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Seven Badgers of Troy

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Priam

Troy is a golden city, now. It wasn't always.

It takes a snake to come to the edge of the ocean and say "We will live here." It takes ambition and arrogance, and plots that will take years and generations to unfold. And so they came, and they built (a city of twists and turns like a snake, winding passageways up to the top of the hill.)

The snakes did very well for a long time. But the ambitious do overreach. When they do, they fall hard - in fire and war and rather a lot of destruction. Ruined city. Ruined lives. Ruined land.

It was some time later that Priam's father's father was born.

Ilus won a wrestling contest, where the prize was fifty young men and fifty young women and a prophecy. Here. Take this cow, build a city where it lies down. It is rude to argue with kings who give you presents and not sensible to argue with prophecy - and a cow is as good a way to decide where to put a city as anything else.

Since Ilus was neither rude nor foolish, he took his cow, and the young men and the young women. He also took a number of other sensible provisions because it might take the cow time to find a home. (Hungry people make bad decisions and get very cranky.)

And he - they, together - started walking. When the cow finally lay down, it was by the ocean in the ruins of that ancient city.

It was hard work at the beginning. A new city is. Hard work to find wood and water and the best place to pasture the cattle. To figure out what snakes kill you here, that there are lions and tigers, leopards and bears in the wild places. That this plant is safe, that one is medicine. That root there will kill you quickly and that berry slowly.

But Ilus was a badger (claimed as one by the omens), and he knew hard work, and he had help, and the young men and young women got along surprisingly well with each other. They learn what woods make the best wands, where to find what they need for this potion or that, how the stars align and where the creatures live and what magics they hold. All the small things that make a land home, not foreign.

And so, sooner than most people would think, there was a home and then a city. A banner over the city, with a horse.

Why a horse? Horses are hard-working and loyal. The ruling house might be badgers, but Ilus had always thought that only the insecure need to show their personal symbol all over the place. And how would others in the city feel, who were eagle or lion or snake, all with their virtues?

Besides, a good king is practical. It is kind to make it easy for other ruling houses to give you presents (and horses are always useful) and more people can draw a decent picture of a horse than a badger.

Sons are not always like their fathers, and Priam's father was one of those, being given more to loyalty than to fairness, to unyielding stubbornness to protect his people. He overreached himself, angering Poseidon (badgers and oceans are not natural allies, it turns out, and even horses aren't enough of an offering for some things) and events went worse from there. Priam bargained for his life, but in the end, his father and all his brothers were gone to the realm of Hades, and he was alone.

He filled some of the loneliness with work and with travel. Priam was the one who mended the city and built the trade, year after year, until there were ships in the harbour from a dozen ports. Delegations with silks and furs, spices and foreign plants. Markets full of olives and fish, pomegranates and grapes, grains and honey. There were sellers of odd animals and beautiful carvings, weapons and jewelry, clothing and armor. Magical devices from every land he visited in the palace, charms and potions to make the fields grow, the water run fresh and pure in the cisterns, the horses grow large and strong and glorious.

But he was also lonely for family, and so he married, and married again, and took concubines, and filled the palace with dozens of children, so that everywhere he looked, there were happy people who loved him, who loved each other.

He tried to be a just man. To be less stubborn than his father, to see both sides of a question. And in some places, he was. He was a just ruler when it came to business, finding ways for both parties to find peace. He was a just man dealing with his wives and his household, whether it was a matter of rooms for a concubine or toys for a child. He was just in creating trade agreements, so both sides benefitted. A golden city.

It is also justice that was his weakness. There was a prophecy - there is often a prophecy, if you are a ruler - that a child born on a given day would have to die by nightfall, or he would destroy the kingdom.

Priam could not kill his son. (It was a boy, like his many lost brothers had been.) A tiny child, defenseless and helpless. His wife could not do it. And so they arranged for their second son to be taken away, far away, and left where surely, he could do no harm.

For all his other children, he kept wondering about that one, the one he sent far away, to a quiet death on a far mountain, but it was what he could do. Thinking of one person, or even ten, is not a luxury a king has. A just king has to think of everyone. Justice, fairness, obligation, commitment, they all demand it.

