"[Bradley] makes a strong statement about the desirability of women having control of their destinies and about the cruelties men inflict upon them." -Library Journal
The Firebrandby Marion Zimmer Bradley
Blending archaeological fact and legend, the myths of the gods and the feats of heroes, Marion Zimmer Bradley breathes new life into the classic tale of the Trojan War-reinventing larger-than-life figures as living people engaged in a desperate struggle that dooms both the victors and the vanquished, their fate seen through the eyes of Kassandra-priestess, princess
- Editorial Reviews
- Product Details
- Related Subjects
- Read an Excerpt
- What People Are Saying
- Meet the author
Blending archaeological fact and legend, the myths of the gods and the feats of heroes, Marion Zimmer Bradley breathes new life into the classic tale of the Trojan War-reinventing larger-than-life figures as living people engaged in a desperate struggle that dooms both the victors and the vanquished, their fate seen through the eyes of Kassandra-priestess, princess, and passionate woman with the spirit of a warrior.
- Penguin Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.10(w) x 9.06(h) x 1.33(d)
- Age Range:
- 18 Years
Read an Excerpt
Table of Contents
VOLUME ONE - APOLLO’S CALL
VOLUME TWO - APHRODITE’S GIFT
VOLUME THREE - POSEIDON’S DOOM
“[Bradley] makes a strong statement about the desirability of women having control of their destinies and about the cruelties men inflict upon them.”—Library Journal
“I recommend The Firebrand wholeheartedly. It has everything a reader needs—color, drama, and spectacle.”
“There are two books you should know that relate to [Kassandra]. Number one: The Iliad. Number two: The Firebrand by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which is actually about [Kassandra] and a very good fiction book.”
Praise for the Novels
Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Ravens of Avalon
by Diana L. Paxson
“Stirring ... Paxson’s bright fusion of fact and myth is a fine tribute to Bradley and the real-world triumphs and tragedy of Boudica.”—Publishers Weekly
“Marion Zimmer Bradley would be proud of this. . . .The story line smoothly combines ancient history with fantasy elements to please fans.”—Midwest Book Review
Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Ancestors of Avalon
by Diana L. Paxson
“Magical. . . . [The Mists of Avalon] devotees won’t feel let down by Ancestors . . . provides plenty of pleasurable reading hours.”—Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“An elegant stylist, Paxson captures the awe, tragedy, and resounding mystery of ancient Britain and mist-enshrouded Atlantis.”—Publishers Weekly
“Paxson fashions an entirely new entry in the Avalon saga. . . . [Her] storytelling features the requisite veins of mysticism, but, like Bradley, she excels at bringing the vast sweep of imagined history to an accessible level . . . a rich and respectful homage that will dazzle readers longing to revisit Bradley’s sacred, storied isle.”—Booklist
“Once again, Diana L. Paxson has beautifully elaborated on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s beloved Avalon saga with this dramatic new installment . . . [an] extraordinary journey.” —SFRevu
“Paxson is an excellent choice as successor to Bradley for this series. Her style and the details of the plot retain the sense of the mysterious past and the feminist awareness that was an underlying theme in the originals.”
Priestess of Avalon
(with Diana L. Paxson)
“Stunning . . . This rich and moving novel merits its place beside Bradley’s fantasy classic.”—Booklist
“A strange and wondrous story that no fan of the previous Avalon books should be without.”—SF Site
“Priestess of Avalon does a stunning job of recapturing the legendary power of the original. . . . [It] brings rich imagery to its prophetic scenes.”—The Green Man Review
“The story flourishes and comes to life. . . . [Bradley’s] fans will not want to miss it.”—VOYA
“Bradley creates a powerful tale of magic and faith that enlarges upon pagan and Christian traditions to express a deeper truth.”—Library Journal
“It is obvious that Diana L. Paxson did a lot of research, finding clever ways to meld fantasy to reality, making the portrait of this famous woman both vivid and believable. . . . The politics of religion and of running an empire make for some good reading.”—SF Site
“Amazing and enthralling . . . [Priestess of Avalon] is true to the style and tone of Bradley’s other works. Diana Paxson is a very talented author in her own right and excels at taking historical figures and bringing them to vibrant life. . . . With magic, deep, and layered characters and a sweeping narrative, Priestess of Avalon is sure to delight Bradley’s many fans, and make many new ones for the talented Diana Paxson.”—Readers Read
Lady of Avalon
The National Bestseller
“Combines romance, rich historical detail, magical dazzlements, grand adventure, and feminist sentiments into the kind of novel her fans have been yearning for.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Compelling, powerful.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Bradley’s women are, as usual, strong and vibrant, but never before has she so effectively depicted the heroic male . . . an immensely popular saga.”—Booklist
Also by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Forest House
Lady of Avalon
Priestess of Avalon
The Mists of Avalon
Also by Diana L. Paxson
Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Ancestors of Avalon
Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Ravens of Avalon
Published by New American Library, a division of
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto,
Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2,
Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124,
Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)
Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park,
New Delhi - 110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632,
New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue,
Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First Roc Mass Market Printing, April 2009
Copyright © Marion Zimmer Bradley, 1987
eISBN : 978-1-101-02888-9
All rights reserved
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
FOR MARY RENAULT
“Oh Troy Town! Tall Troy’s on fire!”
“Before the birth of Paris, Hecuba, Queen of Troy, dreamed that she had given birth to a firebrand who would burn down the walls of Troy.”
All DAY the rain had been coming down; now heavy, now tapering off to showers, but never entirely stopping. The women carried their spinning indoors to the hearth, and the children huddled under the overhanging roofs of the courtyard, venturing out for a few minutes between showers to splash through the brick-lined puddles and track the mud inside to the hearthside. By evening, the oldest of the women by the hearth thought she might go mad with the shrieking and splashing, the charging of the little armies, the bashing of wooden swords on wooden shields, the splintering sounds and quarreling over the broken toys, the shifting of loyalties from leader to leader, the yells of the “killed” and “wounded” when they were put out of the game.
Too much rain was still coming down the chimney for proper cooking at the hearth; as the winter day darkened, fires were lighted in braziers. As the baking meat and bread began to smell good, one after another the children came and hunched down like hungry puppies, sniffing loudly and still quarreling in undertones. Shortly before dinner, a guest arrived at the door: a minstrel, a wanderer whose lyre strapped to his shoulder guaranteed him welcome and lodging everywhere. When he had been given food and a bath and dry clothing, the minstrel came and seated himself in the place accorded the most welcome guests, close to the fire. He began to tune his instrument, leaning his ear close to the tortoiseshell pegs and testing the sound with his finger. Then, without asking leave—even in these days a bard did as he chose—he strummed a single loud chord and declaimed:
I will sing of battles and of the great men who fought them;
Of the men who lingered ten years before the giant-builded walls of Troy;
And of the Gods who pulled down those walls at last, of Apollo Sun Lord and Poseidon the mighty Earth Shaker.
I will sing the tale of the anger of powerful Akhilles,
Born of a Goddess, so mighty no weapon could slay him;
Even the story of his overweening pride, and that battle
Where he and great Hector fought for three days on the plains before high-walled Troy;
Of proud Hector and gallant Akhilles, of Kentaurs and Amazons, Gods and heroes,
Odysseus and Aeneas, all those who fought and were slain on the plains before Troy——
“No!” the old woman exclaimed sharply, letting her spindle drop and springing up. “I won’t have it! I’ll not hear that nonsense sung in my hall!”
The minstrel let his hand fall on the strings with a jangling dissonance; his look was one of dismay and surprise, but his tone was polite.
“I tell you I won’t have those stupid lies sung here at my hearth!” she said vehemently.
The children made disappointed sounds; she gestured them imperiously to silence. “Minstrel, you are welcome to your meal and to a seat by my fire; but I won’t have you filling the children’s ears with that lying nonsense. It wasn’t like that at all.”
“Indeed?” the harper inquired, still politely. “How do you know this, madam? I sing the tale as I learned it from my master, as it is sung everywhere from Crete to Colchis—”
“It may be sung that way, from here to the very end of the world,” the old woman said, “but it didn’t happen that way at all.”
“How do you know that?” asked the minstrel.
“Because I was there, and I saw it all,” replied the old woman.
The children murmured and cried out.
“You never told us that, Grandmother. Did you know Akhilles, and Hector, and Priam, and all the heroes?”
“Heroes!” she said scornfully. “Yes, I knew them; Hector was my brother.”
The minstrel bent forward and looked sharply at her.
“Now I know you,” he said at last.
She nodded and bent her white head forward.
“Then perhaps, Lady, you should tell the story; I who serve the God of Truth would not sing lies for all men to hear.”
The old woman was silent for a long time. At last she said, “No; I cannot live it all again.” The children whined with disappointment. “Have you no other tale to sing?”
“Many,” said the harper, “but I wish not to tell a story you mock as a lie. Will you not tell the truth, that I may sing it elsewhere?”
She shook her head firmly.
“The truth is not so good a story.”
“Can you not at least tell me where my story goes astray, that I may amend it?”
She sighed. “There was a time when I would have tried,” she said, “but no man wishes to believe the truth. For your story speaks of heroes and Kings, not Queens; and of Gods, not Goddesses.”
“Not so,” said the harper, “for much of the story speaks of the beautiful Helen, who was stolen away by Paris; and of Leda, the mother of Helen and her sister Klytemnestra, who was seduced by great Zeus, who took the form of her husband the King—”
“I knew you could not understand,” the old woman said, “for, to begin, at first in this land there were no Kings, but only Queens, the daughters of the Goddesses, and they took consorts where they would. And then the worshipers of the Sky Gods, the horse-folk, the users of iron, came down into our country; and when the Queens took them as consorts, they called themselves Kings and demanded the right to rule. And so the Gods and the Goddesses were in strife; and a time came when they brought their quarrels to Troy—” Abruptly she broke off.
