conner said. “As I worry shall for you when you go to the Greenwood again.”
            “I have made it in and out one night, I will do it again with my charms and protections,” Ronan said. “And I will bring back the Rowan wand by the next dawn.”
            “And how do you plan on doing that?” Conner asked.
            Ronan smiled and pulled one of the small nuts from his pocket and rolled it across the table where Conner caught it. “Hazelnuts.”
That night Ronan again sat by the bed next to Princess Kate and watched her weary slumber until the strike of midnight when she rose and made her way again to the Greenwood. He followed her more readily this time and collected more nuts to tempt the Hobgoblin and once more slipped past the guards into the Faery Hill to the dancing and feasting and music. Princess Kate was taken up into the dancing again by the handsome Faery prince, and Ronan felt a moment where he wished he were the one dancing with her instead of the Fae Lord.
            But he had work to be done and could spare no thought of dancing. Not until it was all over and everything was back the way it should be.
            He searched for the Hob and found him in the corner where he had been the night before, swinging the Rowan wand around and amusing the Pixies who sat with him. Ronan took a bowl from the sideboard and poured the nuts from his pocket into it before going over to the Hob, hoping his guise would not fail him.
            “Good Hob,” he said in all politeness. “I have a bowl of hazelnuts for you. Your favorite.”
            The Hob greedily took the bowl from Ronan’s hands, dropping the wand from his grasp as his attention was taken by the nuts and Ronan swiftly took up the wand and hid it away in his cloak.
            The hazelnuts were almost gone and he feared his theft would be found out, but the dancing was finished, and the princess was released to go back home, tired and swaying on her feet. Ronan wished to take her arm and help her out, but knew he could not lest he be found out.
            Once outside the hall, she walked back to the tower room, and he followed with the Rowan wand still in his cloak.
            The dawn was rising and they had only been in the room for a few minutes when Conner, Anna and the king came in to see if he was still there.
            “My lord,” Ronan said and drew the wand from his cloak. “I have taken this from the Fae and I have been told that it will release anyone with a Faery curse put upon them.”
            “And shall it release my daughter?” the king asked.
            “I do not know, but it is my hope,” Ronan replied.
            “Then let you use it on your brother first, in reward for your bravery,” the king said.
            “My lord,” Conner protested, but the king cut him off.
            “No, you must,” the king insisted.
            “Very well then,” Ronan said and went to his brother, sliding the hood back from his head to the gasp of the king and Princess Anna who saw his disfigurement for the first time. Then Ronan touched him three times with the wand and like mist lifting from off the lough, the goat’s head disappeared and left behind Conner’s handsome face once more.
            “Conner!” Ronan cried with a laugh and took his brother’s face between his hands in excitement before Conner pulled him forward into an embrace.
            “It worked!” he cried, gripping Ronan by the shoulders. “Such bravery brought you back with the wand to cure me, brother. Now see if it will do the same for Princess Kate.”
            Ronan stepped to the bedside and touched the shoulder of the sleeping princess three times with the wand, but nothing happened. They all waited with bated breath, but after a minute, still nothing happened, and Ronan stepped back in dismay.
            “Perhaps it can only be used once,” Conner said with horror, turning to Princess Anna and taking her hand in his. “If that is so, then I am sorry.”
            “No,” Ronan shook his head. “The Hob said nothing of the sort. I think what binds her is something more than just a simple curse. In any case, I still have one day before my vow runs dry, and I mean to see it to the end. I will restore the princess before this time tomorrow.”
            All that day he thought of what might have gone wrong, or what he might have done different, but he still had no more idea of what to do for the princess when night fell than he had when he had found the Rowan wand had no affect.
            “Do be careful, brother,” Conner told him quietly before he went back to the tower room for his vigil.
            “I will do what I must,” Ronan replied before he descended the stairs and took his seat once again beside the princess.
            As he sat there, he reached out and touched her pale hand, wrapping his fingers around it.
            “I promise to break your curse, my lady,” he said quietly, running his thumb over the smooth skin. “I will not let you suffer another night after this one.”
            At midnight as on the previous two nights, she rose in her trance and went to the Greenwood. Ronan gathered again the hazelnuts, more this time than he had before, and hoped that if nothing else he could bribe the Hob into telling him what might cure the princess.
            As Princess Kate was forced to dance that night, Ronan looked over to the corner the Hobgoblin frequented and saw him there again, talking to the lesser Fae and this time, instead of the wand of Rowan, he was holding up a small, dead bird, by its feet.
            “Sure, this is a Faery bird,” he was saying. “And if someone that had been captured by the Fae were to eat it, sure, he would then be free!”
            Ronan knew that the bird was his key to breaking the spell set upon Princess Kate. Again, he took up the nuts he had collected and put them in a bowl to bring to the Hob. But this time, the Hob only set to with one hand, not letting go of the bird.
            “Last e’en someone stole my wand,” he muttered to himself. “Not letting go of the birdie now.”
            Annoyed, Ronan suddenly had a new idea. He had had a bit of forethought to take the wand with him, and he now took it from his cloak, and walked up to the Hob.
            “Good Hob,” he said in as polite a tone as he could. “I have here your wand of Rowan. If you wish to have it back, I will trade it for that Fae bird you hold.”
            “Not so, not nearly a fair trade,” the Hob said, shaking his head. “The birdie has more power than the wand. It is more valuable.”
            “Then perhaps this knife is more to your liking,” Ronan said, taking the knife of iron from his pocket and brandishing it at the Hob. The Faery startled back, dropping the bird as he did so, and Ronan snatched it and left the wand in its place as he backed away.