They are not done building the city into what it can be (hard work is never done, not when trade changes, and the world does too), but Priam can look out at his city and be proud. A place where so many skills and talents are rewarded. Badgers and lions, snakes and eagles. Cleverness and bravery and ambition and solid hard work. Craftsmen and artists, builders and animal trainers, carpenters and masons, smiths and cooks, wizards and witches, all working together in so many ways.

Paris

Some things are in the blood. Being friendly, for example. You can take a young man, raise him as a herdsman far from anyone else, and as soon as you turn around, he's running off into town, getting into conversations with goddesses, and wandering off to foreign courts to make friends and bring some home.

Oh, it's more complicated than that. Paris himself knows that, says so, blushes over it. But there's no denying the basic facts.

First it was catching cattle-thieves, using clever charms .Then a interlude with a river nymph. And for all there are many river nymphs in the land, Paris has to admit that not all young men get to have one for a lover, and it might be a particular sign of some blessing or grace.

Then there was his habit of matching one bull against another, until he promised to give a golden crown to whoever won such a fight. (Thinking it would be him, mind. He was friendly, not wasteful.) But when another challenger won, he was joyful in being so well-matched, and honest in granting the victory where it was due.

Which just lead to a greater challenge and a more complicated honesty, to an apple and three goddesses. To bribes and pleas. When it came down to their offers, well, he was no snake to want lands too vast to travel for his own, and no lion to pride himself on battle above all else.

But someone to love him, be with him, make a home with him. That was tempting.

In the end, you could say he still chose fairly (As fairly as one can choose between three things that are all beautiful and perfect in their own way.) Aphrodite smiled, and the others turned away.

Between that, and what came next, there is how he returned to Troy. There are all sorts of stories about it, he knows, some about him being recognised in a crowd, some about him winning a contest.

It is simpler and more complicated than that. Troy is where things happen. There were people there, and traders, and if Aphrodite kept her promise, surely it would help if he got to where Helen, the most beautiful, was.

But he looks like his older brother, Hector, and he looks like his younger brothers and sisters, and their parents. It should be no surprise that he was brought, eventually, to the palace, to be claimed by Hecuba and Priam, welcomed in, feasted, given cups of wine and cool water, made much of.

(He did not know what to make of Cassandra. Apparently no one does, since the time some years before when she began saying things that made no sense, swearing she was telling truth and not lies. She claims he will be the downfall of Troy, that they should send him away, that please, no, now, she's sure he's a good man, but not here, not ever here.)

Priam and Hecuba refuse her, lock her away, keep her from troubling him after that first great rushing outburst. Having found him, they will not lose him again, that is clear. They fuss over him, and listen to his stories, learn his favourite foods and amusements, lay them out to make up for all the feast days he did not have with them as a child. Delight that he is a badger like they are.

In time, he goes Sparta, a trade mission, with senior advisors, a chance for others to know his face (as second son to Priam, Paris should be known, respected, seen as a shining light of the next generation.)

And there, of course, there is Helen. It's clear to him, in an instant, that her husband treats her with only the cold courtesy of an arranged marriage. That she is a thing that brings him status, not a person who is loved. Helen is a distant star, kept from anything meaningful but looking beautiful.

(She is very beautiful, so lovely his breath catches when he looks at her, that time stops, that the tides pause. Golden and shining and fair.)

It is not a court like his mother's, where Hecuba is so visible, so present, a warm hearth around which everything flows. There is nothing Helen does that is useful, that shares of herself, that brings her particular pleasure. Just an endless drifting of trying on this robe or that, because she knows her role is to be decorative. There is a daughter, but just the one, Helen has born no son.

She smiles at his stories. Of what it was like to grow up in a rough home, with simple pleasures, but also work that meant something. At the end of the day, or a season, a herdsman can count his blessings in the health of his cattle, the size of his herd, the warmth of his home, the food laid by for winter. That a life can be practical, meaningful, measured and enjoyed.