“Enough,” she said. “The world has changed; already I can tell you think me an old woman whose wits wander. This has been my destiny always: to speak truth and never to be believed. So it has been, so it will ever be. Sing what you will; but mock not my own truth on my own hearth. There are tales enough. Tell us about Medea, Lady of Colchis, and the golden fleece which Jason stole from her shrine—if he did. I daresay there is some other truth to that tale too, but I neither know it, nor care what the truth may be; I have not set foot in Colchis for many long years.” She picked up her spindle and quietly began to spin.
The harper bowed his head.
“Be it so, Lady Kassandra,” he said. “We all thought you dead in Troy, or in Mykenae soon after.”
“Then that should prove to you that at least in some particulars the tale speaks not the truth,” she said, but in an undertone.
Still my fate: always to speak the truth, and only to be thought mad. Even now, the Sun Lord has not forgiven me. . . .
AT THIS TIME of year, the light lingered late; but the last glow of sunset had faded now in the west, and mist had begun to drift in from the sea.
Leda, Lady of Sparta, rose from her bed, where her consort, Tyndareus, lingered still. As usual after their coupling, he had fallen into a heavy sleep; he did not notice when she left the bed and, throwing a light garment about her shoulders, went out into the courtyard of the women’s quarters.
Women’s quarters, the Queen thought angrily, when it is my own castle; one would think that I, not he, was the interloper here; that he, not I, held land-right in Sparta. Earth Mother knows not so much as his name.
She had been willing enough when he came and sought her hand, even though he was one of the invaders from the north, worshiper of thunder and oak and of the Sky Gods, a coarse, hairy man who bore the hated black iron on spear and armor. And yet now his kind were everywhere, and they demanded marriage by their new laws, as if their Gods had flung down from Her celestial throne the Goddess who owned land and harvest and people. The woman wedded by one of these bearers of iron was expected to join in the worship of their Gods and to give her body only to that man.
One day, Leda thought, the Goddess would punish these men for keeping women from paying due homage to the forces of Life. These men said the Goddesses were subservient to the Gods, which seemed to Leda a horrible blasphemy and a mad reversal of the natural order of things. Men had no divine power; they neither bred nor bore; yet somehow they felt they had some natural right in the fruit of their women’s bodies, as if coupling with a woman gave them some power of ownership, as if children did not naturally belong to the woman whose body had sheltered and nourished them.
Yet Tyndareus was her husband and she loved him; and because she loved him she was even willing to indulge his madness and jealousy, and risk angering Earth Mother by lying only with him.
And yet she wished that she could make him understand that it was wrong for her to be shut up in the women’s quarters—that as a priestess she must be out and around the fields to be sure that the Goddess was given Her due of service; that she owed the gift of fertility to all men, not to her consort alone; that the Goddess could not restrict Her gifts to any one man, even if he called himself a King.
A distant muttering of thunder reverberated from far below, as if it had risen from the sea, or as if the Great Serpent who now and again caused the earth to shake might be stirring in Her depths.
A riffle of wind stirred the light garment about Leda’s shoulders, and her hair flew wildly like a solitary bird in flight. Faint lightning suddenly flared all the courtyard alight, and silhouetted against the squared light of the doorframe she saw her husband coming in search of her. Leda shrank inwardly; would he berate her for leaving the women’s quarters, even at this hour of the night?
But he did not speak; he only moved toward her, and something in his step, the deliberate way he moved, told the woman that despite the well-known form and the features now clearly visible in the moonlight, this was not her husband. How this could be she did not know, but around his shoulders a flicker of errant lightning seemed to play, and as he walked his foot struck the flagstones with the faintest sound of faraway thunder. He seemed to have grown taller, his head thrown back against the levin-light which crackled in his hair. Leda knew, with a shudder that bristled down the small hairs on her body, that one of the stranger Gods was now abroad within the semblance of her husband, riding him as he would mount and ride one of his own horses. The lightning-flare told her it was Olympian Zeus, controller of thunders, Lord of Lightning.
This was nothing new to her; she knew the feel of the Goddess filling and overflowing her body when she blessed the harvests or when she lay in the fields drawing down the Divine power of growth to the grain. She remembered how she seemed to stand aside from her familiar self, and it was the Goddess who moved through the rites, dominating everyone else with the power within Her.
Tyndareus, she knew, must now be watching from within, as Zeus, the master of his body, moved toward his wife. She knew, because Tyndareus had once told her, that of all his Gods it was for the Thunder Lord that he felt most devotion.
She shrank away; perhaps He would not notice her and she could remain unseen until the God departed from her husband. The head that now was the God’s head moved, that flicker of lightning following the loose flying movement of his hair. She knew He had seen her; but it was not Tyndareus’ voice that spoke, but a voice deeper, softer, a profound bass rumble filled with the distant thunders.
“Leda,” said Zeus Thunderer, “come here to me.”
He put out His hand to take hers, and obediently, mastering the sudden inner dread—if this God bore the lightnings, would His touch strike her with the thunder-stroke? —she laid her hand in His. His flesh felt cold, and her hand shivered a little at the touch. Looking up at Him, she perceived on His face the shadow of a smile wholly unlike Tyndareus’ stern and unbending look, as if the God were laughing—no, not at her, but with her. He drew her in under His arm, casting the edge of His mantle over her, so that she could feel His body’s warmth. He did not speak again, but drew her along inside the room she had quitted only a few moments ago.
Then He pulled her close to Him, inside the mantle, so that she could feel His manhood rising against her body.
Do the laws against lying with any other man ban a God in my husband’s very shape and form? she wondered wildly. Somewhere inside, the real Tyndareus must be looking out at her: jealously, or pleased that his woman found favor with his God? She had no way to know; from the strength with which He held her she knew it would be impossible to protest.
At first she had felt His alien flesh as chill; now it seemed pleasantly warm, as if fevered.
He lifted her and laid her down; a single swift touch and somehow she was already open, throbbing and eager. Then He was over and within her, and the lightning played around His form and face, its echo deep in the pounding rhythms of His touch. For a moment it seemed that this was not a man, that in fact it was nothing human at all, but that she was alone on a great windswept height, encircled by beating wings, or a great lapping ring of fire, or as if some beast swept round her and ravished her with confusion and ecstasy—beating wings, thunder, as a hot and demanding mouth took possession of hers.
Then suddenly it was over, as if it had been a very long time ago, a fading memory or a dream, and she was lying alone on the bed, feeling very small, chilled and abandoned and alone as the God towered over her—it seemed, to the sky. He bent and kissed her with great tenderness. She closed her eyes, and when she woke, Tyndareus was fast asleep at her side and she was not sure she had ever left her bed. It was Tyndareus; when she put out her hand to be sure, his flesh was warm—or cool—and there was not the faintest crackle of lightning in the hair that lay on the pillow beside her.
Had she only dreamed it, then? As the thought crossed her mind, she heard from far outside the house the ripple of thunder; wherever He had gone, the God had not wholly left her. And now she knew that however long she might live with Tyndareus as his wife, she would never again look on her husband’s face without searching in it for some sign of the God who had visited her in his form.
HECUBA THE QUEEN never went outside the walls of Troy without looking back in great pride at this fortress of a city, rising up, terrace upon terrace, above the fertile plain of the green-flowing Scamander, beyond which lay the sea. She always marveled at the work of the Gods that had given her the rulership over Troy. Herself, the Queen; and Priam as her husband, warrior and consort.
She was the mother of Prince Hector, his heir. One day her sons and daughters would inherit this city and the land beyond, as far as the eye could see.
Even if the child whom she was soon to bear should be a daughter, Priam would have no cause to complain of her. Hector was now seven, old enough to learn arms-play. His first suit of armor had already been ordered from the smith who served the royal household. Their daughter, Polyxena, was four years old, and would someday be pretty, with long reddish hair like Hecuba’s own; one day she would be as valuable as any son, for a daughter could be married to one of Priam’s rival kings and cement a firm alliance. A king’s household should be rich with sons and daughters. The palace women had borne him many sons and a few daughters. But Hecuba, as his Queen, was in charge of the royal nursery, and it was her duty—no, her privilege—to say how every one of the King’s children should be brought up, whether born to her or to any other woman.
Queen Hecuba was a handsome woman, tall and broad-shouldered, her auburn hair drawn back smoothly from her brow and dressed in long curls at her neckline. She walked like the Goddess Hera, carrying her child (low and near to birth) proudly before her. She wore the low-cut bodice and tiered skirt, with a pattern of brilliant stripes, that was the common dress of the noblewomen of Troy. A gold collar, as wide as the palm of her hand, gleamed about her throat.
As she walked through a quiet street near the marketplace, a woman of the people, short and dark and coarsely dressed in earth-colored linen, darted out to touch her belly, murmuring, as if startled at her own temerity, “A blessing, O Queen!”
“It is not I,” Hecuba responded, “but the Goddess who blesses you.” As she held out her hands, she felt above her the shadow of the Goddess, like a tingling in the crown of her head; and she could see in the woman’s face the never-failing reflection of awe and wonder at the sudden change.
“May you bear many sons and daughters for our city. I pray you bless me also, Daughter,” Hecuba said seriously.
The woman looked up at the Queen—or did she see only the Goddess?—and murmured, “Lady, may the fame of the prince you bear outshine even the fame of Prince Hector.”
“So be it,” murmured the Queen, and wondered why she felt a small premonitory shiver, as if the blessing had somehow been transmuted, between the woman’s lips and her ears, into a curse.
It must have been visible on her face, too, she thought, for her waiting-woman stepped close and said in her ear, “Lady, you are pale; is it the beginning of labor?”
