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this is not your destruction, this is your birth

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"For a star to be born, there is one thing that must happen: a gaseous nebula must collapse.
So collapse.
Crumble.
This is not your destruction.
This is your birth."

-unknown

*


She has no notion of honor, such as men understand it.  All it had ever gotten her was a dead husband, a dead son, and no land to call home, nor any of her brothers, all of whom she is certain died honorably

She had pretended to understand it, when Hector spoke of it, her head bowed lest he see the disagreement and the anger in her eyes.  She had buried her father and seven brothers while Achilles still had honor enough to send the bodies back to Troy to be given proper burials.  No one understood honor better than she did. 

So the semblance of it is the only thing she willingly gives up of her former life.  Everything else, they will have to fight her for. 

*

Death is not an option allowed her.  In the aftermath of the fall, the Achaeans kill hundreds, thousands, of Trojans, cutting the numbers down almost entirely to the royal family and close friends, left to be prized slaves.  There’s no discrimination in terms of who will make better slaves, because the Achaeans do not want slaves.  They want trophies to take back home, prizes to attest to their conquest.  And no one makes better trophies than the wives and mothers of former kings and great warriors. 

Neoptolemus is young, younger than she ever saw Hector, and beautiful besides.  He has no need for a war bride much older than him, one that he will have to take by force, not when younger and more noble women will take him willingly.  But his sense of honor, the same honor that compelled him to have Polyxena sacrificed on his father’s grave, demands that he be given the prize reserved for Achilles. 

She expects to hate him on sight, this man who would be her owner, but he’s a child, powerless against the whims of Odysseus.  The Achaeans are all faceless arbitrators of her new destiny, names she has heard a dozen times on Hector’s lips or in Helen’s wistful sighs.  So when desolation finally gives way to anger, the only person she can hate is Helenus. 

Helenus, who seems to have chosen to go with Neoptolemus, chosen because he is the only Trojan left with any choice, the one who whispered all the secrets of Troy to the Achaeans, leading them to victory. 

*

The journey keeps her occupied.  Her stomach turns with the waves, and for a few days, weeks,  she is wholly focused on her body.  It is curious that her body fights the illness and struggles to right itself, when her mind has all but given up on life.  She eats what is forced on her, by Neoptolemus, Helenus, and an old Trojan woman who seems to have been spared by the Achaeans.  The woman rubs her back and coaxes her to eat, as Andromache tries to find familiarity in her features.  Did she work at the palace?  Is she someone she should know?  Neoptolemus brings her food, and sits there to eat with her, as if they’re friends, equals, and she eats because she wishes to be left alone. 

Helenus is the only one who talks to her, calls her by her name, and tells her to eat (to live) in the Trojan dialect.  There’s a familiarity to this, and she tries not to recall the days after Hector’s death, because they only make Helenus’ betrayal sting harder.   She throws the earthen cup he offers her at him one day, and the sound is enough to bring the wary soldiers in to see the commotion, and when they hear Helenus speaking to her in Trojan, they hiss in words she might understand if she cared to listen, and take Helenus away.  She can see the blood on his face, but not the wound itself.  She hopes it would leave a scar. 

She does not keep track of time, but she can tell that the winds have been favorable, and she is one of the only people to have gotten the sea sickness.  She’s allowed to roam free, once they’re certain that she won’t plunge herself into the sea.  It takes her a while to realize that the sickness does not leave her, no matter what she does, so she takes what liberties she is given.  She cannot say, however, that  the ocean depths don’t look more promising than anything on board this ship.  She can feel eyes following her whenever she is on the deck, but she never turns around to face Helenus.

Sometimes, she stares at the vastness of the sea and disappears into her thoughts, letting her mind rest.  She cannot sleep much, not without seeing Hector’s body torn and bloodied as it was before the gods restored it.  She is glad that she never saw Astyanax, after.  But she will forever hear his last calls for her, before they dragged him too far off to be heard. 

*

The sickness persists even after she has been on land for days.  Her stomach turns at the slightest of smells, and she cannot stand the barest of differences in tastes.  She thinks nothing of it, until one day the nausea sends her running outside into the bushes, and the familiarity of it hits her so hard that she drops to the ground with the force of her realization.  She forces her hand against her mouth, blocking a sound that’s halfway between a laugh and a cry, and she’s not sure what she is feeling, except that maybe, this is why her body fought against her desire to give up.

Once she has calmed herself enough for rational thought, she tries to piece together the time lost in grieving and mourning.  How long since Troy fell?  How long before then that Hector died?  It feels like an eternity, but it could not have been more than mere months.  Who can she ask without giving herself away?

And the first name that comes to her mind is the last person she should trust.  Helenus’ betrayal seems to not have erased the ease borne out of years of familiarity.  Was he the one who prophesized doom for the Achaeans if they let Astyanax live?  Would he feel differently about another child, this man who had handed over his home, his family, and his loyalty to the Greeks so willingly?

She might have found it easier to forgive him, had she found him scarred and decimated, barely alive and fighting for his life.  Then she could have told herself that they forced the secrets out of him, that he did not willingly give Troy to them.  She could have forgiven him cowardice and weakness, forgiven him anything except for the one thing he did. 

Still, she cannot think of whom else to ask.  She has not seen the old Trojan woman since they arrived in Epirus, and she has been given relative privacy to recover.  She has not been given any tasks to perform either, but she’s under no illusions as to what the purpose of war brides is.  She had been relieved to have been left alone, but now that could cause suspicion.

When night falls, she goes looking for Helenus, asking the servants she comes across in broken Greek.  The Greek she had been taught by her tutors had had years to be improved in Helen’s company, so much so that Hector used to bring intercepted war correspondence to her to translate, trusting her more than he could ever bring himself to trust Helen.  But she thinks it wise not to let them know yet how well she speaks their tongue, better to be allowed to hear things they would otherwise never speak in her presence.  

She returns to her quarters, unsuccessful in her search.  But for the first time since leaving Troy, she forces herself to eat all the food that’s been rationed to her.  There’s a knock on her door, and she fears that it’s Neoptolemus, and at this hour, there can be no doubt of his intentions.  Just as well, she thinks, that he come to her, for she will be forced to seek him out soon enough.