            It was then that Princess Kate’s time in the Faery Hill came to an end, and just as she was leaving, the Hob put up a terrible row and called Ronan out as a thief. Ronan made his retreat from the Hall, brandishing his knife of iron in front of him, the Faery bird tucked safely away in his cloak. Kate looked about in confusion and Ronan, without thinking, grabbed her arm and took her with him, turning around so he could run more quickly through the woods, heedless of the Fae that pursued him, shouting out that there was a thief, and that their princess was away with him.
            Kate sagged against him as he ran and he swiftly took her into his arms, unable to stop for even a minute for fear of the Fae catching him. He ran with her all the way back to the castle, and finally as they gained the edge of the Greenwood, the Faeries melted back into the shade, cursing and spitting at them. Ronan retreated through the gates of the hall and climbed to the tower room, laying Princess Kate out on her bed just as the sun was beginning to rise. Then he took the Faery bird from his cloak and knelt by the fire to cook it.
            When Conner, Princess Anna and the king came to the room that morning, they found Ronan sitting happily by the fire, roasting a small bird on a spit.
            “Ronan, what do ye do, brother?” Conner asked, confused.
            The king nearly looked angry. “Why, my daughter is still in her weakened state, and you sit here making breakfast?” he cried, befuddled.
            “My lord, this is no ordinary bird, and it holds the cure for your daughter. I have not forgotten my promise so readily,” Ronan told him and took the bird from the spit. He urged Princess Anna to prop up her sister and he sat on the side of her bed, holding the cooked bird in front of her. Kate’s eyes fluttered open and she inhaled the delicious aroma.
            “I am so hungry, might I have some of that bird?” she asked weakly, barely able to keep her eyes open.
            Ronan took up his knife and cut some from the bird to feed to her. After chewing, she saw up straighter. “Might I have a little more?” Likewise after this bite, she was able to sit up by herself and keep her eyes open. “May I have another?” And Ronan gave her a third bite of the bird and by then she had gained back her lucidity and color and seemed to be back to her old self again.
            “Kate, are you well?” Anna asked with concern, holding her sister by the shoulders and looking her over.
            “I do believe I am, dear Anna,” Kate replied and the two sisters embraced with many tears shed.
            Ronan stood up to watch the happy scene as he felt Conner’s arm around his shoulders.
            “You did as you vowed, brother,” he said with a grin. “You saved both the princess and me, and in the meantime introduced us to some very lovely ladies.” He stepped away from his brother as Anna threw her arms around Ronan in thanks, and then turned to Conner to take his hand happily in hers.
            Ronan found his own clasped between those of the king. “I thank you Ronan of the noble heart. You have returned my daughter to me. What might I do to repay you?”
            “You need not do anything if Princess Kate does not wish it done,” Ronan said and turned to the princess, sitting on the bed and watching the young red-headed prince and her father. She stood and took Ronan’s hands in hers, a smile spreading over her lips.
            “Only true love can break the bond of a Faery curse,” she said. “If that is indeed how it goes, then I am happy to have this noble-hearted prince.”
            And so it was that the king gave Kate to Ronan as his wife, and also Anna to Conner for the two had grown close in the days they had spent together, and they lived happy lives in old Erin until the end of their days. And the bards now had a new tale to tell of Ronan of the noble heart and how he had rescued a princess from the Faery court. And it is a story still told until this day.

Copyright© 2014 by Hazel B. West

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Retelling Challenge: "Death and Honor are in League" -- Abigail Leskey

Abigail changed it up a bit and wrote a mythological retelling! Enjoy!

Death and Honor are in league
A Retelling of Homer’s “Iliad”

Author’s Note

This is a very loose retelling of myth. Some characters are not even mentioned, and the time-frame has been severely compressed.


    “This apple is bad! Gorgythion, give me yours.”
    “I’ll split it with you, Paris…” said Gorgythion hesitantly. He had been rubbing at his apple to make it shine.
     Paris screeched, his beautiful small face turning red and ugly. “All of it! I’m older than you! And my mother is the queen!” He grabbed the apple from Gorgythion, whose lip trembled.
   Hector grabbed the apple before Paris could bite into it.
    “That was not honorable, Paris. Give Gorgythion back his apple, and you can have mine.”
   He hesitated, then dropped the apple into Gorgythion ’s lap. “Now give me your apple, Hector.”
 His brother handed it to him, and he grinned.
Ten years later, Paris took something that no one could make him give back.
     King Priam, his father, sent him to discus trading with King Menelaus of Sparta. On the day he was to return small beadlike drops of rain fell randomly, sometimes several near each other in a moment, and sometimes a place quite dry.
    Hector kissed his wife, who sat spinning wool the color of gold and now and then looking down at their son, curled warm in his basket. “I’m going to the wall, to watch for my brother.”
   He wrapped his short cloak about his massive arms as he made his way down the broad street, calling out greetings and replying to those given him. Prince Hector of Troy might not know how many pounds or rolls of trade goods came or went (though he gave myself an aching head many a time trying); nor was he a great reader.  But there was not a man or woman in the city who he could not call friend.
     “Prince Hector!” Helibarbus, a leather worker, waved his hairy arm, grinning. “A son! A fine son!”
      “Fortune has smiled!”
      “Would you care to see the lad?” 
      The baby was a grand one, big and red and screaming like a fury. Hector took it carefully.
      “A warrior!” said his father. “With strength like that. It has been my prayer…”
      The mother winced.
     “He’ll be a good Trojan,” Hector said. “Warrior or no.”