She is pleased, he thinks, that a life can be built of such things. She laughs at his tales of Troy, of learning its mysteries (unlike Sparta with rough stone and dark passageways, and Menelaus being always about glory and prowess and all the joys of a lion that she does not care for.)

And so, one night, with Aphrodite's touch to smooth the way, they sneak off onto a ship, and he brings her home to the golden city.

His parents are surprised. (Much later, he realises they were alarmed, but far too late to change anything.) But they are kind to Helen, they bring her in. (And shut Cassandra away. Again.) They give Helen rooms and clothes, handmaids and servants. They include her, talk to her, share with her, in a way she never knew in Sparta. A badger's palace is not like a lion's palace or a snake's.

There are times Helen weeps. (She left her daughter, there, to a cold hearth, and she wakes with it in the night, he thinks.) But there are more times she laughs.

Hecuba

You think you know what you're doing. That you can manage the usual run of scraped knees on children, handle servants with problems, keep the palace running. (Your staff are excellent, you know this, but someone has to have the final say, and that person is you.)

There are the quotidian requests for money, offerings, help. This temple has an upcoming festival, that craft wants a ceremonial judge for some presentation, this other person has an urgent plea (that is like dozens you've heard in the past few months, but matters so much to them.)

She doles out her attention as fairly as she can, knowing that a kind word here can make such a difference, that it takes little more work to be friendly than to frown. To soothe squabbles, and all the little interpersonal difficulties that come up in a family, a palace, a city, a country.

Her children do bring home such challenges, though.

Paris, arriving on a ship, with Helen, beautiful and entirely uncertain of her welcome. And in all fairness, she should be, leaving her husband. And yet, the more Paris explains, the more Hecuba agrees that some things are not fair, and that the way women of status are married off is among them.

(She is fortunate, she loves her husband, has done as long as they have been married. He is not perfect, no man is, but he tries to do the right things, and he loves his family, and if there are the gaping holes left by the slaughter of his father and brothers, the loss of his sister to marriage far away, his family now helps mend some of them.)

And perhaps this is fair, that since the Greeks kept his sister, would not let her return home, that Troy should keep this Greek woman, who has chosen to come to them. One for the other, and her lost son loves this woman, turns toward her like flowers toward the sun. And if Helen is not very useful around the place, not the way Hecuba's daughters and her other daughters in law are, barely lifting her wand, but she is decorative and not unpleasant. Knows the casual things to say to make conversation flow and burble and make a celebration glitter.

Hecuba bends her will to making Helen a home, and welcoming Paris, and juggling the hundreds of other tasks that fall on her shoulders and into her hands and her ears. She worries, in the moments between tasks, that something worse may come of this, but Troy is strong, and Troy is golden, and there is no sense borrowing trouble.

Hector

Being the firstborn son of a king is hard work. So many people watching, with expectations, painting their own desires onto you.

Hector was well named, though. He holds fast to what matters. From the first times he can remember, he has been taught by father and by mother, by nursemaid and by trainer, by guards and by servants, what it means to be a prince, to eventually be king. How to be clever and thoughtful, honorable and truthful, just and fair, skilled in battle and kind at home.

There are days he thinks he will break from the burden, but he takes a breath, and grits his teeth, and keeps going. Because that too is expected.

Before the war, he was trusted to help with trade delegations here, arrangements there, a border skirmish this month, sitting in judgement over legal cases the next. He had brothers in arms (and brothers in abundance, for that matter.) There was always someone to talk to, to ride with or drink with or play games with. Always something that helped build loyalty, or polish a skill, or aid one of their subjects. Make him better. More ready.

He is young, but he has been tested in being a man, done his best to be the kind of man of whom stories are written that are not just about battle and war, not just about cleverness at someone else's cost, but that are about fairness and discernment and love. Like his love for his wife.

She is a princess, and he has known enough princesses to know they are trained to do what they ought, like princes, but that it may not make them happy. He wants her to be happy, to see that glimmer in her eyes, the crinkle of her skin when she smiles. To hear the sound of her laugh, or her wry humour. To ride with her under the bright sun, and to lie talking with her in the darkness when there is nothing but the two of them.