But it is Helenus, and she is not sure if she’s relieved or disappointed.  “You were looking for me?” he asks as a way of greeting, and there’s just enough light outside for her to be able to see the scar on his brow.  She keeps her eyes focused there and addresses him by name.  It feels odd to use it now, after years of calling him brother, but he turned against the bond they shared, and she will not consider him part of Troy now. 

“I wish to perform ritual libations for Hector and the last rites for my son, now that I am more myself,” she tells him.  “I…” she hesitates, because this confession , even hiding behind her lies,  is shaming in front of someone whom the events of Troy seemed to not have affected much but there’s no choice but to say it, “I have not cared enough to keep time since Hector’s death, and I could not think of anyone else who would know how long it’s been since…”

She trails off, but he catches her meaning, and without thinking about the answer, he says, “Hector has not been dead these three months.  In a week, you may perform your libations, when the moon will start waxing for the fourth time since his passing.”

She nods, taking this information into account, and now that she knows this, she tries to remember when was the last time that she bled? 

But Helenus goes on and says, “Troy fell a month and a half after Hector, the Greeks waited a fortnight before setting sails.  Our journey to Epirus took the better part of three weeks, and we have been here for just over seven days.”

She takes his careful monitoring of time as a sign of his being unaffected by the events, rather than as something he remembered because it’s meaningful to him, too.  She has other things to occupy her mind now, besides Helenus. 

*

Neoptolemus is simple enough to understand.  He’s a child playing at being a man, following in the footsteps of a father he never met.  And it is the last part that makes him dangerous.  He would never allow a son of Hector to live, so he can never know that the child she is carrying is Hector’s.

He had escorted her to the rooms above the servants’ quarters that he had had arranged for her after they had arrived in Epirus and informed her that his mother would be a kind mistress and he had no intentions of marrying for years to come, so she need not worry about a wife, as if she would begrudge sharing him.  She had prayed that he would forget about her, that she would blend in with all the other servants and disappear.

But she is taller than the natives of Epirus and the slaves Peleus had acquired for his grandson, her hair and skin much too dark compared to what these people were used to seeing.  Even at Priam’s court, she had stood out.  But these things, she could use to her advantage now, she realizes grimly.

She combs and oils her hair deliberately, slowly, and leaves it down, as is the custom here for slaves and mourning women.  She lightly lines her eyes with kohl and puts on a simple but bright yellow chiton she finds in the clothes she has been given.  She knows nothing about the art of seduction, only what she learned from watching Helen and the women that sons of Priam had kept.  But she knows that she cannot seem too willing, not after everything they have put her through.

She busies herself with the servant women, letting them show her the tasks the women of the house perform.  She spends most of her morning in the temple complex, and notices that it’s here that Helenus is residing, among the priests of Apollo.  When she comes across him in the temple, she finds that for all the hatred she harbors for him, she cannot bring herself to meet his eyes.  He looks too much like Hector, now that the ghost of Hector’s judgement is foremost among her thoughts.   She feels his eyes on her, and reminds herself that what Helenus did to Troy is worse than what she is about to do.

When she finally makes her way to the palace, among all the tasks, she does not talk to Neoptolemus, does not approach him, only lets herself be seen, and when she catches his eyes on her, she knows she has him.  She hurries out of the palace as soon as she can, going back to her rooms.  She paces the length of her courtyard, dread and disgust coiling low in her stomach, and before she knows it, she is running out to the bushes to throw up.  She can do this, she tells herself, Hector cannot blame her for this. 

*

When there’s finally a knock on her door, late into the night, she calls out to ask who it is, lest he know that she’s been expecting him.  When she hears his reply, she lets Neoptolemus in.  He asks after her health and her accommodations and the pretense of this politeness almost undoes her resolve.

When he finally reaches for her, her instinct is to step back and push his hands away, forcefully.  He seems taken aback, and she reminds herself to breathe.  To fight him only enough to make him have no doubts that this is his choice, and only his.  But not enough to anger him or turn him away.

He pushes her against the wall and she pushes against him just enough, letting his mouth descend on hers but not moving her lips against his.  She closes her eyes and thinks of Hector, but that only makes it harder.  He’s nothing like her husband, younger and leaner, and his skin is too smooth, and she remembers that he only came to Troy when all the great heroes had died and only men like Agamemnon and Helenus and Odysseus had been left alive, men with none of Hector’s honor.  He is the worst of them, she thinks, to have not even bled on her homeland in order to be able to take its spoils.

He gasps now and shudders and goes limp against her for a few moments, and it takes all her strength to not push him away with force.  She thinks of Hector’s back, lined with scars that she would trace with her fingertips, after he had fallen asleep.  Thinks of Astyanax’s hair and the way it used to curl around her fingers when she ran her hand through it. 

She bites back a sob, and he pushes himself away from her.  He meets her gaze but leaves without saying anything, closing the doors behind him.

She slides to the ground, and screams out all of her anger, but it does not make her feel any better.  She brings her hands up to wipe the tears from her eyes, only to notice bits of blood and skin under her nails.  She buries her face into her hands and leans into her knees and eventually exhaustion overtakes her.

*

She goes out to get water for a bath from the river early in the morning and scrubs herself clean inside the courtyard of her quarters.  She knows from experience – gained from Astyanax and from the two babies that she lost – that it will still be quite some time before her stomach starts swelling, so for now, there will be no questions. 

 Neoptolemus visits her again that night, and it’s no easier than the night before.  On the third night he is there, he falls asleep in her bed, and she finds herself envying Kassandra’s recklessness that would have surely compelled her to end him now.  But she knows that that will be the end of her, end of Hector, for as long as she has this child within her, as long as she can bring it into this world, Troy will live on.  She is filled with contempt for the arrogance of this man, so secure in his power that he knows that he can sleep in the bed of the woman whose home he took, whose child he murdered, the woman he forced himself on, and that she will not harm him.

She pushes herself out of the bed and out into the night, and focuses on what she must do.  Tomorrow will be three months since Hector’s passing and she will make libations to him and pray that he forgives her and blesses their child.  Seeing the lights in the temple still burning, she makes her way up the shallow hill leading to the temple complex. 