     When He reached the wall a sudden gust of wind thrust his cloak out straight behind him.  A girl screamed, and he turned in time to catch hold of his sister as she swayed out at the edge of the ladder opening.
   “Are you all right?”
   “Yes.” Her bare arms chilled his hands. He took off his cloak and wrapped it around her.
   “What are you doing up here in the wind, dressed like that?”
   “I was looking for you; Andromache said you’d gone to the wall. Hector, I’m afraid.”
   “Another dream?”
    She nodded, the thin white linen of her robe blowing around her. From when she had been just learning to talk, Cassandra had had dreams of all manner of evil happenings. A few had happened. Most had not; or not yet. So few had come true, in fact, that no one save herself believed in them.
     Which was how it came to be that she told her brother Hector all of them.  If he doubted, at least he would not mock.
      This one, he thought, must have been worse than usual.
      “I dreamed Paris came home, and he brought Athena with him, the goddess of war; and said she was his wife.”
    “Was that all?”
     “No, I dreamed—I dreamed the city was afire, like a brazier brimming with coals—and smoke, so dark….” A tear ran slowly across her face, crooked its path as the wind pushed it.
     He put his arm around her.  When she had had a dream that was all that could be done.
     They stood there in the wind until dust powdered the distance. Paris.
     “Will you come to meet him?”
     “No. He’ll see I’ve been crying. You go,” she took a rushing breath, “and I’ll wash my face.”
     Hector was not greatly surprised, when he met with his brother, to see a woman a few paces behind him. Her face was veiled.
    “Hector.” He smiled, widely, sweetly, guiltily. “I’m home, as you see. And I’ve brought a wife.”
    “A wife?”
    “Helen, my brother Prince Hector of Troy.”
    She stepped forward slowly. He pulled her veil back, despite her short soft cry of protest.
     Hector saw a fair face, white enough to make him wonder if she were well or no, with long yellow ringlets drooping across it, and lake-like blue eyes that only looked him in the face for a moment. It was not her beauty of which he thought, though she was a woman beautiful indeed; called the fairest by many, though to him Andromache was sweeter to look upon.  It was her shame and pleading that he saw.
     “Greeting,” she said, very softly and gazing at his sandals. Then she drooped her head farther and silently became limp. Hector caught her as Paris exclaimed in astonishment.
   “Is she ill?”
    “No. Look, can she rest at your place before going to the palace? I need your help.”
    He raised his hands as he said it, and Hector prepared to put Helen in his arms, but they dropped as he turned. So he lifted her up, and followed him.
     Andromache took charge of Helen, and Hector took Paris into the other room.
   “What have you done this time, brother?” he asked, sure by this time that something was not as it ought to be.
    “I have taken a wife! You did the same.”
     “Did she wish to be taken?” he asked sharply.
     He took up a black olive from a bowl on the table and ate it. “She said she did not,” he said. “I did not believe her.”
     Hector stared at him, bewilderment and disapproval both on his tanned face as Paris slowly ate another olive.
     “I am ashamed,” Hector said, repressing his anger. “You have brought shame to Troy.”
     “Must you take everything with such earnestness?”
     “You will return her to Sparta, take her back to her family. I will see that our father makes you do this.” He spoke resolutely, taking a lengthy step to stand looking down at Paris. “It is the only reparation you can make.”
     “I can’t go to Sparta; Menelaus would kill me.”
     The faintest knowing entered the older man’s heart. “Don’t be an idiot.” The back of his neck and his ears warmed, and his shoulders grew tight.
    “No, you don’t understand.” He paused, blinking his girlish black lashes. “I took his wife.”
     “You—We’ll have Menelaus and all his allies upon us.  Upon our city! Why?”
    “I love her,” he said, picking at his immaculate nails.
    “No!” Hector shouted, and Paris shrunk back, frowning as if he had seen something misshapen. “You have dishonored her, stolen her. Don’t tell me you love her! You’ve brought our ruin, Paris, and for what? Your lust! I am ashamed to be one blood with you!”
     “Hector!” Andromache put her hand on her husband’s arm, a small hand and uncommonly cold. “Hector.” He looked down at her. “You’re frightening Helen, and she is not well.”
    He put his hand over hers and tried to smile, because of her hand being cold and her eyes wide. “I’ll be quieter.” She nodded and walked out. Scamandrious began to whimper.
   Hector drew back from Paris, the sort of anger that makes noise gone. This pretty, selfish creature was Paris, who he had scolded and humored and watched over. A spoiled child’s soul is ugly in a man’s body.
    “I need your help,” he said anxiously. “Ask Father to forgive. Father always listens to you; you never ask for aught.”
    “Except for you. No.”
    “You’ve always helped me before.”
   “This is different! Dancing drunk for the envoys, shooting holes in the tapestries, sneaking into the sanctuary during the most solemn rites—“ his voice had grown loud again, and he paused, continuing softly ”—all of those are small next to stealing a wedded woman. I will not help you.”
     Paris blinked slowly and his great eyes grew wet. Never before had his brother denied him help. 
      Paris left Hector resolved to give him time to explain; and then go to King Priam. He would need him.
     “I know not how this can be solved, but I’ll do what I can,” he said to the Queen of Sparta, crying loudly on his couch. 
     Paris was not punished. He never had been. But King Priam did grow somewhat cold to him.
      Fine boats came one morning, but not enough to be an attack.
     They gave the Trojans to know that they were peaceable, and wanted speech with King Priam. Hector went out to them with a few warriors.
      “We had thought the King of Troy to be of a greater age,” said Menelaus. His hair was a shining orange color, such as was very uncommon among Trojans. Small brown dots specked his arched nose. 