It was for Andromache's sake he had been kind to Helen, when Helen came. He does not know how to make sense of Paris, of having another brother, one who breaks guest agreements. What to make of his parents, who did not turn Helen away, but do not know what to do with her, how to deal with a woman of her stature at court who does not share in the work of ruling, tending the people, making things flow. (Helen is beautiful, but she is not very good at those things, does not think about them, does not realise all the work that goes into a badger's kingdom.)

But Hector remembers his wife's comments. The things she said made her feel welcome, made her feel less alone, made her feel like she might find a home here, not just a place to lay her head, a bed for bearing children with a man she barely knew, how to learn to rule a land foreign to her in many ways. Paris is too star-eyed to see to them, thinks that love and happiness can live on air and pretty words and promises.

It is Hector who makes sure Helen's favourite meals are told to the kitchen, that she has things that remind her pleasantly of home in her rooms (chosen from the trade stores) rather than those that cut too deep. That she has serving women who speak her dialect, not Troy's, that she has tools for her hobbies, does not have to beg them or borrow them from others. It is Hector who nudges Paris to remember the little days that will be difficult, the anniversary of Hermione's birth, Helen's birthday, the day she left her home. It is Hector who smooths things over, reminds his brothers that Helen deserves kindness when they would rather do something else.

He is kept very busy, no matter how hard he works, with the thousand small things, with tending to them well and surely, with making choice after choice that shape him into the kind of king he wants to be, the kind of husband, the kind of man. Patient and deliberate, kind and caring, listening and discerning.

All his care cannot prevent what comes. War. Fleets of ships. Thousands of men. The constant noise of shouts and steel and horses. Of armour being hammered and the harsh sounds of men far from home. Men who care for power, not kindness and for strength, not grace or hard work. For whom a show of loyalty matters more than its roots.

He wakes in the middle of the night, thinking of what he wants to pass down to his children (however many of them there are, though he rather thinks less than fifty. His parents do their best to be fair, but that is a kind of hard work he is not made for.) He is always thinking of what will come. Some day, his father will die, and he will be king. Andromache will be queen. They will have a chance to make this city theirs, for as long as they rule. Once they get through this. Once there is no longer a war.

There is moment after moment, throughout his day, when he catches his breath, realises just how much he does not know and needs to. And then he is going on, back to work, to learn that thing, and the half-dozen more that will come pushing behind it, like unruly cattle or a knot of brothers at play.

Or a horde of warriors at the gate.

Andromache

Andromache does her best. She is a loyal wife, doing her utmost each day to honor what she's been given. Loyal to a husband she loves, loyal to a land she's claimed as her own (a long way from Thebes, in so many ways), loyal to a new people. She knows what it's like, to leave behind everything you knew and go somewhere totally different (like Helen).

Her husband loves her, she knows this. Brought her out of Thebes, after her father and brothers were slaughtered by Achilles (as if alliance and friendliness were things to be punished, cut out of the world.) How he was so patient with her, gave her gift after gift in hopes she would find some small happiness, some tiny security in it. Worked so hard to have her feel like this was home, that she had rooms that were hers, and things she could count on. How he waited, patient and careful, until she was willing to come to him in love, not just out of loyalty earned by his rescue. How she fits here, in this house of badgers, far better than in the other houses of the Achaeans, snakes and eagles and lions that they are.

She tends to his rooms, his horses, and his heart with the same fierce devotion, as if doing those things perfectly will mend the world.

Despite her loyalty, she has begun to realise this cannot end well. This is a thing that the family magics cannot save, that is not about a healthy child or a loving marriage bed. Not about knowing the ways of the land and the ocean and the river, the timing magics of agriculture. Not about offerings or devices or any magic witch or wizard knows.

It's taken her a long time to admit it. Long enough for Helen to be settled. Long enough for sails to be seen on the horizon. Long enough for them to land, for there to be quarrels over a prophecy (another prophecy, Troy is littered with prophecies, you cannot turn around without tripping over one.)