She makes her way inside Apollo’s temple and finds Helenus at the foot of the god’s statue, working on some healing potions.  And this could be any night in Troy when she found herself unable to sleep and went up to the temple complex to speak with him, knowing the hours he kept.  But they are no longer in Troy, and he is the last person she wants to see at this moment.

She starts to turn away, but he calls out to her, and she responds out of habit, more than anything else.

“I could not sleep and thought I might prepare for tomorrow,” she says no more, waiting to see if he remembers.

He says, “For Hector.”

She nods, and he sets about getting her what she needs in silence, and then says, “You should have waited till morning.  It is not safe here, this late.”

She is not sure if he knows about Neoptolemus’ visits, but she cannot help the bitter retort, “Do you really think that I am any safer in my house?” 

“You are right,” he says, “My apologies.”

When he has everything ready, he places it on an earthen plate and hands it to her, and says, “I would like to be there tomorrow, if you will let me.”

She has never done this without a priest, though she knows it is possible to do without one.  She will have to ask someone else  to help with the ritual preparations, and it might as well be him.  Hector had loved his brother well, and perhaps would forgive him more easily than Andromache can.  So she says, “I would need a priest,” making it clear that he is not welcome as Hector’s brother.

He nods.  “I will come find you when the sun sets.”

She turns and leaves, walking slowly back to her house.  She is relieved to find Neoptolemus gone on her return.

*

She and Helenus perform the ritual in silence the following evening, and she feels a sense of companionship with him that feels unnatural, after everything. 

Afterward, he says, “You do not have to stay here, Andromache.”

“Where else will I go?  Back to the ashes of Troy or do you mean to tell me that I should follow in Polyxena’s footsteps and go down to the underworld?  Would that please you, to not have to be reminded of the consequences of your betrayal?”

He lets her finish her outburst and says, “The Achaeans destroyed every town I had relatives in, sacking all the cities surrounding Troy.  But your mother had relatives in further parts of Asia than the Achaeans could reach.  I have made connections at the temple.  If you’re willing, I can find you passage back home.”

“You seem to have made friends with the Greeks before ever coming here, Helenus,” she says.  “But I forsook all of mine when I chose to remain in Troy and marry Hector.  If my mother’s family had the resources and the will to ransom me, they would have done so already.  There is not a city in the world, I think, that has not heard of Troy’s demise by now.”

He considers this for a moment, and then says, “We will go together, you and I, and we will find a place that will give refuge to Troy’s last survivors.”

Now she laughs, bitter and forced, and says, “I think I will place my fate in Neoptolemus’ hands before trusting you with it again.”

And it is a lie, but she enjoys seeing the pain she’s caused him plain on his face.  With each day that passes, she grows closer to asking him for a confession but she will not yet give him the satisfaction of explaining his actions. 

*

Neoptolemus does not come to her that night, and she’s relieved until she is summoned to his rooms in the palace early the following morning.  He explains that he had gone away on a hunt and apologizes for neglecting her, words that a husband might say to his wife, not words to be spoken between master and slave.  Her stomach twists at his words, and she reaches for the wine he has set out, takes only a small sip to keep her stomach from turning, from giving herself away.  It is too soon for him to think her with child.

She is so intent on keeping herself from being sick that she lets herself be pulled into his bed without resistance.  Afterward, he falls asleep, but when she tries to slip out from under the covers, he tightens his hold on her wrist, and says, “Stay.  You’ll sleep better here.  I am told that you Trojans were used to the most extravagant fineries.   No wonder you have been wasting away here.   Perhaps we will have them have some of that Trojan finery brought out to put in your rooms, so you can feel more at home.”

There’s something very unnerving about gentleness in a man who would slaughter children and women.  It scares her worse than his fury on the battlefield ever did.    So she chooses her words carefully, and says, “I slept last night, and it’s light out now.  I have work to do.” 

“What kind of work have they been putting you to?   What could you be good at, having spent your entire life in a palace, preparing to be the queen of a city that burned to the ground?”

She has no need to defend her skills to him, and there’s no use in defending a city that stands in ruin, not at any risk to herself.  So she gently pulls her hand from him and says, “You will sleep better, without me here to toss and turn in your bed.”

“While I am touched by your concern, all I need to sleep well is my father’s Myrmidons around me,” he says, “And there are plenty outside my room.”

She understands, and lies back down in his bed.  She has to grip her mouth with both her hands to keep from screaming, and once the dread passes, she turns around to face away from him.  He turns towards her and snakes his arm around her waist.  She does not sleep for a moment, and does not know how long he sleeps, but it feels like an eternity.

She lets her mind drift, and the first thing that comes to her is her conversation with Helenus from the day before, and the one they had like it years ago.

At thirteen, when she had been sent to live in Troy by her father to marry one of Piram's sons, she was too young to have ever imagined herself marrying Hector.  He was already a man grown, nearly a decade older than her.  He was brave, beautiful, and the crown prince of Troy.  She had always imagined herself marrying Deiphobus or Helenus, both closer to her in age, and more suited to marrying the princess of a modest city.  But four years later, Helen and Paris were already living in Troy, and Priam had no intentions of sending them away.  Rumors of the Achaeans gathering their army had traveled all over Anatolia, and the might of the army was said to be such that all the kings in their large cities trembled at the thought of facing such a force.  There were princes aplenty with offers to take Priam’s daughters with their large dowries to their far off cities to live in safety, but no city wanted to send a daughter to live inside a doomed city, least of all to the crown prince, whose fate would be tied to the fate of the city. 

To secure the royal line, Priam wished to marry Hector before a war broke out, and Andromache wasn’t so much the first choice as the only available option.  Her pride might have been hurt, if she had been raised to have been prideful, or if Hector hadn’t been as kind to her as he had always been.  He had courted her formally, as if there was ever a chance that she would say no. 

Helenus had taken her aside days before her marriage to Hector, and had told her about the visions of Troy’s destruction that he and Kassandra had seen.  He said, “Priests are allowed passage through war zones, and I will take you back to your father’s city myself, if you want.  Our fates are sealed, Andromache, but you need not tie your lot with ours.”

She is still not sure if she ever believed in his prophecies any more than she trusted Kassandra’s.  In truth, she had been too young to have been able to comprehend the possibility of a distant, doomed future.  All that shown brightly before her eyes was her new life with Hector that was about to start, and she could not turn away from that, not for anything.