    “I am his heir, Hector. He is not well at this time; he bids me say that he will speak with you in the palace, if such is your desire.”
   The other man, very strong of build with braided pale hair, looked at the plainly dressed man distrustfully.  “How can we know we shall leave again?”
     “You are welcome to stay, if you wish,” Hector said, with the same courtesy if with less friendliness. “We never refuse guests, nor do we force them to take hospitality.”
    They spoke courteously to King Priam. “We recognize that you are not to be blamed for your son’s action,” said Odysseus of Ithaca, the pale-haired man. “King Menelaus desires his wife restored, and that Prince Paris shall own that he has done wrong before all the people. If he is granted this—“
    “There will be no more said,” said Menelaus. “Although it would not be unreasonable for me to demand—“
     “Pray consider our words, King Priam,” Odysseus concluded.
     Hector walked out of the room with them, taking them to the rooms offered as lodging.
    “I hope the king will comply,” said Odysseus. “This is not intended as a threat, or course, but I believe there will be war if Helen is not restored.”
    It was intended as a threat, or at least a warning. “Our answer will depend on the will of the people,” Hector said. Odysseus looked politely confused.
    “The king has little authority here,” Menelaus cut in.
      “Not so, sir. Surely the people have a right to choose their fate. It is not as if they are our belongings.”
      Later that day Hector came upon Odysseus walking about, examining the houses and streets and speaking with the people.
     “Of a surety we’ll get Helen back,” he said, with an urbane, explanatory smile. “I do not think you would dare refuse her. I hear the people of Troy are but ill warriors.”
    “You heard wrongly,” said the merchant he spoke to. “We fear you not!” He turned and went.
    “Sir,” Hector said to Odysseus,” you mar your chances by making us angry. For very pride they may choose foolishly.”
     “I do not comprehend you,” he said. He looked up at a statue. “Magnificent silverwork.”
     The people chose foolishly. They would not have the Prince Paris humiliated; they would not give  up the lady Helen because foreign kings demanded it; they defied all persuasion, growing bolder and louder as the talk went on. At last Priam the king sat down, old and pale, and slumped a little. He had ever sat straight as a statue of an ancient warrior.
     “You speak to them, Hector,” Gorgythion whispered. “You can make them see.”
    Hector shook his head. It was not his role, unless his father desired him to fill it. But then Priam nodded at him. When Hector stood up the Trojans grew a little quieter.
      “You are not thinking clearly, friends,” he said. “The lady is Menelaus’s wife. It was not right for my brother to force her to come with him. The King of Sparta has every right to demand her of us.”
       “We will seem cowards!” Paris cried out from the back of the hall.
       “I do not fear to seem one, so long as I know it false! Let us do justice, and all will be well.”
      Paris came to the forefront, wearing a thin flying blue cloak and a much-embroidered tunic. Hector smelled the lily scent of his perfumed hair-oil.
     “Is it justice,” Paris said to the people, "to force a woman to return to shame and death? Is it fitting for Trojans to act so, from fear of a few small kings?”
     “Menelaus said nothing about shame for her, only for you,” his brother said. “Doubtless he knows you only are guilty.”
     He turned away. “If the woman I love is to be thus shamed,” he breathed, “I will go with her, die with her!” Tears ran down his face, prettier than the faces of many girls. He dropped to his knees. “I appeal to your loving hearts!”
     Justice and reason had the chance of a fly in a fish-filled lake after that.
    Priam was too ill to give answer to the kings, so it fell to an unobtrusively fuming Prince Hector.. Odysseus almost smiled, but said he was very sorry.
    “I am sorry indeed,” said Menelaus. “For it will be war, and I will destroy this place.”
     “You will not do so easily,” Hector said. 
     Troy waited, storing all manner of food, mending armor, and calling upon allies. The king grew better and even a little excited by all the armor and glinting swords, for in his youth he had been a warrior.
     Hector listened carefully to his father’s breathful voice explaining tactic. He would have to lead all; and though good with swords, with lances, though stronger than most men, yet had he never been in battle. He had never killed a man. He did not want to slay, or be slain.
     More than all he did not want Troy to burn. No end must there be to children playing in the paved streets, to women singing as they cooked, to washed garments hanging limp from lines, to the laughing of babies, to the making of beautiful things not needed, to the wispy incense-smoke of the temples.
     Hector went home one day, wet and streaked from practicing, to find Scamandrious walking.    Andromache dropped the gold-colored wool she was winding to laugh at his surprise. He had thought of the lad as a babe, and here he was on his bulgy short legs, a boy walking where he chose.  These things must never end.
     To Troy came many ships, evil-looking, long-rammed, gaudy leering eyes painted on them.
     “I think every Achaean king or chief has rallied against us!” said Prince Deiphobus. He laughed shortly. “All the more praise to be won.”
     “You will win praise, and scorn as well,” said Prince Helenus, in the deep voice in which he would very rarely speak of something unknown as fact.  He was born with Cassandra, whose dreams Hector began to think more than nightmares.  Gorgythion said nothing, but looked at Hector with the confident half-smile of a lad looking at his invincible hero. His trust was terrifying.
     Thus began the days of war.
     They surrounded Troy like a tight steel belt, a horde; yet were those Troy saw not all of them. Often and often news came in of some ally destroyed, some friendly king conquered.
     The Trojans did fight. They were too few. But they fought.
     The first was on the day they came in their glaring ships. As they came onto Trojan sand Hector gathered together everyone who had been training to fight. He sent most of the archers, Paris among them, to the walls to help the retreat if this went ill.      
