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Authors: David; Stella Gemmell

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BOOK: Fall of Kings
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Turning away from him without a word, she walked to a brazier, reaching out
her hands and rubbing them over the fire as if seeking warmth. There was anger
in her, but not for Hektor. She was angry with herself. Of course her husband
would be hurt by her invitation! He
knew
she loved Helikaon. She had
confessed to Hektor on their first evening alone about the night she had shared
a bed with Helikaon. Having survived an assassin’s blade, Helikaon had fallen
into a fever, poison in his blood.

A healer from the desert told Andromache that Helikaon appeared to have lost
the will to live. He suggested that a naked woman be brought to his bed to
remind him of the joys of life. A few nights later, fearing Helikaon was dying,
Andromache let fall her dress and slid into the bed alongside him. The following
morning, when Andromache returned to his room, Helikaon told her he had dreamed
of her. She realized then that he had no memory of their lovemaking. Not only
had she allowed him to believe the dream, she later had kept from him the
knowledge that he had a son.

Standing by the brazier, she found her mood sliding ever downward, bleak
thoughts filling her mind. She had arrived in this city as a young priestess,
proud and honest, determined that the deceptions and deceits of Troy would not
sully her. She would not be drawn into a world of lies and intrigue. Stupid,
arrogant girl, she chided herself. Since her arrival she had become pregnant by
one man while betrothed to another, had seduced the old king to make him believe
her son was his, and had poisoned Hekabe, the dying queen of Troy.

But Hekabe had been a queen of malice, she told herself, who had murdered her
sister and would have murdered her friends. As for seducing Priam, what other
course had there been? If he had discovered the truth, Astyanax would have been
taken from her, perhaps killed, and she would have been executed, and Helikaon,
too.

Evil will always seek to justify its actions, she reproached herself.

Her thoughts bleak, she turned toward Hektor. Before she could speak to him,
she heard a young soldier call out to him. It was Polydorus, the king’s
bodyguard. He crossed to where Hektor stood.

“The king is asking for you both,” he said, glancing at her, “in the Amber
Room.”

 

Propelled by the wind the Trojans called the Scythe, the great flock of
golden birds flew south, leaving behind them the icy peaks of the Rhodope
Mountains and the fierce winter of Thraki. Driven by a migratory instinct, the
birds dipped and swooped, skimming over the waves and isles of the Great Green.
Early-morning sunshine gleamed on feathers of yellow and black as the golden
cloud flew above the city of Troy.

On a high balcony, dressed in an old robe of faded gold, Priam gazed up at
the migrating flock of orioles. They swooped above him, twisting and turning in
the sky, as if drawn to the king’s golden robe. Priam raised his arms and called
out to them. “I am your king, too, little birds.”

For a few moments the arrival of the flock made the old king forget his
troubles. He recalled that his beloved Hekabe had studied the migratory habits
of scores of birds: white-tailed eagles, pygmy owls, pelicans, lapwings, and
many more whose names he had forgotten.

The golden orioles, though, were special to Troy, Hekabe had insisted. If
their migration to the coasts of Egypte began before the Feast of Ares, the
winter would be harsh and cold and full of storms and great winds.

The Feast of Ares was still eighteen days away.

Suddenly the golden birds scattered and were gone. A cold breeze whispered
across the palace, making the king shiver.

“Fetch me a cloak!” he called out to his aide Polydorus. The soldier emerged
on the balcony bearing a new cloak of green wool edged with gold thread. “Not
that useless rag,” Priam snapped. “My own cloak, if you please.” Polydorus
returned with an old brown garment that was frayed at the edges. Swirling it
around his shoulders, Priam walked to the edge of the balcony.

In the early morning he could hear movement all over his city: donkeys
braying and roosters crowing, the sounds of carts and horses’ hooves on the
stone roads, the shouting as soldiers changed shifts and seamen made their way
down to the beach for dawn sailings. He imagined bleary-eyed bakers kneading
dough and tired whores making for their beds. Atop the Great Tower of Ilion the
four night torches still flickered.

Priam’s eye was drawn constantly to the dark shape of the tower. He used to
climb its steep steps every morning to watch the sun rise and look over the
city, but he had neglected the practice in recent days.

“How long since I last went to the tower, Polydorus?”