She does not know if she would change that decision, if she could, any more than she knows if she will take Helenus up on his offer this time.

She’s still awake when she hears Neoptolemus stir and pull himself up and out of bed.  She deliberately slows down and deepens her breathing, keeping her eyes closed.  She waits till she hears him and his Myrmidons leaving before slipping out of bed and out of the palace.

*

Two days later, Neoptolemus rides off to go to Skyros, and she is glad to be left alone.  When he returns two weeks later, he has brought his mother back with him.  Deidamia keeps him busy for days afterwards, rearranging the rooms in the palace, redistributing the rations among the servants and the field workers, and eventually distributing the Trojan treasures.

He tells her all about it, when he finally comes back to her, as if she’s his confidante.  He’s brought her the Trojan fineries he seemed so taken with.  He lays a rug on the floor that he says he got from the Trojan Palace when he killed Priam.  He says, “It has been washed, but the stains will not come out.”

She cannot tear her eyes away from the bloodstains on the rug, and she wonders which of her family bled on this.  Her stomach turns and she rushes outside to empty it of its content.  He’s followed her into the field, so she tells him she’s been feeling this way for a week, and he seems to get it.

Now that she’s free to show her sickness in front of him, he leaves her alone for the most part.  He lavishes gifts upon her, each showing his perversity more than the last one, and she counts the days till she can have something of Hector’s again to live for.

*

When the time comes, she goes to give birth in the temple of Artemis, with the midwives and Deidamia attending her.  She’s afraid that the baby will be stillborn like her baby before Astyanax was, or that Deidamia will know instantly that this is not her son’s child, or that something else will go wrong. 

She remembers each of the previous times she went through this, in the comfort of her own room, with the priestesses and midwives attending her, and her sisters-in-law soothing her fears.  There’s no woman here that she can call a friend, only women who have been complicit in the destruction of her home and her further degradation.  This is the last place she wants to bring Hector’s child into the world in, but then the baby is in her arms, and she cannot keep the tears from spilling out from her eyes and whispering endearments that haven’t touched her lips since they took Astyanax from her.

*

She’s brought back not to her own rooms, but to another house nearer to the palace and the temple complex.  It’s a lot bigger, with room for a child to grow, and finely decorated.  She sleeps fitfully when exhaustion takes her over, but her mind stays on her child, still with the women at the temple.

She wakes to voices outside her room, and hears Deidamia, “Babies born as early as this one aren’t generally so well-formed.”

And then another voice, “He is from the line of Achilles, from the gods, what could he be but perfect?”

“Perhaps,” Deidamia says.  And then she hears Helenus’ voice, “It is not so unusual, in the women of far Thebe, where Andromache is from, to deliver so early.”

And this seems to quiet Deidamia, but Andromache is still filled with dread.  She needs to see Neoptolemus, to see the baby, so she can convince him, if need be. 

There’s a knock on her door, and then Deidamia is bringing the child to her.  “He takes after you,” she says, “I see none of my son in him.”

She takes the baby in her arms, and looks at him.  He has Hector’s lips and his nose, and Astyanax’s curling hair, but he’s dark like her, and she’s thankful for that because she knows that the Achaeans will never look past that to compare him to any father he might belong to. 

“He has Achilles’ curly hair,” Andromache says now, recalling the one time she had seen Achilles up close.

And Deidamia seems to be taken by surprise, and says, “So he does.  So he does.” 

*

The next day, she comes down with a fever, and Deidamia takes the child from her, to keep it from catching it.  She is left alone to recover, but when an entire day goes by and she has not improved, Deidamia sends the midwife to look after her.  She drifts in and out of consciousness throughout the night, and wakes up, still delirious, to feel cool fingers on her forehead, pressing gently into her temples.

“Hector,” she says, her eyes fluttering open.

“Andromache,” Helenus says, his fingers stilling, “You are awake.”

She wants to jerk her head away from his touch or to force his hands away, but she is too tired for that, and this is the first time in days that the throbbing in her head has eased, so she only says, “Hector used to do that,” unguarded for a moment, still half-asleep.

Helenus smiles and says, “Who do you think taught him that?”

“I always thought it was another woman, so I never asked,” she says, savoring the feel of Hector’s hands on her temples for a moment, before pushing Helenus’ hands away.

“You were burning with a fever, so the midwife called me,” he explains now that she’s more fully awake.

“Where is my baby?  Is he all right?”

“With Deidamia, he’s fine.” 

“Will you bring him to me?” she asks.

“It’s late, and you still have a slight fever.  Sleep for now, and I will bring him to you in the morning.”

She nods because she has no choice in the matter, but she does not sleep at all.

*

She’s already out of her bed and walking towards the door by the time the knock on her door comes, having heard the baby crying.

It is one of the palace maids with the baby that she happily hands over to Andromache before returning to her duties.  Once she is able to hush the baby’s cries, she holds him and just looks at him.   He seems to her to be smaller than Astyanax ever was, but he looks so much like his brother that her heart fills with sorrow because he’ll never know that, never know his brother.

But with him, she has a piece of Hector back, an image of Astyanax.   She holds on to that.

*

The baby consumes all of her waking hours and most of her nights, too, and in Troy, she had never realized that they required this much care.  She had loved Astyanax more than anything else, but she had other duties to perform in the palace, and the nursing and day to day care of the baby had fallen to the royal midwife. 

She had been offered one here, but she understands that more time to herself means more time that will be spent with Neoptolemus, so she refuses.   Neoptlemus’ anger was soothed by Deidamia, who took her part in this. 

She starts remembering to eat at meals, now that she’s nursing, and starts to look more like herself.  She will not let her misfortune and her sadness touch this child, and give him no less of herself than she gave to Astyanax. 

*

When her baby, Laodamas, is a little over three months old, she marks the anniversary of Hector’s death and thinks about going down to the temple to perform libations.   That evening, she finds Helenus outside her doorstep, and it is hard to be angry at him when he has brought the wine and other ritual objects for the libation. 

He pours her some of the wine, unmixed, and saves the rest for the libations, and she watches him perform the ritual out in the courtyard as she sips from the earthen cup that ruins the taste of the wine.  Her focus is only half on the ritual, and her thoughts occupied with the baby sleeping in her room.