     Hector’s heart threw itself around like a clumsy gymnast. He looked for his brothers. Deiphobus was like a child waiting to do something he had always wanted to do. Helenus was quiet and calm; Gorgythion pale and making unsuccessful efforts to stand quite still. He was only seventeen. Hector caught his eyes and he turned rosy, pulling himself up straighter than there was any need for.
    It was simple, truly. The Trojans rode in their chariots or walked out of the gate, and went to where the Achaeans were. And then everyone began trying to kill each other.
     It was easier than Hector had thought. He stabbed with his spear, as he had done many times practicing, leaning over the hard metal rim of the chariot. Shock he saw on a round face, and slow blood running from an open mouth. As he pulled the spear back the man whose name he would never hear fell backwards and somersaulted, landing on his face in the dust. He made no sound that Hector could hear; the prince was away by then, into the battle, and there was great noise all about.
     Hector killed many more men that day, and was sorry that he was not sorry. But there was no time to regret, only to fight, and see his friends die, and look for his brothers in short glances between blows.
     Then a glad cry leaped through the roaring, a cry like a man might give upon bringing down game, and a young man in glittering armor lifted something rounded by a long braid of dark hair and flung it at Hector, smiling. The prince could not help a short cry of horror.
     The glittering warrior’s charioteer shouted to his horses, and Hector’s drew aside just before the other’s wheel would have caught in his. Shining, a light lance vaulted from the enemy’s hand. Hector’s shield trembled as the bronze struck it.
   A pair of frightened moon-silver horses plunged between them, jerking along an empty chariot missing a wheel. Both turned to other foes.
     The fight was going nowhere. Men on both sides were dying, and that was all. Only the Trojans were not fighting as well as at first.  Hector called for the retreat, shouting out until the back of his throat felt as if rubbed dry with a rough bit of sacking. .
     The gates slammed, massive, behind them. Filthy and bloody they walked, pale or flushed, and many helped a wounded man or carried a dead one. To be buried honorably by one’s own people mattered much to the men of Troy.
      Hector said something appropriate, which a few minutes later he could not remember, so guilty was he feeling.
     Helibarbus smiled reassuringly at him, although his face was bleeding.
    “You fought well, Prince Hector.”   
     But there must be something more he could have done….
  He was to find what he was missing; but had he had choice in the matter, it would have gone forever unfound.
     Retreating from a little fight one gray evening, just a small sally on foot so the Achaeans would not begin to rest happily, Hector heard the soft plucked sound of a bow. At the same time Gorgythion jumped in front of him, and fell down.
     He fell roughly on his back, and a long green-feathered arrow stood straight up from his neck, just above where his breastplate began.
     Hector screamed his name as he dropped down beside him. Gorgythion’s wide eyes looked at his brother, terrified. He lifted his hand and tugged lightly on the arrow, crying out silently as his hand dropped helpless.
    Hector lifted him a little, carefully. Another arrow whipped past his eyes. Hector had seen many wounds now. He knew that it would make no difference if the arrow were out or not. But Gorgythion wanted it out; it was frightening, to have it sticking out of him.  Hector took hold of it and pulled quickly, tears making a thin, wet veil for his eyes. He held on to the trembling boy as if he could make him stay. An arrow tapped brightly on Hector’s back plate.
    “My lord Hector, you have to go.”
     He shook his head. “You go. Go back to the city.”
     Gorgythion’s freckled hand tightened on his brother’s wrist, barely. “I’m with you.” Hector said, trying to jam back the swollen rising in his throat, to play the man.  “I love you, brother….” 
      The ends of the boy’s mouth rose slightly into a pained smile.
     “I love you...” Another arrow sliced shallowly into Hector’s ear.
     Gorgythion’s mouth relaxed, falling open, and his trustful eyes fixed on his hero’s face as death ended his pain and his trust. Hector lifted him easily, and walked towards Troy. He caught up with those he had sent on ahead. Silence took them, all of them, and the people of Troy as Hector came into the town, on his way to the palace. He was weeping.
      Paris heard what had happened and walked the streets far away from the palace, not wanting to hear the mourning. He did not go to his house. Being in the same room as Helen as pleasurable as being in the same room with an angry golden cat. He was sorry that the boy was dead; that was very young to die, and he had been alive and well— it might have been himself; a good reason not to venture outside the walls…. Lucky that he was only good with a bow.
     It was bothering him more than he wished. He could not help thinking what Gorgythion would look like, dead.  Even if he was only the product of one of Priam’s friendships. Even if he had always been Hector’s favorite.
    Paris leaned his forehead against the chilly stone of the shaded rear of the temple.  He turned abruptly at the sound of heavy quick steps, his face returning to its usual uninterested beauty.
     Disgust writhed through Hector at the sight of Paris’s bland face. He walked on. But Paris spoke.
     “He was brave.”
     “I am sorry.”
    Hector could not bear it.
    “It should have been you!”
    “You began this, and brought it to happening, and Gorgythion is dead, because of you. It should have been you! I wish—“ Hector stopped speaking abruptly, and hurried on, stumbling slightly as he turned.
    Paris stared at his wall-like back, with the expression of a spanked, rebellious child. “I wish you were dead too,” he whispered. “I do; I’d be glad of it…” His brows almost met, and his shaking lip grew tense as a tear dripped from his eyelashes.
     The Achaeans sat about their fires, for it was dusk, and they did not anticipate another attack that day.
     “We shall assuredly win,” said King Menelaus. “Especially since good King Agamemnon aids me.”
    “I should say probably, my lord,” said the young man in the glittering armor.