Long enough for trenches to be dug on the beach. Long enough for skirmish after skirmish. Long enough for too much death, and too much siege and far too many tears. She watches from the walls, thinks about how it was Achilles who killed her father and brothers. That he is a great warrior, certainly, but she does not understand him, cannot fathom his joy in killing, in slaughter, in ending life after life. He does it because he is good at it, she is told, patiently.

That is not enough for her.

Her husband is a great warrior, but he fights for loyalty and for duty and for obligation, and because some things are so set in their ways that killing is the only way through a harsh world.

Hector works hard at being a great warrior but he does not revel in it. Does not give in to blood lust, into hurling himself into danger after danger for the sheer risk of the thing. It is one of the reasons she loves him. He is badger, not lion, and there are so many ways that makes a difference.

She is a princess, though, and she knows better than most how to analyse the alliances. That Helen is a snake, by omen, she knows (such gossip is passed around the royal houses, even before Helen came to them.) That there are the lions, Achilles and Agamemnon and Menelaus. Men easily lead by their passion and their desire to leap first and think about the consequences later. (Rather literally, in the case of - what was his name, Protesilaus. A particular lion, that.)

Which leads her to think of Odysseus, who had long been a guest here, was well-known to the royal house of Troy. She has wondered, for some time, how much of his cleverness had to do with his wife, but the man himself is silver-tongued, controlled, coiling a dozen plots at once, as one would expect from a snake.

There were witty men among them, too. Clever men who could fight by what they knew, not just the might of swords or the twists of plots. Nestor, whose longwinded speeches were a joke among his men, but who knew many things. Idomeneus, from Crete, where there was such a long story of great devices, his father's labyrinth and great navy, and so many fine daidala

But it is the snake among them she worries about most. Helen seems happy, seems content, seems to enjoy Paris. And Andromache knows she is not being fair, to doubt someone just because they are snake, not badger. But she wonders, why Helen came, what Helen wants, whether laying the choice at the feet of the Gods (or at least a Goddess) is truth or excuse or maybe both. She cannot forget that Aphrodite is called Machanitis - the contriver - as well as Aphrodite Symmachia, ally in love.

She does not know how to tell anyone these things. Not her husband, who thinks the best of everyone, who has been kind to Helen, kinder than anyone else. (Not that she doubts his loyalty to her, it is just how Hector is, a thing she loves in him, that he thinks of those kindnesses.) Not his parents, who are kind to her, but Andromache depends so much on their good will, and they have taken in Paris, and then Helen. They don't see these things, don't see the spaces where the danger is lurking, not like she does. Not like in Thebes. The places where the different views of the world sharpen themselves and cause wounds that won't ever heal.

The war grinds on and on, and she keeps going with it. Keeps going even though she disagrees with more and more. Wishes that they could just stop, be sensible. But there is not much sense in the world.

It comes, in the end, to a conversation she's had nightmares about for months.

She is on the walls, looking down, sorting out what's going on, so she can make sure the supplies are moved, and the healers in the right places, and whether she needs to go ask the temples for more hands. Every time she thinks the Trojans might have the advantage, things shift. She thinks the Greeks might retreat, might finally go home, and then they don't. Her husband, her brothers by marriage, they go and they fight, and they come back. Most of them.

She hears him come up behind her. Call her name. Feels herself turn to him. A conversation that goes the way it must. He says the things she knew he would. He is convinced, bone and blood, that he must go out, and fight. That one time, one fight soon, he will not come back.

She says the things she must. She tries not to cry, it will do not good, it is a pointless waste, but she does anyway, her body rebels against her wish for control. That all she loves here is him, and their son. That she has no father, no mother, no home, no place if he isn't there. (She knows what happens to widows. And worse, what happens to widows who are on the losing side of a war.)

She needs to say it, to make it real for herself. He needs to say it, so he can go. Because they are, the two of them, always clear with each other. Always honest. Always forthright. They will say what they need, so they can do what they need. And she knows, and he knows, she will not keep him from his duty, will not whine and beg and plead for some other fate. (She is not Helen and he is not Paris. They are made of more solid stone than that.)