Such was the Queen’s confusion that for a moment she actually wondered if the strange sweating chill that seized her was actually the first touch of the birth process. Or was it only the result of that brief overshadowing by the Goddess? She did not remember anything like this with Hector’s birth, but she had been a young girl then, hardly aware of the process taking place within her. “I know not,” she said. “It is possible.”
“Then you must return to the palace and the King must be told,” said the woman. Hecuba hesitated. She had no wish to return inside the walls, but if she was truly in labor, it was her duty—not only to the child, and to her husband, but to the King and to all the people of Troy—to safeguard the prince or princess she bore.
“Very well, we shall return to the palace,” she said, and turned about in the street. One of the things that troubled her when she walked in the city was that a crowd of women and children always followed her asking for blessings. Since she had become visibly pregnant they begged for the blessing of fertility, as if she could, like the Goddess, bestow the gift of childbearing.
With her woman, she walked beneath the twin lionesses guarding the gates of Priam’s palace, and across the huge courtyard behind them where his soldiers gathered for arms-drill. A sentry at the gate raised his spear in salute.
Hecuba watched the soldiers, paired in teams and fighting with blunted weapons. She knew as much about weapons as any of them, for she had been born and raised on the plains, daughter of a nomad tribe whose women rode horseback, and trained like the men of the cities with sword and spear. Her hand itched for a sword, but it was not the custom in Troy, and while at first Priam had allowed her to handle weapons and practice with his soldiers, when she became pregnant with Hector he had forbidden it. In vain she told him that the women of her tribe rode horseback and worked with weapons until a few days before they were delivered of their children; he would not listen to her.
The royal midwives told her that if she so much as touched edged weapons, it would injure her child and perhaps the men who owned the weapons. A woman’s touch, they said, especially the touch of a woman in her condition, would make the weapon useless in battle. This sounded to Hecuba like the most solemn foolishness, as if men feared the notion that a woman could be strong enough to protect herself.
“But you have no need to protect yourself, my dearest love,” Priam had said. “What sort of man would I be if I could not protect my wife and child?” That had ended the matter, and from that day to this, Hecuba had never so much as touched the hilt of a weapon. Imagining the weight of a sword in her hand now, she grimaced, knowing that she was weak from women’s indoor work and soft from lack of training. Priam was not so bad as the Argive kings who kept their women confined inside their houses, but he did not really like it when she went very far outside the palace. He had grown up with women who stayed indoors at all times, and one of his most critical descriptions of a woman was “sunburnt from gadding about.”
The Queen went through the small door into the cool shadows of the palace and along the marble-floored halls, hearing in the silence the small sound of her skirts trailing against the floor and her waiting-woman’s soft footfalls behind her.
In her sunlit rooms, with all the curtains flung open as she preferred to keep them, her women were sunning and airing linens, and as she came through the doors they paused to greet her. The waiting-woman announced, “The Queen is in labor; send for the royal midwife.”
“No, wait.” Hecuba’s soft but definite voice cut through the cries of excitement. “There is no such hurry; it is by no means certain. I felt strange and had no way of knowing what ailed me; but it is by no means sure it is that.”
“Still, Lady, if you are not sure, you should let her come to you,” the woman persuaded, and the Queen at last agreed. Certainly there was no need for haste; if she was in labor there would soon be no doubt about it; but if she was not it would do no harm to speak with the woman. The strange sensation had passed off as if it had never been, nor did it return.
The sun declined, and Hecuba spent the day helping her women fold and put away the sun-bleached linens. At sun-down Priam sent word that he would spend the evening with his men; she should sup with her women and go to bed without waiting for him.
Five years ago, she thought, this would have dismayed her; she would not have been able to go to sleep unless she was encircled in his strong and loving arms. Now, especially this late in pregnancy, she was pleased at the thought of having her bed to herself. Even when it crossed her mind that he might be sharing the bed of one of the other women of the court, perhaps one of the mothers of the other royal children, it did not trouble her; she knew a king must have many sons and her own son, Hector, was firm in his father’s favor.
She would not go into labor this night at least; so she called her women to let them put her to bed with the expected ceremony. For some reason the last image in her mind before she slept was the woman who had asked her for a blessing that day in the street.
SHORTLY BEFORE midnight, the watchman outside the Queen’s apartments, drowsing on duty, was awakened by a frightful shriek of despair and dread which seemed to ring throughout the entire palace. Galvanized to full awareness, the watchman stepped inside the rooms, yelling until one of the Queen’s women appeared.
“What’s happened? Is the Queen in labor? Is the house afire?” he demanded.
“An evil omen,” the woman cried, “the most evil of dreams—” And then the Queen herself appeared in the doorway.
“Fire!” she cried out, and the watchman looked in dismay at the usually dignified figure of the Queen, her long reddish hair unbound and falling disheveled to her waist, her tunic unfastened at the shoulder and ungirt so that she was half naked above the waist. He had never noticed before that the Queen was a beautiful woman.
“Lady, what can I do for you?” he asked. “Where is the fire?”
Then he saw an astonishing thing; between one breath and the next, the Queen altered, one moment a distraught stranger, and the next, the regal lady he knew. Her voice was shaking with fear, even though she managed to say quietly, “It must have been a dream. A dream of fire, no more.”
“Tell us, Lady,” her waiting-woman urged, moving close to the Queen, her eyes alert and wary as she motioned to the watchman. “Go, you should not be here.”
“It is my duty to be sure that all is well with the King’s women,” he said firmly, his eyes fixed on the Queen’s newly calm face.
“Let him be; he is doing no more than his duty,” Hecuba told the woman, though her voice was still shaking. “I assure you, watchman, it was no more than an evil dream; I had the women search all the rooms. There is no fire.”
“We must send to the Temple for a priestess,” urged a woman at Hecuba’s side. “We must know what peril is betokened by such an evil dream!”
A firm step sounded and the door was thrust open; the King of Troy stood in the doorway, a tall strong man in his thirties, firmly muscled and broad-shouldered even without his armor, with dark curling hair and a neatly trimmed curly dark beard, demanding to know, in the name of all the Gods and Goddesses, what was all this commotion in his house.
“My lord—” The servants backed away as Priam strode through the door.
“Is all well with you, my lady?” he asked, and Hecuba lowered her eyes.
“My lord husband, I regret this disturbance. I had a dream of great evil.”
Priam waved at the women. “Go and be certain that all is well in the rooms of the royal children,” he commanded, and the women scurried away. Priam was a kindly man, but it was not well to cross him on the relatively rare occasions when he was out of temper. “And you,” he said to the watchman, “you heard the Queen; go at once to the Temple of the Great Mother: tell them that the Queen has had a dream of evil omen and is in need of a priestess who can interpret it to her. At once!”
The watchman hurried down the stairs and Hecuba held out her hand to her husband.
“It was truly no more than a dream, then?” he asked.
“No more than a dream,” she said, but even the memory of it still made her shiver.
“Tell me, love,” he said, and led her back to her bed, sitting beside her and leaning forward to clasp her fingers—hardly smaller than his own—between his callused palms.
“I feel such a fool for disturbing everyone with a nightmare,” she said.
“No, you were perfectly right,” he said. “Who knows? The dream may have been sent by some God who is your enemy—or mine. Or by a friendly God, as a warning of disaster. Tell me, my love.”
“I dreamed—I dreamed—” Hecuba swallowed hard, trying to dispel the choking sensation of dread. “I dreamed the child had been born, a son, and as I lay watching them swaddle him, suddenly some God was in the room—”
“What God?” Priam interrupted sharply. “In what form?”
“How should I know?” Hecuba asked reasonably. “I know little of the Olympians. But I am sure I have not offended any of them nor done them any dishonor.”
“Tell me of his form and appearance,” Priam insisted.
“He was a youth and beardless, no more than six or seven years older than our Hector,” Hecuba said.
“Then it must have been Hermes, the Messenger of the Gods,” Priam said.
Hecuba cried out, “But why should a God of the Argives come to me?”
Priam said, “The ways of the Gods are not for us to question. How can I tell? Go on.”
Hecuba spoke, her voice still uncertain. “Hermes, then, or whichever God it may have been, leaned over the cradle, and picked up the baby—” Hecuba was white, and beads of sweat stood on her brow, but she tried hard to steady her voice. “It wasn’t a baby but—a child—a naked child, burning—I mean it was all afire and burning like a torch. And as he moved, fire came and invaded the castle, burning everywhere and striking the town . . .” She broke down and sobbed. “Oh, what can it mean?”
“Only the Gods know that for certain,” Priam said, and held her hand firmly in his.
Hecuba faltered, “In my dream the baby ran before the God . . . a newborn child, running all afire through the palace, and after him, as he passed, all the rooms took fire. Then he ran down through the city—I stood on the balcony overlooking the town, and fire sprang up behind him as he ran, still flaming, so that Troy was burning, all on fire, from the high citadel to the shore, and even the sea was all afire before his steps . . .”
“In the name of Poseidon,” Priam murmured under his breath, “what an evil omen . . . for Troy and for all of us!”
He sat silent, stroking her hand, until a slight sound outside the room announced the arrival of the priestess.
She stepped inside the room and said in a calm, cheerful voice: “Peace to all in this House; Rejoice, O Lord and Lady of Troy. My name is Sarmato. I bring you the blessings of the Holy Mother. What service may I do the Queen?” She was a tall, sturdily built woman, probably still of childbearing age, though her dark hair was already showing streaks of gray. She said to Hecuba, smiling, “I see that the Great Goddess has already blessed you, Queen. Are you ill or in labor?”
“Neither,” said Hecuba. “Did they not tell you, priestess? Some God sent me an evil dream.”