    “I have marked a certain man in the fight as being somewhat of a warrior and a leader. I should guess him to be a prince of Troy.”
   “Prince Hector.”
   “Howbeit, he lacks ruthlessness and fury alike.” Achilles smiled. He knew he lacked neither.
   “He may gain them,” said Patroclus.
    Achilles glanced tolerantly as his younger friend. “They are born in a hero. Not a matter of training.”
    “Someone I judge dear to him fell today. I saw it.”
      “Your imagination is colorful.” Achilles chuckled, as one might at the weird thought of a child. Patroclus had grown up with him; he was essentially a brother, and the only man for whom Achilles would trouble to have patience. “Where do you find the time to invent past lives for all the enemy?”
    A sudden shouting roared up.
    “My lords! The Trojans are coming!”
     Achilles walked, not over fast, around the tent blocking his view. His brows rose. “Marriage of Zeus! He’s gone mad!”
     The Trojan chariots jolted over the earth, the horses stretching out their legs wide and fast.  At the head of them all, spear in hand and held high over the high crest of his helmet, roaring out deep words—Hector.
     Patroclus did not bother to say that he had been right. Neither did Achilles admit it. Instead he blazed a fierce grin at his friend. “I think we might have someone worth fighting this time, brother.” 
     Hector and Achilles met in battle, as all knew they would. The first warriors they were of each of their armies.  As they met the fight elsewhere stopped, although this was neither ordered nor discussed. The Achaeans and Trojans drew back, curved walls opposing. Between them Achilles deflected a heavy blow.
   “Hold, a moment!” he said.
    Hector drew back, slightly. “What do you want?” His voice was rough, lacking the courtesy that he had always diffused.
     “I want to know your name.”
     “Hector of Troy. Son of King Priam.”
     “Achilles, son of King Peleus.”
     “I came to fight,” said Hector briefly.
    “As I,” returned Achilles exultantly. Hector was of rank as he; and most powerful looking. He had surveyed him carefully.  
     They brought their swords clashing into each other.  As the two armies watched, sharply following every glint of bronze and twisting of muscle, breathing unconsciously almost as one, in their hearts they wondered if there would be a winner. The two men were well matched. If Hector was a shade stronger, Achilles was quicker. Hector struck hard, hard as if this one man were all his foes put into one.  Achilles smiled, laughing once as he slipped out of the way and then lunged. The tip of his sword sliced a small line into Hector’s wrist.
    There would be no winner. Surely not. The thunder of Zeus was sounding. Surely even he was giving heed to such a fight.
     Suddenly, shields shoved together, Hector found himself staring into ice-clear gray eyes a few inches away. They blinked once, thread-fine wrinkles at the outside corners. Whatever smirked out of there was on the edge of blazing into song, and he did not understand it at all. A feeling came to his back like a child’s snowy cold finger following the length of his spine.  They drew apart, making ready to strike again. He was tired, and now more sad than angry.  The darkness grew mighty.
    White spider legs of light plunged from the black clouds, and near thunder drove into ears.
    Achilles stepped back, smiling, and half panting. “It seems to be the will of Zeus we cease for now,” he said.
    Hector nodded. He could not keep his people out here in a lightening storm; it would be foolishness, what with all the metal they were wearing. And it was dark now.
       “I want to discuss a matter with you, Price of Troy,” said Achilles. “Concerning peace for your city. Not now. In the middle ground, tomorrow. Dawn. No weapons, one person with you.”
       They had killed his brother. Now they would make peace? Go home to their families?  “I will be there.” Achilles held out his hand. Hector let his barely contact it.
     Inside the city Paris’s body relaxed as he saw Hector enter alive. He moved out of sight, trying to scowl.
     Andromache’s sandals tapped loudly on the hard floor, then softly on the rug. She turned before meeting the wall. Soft on the rug, hard on the floor—the thunder was crashing; no one would fight in a thunderstorm—soft on the rug—“Scamandrious, no.” She pulled his hands away from the golden yarn stretched taut as lyre strings across her loom, ready to begin weaving.  Hard on the floor—
     Splatting trickles of rain fell from him, making shiny spots on the stone.  She put her arms about him, and said nothing of her worry.
     “My brother is dead,” he said. “He is dead, and so many more today. I have killed more than I can remember.”
     “It is war, Hector. You have done no wrong. You—”
      “Today I wanted to kill. For the first time.”
     Before the sun rose the rain ceased, leaving an opaque dome of clouds. Hector, standing before the palace after telling his father of what he was doing, pondered whom he should bring with him. Deiphobus was too hot spoken; Helenus, maybe…Gorgythion would have wanted to go badly.
     “Hector, I wish to come,” said Cassandra.
     “What would you do?” He smiled a little at her.
     “I must be there; my dreams say so.”
     There was not to be fighting; and she was quiet and trustworthy.
     “I am to be there,” she insisted.
     Achilles, unarmed as he had said, waited.
    “Is that a girl with him?” Patroclus exclaimed.
    Hector asked his question plainly.
     “Why do you want speech with me?”
     Achilles began speaking, watching Hector. Patroclus smiled at Cassandra. She stared at him. He tried again.
   Achilles went through the various facts, all of which were familiar enough to Hector. “And you would not give her back.”
     “The people willed otherwise. What is your proposal, Prince Achilles?
     “You are the first of your Trojan warriors. Of the Achaeans, I am mightiest. We fight each other; if you win, we leave. If I win, we take Troy.”
     “If you win, you take back the lady Helen, with treasure equal to a dowry,” countered Hector.
     “Menelaus might accept that. Agamemnon, Odysseus—not they.”