“Do these rituals even matter,” Andromache asks him, “without a body to send libations to?”

“Some part of these rituals is for the living,” Helenus replies, “And Hector knows he’s loved, he does not need sacrifices the way Achilles did.”

“I think of them, sometimes, all buried in the ruins of Troy, the ones who were lucky enough to get a burial.  And how no one is left behind to tend to their graves, to offer them libations.”

“Andromache,” he says, “Do not do that to yourself.”

“Polyxena used to ask me to tell her stories of all my time in Thebe, and the days I spent with Kassandra at Mount Ida.  She wanted to see all these places for herself, after the war.  And she is the one who chose to die, rather than become a war bride to some Greek king.”

“As I recall, she was not given much of a choice.  But if she chose to die, it is because she had never seen enough of the world, didn’t know that there might still be things to live for.”

Four months ago, she would not have agreed with him, but now she looks forward to letting Laodamas grow up, to telling him stories of Troy, stories of his father.

When the ritual is over, he sits by the funeral pyre they’ve built and watches the flame consume the offerings.  When the baby cries, Helenus is the one to get up and bring the child to her. 

She can feel his eyes on her as she sings an old Trojan lullaby to sooth her son, and he’s sitting too close to her, but she does not notice anything except her sleeping child.  Then suddenly, there’s a loud in-take of breath, and she looks up and meets Helenus’ eyes, filled with realization.  She feels the blood drain from her face, the cold spreading to her fingertips.   And all the familiarity she had felt in his presence quickly vanishes, leaving only the stark reminder of what he had told the Greeks.

“Is he,” he starts, but she quickly leans forward and places her fingers on his lips, not wanting the words uttered out loud.  He reaches up and she thinks he’s going to snatch her hand away, but he places his hand over hers on his lips, holding her hand there, silently agreeing to keep her secret.  She’s taken aback by the intimacy of the gesture and can feel her heart beating harshly within her chest.  From fear, she tells herself, snatching her hand away. 

He remains silent, and she says, “Helenus, please, please, please,” no other words coming to her lips.  But what she wants to ask is if he is the one who told the Greeks that her son would grow up to avenge his father.  But she cannot risk angering him, not when he holds this secret. 

“Be at ease, Andromache,” he says, “You have nothing to fear from me.”  She doubts his words, but then he leans forward and caresses the baby’s hair, bending his head low to press his lips to the child’s forehead.  He meets her eyes as he pulls back, and holds her gaze until she lowers her eyes to look at her child.  When she looks back up, he’s gone, and she is left with more questions than before.

*

He starts coming by more often, after that evening.   They do not always talk, but his presence there allows her time to herself to rest.    

She wakes up one day to the sound of laughter, and it’s such an unfamiliar sound to her ears now that she’s gripped with a sense of dread.  But she comes out into the courtyard to see Helenus playing with the child, both of them laughing.  And the sight is so familiar to her that her heart aches with memories of Hector and Astyanax, her eyes filling up.  She turns around and leaves them to it.

Now that she is getting used to his presence around her again, she sometimes thinks back to the days after Hector’s death and tries to decipher what could have led Helenus to reveal the prophecies of Troy’s fall to the Greeks.  She could ask him this herself, she knows, and she feels that he would not lie to her, but she is not yet ready to sever this rekindled bond with him again.  He is all she has of Troy, in that he is the only one who shares that loss with her. 

And then one day, while they are both half-asleep after a long day of working and looking after Laodamas, he tells her himself.

 “I know what you think of my actions during the siege,” he says, “But you should know that I had always thought Astyanax would live on, because I had seen Hector’s line continue.  I had not known of Laodamas, then.”

“Do you mean to tell me that you gave away no secrets of Troy to the Achaeans, then?”

“I will not lie to you, but you must understand.  Troy fell for you and everyone else on the day Hector died or the day the Greeks climbed out of their horse, but for me and Kassandra, it fell the day we started having the visions.  Everything that came after was inevitably leading to its end.”

“Did you see the means of its end?”  She asks, curious despite herself.

He shakes his head and says, “No.  After Hector, the Greeks could have taken the city in a day, if they wanted, so demoralized were our warriors after his death.  So I told them to build a horse that never would have fit inside the gates of Troy, in order to delay the inevitable.”

“They broke down part of the walls to let the horse in,” Andromache says, remembering.

“I know.   It seems that when the gods are set against you, nothing can turn your way.”

She cannot say that she fully comprehends the force of his visions, or if she can forgive him, even knowing that he played into the hands of the gods, but she can understand his actions. 

*

Laodamas gets so used to Helenus that when he eventually stops coming, the baby is uneasy and cries long into the night.  She waits it out three days, and then takes her son to the temple complex.   It is late into the evening, and there aren’t many people around, but she still feels uncomfortable in the open structures the Achaeans call temples. 

Helenus finds her there, and instead of taking her aside like he usually does, he stands inside the temple, and asks her why she is here.   And there’s somethings about his manner that alarms her, so she asks him in the Trojan tongue if all is well.

He replies in Greek and says, “It is.  But we must be careful.  We cannot be seen to be conspiring in secret.  All we do must be plain to their eyes.”

She nods, not really understanding what has changed, and then he says, “Neoptolemus has ordered me to take his mother to wife.”

She’s taken back by this confession, unable to comprehend what just passed between them.  She says, “Deidamia?  She will marry a Trojan, a slave?”

“She will be marrying a priest of Apollo, a man who can see all of Achaea’s future.  There is honor in that, but no, I do not think my position in the city will change much.  My life will still be forfeit if I overstep my bounds as a slave and as an outsider.”

“What have you seen for them that they are giving you this?”  She asks, unable to keep suspicion from her voice.

“I believe it is more to tie my fortunes to their family, to keep me from betraying the secrets to their fall,” he says, and then seeing the familiar distrust in her eyes, adds, “The Greeks  will not think I will be loyal to them through this bond if I hadn’t been loyal to my kinsmen in Troy.  Will you trust me less than these Achaeans do?”

And it is not that she does not trust him, but that her trust in him is still fragile, and she cannot anticipate how things will change, once he becomes part of the family of the man who killed Hector.  But she does not say these things.  Instead, she asks, “Have you seen their fall?”