“In the high summer, lord.”

“So long? Time flies swifter than the orioles. I will go tomorrow. The people
should see their king keeping watch over them.”

“Yes, lord,” Polydorus said. “Shall I bring your wine?”

Priam licked his lips. The thought of wine was tempting. Indeed, he ached for
the taste. “No,” he said at last, the effort of will bringing with it a surge of
anger. “No wine today, Polydorus.” There was a time when he had enjoyed his wine
as a man should, as an enhancer to the joys of dancing, singing, and sex. Now he
thought of it constantly, organizing his day around bouts of heavy drinking. Not
today, though. Today he would need his wits about him. No wine will pass my lips
until tomorrow, he promised himself.

“Are my visitors here yet?”

“I’ll see, lord.” The young soldier slipped away.

Alone now, Priam thought of Andromache, visions of her bringing a tightness
to his chest and a warmth in his belly. Andromache! It was too long since he had
seen her. His gaze was caught again by the great tower. He could not see it
without thinking of her. He first had met her on its heights, when she had
refused to kneel to him, as had his own Hekabe so many years before. Andromache!
He allowed himself to remember her as he had seen her that day, in a yellow
gown, her flame hair tied back roughly, her eyes bold, gazing at him in a way no
young woman should look at a king. He had tried to frighten her, but even as
they had stood on the parapet together and she had realized he could send her
smashing to the stones below with a single push, he had seen in her eyes that
she was ready to reach out and take him with her on the Dark Road to Hades.

And later, when she finally had surrendered to him, as he had known she
would, he had glanced out into the darkness and seen the torches on the great
tower ablaze. He had known then that his entire life had been destined for that
one act. All the battles he had fought, all the sons he had sired—mostly a waste
of energy and seed. Even the years with his beloved Hekabe had faded into gray
futility. His night with Andromache had fulfilled the prophecy. The Shield of
Thunder had brought forth the Eagle Child, and Troy would last a thousand years.
He was a king complete, yet his loins still ached for her. Not a day went by
that he did not regret the promise he had made her. She had agreed to share his
bed—but only until she fell pregnant. She had demanded his word that he would
honor that agreement. And he had given it. Fool!

Even so, he had been convinced that she would return to him. Trapped in a
loveless marriage with an impotent husband—of course she would.

Yet she had not, and it still mystified him.

“Hektor and Andromache await you in the Amber Room, lord,” Polydorus said,
emerging from the doorway. “I have sent a soldier to find Helikaon.”

“He is Prince
Aeneas,
” Priam snapped. “A noble name, long held in high
esteem by my family.”

“Yes, my lord king. I am sorry. I forgot for an instant.”

Priam strolled from his chambers and walked along the wide corridor,
Polydorus following him. The room where his guests waited was on the south side
of the palace, away from the cold winter winds. Even so there was a chill in the
air.

Waiting for him were Andromache, Hektor, and the young Dardanian king.
Leaving Polydorus outside to guard the door, Priam stepped inside to greet them.
As he did so, he could not stop his eyes from lingering on Andromache: the curve
of her breasts beneath the yellow gown, the bright green of her eyes, the
lusciousness of her lips.

Tearing his gaze away, he said, “Aeneas, my boy, I grieve for you. When my
own dear Hekabe died, it was as if my heart had been pierced by a flaming
arrow.”

Priam gazed around the room. There was tension there. Andromache was sitting
stiffly, her hands folded on her lap. Hektor was standing behind her, his
expression stern, his eyes cold. Aeneas seemed oddly ill at ease. Did they know
what he was about to ask them? The priestess had arrived only late yesterday but
since then might have spoken of the matter to a servant. Instantly he dismissed
the thought. The priestess was a tight-lipped old witch and hardly likely to
gossip to palace servants. No, there was something else here. Pushing that minor
problem from his mind, he focused on the matter at hand.

Looking at Aeneas, he asked: “Is it still your intention to risk the winter
seas and voyage west?”

His kinsman nodded. “We need the tin,” he said simply. “With all the sources
through Kypros drying up and the Hittites using all the tin they can get, we
must seek it from farther afield. If I leave directly, I can get to the Seven
Hills well ahead of Odysseus, who will probably winter on Ithaka as he always
has.”