     “I am sorry for that. Your suggestion might have spared many of my people. I can agree to nothing that imperils Troy so greatly.” Hector nodded courteously, turning to go.
    “Is that really why you fight, Hector of Troy?” Achilles demanded with unexpected intensity.
    “To protect my people and the city of Troy? Yes.” He paused. “And now, also because my brother died, and he would not have, had you not brought war.”
    “I like your reasons!” said Achilles unexpectedly. “Compared to mine they are rather like earthenware beside colored glass; but they are good reasons. If I were not so eager to kill you, I think I might like you.”
     “I cannot say the same,” said Hector.
     Cassandra chose that awkward second to become bloodless and point a thin finger at Patroclus.
     “Death and Honor are in league, Patroclus,” she cried out in a loud, steady voice.  “Both yearn for you; both shall have you!”
    Patroclus jerked, as one will if startled.  “How did you know my name?”
     “I—I don’t,” she said, softly. “I didn’t. I’ve never had a dream when I was awake, until now.”
     Achilles did not fight the next day, nor did his men. Achilles had picked a quarrel with Agamemnon, and was hating every Achaean but Patroclus.
     Hector felt uncertainty among the Achaeans, and stuck from two sides. For the first time the Achaeans doubted their victory. They pushed back; they held till darkness; but they dreaded the sun.
     Patroclus stared at his friend with sad eyes. “You are our strength, Achilles—“
    “Let Agamemnon be humble, then. Let him beg. I should be glad of the sight.” 
     “Will you let your people be defeated, over this?”
     “Yes, Patroclus, I will.”
     The morning came with eye-burning sunlight on Troy, and the shade of clouds over the Achaean camp and the evil-eyed ships.
      Hector consulted early with his father and the other nobles of Troy, notably not including Paris, and went in all his armor to his house before setting out that day. Andromache had half filled her loom with fine gold cloth. She slid the shuttle in silence.
      When she spoke her voice was very low. “I would that today you did not have to fight.”
      Scamandrious teetered around the corner, and saw a shiny man with a shiny thing on his head and a bristly black thing sticking up from it. He bawled.
     “I think your helmet,” said Andromache more merrily. The helmet’s crest brushed at the ceiling as Hector took it off. He laid it on the table beside the brown bread, and lifted Scamandrious, whose amazement as seeing that the strange man was his father had moderated his cries.
     “It’s but a helmet, lad,” Hector said.
      “Must you go, today?” she said again. “I fear for you every day, and every night; but today I fear more than I can say.”
      “I cannot leave my people to fight leaderless,” he said. “I would live always in peace beside you, dearest, if I had the choosing. That’s what I fight for, that all of us can live in honor and love. So our son can have a good life.” He looked at her solemn face and managed a teasing smile. “And so he needs not to be a soldier. It would never do, the way he fears a helmet!”
     The door banged, and Helen walked in, balanced, graceful, sobbing dramatically. Her sobs were not pretended; but they were flamboyant. She stopped walking, seeing Hector, than rushed past them, vanishing into the other room.
    “She will have quarreled with Paris again,” whispered Andromache.
    Her sobs came to Hector’ ears even after he had taken a gentle leave of Andromache and closed the door behind him.
    This was a day for war. It was time to call together all the power of the city.

        “We burn them,” Hector proclaimed. “Every ship.” The Trojans stomped and cheered, punching empty air—or by mischance, air less empty. Now the gods held Troy in favor. Achilles was gone.
     Stout Trojan farmers death angels were that day, and fishmongers found themselves furies. Hector led them all.
     He found himself on the splintery deck of an Achaean ship. “Bring the fire!” He did not care who burned the ship, so long as it was burned. It would not be he, for he was busy fighting off panicked men who saw their leaving threatened. 
     A sudden louder clamor made Hector look swiftly up. From the high deck of the ship he saw a familiar team of the finest warhorses speeding towards the battle, pulling a chariot. In the chariot stood a warrior in bright armor.
     Achilles was back.  The timing could not have been worse. Just when they might have burnt the boats. There was not a Trojan without some fear of Achilles. Many believed Hector did not fear him. Hector knew this to be false. At the sight of the bright armor breathing needed more effort, and his stomach seemed to twist slightly. He leapt down to the ground, landing a little off balance.
     The man in the bright armor saw the leap, and ordered his horse-driver on. Hector was coming to meet him, leaving the fight on the ships. They would meet alone. He was very near Hector now. Hector’s arm went back, and a bright bit of metal was first far away and then too near. Pain sliced at his chest as he wavered and slumped out of the chariot, landing roughly on the sea-moistened bloody sand. The horses whinnied and galloped away, the driver’s protests bootless.
     Hector pulled out the spear, difficultly because it had gone through thick metal. The man screamed; not in Achilles voice. Quickly Hector bent and pulled off the helmet, noticing that it was not the one Achilles had worn before; this one covered most of the face. Then he saw the reason for the change of headgear.
    “You’re not Achilles.”
    Patroclus gasped, pressing his hand to the oozing hole piercing the breastplate. “He would not fight…I had to do…something….” He closed his eyes. “I did what I could,” he said. Perhaps he wanted it known so badly that it did not matter that he protested to an enemy.
     He looked painfully as Gorgythion had, lying there. Hector did not strike again; there was no need. “Death and honor wait for you, too….” Patroclus said, and gagged harshly. He grew quiet, and was dead.
     Hector’s face softened, for a space of time long enough to draw a breath or to face a fate. He raised his hand, splattered with clotting blood, and drew his brows together, questioning.