He shakes his head, and she has no more questions left to ask. 

*

The next morning, she and her child are summoned to the palace by Neoptolemus.  She is compelled to spend the day with him, as he plays with the child and eventually gets tired of it and turns to her.  It’s easier, she has learned, to just give in to him.  He takes too much pleasure in breaking down her resistance, so she is determined to not give him any.  And eventually, she hopes, he will tire of her too.

*

A month later, she marks the anniversary of the fall of Troy by whispering tales of its greatness into her son’s ear.  He is too young to understand her, but his eyes light up at the sound of her voice as she speaks the words of his father’s native tongue, more dear to her than her own mother tongue had been now. 

She tells him of his father’s sisters, of Kassandra and her prophecies, of Polyxena and her bravery.  She tells him of his grandmother, who would have yet lived if she had only known about him.

She will tell him of its fall one day, she knows, but she will let him grow up in the shadow of the greatness of his city, the way Astyanax had.

When there’s a knock on her door, she is not surprised to find Helenus outside, with his ritual objects and a pitcher filled with wine.

They build two pyres in silence, one for Astyanax and one for Polyxena, and Andromache lets herself consume too much of the wine he has brought before pouring the libations on to the pyres. 

When they are done, he stays in silence and watches Laodamas sleep.  She has nothing to say to him, she finds, that can be said in peace.  She does not quite understand her anger at him, at his absence from her life now when she had grown used to his familiarity again. 

 “I do not want you to come back here,” she finally tells him, “Not to mark the fall of Troy, nor the deaths of Kassandra or Hecuba, or of any of our fallen dead.”

He seems surprised by this, and says, “I do not understand.”

“I would not mark their deaths with Neoptolemus, nor Deidamia, or even Helen, if she were here, dear as she was to us,” she says, “And it brings me no comfort now to do so with you.”

“We will talk of this in the morning, Andromache,” he says now.

“No, in the morning, you will go hide inside the palace with your new family, and forget about all of Troy,” she says. “What did they have to do, Helenus, to make your loyalty crumble so completely?  Did they even have to threaten you?  Or did they just offer you Achilles’ beautiful bride, and you were willing to betray everything like Paris before you?”

He’s quiet in the face of her accusations, doesn’t defend his actions.  But he does say, “I have as much choice in being with Deidamia as you do with Neoptolemus.  It does not matter that she’s my wife, and you’re not his.  We’re both slaves here, or have you forgotten?” 

“I have my child to protect,” she says, lowers her voice and adds, “Hector’s child,” as if that holds more meaning than what she had said before.  “You can leave at any time, there’s nothing holding you back.”

She sees the briefest flash of anger in his eyes before he shakes his head and turns away.  She thinks that’s the end of it, but he turns back around, looks her in the eye and says, “Andromache, you cannot be so willfully ignorant of everything that a part of you doesn’t know that you are the reason I stay.  That you were the reason I chose to come with Neoptolemus instead of going with Odysseus, who no doubt would have been a kinder master.”

She falls silent in the face of his confession, and words refuse to come to her lips, but before she can even think of what to say, he is gone.

*

When there’s a knock on her door the next morning, she expects it to be Helenus, but opens the door to find Neoptolemus there.  Her heart beats faster, and she wonders if he knows something.  This is the first time he has come to her here, since giving her this house.  He tells her that he will be spending the day with her and his son, whom he insists on calling by the Greek name he’s given him, Molossus.

He seems contemplative, and this worries her, but she holds her peace.  She hates that she has learned to read his moods as well as she ever could Hector’s, and this is another thing he has taken from her, that was only meant to be for Hector. 

He tells her of his travels, and she nods and gives brief answers, and he says, “You have been here nearly two years, and yet, your Greek has not improved.”

“I have not had time for it, not with the baby keeping me busy.”

“Well, learn it soon, for I will not have my son speaking your Trojan gibberish.”

“I will make sure he is fluent in his father’s tongue,” she says, and he seems satisfied with that.

He has brought gifts for her, that he expects her to compliment and be grateful for, and so her suspicions grow that something is bothering him.

Eventually, he says, “I will travel to Sparta in the morning,” he hesitates and continues, “Menelaus had promised me his daughter when I had come to Troy, and my grandfather has negotiated a marriage contract for me.”

He looks at her expectantly, and she knows that there’s no correct response to this.  If she gives him her blessings, he would be offended that she’s not jealous.  And if she pretends to be jealous, he would remind her of her place.  So she says, “They say she’s inherited her mother’s beauty.”

He smiles, happy to have received this compliment on his bride, as if he has anything to do with her beauty.   “So they do, but if she’s going to bring as much trouble as her mother, then I could do without it.”

She silently hopes that Helen’s daughter has inherited more than just her mother’s looks, but out loud, she only says, “You won’t make the mistakes of Menelaus,” and this seems to please him.

When he leaves in the morning, she is the most content she has felt since the fall of Troy.

*

She does not see Helenus in all the time Neoptolemus is gone, but the day he brings Hermione back from Sparta, all of Epirus gathers on the shores to greet its new queen.   She is expected to be there.  She is not sure if it’s so he could show off his military conquests to his wife, or to make it clear to her that she’s replaceable. 

She catches Helenus’ eyes on her, throughout the day, but there’s no opportunity to talk to him, not without drawing suspicion. 

When night falls and Hermione and Neoptolemus retreat into the palace with the royal family, Helenus stays behind in the temple to prepare for the offerings to be made after the wedding night.

She leaves the baby to play by itself in the courtyard of the temple, keeping an eye on him, and waits for Helenus to notice her.   When he finally sees them, he goes to the baby first, and picks him up, placing gentle kisses over his head.  “He’s grown so much,” he says.

And she cannot fault him for not being around, because she is the one who told him to leave.  “You should see him trying to walk.  He falls over on his face more often than not, but it has not kept him from trying.”

He sets him on the ground and says, “Perhaps I will.”

She knows she should apologize for her behavior to him on that night, her behavior since they left Troy, but she cannot bring herself to mention the events of that night.  So she says, “Were you really going to leave with me, when we first came here?”