“Tell me,” said Sarmato, “and fear not. The Gods mean us well, of that I am certain. So speak and be not afraid.”
Hecuba recounted her dream again, beginning to feel, as she told it, now she was fully awake, that it was not so much horrible as absurd. Nevertheless, she shivered with the terror she had felt in the dream.
The priestess listened with a slight frown gathering between her brows. When Hecuba had finished, she said, “You are sure there was nothing more?”
“Nothing that I can remember, my lady.”
The priestess frowned, and from a pouch tied at her waist she drew out a small handful of pebbles; she knelt on the floor and cast them like knucklebones, studying and muttering over their arrangement, casting them again and yet a third time, finally gathering them up and returning them to the pouch.
Then she raised her eyes to Hecuba.
“Thus speaks the Messenger of the Gods of Olympos to you. You bear a son under an evil fate, who will destroy the city of Troy.”
Hecuba caught her breath in consternation, but felt her husband’s fingers clasping hers, strong and warm and reassuring.
“Can anything be done to avert this fate?” Priam asked.
The priestess shrugged. “In seeking to avert fate, men often bring it closer. The Gods have sent you a warning, but they have not chosen to tell you of what you must do to avert this doom. It might be safest to do nothing.”
Priam frowned and said, “Then the child must be exposed at birth,” and Hecuba cried out in horror.
“No! No! It was but a dream, a dream . . .”
“A warning from Hermes,” said Priam severely. “Expose the boy as soon as he is born; hear me!” He added, in the inflexible formula which gave the words the force of laws carved into stone: “I have spoken; let it be done!”
Hecuba crumpled weeping on her pillows, and Priam said tenderly, “I would not for all Troy have given you this grief, my dearest, but the Gods cannot be mocked.”
“Gods!” Hecuba cried, frantic. “What kind of God is it that sends deceitful nightmares to destroy an innocent little child, a newborn babe in the cradle? Among my people,” she added resentfully, “a child is its mother’s, and no one but she who carried it for most of a year and brought it to birth can say its fate; if she refuses to suckle it and bring it up, that is her own choice. What right has a man over children?” She did not say a mere man, but her tone of voice made it obvious.
“The right of a father,” Priam said sternly. “I am master of this house, and as I have spoken, so shall it be done—hear me, woman!”
“Don’t say woman to me in that tone of voice,” cried Hecuba. “I am a free citizen and a Queen and not one of your slaves or concubines!” Yet for all that, she knew that Priam would have his way; when she had chosen to marry a man from those who dwelt in cities and assumed rights over their women, she knew she had consented to this. Priam arose from her side and gave the priestess a piece of gold; she bowed and departed.
Three days later, Hecuba went into labor and gave birth to twins: first a son, then a daughter, as like as one rosebud to another on the same branch. They were both healthy and well formed, and cried lustily, although they were so tiny that the boy’s head fitted into Hecuba’s palm, and the girl was smaller still.
“Look at him, my lord,” she said fiercely to Priam when he came. “He is no bigger than a kitten! And you fear this was sent by some God to bring disaster on our city?”
“There is something in what you say,” admitted Priam. “Royal blood is, after all, royal blood, and sacred; he is the son of a King of Troy ...” He considered for a moment. “No doubt it would be enough to have him fostered far away from the city; I have an old and trusted servant, a shepherd on the slopes of Mount Ida, and he will bring up the child. Will that content you, my wife?”
Hecuba knew that the alternative was to have the child exposed on a mountain, and he was so small and frail that he would die quickly. “Let it be so, then, in the name of the Goddess,” she said with resignation, and handed the boy to Priam, who held the child awkwardly, as one unused to handling babies.
He looked into the child’s eyes and said, “Greetings, little son.” Hecuba sighed with relief; after having formally acknowledged a child, a father could not have it killed, or expose it to die.
Hector and Polyxena had been allowed to come and speak with their mother. Hector said now, “Will you give my brother a royal name, Father?”
Priam scowled, thinking it over. Then he said, “Alexandros. Let the girl be called Alexandra, then.”
He went away, taking Hector with him, and Hecuba lay with the dark-haired baby girl in the curve of her arm, thinking that she could comfort herself with the knowledge that her son lived, even if she could not rear him herself, while she had her daughter to keep. Alexandra, she thought. I will call her Kassandra.
The princess had remained in the room with the women and now edged close to Hecuba’s side. Hecuba asked, “Do you like your little sister, my darling?”
“No; she is red and ugly, and not even as pretty as my doll,” said Polyxena.
“All babies are like that when they are born,” said Hecuba. “You were just as red and ugly; soon she will be just as pretty as you are.”
The child scowled. “Why do you want another daughter, Mother, when you have me?”
“Because, darling, if one daughter is a good thing, with two daughters one is twice blessed.”
“But Father did not think that two sons were better than one son,” Polyxena argued, and Hecuba recalled the prophecy spoken by the woman in the street. Among her own tribe, twins were thought to be, in themselves, an evil omen, and were invariably put to death. If she had remained with them, she would have had to see both infants sacrificed.
Hecuba still felt a residue of superstitious fear; what could have gone amiss to send her two children at one birth, like an animal littering? That was what the women of her tribe believed must be done; yet she had been told that the true reason for the sacrifice of twins was only that it was all but impossible for a woman to suckle two children in a single season. Her twins at least had not been sacrificed to the poverty of the tribe. There were plenty of wet-nurses in Troy; she could have kept them both. Yet Priam had decreed otherwise. She had lost one child—but, by the blessing of the Goddess, only one, not both.
One of her women murmured, almost out of hearing, “Priam is mad! To send away a son and rear a daughter?”
Among my people, Hecuba remembered, a daughter is valued no less than a son; if this little one had been born in my tribe, I could rear her to be a warrior woman! But if she had been born to my tribe, she would not have lived. Here she will be valued only for the bride-price she will bring when she is married, as I was, to some King.
But what would become of her son? Would he live in obscurity as a shepherd all his life? It was better than death, perhaps, and the God who had sent the dream and was therefore responsible for his fate might yet protect him.
LIGHT GLEAMED in eye-hurting flashes from the sea and the white stone. Kassandra narrowed her eyes against the light and tugged softly at Hecuba’s sleeve.
“Why do we go to the Temple today, Mother?” she asked.
Secretly she did not care. It was a rare adventure for her to be allowed outside the women’s quarters and rarer yet to go outside the palace altogether. Whatever their destination, the excursion was welcome.
Hecuba said softly, “We go to pray that the child I am to bear this winter will be a son.”
“Why, Mother? You have a son already. I should think you would rather have another daughter; you only have two of us girls. I would rather have another sister.”
“I am sure you would,” said the Queen, smiling, “but your father wants another son. Men always want sons so they can grow up to fight in their armies and defend the city.”
“Is there a war?”
“No, not now; but there are always wars when a city is as rich as Troy.”
“But if I had another sister she might be a warrior woman, as you were when you were a girl, and learn to use weapons and defend the city as well as any son.” Then she paused to consider. “I do not think Polyxena could be a soldier; she is too soft and timid. But I would like to be a warrior woman. Like you.”
“I am sure you would, Kassandra; but it is not the custom for women of Troy.”
“What do you mean, why not? Customs are. There is no reason for them.”
Kassandra gave her mother a skeptical look, but she had already learned not to question that tone in her mother’s voice. She thought secretly that her mother was the most queenly and beautiful woman in the world, tall and strong-looking, in her low-cut bodice and flounced skirt, but she no longer quite believed her all-knowing like the Goddess. In the six years of her life, she had heard something similar nearly every day and believed it less with every year; but when Hecuba spoke like that, Kassandra knew she would get no further explanation.
“Tell me about when you were a warrior, Mother.”
“I am of the nomad tribe, the riding women,” Hecuba began. She was almost always willing to talk about her early life—more so, Kassandra thought, since this latest pregnancy. “Our fathers and brothers are also of the horse-folk, and they are very brave.”
“Are they warriors?”
“No, child; among the horse-tribes, the women are the warriors. The men are healers and magicians, and they know all kinds of wisdom and about the lore of trees and herbs.”
“When I am older can I go to live with them?”
“The Kentaurs? Of course not; women cannot be fostered in a man’s tribe.”
“No; I mean with your tribe, the riding women.”
“I do not think your father would like that,” said Hecuba, thinking that this small, solemn daughter might well have grown to be a leader among her own nomad people, “but perhaps someday it can be arranged. Among my tribe a father has authority only over his sons, and it is the mother who decrees the destiny of a daughter. You would have to learn to ride and to use weapons.”
She took up the small, soft hand in hers, thinking that it was hardly the hand of a warrior woman.
“Which Temple is that—up there?” Kassandra asked, pointing upward to the highest of the terraces above them, indicating a building that gleamed brilliantly white in the sun. From where they stood, Kassandra, leaning on the wall that guarded the winding stairway upward, could look down and see the roofs of the palace and the small figures of the women laying out washing to dry, small trees in tubs, the bright colors of their clothing and the mats where they lay to rest in the sun; and far below that, the city walls looking out over the plain.
“It is the Temple of Pallas Athene, the greatest of the Goddesses of your father’s people.”
“Is She the same as the Great Goddess, the one you call Earth Mother?”
“All the Goddesses are one, as all the Gods are one; but they show themselves with different faces to mankind, in different cities and at different times. Here in Troy, Pallas Athene is the Goddess as Maiden, because in Her temple under the care of Her maidens is guarded the holiest object within our city. It is called the Palladium.” Hecuba paused, but Kassandra, sensing a story, was mouse-silent, and Hecuba went on in a reminiscent tone.