     He turned back into the fight; It was a strange thing, killing, to end killing; war, to bring peace; death, to allow life. Gorgythion; he had fought for all these things; and he was dead; he had gained nothing, and lost his life. But there were things more valuable, which he had not lost.
    How he missed that lad! He had not had even an hour to mourn alone, unhampered by needed sleep or necessary planning. Now was not the time to spend any thought on him. Yet the wound in the chest, the fear; it had been too much alike. Gorgythion, I lead you to your death, and now I lead these men to theirs, and none of this had to be.  It all came of a beauty, and a fool.
     The Achaeans had pushed the Trojans from their ship, and held them off now resolutely, as men fighting for their return home battle. They had been on the point of success. He should not have gone to fight Patroclus. But had he been Achilles, he must have done so. Perhaps it was all fate.
   For as long as bread bakes they battled, two largely steady lines, fixed in their places. Then Achilles, maddened, screaming aloud, lethally came to the attack with his own Myrmidons.
    In the space of a few minutes, despite all Hector could do, every Trojan was fleeing for Troy. Hector was last; but he fled too, retching at heart at the darkness of it all, and acknowledging that he was filled with fear. Still he fought back as he retreated, trying to defend the indefensible and end what could not now be stopped.  Achilles was not like other men. He seemed a god, for he believed he was like one, invincible and exalted.
     The Achaeans pursued, killing many, dying less often. Panic had stolen the men of Troy, and their sweating hands dropped weapons to lie dangerously sharp on the earth and be bent by escaping feet. When the Trojans at last were within the gates Hector glanced through the doors as they swung closed and saw his armies way marked by the shining bronze and steel and the destroyed bodies of horses and men.
    Even now they were wild, scattering about the city. Helenus limped through the mob. “Are you hurt?” Hector asked, although that was obvious.
    “Not too badly.”
   “Deiphobus, take Helenus out of here.” Deiphobus grunted sourly and obeyed, shoving his way through the crowd. They grew louder, and women began to scream, everyone moving towards the king’s palace. Hector stood still, looking bewildered. At last his brows leveled, and he pushed his dark hair back from his face, and took a few running steps to stand facing the crowd at the top of the steps.
     “This is not the end,” he shouted out, and many of them looked at him, less trustfully than before, but not without respect.  “Achilles is our great opponent. I will fight him, and kill him if I can. If so fate brings about.”
       “No, Hector,” said a proud dwindled voice. King Priam walked slowly, out of the palace. “Gorgythion is dead. Helenus lies bleeding. You must live.”
      “Achilles is the one man that we have cause to fear, Father,” Hector said. “If I can fight him, and win, I believe we will have victory in this war.”
     “My son, no.”
     Hector took his father’s age-warped hands and spoke gently, softly enough that the people watching could not hear.
     Cassandra was running, horrified so that she hardly saw. She ran into a man and fell hard in the street, pulling herself up and running again before he could even speak. Her white robe was dusty now, and the people about her she saw through a translucent layer of dream, which she could not altogether make depart from her seeing.
   A shout rose outside. “Come and fight me, coward!” Hector sighed, walked swiftly towards the wall, and climbed to the tower so that he looked down at Achilles’s tilted scarlet face.
     “There you are,” Achilles said. “I am surprised—you’re not hiding. You know what I want.”
    “It is fated that we fight,” said Hector quietly. “I am coming.”
     Cassandra met him, running up the stairs as he went down. “I hear crying, Hector; I see death; I am awake and asleep, and there is no sleeping or waking. Don’t fight him!”      
     “If I do not fight him, if he does not die, we will be defeated, and Troy will burn.”
     “Troy will burn,” she repeated, reciting a fact. “There is nothing you can do. I know.“
     “Except my duty,” he said. He smiled at her. “I have never prophesied ere now, but I know something, and that is that we will both be remembered for as long as the earth bears harvest. Troy will be remembered, and greater in the memory than ever we saw it. And my son, and the other children of Troy, will know that their fathers loved honor. If we cannot give them peace, we can give them that.”
     He kissed her cheek, wishing there were time to see Andromache again. But he had said he was coming; and another goodbye would be hard for her. No; it was better she not fear more than she already must be.
    His hand grasped the bar of the gate.
   “Wait!” Paris had come up behind him, lily scented as usual. “I—I am the one who should do this.  I began it.” He sped his words.
      “It’s my duty, by birth.”
       “No.” Paris looked at him honestly. “You said I should have been dead, and I said I wished you were. I lied.”
     “I’m not letting you go out there,” said Hector. “I want you safe, brother.”
     Achilles took angry strides. The man was not coming. He jerked to face the gate as it opened, and laughed, not quite as most good mortals do.
     “A man of honor, after all,” he said. “I would have regretted your not being so.”
     Hector’s sword was drawn, and his shield, engraved by countless strikes into illegible runes, gleaming on his left arm.
    They clashed. The Trojans watched from the walls. The Achaeans watched from their camp. And two vultures floating on whirling air watched too.
    Strike, raise the shield, move, strike, move, duck, back, advance. Quickly. Slowly. Warm light now from the sun was good; even the trampled grass looked blither. Achilles’s eyes gleamed, and the bronze glinted momentarily, not where Hector expected it. He drew back, warm blood rushing over his arm.  Strike. Duck. Circle.  His sword nicked Achilles’s cheek.. Then he was falling, and could not move. He had expected it to be painful. He was numb, instead. Achilles smiled.
     The sun was dying too. Or at least it was lapsing into night. But there were the walls of Troy, guarding the beloved. Andromache…. The walls were still there. Not burning yet.  
Copyright©2014 by Abigail Leskey
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