“I would not have offered, if I weren’t.”  He falls quiet for a moment, and then says, “Look, what I said that day.  You should not think too much of it.  I knew Troy would go on through you.  I saw the deaths of my mother, of Kassandra, Polyxena, everyone.  But I knew you would live on, and so I came with Neoptolemus, because I knew our fates were intertwined.”

She knows he is trying to lessen the impact of his previous words, trying to take away the burden of this knowledge he thinks he had given her, but he only gives more weight to it with his words, so she asks, “Did you see our fates intertwined, before I married Hector?”

He nods.  “I confess that I always thought that my father would have us marry each other.” 

She does not know what to say to that, and she is not sure that she should have asked that at all.

He says, “Now, you must not think that I was pining away in longing for you, all those years.  All the gods on Olympus know that I wished the best for you and Hector.  It was more…the weight of the visions.  Just as I knew that Troy would fall, I knew that it would be the two of us left, in the end, out of all of Troy.”

“It must have been hard,” she says.

“No harder than it was on Kassandra.  I had the luxury of having people believe me, but that only made me more careful of what I said to others.”

“Did you see my son, in your visions, is that how you knew he was Hector’s?”

“I needed no divine insight for that.  No, that secret was given away by you.   The look of utter contentment on your face that day was what told me.  I could not see you loving Neoptolemus’ child with such ease and grace.”

“What do you see for us now?” she asks him, suddenly believing in all the things she had denied all of her life.

He says, “Things will get better, I only know that much.”

She cannot tell if it's the future he sees or his hopes for it. She tries to read the meaning in his eyes, but that only draws her gaze to the scar above his brow that she had given him, faint after the years, but still visible. She reaches out her hand and traces it with her fingertips. He closes his eyes, and she considers his words, considers everything that has led them here. She makes a decision, and brings her lips across his, with more force than she meant to, but the truth is, that this is the first time she is initiating a relationship with a man not compelled by anything. She’s unused to this longing, so long after Hector, and she knows that she cannot let Helenus initiate it, not after Neoptolemus. She needs to know this is completely her choice.  

She is surprised when he pulls back, and then embarrassed, and she wonders if she read his confession wrong, if he has grown past whatever it was he felt for her all these years.

But when she starts to pull back, he tucks her into him, and embraces her, and whispers her name over and over with such longing and reverence that she wonders how could she have ever misread this. 

When he lets her go, it is only so she can pick up Laodamas and follow him back to his old rooms behind the temple.

They wait till the baby has fallen asleep, and this is the first time in years that she has done this when she is not consumed by the past.  She is fully in this moment, and not aware of anything else in the world except this man who is the only part of her past that she wishes to hold on to tonight. 

Afterwards, they lie in bed, and he tells her about his visions. 

*

She sleeps through the night, for longer than she has in a long while, and awakes to find Helenus playing with Laodamas.  She smiles when their eyes meet, and then goes back to sleep. 

*

When she returns to her house, she finds the chariot from the palace waiting outside, and she cannot believe that even Neoptolemus would be so reckless as to dare offending the powerful father of his new bride by leaving her to visit his mistress. 

But it is Neoptolemus’ new wife who has come to visit her, and Andromache does not know how to greet her.  She is the image of Helen as she had been when Andromache had first met her, in those early years in Troy, and so she feels a fondness for her immediately.  But she knows that Helen did not raise her, and that she may have many reasons to hate her mother.

“My mother sends her greetings for you,” Hermione says.  “I bring gifts, if you’ll accept them from me, and a letter from my mother.”

The letter is a small package wrapped in cloth, and this, Andromache takes from Hermione, and asks after Helen.

“She is in good health, but I think her life in Troy suited her better than Sparta does.”

Andromache nods, “I cannot say that it’s any different for me.”

“If you have a letter, I will see to it that my mother gets it without my husband or father finding out.”

“Thank you,” she says, and Hermione nods and leaves.

Andromache tears the cloth around the package, and takes out the letter written in the Trojan script that Andromache herself had taught to Helen.

She is not sure yet if she will take the risk involved in writing Helen back, but she weeps as she reads her letter, and is relieved that there’s another woman alive in the world who saw the fall of Troy with her.

*

Time goes by, and she finds herself building a life here, now that Neoptolemus seems to have forgotten about her.  She stays out of the palace, out of his sight, lest he be reminded of her presence.  Deidamia gives her work to do, and she is like any other servant woman in the palace, except that she is not allowed to leave. 

She does not seek out Helenus again, and they occupy different parts of the city now that he has moved to the palace.  She sees him sometimes in the temple complex, but she remains cautious for no one can find out what passed between them.

As Laodamas starts trying to repeat the words she says to him, she starts telling him stories of his people, knowing that she will have to stop when he is old enough to comprehend her, lest he give them away.

When the time of Hector’s passing draws near, she finds herself thinking about him more and more, though she tries not to think too long on Troy these days.  The more she looks to the past, the less content she is. 

And when the day itself comes, she is not surprised to find Helenus at her door, with his ritual wine and incense.  She does not drink any wine this time, though he offers it to her, and afterwards, she holds out her hand to him so he may follow her back to bed. 

Later, she says, “I wonder what Hector would think of me now, hiding here on the other side of the world from where he fought and died, hoping that the Achaeans forget about me.   He used to wish that he would die before the fall of Troy, so he would not have to see me dragged into slavery.  And sometimes, I am glad that he did not see me like this.”

Helenus shakes his head, no doubt ready to tell her that the choices she has made are understandable.  But she is not done, “And sometimes, I would give anything to have him here, to see me here like this.  I used to beg him not to go into war, could not imagine a life away from the shelter of his presence, and now I feel that I can face anything.  I have grown so much braver since Hector.”

“You have,” Helenus says.  “But you were always brave.  Do you remember the black mare that your mother’s father had sent to us when Astyanax was born?  She would not let Hector touch her and he, known for his skill in taming horses, threw up his hands and gave up.  And you were barely out of bed after childbirth, and still able to face her.  Hector’s pride was wounded, but he was so proud of you.” 

She laughs openly, with an ease that she thought she had forgotten, and feels guilt, immediately covering her mouth with both her hands and gasping.  It seems wrong that the past should bring her anything but sorrow at its loss.  He tugs on her hands and says, “The gods spared you, Andromache, that you might live.  So live.  It is okay, the dead will not begrudge us this.”