“They say that when the Goddess Athene was young she had a mortal playmate, the Libyan maiden Pallas, and when Pallas died Athene mourned her so greatly that She added Her name to her own and was thereafter known as Pallas Athene; She fashioned an image of Her friend and set it up in the Temple of Zeus on Olympos. At that time, Erechtheus, who was King in Crete—your father’s forefather before his people came to this part of the world—had a great herd of a thousand beautiful cattle, and Boreas, the son of the North Wind, loved them, and visited them as a great white bull; and these sacred cattle became the Bull-Gods of Crete.”
“I did not know that the Kings of Crete were our forefathers,” Kassandra said.
“There are many things you do not know,” Hecuba said in reproof, and Kassandra held her breath—would her mother be too cross to finish the story? But Hecuba’s frown was fleeting, and she went on.
“Ilos, the son of Erechtheus, came to these shores and entered the sacred Games here. He was the victor in the games, and as his prize he won fifty youths and fifty maidens. And rather than making them his slaves, he said, ‘I will free them, and with them I will found a city.’ And so he set forth in a ship at the will of the Gods—and he sacrificed to the North Wind to send him to the right place for his city, which he meant to call Ilion; which is another name for the city of Troy.”
“And did the North Wind blow him here?” Kassandra asked.
“No; he was blown from his course at sea by a whirl-wind, and when he came to rest near the mouth of our holy Scamander, the Gods sent one of these cows, a beautiful heifer, a daughter of the North Wind, and a voice came to Ilos, crying out, ‘Follow the cow! Follow the cow! Where the cow lies down, there establish your city!’ And they say that the cow wandered to the bend of the river Scamander and there she lay down; and there Ilos built the city of Troy. And one night he awoke hearing another voice from Heaven, saying, ‘Preserve the image I give you; for while Pallas dwells within your city, your city shall never fall.’ And he woke and beheld the image of Pallas, with a distaff in one hand and a spear in the other, like Athene’s self. So when the city was built, he built this Temple first, on the high place, far up here, and he dedicated it to Athene—She was quite a new face of the Goddess, then, one of the great Olympians, worshiped even by those who honor the Sky Gods and the Thunderer—he made Her the patron of the city. And She brought to us the arts of weaving and the gifts of the vine and the olive, wine and oil.”
“But we are not going to Her Temple today, Mother?”
“No, my love; though the Maiden Goddess is also patron of childbirth and I should sacrifice also to her. Today we seek the Sun Lord Apollo. He is the Lord of the Oracles as well; he slew the great Python, the Goddess of the Underworld, and became Lord of the Underworld as well.”
“Tell me, if the Python was a Goddess, how could she be slain?”
“Oh, I suppose it is because the Sun Lord is stronger than any Goddess,” her mother said, as they began to climb the hill at the center of the city. The steps were steep, and Kassandra’s legs felt tired as she struggled up them. Once she looked back; they were so high, so near the God’s house, that she could see over the wall of the city to the great rivers where they flowed across the plain and came together in a great flood of silver toward the sea.
Then for a moment it seemed to her that the surface of the sea was shadowed and that she saw ships blurring the brightness of the waves. She wiped her eyes and said, “Are those my father’s ships?”
Hecuba looked back and asked, “What ships? I see no ships. Are you playing some game with me?”
“No; I really see them. Look there, one has a gray sail. . . . No, it was the sun in my eyes; I cannot see them now.” Her eyes ached, and the ships were gone—or had they ever been more than the glare on the water?
It seemed to her that the air was so clear, filled with little sparkles like a thin veil, that at any moment it might tear or slip aside, revealing a glimpse into another world beyond this one. She could not remember ever seeing anything like this before. She felt, without knowing how, that the ships she had seen were there in that other world. Perhaps they were something she was going to see someday. She was young enough not to think this in any way strange. Her mother had moved on ahead, and for some reason it seemed to Kassandra that it would disturb the Queen if she spoke again about the ships she had seen and could not see now. She hurried after her mother, her legs aching as she strained up the steps.
The Temple of Apollo Helios the Sun Lord stood more than halfway to the summit of the hill upon which was built the great city of Troy. It was overlooked only by the great height of the Temple of Maiden Athene far above; but it was itself the most beautiful of the Temples of the city. It was built of shining white marble, with tall columns at either side, on a foundation of stonework set up—so Kassandra had been told more than once—by Titans before even the oldest men in the city were born. The light was so fierce that Kassandra shaded her eyes with her hands. Well, if this was the very home of the Sun God, what would be its nature if not strong and perpetual light?
In the outer court, where merchants were selling all manner of things—animals for sacrifice, small clay statues of the God, various foods and drinks—her mother bought her a slice of sweet melon. It slid deliciously down her throat, dry from the long and dusty climb. The area under the portico of the next court was cool and shadowy; there a number of priests and functionaries recognized the Queen and beckoned her forward.
“Welcome, Lady,” said one of them, “and the little princess too. Would you like to sit here and rest for a moment until the priestess can speak with you?”
The Queen and the princess were shown to a marble bench in the shade. Kassandra sat quietly beside her mother for a moment, glad to be out of the heat; she finished her melon and wiped her hands on her underskirt, then looked about for a place to put the rind; it did not seem quite right to throw it on the floor under the eyes of the priests and priestesses. She slid down from the bench and discovered a basket where there was a quantity of fruit rinds and peelings, and put her rind inside it with the others.
Then she walked around the room slowly, wondering what she would see, and how different the house of a God would be from the house of a King. This, of course, was only His reception room, where people waited for audience; there was a room like this in the palace where petitioners came to wait when they wanted to ask a favor of the King or bring him a present. She wondered if He had a bedroom or where He slept or bathed. And Kassandra peered through into the main room which, she thought, must be the God’s audience chamber.
He was there. The colors in which He was painted were so lifelike that Kassandra was not really aware for a moment that what she was seeing was a statue. It seemed reasonable that a God should be a little larger than life, rigidly upright, smiling a distant but welcoming smile. Kassandra stole into the room, to the very foot of the God, and for a moment she thought she had actually heard Him speak; then she knew it was only a voice in her mind.
“Kassandra,” He said, and it seemed perfectly natural that a God should know her name without being told, “will you be My priestess?”
She whispered, neither knowing nor caring if she spoke aloud, “Do you want me, Lord Apollo?”
“Yes; it is I who called you here,” he said. The voice was great and golden, just what she imagined that a God’s voice would be; and she had been told that the Sun Lord was also the God of music and song.
“But I am only a little girl, not yet old enough to leave my father’s house,” she whispered.
“Still, I bid you remember, when that day comes, that you are Mine,” said the voice, and for a moment the motes of golden dust in the slanting sunshine became all one great ray of light through which it seemed that the God reached down to her and touched her with a burning touch . . . and then the brightness was gone and she could see that it was only a statue, chill and unmoving and not at all like the Apollo who had spoken to her. The priestess had come to lead her mother forward to the statue, but Kassandra tugged at her mother’s hand.
“It’s all right,” she whispered insistently. “The God told me He would give you what you asked for.”
She had no idea when she had heard this; she simply knew that her mother’s child was a boy, and if she knew when she had not known before, then it must have been the God who told her, and so, though she had not heard the God’s voice, she knew that what she said was true.
Hecuba looked down at her skeptically, let her hand go and went into the inner room with the priestess. Kassandra went to look around the room.
Beside the altar was a small reed basket, and inside, as Kassandra peeped in, a suggestion of movement. At first she thought it was kittens, and wondered why, for cats were not sacrificed to the Gods. Looking more closely, she noted that there were two small coiled snakes in the basket. Serpents, she knew, belonged to Apollo of the Underworld. Without stopping to think, she reached out and grasped them in either hand, bringing them toward her face. They felt soft and warm and dry, faintly scaly beneath her fingers, and she could not resist kissing them. She felt strangely elated and just faintly sick, her small body trembling all over.
She never knew how long she crouched there, holding the serpents, nor could she have said what they told her; she only knew that she was listening attentively to them all that time.
Then she heard her mother’s voice in a cry of dread and reproof. She looked up, smiling.
“It’s all right,” she said, looking past her mother to the troubled face of the priestess behind Hecuba. “The God told me I might.”
“Put them down, quickly,” said the priestess. “You are not used to handling them; they might very well have bitten you.”
Kassandra gave each of the serpents a final caress and laid it gently back in the reed basket. It seemed to her that they were reluctant to leave her, and she bent close and promised them she would come again and play with them.
“You wretched, disobedient girl!” Hecuba cried as she rose, grabbing her by the arm and pinching her hard, and Kassandra drew away, troubled; she could not remember that her mother had ever been angry with her before this, and she could not imagine why she should make a fuss about something like this.
“Don’t you know that snakes are poisonous and dangerous?”
“But they belong to the God,” Kassandra argued. “He would not let them bite me.”
“You were very lucky,” said the priestess gravely.
“You handle them, and you are not afraid,” Kassandra said.
“But I am a priestess and I have been taught to handle them.”
“Apollo said I was to be His priestess, and He told me I might touch them,” she argued, and the priestess looked down at her with a frown.
“Is this true, child?”
“Of course it is not true,” Hecuba said sharply. “She is making up a tale! She is always imagining things.”
This was so unfair and unjustified that Kassandra began to cry. Her mother grabbed her firmly by the arm and pulled her outside, pushing her ahead and down the steep steps so roughly that she stumbled and almost fell. The day seemed to have lost all its golden brilliance. The God was gone; she could no longer feel His presence, and she could have cried for that even more than for the bruising grip of her mother on her upper arm.
“Why would you say such a thing?” Hecuba scolded again. “Are you such a baby that I cannot leave you alone for twenty minutes without your getting into mischief? Playing with the Temple serpents—don’t you know how badly they could have hurt you?”
