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Friday, December 14, 2012

Love in the Age of Heroes: Ubiquitous Legends of Unrequited Love (2nd Installment)

Part 2: Queen Hecuba's Contrivance

The chamber was dark, save for the sunlight falling in through the window. Cassandra watched from a tower of high-walled Troy as her brothers prepared to embark on their journey across the Aegean to Sparta. She always admired Hector’s bravery, and Paris’ honesty in judgment, and she worried that they sailed to their doom. When the door opened, Cassandra remained still as her servants bowed and shrank into the shadows.

     “Leave us.” Said Queen Hecuba.

     The maid servants scurried out of the chamber, the last pulled the door closed behind her.

     “Hector came to me with word of that which troubles your mind.” Said the Queen.

     “It is not only my mind, mother, but my heart.” Cassandra said, and lowered her eyes.

     “Come, my dear Cassandra,” she said, and led her to a bench. Hecuba sat beside her and leaned forward to hold her daughter’s hand.

     “Everyone believes I have gone mad.” Said Cassandra.

     “We both know that is not true.” Hecuba reassured her.

     Cassandra looked up at her mother, and saw the empathy in her deep blue eyes. Her auburn hair had been drawn back smoothly from her brow and fell in gentle waves over her shoulders.

     “I went to father, but he will not listen. Hector and Paris are about to leave for Sparta and—“

     “Men have a tendency to believe what they want to believe when it suits them.” Said the Queen.

     Cassandra scoffed.

     Hecuba brandished a sword from the folds of her robe, and admired the weapon before placing the hilt in her daughter’s hand. She shared with her daughter the memory of her own father’s tribe, and how the women trained like the men with sword and spear. She longed for the days when she wielded a sword and walked among her people like a lioness, a warrior-queen.

     Now, she lived as the consort to a king. A queen’s place is in the palace. She mused with resentment. Despite wielding great power during her husband’s presence on the battlefield, she felt that her status as a woman had been diminished to placate the pride of men.

     When she had chosen to marry a man from a land beyond her own borders, she had consented to his domination; she had accepted his gods, because he was her husband and she loved him. This time, however, she would not stand idly by and permit her children to be pawns for the gods.

“Three years ago, when you first saw your brother, you knew who he was. Did you not?” Hecuba asked.

“Yes, but no one believed me when I said that—“

“I know.” The Queen interrupted. “I believed you then, just as I believe you now.”

Hecuba spoke of Hermes, the Messenger of the Gods, who had come to her with a dark omen prior to the birth of her twins, Paris and Cassandra. She recounted the nightmare of her son, crawling with snakes and burning like a torch, a fire that consumed all of Troy. The Queen knew that the prophecy foretold by Aesacus, after he interpreted her dream, and Cassandra’s visions were one in the same.

When King Priam insisted that they not challenge the will of the gods, Hecuba questioned his blind devotion at the expense of his own child’s life. She knew that the gods intended to see Troy fall, but felt in her heart that not all stood in accordance with this fate.

Although Hera, the wife of Zeus, would not intervene directly, because Paris had insulted her when he thought Aphrodite more beautiful than she, Hecuba remembered Hera’s vengeance. Perhaps, if Cassandra shed light on another of Zeus’ infidelities then she would be inclined to unleash her wrath again.

“If you are to prevent this tragedy, then you must leave immediately!” Said the Queen.

They stood, and walked to the center of the chamber. Queen Hecuba summoned one of her servants, and helped Cassandra hide the sword in the folds of her robe.

“When you need this, wield it just as I have taught you.” Said the Queen.

Cassandra nodded.

Hecuba instructed Arisbe to help Cassandra depart the city in secret, and to take her to the shrine of the Mother Goddess on Mount Ida.

“Leave an offering, and pray that the goddess will grant you an audience.” Said the Queen.

They exited the chamber and raced to Cassandra’s quarters to pack the necessities for their journey. In hushed a tone, Hecuba revealed to Cassandra the betrayal that she should present to the Mother Goddess.

“Shall I summon a guard to accompany us, my lady?” Arisbe asked.

“No!” Hecuba said. “My daughter is aptly capable of protecting herself. I have taught her well.”

Cassandra smiled at her mother. She had always believed Hecuba to be the most queenly and beautiful woman in the world, and to know that her mother held her in such high regard filled her with pride.

“Men find it difficult to keep their mouths shut. I will not endanger this plan by divulging its details to a soldier who would just as easily repeat it to one of my husband’s personal guard.”

As Arisbe led Cassandra through the crowded market, pulling the hoods of their cloaks close to their necks, they arrived at a shrine of Apollo. Arisbe requested a moment to make an offering to the god of light that also had the epithet, Alexicacus, the protector.