She snatches her hand away, sitting up in bed, and tugs her robes back in place.  He watches her in silence, and so she leaves wordlessly. 

*

They go on like this, stealing whatever moments they can to remember Troy, and sometimes, to find comfort with each other in another way.  She knows it’s become more than just about comfort when Deidamia takes to bed with sickness and he starts spending more and more time with his wife.

When he comes to her, after being away for weeks at one time, she asks him about his wife, and he says, “She is not my wife, but the mother of the man I’m captive to.”

She thinks back to the time she spent with Neoptolemus, and feels guilty about asking him that question.  But she has seen him with Deidamia, and she can read him well enough to know that he cares about her.

“I will not lie to you, I do care about her, but it is not what you think.”  He thinks about it a moment, and then asks, “Does it bother you?”

She thinks about the question, and her instinct is to deny it, as she would have with Hector. She understood that as the crown prince, he was expected to have concubines, especially when she could not give him a child after Astyanax. 

But she is not the person she used to be, in Troy, and here, when she has little opportunity to control anything about her life, it seems useless to control her reaction to this, so she says, “I know you have no choice, but I cannot help how I feel.”

He says, “Then I will tell you that neither of us had any choice in this marriage, and we have that in common. The marriage exists only to please Neoptolemus.”

She understands and feels relieved. 

*

She knows that something has gone wrong in Neoptolemus’ marriage when he starts seeking her out again.  She hopes only that it is his way of making his wife jealous, and soon, he will return to her.

But one afternoon, she returns to find Hermione in her house, and while she braces herself for a fight she neither wants nor cares about, Hermione only says, “You must know that I never meant to take Neoptolemus away from you. My father negotiated the marriage on my behalf, when I would have married Orestes instead.   But now that this marriage exists, I cannot allow it to fail.”

“He was never mine to take away,” Andromache says, “And in truth, I would rather anyone but me have him.”

“And yet, he prefers your charms to mine,” she says.

“Hermione, you’re much younger than I am, more beautiful than I am, so it is not these things that your husband desires in me,” Andromache says, “But you’re also the daughter of one of the most powerful kings in world, and you’re willful like your mother.  What your husband prefers about me is not my beauty or any other charms, but my lack of power over him.  He can control me like he never can you.”

“My mother told me you were wise,” she says, “And that you were kind to her.”

“Your mother was a good friend to me once,” she replies. 

*

“Beautiful like her mother,” Neoptolemus complains to her, as she half listens to him, her attention on her son.  “And barren like her, too.  Is that how the line of Achilles will end?  It is unthinkable!”

Andromache cannot help but point out, “If her mother had been barren, she would not be here.”

He seems to have not heard her, as he goes on, “I should put her aside, and marry you.  You have already given me a son.”

Her heart stops, and she goes still completely, but then he laughs, and says, “Can you imagine?  The son of Achilles, marrying the wife of Hector?”

She remains quiet, letting Laodamas’ voice fill the room.

“Is that Trojan I hear from him?” Neoptolemus asks, his attention now turned to the child, “Andromache, if you do not stop teaching him that, I will have to find him a Greek midwife.  I cannot have my only son speaking that.”

The threat in his voice is clear, and so she says, “He is too young to speak properly, and you cannot tell Trojan from a child’s tongue.”

For now, that satisfies him.

*

A month later, and Hermione and Neoptolemus have still not resolved things, so he tells her that he will leave for the Oracle of Delphi, to consult her about putting Hermione aside and marrying Andromache.  She is filled with dread at this possibility, and unable to sleep once he leaves. 

In his absence, the city is invaded by Orestes and his armies, but they seem to lose all interest when they find out that Neoptolemus is not here.  

Hermione comes to her and confesses that she is the one who called Orestes here.  “If you wish to leave here, Andromache, you should do so now.  Orestes had come prepared to kill my husband, but the gods must love him well to have spared him.  I will leave with him, when Orestes goes, and I cannot imagine that my husband will be easy on you, when he returns.” 

Andromache knows only one thing, and it is that Neoptolemus cannot be allowed to return to Epirus, and so she says, “You will find him in Delphi, where he has gone to consult the oracle.”

Hermione’s eyes light up at this and Andromache can see that Hermione shares her dread of Neoptolemus.  

Hermione embraces her, and says, “May the gods bless you and your child, Andromache, and send better things your way than Greece has given you thus far.”

Andromache wishes her a safe journey, and after Hermione leaves, waits.

*

Weeks go by before they hear of Neoptolemus’ death, but once the news spreads around Epirus, Helenus comes in possession of all of his belongings, being married to Deidamia.  As Deidamia’s health declines, in the aftermath of her son’s death, she wishes to return to Skyros, and Helenus lets her go.

On his newly inherited land, Helenus starts constructing what seems to Andromache to be a smaller  version of Troy, with its walls as high as ever, and the rivers and gardens carved out exactly as she remembers them.  It takes years for it to be completed, and in those years, she has time to tell Laodamas about his father, his real father, to teach him both his father’s language and her own mother tongue. 

And then one day, Helenus comes to her in the middle of the night, though they no longer need the cover of darkness, and asks her to marry him.

She shakes her head and says, “Where we come from, women marry only one man, and spend the rest of their lives with him.  I promised Hector that, and I will hold to it.    We did not need a name for this when we started, and we do not need one now.”

He nods, understanding, and she does not need words, she thinks, to tell him that he means just as much to her as Hector ever did, but she does not want with him what she had with Hector.

But the new Troy he gives to her, she will happily accept, so Hector’s son may grow up in the city envisioned by his ancestors.

*

Years later, when Aeneas is brought to their shores on his search for Italy, all he can see are the ghosts of Troy on the plains of Epirus. He accuses them of living in the past, before he leaves, loaded with gifts and blessings from the last of his people.

Aeneas would go on and build a new city and start over, forgetting the Trojan customs of honoring their dead and remembering their past. But their own their resurrected Troy, in the middle of Greece, ruled over by the woman who would have been the Queen of Anatolian Troy, will forever be a reminder to all Achaeans of what they failed to destroy.

-end-