It is not until he reaches for their son, takes him from the nursemaid, that things shift. Not until Astyanax pulls away. It is then that both of them know that this is it. The one last time. When he takes the helm off, and their son knows him, there is one last embrace. One last moment that goes on forever, where he holds her, their son between their bodies.

He goes, and it is some days later that he dies. Dies in battle with Achilles, dies fighting the best he's fought.

Dies.

She is not there to see it.

She has gone inside, their son needed her, some toy gone missing, some tiny thing she forgets immediately on hearing the empty sound. They have to pull her back from the walls when it becomes clear that the Achaeans have no honour. Have no fairness. Have no mercy, no justice, not kindness. When she has watched them drag his corpse around and around, bouncing in the dirt, battered.

She does not remember the next days. There is noise, an endless wailing in her ears and her head. There is hugging Astyanax so tightly he squirms. There is knowing that this is the end of them all. Paris is not brave, so many other brothers are slain, so many deaths the river clogged. So many missing faces.

There are twelve long days in which nothing can change. In which the Trojans mutter and murmur in corners. In which there are the futile sounds of claws dug in, the last desperate attempts at something, anything.

On the twelfth day, she walks into an argument between the king and queen, where Hecuba refuses to allow her husband to go, to beg for Hector's broken body. Terrifed she will lose him. And Andromache sympathises, but at the same time she has no patience. She is turning away, because silence is better than anger, because it is the gift she can give right then, when there is an eagle, landing on the tiled floor. An omen, they say.

Priam goes, he is stubborner than his wife. In the end.

He bends his knee, and he kisses the hand of the man who killed his son. And he sets aside crown and power, height and strength, until there is nothing in that tent but a father who has lost his son, nothing but love and longing, nothing but a desire for a moment to mourn.

They only know that he's not dead, that he's done what he set his will to, when he comes back, Hector's body in his arms.

They let Andromache have a few minutes alone in the temple, the body laid out before her. She stands, trying to come to grips with the endless stillness. (Hector, alive, was always moving, always working, always doing something). And then she has to turn away and try and breathe, before she squares her shoulders and walks back out, into what her life has become as it shattered around her.

Cassandra

Cassandra's honesty undoes her. Undoes them all.

When she was young and brought to the temple, the omens took a long time to decide her fate. So she was told. She is a badger, like her family. But there is the endless hiss of snakes in her life. The whisper of scales on stone. The soft words of gods in her ear.

When she was little, she had prided herself on her truth. On winding her way through the competing truths of a large palace full of wives and sisters and daughters. Bustling with people needing help, wanting to be heard.

She wanted to help. Wanted to be like her mother, who sorted through the people who left out the things that made them look bad, the things that people don't admit, the things that people hide. Like her father, laying everything out honest and bold to make choices. Like Helenus, who was wise and thoughtful and careful with his words.

She went to the temple, where she could learn the things she did not know. Learn to use her wand in the way a priestess needs (not princess, not healer, not wife, not mother.) Learn how to use the truth and the quiet to help people. To serve. To listen. It twisted away from her. All her choices. All her truths, when she met a God, and he spoke.

It was the opposite of Paris. Where Paris went toward people, she sought silence. Where Paris agreed, she pulled away. Where Paris chose, she had her choices taken.

In the end, she has only truth. The hard-edged blunt truth that badgers are mocked for, by snakes and even by eagles.

No one listens to her. Not about the coming storms. The fire she sees at the edge of her vision. The flashes of faces broken with grief. The sounds of a body on the ground, the rhythm of the wheels. The echo of something vast and wooden opening. The hoofbeats, the smack of oars on water. The bitter smells of shattered magics and spoiled potions. The sound of stones falling, and bodies. Of false cheer, greetings hiding knives and death.

They shut her away. Her truths are uncomfortable. They say they're nonsense, say she's babbling, say she's crazed and mad and broken.

One time, they listen. The worst time. If they had ignored that, perhaps Troy would still stand, golden and bright, a jewel, a home for all.

But that is not to be. The whispers of the snakes, the murmur of Apollo Loxias, Apollo Despota, the cruel master who speaks obliquely, is not so oblique for once.