Though perilous, it was a good plan, Priam knew. Without tin there could be
no bronze for the smiths to work. Without bronze, no swords, no spears, no
shields, no helms. Without bronze there could be no victory over the Mykene.

“And you will take the
Xanthos
? You will not pass unnoticed in that
fire-hurling monstrosity.”

“No, I will not,” Aeneas agreed. “But with a full complement of eighty she is
faster than any galley and will withstand the stormy seas. Added to which she
will carry more tin than any three galleys could. As to monstrosity, well… I do
not doubt Agamemnon would agree with you.”

Then Hektor spoke. “If any ship can make it to the Seven Hills in winter and
return safely, it is the
Xanthos.
We must assume Agamemnon will attack
again in the spring, be it Dardanos or Thebe-Under-Plakos or Troy itself, and we
must have the armor for our troops. I agree: Helikaon should leave as soon as
possible.”

“As soon as possible, yes,” Priam said, walking to a small carved table and
pouring himself a goblet of water. He glanced again at Andromache. She was
wearing a necklace of sea horses carved from ivory. Sea horse clasps held back
her thick red hair. She sat with her hands in her lap and watched him gravely.
If she wondered why she had been asked there, she gave no indication.

“There is something else we must discuss,” he told them. “Yesterday a
representative of the High Priestess arrived from Thera. It seems, Andromache, a
decision has been made about your young friend, the renegade priestess.”

“Kalliope. Her name was Kalliope.” Andromache’s voice was low, but the king
could hear the tension in it.

“Yes, Kalliope. As we all know, the punishment for a runaway is to be buried
alive on the isle to serve the Sleeping God. This punishment still stands. They
require that the girl’s bones be returned to Thera in the spring for burial
there, where her soul will be chained to serve the Minotaur for all eternity.”

Andromache opened her mouth to speak, but Priam held up his hand. “Let me
finish. Those who aid a runaway must also suffer. Burning is the usual
punishment. But the two Mykene soldiers who helped her are now valued members of
the Trojan Horse. As patron of the Blessed Isle I have decided that they were
unknowing dupes. The High Priestess can make her own representations to
Odysseus, who also helped the girl. However, this leaves you, Andromache.”

Hektor’s response, as Priam had expected, was swift.

“Andromache was not responsible for Kalliope’s actions,” he said, an edge of
anger in his voice. “She had no idea the girl had left Thera until she turned up
at my farm. I will not allow anyone to punish
my
wife for something she
did not do.”

“Yes, yes,” Priam snapped impatiently. “However, the High Priestess does not
seek to punish her. She asks that Andromache bring the renegade’s bones to
Thera. Andromache is, after all, the reason the girl fled the isle. I have
agreed that Andromache should travel to Thera with the bones of Kalliope to make
this act of contrition. Kassandra was due to go to Thera in the spring, anyway.
Now my two daughters will go together.”

Hektor’s anger flared. “This is insane! Andromache cannot go. This is just a
ploy of Agamemnon’s. He has tried to have Andromache killed before. We all know
the High Priestess is his blood kin. Now, with her help, he seeks to lure
Andromache onto the Great Green. By the spring Agamemnon’s fleets will once more
control the sea routes. It is a trap.”

Priam stared at his son coldly. “Of course it
could
be a trap!” he
snapped. “But I cannot refuse. If I do, I risk Troy being cursed by Thera. Such
a curse will strengthen our enemies and likely cause our allies to think twice
about coming to our aid. But as ever, we will outthink them. We will not wait
for spring. Andromache and Kassandra will sail for Thera on the
Xanthos.
Tomorrow.”

For a moment there was silence. Priam looked at his son and saw that all
color had drained from his face.

“No,” Hektor said. “This I will not allow.”

The reaction surprised Priam. Hektor was a fine strategist and a man who
understood that risks were necessary in war. Priam switched his gaze to
Andromache, expecting her to speak up. She always had an opinion. Instead she
sat very quietly, eyes downcast. Then Aeneas spoke.

“It is a clever plan,” he said, “but I must agree with Hektor. The risks are
very great. Sailing to Thera in winter, when the days are short, will mean
sailing in darkness in treacherous weather. It will also bring us close to the
pirate havens.”

BOOK: Fall of Kings
9.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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