“But the God said He would not let them hurt me,” Kassandra declared stubbornly, and her mother pinched her again, leaving a bruise on her arm.
“You must not say such a thing!”
“But it is true,” the girl insisted.
“Nonsense; if you ever say such a thing again,” said her mother crossly, “I shall beat you.” Kassandra was silent. What had happened had happened; she had no wish to be beaten, but she knew the truth and could not deny it. Why couldn’t her mother trust her? She always told the truth.
She could not bear it, that her mother and the priestess should think she was lying, and as she went quietly, no longer protesting, down the long steps, her hand tucked tightly in the larger hand of the Queen, she clung to the face of Apollo, His gentle voice in her mind. Without her even being aware of it, something very deep within her was already waiting for the sound.
AT THE NEXT full moon, Hecuba was delivered of a son, who was to be her last child. They named him Troilus. Kassandra, standing by her mother’s bed in the birth chamber, looking on the face of her small brother, was not surprised. But when she reminded her mother that she had known since the day of her visit to the Temple that the child would be a son, Hecuba sounded displeased.
“Why, so you did,” she said angrily, “but do you really think a God spoke to you? You are only trying to make yourself important,” she scolded, “and I will not listen to it. You are not so little as that. That is a babyish thing to do.”
But that, Kassandra thought angrily, was the important thing: she had known; the God had spoken to her. Did He speak to babies, then? And why should it make her mother angry? She knew the Goddess spoke to her mother; she had seen the Lady descend on Hecuba when she invoked Her at harvest time and in blessing.
“Listen, Kassandra,” said the Queen seriously, “the greatest crime is to speak anything but the truth about a God. Apollo is Lord of the Truth; if you speak His name falsely, He will punish you, and His anger is terrible.”
“But I am telling the truth; the God did speak to me,” Kassandra said earnestly, and her mother sighed in despair, for this was not an unknown thing either.
“Well, I suppose you must be left to Him, then. But I warn you, don’t speak of this to anyone else.”
Now that there was another prince in the palace, another son of Priam by his Queen, there was rejoicing through the city. Kassandra was left very much to herself, and she wondered why a prince should be so much more important than a princess. It was no use asking her mother why this should be so. She might have asked her older sister, but Polyxena seemed to care for nothing except gossip with the waiting-women about pretty clothes and jewelry and marriages. This seemed dull to Kassandra, but they assured her that when she was older she would be more interested in the important things of a woman’s life. She wondered why these should be so important. She was willing enough to look at pretty clothes and jewelry, but had no desire to wear them herself; she would as soon see them on Polyxena or her mother. Her mother’s waiting-women thought her as strange as she thought them. Once she had stubbornly refused to enter a room, crying out, “The ceiling will fall!” Three days later, there was a small earthquake and it did fall.
AS TIME PASSED and season followed season, Troilus began first to toddle and then to walk and talk; sooner than Kassandra thought possible, he was almost as tall as she was herself. Meanwhile, Polyxena grew taller than Hecuba and was initiated into the women’s Mysteries.
Kassandra longed fiercely for the time when she too would be recognized as a woman, though she could not see that it made Polyxena any wiser. When she had been initiated into the Mysteries, would the God speak again to her? All these years she had never again heard His voice; perhaps her mother was right and she had only imagined it. She longed to hear that voice again, if only to reassure herself it had been real. Yet her longing was tempered with reluctance; to be a woman, it seemed, was to change so irrevocably as to lose all that made her herself. Polyxena was now tied to the life of the women’s quarters, and seemed quite content to be so; she no longer even seemed to resent the loss of her freedom, and would no longer conspire with Kassandra to run away down into the city.
Soon enough, Troilus was old enough to be sent to the men’s quarters to sleep, and she herself was twelve years old. That year she grew taller, and from certain changes in her body she knew that soon she too would be counted among the women of the palace and no longer allowed to run about where she chose.
Obediently, Kassandra allowed her mother’s old nurse to teach her to spin and weave. With the help of Hesione, her father’s unmarried sister, she let herself be coaxed into spinning the thread and weaving a robe for her clay doll, which she still cherished. She hated the drudgery, which made her fingers ache, but she was proud of her work when it was done.
She now occupied a room in the women’s quarters with Polyxena, who was sixteen and old enough to be married, and Hesione, a lively young woman in her twenties, with Priam’s curling dark hair and brilliant green eyes. Under the seemingly senseless rules of conduct set forth by her mother and Hesione, Kassandra was to stay indoors and ignore all the interesting things that might be happening in the palace or the city. But there were days when she managed to evade the vigilance of the women, when she would run off alone to one of her secret places.
One morning she slipped out of the palace and took the route through the streets that led upward to Apollo’s Temple.
She had no desire to climb to the Temple itself, no sense that the God had summoned her. She told herself that when that day came, she would know. As she climbed, halfway up she turned to look down into the harbor, and saw the ships. They were just as she had seen them the day the God spoke to her; but now she knew that they were ships from the South, from the island kingdoms of the Akhaians and of Crete. They had come to trade with the Hyperborean countries, and Kassandra thought, with an excitement that was almost physical, that they would reach the country of the North Wind, from whose breath were born the great Bull-Gods of Crete. She wished she might sail north with the ships; but she could never go. Women were never allowed to sail on any of the great trading ships, which, as they sailed up through the straits, must pay tribute to King Priam and to Troy. And as she stared at the ships, a shudder, unlike any physical sensation she had known before, ran through her body. . . .
She was lying in a corner on a ship, lifting up and down to the motion of the waves; nauseated, sick, exhausted and terrified, bruised and sore; yet when she looked up at the sky above the great sun-shimmering sail, the sky was blue and gleaming with Apollo’s sun. A man’s face looked down at her with a fierce, hateful, triumphant smile. In one moment of terror, it was printed forever on her mind. Kassandra had never in her life known real fear or real shame, only momentary embarrassment at a mild reproof from her mother or father; now she knew the ultimate of both. With one part of her mind she knew she had never seen this man, yet knew that never in her life would she forget his face, with its great hook of a nose like the beak of some rapacious bird of prey, the eyes gleaming like a hawk’s, the cruel fierce smile and the harsh jutting chin; a black-bearded countenance which filled her with dread and terror.
In a moment between a breath and a breath, it was gone, and she was standing on the steps, the ships distant in the harbor below her. Yet a moment ago, she knew, she had been lying in one of those ships, a captive—the hard deck under her body, the salt wind over her, the flapping sound of the sail and the creaking of the wooden boards of the ship. She felt again the terror and the curious exhilaration which she could not understand.
She had at the moment no way of knowing what had happened to her, or why. She turned around and looked upward to where the Temple of Pallas Athene rose white and high above the harbor, and prayed to the Maiden Goddess that what she had seen and felt was no more than some kind of waking nightmare. Or would it truly happen one day . . . that she would be that bruised captive in the ship, prey of that fierce hawk-faced man? He did not resemble any Trojan she had ever seen. . . .
Deliberately putting away the frozen horror of her—nightmare? vision?—Kassandra turned away and looked inland, to where the great height rose of the holy Mount Ida. Somewhere on the slopes of that mountain . . . no, she had dreamed it, had never set foot on the slopes of Ida. High above were the never-melting snows, and below, the green pasturelands where, she had been told, her father’s many flocks and herds grazed in the care of shepherds. She rubbed her hands fretfully over her eyes. If she could only see what lay there beyond her sight . . .
Not even years later, when all things which had to do with prophecy and the Sight were second nature to her, was Kassandra ever sure whence came the sudden knowledge of what she must do next. She never claimed or thought she had heard the voice of the God; that she would have known and recognized at once. It was simply there, a part of her being. She turned round and ran quickly back to the palace. Passing through a street she knew, she glanced almost wistfully at the fountain; no, the water was not still enough for that.
In the outer court, she spied one of her mother’s women, and hid behind a statue, fearing that the woman might have been sent to search for her. There was always a fuss now whenever she went outside the women’s quarters.
Such folly! Staying inside did not help Hesione, she thought, and did not know what she meant by it. Thinking of Hesione filled her with a sudden dread, and she did not know why, but it occurred to her that she should warn her. Warn her? Of what? Why? No, it would be no use. What must come will come. Something within her made her wish to run to Hesione (or to her mother, or to Polyxena, or to her nurse, anyone who could ease this nameless terror which made her knees tremble and her stomach wobble). But whatever her own mission might be, it was more urgent to her than any fancied or foreseen dangers to anyone else. She was still crouched, hiding, behind the pillar; but the woman was out of sight. I was afraid that she would see me.
Afraid? No! I have not known the meaning of the word! After the terror of that vision in the harbor, Kassandra knew that nothing less would ever make her feel fear. Still she did not wish to be seen with this compulsion upon her; someone might stop her from doing what must be done. She hurried to the women’s quarters and found a clay bowl which she filled with water drawn fresh from the cistern, and knelt before it.
Staring into the water, at first she saw only her own face looking back, as from a mirror. Then as the shadows shifted on the surface of the water, she knew it was a boy’s face she looked on, very like her own: the same heavy straight dark hair, the same deep-set eyes, shadowed beneath long heavy lashes. He looked beyond her, staring at something she could not see. . . .
Troubled with care for the sheep, each one’s name known, each footstep placed with such care; the inner knowledge of where they were and what must be done for each of them, as if directed by some secret wisdom. Kassandra found herself wishing passionately that she could be trusted with work as responsible and meaningful as this. For some time she knelt by the basin, wondering why she had been brought to see him and what it could possibly mean. She was not aware that she was cramped and cold, nor that her knees ached from her unmoving posture; she watched with him, sharing his annoyance when one of the animals stumbled, sharing his pleasure at the sunlight, her mind just touching and skimming over the occasional fears—of wolves, or larger and more dangerous beasts . . . she was the strange boy whose face was her own reflection. Lost in this passionate identification, she was roused by a sudden outcry.