So they hear the truth that Paris is son to Priam and Hecuba. But they would not hear that his choices - the choices he got to make, being prince and not princess, being man and not woman, being friendly and not always truthful - would lead to war and to death. They pulled her away from him. Later, they pulled her away from Helen. Shut her up. Locked the door.

She keeps trying. Any time they open the door. Any time anyone listens for a moment, she tries.

She can see, from where she is walled in, where there is nothing but her and the truths tangling in her head, the sounds and the smells and the visions, she can see down to the great gates of the city. See the great wooden horse.

She hears the murmurs of her handmaids. How good it is that the Achaeans gave such a gift. Such a suitable gift. A horse and all. How it would be rude to turn it away. Unkind. Dishonourable. The act of snakes, to see danger in a gift, that badgers are better than that, they are gracious in victory, extending a hand of friendship and trust.

She slips by them, running as fast and as hard as she can, down the flights of stairs, the hidden ones, ancient and worn, to the great plaza. They took her wand, long since, made her helpless as well as speechless, but she grabs one as she runs past, hoping it will work enough for what she needs, the basic charms they all learn young - fire and water and opening.

They catch her too quickly. Take the wand from her grasp. Seize her hands, lift her feet. Carry her away. She tries to tell them. Tell them she can hear the feet, the moving weight against wood. Can hear them breathing, the men inside. Can see what would happen. Will happen. Is about to happen.

When the end comes, she is locked away in the room that has been hers for far too long. She is waiting, and she is silent.

She knows the truth of what is coming. For her and for them all.

Aeneas

Patience is a virtue. Aeneas tells himself this, over and over.

And in truth, it saved his life, his patience. He had held back from the worst of the fighting (not out of cowardice, but out of fury with Priam's leadership, out of stubborn refusal to do what he was told when it was wrong.) But it mean that when Troy fell, he was able to get away. To save something from the chaos and the walls and the bloody battle. He flees with his father, with friends, with healer and with the family magics, the things that will let them, some day, make a new home.

He is patient while they travel. They stop, think they have found a place, and then it goes wrong, it shifts beneath their feet, and they go on. His father dies, and he is patient. His friends die, and he is patient.

He comes to Carthage, and there is a very pleasant year, Dido is delightful, obliging, and Carthage is a beautiful land. But his mother's patience runs out, and he is driven away and onward. He is patient when he has to leave place after place, patient in Hades, patient in war, again, until finally he has wife and city and children and grandchildren.

It ends well enough for him, in a river, in becoming god of a place, a patient flow of water over rocks, slow change, ever moving but always there, always that river, that place. That essential sense of self that Aeneas never lost.

It is because of one more prophecy that things change this last time. A wizard tells of great things for Brutus, grandson to Aeneas. Tells that he will be the bravest and most loved in Italy, a golden badger, shining among all the others, but bringing death to the people who loved him most. His father is enraged. His mother dies at his birth.

Prophecy will win out. Eventually. When he is grown, he shoots an arrow, and it finds his father's heart. It is not fair, it is not just, but it is law that Brutus must be banished. Must be sent to wander like his grandfather. He walks and walks, and rides and rides, and in time he finds kinfolk (Trojans, the remains of the great city, the scattered few) and they have adventures, and win themselves a ship and provisions, and a chance to go somewhere else. Create a new world.

He travels more, finds another band of kin, Trojans left without a home. And again, and again.

In time, they come to the southern shore of what seems to be a great land, green and cool and damp. It is peopled with giants, massive men, but Brutus has people with him, has chosen family, has wizards and witches, skilled and willing to fight.

In time, they make their peace in the land, build new cities on new rivers emptying to new oceans. In time, Brutus's sons inherit, Locrinus in the south and east, Albanactus in the north, Kamber in the west and the mountains. They build new lives, new customs, new hopes, new dreams.

Time flows onwards, wizard and witch to child after child, until one day, four friends stand by a lake in Scotland. One talks of knowledge, one of courage and daring, one of ambition and greater magics. And they are good to have in the world, alliances have been made of such things for generations.

But Helga dreams of golden cities and open doors and love.