“Given the dangers that lie beyond the walls of Troy, we may yet need his blessings, my lady.”

Cassandra looked upon his statue, and recognized him as he had once appeared before her. She had wandered along an unknown path, on the mountainside, to bathe in a private spring, and ponder her destiny. She’d had many suitors, but never had she felt love. Too often they praised her beauty, but seldom did any of her would-be lovers inquire about her interests and her passions. No man had previously inspired any desire in her heart, until she met him.

His bronze skin complemented those penetrating hazel eyes that she was certain looked into her soul. His brown curls framed his handsome face, and before she could demand to know his name, and insist that he not take another step towards her, he smiled. His sensuous lips curved slightly, displaying a set of dimples that carved half-moons into his handsome face, and softened her stance. He approached her slowly, like a lion stalking his prey, and when he emerged from behind the bushes, he was naked. His body was sleek, lean, and immaculate. He resembled the statues that depicted him as the ideal “kouros,” a beardless, athletic youth.

She glanced again into his hazel eyes that seared in their intensity and burned with desire. He stepped into the spring and drew near, as she could do nothing but stare. He swept his gaze over her thick, fiery red hair, and her bright blue eyes that shone like sapphire. Her fair skin felt warm against him, and he felt that every curve of her body was proof that even mortal women should be worshipped among the gods.

The other mortal women with whom he had consorted fell in love with him instantly, but he could sense that this one was different.

Apollo embraced Cassandra, and she felt the strength of his body, in its entire splendor, reveal his intentions. With mortal women, the gods often did as they pleased, but Apollo hesitated. He decided that he would not force himself upon her, simply to lose himself in the savoring of her body.

“You are Apollo.” Said Cassandra.

He ushered her hair out of her face and tucked the strands behind her ears. “Yes.”

“Why are you here?” She asked.

“My lady, come, we must go.” Arisbe said, taking hold of Cassandra’s hand and led her away from the shrine.

As they navigated through the crowd, they overheard a soldier instruct another to send guards to the southeastern gate and seize the princess, Cassandra.

Arisbe shot Cassandra a worried look before she pulled the princess into a vacant alley. They spoke in hushed tones, and deliberated how they would avoid detection when someone gripped Cassandra’s elbow.

Startled, she turned and reached for the sword hidden beneath her robe, but felt relief upon seeing the handsome face of her youngest brother.

“Troylus, what are you doing here?” Cassandra asked.

“Mother sent me to assist you in fleeing the city.” He lowered his head, and pulled his hood closer when a group of soldiers ran past. “Father has learned of your ploy, and is furious. He has instructed guards to secure the gates to the city to prevent you from departing.”

“What are we going to do, my lady?” Arisbe asked.

“Come,” said Troylus. “I have horses waiting for you beyond the city walls.”

“But you just said that father—“

“I know what I said, dear sister, but I never said I was taking you to the gates.”

He led Cassandra and Arisbe along the winding, crowded streets of Troy, and after they turned into a long and empty alley, they arrived at a wooden door. He knocked softly and waited.

“Where are we?” Cassandra whispered.

Before he could answer, the door opened and a lovely young woman greeted them. Her long brown hair fell in gentle waves to the small of her back, and her fair skin seemed to glow against her deep blue robe.

“Cressida, this is my sister Cassandra, and my mother’s servant, Arisbe.” Said Troylus as they entered her home.

Cassandra noted how wistfully Cressida’s brown eyes looked upon Troylus, and how the glow of love reddened his cheeks when he looked upon her, too. Arisbe and Cassandra exchanged a furtive glance as Cressida’s father, Calchas the priest, entered the room.

“Is everything in order?” Calchas asked.

“Yes.” Said Troylus. “The horses will be waiting. You must set out for Mount Ida, immediately. Ride until sunset to ensure you won’t have long to travel in the morning.”

The group entered a back room, and Troylus helped Calchas move a mattress and a wooden board beneath it to reveal a trapdoor. As Calchas led Cassandra and Arisbe into the dark shaft that led to an exit beyond the high walls of Troy, they heard pounding on the front door.

Troylus and Cressida looked at each other and knew that he could not be discovered in her home without her father’s presence. The pounding continued, and the soldiers demanded to be allowed to enter, lest they force entry.

Cassandra, and her caravan fled into the shadows as Troylus climbed into the tunnel after them. Cressida replaced the mattress and wooden board as best she could, but as she raced into the front room to answer the door, the soldiers thrust it open and barged in.

“We know that Cassandra was here!” Said Deiphobus, Cassandra and Troylus’ brother.

Cressida quivered with fear. She would not betray her lover, and wondered who, within the royal house, had betrayed the Queen, the prince and the princess.

To be continued…

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