“Hai! Help, ho, fire, murder, rape! Help!” For a moment she thought it was he who had cried out; but no, it was somehow a different kind of sound, heard with her physical ears; it jarred her out of her trance.
Another vision, but this one with neither pain nor fear. Do they come from a God? She returned with a painful jolt to awareness of where she was: in the courtyard of the women’s quarters.
And she suddenly smelled smoke, and the bowl into which she still stared clouded, tilted sidewise, and the water ran out across the floor. The visionary stillness went with it, and Kassandra found that she could move.
Strange footsteps clattered on the floor; she heard her mother scream, and ran into the corridor. It was empty, except for the shrieking of women. Then she saw two men in armor, with great high-crested helmets. They were tall, taller than her father or the half-grown Hector; great hairy, savage-looking men, both of them with fair hair hanging below their helmets; one of them bore over his shoulder a screaming woman. In shock and horror, Kassandra recognized the woman: her aunt Hesione.
Kassandra had no idea what was happening or why; she was still halfway within the apartness of her vision. The soldiers ran right past her, brushing so close to her and so swiftly that one all but knocked her off her feet. She started to run after them, with some vague notion that she might somehow help Hesione; but they were already gone, rushing down the palace steps; as if her inner sight followed, she saw Hesione borne, still screaming, down the stairs and through the city. The people melted away before the intruders. It was as if the men’s gaze had the quality of the Gorgon’s head, to turn people to stone—not only must they avoid looking on the Akhaians, but they must not even be looked upon by them.
There was a dreadful screaming from the lower city, and it seemed that all the women in the palace like a chorus had taken up the shrieks.
The screaming went on for some time, then died away into a grief-stricken wailing. Kassandra went in search of her mother—suddenly frightened and guilty for not thinking sooner that Hecuba too might have been taken. In the distance she could faintly hear sounds of clashing warfare; she could hear the war-cries of her father’s men, who were fighting the intruders on their way back to the ships. Somehow Kassandra was aware that their fighting was in vain.
Is what I saw, what I felt, that which will happen to Hesione? That terrible hawk-faced man—will he take her for his captive? Did I see—and worse, did I feel—what will happen to her?
She did not know whether to hope that she herself need not suffer it, or to be ashamed that she wished it instead upon her beloved young aunt.
She came into her mother’s room, where Hecuba sat white as death, holding little Troilus on her lap.
“There you are, naughty girl,” said one of the nurses. “We were afraid that the Akhaian raiders had gotten you too.”
Kassandra ran to her mother and fell to her knees at her side. “I saw them take Aunt Hesione,” she whispered. “What will happen to her?”
“They will take her back to their country and hold her there until your father pays ransom for her,” Hecuba said, wiping away her tears.
There was the loud step at the door that Kassandra always associated with her father, and Priam came into the chamber, girt for battle but with some of his armor’s straps half-fastened as if he had armed himself too quickly.
Hecuba raised her eyes and saw behind Priam the armed figure of Hector, a slender warrior of nineteen.
“Is it well with you and the children, my love?” asked the King. “Today your eldest son fought by my side as a true warrior.”
“And Hesione?” Hecuba asked.
“Gone. There were too many for us and they had gotten to the ships before we could reach her,” Priam said. “You know perfectly well that they care nothing for the woman; it is only that she is my sister and so they think they can demand concessions and freedom from harbor tolls—that is all.” He set his spear aside with an expression of disgust.
Hecuba called Hector to her, fussing over him till he moved away and said irritably, “Have done, Mother—I am not a little one still holding your skirts!”
“Shall I send for wine, my lord?” Hecuba asked, putting down the child and rising dutifully, but Priam shook his head.
“Don’t trouble yourself,” he said. “I would not have disturbed you, but I thought you would like to know that your son came honorably and unwounded from his first battle.”
He went out of the room, and Hecuba said between her teeth, “Battle indeed! He cannot wait to get to his newest woman, that is all, and she will give him unmixed wine and he will be ill! And as for Hesione—much he cares for her! As long as they do not disturb his precious shipping, the Akhaians could have us all and welcome!”
Kassandra knew better than to ask anything further of her mother at that moment; but that night when they gathered in the great dining hall of the palace (for Priam still kept to the old custom in which men and women dined all together, instead of the new fashion whereby women took their meals separately in the women’s quarters—“so that the women need not appear before strange men,” as the Akhaian slaves put it), she waited until Priam was in a good humor, sharing his finest wine with her mother and beckoning to Polyxena, whom he always petted, to come and sit beside him. Then Kassandra stole forward, and Priam indulgently motioned to her.
“What do you want, Bright Eyes?”
“Only to ask a question, Father, about something I saw today.”
“If it is about Aunt Hesione—” he began.
“No, sir; but do you think the Akhaians will ask ransom for her?”
“Probably not,” said Priam. “Probably one of them will marry her and try to claim rights in Troy because of it.”
“How dreadful for her!” Kassandra whispered.
“Not so bad, after all; she will have a good husband among the Akhaians, and it will perhaps for this year stave off war about trading rights,” Priam said. “In the old days, many marriages were made like that.”
“How horrible!” Polyxena said timidly. “I would not want to go so far from home to marry. And I would rather have a proper wedding, not be carried off like that!”
“Well, I am sure we can arrange that sooner or later,” said Priam indulgently. “There is your mother’s kinsman young Akhilles—he shows signs, they say, of being a mighty warrior. . . .”
Hecuba shook her head. She said, “Akhilles has been promised to his cousin Deidameia, daughter of Lykomedes; and I would as soon my daughter never came into that kindred.”
“All the same, if he is to win fame and glory . . . I have heard that the boy is already a great hunter of lions and boars,” countered Priam. “I would gladly have him for a son-in-law.” He sighed. “Well, there is time enough later to think of husbands and weddings for the girls. What did you see today, little Kassandra, that you wanted to ask me?”
Even as the words crossed her lips, Kassandra felt she should perhaps keep silent; that what she had seen in the scrying-bowl should not be spoken; but her confusion and her hunger for knowledge were so great she could not stop herself. The words rushed out: “Father, tell me, who is the boy I saw today with a face so exactly like my own?”
Priam glared at her so that she quivered with terror. He stared over her head at Hecuba and said in a terrible voice, “Where have you been taking her?”
Hecuba looked blankly at Priam and said, “I have taken her nowhere. I do not have the faintest idea what she is talking about.”
“Come here, Kassandra,” said Priam, frowning ominously and pushing Polyxena away from his knee. “Tell me more about this; where did you see the boy? Was he in the city?”
“No, Father, I have only seen him in the scrying-bowl. He watches the sheep on Mount Ida, and he looks exactly like me.”
She was frightened at the abrupt change in her father’s face. He roared, “And what were you doing with a scrying-bowl, you little wretch?”
He turned on Hecuba with a gesture of rage, and for a moment, Kassandra thought he would strike the Queen.
“You, Lady, this is your doing—I leave the rearing of the girls to you, and here is one of my daughters meddling with scrying and sorceries, oracles and the like—”
“But who is he?” Kassandra demanded. Her need for an answer was greater than her fear. “And why does he look so much like me?”
In return, her father roared wordlessly, and struck her across the face with such force that she lost her balance and skidded down the steps near his throne, falling and striking her head.
Her mother shouted with indignation, hurrying to raise her. “What have you done to my daughter, you great brute?”
Priam glared at his wife and rose angrily to his feet. He raised his hand to strike her, and Kassandra cried out through her sobs, “No! Don’t hit Mother; she didn’t do anything!” At the edge of her vision she saw Polyxena looking at them wide-eyed but too frightened to speak, and thought with more contempt than anger, She would stand by and let the King beat our mother? She cried out, “It was not Mother’s fault, she did not even know! It was the God who said I might—He said when I was grown up I was to be His priestess, and it was He who showed me how to use the scrying-bowl—”
“Be silent!” Priam commanded, and glared over her head at Hecuba. She could not imagine why he was so angry.
“I’ll have no sorceries in my palace, Lady—do you hear me?” Priam said. “Send her to be fostered before she spreads this nonsense to the other girls, the proper maidenly ones . . .” He looked around, and his frown softened as his eyes rested on the simpering Polyxena. Then he glared at Kassandra again where she still crouched, holding her bleeding head. Now she knew there was really some secret about the boy whose face she had seen.
He would not talk about Hesione. He does not care. It is enough for him that she will be married to one of those invaders who carried her off. The thought, coupled with the fear and the shame of the vision—if that was what it had been—made her feel a sudden dread. Father will not tell me. Well, then, I shall ask the Lord Apollo.
He knows even more than Father. And He told me I was to be His own; if it were I and not Hesione, He would not have let me be carried away by that man. It is enough for Father that she will be married; if that man carried me off, would he let me go to a marriage like that? Her vision of the man with the eagle face was never to leave her. But to block it out, she closed her eyes and tried to summon up again the golden voice of the Sun Lord, saying, You are Mine.
KASSANDRA’S BRUISES were still yellow and green, the moon faded to a narrow morning crescent. She stood beside her mother, who was laying a few of her tunics in a leather bag, with her new sandals and a warm winter cloak.
“But it is not winter yet,” she protested.
“It is colder on the plains,” Hecuba told her. “Believe me, you will need it for riding, my love.”
Kassandra leaned against her mother and said, almost in tears, “I don’t want to go away from you.”
“And I will miss you, too, but I think you will be happy,” Hecuba said. “I wish I were going with you.”
“Then why don’t you come, Mother?”
“Your father needs me.”
“No, he doesn’t,” Kassandra protested. “He has his other women; he could manage without you.”
“I am sure he would,” Hecuba said, grimacing a little. “But I do not want to leave him to them; they are not as careful of his health and his honor as I am. Also, there is your baby brother, and he needs me.”
This made no sense to Kassandra; Troilus had been sent to the men’s quarters at the New Year. But if her mother did not wish to go, there was nothing she could say. Kassandra hoped she would never have children, if having them meant never doing what you wished.
Hecuba raised her head, hearing sounds down in the courtyard. “I think they are coming,” she said, and took Kassandra’s hand in hers. Together they hurried down the long flight of stairs.
Many of the housefolk were gathered, staring at the women who had ridden their horses, white and bay and black, right into the court. Their leader, a tall woman with a dark, freckled face, vaulted down from the back of her horse and ran to catch Hecuba in her arms.
“Sister! What joy to see you,” she cried. Hecuba held her, and Kassandra marveled to see her staid mother laughing and crying at once. After a moment the tall stranger let her go and said, “You have grown fat and soft with indoor living; and your skin is so white and pale, you might be a ghost!”
“Is that so bad?” Hecuba asked.
The woman scowled at her and asked, “And these are your daughters? Are they house-mice too?”
“That you will have to decide for yourself,” Hecuba said, beckoning the girls forward. “This is Polyxena. She is already sixteen.”
“She looks too frail for an outdoor life such as ours, Hecuba. I think perhaps you have kept her indoors too long; but we will do what we can with her, and return her to you healthy and strong.”
Polyxena shrank away behind her mother, and the tall Amazon laughed.
“No; you are to have the little one, Kassandra,” said Hecuba.
“The little one? How old is she?”
“Twelve years,” Hecuba answered. “Kassandra, child, come and greet your kinswoman Penthesilea, the chief of our tribe.”
Kassandra looked attentively at the older woman. She was taller by several finger-breadths than Hecuba, who was herself tall for a woman. She wore a pointed leather cap, under which Kassandra could see tucked-up coils of faded ginger-colored hair, and a short tight tunic; her legs were long and lean in leather breeches which came below the knee. Her face was thin and lined, her complexion not only burned dark by the sun, but spotted with thousands of brown freckles. She looked, Kassandra thought, more like a warrior than a woman; but her face was enough like Hecuba’s own that Kassandra had no doubt that this was her kinswoman. She smiled at Kassandra good-naturedly.
“Do you think you will like to come with us, then? You are not frightened? I think your sister is afraid of our horses,” she added.
“Polyxena is afraid of everything,” Kassandra said. “She wants to be what my father calls a proper good girl.”
“And you don’t?”
“Not if it means staying in the house all the time,” said Kassandra, and saw Penthesilea smile. “What is your horse’s name? Will he bite?”
“She is called Racer, and she has never bitten me yet,” said Penthesilea. “You may make friends with her if you are able.”
Kassandra went boldly forward and held out her hand as she had been taught to do with a strange dog so that it could smell her scent. The horse butted its great head down and snorted, and Kassandra stroked the silky nose and looked into the great loving eyes. She felt, returning that wide-eyed gaze, that she had already found a friend among these strangers.
Penthesilea said, “Well, are you ready to come with us, then?”
“Oh, yes!” Kassandra breathed fervently. Penthesilea’s thin stern face looked friendlier when she smiled.
“Do you think you can learn to ride?”
Friendly or not, the horse looked very large, and very high off the ground; but Kassandra said valiantly, “If you could learn and my mother could learn, I suppose there is no reason I cannot.”
“Won’t you come up to the women’s quarters and share some refreshment before you must go?” asked Hecuba.
“Why, yes, if you will have someone look after our horses,” Penthesilea said. Hecuba summoned one of the servants and gave orders to take Penthesilea’s horse and those of her two companions to the stables. The two women with her, dressed as she was dressed, the Amazon leader introduced as Charis and Melissa. Charis was thin and pale, almost as freckled as the Queen, but her hair was the color of brass; Melissa had brown curly hair and was plump and pink-cheeked. They were, Kassandra decided, fifteen or sixteen. She wondered if they were Penthesilea’s daughters but was too shy to ask.
Climbing to the women’s quarters, Kassandra wondered why she had never noticed before how dark it was inside. Hecuba had called the waiting-women to bring wine and sweets, and while the guests nibbled at them, Penthesilea called Kassandra to her and said, “If you are to ride with us, you must be properly dressed, my dear. We brought a pair of breeches for you. Charis will help you to put them on. And you should have a warm cloak for riding; when the sun is down it grows cold quickly.”
“Mother made me a warm cloak,” Kassandra said, and went with Charis into her room to fetch the bag of her possessions. The leather breeches were a little big for her—Kassandra wondered who had worn them before this, for they were shiny in the seat with hard wear. But they were astonishingly comfortable once she had grown used to their stiffness against her legs. She thought that now she could run like the wind without tripping over her skirts. She was threading the leather belt through the loops when she heard her father’s step and his boisterous voice.
“Well, Kinswoman, have you come to lead my armies to Mykenae to recover Hesione? And such splendid horses—I saw them in the stable. Like the immortal horses of Poseidon’s own herd! Where did you find them?”
“We traded for them with Idomeneus, the King of Crete,” said Penthesilea. “We had not heard about Hesione; what happened?”
“Agamemnon’s men from Mykenae, or so we thought,” Priam said.“Akhaians anyhow, raiders. Rumor says Agamemnon is a vicious and cruel King. Even his own men love him not; but they fear him.”
“He is a powerful fighter,” said Penthesilea. “I hope to meet him one day in battle. If you yourself will not lead your armies to Mykenae to recover Hesione, wait only until I summon my women. You will have to give us ships, but I could have Hesione back to you by the next new moon.”
“If it were feasible to go against the Akhaians now, I would need no woman to lead my army,” Priam said, scowling. “I would rather wait and see what demands he makes of me.”
“And what of Hesione, in Agamemnon’s hands?” asked Penthesilea. “Are you going to abandon her? You know what will happen to her among the Akhaians!”
“One way or another, I would have had to find her a husband,” said Priam. “This at least saves me a dowry, since if it is Agamemnon who has taken her, he cannot have the insolence to ask a dowry for a prize of war.”
Penthesilea scowled, and Kassandra too was shocked: Priam was rich; why should he begrudge a dowry?
“Priam, Agamemnon already has a wife,” said Penthesilea: “Klytemnestra, the daughter of Leda and her King, Tyndareus. She bore Agamemnon a daughter who must be seven or eight years old by now. I cannot believe they are so short of women in Akhaia that they must resort to stealing them . . . nor that Agamemnon is so much in need of a concubine that he would carry one off when he could have any chief’s daughter within his kingdom.”
“So he married the daughter of Leda?” Priam frowned for a moment and said, “Is that the one who was, they said, so beautiful that Aphrodite would be jealous, and her father had to choose among almost forty suitors for her?”
“No,” said Penthesilea. “They were twins, which is always ill fortune. One was Klytemnestra; the other daughter, Helen, was the beauty. Agamemnon managed to inveigle Leda and Tyndareus—God knows how he managed it—into marrying Helen off to his brother, Menelaus, while he married Klytemnestra.”
“I don’t envy Menelaus,” said Priam. “A man is cursed who has a beautiful wife.” He smiled absently at Hecuba. “Thank all the Gods you never brought me that kind of trouble, my dear. Nor are your daughters dangerously beautiful.”
Hecuba looked at her husband coldly. Penthesilea said, “That could be a matter of opinion. But from what I know of Agamemnon, unless rumor lies, he is thinking less of woman’s beauty than of power; through Leda’s daughters he thinks to claim all Mykenae, and Sparta too, and call himself King. And then, I suppose, he will seek to gain more power to the north—and make you look to your own city here in Troy.”
What People are saying about this
"[Bradley] makes a strong statement about the desirability of women having control of their destinies and about the cruelties men inflict upon them." -Library Journal
Meet the Author
Marion Zimmer was born in Albany, NY, on June 3, 1930, and married Robert Alden Bradley in 1949. Mrs. Bradley received her B.A. in 1964 from Hardin Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, then did graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1965-67.
She was a science fiction/fantasy fan from her middle teens, and made her first sale as an adjunct to an amateur fiction contest in Fantastic/Amazing Stories in 1949. She had written as long as she could remember, but wrote only for school magazines and fanzines until 1952, when she sold her first professional short story to Vortex Science Fiction. She wrote everything from science fiction to Gothics, but is probably best known for her Darkover novels.
In addition to her novels, Mrs. Bradley edited many magazines, amateur and professional, including Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, which she started in 1988. She also edited an annual anthology called Sword and Sorceress for DAW Books.
Over the years she turned more to fantasy; The House Between the Worlds, although a selection of the Science Fiction Book Club, was "fantasy undiluted". She wrote a novel of the women in the Arthurian legends Morgan Le Fay, the Lady of the Lake, and others entitled Mists of Avalon, which made the NY Times best seller list both in hardcover and trade paperback, and she also wrote The Firebrand, a novel about the women of the Trojan War. Her historical fantasy novels, The Forest House, Lady of Avalon, Mists of Avalon are prequels to Priestess of Avalon
She died in Berkeley, California on September 25, 1999, four days after suffering a major heart attack. She was survived by her brother, Leslie Zimmer; her sons, David Bradley and Patrick Breen; her daughter, Moira Stern; and her grandchildren.
- Date of Birth:
- June 30, 1930
- Date of Death:
- September 25, 1999
- Place of Birth:
- Albany, New York
- Place of Death:
- Berkeley, California
- B.A., Hardin-Simmons College, 1964; additional study at University of California, Berkeley, 1965-1967
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >