/ Language: English / Genre:sf,

The Firebrand

Marion Bradley


Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Firebrand

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I wish to acknowledge especially the help of my husband, Walter Breen, who assisted materially in the research, and whose knowledge of classical Greek - both language and history - was an invaluable help in creating this story, particularly including the quotation from the Athens museum which will be found in the postscript, providing historical basis for the—fate and the very historical existence—of Kassandra of Troy, from whose viewpoint this story is told.

Readers will be likely to bring challenges; ' That's not the way it happened in the Iliad.' Of course not; had I been content with the account in the Iliad, there would have been no reason to write a novel. Besides, the Iliad stops short just at the most interesting point, leaving the writer to conjecture about the end from assorted legends and traditions. If the writers of Greek drama felt free to improvise, I need not apologise for following their excellent example.

One further apology: Walter's knowledge of the language persuaded me, in the name of linguistic 'correctness' and rather against my better judgement, to use classical transliterations rather than the more familiar Latinised forms; hence Akhaians for Achaeans (the term Greek was not known then), Akhilles or Akhilleus for Achilles and, worst of all, Kassandra for Cassandra. To me the difference is appalling and changes the whole meaning of the name and character. A cow or a crow would not, after all, be the same creature if called a kow or a krow. To those whose visual aesthetics are as acute as mine, and to whom the look of a name on the page alters its very essence, I can only express my apologies. Linguistics and aesthetics are, after all, very different things, and the argument between them will never be solved - at least not by me.

I also acknowledge my debt to Elisabeth Waters, who on many occasions when I was 'stuck' with the 'what happens next' blues, never failed to help me find the most constructive answer, and to the other members of my household who suffered all through the fall and the sack of Troy with me.

Marion Zimmer Bradley

VOLUME ONE : Apollo's Call

PROLOGUE

The rain had been coming down all day; now heavy, now tapering off to showers but never entirely stopping. The women carried their spinning indoors to the hearth and even 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 quarrelling 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, the children one after another came and hunched down like hungry puppies, sniffing loudly and still quarrelling 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 sat in the seat reserved for the most welcome guests, close to the fire. He began to tune his instrument, leaning his ear close to the tortoise-shell 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 Sunlord and Poseidon the mighty Earthshaker;

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 over the strings with a jangling dissonance; his look was one of dismay and surprise, but his tone was polite.

"My lady?"

"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 worshippers 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 dare say 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 Sunlord has not forgiven me…

CHAPTER 1

Sparta

At this time of the year, 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 rose from 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: worshipper 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 were more than interlopers in the place of the Goddess who owned land and harvest and people. These iron-bearing folk expected the woman who wedded one of them 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 their dues to the forces of Life. These men even 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 the Earth Mother by lying only with him.

If only 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, 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 crackled 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.

She knew Tyndareus must now watch 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.

His 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's 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's 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 prohibit 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 favour 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 which 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.

CHAPTER 2

Troy: Priam's City

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 marvelled 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 all rule over this city and the land beyond, as far as the eye could see.

Even if this child 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 also borne Priam 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, with 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, which 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 an earthy-coloured linen, darted out to touch her belly, murmuring, as if startled at her own temerity, "A blessing, O Queen!"

"It is not I but the Goddess who blesses you." Hecuba held out her hands, feeling above her the shadow of the Goddess, like a tingling in the crown of her head; 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," said Hecuba 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 labour?"

Such was her confusion that for a moment the Queen actually wondered if the strange sweating chill which seized her was 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 labour 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 will 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 where 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 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 the worst epithets he had for a woman was 'sunburnt from gadding about'.

The Queen went in through the small door into the cool shadows of the palace and through 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 windows 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 labour; 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 labour 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 sundown 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 favour.

She would not go into labour this night at least; so she called her women and let them put her to bed with the expected ceremony. For some reason the last image in her mind before she slept was of 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 labour? 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 dishevelled 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, 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 woman. "Go and be certain that all is well in the rooms of the royal children," he commanded, and the woman 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 bed and leaning forward to clasp her fingers - hardly smaller than his own - between his calloused 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 to the Queen?" She came inside the room, a tall sturdily built woman, probably still of child-bearing age, though her dark hair was already showing streaks of grey. She said to Hecuba, smiling, "I see that the Great Goddess has already blessed you, Queen. Are you ill or in labour?"

"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; 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 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 the master of this house, and as I have spoken, so it shall be done—hear me, woman!"

"Don't say woman to me in that tone of voice," Hecuba said, angrily. "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 labour 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, "Alexandras. 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, two daughters are twice blessed."

"But Father did not think that two sons were better than one son," Polyxena argued, and Hecuba recalled the woman's prophecy. 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.

Hercuba still felt the remnant of superstitious fear—what could have gone amiss to send her two children at one birth, like an animal littering? This was what the women of her tribe believed, yet she had been told that the true reason behind that for the sacrifice of twins was only this: it was all but impossible for a woman to suckle two children in a single season. Her twins had at least 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.

CHAPTER 3

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 three sons already. I should think . you would rather have another daughter; you have only 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."

"Why not?"

"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 was 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 were 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 some day 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 the building which gleamed brilliantly white in the sun. From where they stood they were high enough to see a series of terraces below them; Kassandra could look down, leaning on the wall that guarded the winding stairway upward, 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 colours 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 Ker breath - would her mother be too cross to finish the story? But Hecuba's frown was fleeting, and she went on.

"Has, the son of Erechtheus, came to these shores and entered the sacred Games here. He was the victor of 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 whirlwind, 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 Has, 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 Has 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, worshipped 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 Sunlord 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 Sunlord 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 down over the wall of the city, to the great rivers where they flowed down 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 grey 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 the veil 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 which she was going to see some day. 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 Sunlord 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 maiden Temple of 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, with high walls which, she had been told, those giants had built. 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 it-be except 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. Under the portico of the next court it was cool and shadowy; there a number of priests and functionaries recognized the Queen and beckoned her to come 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?"

They showed them 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 favour of the King or bring him a present. She wondered if he had a bedroom and 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, so lifelike that Kassandra was not really aware for a moment that it was only 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 or 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 Sunlord 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 Hecuba 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 sceptically, let her hand go and went into the inner room with the priestess. Kassandra went to look round 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 ringers, and she could not resist kissing them. She felt strangely elated and just faintly sick, her whole 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 each one 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 so angry with her before, 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 roughly ahead and down the steep steps so sharply 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 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 said 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 again say such a thing I will beat you," said her mother crossly. 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 under the larger hand of the Queen, she clung to the face of Apollo, his gentle voice in her mind. Without even being aware of it, already something very deep within her was waiting for the sound.

CHAPTER 4

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 boy, 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, the fourth 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 jewellery 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 jewellery, 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 should 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; even now, her mother insisted that she was old enough to stay inside the women's quarters instead of wandering all over the palace. As for going about alone into the city, her mother seemed horrified and frightened by the very idea. Kassandra hated this but she was obedient; she allowed her mother's old nurse to teach her to spin and weave tapestry. She still cherished her clay doll and, with the help of her father's unmarried sister, Hesione, let herself be coaxed into spinning the thread and weaving a robe for her doll. She hated the drudgery which made her fingers ache, but she was proud of it 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. She obeyed the seemingly senseless rules her mother and Hesione gave her (mostly that she must stay indoors and ignore all the interesting things which might be happening in the palace or the city). But there were still days when Kassandra tried hard 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 the ships she had seen the day the God spoke to her, but now she knew they were from the country to the south, the island kingdoms of the Akhaians and of Crete. They came for trade with the Hyperborean countries at the far side of the North Wind; 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 God-Bulls 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 ever known, ran through her body…

She was lying in the corner of 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 Apollo's sun gleamed down into her face. 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 for 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 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, shaking with terror, the ships lying 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 boards 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 inward 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 of the holy mountain, Ida, rose. 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 beasts stumbled, sharing his pleasure at the sunlight, her mind just touching and skimming over the occasional fears, of wolves, of 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 jolted 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 sideways, 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 out 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 partially within the stilled apartness of her vision. The soldiers ran right past her, brushing past 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—they must not only 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 might have been taken, too. 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 righting was in vain.

Is what I saw, what I felt, that which would 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 got 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,-ready 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 got 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 the child down 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 where men and women dined all together, instead of the new fashion where 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 humour, sharing his finest wine with her mother, and beckoning 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 this 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 scrying, 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 I was to be his priestess when I was grown up, 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 out to be fostered before she spreads this nonsense to the other girls, the proper maidenly ones…' He looked round and his frown softened as he looked at 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 was me and not Hesione he would not let me be carried away by that man. It is enough for Father that she would 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 she closed her eyes and tried to summon up again the golden voice of the Sunlord, saying, You are mine.

CHAPTER 5

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 wanted.

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 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 pale, 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 marvelled 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?"

"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-coloured 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 burnt dark by the sun, but clustered with thousands of light-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 her 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 can 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 colour 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 leather 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. Rumour says Agamemnon is a vicious and a 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 demand 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 other, 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 swindle 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 rumour lies, he is thinking less of the 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."

"I think they are trying to force me to deal with them," Priam said,"to recognize them as kings—which I will do when Kerberos opens his doors and lets the dead out of Hades's realm."

"I doubt they will seek gold," said Penthesilea. "There is gold enough in Mykenae; though rumour has it that Agamemnon is a greedy man. If I should make a guess, it would be that what Agamemnon will demand is you give him trading rights through the strait yonder—" and pointed to the sea, "without the toll you charge."

"Never," said Priam. "A God brought my people here to the banks of Scamander; and whoever wishes to pass beyond to the country of the North Wind must render tribute to the Gods of Troy." He stared crossly at Penthesilea and demanded, "What is it to you? What has a woman to do with the government of countries and the payment of tribute?"

"I too dwell within the lands where the Akhaian raiders dare to come," said the Amazon Queen, "and if they should steal one of my women, I would make them pay for it, not in gold or dowries alone, but in blood. And since you could not stop them from carrying off your own sister, I repeat: my warriors are at your service if you wish to lead them against those pirates."

Priam laughed, but bared his teeth as he did so, and Kassandra knew that he was furious, though he would not say so to Penthesilea. "On the day when I call upon my women, kin or no, for the defense of the city, Troy will be in evil straits, kinswoman; may that day be far away indeed." He turned round and saw Kassandra in her leather breeches and heavy cloak coming into the room. "Well, what's this, Daughter? Showing your legs like a boy? Have you resolved to become an Amazon, bright-eyes?"

He sounded surprisingly good-natured; but Hecuba said quickly, "You bade me send her to be fostered away from the city, husband, and I thought my sister's tribe as good as any."

"I have found you the best of wives, no matter where you came from, and I have no doubt your sister will do well enough by her," said Priam, and bent down to Kassandra. She flinched, half expecting another blow, but he only kissed her gently on the forehead.

"Be a good girl, and forget not that you are a princess of Troy."

Hecuba took Kassandra in her arms and hugged her hard.

"I shall miss you, Daughter; be a good girl and come back to me safely, my darling."

Kassandra clung to her mother, Hecuba's former harshness forgotten, aware only that she was going away among strangers. Hecuba let her go. She said, "I have my own weapons for you, Daughter," and brought out a leaf-shaped sword in a green scabbard, and a short, metal-tipped spear. They were almost too heavy to lift, but struggling with all her strength and pride, Kassandra managed to belt them about her waist.

"They were mine when I rode with the Amazons," said Hecuba. "Carry them in strength and honor, my daughter."

Kassandra blinked away the tears that were forming in her eyes; Priam was frowning, but Kassandra was accustomed to her father's disapproval. She defiantly took the hand Penthesilea held out to her. Her mother's sister could not be too unlike her mother, after all.

The Amazons reclaimed their horses in the lower courtyard. Kassandra was disappointed to be lifted to Racer's back behind Penthesilea. "I thought I was to ride a horse by myself," she said, with her lip quivering.

"You will when you learn, my child, but we have no time to teach you at this minute. We want to be far from this city by nightfall; it does not please us to sleep within walls, and we do not want to camp in the lands ruled by men."

That made sense to Kassandra; her arms gripped hard around the woman's narrow waist, and they were off.

For the first few minutes it took all her strength and attention to hold on, rocked up and down by the bumpy gait of the horse on the stones. Then she began to get the feel of letting her body sway and adjust itself to the motion, and began to look around and see the city from her new perspective. She had time for one brief look backward at the palace atop the heights of the city, then they were outside the walls and descending toward the green waters of the Scamander.

"How will we get across the river, Lady?" she asked, leaning her head forward, close to Penthesilea's ear. "Can the horses swim?"

The woman turned her head slightly. "To be sure they can; but they will not need to swim today; there is a ford an hour's journey upriver." She touched her heels lightly to the horse's sides, and the animal began to run so swiftly that Kassandra had to hold on with all her strength. The other women were racing alongside, and Kassandra felt a kind of elation through her whole body. Behind Penthesilea she was a little sheltered from the wind, but her long hair blew about so wildly that for a moment she wondered how she would ever manage to comb and tidy it again. It didn't matter; in the excitement of the ride she soon forgot her hair. They had ridden for some time when Penthesilea pulled her horse to a stop and whistled, a shrill cry of some strange bird.

From a little thicket up ahead, three horses ridden by Amazon women emerged.

"Greetings," one of the newcomers called. "I see you are come safe from Priam's house; you were so long gone, we were beginning to wonder! How is it with our sister?"

"Well, but she grows fat and old and worn with childbearing in the King's house," said Penthesilea.

"Is this our fosterling - Hecuba's daughter?" asked one of the newcomers.

"It is," said Penthesilea, turning her head toward Kassandra, "and if she is truly her mother's daughter she will be more than welcome among us."

Kassandra smiled shyly at the newcomers, one of whom held out her arms and leaned over to embrace her.

"I was your mother's closest friend when we were girls," she said.

They rode on, toward the gleam of the river Scamander. Dusk was falling as they drew their horses up at the ford; in the last glow of sunlight Kassandra could see the rapid flicker of the sun on the shallow ripples, the sharp stones in the streambed where the river ran fast and shallow. She gasped as the horse stepped over the steep edge down into the water, and was again admonished to hold on tight. "If you fall off, it will be hard to get you again before you are bashed about."

Having no desire whatever to fall on those sharp rocks, Kassandra held on very tightly, and soon the horse was scrambling up at the far edge. They galloped during the few minutes of light remaining, then they pulled to a stop, gathered their horses in a circle; and dismounted.

Kassandra watched with fascination as without discussion one of the women built a fire, and another, from her saddlebags, pulled out a tent and began unfolding it and setting it up. Soon dried meat was bubbling in a cauldron and smelled very savoury.

She was so stiff that when she tried to come forward to the fire she tottered like an old woman. Charis began to laugh, but Penthesilea scowled at her.

"Don't mock the child; she hasn't whimpered, and it was a long ride for one unused to horseback. You were no better when you came to us. Give her something to eat."

Charis dipped up a cup of stew and handed it to Kassandra in a wooden bowl.

"Thank you," she said, dipping the horn spoon they handed her into the mixture. "May I have a piece of bread, please?"

"We have none," Penthesilea said. "We grow no crops, living as we do with our tents and herds." One of the women poured something white and foaming into her cup; Kassandra tasted it.

"It is mare's milk," said the woman who had introduced herself as Elaria, Hecuba's friend. Kassandra drank curiously, not sure that she liked either the taste or the idea; but the other women drank it, so she supposed it would not do her any harm.

Elaria chuckled, watching the cautious look of suppressed disgust on Kassandra's face. She said, "Drink it and you will grow as strong and free as our mares, and your mane as silky." She stroked Kassandra's long dark hair. "You are to be my foster-daughter as long as you dwell with us. In our village you will live in my tent: I have two daughters who will befriend you."

Kassandra looked a little wistfully at Penthesilea; but she supposed that if the woman was a queen she would be too busy to care for a little girl, even her sister's daughter. And Elaria looked kind and friendly.

When the meal was finished, the women gathered around the campfire; Penthesilea appointed two of them to stand watch.

Kassandra whispered, "Why do we have sentries? There is no war, is there?"

"Not as they would use the word in Troy," Elaria whispered back. "But we are still in the lands ruled by men; and women are always at war in such lands. Many—most men would treat us as lawful prizes, and our horses too."

One of the women had started a song; the others joined in. Kassandra listened, not knowing the tune or the dialect, but after a time she was humming along on the choruses. She felt tired and lay back to rest, looking up at the great white stars far. above; and the next thing she knew she was being carried through the dark. She woke up, startled, "Where am I?"

"You fell asleep at the campfire; I am taking you to my tent to sleep," said Elaria's voice softly, and Kassandra settled down and slept again, waking only when there was daylight in the tent. Someone had taken off her leather breeches and her legs were chafed and sore. As she woke, Elaria came in. She smoothed some salve on the sore places and gave Kassandra a pair of linen drawers to wear under the leather, which helped a great deal. Then she took a comb carved of bone, and began combing out the tangles in Kassandra's long, silky hair; she braided it tightly and gathered it up under a leather pointed cap like those all the women wore. Kassandra's eyes watered as the comb jerked out the knots, but she did not cry, and Elaria patted her head approvingly.

"Today you will ride behind me," Elaria said, "and perhaps today we will reach our own grazing grounds and we can find a mare for you and begin to teach you to ride. A day will come, and not too far from now, when you will be able to spend all day in the saddle without weariness."

Breakfast was a chunk of leathery dried meat, gnawed upon as she clung to the saddle behind Elaria. As they rode, the character of the land changed gradually from the fertile green of the riverbed to a barren windswept plain rising higher and higher from the low-lying fields. At the edge of the plain were round bald hills, brown all over with great rocks jutting from their slopes, and beyond them sheer-rising cliffs. On the sides of one of the hills she could see flecks moving, larger than sheep; but Elaria turned and pointed.

"There our horse-herds graze," she said. "By nightfall we will be at home in our own country."

Penthesilea was riding beside them. Very softly, she said, "They are not our herds. Look there, and see the Kentaurs, riding among them."

Now Kassandra could see more clearly; among the horses she made out the hairy bodies and bearded heads of men, rising among the herds. Like all city children, Kassandra had been reared on stories of the Kentaurs: wild, lawless men with the heads and upper bodies of men and the lower bodies of horses; like many little girls she had been told that they stole women from cities and villages, and had been admonished by her nurse, "If you are not a good girl the Kentaurs will carry you off."

She murmured, frightened, "Will they hurt us, Aunt?"

"No, no, of course not; my son lives among them," Penthesilea said, "and if it is Cheiron's tribe, they are our friends and allies."

"I thought that the Amazon tribes had only women," Kassandra said, surprised. "You have a son, Aunt?"

"Yes, but he lives with his father; all our sons do," Penthesilea said. "Why, silly girl, do you still believe the Kentaur tribes are monsters? Look, they are only men; riders like ourselves."

Kassandra felt foolish indeed; she should have known better than to believe such a story. Now she could see the advancing riders; men who sat their strong tall horses so naturally that she could imagine now how the story had arisen that they were part of their horses' bodies. Such a tale now seemed no more sensible than stories of mermaids, women to the waist but with fishes' lower bodies and tails for legs. Nevertheless as the riders came closer she shrank away; the men were all but naked, and looked wild and uncivilized indeed; she shrank behind Elaria on her horse where they would not see her.

"Greetings, Lady of the Horsewomen," called out the foremost rider. "How fared you in Priam's city?"

"Well enough; as you see, we are back safe and well," Penthesilea called. "How is it with your men?"

"We found a bee tree this morning and have taken a barrel of honey," the man said, leaning close and embracing Penthesilea from horseback. "You shall have a share, if you will."

She pulled away from him and said, "The cost of your honey is always too high; what do you want from us this time?"

He straightened and rode alongside her, smiling in a good-natured way. "True," he said, "you can do me a service if you will. One of my men became besotted with a village girl a few moons ago, and carried her away without troubling to ask her father for her. But she's no good for anything but his bed, can't even milk a mare or make cheese, and weeps and wails all the time; now he's sick to death of the blubbering bitch, and—"

"Don't ask me to take her off your hands," Penthesilea interrupted. "She'd be no good in our tents either."

"What I want is that you take her back to her father—" the man said, and Penthesilea snorted.

"And let us be the ones to face her tribesmen's wrath and swords? Not likely!"

"Trouble is, the wench is pregnant," said the Kentaur. "Can't, you take her till the babe's born? Seems like she might be happier among women."

"If she'll come with us with no trouble," said Penthesilea, "we'll keep her till the child's born, and if it's a daughter, keep them both. If it's a son, do you want him?"

"To be sure," said the man, "and as for the woman, once the child's born you can keep her or send her back to her village, or, for all I care, drown her."

"I am simply too good-natured," Penthesilea said. "Why should I get you out of trouble you made for yourselves?"

"For a half barrel of honey?"

"For a half barrel of honey," said Elaria, I'll look after the girl myself, and deliver her child and get her back to her village."

"We'll all share it," Penthesilea said, "but next time one of your men gets horny, send him to our tents and no doubt one of ours will satisfy him with no such complications. Every time one of your men goes after a girl out of season and goes into the villages, all the Tribes get the backlash; more tales about how lawless we all are, men and women alike."

"Don't scold me, Lady," the man said, hiding his face briefly with his hands. "None of us is more than human. And who is that, hiding there behind your companion?" He looked around Elaria, and winked at Kassandra; he looked so droll, with his hairy face screwed up behind his matted hair, that she burst out laughing. "Have you stolen a child from Priam's city?"

"Not so," Penthesilea said. "It is my sister's daughter, who is to dwell with us for a few seasons."

"A pretty little thing," said the Kentaur. "Soon all my young men will be fighting over her."

Kassandra blushed and hid behind Elaria again. In Priam's palace, even her mother freely admitted that Polyxena was'the pretty one', while Kassandra was'the clever one'. Kassandra had told herself that she did not care; still it was pleasing to think someone found her pretty. Penthesilea said, "Well, let us see this honey, and the woman you want us to take off your hands."

"Will you feast with us? We are roasting a kid for the evening meal," the Kentaur said, and Penthesilea glanced at her women.

"We had hoped to sleep this night in our own tents," she protested, "but the kid smells savoury and well-roasted, it would be a shame not to take our share." And Elaria added, "Why not rest here for an hour or two? If we do not get home tonight, tomorrow is another day."

Penthesilea shrugged. "My women have answered for me; we will accept your hospitality with pleasure - or perhaps just with greed."

The Kentaur beckoned and rode toward the central campfire, and Penthesilea motioned to her women to follow. A young woman knelt before the fire, turning the spit where a kid was roasting. The fat dripping on the fire smelled wonderful and the crisped skin sizzled. The women slid from their horses, and after a time the men followed.

Penthesilea went at once to the woman turning the spit. Kassandra noticed with horror that both her ankles had been pierced and that her feet were hobbled together by a rope passed through the holes, so that she could neither stand nor walk. The Amazon Queen looked down at her, not unkindly, and asked, "You are the captive?"

"I am; they stole me from my father's house last summer."

"Do you want to return?"

"He swore when he pierced my feet that he would love me and care for me forever; will he cast me off now? Would my father have me back in his house crippled and my belly swelling with a Kentaur's child?"

"He tells me you are not happy here," Penthesilea said. "If you wish to come with us, you may dwell in our village until your child is born, and then return to your father's house or wherever you wish to go."

The woman's face twisted with weeping. "Like this?" she said, gesturing to her mutilated ankles.

Penthesilea turned to the Kentaur leader and said, "I would have taken her willingly, had she been unharmed. But we cannot return her like this to her father's village. Wasn't it enough for your young man to carry her away and take her virginity?"

The Kentaur spread his hands helplessly. "He swore he wanted her forever, to keep and cherish, and feared only that she might manage ever to escape him."

"You should know, after all these years, how long that kind of love endures," chided the woman. "It seldom outlasts the taking of the maidenhead. An eternal love sometimes lasts as long as half a year, but never survives pregnancy. Now what can we do with her? You know as well as I she cannot be returned to her father's village this way. This time you have got yourself into something we cannot extricate you from."

"At this point my man would pay to be rid of her," the Kentaur said.

"So he must. What will he give, then, to be rid of her?"

"A good mare in foal as indemnity to her father, or for a dowry if she wishes to marry again?"

"Perhaps for that we can manage to be rid of her when she can walk again," Penthesilea said, "but I promise you, this is the last time we solve your love troubles. Keep your men away from the village women and perhaps you will not bring us all into disrepute like this. And it had better be a good mare or it will not be worth the trouble."

She sniffed appreciatively. "But it would be a pity for the kid to burn or roast too done while I scold you. Let's have a slice of it, shall we?"

One of the Kentaurs took a big knife and began to slice chunks of meat and crisp skin off the kid. The women gathered round and sat on the grass while the food was handed round, with wine from leathern jacks, and chunks of honeycomb. Kassandra ate hungrily; she was tired of riding, and willing to recline on the grass as she ate, and drank the wine. After a time she felt dizzy, and lay back closing her eyes drowsily. At home she was allowed to drink only well-watered wine, and now she felt a little sick. Nevertheless it seemed that no meal eaten within walls had ever tasted so good to her.

One of the young men who had ridden next to the Kentaur leader came to refill the cup in her hand. Kassandra shook her head. "No more, I thank you."

"The God of wine will be cross with you if you deny his gifts," said the boy. "Drink, bright-eyes."

That was what her father called her in his rare affable moods.

She sipped a few more swallows, then shook her head, "Already I am too dizzy to sit my horse!"

"Then rest," the boy said, and pulled her back to lie against his shoulder, his arms round her.

Penthesilea's eyes rested on them and she said sharply to the boy, "Let her be, she is not for you. She is the daughter of Priam and a princess of Troy."

The Kentaur chief laughed and said, "He is not so far beneath her, my lady; he is the son of a King."

"I know your royal fosterlings," said Penthesilea. "I recall too well when Theseus took our Queen Antiope from us, to live within walls, and die there. All the same, this maiden is in my care, and anyone who touches her must first deal with me."

The boy laughed and let Kassandra go. "Perhaps when you are grown up, bright-eyes, your father may think better of me than your kinswoman does; her tribe does not like men, nor marriage."

"Neither do I," said Kassandra, pulling away from him.

"Well, perhaps when you are older you will change your mind," the boy said. He leaned forward and kissed her on the lips. Kassandra pulled away and wiped her mouth vigorously, as the Kentaurs laughed. Kassandra saw the crippled village woman watching her, frowning.

The Amazon Queen called her women to their horses, helping one of them load the promised honey on her mare's back. Then she helped the crippled woman to the back of a horse, speaking to her gently. The woman was not crying now; she went willingly with them. The Kentaur embraced Penthesilea as she mounted her horse.

"Cannot we persuade you to spend the night in our tents?"

"Another time perhaps," Penthesilea promised, and heartily returned his embrace. "For now, farewell."

Kassandra was confused; were these men and boys the terrible Kentaurs of the legends? They seemed friendly enough. But she wondered just what their relations were with one another. They did not treat the women the way her father's soldiers spoke with the women of the household. The handsome boy who had kissed her came and looked up, smiling at her.

"Perhaps I shall see you at the round-up?" he said. Kassandra looked away, blushing; she did not know what to say to him. It was the first time she had spoken to any boy except her own brothers.

Penthesilea motioned the women to follow her, and Kassandra saw that they were riding inland, and that the slopes of Mount Ida towered over them. She thought of the vision she had had of the boy with her face herding sheep on the slopes.

He may herd sheep, but I am to learn to ride, she thought, and, still dizzied with the unaccustomed wine, she leaned forward, balancing herself against Elaria, and fell asleep, rocked by the horse's swaying gait.

CHAPTER 6

The world was bigger than she had ever thought; though they rode from first daylight till it was too dark to see, it seemed to Kassandra that they were simply crawling over the plains. The hills of Troy could still be seen behind them, no further away than before; in the clear air it sometimes seemed she could reach out and touch the shining summit of the city.

Within a very few weeks it seemed to Kassandra that her life had always been lived with the horsewomen of the tribe. From day's beginning to day's end she did not set her feet to the ground, but even before breaking her fast was already in the saddle of the chestnut mare they had allotted to her use, whom she called South Wind. With the other girls her age she stood watch against invaders, and at night kept the horses together, watching the stars.

She loved Elaria, who cared for her as she did her own daughters, girls of eleven and seventeen; Penthesilea she worshipped, although the Amazon Queen rarely spoke to her except for a daily inquiry as to her health and welfare. She grew bronzed with the sun, strong and healthy. In the endless burning sun on the plains she saw the face of Apollo Sunlord, and it seemed to her that she lived her life under his eyes.

She had lived with the horsewomen for more than a moon when one day she found herself telling Penthesilea all about the curious vision. The tribe had dismounted for their frugal noon-meal of hunks of strong mare's-milk cheese in view of the now distant Mount Ida.

"His face was as like mine as is mine to my own face reflected in the water," she said, "yet when I spoke of him my father knocked me down; and he was angry with my mother too."

Penthesilea paused for a long time before answering, and Kassandra wondered if the silence of her parents was to be repeated; then the woman said slowly, "I can well see that your mother, and especially your father, would not wish to speak of this; but I see no reason you should not be told what half of Troy knows. He is your twin brother, Kassandra. When you were born the Earth Mother, who is also Serpent Mother, sent my sister an evil omen: twins. You should both have been killed," she said harshly. When Kassandra shrank away, her lips trembling, she reached out and stroked the girl's hair. "I am glad you were not," she said. "No doubt some God has laid his hand on you.

"Your father felt, perhaps, that he could escape his fate by exposing the child; but as a worshipper of the Father-principle—which is, in truth, a worship of power and the ability to father sons - he dared not wholly renounce a son, and the child was fostered somewhere far from the palace. Your father did not wish to know anything of him because of the evil omen of his -birth; so he was angry when you spoke of him."

Kassandra felt enormous relief; it seemed to her that all her life she had walked alone when there should have been another at her side, very like her but somehow different.

"And it is not wicked to wish to see him in the scrying-bowl?"

"You do not need the scrying-bowl," Penthesilea said. "If the Goddess has given you Sight, you need only look within your heart and you will find it there. I am not surprised you are so blessed; your mother had it as a girl and lost it when she married a city-dwelling man."

"I believed that the - Sight—was the gift of the Sunlord," Kassandra said. "It first came to me within his Temple—"

"Perhaps," said Penthesilea. "But remember, child, before ever Apollo Sunlord came to rule these lands, our Horse Mother -the Great Mare, the Earth Mother from whom we all are born -was there."

She turned and laid her two hands reverently on the dark earth, and Kassandra imitated the gesture, only half understanding. It seemed that she could feel a dark strength moving upward from the earth and flowing through her; it was the same kind of blissful strength she had felt when she held Apollo's serpents in her two hands. She wondered if she were being disloyal to the God who had called her.

"They told me in the Temple that Apollo Sunlord had slain the Python, the great Goddess of the Underworld. Is this the Serpent Mother of whom you speak?"

"She who is the Great Goddess cannot be slain, for she is immortal; she may choose to withdraw herself for a time, but she is and will remain forever," said the Amazon Queen, and

Kassandra, feeling the strength of the earth beneath her hands, took this in as absolute truth.

"Is the Serpent Mother then the mother of the Sunlord?" she asked, and Penthesilea, drawing a breath of reverence, said, "She is Mother to Gods and men alike, mother of all things; so Apollo is her child too, even as you and I are."

Then … if Apollo Sunlord sought to slay her, then was he seeking to kill his mother? Kassandra's breath caught with the wickedness of the thought. But could a God do wickedness? And if a certain deed was wicked for men, was it wicked also for a God? If a Goddess was immortal, how then could she be slain at all? These things were Mysteries, and she set her whole being into fierce resolve that one day she would understand them. Apollo Sunlord had called her; he had given her his serpents; one day he would lead her to knowledge of the Serpent Mother's mysteries as well.

The women finished their noon-meal and stretched out to rest on the green turf. Kassandra was not sleepy; she had not been accustomed to sleep this way at midday. She watched the clouds drifting across the sky and looked up to the slopes of Mount Ida rising high above the plain.

Her twin brother. It made Kassandra angry to think that everyone knew this when she, whom it concerned most closely, had been kept in ignorance.

She tried to remember deliberately and consciously the state she had been in when she had first seen her brother in the waters of the scrying-bowl. She knelt motionless on the grass, staring upward at the sky, her mind blank, searching for the face she had seen but once and then only in a vision. For a moment her questing thoughts settled on her own face, seen reflected as if in water; and the golden shimmer which she still called, in her mind, the face and breath of Apollo Sunlord.

Then the features shifted and the face was her own and yet somehow subtly not her own, filled with a mischief wholly alien to her, and she knew she had found her brother. She wondered if he had a name and what he was called, and if he could see her.

From somewhere in the mysterious linkage between them, the answer came: he could if he wished, but he had no reason to seek, and no particular interest. Why not? Kassandra wondered, not yet knowing that she had stumbled on the major flaw in her twin's character; a total lack of interest in anything which did not relate to himself or contribute in some way to his own comfort and satisfaction.

For an instant this puzzled her enough that she lost the fragment of vision; then she collected herself to call it back. Her senses were filled with the intoxicating scent of thyme from the slopes of the mountain, where the bright light and heat of the Sunlord's presence gathered together the fragrant oils of the herb and concentrated their scent in the air. Looking out of the boy's eyes, she saw the crude brush in his hand as he combed the sleek sides of a great bull, smoothing the gleaming white hair of the flanks into patterns like waves; the beast was larger than he was himself - like Kassandra he was slight and lightly made, wiry rather than muscular. His arms were sunburnt brown as any shepherd's, his fingers calloused and hard with endless hard work. She stood there with him, her arm moving like his, making-patterns on the bull's sides, and when the hair was suitably smooth and wavy, she put aside the brush. With another brush she dipped into a pot of paint that stood at his side, laying the coat of smooth gilt paint across the horns. The bull's great dark eyes met her own with love and trust and a touch of puzzlement, . so that the beast shifted its weight restively. Kassandra wondered if somehow the animal's instincts knew what her brother did not: that it was not only his master who stood before him.

The combing and gilding finished, Paris (she did not ask herself how she now knew his name, but she knew it like her own) tied a garland of green leaves and ribbons around the animal's broad neck, and stood back to survey his handiwork with pride. The bull was indeed beautiful, the finest that she had ever seen. She shared his thoughts, that he could honestly name this fine animal, on whose looks and condition he had spared no effort in all the past year, as the finest bull in the fair. He tied a rope carefully around the animal's neck, and gathered up a staff and a leather wallet in which there was a hunk of bread, a few strips of dried meat, and a handful of ripe olives. Tying the wallet round his waist, he bent to slip his feet into sandals. He gave the great bedizened bull a gentle smack with the staff on its flank, and set off down the slopes of Mount Ida.

Kassandra found herself, to her own surprise, back in her own body, kneeling on the plain, among the sleeping Amazons. The sun had begun to decline a little from its zenith and she knew the tribe would soon wake and be ready to ride.

She had heard that in the islands of the sea kingdoms far to the south, the bull was held sacred. She had seen in the temples little statues of sacred bulls, and someone had told her the story of Queen Pasiphae of Crete, of whom Zeus had become enamoured. He had come to her as a great white bull and they said that she had subsequently given birth to a monster with the body of a man and the head of a bull. He was called the Minotaur, and had terrorised all the sea kings until he was slain by the hero Theseus.

When Kassandra was a little girl she had believed the story; now she was old enough to be present in the birthing-rooms she knew better than to believe a mortal woman could mate with a bull - even if the bull was possessed by a God - or give birth to such a monster, or that such a monster could live at all. She wondered what truth, if any, lay behind the preposterous story. Having learned the truth behind the legend of the Kentaurs, she believed there must be some such truth, however obscure, behind all such stories.

There were deformed men who were bestial both in looks and manner; she wondered if the Minotaur had been such a man with the mark of his father's animal disguise in body or mind.

She was eager to see what had become of Paris, and of his beautiful white bull. Young women, particularly from the royal house, were never allowed to attend the cattle fairs, held all over the countryside, but she had heard of them and was intensely curious.

But the women were stirring, and in a few minutes the movements about her, and their voices, dispelled the quietness necessary to remain in the state where she could follow him. She sprang up, with only a little regret, and ran to catch her mare.

Once or twice in the next day or two she caught a glimpse of her brother, driving the garlanded bull; fording a river (where he spoiled his sandals) and falling in with other travellers driving cattle bedecked like his own; none of the other animals quite so fine or so handsome.

The moon grew round, lighting the whole sky from sunset to sunrise. During the day the sun blinded, the white dust glittered. Drowsing on horseback while the mares moved steadily, grazing in their close-kept ring, Kassandra watched the dry dust-devils lifting up and swirling across the grass before they dispelled themselves. She thought of the restless God Hermes, Lord of the winds and of deception and artifice.

Daydreaming, she saw one of the little whirlwinds shiver and tremble and draw itself upright into the form of a man; and so she followed the shifting restless wind eastward across the plains to the very foot of Mount Ida. In the blinding sunlight, a beam of gold shifted and altered in the glow and became a man's form; but taller and brighter than any man, with the face of Apollo Sunlord; and before the two Gods walked a bull.

Kassandra had heard the story of the bulls of Apollo; great shining cattle, more beautiful than any earthly beast; and surely this was one of them; broad-backed, with shining horns needing no gilt or ribbons to make them gleam with light. One of the oldest ballads sung by the minstrels of her father's court had to do with how the infant Hermes had stolen Apollo's sacred herd, and then turned away Apollo's anger by fashioning for him a lyre from the shell of a tortoise. Now the brightness of the sacred bull's eyes, and the bright luster of his coat, dimmed the memory of the bull Paris had decorated with so much toil. It was not fair; how could any mortal bull venture to be judged alongside the divine cattle of a God?

She leaned forward, her eyes closed; she had learned to sleep on horseback, yielding her body bonelessly to the animal's movement. Now she lowered her lids against the sunlight, drowsing, her mind ranging out in search of her brother. Perhaps it was the sight of Apollo which drew her to the animal Paris led to the fair.

Kassandra looked out from her brother's eyes on the great body of assembled beasts and ran in his mind over their faults and virtues. This cow had flanks too narrow; that one, an ugly pattern of brown and pink mottled on her udders; this bull had horns twisted askew and not fit for guarding his herd; that one, a hump above his neck. Near or far, Paris thought with pride, there was none to match the bull from his own herd, which he had garlanded with such pride and brought here. He could declare the honors of the day to his foster-father's own bull. This was the second year he had been chosen to judge the cattle, and he was proud of his skill and proud of the confidence his neighbours and fellow herdsmen felt in him.

He moved among the cattle, motioning gently to bring one forward so he could see better, or to take an animal not seriously being considered out of his range of vision.

He had chosen the finest heifer and calf, and signalled to the finest cow, to murmurs of acclaim; she was a splendid cow indeed, her hide pale white with patches of a grey so subtle that it was all but blue, her eyes were mild and motherly, her udders smooth and uniformly pink as a maiden's breasts. Her horns were small and wide-spread, and her breath fragrant with the thyme-scented grass.

Now it was time to judge the bulls. Paris moved with satisfaction toward his foster-father's own Snowy, the beast he had tended and decorated with such care. In a whole day of judging cattle he knew that he had honestly seen no beast to match him, and he felt justified in awarding the prize to his foster-father's animal. He had actually opened his mouth to speak when he saw the two strangers and their bull.

As soon as the younger - Paris supposed he was the younger -began to talk, Paris knew somehow that he was in the presence of the more-than-mortal. It was his first such encounter, but the blaze of the man's eyes from under his hat, and something about the voice, as if it came from very far away and yet very close, told him this was no ordinary man. As for Kassandra, she would have recognized the unearthly shimmer around the golden curls of her God anywhere; and perhaps without Paris's knowing it consciously, something crept through to him from the mind of his unknown sister.

He said aloud, "Strangers, bring the bull closer so I may see him. I have never seen such a fine animal." But perhaps the bull had some fault not apparent, Paris thought, walking around it from all sides. No, the legs were like pillars of marble, even the tail moved with an air of nobility. The horns were smooth and broad, the eye fierce yet gentle, and the animal even suffered, with a look of boredom, for Paris to open his mouth gently and look at the perfect teeth.

What right has a God to bring his perfect cattle to be judged among mortal men? Paris wondered. Well, it was Fate, and it would be arrogant to set himself against Fate.

He beckoned again to the man who held the rope around the bull's neck, and said with a regretful glance at Snowy, "I am sorry to say it, but never in all my life have I seen a bull so fine. Strangers, the prize is yours."

The glowing smile of the Immortal blurred into the sun; and as Kassandra woke, she heard a voice no more than an echo in her mind: This man is an honest judge, perhaps he is the one to settle the voice of Eris… and then she was alone in her saddle and Paris was gone, this time beyond any recall at her command. She did not see him again for a long time.

CHAPTER 7

No sooner had they reached the country of the Amazons than the weather changed. One day there was blinding sun from early morning to sunset; overnight, it seemed, there was day long rain combined with damp dripping nights. Being on horseback was no longer a pleasure but toil and exhaustion; to Kassandra every day was a constant battle against cold and damp.

The Amazons kept up fires in their sheltered camps; many lived in caves, others in heavy-walled leather tents set up in thick-leaved groves. Small children and pregnant women stayed inside all day, huddling close to the smoking fires.

There were times when the warmth tempted her, but among the tribe, girls Kassandra's age counted themselves among the warriors, so she covered herself with a heavy robe of thick oil-surfaced wool, and endured the dampness as best she could.

As the rainy season dragged by she grew taller and one day when she dismounted for a rare hot meal in the camp around the fire she realized that her body was rounding, small breasts sprouting under the rough loose garments.

From time to time as they rode she slipped in and out of visions of the boy with her face. He was taller now, the long woven tunic he wore barely covered his thighs, and she shivered in sympathy when he tried to cover himself with his too-short cloak. Surrounded by his flock, he lay on the slopes of the mountain, and once she saw him at a festival, one of a group of boys garlanded and moving in a dance. Another time she sat within him before a blazing fire as he was given a new warm cloak and his long hair was cut for the altar of the Sunlord. Was he too under Apollo's protection?

Once in spring, silent in a group of other boys, he watched a group of little girls - though most of them were as tall as or taller than he - wrapped in bearskins, dancing a ritual dance to the Maiden.

Curious sensations attacked her body; the roughly woven wool of her tunic rubbed her nipples raw and she begged from one of the other women an undergarment of soft cotton cloth. It helped, but not enough; her breasts were sore most of the time.

The days shortened and a pale winter moon stood in the sky. The herds circled aimlessly, searching for food. Later the mares' milk failed and the hungry beasts moved restlessly from exhausted pasture to exhausted pasture.

The loss of the mares' milk, their staple food, meant there was even less to eat; what there was was saved by custom for the pregnant women and the youngest children. Day after day Kassandra knew little but sharp hunger; she kept her small allowance of food to eat before she slept so that she would not wake dreaming of the ovens in Priam's castle and the rich warm smell of baking bread. In the pastures as she watched over the horses, she searched endlessly for dried-out fruits or stringy berries clinging to dead vines; like all the other girls she ate anything she could find, accepting that about half of the food so found would make her sick.

"We cannot stay here," the women said. "What is the Queen waiting for?"

"Some word from the Goddess," said the others, and the older women of the tribe went to Penthesilea, demanding that they move on to the winter pastures.

"Yes," said the Queen, "we should have gone a moon ago; but there is war in the countryside. If we move the tribe with all our children and old women, we shall be captured and enslaved. Do you want that?"

"No, no," the women protested. "Under your will we will live free and if we must we will die free."

Nevertheless Penthesilea promised that when the moon was full again she would seek counsel of the Goddess, to know Her will.

Seeing her own face once in the water after a hard rain, Kassandra hardly recognized herself; she had grown tall and lean, face and hands burnt brown by the unremitting sun, her features sharp and more like a woman's than a girl's - or perhaps like a young boy's… There were freckles on her face too, and she wondered if her family would know her if she should appear unannounced before them, or whether they would ask, "Who is this woman from the wild tribes? Away with her." Or would they, perhaps, mistake her for her exiled twin?

Despite the hardship she had no wish to return to Troy; she missed her mother sometimes, but not the life of the walled city.

Now she seldom thought about indoor life except for a vague constant nag of a time when she was confined to the palace and never allowed outside.

One night at sunset, the young girls returning to the camp for dry clothing and a share-out of such food as could be found -usually astringent boiled roots, or some hard wild beans - were told not to take the horses out again, but to remain and gather with the other women. All fires in the camp but one had been extinguished and it was dark and cold.

There was not so much as a mouthful of food to be shared out, and Elaria told her fosterling that the Queen had declared that all must fast before the Goddess was petitioned.

"That's nothing new," Kassandra said. "I should think we had-done enough fasting in this last month to satisfy any Goddess. What more can she ask of us?"

"Hush," said Elaria. "She has never yet failed to care for us. We are all still alive; there have been many years when there is raiding, and many outlaws in the countryside, when we do not leave our pastures till half our young children are dead. This year the Goddess has not taken so much as a babe at the breast, nor a single foal."

"So much the better for her," Kassandra said. "I cannot imagine what use dead tribeswomen would be to the Goddess, unless she wishes us to serve her in the afterworld."

Aching with hunger, Kassandra got out of her damp riding leathers and slipped into a dry robe of coarsely woven wool. She tugged a wooden comb through her hair and braided it, coiling it low on her neck. In her exhausted and semi-starved state, the very feel of dry clothing and the heat of the fire was sensuous pleasure; she stood for some time simply feeling the heat soak into her body, until one of the other women shoved her aside. In the close air of the tent the smoke was gradually filling the entire space and she coughed and choked until she felt that she would vomit, if her stomach had not been so empty.

Behind her in the tent, she felt the pressure of other bodies, the silent rustle of women and girls and children; all the women of the tribe seemed to be gathered in the dark behind her. They squatted around the fire, and from somewhere came the soft thump of hands on taut skins stretched across a hoop, of gourds with dry seeds, shaken and rattling like the dry leaves, like the rain pattering on the tents. The fire smoked with little light, so that Kassandra could feel only the faint streams of discouraged heat.

Out of the dark silence next to the fire, three of the oldest women in the tribe rose up and cast the contents of a small basket on the fire; the dried leaves blazed up, then smouldered, flinging out thick white clouds of aromatic smoke. It filled the tent with its curious, dry, sweetish perfume, and as she breathed it in, Kassandra felt her head swimming and strange colours moved before her eyes, so that she no longer felt the dull pain of her hunger.

Penthesilea said from the darkness, "My sisters, I know your hunger; do I not share it? Anyone who is unwilling to share our lot, I freely give you leave to go to the men's villages where they will share their food if you lie with them. But do not bring daughters so born back to our tribe, but leave them to be slaves as you have shown yourselves to be. If there are any who wish to leave now let them do so, for you are not fit to stay while we petition our maiden Huntress, who cherishes freedom for women."

Silence; within the smoke-filled tent no woman stirred.

"Then, sisters, in our need let us summon her who cares for us."

Again silence, except for the fingertip drumming. Then out of the silence came a long eerie howl.

"Oww—ooooo-ooooo-ooooow!"

For a moment Kassandra thought it was some animal lurking outside the tent. Then she saw the open mouths, the strained-back heads of the women. The howl came again, and again, the faces of the women no longer looked quite human. The howling screams went on, rising and falling as the women swayed and yelled, and were joined by a sharp short 'yip-yip-yip-yip-yip… yip-yip-yip', until the noise filled the tent; it beat and battered at her consciousness and she could only harden herself to remain apart from it. She had seen her mother overshadowed by the Goddess, but never in the midst of mad commotion like this.

At this moment, for the first time in many moons, Hecuba's face was suddenly before Kassandra's eyes and it seemed she could hear Hecuba's gentle voice:

It is not the custom…

'Why not?

There is no reason for customs. They are, no more…

She had not believed it then and she did not believe it now. There must be a reason why this weird howling should be thought a suitable way to summon the Maiden Huntress. Are we to become as the wild beasts she is hunting?

Penthesilea rose, stretching out her hands to the women; between one breath and the next Kassandra saw the Queen's face blur and the brightness of the Goddess shone through the very skin, the voice altered beyond recognition. She cried out, "Not to the south where the men's tribes wander! Ride to the east past two rivers; there remain until the spring's stars fall!"

Then she crumpled forward; two women of the tribe's elders caught her and supported her in a fit of coughing so violent that it ended in weak retching. When she raised herself her face was her own again.

She asked in a hoarse whisper, "Did she answer us?"

A dozen voices repeated the words she had spoken while she was overshadowed:

'Not to the south where the men's tribes wander I Ride to the east past two rivers; there remain until the spring's stars fall!"

"Then we ride at dawn, sisters," Penthesilea said, her voice still weak. "There is no time to lose. I know of no rivers to the east but if we turn our backs on Father Scamander, and follow the east wind, we will surely come to them."

"What meant the Goddess when she spoke of 'until spring's stars fall'?" asked one of the women.

Penthesilea shrugged her narrow shoulders. "I do not know, sisters; the Goddess spoke but did not explain her words. If we follow her will she will make it known to us."

Four of the women brought in baskets filled with coiled roots and passed round leathern bottles of wine. Penthesilea said, "Let us feast in her name, sisters, and ride at dawn filled with her bounty."

Kassandra realized how long food must have been hoarded for this midwinter feast. She tore into the tasteless boiled roots like the starving animal she felt, and drank her share of the wine.

When the baskets were empty and the last drop had been squeezed from the wineskins, the tribe's few possessions were gathered; the tents taken down and bundled together, a few bronze cooking kettles, a store of cloaks worn by former leaders, were gathered together. Kassandra was still seeing the Goddess's face through and over Penthesilea's own, and hearing the curious alteration in her kinswoman's voice. Kassandra wondered if one day the Goddess would speak through her voice and spirit.

The tribe of women drew their horses into a line of march; Penthesilea and her warriors at the head, the elderly or pregnant women and the smallest girls at the very center, surrounded by the strongest young women.

Kassandra had a spear and knew how to use it, so she took a place among the young warriors. Penthesilea saw her and frowned, but she said nothing; Kassandra took her silence as leave to stay where she was. She didn't know whether she hoped for her first battle or whether she was inwardly praying that the journey would be completely uneventful. Dawn was breaking as Penthesilea called out the signal to ride; a single star still hung in the dark sky. Kassandra shivered in the wool robe she had worn to the ceremony; she hoped there would be no rain this night; she had left her riding leathers in the tent and they had been packed somewhere among the leather bags and baskets.

Her closest companion, a girl of fourteen or so whom her mother called 'Star', rode next to her, and made no secret that she was hoping for a fight.

"One year when I was small there was a war against one of the Kentaur tribes - not Cheiron's band, they're our friends, but one of the tribes from inland. They came down on us just as we left our old camp and tried to steal away the strongest of our stallions," Star told her. "I could hardly see them; I was still riding with my mother. But I heard the men screaming as Penthesilea rode them down."

"Did we win?"

"Of course we won; if we hadn't they'd have taken us to their encampment and broken our legs so we couldn't run away," Star said and Kassandra remembered the crippled woman in the men's camp. "But we made peace with them and we lent them the stallion for a year to improve their herds. And we agreed to visit their village that year instead of Cheiron's; Penthesilea said we have become too close akin to his people by now and should skip a few years because it is not wise to lie with our own brothers and fathers for too many generations. She says when we do the babies are weak and sometimes they die."

Kassandra did not understand, and said so. Star laughed and said, "They wouldn't let you go anyhow; before you go to the men's villages, you must be a woman, not a little girl."

"I am a woman," Kassandra said. "I have been old enough for bearing for ten moons now."

"Still, you must be a tried warrior; I have been grown now for a year and more, and I am not yet allowed to go to the men's villages. But I'm not in a hurry; after all, I might be pregnant for nine moons and bear only a useless male who must be given to his father's tribe," said Star.

"Go to the men's villages? What for?" Kassandra asked, and Star told her.

"I think you must be making it up," Kassandra said. "My mother and father would never do anything like that." She could understand a mare and a stallion, but the thought of her royal parents engaging in such maneuvers seemed disgusting. Yet she remembered, unwillingly, that whenever her father summoned one of the many palace women into his sleeping quarters, sooner or later (more often sooner than later), there would be a new baby in the palace, and if it was a son, Priam would visit the palace goldsmith; and there would be handsome gifts, rings and chains and gold cups, for the newly favoured woman and for her children.

So perhaps this thing Star was telling her was true after all, strange though it seemed. She had seen children born, but her mother had told her it was not worthy of a princess to listen to the tattle of the palace women; now she remembered certain gross jests she had not understood at the time and felt her cheeks burning. Her mother had told her that babies were sent into the wombs of women by Earth Mother, and she had wondered sometimes why the Goddess did not send her one, because she dearly loved babies.

"That's why the city-dwellers keep their women locked up in special women's quarters," Star said. "They say that city women are so lecherous that they cannot be trusted alone."

"They're not," said Kassandra, not sure why she was so angry.

"They are too! Or why would their men have to keep them locked up inside walls? Our women aren't like that," Star said, "but city women are like goats - they will fornicate with any man they see!" With an ill-natured smile at Kassandra, she said, "You are from a city, aren't you? - weren't you locked up to keep you away from men?"

Kassandra's knees tightened on her horse; she lunged forward and flung herself on Star, howling in rage. Star clawed at her, and Kassandra jerked Star's roughly braided hair, trying to drag the girl from her horse. Their mounts neighed and snickered as they fought, slapping and clawing and yelling; Kassandra felt the girl's elbow connect with her nose and blood begin to drip as her nails raked into Star's cheek.

Then Penthesilea and Elaria were both there, laughing as they nudged their horses between the girls. Penthesilea dragged Kassandra from her saddle and held her under her arms while she flailed angrily.

"For shame, Kassandra! If we fight like this among ourselves, how can we hope to have peace with other tribes? Is it so you treat your sisters? What are you righting about?"

Kassandra hung her head and would not answer. Star was still grinning that disgusting grin.

"I said to her that city women are kept locked up because they fornicate like goats," Star jeered, "and if it were not true would she have bothered to fight me about it?"

"Oh, Star, for shame," said Elaria. "It is not that city women are lecherous, but only that their men are so afraid of their own manhood that they do not trust their women. And it is not so in Troy as it is among the Akhaians where women are nothing but slaves!"

Kassandra said angrily, "My mother is no man's slave! Tell her to take it back!"

Penthesilea leaned close to her and said in her ear, "Will your mother be different for her saying it, true or lie?"

"No, of course not. But if she says it—"

"If she says it, you fear that someone will hear it and believe it?" Penthesilea asked, raising a delicate eyebrow. "Why give her that much power over you, Kassandra?"

The girl hung her head and did not answer, and Penthesilea cast her eyes scowling on Star.

"Is this how you treat a kinswoman and guest of the tribe, little sister?"

She leaned from her horse and touched her finger to Star's bleeding cheek. "I will not punish you, for you are already punished; she defended herself well. Next time, show more courtesy to a guest of our tribe. The goodwill of Priam's wife is valuable to us." She turned her back on them and leaned toward Kassandra, still holding her tight against her breast. Kassandra could feel the laughter in her voice. "Are you old enough to ride alone without getting into trouble, or must I carry you before me like a baby?"

"I can ride alone," Kassandra said sulkily, though she was grateful to Penthesilea for defending her.

"Then I shall set you on your horse again," said the Amazon Queen, and gratefully Kassandra felt South Wind's broad back beneath her. Star caught her eye and wriggled her nose at Kassandra and she knew they were friends again. Penthesilea rode to the head of the line of march and called out, and they rode.

A chilly drizzling rain was falling, and gradually soaked through everything. Kassandra drew up her striped wool robe over her head, but her hair was still wet and clung to her head. They rode all day and pressed on into the night; Kassandra wondered when they would reach the new pastures. She had no idea where they were going, but rode in the damp darkness, following the tail of the horse ahead of her.

She rode in a dark dream, and through the darkness without stars, felt curious sensations attacking her body which she could not identify. Then the glow of a fire appeared before her eyes, and she knew she was not seeing it with her own eyes at all. Somewhere Paris sat before this fire, and across the fire he was looking at a slender young woman with long fair hair loosely tied at her neck. She wore the long, loose, tucked-up gown of the mainland women and Kassandra sensed the way in which Paris could not take his eyes from her, the sharp hunger in his body which confused her enough that she took her eyes from the fire and then she was riding again, feeling the dampness of her cloak dripping cold water down her neck. Her body was still alive with the tug of what she knew, without understanding, to be desire. It was the first time she had been so wholly aware of her own body… yet it was not her own. The memory of the girl's great eyes, the tender curve of her cheek, the swell of her young breasts where the robe stood away from her body, the way in which these memories aroused totally physical sensations, troubled her; in a flash she began to associate them with the troubling things Star had been saying, and she was filled with dismay and something she was still too innocent to identify as shame.

Toward morning the rain stopped and the dark ragged clouds blew away; the moon came out and Kassandra could see that they were passing through a narrow gorge of rock, high up; she looked down on broad plains below, covered with small twisted trees, and orderly ploughed fields enclosed by stone walls. They moved slowly down the steep slope, and gradually the leading horses slowed and stopped. The tents were unpacked and the fire-pot was set in a central place. Already the first rays of a red sun were coming up across the gorge they had crossed in the night; they sent the young girls to look for dry wood - there was little to be found after days of soaking rain, but under the thick twisted olive trees Kassandra found a few dry chips where the rain had not penetrated, and she ran back with them to the fire.

The sun came up as they sat there, in a flood of red which told of more rain to come, so they sat there enjoying the damp heat and drying their hair and robes. Then the older women started to supervise the setting up of the tent and took one of the pregnant women inside; the warriors told the young girls to set the herds to grazing, and Kassandra went with them.

She was very tired and her eyes burned, but she was not sleepy; a part of her mind was back in the tent where the women clustered encouraging the labouring woman, and a part of her was still far away, sharing with Paris. She knew he was on the hillside with his flocks, and that his thoughts remained with the girl whose memory obsessed him. She knew the girl's name, Oenone, the sweet mortal sound of it, and knew hauntingly how Paris clung to the memory that wiped out all awareness of what should have been uppermost in his thoughts, his duty to his flock. And even before Paris sensed it himself she heard - or felt, or smelled - the presence of the girl stealing toward him through the groves of trees on the mountainside.

The bitter scent of juniper was all around them. Kassandra hardly knew which of them, Paris or the girl, first saw one another or who moved first to run and crush the other into eager arms. The touch of hungry kisses almost jolted her back into her own body and her own place, but she was ready for it now, and clung to her awareness of his emotions and sensations. The next thing she knew, Oenone was sprawled on the soft grass, while Paris knelt above her, pulling at her garments.

Suddenly aware that this was not a moment to be shared even with a twin sister, she pulled back and away and was astride her own horse with drops of a rain shower on her face. She longed for the sunshine of her own country, Apollo's own sunshine, and ,for the first time since she had ridden away with the Amazons wondered when she would return.

She felt sick, her eyes burned and a queasiness attacked her; the memory of what she had shared answered some of the many questions in her mind, but she was not sure whether it was her brother with whom she had shared this curious experience, or the girl Oenone, whether she was lover or beloved.

She was not certain now that she was within her own body, or whether she was still lying in the soft grass on Mount Ida with her brother and the girl, their bodies still locked in the afterglow of desire. Her mind would not stay within the confines of her body; but spread far beyond her, so that a part of her was here in the circle of horses and young women, and a part of her extended downward into the birthing tent where the woman knelt in a ring of women watching her, crying out instructions and encouragement; she felt the rending pains attacking her inexperienced body. She was racked by confusion, felt the blood leaving her cheeks, heard her own breath rasp in her throat.

She turned round wildly, pulling so hard on the reins that her mare almost stumbled, and dug her heels into the horse's flank, fleeing across the plain, as if by fierce physical effort she could bring all her consciousness back into her own body. Penthesilea saw her riding away from the camp and quickly jumped to the back of her own horse and raced after her.

Kassandra, stretched out along the mare's back desperately' trying to shut out everything outside herself, sensed the pursuit and dug her heels harder. Nevertheless Penthesilea's horse was longer-legged and she was by far the better rider; gradually the gap between the two riders narrowed and the Amazon drew abreast of the girl, seeing with dismay Kassandra's flushed face and terrified eyes.

She held out her arms and scooped Kassandra from the back of her mare, holding her limp on the saddle before her.

She could feel the girl's forehead fire-hot as if with fever. Almost delirious now, Kassandra struggled against her, and the older woman held her tight in her strong arms.

"Hush! Hush! what ails you, bright-eyes? Why, your forehead feels as if you were sun-stricken, yet it is not a hot day!" Her voice was kindly, yet Kassandra felt that the older woman was mocking her, and struggled frantically to be free.

"Nothing is wrong—I did not mean to—"

"No, all is well, child; no one will hurt you, no one is angry with you," Penthesilea held her, soothing her. After a moment Kassandra abandoned her struggles and went limp in her kinswoman's arms.

"Tell me about it—"

Kassandra blurted out, "I was - with him. My brother. And a girl. And I couldn't shut it out, anything, anywhere in the camp—"

"Goddess be merciful," Penthesilea whispered. At Kassandra's age she too had borne the gift (or curse) of the wide-open seeing. Sharing experiences for which the mind or body were unprepared could indeed touch upon inner madness and there was not always a safe return. Kassandra was lying in her arms only half conscious, and her kinswoman was not sure what to do for her.

First she must get her back to the camp; so far from the other women, or the horses, there were likely to be strange lawless men in these wilds, and in Kassandra's present state, such an encounter might drive her sheer over the edge of sanity. She turned about, holding the reins of Kassandra's mare so it would follow her. She cradled the girl against her breast, and when they were within the circle of the camp, lifted her down and carried her inside the tent, where the new mother was resting beside her sleeping infant. Penthesilea laid Kassandra down on a blanket and sat beside her, her firm hand on her niece's brow, covering her eyes, willing her to shut out all the intrusions into her mind.

Silent and at peace, Kassandra's sobbing subsided and she slowly grew calm, turning her face into Penthesilea's hand like a baby, curled up against her.

After a long time Penthesilea asked, "Are you better now?"

"Yes, but—will it come again?"

"Probably. It is a gift of the Goddess and you must learn to live with it. There is little I can do to help you, child. Perhaps Serpent Mother has called you to speak for the Gods; there are priestesses and seeresses among us. Perhaps when it is time for you to go underground and face her…'

"I do not understand," Kassandra said. Then she remembered when Apollo had spoken to her and asked that she should be his priestess. She told Penthesilea of this, and the older Amazon looked relieved.

"Is it so? I know nothing of your Sunlord; it seems to me strange that a woman should seek a God rather than the Earth Mother or our Serpent Mother. It is she who dwells underground and rules over all the realms of women - the darkness of birth and death. Perhaps she too has called you and you have not heard her voice. I have heard that sometimes it is so with the priestess-born; that if they do not hear her call she will set her hand on them through the darkness of evil dreams, so that they may learn how to listen to her voice."

Kassandra was not certain; she knew little of Penthesilea's Serpent Mother, yet she remembered the beautiful serpents in Apollo's house and how she had longed to caress them. Perhaps this Serpent Mother had called her too; not only the bright and beloved Sunlord.

She had hoped that her kinswoman, who knew so much about the Goddess, would tell her what she must do to be rid of this unwanted Sight. Now she began to realize that she must herself control it, must find a way within herself to shut the floodgates before they overwhelmed her.

"I will try—" she said. "Are there any who know about these things?"

"Perhaps among the servants of the Gods. You are a princess of two royal houses; ours of the Amazons, and your father's; I know nothing of those Gods, but as one of us, a time must come when you must go underground to meet the Serpent Mother, and since already she has called you, it should be sooner rather than later. Perhaps at the next moon; I shall speak to the elders and see what they say of you."

Perhaps, Kassandra said to herself, this is why the God called me to be his servant. Yet she had herself opened these doors; she should not complain that she had been given the gift which she had asked.

Day after day the tribe rode, into the fierce winds and the raw icy rain. It grew colder and colder, and at night the women wrapped themselves in all their woollen garments and blankets; but this was not enough; they nestled in twos and threes, sharing blankets. Kassandra curled up next to her horse, sheltering in the warmth of the big sleek body. Eventually the skies grew clear and brilliant and the rain stopped. Still to the east the tribe travelled; when the women asked their leaders when they would rest and find pasture for their horses, Penthesilea only sighed: 'We must first pass two rivers as the Goddess has decreed."

The moon had waxed and waned again when they sighted the first human beings that they had seen on this journey; two solitary men dressed in skins to which hair clung, so that the women guessed that the art of tanning skins was still unknown to them.

There are pastures here, Kassandra thought, this might be the place to rest our herds and remain. But not with these men…

The men stared open-mouthed and loutish at the women, and Penthesilea drew up her horse beside them.

"Who owns these flocks and herds?" she asked, pointing to the sheep and goats grazing on the bright green vegetation.

"We do. What kind of goats be ye riding?" asked the men. "Never did we see goats so big and healthy."

Penthesilea started to say that they were not goats but horses; then decided that in their ignorance there might be some advantage for the tribe. "They are the goats of Poseidon, God of the sea," she told him, and he asked only, "What be the sea?"

"Water from here to the horizon," she said and he gasped, "Oh, my! Never do we see water but what's in some muddy hole that dries in the summer! No wonder they look rich and fat!" Then he smiled craftily and asked in his rude dialect if the ladies would care to pasture their herds beside his own.

"Perhaps for a night or two," said Penthesilea.

"Where be ye menfolks?" he asked.

"We have none; we are free of all men," said the Amazon, "but we will accept the hospitality of your pasture for this night, since we have been riding for a long time. Our animals are weary and will welcome a little of your good grass."

"They are welcome to it," replied one of the men, who seemed a little cleaner than the rest, and his garment a little more whole.

As they were dismounting, Penthesilea whispered to Kassandra that they must be wary, and not sleep, but watch their horses even through the night. "For I do not trust these men, not even a little," she whispered. "I think, as soon as we are sleeping, or they think we are sleeping, they will try to steal our horses, and perhaps attack us."

The men tried to edge their way into the circle of women and to steal furtive touches, and Kassandra thought if they had been city women, inexperienced in guile, they would not have realized what the men were doing. She rose with the other young girls to begin spreading out their blankets. She slipped hobbles over her horse's feet, so that she could not go far away in the night, loosened her leather belt and lay down in her blanket, between Elaria and Star.

"I wonder how far we will ride?" Star murmured, hugging her blanket around her thin shoulders against the dampness. "If we do not soon find food, the children will begin to die."

"It is not as bad as that," Elaria remonstrated. "We have not even begun to bleed the horses. We can live on their blood for least a month before they even begin to weaken. Once when there was a bad year we lived on the mares' blood for two months. My first daughter died, and we were all so near starving that when we went to the men's village, none of us became pregnant for almost half a year."

"I am hungry enough that I would drink mares' blood - or anything else," Star grumbled, but Elaria said, "That cannot be until Penthesilea gives orders; and she knows what she is doing."

"I am not so sure," Star muttered. "Letting us sleep here among all these men—"

"No," said Elaria,"she bid us not sleep."

Slowly the moon rose above the trees, climbing higher and higher. Then across her lowered eyelids Kassandra saw dark forms stealing through the clearing.

She was waiting for Penthesilea's signal when suddenly the stars above were blotted out by a dark shadow and the weight of a man's body was suddenly across hers; hands were tearing away her breeches, fumbling at her breast. She had her hand on her bronze dagger; she struggled to free herself but was pinned down flat. She kicked, and bit at the hand that covered her mouth; her attacker yelped—like the dog he was, she thought fiercely—and she thrust up hard with the hilt of the dagger, striking his mouth; he yelped again and Kassandra felt a spray of blood and curses from his broken lips. Then she got the dagger right way round 'and struck; he yelled and fell across her, just as Penthesilea shouted and all over the grove women sprang to their feet. Someone thrust a torch into the dying coals and the firelight flared up, reflecting light on bronze daggers naked in the men's hands.

"Such is your hospitality to guests?"

Kassandra cried out, "I have taken care of one of them, Aunt!" She scrambled free, pushing the groaning man off her body. Penthesilea strode toward her and looked down.

"Finish him," she said. "Don't leave him to die slowly in pain."

But I don't want to kill him, Kassandra thought. He can't hurt me now and he didn't do me any real harm. All the same, she knew the law of the Amazons; death for any man who attempted to rape an Amazon, and she could not violate that law. Under the cold eyes of Penthesilea, Kassandra bent reluctantly over the wounded man and drew her dagger hard across his throat. He gurgled and died.

Kassandra, feeling sick, straightened and felt Penthesilea's hand hard on her shoulder. "Good work. Now you are truly one of our warriors," she murmured and strode forward into the torchlight toward the assembled men.

"The Gods have decreed that the guest is sacred," Penthesilea chided. "Yet one of your men would have ravished one of my unwilling maidens. What excuse can you give for that breach of hospitality?"

"But who ever heard of women to be riding alone this way," one of the men argued. "The Gods only protect women who are decent wives, and you're not; you don't belong to anyone."

"What God told you that?" Penthesilea inquired.

"We don't need a God to tell us what just stands to reason. Women were made for women's work and to look after men's needs." declared the shepherd. "I never heard of such a thing as women riding so far away from their men. And since you had no husbands, we decided we'd take ye in and give ye what ye needed most, men to look after ye."

"That is not what we need nor what we seek," the Amazon declared, and gestured to the women surrounding the men with their weapons.

"Take them!"

Kassandra found herself rushing forward with the rest, her dagger raised. The man she rushed against made no particular effort to defend himself; she pushed him down and knelt over him with her knife at his throat.

"Don't kill us," the men cried out. "We won't hurt you!"

"Now you won't," Penthesilea said fiercely, "but when we were sleeping and you thought us helpless—you would have killed or raped us!"

Penthesilea thrust with her dagger at his throat and he cringed. "Will you swear by your own Gods never again to molest any women of our tribes—or any other—if we let you live?"

"No, we won't," said the leader. "The Gods sent you to us, and we took you, and I think we did what was right."

Penthesilea shrugged and gestured to cut his throat. The other men screamed that they would swear, and Penthesilea motioned the women to let them go. One by one, except for the leader, they knelt and swore as required.

"But I do not trust even their oath," said Penthesilea, "once they are out of sight of our weapons." She gave orders for their possessions to be gathered together and for the horses to be saddled, so that they could ride at dawn.

After her sleepless night, Kassandra's eyes burned and her head ached; it seemed that she could still feel the man's gross hands on her body. When she wished to move she could not; her body was rigid, locked; she heard someone calling her name but the sound was very far away.

Penthesilea came to her, and the touch of her hand brought Kassandra back to herself.

"Can you ride?" she asked.

Wordlessly, Kassandra nodded and pulled herself up into the saddle. Her foster-mother came and embraced her, saying, "You did well; now you have killed a man, you are a warrior, fit to fight for us. You are a child no more." Penthesilea called out the signal to ride, and Kassandra, shivering, urged her horse into motion. She wrapped her blanket over her shoulders.

Ugh, she thought, it smells of death.

They rode, chill rain in their faces; she envied the women who were carrying covered clay pots of hot coals. Eastward, and further eastward they rode, the wind chilling and growing colder. After a long time the sky lightened to a pale grey, but there was no true daybreak. All round her Kassandra heard the women grumbling, and she ached with hunger and cold.

Penthesilea at last called for a halt, and the women began -setting up their tents for the first time in many days. Kassandra clung to her horse, needing the heat of the animal's body; the aching cold seemed to seep into every muscle and bone of her body. After a time there were fires burning at the center of the encampment and she went like the others and crouched close to the tongues of warmth.

Penthesilea gestured near where they had been riding and the women saw; with astonishment, green fields of half-ripened grain. Kassandra could hardly believe her eyes: grain at this season?

"It is winter wheat," Penthesilea said. "These peoples plant their grain before the first snow falls, and it lies through the winter under the snow, and ripens before the barley harvest. For this cold climate, they have two grains, and it is the rye I seek."

The Amazon Queen gestured to her kinswoman to walk beside her and Kassandra came to her side.

"What land have we come to, Aunt?" she asked.

"This is the country of the Thracians," Penthesilea told her, "and northward," she gestured, "lies the ancient city of Colchis."

Kassandra remembered one of her mother's stories. "Where Jason found the golden fleece, by the aid of the witch Medea?"

"The same. But there is little gold there, these days; though there is much witchcraft."

"Are there people living hereabouts?" asked Kassandra. The countryside seemed so barren after the fertile fields of the Trojan plain, that it seemed impossible that people would choose to live in this desolate place.

"Fields of rye do not plant themselves," Penthesilea reproved her. "Where there is grain, there is always someone, man or woman, to plant it. And here there are people and also—" she pointed, "horses."

Far away on the horizon, hardly visible, Kassandra made out small moving flecks which seemed no larger than sheep; but from the way they moved, she could see they were horses. As they surged nearer, Kassandra made out that they were very different from the horses that she and the other Amazons rode: small and dun-coloured with heavy-set bodies and thick shaggy hair almost like fur.

"The wild horses of the north; they have never been ridden nor tamed," Penthesilea said. "No God has touched them to mark them for mankind or women. If they belong to any God they are the property of the huntress Artemis."

As if moved by one spirit, the whole herd wheeled and dashed away, the lead mare pausing with her head up to stare, nostrils dilated and eyes shining, at the women.

"They smell our stallion," said Penthesilea. "He must be watched; if he scents a herd of mares he might well try to add them to our own and these horses are no use to us. We could not feed them and there would not be enough pasture."

"What are we doing here?" Kassandra asked.

"The Goddess is wise," her kinswoman replied. "Here in the country of the Thracians, we can trade for iron and replenish our weapons. There will be grain for sale in the city of Colchis, if not nearer; and we have items for trade; saddles and bridles, leather work, and more. We will go this afternoon to the village and see if we can buy food."

Kassandra looked at the grey sky and wondered how anyone could tell whether it was morning or afternoon. She supposed that Penthesilea had some way of knowing.

Later that day Penthesilea summoned Kassandra and one of the other young maidens, Evandre, and they rode toward the village which lay at the center of the grainfields lying beneath the snow. As the women entered the village—only a few small round stone houses, and a central building open to the sky where women were working at the shaping of pots - the inhabitants came out to see them.

Many of the women were carrying spindles with wool or goat's hair wrapped round them. They wore long loose skirts of woven goat's hair dyed green or blue; their hair was dark and ragged. Some had children in their arms, or clinging to their skirts.

Kassandra saw, with a little thrill of horror, that many of the children were curiously deformed; one little girl had a raw-looking cleft through her lip, running up through her face till her nostril looked like an open sore; another had but a thumb and one deformed finger on her tiny hand which looked like a claw. She had never seen living children like this; in Troy a child born deformed was immediately exposed on the slopes of Mount Ida for wolves or other wild beasts to destroy. Women and children hung back without speaking, but looked curiously at the Amazons and their horses.

"Where are you going?"

"Northward at the will of our Goddess, and at the moment, to Colchis," said Penthesilea. "We would like to trade here for grain."

"What have you to trade?"

"Leather goods," said Penthesilea, and the women shook their heads. "We make our own leather from the hides of our horses and goats," said a woman who appeared to be a leader among them. "But sell us a dozen of your little girls and we will give you all the grain you can carry."

Penthesilea's face turned pale with anger.

"No woman of our tribe is ever sold into slavery."

"We do not want them for slaves," said the woman. "We will adopt them as our daughters. A sickness has raged here and too many women have died in childbirth, while others cannot bear healthy babies; so you can see women are very precious to us."

Penthesilea was paler than ever. She said softly to Evandre, "Pass the word back that no woman is to dismount from her horse for an instant in this village; not for any purpose, no matter what the need; we will ride on."

"What is the matter, Aunt?" Kassandra asked.

"We must touch none of their grain," Penthesilea said, and said to the woman, "I am sorry for your sickness; but we can do nothing to help you. Nevertheless, if you would be free of it, cut down your standing grain and burn it, do not even let it lie to fertilize the fields. Get yourselves fresh seed corn from somewhere south of here. Examine the seeds carefully for any trace of blight; it is this that has poisoned the wombs of your women."

As they rode away from the village, Penthesilea, riding through the rye fields, bent down and plucked a few of the green stalks. She held them up, pointing to the place where the seeds would be forming.

"Look," she said. Pointing out the purplish threadlike fibers at the tips of the stalks, she held it towards Kassandra. "Smell it; as a priestess you must be able to recognize this whenever you encounter it. Do not taste it, whatever you do, nor eat of it even if you are starving."

Kassandra smelled a curious mouldy, slimy, almost fishy smell.

"This rye will poison any who eat fresh grain, or even the bread which could be baked from it; and the worst form of poisoning is that it kills the children in the womb and can destroy a woman's fertility for years. That village may already be doomed. It is a pity; their women seem handsome and industrious, and their spinning and weaving is notable. Also they make fine pots and cups."

"Will they all die, Aunt?"

"Probably: many of them will eat the poisoned grain and not die of it, but no more healthy children will be born in that village, and by the time they are desperate enough to enforce, perhaps, a year's famine on their people, it may be too late."

"And the Gods permit this?" Kassandra asked. "What Goddess is angry enough to blight the grain in the village?"

"I do not know; perhaps it is not the doing of any Goddess at all," said her kinswoman. "I only know that it comes, year after year, especially when there has been too much rain."

It had never occurred to Kassandra to doubt that the grain of the fields was watched over and made to grow through the direct agency of Earth Mother; this was a frightening heresy and she put it out of her mind as quickly as possible. She was aware again of hunger - she had been without substantial food for so long that she had almost ceased to be aware of it for days at a time.

As they rode, they began to see small animals jumping in and out of burrows in the ground. A young girl quickly strung her bow and loosed a hunting-arrow shaped of fire-hardened wood instead of the precious metal and the animal it struck fell over and lay kicking. The archer leaped off her pony and clubbed it over the head. A flight of other arrows followed the first, but only one or two found their mark. At the thought of hare roasted on the spit, Kassandra's mouth watered.

Penthesilea drew the riders to a halt with a gesture.

"We will camp here, and I promise you, we will not ride on until we are all fed somehow," she said. "You warriors, take your bows and hunt; as for the rest of you, set up the targets and practice with your arrows. We have neglected practicing our hunting and righting skills in these days while we ride. Too many of those arrows went far from the targets. In my mother's day, that many arrows would have brought down enough hares to feed us all."

She added, "I know how hungry you all are - I am no more fond of fasting than any of you, and it has been as long for me as for any of you since I have eaten a good meal. Yet I beg you, my sisters, if you found—or stole - any grain or anything made of it, or any food at all in that village, let me see it before you eat of it. Their grain is cursed, and those who eat of bread made from it may miscarry, or your child may be born with one eye, or only one finger on her hand."

One woman defiantly pulled out a hard and somewhat mouldy loaf of bread from beneath her tunic. She said, "I will give this to some woman past childbearing age who can eat of it safely. I did not steal it," she added. "I bartered an old buckle for it."

One of the oldest women in the tribe said, "I will exchange it for my share of the hare I brought down with my arrow; it has been too long since I tasted bread, and I will certainly never bear any more children to be damaged by it."

The sight of the bread made Kassandra so hungry that she felt she would rather risk miscarriage or damage to a child she might bear some day far in the future; but she would not disobey her kinswoman. Other Amazons brought forth items of food they had bartered - or stolen - in the village, almost all of which Penthesilea confiscated and threw on the fire.

Kassandra went to shoot at targets while the seasoned warriors rode away to seek game and the old women spread out across the flat countryside to seek food of any sort. It was too far into the winter for berries or fruits, but there might be roots or some edible fungus somewhere.

The short winter day was darkening into twilight when at last the hunters returned, and soon the cut-up hares were seething in a cauldron with flat wild beans and some roots; chunks hacked from a larger beast—it had been skinned, but

Kassandra suspected it was one of the rough-furred wild horses, and was hungry enough not to care - were roasting over a great fire. For that night at least they would have their fill, and Penthesilea had promised there would be plenty of food in Colchis.

CHAPTER 8

"There it lies," Penthesilea said, and pointed. "The city of Colchis."

Accustomed to the fortified Cyclopean walls of Troy, rising high above the rivers of the fertile plain, Kassandra was not at first sight impressed by the walls of sun-hardened baked brick, dull in the hazy sunlight. It would, she thought, be vulnerable to attack from anywhere. In her year with the Amazons she had learned something - not formally, but from the other Amazons' tales of sieges and war - of military strategy.

"It is like the cities of Egypt and the Hittites," said Penthesilea. "They do not build impressive fortifications; they do not need them. Inside their iron gates you will see their temples and the statues of their Gods. These are greater than the temples and statues of Troy as the walls of Troy are greater than the walls of Colchis. The story goes that this city was founded by the ancient ship-peoples of the far South; but they are unlike any peoples here, as you will see when we enter the city. They are strange; they have many curious customs and ways." She laughed. "But then, that is what they would say of us, I suppose."

Of all this, Kassandra had heard only iron gates. She had seen little of the metal; once her father had shown her a ring of black metal which he told her was iron.

"It is too costly, and too hard to work, for weapons," he said to her. "Some day when people know more about the art of forging it, iron might be of use for ploughing; it is much harder than bronze." Now Kassandra, remembering, thought that a city and a people which knew enough of iron to forge it into gates must indeed be wise.

"It is because the gates are of iron that the city has not been taken?" she asked.

Penthesilea looked at her and said in some surprise, "I do not know. They are a fierce people, but they are seldom involved in war. I suppose it is because they are so far from the major trade areas. All the same, people will come from the ends of the world for iron."

"Will we enter the city, or camp outside the walls?"

"We will sleep this night in the city; their Queen is all but one of us," Penthesilea said. "She is the daughter of my mother's sister."

So, thought Kassandra, she is my mother's kinswoman too, and mine.

"And the King?"

"There is no king," Penthesilea said. "Imandra rules here, and she has not chosen yet to take a consort."

Behind the city red-rust cliffs rose, dwarfing the gates. The path leading to the city was paved underfoot with gigantic blocks of stone, and the houses, with stone steps and arches, were constructed of wood and lath and brightly plastered and painted. The city streets were not paved, but muddy and trampled, and strange beasts of burden, horned and shaggy, moved between the houses, laden with huge baskets and jars. Their owners whacked them aside as the Amazons, drawn up in almost military formation, rode through the streets. Kassandra, conscious of all the eyes on her, braced her spear against the weariness of riding, and sat erect, trying to look like a warrior.

The city was very different from Troy. Women went everywhere freely in the streets, carrying jars and baskets on their heads. Their garments were long, thick and cumbersome, but, for all their clumsy skirts and eye-paint, the women looked strong and competent. She also saw a forge where a woman, dark-faced and soot-stained, with a warrior's thick muscles, was working. Bared to the waist to tolerate the fierce heat of the bellows and the flying sparks, she hammered on a sword. A younger woman, not much more than a girl, worked the bellows. Kassandra had, in her months with the Amazons, seen women doing many strange things but this was the strangest of all.

The sentries on the walls were women too and might well have been members of the Amazon company, for they were armed and wore breastplates of bronze, and carried long spears. As the Amazons rode through the streets the sentries set up a long whooping battle-cry; and before long half a dozen of them, with their spears laid in rest in token of peace, appeared in the streets before them; their leader rode forward and embraced Penthesilea from the saddle.

"We greet you rejoicing, Penthesilea, Queen of Mares," she said. "The Lady of Colchis sends you greeting and welcomes your return to us. She bids your women make camp in the field within the Southern Wall, and invites you to be her guest in the palace with a friend, or two if you wish."

The Amazon Queen called back the news the sentry had brought.

"And more," the woman of Colchis said,"the Queen sends your women two sheep as a gift, and a basket of bread baked this day in the royal ovens; let your women feast here while you join her at the palace." The Amazons sent up a great cheer at the thought of all this long-untasted food.

Penthesilea saw her women encamped on the field, their tents raised and the sheep slaughtered. Kassandra, standing by as a good rump portion was burnt for the Huntress, noted that the sheep were quite ordinary looking, like the sheep of Troy. Penthesilea, watching her, said, "What is it? Were you expecting to see the sheep of Colchis with golden fleeces? They do not grow that way; not even the herds of Apollo Sunlord are born so. But the Colchians lay their fleeces in the stream to catch the gold that still washes down the rivers; and though there is less gold than, perhaps, in Jason's day, still before you depart from Colchis you shall see these fleeces of gold. Now let us dress to dine at a Queen's table."

The Amazon Queen went into her own tent, took off her riding clothes, and put on her finest skirt and boots of white doeskin, with a tunic leaving one breast bare as the custom was here. Told to dress in her best, Kassandra put on her Trojan dress - it was too short for her now, and came only halfway down her calves—and her sandals.

Penthesilea had taken a stub of kohl from her pack and was smudging her eyes; she turned and said, "Is this the only dress you have, child?"

"I'm afraid so."

"That will never do," said Penthesilea. "You have grown more than I thought." She dug into her own saddlebag and pulled out a worn dress dyed pale saffron. "This will be too big for you, but do the best you can."

Kassandra dragged the dress over her head and fastened it with her old bronze pins. She felt so awkward and cumbered by the skirts about her knees that it was hard to remember that once she had worn this kind of garment every day.

Together they walked up through the paved streets of Colchis. Kassandra felt that she was gaping like a barbarian at the tall houses - it had been so long since she had been inside city walls.

The palace was built somewhat like the palace of Troy, of the local grey marble. It stood on the high place at the center of the city, and not even a Temple stood above it; Kassandra, raised in the custom in her land that the dwellings of men might not rise so high as the temples of the Gods, was a little shocked.

As they stood on the palace steps, they could look out over the sea. Just as it is in Troy, thought Kassandra; only this sea was not the intense blue she remembered from her home, but dark grey and oily. Men were peacefully loading and unloading the ships lying at anchor near the habour; they were not pirates or raiders, but merchants. This many ships near Troy would be a sign of disaster or war.

Yet she could see them lying off Troy, ships so many that the blue of the sea was darkened…

With an effort she brought herself back to the present. There was no danger here…

Penthesilea touched her arm. "What is it? What did you see?"

"Ships," Kassandra murmured,"ships—threatening Troy—"

"No doubt, if Priam goes on as he has begun," her kinswoman said dryly. "Your father has attempted to grasp power he is not strong enough to hold, and one day that power will be tested. But for now we must not keep Queen Imandra waiting for us."

Kassandra had never thought to question her father's policies; yet she could see that what Penthesilea said was true. Priam exacted tribute from all the ships which went through the straits into this sea; thus far, the Akhaians had paid it because it was less trouble than mustering a navy to challenge it. She looked at the iron gates and realized that they meant a whole new way of life, sooner or later.

She told herself she was unrealistic; her father was strong, with many warriors and many allies; he could hold Troy forever. Perhaps one day Troy too will have iron gates, like this city of Colchis. As they passed through the wide corridors, woman guards in bronze breastplates and leather helmets inlaid with metal raised their fists in token of salute. Now they came into a high-ceilinged room with a high skylight inlaid with translucent green stone, and at the center a marble high seat where a woman was sitting.

She looked like a warrior herself, with a beaten silver breastplate, but under it she was clad in a fine robe of brocade from the far south, and a light chemise of Egyptian gauze, the kind that was known as 'woven air'. On her face she wore a false beard, gilded and tied like a ceremonial wig; token, Kassandra felt, that she ruled not as a woman but as King of the city. Around her hips was a belt inlaid with green stones, and a fine sword hung from the belt. She wore leather boots embroidered and dyed, which came up to her calves. Just below her breastplate, about her waist, was a curious belt which seemed to rise and fall with her breathing; as they came nearer Kassandra realized that it was a living snake.

As they approached, the Queen rose and said, "I greet you rejoicing, cousin. Have your warriors been properly welcomed and feasted? Is there anything more I can do to make you welcome, Penthesilea, Queen of Horsewomen?"

Penthesilea smiled and said, "Indeed we have been welcomed, Lady; now tell me what you want of us. For I have known you-since we were girls, and I know well that when not only I, but all my warriors are made welcome and feasted, it is not just for courtesy's sake. Kinship alone would require that I put myself and my women at your service, Imandra; ask freely what you desire of us."

"How well you read me, Penthesilea; indeed I have need of friendly warriors," Imandra said in her husky and pleasing voice, "but first let us share our dinner. Tell me, cousin, who is the maiden? She is a little too young to be either of your daughters."

"She is the daughter of our kinswoman Hecuba of Troy."

"Oh?" Imandra's delicately painted eyebrows went up in an elegant arch.

She beckoned to a waiting-woman and snapped her fingers lightly; this was the signal for a number of slaves bearing jewelled dishes covered with an assortment of food to come forth: roast meat and fowl in various delicious sauces, fruits in honey, sweets so richly spiced that Kassandra could not even guess what they were made of.

She had been hungry so long that all this food made her feel slightly sick; she ate sparingly of the roast fowl and some hard cakes of bread, then at the Queen's urging tasted a rich sweetmeat spiced with cinnamon. She noted that Penthesilea too ate little, and when the trays had been carried away and rose-water poured over their hands, the Queen of Colchis said, "I thought Hecuba had long forgotten her days as a warrior. Yet her daughter rides with you? Well, I have no quarrel with Priam of Troy. She is welcome. Is it she who is to marry Akhilles?"

"No, that I had not heard," said Penthesilea. "I think Priam will find, when he tries to find a husband or marriage for this one, that the Gods have claimed her for their own."

"Perhaps one of her sisters, then," said Imandra indifferently. "If we have need of a King in Colchis, perhaps I will marry my own daughter to one of Priam's sons; I have one of an age to be married. Tell me, Priam's daughter, is your oldest brother yet pledged in marriage?"

Kassandra said shyly, "Not that I have heard, Lady, but my father does not confide his plans to me. He may well have made some such arrangement many years ago that I have not heard about."

"Honestly spoken," said Imandra. "When you return to Troy my envoys shall go with you, offering my Andromache for your father's son; if not the eldest, then another—he has fifty, I believe, and several are the sons of your royal mother, are they not?"

"I do not believe there are as many as fifty," said Kassandra, "but there are many."

"Be it so, then," said Imandra, and as she stretched out her hand to Kassandra, the serpent coiled about her waist began to stir; it crawled up on to her arm and as Kassandra put out her own hand the creature thrust out its nose and its coils followed; it began to wind itself around Kassandra's wrist like a slender bracelet.

"She likes you," Imandra said. "Have you been taught to handle them?"

Kassandra said, remembering the serpents in the Temple of Apollo Sunlord, "They are not strange to me."

"Take care; if she should bite you it would make you very ill," said Imandra. Kassandra felt no fear, but a sense of elation as the snake crawled along her arm, the soft dry sliding of the scales distinctly pleasurable to her flesh.

"And now to a serious matter," said Imandra. "Penthesilea, did you see the ships in the harbor?"

"Who could help seeing? They are many."

"They are laden with tin and iron from the north, from the country of the Hyperboreans," she said, "and naturally my fellow kings envy this. Since I do not, they say, sell them sufficient tin for their bronze - they say I fear the weapons they will make, where the truth is I have little enough for myself and they have nothing I crave - they have taken to attacking my caravans of tin and carrying it off without payment. In this city, there are too few trained warriors. What payment will you ask, to bring your warriors to guard my shipments of metal?"

Penthesilea raised her eyebrows. "It would be simpler—and cheaper, I suspect - to sell them what they want."

"And let them arm themselves against me? Better that my smiths make weapons and let them pay with gold for such weapons as they want. I send some tin and lead and also iron south to the Hittite kings - those that are left of them. Those caravans too are robbed. There is gold in it for you, then, and for your women if they crave it."

"I can guard your caravans," said Penthesilea, "but the price will not be small. My women have travelled here under an omen and are not eager for war; all we want is to return to our own pastures in the spring."

Kassandra lost track of the conversation; she was absorbed in the snake that was coiling around her arm, gliding into the front of her dress, curling up warm between her breasts. She looked aside to one of the slave women juggling three gold-coloured balls, and wondered how the girl managed it. When she returned to paying attention to what was happening, Penthesilea and Imandra were embracing, and Imandra said, "I shall await your warriors the day after tomorrow; by that time the caravans will be loaded and the ships sailing away again to the secret mines in the northern countries. My guards will escort you back to the field where your women are encamped; the Goddess give you a good night; and you too, little kinswoman." Then she held out her hand. "My snake has abandoned me. Bid her return to me, Kassandra."

With a certain reluctance, Kassandra reached into the bosom of her dress and scooped out the snake, which draped itself loosely over her hand, twining round her wrist. She loosened it awkwardly with her other hand.

"You must come back and play with her again; usually if I ask someone to hold her for me, she is likely to bite," said Imandra. "But she has taken to you as if you were a priestess. Will you come?"

"I would find it a pleasure," Kassandra murmured, as Imandra scooped the snake from her wrist; it crawled swiftly up her arm and slithered down into the Queen's dress.

"Then I shall welcome you another day, daughter of Hecuba. Farewell."

As they returned, with the woman guards walking two paces behind them, Kassandra thought they were more like prisoners being escorted, than honored guests being protected. Nevertheless as they walked through the busy streets, she heard scufflings in alleys and once a muffled scream, and felt that here in this strange city it might not, after all, be entirely safe for women who were not a part of Colchis.

CHAPTER 9

Ten days later, Penthesilea rode out of Colchis with a picked group of Amazon warriors, Kassandra among them. They would accompany the caravans of tin, unloaded from the harbor ships, on their way southward to the faraway country of the Hittite kings.

Secretly Kassandra was remembering the words spoken in, prophecy: 'There remain till the spring stars fall!' Was her kinswoman then defying the command of the goddess? But it was not her place to ask questions. Across her shoulder she carried the Scythian bow, formed of a double span of horn, strung with the braided hair of her horse's tail. At her side was the short metal-tipped javelin of an Amazon warrior. Riding next to Star she remembered that her friend had already fought in a battle.

Yet it seemed so peaceful this morning, the bright clear air adazzle with pale sunlight, a few clouds flying overhead. Their horses' hooves made a muffled sound on the road beneath, a counterpart to the heavy rumble of the carts, each drawn by two teams of mules, piled high with the wrapped bundles and crude ingots of the dull/shiny metal and covered with black cloth as heavy as a ship's sail.

The night before she had stood, with the other warriors, guarding the loading of the wagons; remembering the dense blackness of the ingots of iron, the dullness of the lumps of tin, she wondered why this ugly stuff should be so valuable. Surely there was enough metal in the depths of the earth that all men could have a share; why should men—and women - fight wars over the stuff? If there was not enough for all those who wished for it, certainly it would be easy enough to bring more from the mines. Yet it seemed that Queen Imandra took pride in the fact that there was not enough for everyone who wanted a share.

That day was uneventful; the Amazons rode along in single file over the great plain, slowed to the pace of the trundling wagons. Kassandra rode beside one of the blacksmith-women of Colchis, talking with her about her curious trade; she discovered to her surprise that the woman was married and had three grown sons.

"And never a daughter I could train to my trade!"

Kassandra asked, "Why can you not teach your sons your trade of a smith?"

The small muscular woman frowned at her.

"I thought you women of the Amazon tribes would understand," she said. "You do not even rear your own men-children, knowing how useless they are. Look, girl; metal is ripped from the womb of the Earth Mother: what would be her wrath should any man dare to touch or mould her bounty? It is a woman's task to shape it into earthly form for men to use. No man may follow the smith's trade or the Earth Mother will not forgive his meddling."

If the Goddess does not wish this woman to teach her sons her craft, Kassandra thought, why did she give the woman no daughters? But she was learning not to speak every thought that crossed her mind. She murmured, "Perhaps you will yet have a daughter," but the blacksmith grumbled, "What? Risk bearing again when I have lived almost forty winters?" and Kassandra made no answer. Instead she pulled her horse ahead to ride beside Star. The older girl was cleaning dirt from under her fingernails with a little chipped bone knife.

"Do you really think we shall have to fight?"

"Does it matter what I think? The Lady thinks so, and she knows more about it than I do."

Rebuffed again, Kassandra withdrew into her own thoughts. It was cold and windy; she drew her heavy mantle about her shoulders and thought about fighting. Since she had lived among the Amazons, she had been set every day to practice shooting with the bow, and had some skill with the javelin and even with the sword. Her eldest brother Hector had been in training as a warrior since he was old enough to grasp a sword in his hand; his first set of armor had been made for him when he was seven years old. Her mother too had been a warrior maiden, yet in Troy it had never occurred to anyone that Kassandra or her sister Polyxena should learn anything of weapons or of war. And although like all Priam's children she had been weaned on tales of heroes and glory, there were times when it seemed to her that war was an ugly thing and that she was better out of it. But if war was too evil a thing for women, why then should it be good for men? And if it were a fine and honorable thing for men, why should it be wrong for women to share the honor and the glory?

The only answer she could summon to solve her perplexity was Hecuba's comment: It is not the custom.

But why? she had asked, and her mother's only answer had been: Customs have no reason; they simply are.

She believed it no more now than she had believed it then.

Withdrawing into herself, she found herself seeking inward for her brother. Troy, and the sunny slopes of Mount Ida, seemed very far away. She thought of the day when he had pursued, and caught, the girl Oenone, and the curious passionate sensations their coupling had roused within her. She wondered where he was now and what he was doing.

But, except for a brief and neutral glimpse at the sheep and goats grazing on the slopes of Mount Ida, there was nothing to see. Usually, she thought, it is men who travel and women who remain at home; here I am far afield, and it is my brother who remains on the slopes of the sacred mountain. Well, why should it not be so once in the world?

Perhaps she would be the hero then, rather than Hector or Paris?

But nothing happened; the carts trundled along slowly and the Amazons rode behind them.

When the early-winter sunset stretched the shadows to ragged wavering forms, and the Amazons gathered their horses in a tight circle to camp, surrounding the wagons, Penthesilea voiced what had been in all their minds.

"Perhaps, with the caravan so guarded, they will not attack at all; perhaps we will simply waste a weary long journey."

"Wouldn't that be the best thing that could happen? For them never to attack at all, and the caravan to reach the end of its journey in peace?" one of the women asked. "Then it would be settled without war…?"

"Not settled at all; we would know they were still lurking and the moment the guard was withdrawn they would swoop down again; we could waste all the winter here," another said. "I want to see these pirates disposed of once and for all."

"Imandra wants the lesson taught that the caravans from Colchis are not to be attacked," said one of the women fiercely. "And that lesson will be a good thing—"

They cooked a stew of dried meat over the fires and slept in a ring around the wagons; many of the women, Kassandra noted, invited the men from the wagons into their blankets. She felt lonely but it never occurred to her to do the same. She had also discovered during her time with the Amazons that many of the women, especially the young girls, chose lovers among themselves; sometimes she wished that someone would choose her, but she had no close friend among them. She was shy and solitary, knowing herself different. Little by little the camp fell silent, with no sound except the eternal wind of the plains; and they slept.

It seemed that the same day was repeated over and over again; they crawled like an inchworm wriggling across a leaf, keeping pace with the heavy wagons, and at the end of that time Kassandra, looking back over the vast plain, thought they seemed no more than a single good day's ride on a good fast horse from the iron-gated city of Colchis and its harbor of ships.

She had lost count of the tediously limping days, that brought no greater adventure than a bundle falling from a wagon, and the whole line of wagons coming to a halt while it was gathered up and laboriously hoisted back up again.

On the eleventh or twelfth day—she had lost count since there was nothing to mark out the time—she was watching one of the tied bundles inching its way slowly backward under the tarpaulin which covered the load. She knew she should ride forward and notify the carvan master, or at least the wagon driver so that it could be lashed tight, but when it fell at least it would be a break in the monotony. She counted the paces before it would become unbalanced and tumble off.

"War," she grumbled to Star. "This is hardly an adventure, guarding the caravans; will we travel all the long way to the country of the Hittites? And will it be any more interesting than this?"

"Who knows?" Star shrugged, "I feel we have been cheated -we were promised battle and good pay. And so far there has been nothing but this dreary riding." She twitched her shoulders. "At least the country of the Hittites would be something to see. I have heard that it never rains there; all their houses are made of mud bricks, so that if there was ever a good rain, houses and temples and palaces and everything would wash away and their whole Empire would fall. But here, there is so little to think about that I am half tempted to invite that handsome horse-keeper into my bed."

"You would not!"

"No? Why not? What have I to lose? Except that it is forbidden to a warrior," said Star, "and if I had a child, I should spend my next four years suckling the brat, and washing swaddling clouts, instead of fighting and earning my place as a warrior."

Kassandra was a little shocked; Star spoke so lightly of such things.

"Haven't you seen him looking at me?" Star insisted. "He is handsome and his shoulders are very strong. Or are you going to be one of those maidens who are vowed to remain chaste as the Maiden Huntress?"

Kassandra had not thought seriously about it. She had assumed that for years at least she would remain with the Amazon warriors who took chastity as a matter of course.

"But all your life, Kassandra? To live alone? It must be well enough for a Goddess who can have any man she will," said Star, "but even the Maiden, it is said, looks down from Heaven now and again and chooses a handsome youth to share her bed."

"I do not believe that," said Kassandra. "I think men like to tell those tales because they do not like to think any woman can resist them; they do not want to think that even a Goddess could choose to remain chaste."

"Well, I think they are right," said Star. "It is what every woman desires; only among us, we are not bound to remain with any man and keep his house and wait on his wishes; but without men we would have no children, either. I am eager to choose my first; and for all your talk I am sure you are no different from any of us."

Kassandra remembered the coarse shepherd who would have violated her, and felt sick. At least here among the Amazons no one would insist that she should give herself to any man unless she chose; and she could not imagine why any woman would choose such a thing.

"It's different for you, Kassandra," Star said. "You are a princess of Troy and your father will arrange a marriage with any man you wish; a king or a prince or a hero. There is nothing like that in my future."

"But if you want a man," Kassandra asked, "why are you riding with the Amazons?"

"I was given no choice," Star replied. "I am not an Amazon because I wished for it, but because my mother, and her mother before her, chose that way of life."

Kassandra said, "I can imagine no better life than this."

"Then you are short on imagination," Star said, "for almost any other life I can imagine would be better than this; I would rather be a warrior than a village woman with her legs broken, but I would rather live in a city such as Colchis and choose a husband for myself, than be a warrior."

It did not sound like the kind of life Kassandra would wish for and she could not think of anything else to say. She returned to watching the heavy wagon's bundles as they shifted, and she was half asleep in her saddle when a loud yell startled her and the wagon driver fell headlong to the trail, an arrow through his throat.

Penthesilea shouted to her women, and Kassandra slung her strung bow swiftly to her breast, nocked an arrow and let fly at the nearest of the ragged men who were suddenly swarming on the plain, as if they had sprung like the dragon's teeth from the sand. The arrow flew straight to its target; the man who had sprung up beside the driver fell off screaming, and at the same moment the heavy bundle clanged to the rocky path, crushing one of the attackers who was trying to pull himself up on the wagon. Man and metal rolled together down the slope, and one of the warriors leaped from her horse and ran toward him, thrusting quickly with her javelin.

One of the running men grabbed at Kassandra's saddle-straps and hauled at her leg; she kicked but he dragged her off and she struggled to get her knife free.

She thrust upward and he fell across her, blood streaming from his mouth; another thrust, with the javelin this time, and he fell lifeless across her body; she struggled to get herself free of his weight. Then there was a javelin aimed at her throat; she thrust upward with her knife to knock it aside and felt a tearing pain in her cheek.

A man was gripping her elbow; she knocked the elbow into his mouth and felt blood and a tooth sprayed into her face. Over her shoulder she could see many men hauling at the bundles of metal, flinging them down into the roadway; she could hear Star screaming somewhere and the sound of arrows singing in flight. All round her was the high shrilling of the Amazon battlecry; Kassandra thrust her javelin and the man attacking her fell dead; she jerked her javelin free and found it covered with blood and entrails. Hastily unslinging her bow again she began shooting at the invaders, but as every arrow flew she was afraid it would hit one of her companions.

Then it was all over; Penthesilea ran toward the wagon, beckoning her women to rally close. Kassandra hurried to catch her horse, who, to her amazement, had come through the thick of the flying arrows untouched. The driver of the wagon was dead, lying back along the roadway. Star lay half crushed under her fallen horse; the beast had been slain by half a dozen of the strangers' arrows. Shocked, Kassandra ran to try and heave the horse from her friend's body. Star lay still, her dress torn, the back of her head smashed into a reddish mess, her eyes staring straight ahead.

She wanted a battle, Kassandra thought. Well, she had one. She bent over her friend and gently closed her eyes. Not till then did she realize that she herself was wounded; her cheek torn open, blood dripping from the flap of skin and torn flesh.

Penthesilea came to her and bent over Star's body.

"She was young to die," said the Amazon Queen gently. "But she fought bravely."

That was not, Kassandra thought, much good to Star now. The Amazon Queen looked her straight in the face and said, "But you too are wounded, child. Here, let me tend your wound."

Kassandra said dully, "It is nothing, it doesn't hurt."

"It will," said her kinswoman, and took her to one of the wagons, where Elaria washed the torn cheek with wine, and then dressed it with sweet oil.

"Now you are truly a warrior," said Elaria, and Kassandra remembered being told that on the night when she had killed the man who had tried to ravish her. But she supposed that a real battle made her more truly a fighting woman. She bore the wound proudly, the mark of her first battle.

Penthesilea, her face smeared with blood, bent close to examine the cleansed wound and frowned. "Bind it carefully, Elaria, or there will be a dreadful scar - and that we must not have."

"What does it matter?" Kassandra asked wearily. "Most Amazon warriors have scars." Penthesilea herself was dripping blood from an open slash on her chin. Kassandra touched her cheek with careful fingers. "When it is healed it will hardly show. Why make a fuss about it?"

"You appear to be forgetting, Kassandra, that you are not an Amazon."

"My mother herself was once a warrior," Kassandra protested. "She will understand an honorable scar of battle."

"She is a warrior no longer," Penthesilea said grimly. "She chose a long time ago what she would be; that she would live with your father, keep his house, bear his children. So if your father is angry - and angry, believe me, he will be if we send you back to him with your beauty marred - your mother will be greatly distressed, and her goodwill is very valuable to us. You will go back to Troy when we head south in the spring."

"No!" Kassandra protested. "Only now am I beginning to be of some use to the tribe instead of a burden. Why should I go back to being a house mouse," she pronounced the words disdainfully, "just when I have shown myself fit to become a warrior?"

"Think, Kassandra, and you will know why you must go," Penthesilea replied. "You are becoming a warrior; which would be well and good were you to spend the rest of your life with us. I would welcome you among our tribe, a true warrior and a daughter to me as long as I live. But this cannot be; soon or late, you must return to your life in Troy - and since it must be so, then for your own sake it had best be soon. I would not send you back so changed that you would be miserable all your life if you must spend it within city walls." Kassandra knew this was true, but it seemed to her that she was being punished for becoming one of them.

"Don't look so downcast, bright-eyes; I am not sending you away tomorrow," her kinswoman said, and drew the girl to her breast, stroking her hair. "You will remain with us at least for another moon, perhaps two, and return with us to Colchis. Nor have I forgotten the promise I made you; the Goddess has called you to her service, she has set her hand upon you as priestess-born; we could not claim you as warrior in any case. Before you depart from among us, we shall see you presented to her."

Kassandra still felt that she had been cheated; she had worked so long and bravely to be accepted as an Amazon warrior, and it was that very hard work and bravery in battle which had lost her the coveted goal.

The scene of the battle was being cleared away; the bodies of the Amazons - besides Star, two other women had been slain by arrows and one crushed beneath a fallen horse - were being dragged away to be burnt. Penthesilea pushed Kassandra gently down when she would have risen.

"Rest, you are wounded."

"Rest? What are the other warriors doing, wounded or not? May I not bear the part of a warrior at least while I still remain among you?"

Penthesilea sighed. "As you will, then. It is your right to see those you have slain sent to the Lord of the Underworld." With tenderness she touched the girl's wounded cheek.

Goddess, Mother of Mares, Lady who shapes our Fates, she thought, why did you not send this one, the true daughter of my heart, to my womb, rather than to my sister who had chosen to give her to a man's dominion? She will know no happiness there and I see only darkness lying before her; darkness, and the shadow of another's fate.

Her heart yearned for Kassandra as never for her own daughters; yet she realized that Hecuba's daughter must bear her own destiny, which she could not abate, and that the Dark Goddess had set her hand on the girl.

No woman can escape her Fate, she thought, and it is ill done to seek to deprive the Earth Mother of her appointed sacrifice. Yet for love of her, I would send her to serve Earth Mother below, rather than sentence her to serve the Dark One here in mortal lands.

CHAPTER 10

Kassandra saw her companions consigned to the flames without any visible display of emotion; when they made camp that night, at their insistence, she spread her blankets between those of Penthesilea and Elaria.

It did filter through her mind that without consulting her, a decision had been made. Now that the worst of the danger was over, they seemed suddenly to have remembered that she was a princess of Troy, and she was now to be carefully protected. But she was no more and no less a princess than she had been two or three days ago.

She missed Star, though they had not, she supposed, really been friends. Yet there was a subdued horror in Kassandra at the thought that every night on this journey she had spread out her blankets on the trail close beside this girl whose body now lay burned to ashes after having been smashed into ruin and pierced with arrows.

A little less luck, an opponent a little more skilled and the javelin which had torn her cheek would have gone through her throat; it would have been her body burned tonight on that pyre. She felt vaguely guilty, and was too new to the warrior's world to know that every one of the women lying around her felt exactly the same way; guilty and troubled that it was she who was alive and her friend who had died.

Penthesilea had spoken of the Goddess laying her hand upon her, as if this were a fact like any other, and Kassandra found herself wondering if she had been spared because the Goddess had some use for her.

Her torn cheek itched with maddening ferocity, and when she raised her hand to try and ease it by scratching or rubbing, a sharp pain kept her from touching it. She shifted the cloak she had wadded under her head and tried to find a comfortable position to sleep. Which Goddess had laid a hand on her? There were many; the Moon Lady whose tides and daily shifting rhythms laid her compulsion in every female animal; the Mother of

Mares whom Penthesilea invoked; the Maiden Huntress, whose protection was on every maiden and everyone who shot with the bow, guardian of warriors; the Dark Mother of the under-earth, Snake Mother of the Underworld… but she, Kassandra thought in confusion as her thoughts began to blur into sleep, had been slain by Apollo's arrows…

There were so many Goddesses; every little village seemed to have a shrine to one or more of them, and yet Penthesilea had told her once, casually, that all these Goddesses were the same, although each village and tribe had its own name for her.

As often before sleep she reached out in her mind for the familiar touch of her twin's thoughts. There was the riffle of a wind from home, and the thyme-scented air of Mount Ida drifted through her senses; the darkness of the shepherd's hut she had never, in her own body, entered, was around her; she wondered what he would have thought of the battle. Or would this have seemed commonplace to him? No; for now she, a woman, had more experience of battle than he had. Shadowed darkly at her side she could see - or sense - a sleeping form she identified as the woman Oenone who had for so long been the center of her—of his fantasies. She had become accustomed in the last months to this curious division of herself and her twin, till she was no longer sure which sensations and emotions were hers and which Paris's. Was she asleep and dreaming? Was he?

The moonlight illuminated the softly shining form of a woman standing in the shadowed doorway of the shepherd's hut, and she knew she looked on the form of the Lady; a Queen, regal and shining; now the shining one shifted, and the light streamed from the silver bow, with arrows of moonlight filling the little room.

The moonlight seemed to pierce through her body - or his -running through the veins, weaving around her like a net, drawing her toward the figure in the doorway. It seemed to her that she stood, facing the Lady, and a voice spoke from behind her left shoulder.

"Paris, thou hast shown thyself a fair and honest judge." Kassandra saw again for an instant the bull Paris had awarded the prize at the fair. "Judge thou therefore among the Goddesses, which is the fairest."

"Truly," she felt Paris's reply come as if from her own mouth,"the Lady is most fair in all her guises…'

Boyish laughter echoed at her shoulder. "And canst thou worship Her with perfect equality in all the Goddesses—without preferring one above another? Even the Sky Father shies from such a difficult balance as that!" Something smooth and cool and very heavy was put into Paris's hands, and golden light shone up upon his face. "Take thou this apple, and offer it to the Most Fair Goddess."

The figure in the door shifted slightly; the full moon crowned it with a shining halo, and its robes shone like polished marble. Sky Father's Queen stood there, Hera, stately and majestic, rooted in earth but reigning over it. "Serve me, Paris, and you will be great. You shall rule over all the known countries, and the wealth of the world shall be yours."

Kassandra felt Paris bow his head. "Truly you are fair, Lady, Most Powerful Queen." But the apple still lay heavy in his hand.

She looked up cautiously, fearing the Lady's wrath, but now the moon seemed to shine through a golden haze, glinting from the helmet and shield the Lady bore. The golden light radiated from her as well, and even the owl on her right shoulder shone with reflected glory.

"You will have much wisdom, Paris," Athene said. "Already you know that you cannot rule the world unless you first rule yourself. I shall give you knowledge of self, and build upon it all other knowledge. You will have wisdom to live well, and achieve victory in all battles."

"I thank you, Lady, but I am a shepherd, not a warrior. And there is no war here - who would dare to challenge the rule of King Priam?"

Kassandra thought she saw a look of scorn on the Lady's face, but then she moved, coming close enough so that Kassandra felt she could reach out and touch her. Her shield and helmet had disappeared, as had her pale draperies, and light radiated from her perfect body. Paris brought his hands, stll clasping the apple, up to shield his eyes. "Bright Lady," he murmured.

"There are other battles a shepherd can easily win—and what victory can there be without love and a lady to share it? Thou art fair, Paris, and most pleasing to all the senses." Her breath brushed against his cheek and he felt dizzy, as if the entire mountain were spinning around him. The air around him was warm; he shone brilliantly, bathed in the Lady's golden glow, her voice continued, soft and seductive, pulling him towards her. "You are a man any woman would be proud to marry -even such a woman as Helen of Sparta, the most beautiful woman in the world."

"Surely no mortal woman could compare with you, Lady." Paris looked into Aphrodite's eyes, and Kassandra had the curious impression that she and he were drowning together, washed away in the tide of light that shone from the eyes of the Queen of Love.

"But Helen is not entirely mortal; she is a daughter of Zeus -and her mother was fair enough to tempt him. She is almost as beautiful as I am, and she holds Sparta as well. All men desire her; all the Kings among the Argives sued for her hand. She chose Menelaus, but I assure you that one look at you would make her forget that choosing. For you are beautiful, and beauty draws all to itself."

Kassandra thought of Oenone, lying entranced at Paris's side; What does he want of a beautiful woman? He already has one -but Paris seemed unaware of her presence. The apple seemed feather-light in his hands as he handed it to her, and the golden glow brightened as if it would consume him…

The sunlight was shining in her eyes through the tent flap that Elaria had just opened. "How are you feeling this morning, bright-eyes?"

Kassandra stretched warily, slitting her eyes against the light -only sunlight, after all. Had it been a vision, or only a dream, and had it been her dream, or her brother's? Three Goddesses -but not one of them had been the Maiden Huntress. Why not?

Perhaps Paris has no interest in Maidens, she thought flippantly. But neither had there been any sign of Earth Mother - or was Earth Mother the same as Hera? No, for Earth Mother is Goddess by her own right, not wife even to a God, and those Goddesses were all defined as wife or daughter to Sky Father. Are those, then, the same as the Goddesses of Troy?

No, they could not be; why would a Goddess agree to be judged by any man—or even by any God?

None of these Goddesses is the Goddess as I know her—the Maiden, Earth Mother, Serpent Mother—nor even Penthesilea's Mother of Mares. Perhaps a land where the Sky Gods rule, can only those Goddesses be seen who are perceived as servants to the God? This left her more confused than ever.

It cannot have been my dream, for if I had dreamed of Goddesses I would have dreamed of those Goddesses I worship and honor. I have heard of these Goddesses; Mother told me of Athene with her gifts of olive and grape, but they are not mine, nor of the Amazons.

"Kassandra? Are you still sleeping?" asked Elaria. "We are to return to Colchis, and Penthesilea has been asking for you."

"I am coming," said Kassandra, pulling her breeches on. As she moved the curious tension of the dream - or vision—seemed to slip away, so that in her mind was only the curious memory of the alien Goddesses.

The vision is my brother's, not mine.

"Say to my kinswoman that I am coming," Kassandra said. "Let me but brush my hair."

"Let me help you," Elaria said, and knelt beside her. "Does your head hurt? The bandage has come away from your face; ah, good; there is no sign of a scar, it is healing cleanly. The Goddess has been kind to you."

To herself Kassandra wondered, "Which Goddess? but she did not speak the question aloud. In a few minutes she was in the saddle, and as they turned toward Colchis for the long ride, Kassandra saw before her in the brilliant sunlight the faces and forms of all the world's Goddesses; but what did these Goddesses of the Akhaians want with my brother, or with me? Or with Troy?

CHAPTER 11

Riding at their own pace and no longer held to the slow lumbering of the clumsy tin wagons, Penthesilea, Kassandra and the other Amazons who were returning to Colchis left the caravan to make its way to the faraway country of the Hittites.-Kassandra's face ached, and the jolting of her horse made it worse. She wondered what fortune the rest of the warriors would have on their journey and almost wished she could ride with them to that unknown land, even if only to join them in battle or death. But, she thought, I should not complain; I have already travelled further from my home than any woman of Troy has ever travelled, further than any of my brothers, or even Priam himself.

Penthesilea seemed unconcerned about attack as they retraced their way toward the city; perhaps the Amazons were not worth attacking without the metal they guarded. And who would guard the next caravan, with so many of the Amazons gone to guard this one? she wondered but she knew it was not her affair.

Now that she thought about it, she was eager to see more of the city of Colchis; Penthesilea's oracle had commanded her to remain for some time. All she had to look forward to after this was a return to Troy. Now she understood what her kinswoman meant saying that she should return before she was completely unfit for the ordinary life of a woman of Troy. But, thought Kassandra, it is already too late for that.

I shall go mad, prisoned inside house walls for the rest of my life.

And then she remembered her vision of the Goddesses and of her brother. With this gift she would always have a way of going outside her immediate surroundings, and thus she was more fortunate than many other women.

But was it any kind of substitute for actual change? Or merely a mockery, that her mind should escape the imprisoning walls when her body could not?

She felt she would like to talk about this at length with her mother, who had lived both lives and might understand. But would her mother be willing to talk about it freely, having made her own irrevocable choice? What had her mother gained for all she had given up? Would she still make the same choice?

Yet Kassandra knew she would never really have that opportunity. To Hecuba it was important that she should be seen as powerful and to this end she would never admit to Kassandra - or to anyone else - that she might have made a choice that was less than perfect.

Who else was there to talk to? Was there anyone to whom she could confide her confusion and distress? She could think of no one. It was unlikely that Penthesilea would be ready for such a talk. Kassandra was sure her kinswoman loved her, but that she regarded Kassandra as a child, not an equal with whom she would talk freely.

Even though they were travelling at the best speed of their horses, the ride to Colchis seemed all but endless. At the end of the first day they came within sight of the high walls of the iron-gated city, but there was still a long way to go; days in the saddle from first light, broken at noon for the usual cheese or curds. At least it was better than the hunger in the southern pastures. It was sunset of the third or fourth day when at last the tired riders rode under the great gates and towers. They set up a cheer in which Kassandra joined, but opening her mouth to cheer made the bandaged cut on her face ache. It was growing cold, and rain was threatening.

Within the shadow of the walls, a messenger from the palace came and spoke to Penthesilea; after which she beckoned to Kassandra.

"You and I are bidden to the palace, Kassandra; the rest of you, join the others in the camp."

Kassandra wondered what the Queen wanted of them. They trotted slowly through the cobbled streets, gave up their horses at the gates, and were conducted by Queen Imandra's women into the royal presence.

She was waiting for them in the same room where she had greeted them before. A young girl with coils of dark curls arranged low on her neck sprawled beside her on a rug.

"You have done well," Imandra said, gesturing them to come forward; seizing Penthesilea's hand she slid on it a bracelet of carved golden leaves, set with bits of green stone. Kassandra had never seen anything so beautiful.

"I will not keep you long," said the Queen, "you will be wanting a bath and dinner, after your long journey. Still, I wanted to speak with you for a little."

"It is our pleasure, kinswoman," Penthesilea said.

"Andromache," said Queen Imandra, gesturing to the girl on the rug beside her,"this is your cousin, Kassandra, daughter of Hecuba of Troy. She is the sister of Hector, your promised husband."

The dark-haired girl sat up, flinging her long curls to one side. "You are Hector's sister?" she inquired eagerly. "Tell me about him. What is he like?"

"He is a bully," Kassandra said forthrightly. "You must be very-firm with him or he will treat you like a rug and walk all over you—and you will be no more than a timid little thing perpetually yessing him, as my mother does to my father."

"But that is suitable for a husband and wife," said Andromache. "How would you have a man behave?"

"It's useless to talk to her, Kassandra," said Queen Imandra. "She should have been born to one of your city-dwelling women. I had intended her for a warrior, as you can tell from the name I gave her."

"It's useless to say that to Kassandra," said Penthesilea,"she speaks no language but her own."

"It's horrible," Andromache said. "My name means "Who fights like a man"— and who would want to?"

"I would," said Penthesilea, "and I do."

"I don't want to be rude to you, kinswoman," said Andromache, "but I don't like fighting at all. My mother can't forgive me that I was not born to be a warrior like her, to bring her all kinds of honor at arms."

"But the wretched girl," Imandra said, "will have nothing to do with weapons; she is lazy and childish, she only wants to stay indoors and wear pretty clothes. And already her mind is full of men. When I was her age I hardly knew there were men in the world except for my arms-master and I only wanted him to be proud of me. I made the mistake of letting her be brought up by women, indoors; I should have turned her over to you, Penthesilea, as soon as she could sit a horse. What sort of Queen is this for Colchis? Good for nothing except to marry - and what good is that?"

"Oh, Mother!" said Andromache, crossly. "You must accept that I am not like you. To hear you talk one would think that there is nothing to life except war and weapons and the ruling of your city, and beyond that, trade and ships beyond the borders of your world."

Imandra smiled and said, "I have found nothing better. Have you?"

"And what of love?" asked Andromache. "I have heard women talk—real women, not women who are pretending to be warriors—"

Imandra stopped her short by leaning over and slapping her face.

"How dare you say "pretending" to be a warrior? I am a warrior, and no less a woman for that!"

Andromache's smile was wicked, even though she put her hand to her reddening cheek.

"Men say that women who take up weapons are only pretending to be warriors because they are unable to spin and weave and make tapestries and bear children—"

"I did not find you under an olive tree," interrupted Imandra.

"And where is my father to say so?" asked the girl impudently.

Imandra smiled. "What does our guest say? Kassandra, you have lived both ways—"

"By the girdle of the Maiden," Kassandra said, "I would rather be a warrior than a wife."

"That seems to me folly," said Andromache, "for it has not brought happiness to my mother."

"Yet I would not change with any woman, wedded or unwedded, on the shores of the sea," said Imandra. "And I do not know what you mean by happiness. Who has put these sentimental notions into your head?"

Penthesilea spoke for the first time and said, "Let her alone, Imandra; since you have decided she is to be married, it is just as well she should be contented in that state. A girl that age does not know what she wants, nor why; that is so among our girls as well as yours."

Kassandra looked down at the soft-skinned, rosy-cheeked young girl at her side. "I think you are quite perfect as you are; I find it hard even to imagine you otherwise."

Andromache lifted her hand toward Kassandra's bandaged cheek. "What have you done to yourself, cousin?"

"Nothing worth mentioning," Kassandra said. "No more than a scratch." And indeed before Andromache's soft eyes she felt it truly nothing, a trivial incident she should be ashamed to mention.

Imandra leaned forward, and as she did so, Kassandra saw the small squarish head sliding out of her bodice. She put out her hand. "May I?" she asked, pleading, and the snake glided forward to slide round her wrist. Imandra guided the snake into her hand.

"Will she speak to you?"

Andromache looked on with a frown. "Ugh, how can you touch those things? I have such a horror of them."

Kassandra brought the snake caressingly to her cheek. "But that is foolish," she said. "She will not bite me, and if she did it would do me very little harm."

"It has nothing to do with fear of being bitten," Andromache -said. "It is not right, not normal to be unafraid of snakes. Even a monkey who has been kept in a cage for all its life, and never seen a living snake, will cry and shiver if you so much as throw a piece of rope into his cage, thinking it is a snake. And I think men too are intended by nature to be afraid of snakes."

"Well, perhaps then I am not normal," Kassandra snapped. She bent her head close to the snake, crooning to it.

Imandra said gently, "It is not for everyone, Kassandra. Only for such as you, who are born with the link to the Gods."

"I do not understand this," Kassandra said, feeling sullen and inclined to contradict everything that was said to her. Petting the snake, she said, "I dreamed the other night - or perhaps it was a vision of some sort - of the Goddesses. But the Serpent Mother was not one of them—"

"You dreamed? Tell me about it," said Imandra, but Kassandra hesitated. Partly she felt that to tell her dream might dilute the magic; it had been sent to her as a sacred secret and was not intended for anyone else. She cast a pleading look at Penthesilea, for she did not want to offend the Queen who had been so good to them, either.

"I advise you to tell her, Kassandra," said the Amazon Queen. "She is herself a priestess of the Earth Mother, and perhaps she can tell you what this means to your destiny."

Thus encouraged, Kassandra began, detailing every moment of her vision, ending with her confusion that neither the Maiden, nor Earth Mother, nor Serpent Mother had appeared among the Goddesses. Imandra listened intently, even when Kassandra, momentarily overcome by the memory, let her voice sink to a whisper.

When she finished, Imandra asked quietly, "Was this your first encounter with any of the Immortals?"

"No, Lady; I have seen the Mother Goddess of Troy speak through my mother's mouth, though I must have been very small indeed at the time. And once…' she swallowed, lowered her head and tried to steady her voice, knowing that if she did not she would break into wild weeping without knowing why, "Once… in his own temple… Apollo Sunlord spoke clearly to me…'

She felt Imandra's gentle fingers rest on her hair.

"It is as I thought when first I spoke with you; you have been called as a priestess. Do you know what that means?"

Kassandra shook her head and tried to guess.

"That I must live in the Temple and care for the oracles and the rites?"

"No, it is not as simple as that, child," Imandra told her. "It means that from this very day you must stand between men and Immortals, to explain the ways of the one to the other… it is not a life I would choose for my own daughter."

"But why have I been chosen?"

"Only those who called you know the answer to that, little one," Imandra said, and her voice was very gentle. "On some of us they lay their hand in a way we cannot mistake. They do not explain their ways to us. But if we try to escape their will they have ways of forcing us to their service, forget it not… no one seeks to be chosen; it is the Gods who choose us, not we who seek to give our service to them."

Yet, thought Kassandra, I think I would have sought this service… at least I do not come to it unwilling. The snake seemed to have fallen asleep in a heavy puddle on her arm; Imandra leaned forward and scooped it up still sleeping, letting it slide as if melting down the front of her dress.

"When next the moon shines full, you shall seek her," she said. And Kassandra felt an omen in the way she spoke.

CHAPTER 12

"I know so little of being a priestess," Kassandra said. "What must I do?"

"If the Goddess has called you, she will make it clear to you," said Penthesilea, "and if she has not, it does not matter what you-do or do not do; it will be all the same."

She patted Kassandra on the head and said, "You must get yourself a snake, and a pot to keep it in."

"I would rather keep it inside my dress as the Queen does."

"That is all very well," said Penthesilea, "but any animal must have a place that is all her own, for a refuge."

Kassandra could very well understand that. And so she went to the market with her kinswoman, seeking a pot for her snake; tomorrow, she told herself, she would go into the countryside, seeking a snake for herself. It did not seem suitable to buy one at the market for money, though she supposed she could speak with the people who raised snakes for the temple. Perhaps Imandra could be persuaded to tell her what she should know.

She searched among the pot-sellers in the marketplace, and finally found a vessel tinted blue-green and decorated ,with sea-creatures; on one side stood a priestess offering a serpent to some unfamiliar Goddess. It seemed to Kassandra that this was the perfect pot in which to keep her snake and she at once bought it with the money that Penthesilea had given to her. There were many pots decorated exactly like it, and she wondered if they were all put to the same use.

That evening as the sun set, she stood with Andromache on the palace roof, looking down into the darkness of the town as one by one, lights were kindled in the city below.

"You cannot go before the Goddess in leather Amazon breeches," said Andromache. "I will lend you a robe."

Kassandra frowned. "Is the Goddess a fool? I am what I am; do you think I can deceive her by changing my garment?"

"You are right, of course," Andromache said soothingly, "it cannot matter to the Goddess. But other worshippers might see and be scandalized, not understanding."

"That is another matter," Kassandra agreed, "and I understand what you mean; I will wear a robe if you are kind enough to lend me one."

"Certainly, my sister," said Andromache, then hesitated, saying almost defensively, "You will be my sister if I marry your brother, and when I come to Troy I will have a friend in your strange city."

"Of course." Kassandra slipped her arm around the younger girl, and they stood close in the darkness. "But Troy is no stranger than your city."

"Stranger to me, though," said the young girl. "I am accustomed to a city where a Queen rules. Truly, does your mother Hecuba not rule the city?"

Kassandra giggled a little at the thought of Hecuba ruling over her stern father.

"No, she does not. And your mother—has she no husband?"

"What should she do with a husband? Two or three times since my father died, she has taken a consort for a season and sent him away when she was tired of him—that is what is right for a Queen to do if she has desire for a man—at least in our city."

"And yet you are willing to marry my brother and be subject to him as our women are subject to their men?"

"I think I shall enjoy it," Andromache said with a giggle, and then cried out.

"Oh, look!"

Across the sky a line of brilliant light slashed and was gone.

Another followed it swiftly, and another, so brightly that for a moment it seemed that the earth itself reeled as the sky displaced itself. Star after star seemed to lose its moorings and fall, as the two girls watched. Kassandra murmured, "There remain till the Spring stars fall…'

In the darkness a shadow separated, became two, and Queen Imandra and Penthesilea appeared on the roof.

"Ah; I thought perhaps you were here, girls. It is as they told us," said Penthesilea, looking up at the shimmering heavens, as star after star appeared to detach itself from the sky and shimmer downward, "a shower of falling stars."

"But how can the stars fall? Will they all fall out of the sky?" Andromache asked, "and what will happen when they are all gone?"

Penthesilea chuckled and said, "Never fear, child, I have seen the star-showers every year for many years; there are always plenty left in the sky."

Imandra added, "Besides, I cannot see how it would affect us here on earth if they all fell - except that I should be sorry not to have their light."

"Once," said Penthesilea, "when I was a very young woman, I was with my mother and her tribe - we were riding on the plains far to the north of here, among the iron mountains - and a star fell close to us, with a great crackling and sizzling noise and light. We searched all the night, in the smell of the burnt air, and at last we found a great black stone, still glowing red; that is why many believe that the stars are molten fire which cools to' rock. My mother left me this sword, which I saw forged of the sky-metal."

"Sky iron is better than iron ripped from the Earth," confirmed Imandra, "perhaps because it is not under the curse of the Mother - it has not been torn from the Earth but is a gift of the Gods."

"I wish I could find a fallen star," murmured Andromache,"they are so beautiful."

She was still encircled in Kassandra's arm, and her tone was so wistful that Kassandra murmured, "I wish I could find one and give it to you as a gift worthy of you, little sister."

Penthesilea said, "So we are free to return to our own plains and pastures; we do not yet know why the Goddess sent us here."

"Whatever the reason," said Imandra, "it was my good fortune; perhaps the Goddess knew I had need of you here. When you go southward, you shall ride with my gifts. And if some, of your women choose to remain and instruct the women of my guards they shall be well paid." She looked upward where the stars were still tumbling and dancing across the sky and murmured, "Perhaps the Goddess has sent this as an omen for your journey before her, Kassandra. There was no such omen for me when I sought her far country to offer my service," she added, almost enviously.

"Where must I go?" asked Kassandra, "and must I journey alone?"

Imandra touched her hand gently in the dark. She said, "The journey is of the spirit, kinswoman; you need not travel a single step. And although you will have many companions, every candidate journeys alone, as the soul is always alone before the Gods."

Kassandra's eyes were dazzled by the falling stars, and in the strange mood of the night it seemed that Imandra's words had some curious and profound meaning stronger than the words themselves implied.

"Tell me more about the metal from the sky," said Andromache. "Should we not search for it, since it is falling all around us, and we need not mine it nor send for it on the ships from the Northern lands?"

Imandra said, "My court astrologers foretold this star-shower, and they will be watching from a field outside the city, with swift horses, so that if a star should fall near, they will go out and search for it. It would be impious to let a gift of the Gods go thus unclaimed or to let it fall into the hands of others who would not treat it with due reverence."

It seemed to Kassandra that hundreds of stars had fallen; but looking into the dark light-sprinkled heavens overhead there were quite as many as ever. Perhaps, she thought, new stars grow when these fall. The spectacle was beginning to seem quite ordinary, and she turned her eyes from the sky, sighing.

"You should go to bed," Penthesilea said, "for tomorrow you will be taken with the others who are to seek the Goddess in her country. And eat well before you sleep, for tomorrow you will be required to fast the day through."

"You will sleep in my room this night," Andromache said, "because I have promised to lend her a robe for tomorrow, Mother."

"That was a kindly thought for your kinswoman," Imandra said. "Get you to bed, then, girls, and do not lie awake long talking and giggling together."

"I promise," Andromache said, and drew Kassandra to the dark staircase leading down into the palace. She took Kassandra to her own room, where she called one of her serving-women to bathe them both and bring bread and fruit and wine. When they had bathed and eaten, Andromache leaned on the windowsill.

"Look, cousin, the stars are still falling."

"No doubt they will do so all the night," Kassandra said. "Unless one falls through the window into our chamber, I cannot see that it makes any difference to us."

"I suppose not," said Andromache. "If one should fall here, Kassandra, you can have it for a sword like Penthesilea's; I have no desire for weapons."

"I suppose I have no need for them either, since it seems I

no am not to be a warrior, but a priestess," said Kassandra, sighing.

"Would you rather be a warrior for all your life, Kassandra?" But Kassandra set her teeth and said, "I do not think it ever matters what I would rather; my destiny has been set, and no one can fight fate, no matter what weapons they may bear."

When both girls lay side by side in Andromache's bed, and even the intermittent light of the falling stars had dimmed toward morning, Kassandra sensed through her fitful sleep that someone stood in the door; she half roused to murmur a question, but she was still held in sleep and knew she made no sound. Drowsily she knew that it was Penthesilea who stole quietly into the room-to stand looking down at them in the moonlight for a long time, and then reached down to touch her hair for an instant as if in blessing. Then, although Kassandra did not see her leave the room, she was gone and there was only moonlight there.

CHAPTER 13

The dawn was just paling in the sky when a woman entered the room, unannounced, and flung open the draperies. Andromache buried her head under the blankets against the light, but Kassandra sat up in bed and looked at her. She was a woman of Colchis, dark and sturdily built, with the self-confident bearing of one of Penthesilea's warrior women; she wore a long robe of bleached linen, pure white and unadorned. About her wrist coiled a small green serpent, and Kassandra knew she was a priestess.

"Who are you?" Kassandra asked.

"My name is Evadne, and I am a priestess sent to prepare you," she said. "Is it you or your companion who is to face the Goddess this day? Or, perhaps, both of you?"

Andromache uncovered one eye and said, "I was initiated last year; it is my cousin only." She shut her eyes and seemed to sleep again. Evadne gave Kassandra a droll smile, then became very serious again.

"Tell me," she said, "all women owe service to the Immortals; and all men too; do you mean that you will do them service when they ask it of you or that you will devote your life to serving them?"

"I am willing to devote my life to that service," Kassandra said, "but I do not know what it is that they ask of me."

Evadne handed her the robe Andromache had laid over a bench. "Let us go into the outer room so we will not disturb the princess," she said. When they were in the outer chamber she said, "Now tell me, why do you wish to become a priestess?"

Kassandra then told the story again of what had happened to her in the Sunlord's House, for the first time speaking without an instant of hesitation; this woman knew the Immortals, and if anyone alive could understand, she would be the one. Evadne listened without comment, smiling slightly at the end.

"The Sunlord is a jealous master," she said at last, "and it comes to me that he has called you. All the same, the Mother owns every woman, and I cannot deny you the right to face her."

Kassandra said, "My mother told me that Serpent Mother and the Sunlord are ancient enemies. Tell me, Lady—" the term of respect came naturally to her lips,"she said that Apollo Sunlord fought Serpent Mother and that he slew her; is this true? Am I disloyal to the Sunlord if I serve the Mother, then?"

"She who is the Mother of All was never born - and so she can never be slain," Evadne said, making a reverent gesture. "As for the Sunlord, the Immortals understand one another and they do not see these things the way we might. Earth Mother, so they say, first had her shrine where Apollo built his Oracle; and they say that while the shrine was a-building, a great serpent or dragon came out of the very navel of the earth, and the Sunlord - or, perhaps his priest, it makes no difference—slew the beast with his arrows. And so, I think, some ignorant folk put it about that he had a quarrel with the Serpent Mother; but the Sunlord, like all other created beings, is her child."

"Then, although it is the Sunlord who has called me, I may answer the call of the Mother?"

"All created beings owe service to her," said the priestess, repeating her reverent gesture, "and more than that I may not say to the uninitiated. Now, I think, you should wash and make yourself ready to join the others who will make this journey with you. Later, if you wish, I can tell you some tales of the Goddess as she is worshipped here."

Kassandra hastened to obey, neatly arranging the gown she had so quickly thrown on. Andromache's robe was too long for her, and hung loose about her ankles; she tucked it up through her girdle so that she could walk easily. Then she combed her dark hair and left it unbound, as she had been told was seemly for virgins in this city, though it was troublesome to feel it hanging loose and blowing in the wind instead of being neatly braided.

Outside in the street she could hear the sounds of the festival; women were coming out of the houses and were running about carrying green branches and bunches of flowers. Evadne came and led her into the throne room where a number of girls about her own age were gathered; the throne was empty today, covered with a cloth of woven gold, on which coiled Imandra's great snake.

"Look," whispered one of the girls. "They say the Queen is also a priestess who can transform herself into a snake."

"What nonsense," Kassandra said. "The Queen is elsewhere and has left her serpent on the throne as a symbol of her power."

Penthesilea was among the women waiting. Kassandra stole to her kinswoman's side and the Amazon Queen took her hand and held it tight; although Kassandra was not exactly frightened, she was glad of the reassurance of the touch. Imandra was there among them too, but at first Kassandra had not recognized her, for the Queen wore the ordinary dress of a priestess. This seemed reasonable to Kassandra—it was also the custom in Troy that the Queen should be the mortal representative of the Great Goddess.

She was surprised not to find Andromache also among them; if her cousin had been initiated last year, why did she not join the other priestesses? Still, it seemed Andromache was not particularly involved in religion; was this, she wondered, another reason Imandra hesitated to have her daughter succeed her as Queen? She had not known this was how Imandra felt till now; but she was growing accustomed to knowing or hearing the unspoken and seeing the invisible.

Imandra gestured the chattering girls to silence; the women who were already initiated priestesses gathered around her. Kassandra realized that she was the eldest of the candidates remaining; probably it was the custom in this city to initiate women somewhat younger. She wondered if all of these girls were to dedicate their lives to the Goddess, or only to 'offer service when it was asked of them', which was the alternative Evadne had suggested. Either way this was a preliminary initiation and taken for granted, it seemed, as a first step to service to the Immortals.

The older women gathered the uninitiated girls into a circle in their midst, with Imandra at their center. Behind them Kassandra heard from somewhere the beating of a drum, a soft incessant sound like a heartbeat.

"At this time of the year," Imandra intoned, "we celebrate the return of Earth's daughter from the underground where she has been imprisoned during the chill of the winter season. We see her coming as the green of spring spreads over the barren lands, clothing the meadows and woods with the brightness of leaves and flowers."

Silence, except for the unending thrumming of the drums beaten by the women behind them.

"Here we sit in darkness, awaiting the return of Light; here we shall descend, each of us, to seek Earth's daughter, into the realms of darkness. Each of us shall be purified and learn the ways of Truth."

The story went on in a monotone, telling the tale of Earth's daughter, and how she had been lured into the underground realms, and how the serpents had comforted her and sworn that no one of them would ever harm her. Kassandra had heard only scraps of the story before this; either because the story was not known to the uninitiated, or was not considered suitable hearing for outsiders. She listened intently, fascinated, her head aching with the sound of the drums that went on and on, never ceasing, behind the voices.

It began to seem as if she were caught in a dream that went on and on for many days, knowing she was awake, but never fully conscious. Some time later she became aware, without the slight-, est idea how or where it had happened, that they were no longer in the throne room, but in a great dark cave with water trickling from the damp walls that rose far overhead into great echoing spaces which made the voices ring hollow and drowned even the sound of the drums.

Somewhere there was a reed flute whispering thin music and calling to her in a voice she almost knew. Then she felt - for it was too dim to see anything - a flat pottery bowl with raised design being passed from hand to hand, each girl in turn raising the bowl to her lips, drinking, and passing it on. She could never remember afterward what they had said when she was bidden to drink. She thought, till she touched her lips to the brew, that it was wine.

She tasted a curious slimy bitterness that was almost but not quite the taste of the blighted rye Penthesilea had bidden her remember; as she drank she thought her stomach would rebel, but with a fierce effort she controlled the queasiness and brought her attention back to the drums. The story had ended; for the life of her she could not remember how it had ended, or what had been the fate of Earth's daughter.

After a time her disorientation became so great that it seemed she was no longer within the circle of women in the cave; she had no idea where she was but she did not wonder about it. It did cross her mind that perhaps the brew had been some kind of drug, but she did not wonder about that either. She touched the chilly damp ground and was surprised that it felt like ordinary paving stone - had she moved at all? Strange colours crawled before her eyes and it seemed for a moment that she was walking through a great dark tunnel.

Share with Earth's daughter the descent into darkness, a voice guided her from afar; whether a real voice or not she never knew. One by one you must leave behind all the things of this world which are dear to you, for now you have no part in them.

She discovered that she was wearing her weapons; she would willingly have taken oath that she had left them behind this morning. Through the sound of the drums the guiding voice came again:

This is the first of the gates of the Underworld; here you must give up what binds you to Earth and the realms of Light.

Kassandra fumbled with the unfamiliar girdle of the robe she was wearing, and unfastened the jewelled belt which fastened her sword and spear. She remembered Hecuba admonishing her to wear them always with honor; but that was very far away and had nothing to do with this dark chamber. Had Penthesilea too come to this dark doorway and yielded up her weapons? She heard the sword and spear slide to the floor and strike there with a metallic sound within the noise of the drums.

Why did her hands move so slowly, or had she moved them at all? Was it all an illusion of the drums, or was she still crouched motionless in the dark circle, even while she strode boldly down the dark tunnel, clad in Andromache's long ungirt robe which somehow did not trip her up at all.

Somewhere there was an eye of fire; flames below her? Or was she looking into the slitted eye of the serpent?

It surveyed her unblinking, and a voice demanded:

This is the second Gate of the Underworld, where you must give up your fears or whatever holds you back from travelling this realm as one of those whose feet know and tread the Path in my very footprints.

The serpent's eye was close now; it moved, caressing her, and in a flicker of memory - centuries ago, in another life perhaps? - she remembered how she had caressed the serpents in the Sunlord's house, and embraced them without fear. She embraced them again, and the eye came closer and closer; the world narrowed further till there was nothing in the dark with her except the serpent's embrace. Pain stabbed through her until she was certain she was dying, and she sank into death almost with relief.

But she was not dead; she was still moving through the fiery darkness alone; but there was a voice heard through the thrumming of the drums, which went on until her whole head was ringing with it.

Now you are in My kingdom, and this is the third and final

Gate of the Underworld. Here there is nothing left to you but your life. Will you lay that down as well to serve Me?

Kassandra thought madly, I can't imagine what good my life would be to Her, but I've come so far, I won't turn back now. She thought that she spoke aloud, but a part of her mind insisted that she made no sound, that speech was an illusion, like everything else which had happened to her on this journey - if it was indeed a journey and not a curious dream.

I will not turn back now, even if it means my life. I have given all else, take this as well, Dark Lady.

She hung senseless in the darkness, shot through with fire, surrounded by the rushing sound of wings.

Goddess, if I am to die for you, at least let me once behold your face!

There was a little lightening of the darkness; before her eyes she saw a swirling paleness… from which gradually emerged a pair of dark eyes, a pallid face… she had seen the face before, reflected in a stream… it was her own. A voice very close to her whispered through the drumming and the whining flutes:

Do you not yet know that you are I, and I am you?

Then the rushing wings took her, blotting out everything. Wings and dark hurricane winds, thrusting her upward, upward toward the light, protesting, but there is so much more to know…

The winds were ripping her asunder; a lightning-flash revealing cruel eyes and beaks, rending, tearing—it was as if something alien flowed through her, filling her up like deep dark water, crowding out all thought and awareness. She looked down from a great height on someone who was and at the same time was not herself, and knew she looked on the face of the Goddess. Then her tenuous hold on consciousness surrendered, and, still protesting, she fell into an endless silent chasm of blinding light.

Someone was gently touching her face.

"Open your eyes, my child."

Kassandra felt sick and weak, but she opened her eyes to silence and cool damp air. She was back in the cavern… had she ever left it? Her head was pillowed in Penthesilea's lap; the older woman's face was blurred with such a halo of light that Kassandra shielded her eyes with her hands and blurted out, "But you—you are the Goddess—" and was silent in awe before her kinswoman. Her eyes hurt and she closed them.

"Of course," the older woman whispered, "and so are you, my child, never forget that—"

"But what happened? Where am I? I was—"

Penthesilea quickly covered Kassandra's lips with a warning hand.

"Hush; it is forbidden to speak of the Mystery," she said. "But you have come far indeed; most candidates go no further than the First Gate. Come," Penthesilea murmured, "come."

Kassandra rose, stumbling, and her kinswoman steadied her.

The drums were silent; only the fire and a thin wailing. Now she could see the flute player, a thin woman hunched behind the fire. Her eyes were vacant and she swayed faintly as if in ecstasy; but the fire and the flute at least had been real. In a circle around them, about half the maidens still lay entranced, each watched over by one of the older priestesses. There were vacant spaces in the circle. Penthesilea urged her to make her way carefully, touching no one, toward the entrance of the cavern. Outside it was raining, but from the dim twilight she could tell that the day was almost over. The drops of rain felt icy and clean on her face. She felt sick and fiercely thirsty; she tried to catch rain in her hands and sip the drops, but Penthesilea led her through a door she vaguely remembered seeing, and then she was in Imandra's lamp-lit throne room, where the magical journey had begun. She still walked carefully, as if she were a fragile jar filled to the brim with alien wine which would spill if she made a careless movement. Queen Imandra came from somewhere and embraced her, clasping her tightly in her arms.

"Welcome back, little sister, from the realms where the Dark One walked with you. Your journey was long, but I rejoice for your safe return," said the Queen. "Now you are one with all of us who belong to Her."

Penthesilea said, "She passed all three Gates."

"I know," Imandra answered. "But this Initiation was long delayed. She is priestess-born, and it is late for her."

She stood back and took Kassandra by the shoulders as her mother might have done. "You look pale, child; how are you feeling?"

"Please," said Kassandra, "I am so thirsty." But when Penthesilea would have poured her some wine the smell sickened her and she asked for water instead. It was clear and cold and relieved her thirst, but like everything she would eat or drink for many days, it had a pervasive slimy-fishy taste.

Imandra said, "Be sure to notice what you dream this night; it will be a special message from Earth's daughter." Then she asked Penthesilea, "You will be returning south soon, now you have her word?"

"As soon as Kassandra is able to ride, and Andromache prepared to return with her to Troy," answered the Amazon Queen.

"Be it so," Imandra said. "I have readied Andromache's dower, and many to travel with her. And for our young kinswoman, the priestess, I have a gift."

The gift was a serpent; a small green one very like Imandra's own, but no longer than her forearm and about as thick as her thumb. Kassandra thanked her, tongue-tied.

Imandra said softly, "A suitable gift from priestess to priestess, child. She is hatched from an egg of one of my own serpents; and besides, what else should I do with her? Give her to Andromache, who would flee from her? I think she will be happy to travel south with you in that beautiful pot, and to serve with you at the shrine in Troy."

That night Kassandra lay long awake, troubled at the thought of what she might dream; but when she fell asleep she saw only the rain-washed slopes of Mount Ida, and the three strange Goddesses; and it seemed that they struggled with one another, not for Paris's* favour, but for hers, and for Troy.

CHAPTER 14

They set forth in carts as clumsy and slow as the tin wagons, laden with gifts for Troy and many of the treasures of Colchis, gifts from the Queen to her Trojan kindred, Andromache's bride-gifts and dowry; weapons of iron and bronze, bolts of cloth, pottery and gold and silver and even jewels.

Kassandra was unable to imagine why Queen Imandra was so eager to have her daughter allied with Troy, and even less able to imagine why Andromache was willing - no, eager—to go along with it. But if she must return to Troy she was glad to have with her something of the wide world she had discovered here.

Also she had come to love Andromache; and if she must part from Penthesilea and the women of the tribe, at least she would have with her one true friend and kinswoman in Troy.

The journey seemed endless, the wagons crawling day by day at a snail's gait across the wide plains, moon after moon fading and fulling as they seemed no nearer to the distant mountains. Kassandra longed to mount and ride swiftly at the side of the Amazon guards, leaving the wagons to follow as best they could; but Andromache could not, or would not ride, and fretted at being alone in the wagons; she wanted Kassandra's company; so, reluctantly, Kassandra accepted the confinement and rode with her, playing endless games of Hound and Jackal on a carved onyx board, listening to her kinswoman's simple-minded chatter about clothing and jewellery and hair ornaments and what she would do when she was married - a subject which Andromache found endlessly fascinating (she had even resolved on names for the first three or four of her children) - till Kassandra thought she would go mad.

She endured it because she genuinely loved Andromache; her cousin was far from stupid, but she never thought to let her mind range beyond the permitted destiny of a married woman, and that seemed enough for her. If she had ever thought about it at all Kassandra would have thought that all women were like herself and Penthesilea, wanting more freedom; even her mother, though outwardly she accepted her life, at least knew that a wider life was possible.

On her outward journey (it seemed to her that she had been immensely younger then) Kassandra had never realized the enormous distances they had covered; only when summer arrived again and they were only beginning to see the distant hills behind Troy, was she fully aware of how long this journey had been. In Troy, Colchis was popularly regarded as being halfway round the world. Now she was old enough to take account of the many months of travel; and of course with the wagons they were travelling more slowly than the riding bands. She was in no hurry to see the end of the journey, knowing that her arrival in Troy would close the walls of the women's quarters round her again', but she wondered how things fared in the city, and one night while Andromache slept, she reached out in her mind to see, if not Troy, at least the mind of the twin brother whom she had not visited for so long. And after a time pictures began to form in her mind, at first small and faraway, gradually enlarging and becoming all of her awareness…

Far to the south on the slopes of Mount Ida, where the dark-haired youth called Paris followed his foster-father's bulls and cattle, on a day in late autumn, a group of well-dressed young men appeared on the mountainside, and Paris, alert to any dangers to the herd he guarded, approached them with caution.

"Greeting, strangers; who are you, and how may I serve you?"

"We are the servants and the sons of King Priam of Troy," replied one of them, "and we have come for a bull; the finest of the herd, for it is a sacrifice for the funeral games of Priam's son by his first wife. Show us your finest."

Paris was somewhat troubled at their arrogant manner; nevertheless his foster-father Agelaus had taught him that the wishes of the King were law, and he did not wish to be thought lacking in courtesy.

"My father is Priam's servant," he said, "and all that we have is at his disposal. He is from home this day; if it will please you to await his return, he can show you what we have. If you will rest in my house out of the heat of the noonday sun, my wife will bring you wine, or cool buttermilk; or if you prefer, mead from the honey of our own bees. When he returns he will show you the herds and you may take what you will."

"I thank you; a drink of mead would be welcome," replied the newcomer from the city, and as Paris led the way to the little house where he lived with Oenone, he heard one of them whisper, "A handsome fellow; and I had not thought to find such manners so far from the city."

As Oenone, bright and pretty in her working-day tunic, with her hair tied up under the cloth she wore mornings for sweeping the house, fetched mead in wooden cups, he heard the other muttering, "And if nymphs as lovely as this are in abundance on the mountainsides, why should any man stay within city walls?"

Oenone looked sidewise at Paris, as if wondering who these men were and what they wanted; but he knew little more than she, though he had no desire to say so in their hearing. "These men have business with my father, my dear," he said. "Agelaus will return before the noon hour, and then they can settle it with him, whatever it may be." If they had wanted goats or even sheep he would have felt qualified to deal with them himself, even if they were specially wanted for sacrifice; but the cattle were his father's special pride and joy. So he sipped at the mead Oenone had poured and waited, finally asking, "Are you all King Priam's sons?"

"We are," replied the eldest of them. "I am Hector, Priam's eldest son by his Queen, Hecuba; and this is my half-brother Deiphobos."

Hector was unusually tall, almost a head taller then Paris himself, who was not a small man. He had the broad shoulders of a natural wrestler, and his face was strong-featured and handsome, with brown eyes set wide apart over high cheekbones and stubborn mouth and chin. He bore at his waist an iron sword which Paris at once coveted, although until recently he had thought there could be no finer weapon than the bronze dagger Agelaus had given him as a special gift when he had gone out into a late-winter snowstorm and brought back a dozen weakling lambs who would all otherwise have perished.

"Tell me about these funeral games," he said at last. He noticed the way Hector was looking at Oenone and did not like it. But he also noticed that Oenone was taking no notice whatever of the stranger. She is mine, he thought. She is a good woman and modest, not one to go about staring at strange men.

"They are held every year," Hector said, "and they are like any other games at festivals; you look strong and athletic, have you never competed in such games? I am sure you could carry off the prize for running and jumping at least, if not for archery or any sport requiring training or special skill."

"You mistake me," Paris said, "I am not a nobleman like yourselves, with leisure for sport; I am a humble shepherd and your father's servant. Games and the like are not for me."

"Modestly spoken," said Hector, "but the games are open to any man not born a slave; you would be welcome."

Paris thought about it. "You spoke of prizes—"

"The major prize is a bronze tripod and cauldron," Hector said. "Sometimes my father gives a sword for special valour."

"I would like that prize for my mother," said Paris. "Perhaps if my father gives me leave I will go."

"You are a grown man; you must be fifteen or more," said Hector, "quite old enough to come and go without permission."

And as Paris heard the words he thought it must be so indeed; but he had never gone anywhere without Agelaus's leave and had never thought he would. He noticed that Hector was staring at him fixedly, and raised questioning eyebrows.

Hector coughed nervously. "I am wondering where I have seen you before," he said. "Your eyes - they seem to remind me of someone I know well, but I cannot remember where."

"I go sometimes to the marketplace on errands for my father or my mother," Paris said, but Hector shook his head. To Paris it seemed that a curious shadow hung over him; he felt an instinctive dislike for this large young man. Yet Hector had been in no way offensive, but had treated him with perfect courtesy, so he did not understand it.

He rose restlessly and went to the door of the house, peering out. After a moment he said, "My foster-father has come home," and almost immediately Agelaus, a small slight man who still moved quickly despite his age, came into the room.

"Prince Hector," he said, bowing, "I am honored; how is it with my lord your father?"

Hector explained their errand, and Agelaus said, "It's my boy can help you with that, my prince; see, he knows the cattle better than I do, does all the cattle-judging at fairs and such. Paris, take the gentlemen out into the cattle-field and show them the best that we have."

Paris chose the finest bull of the herd, and Hector came and looked into the beast's face.

"I am a warrior and I know little of cattle," he said. "Why choose this bull?"

Paris pointed out the width of the bull's shoulders, the breadth of his flank. "And his coat is smooth, without scars or imperfections; fit for a God," he said, and inwardly thought, He is too good for sacrifice, he should be saved for breeding; any old bull will do to strike off his head and bleed on an altar.

And this arrogant prince comes and waves his hand and takes the best of the cattle my father and I have laboured long and hard to raise; but he is right, all the cattle belong to Priam and we are his servants.

"You know more than I of these matters," Hector repeated. "So I accept your word that this bull is the fittest for sacrifice to the Thunder Lord; now I must have a virgin heifer for the Lady, his consort."

Instantly Paris saw in his mind the fair and stately Goddess who had offered him wealth and power. He wondered if she bore him a grudge that he had not awarded her the apple; perhaps if he chose for her the finest creature in all the herd, she would forgive him.

"This heifer," he said, "is the finest of all; see her smooth brown coat, and her white face, and see how beautiful her eyes are; they seem almost human."

Hector patted the little animal's smooth shoulder and called for a tie rope.

"You don't need it, my prince," Paris said. "If you're taking the herd bull she'll follow you like a puppy."

"So cows are not unlike women then," Hector said with a crude laugh. "I thank you, and I wish you would reconsider coming to the games; I am sure you would carry off most of the prizes; you look a natural athlete."

"It is kind of you to say so, my prince," Paris said, and watched Hector and his entourage as they descended the mountain toward the city.

Later that evening, when he went with his foster-father to fetch the goats for milking, he mentioned Hector's invitation; he was not at all prepared for the old man's response.

"No; I forbid it! Don't even think of it, my son; something terrible would be sure to happen!"

"But why, father? The prince assured me that it did not matter that I was not nobly born; what harm could there possibly be? And I would like to have the cauldron and tripod for my mother who has been so good to me and has no such things."

"Your mother don't want no cauldrons; we want our good son safe here at home where nothing could happen to you."

"What could possibly happen to me, father?"

"I am forbidden to tell you that," the old man said seriously. "Surely it should be enough for you that I forbid it; you have always been a good and obedient son to me before this."

"Father, I am no longer a child," Paris said. "Now when you forbid me something, I am old enough to know the reason."

Agelaus set his mouth sternly.

"I'll have no impudence and I don't have to give you no reasons; you'll do as I say."

Paris had always known that Agelaus was not his real father; since his dream of Goddesses, he had begun to suspect that his parentage was higher than he had ever dared to believe. Now he began to think that Agelaus's prohibition had something to do with this. But when he put the question Agelaus looked more stubborn than ever.

"I can't tell you nothing at all about that," he said, and stamped off to milk the goats. Paris, following his example, said no more; but inside he was fuming.

Am I no more than a hired servant, to be bidden here or there? Even a hired servant is entitled to his holiday, and father has never denied me leave before. I shall go to the games; my mother at least will forgive me if I bring her back a cauldron and tripod. But if I carry off the prize and she does not want it, I will give it to Oenone.

He said nothing that night; but early the next morning, he put on his best holiday tunic (it was in fact coarse enough, though Oenone had woven it of their finest wool and dyed it with berry juice to a soft red colour) and went to bid her farewell. She looked at him, her mouth contorted in distress.

"So you are going? In spite of your father's warning?"

"He has no right to forbid me," Paris replied defensively. "He is not even my father, so it is no impiety to disobey him."

"Still, he has been a good and kindly father to you," she said, her lip quivering. "This is not well done, Paris. Why do you wish to go to their games anyway? What is King Priam to you?"

"Because it is my destiny," he retorted hotly. "Because I no longer believe that it is the will of the Gods that I sit here all my days keeping goats on the mountainside. Come, girl, give me a kiss and wish me good fortune."

She stood on tiptoe and obediently kissed him, but she said, "I warn you, my love, there is no good fortune for you in this journey."

He scoffed, "Why, are you now going to speak as a prophetess? I have no love for such warnings."

"Still I must give it," Oenone said, and threw herself weeping into his arms.

"Paris, I beg you, for love of me, stay." She put her hand shyly over her swollen small belly and entreated timidly, "For his sake if not for mine?"

"It is for his sake all the more that I must go and seek good fortune and fame," Paris said. "His father will be something more than Priam's herdsman."

"What is wrong with being the son of a herdsman?" Oenone asked. "I am proud to be a herdsman's wife."

Paris scowled at her and said, "Beloved, if you do not give me your blessing, I must even go without it; would you wish me ill?"

"Never, my love," she said seriously, "but I have the most terrible feeling that if you go you will never return to me."

"Now that is the greatest folly I have ever heard," he said, and kissed her again. She clung to him still, so at last he gently disengaged her clinging hands and set off down the mountain; but he knew that she watched him till he was out of her sight.

Kassandra slowly became aware again of where she was; the darkness of the wagon, not the bright autumn sunlight of Mount Ida. And they were hardly into summer; they would reach Troy in the autumn, perhaps. At her side Andromache still slept quietly; cramped and cold, Kassandra crept into the blankets beside her, grateful for the warmth of her cousin's body.

He is in Troy; perhaps he will be in Troy when I come there; I shall see him at last. The thought was almost too exciting to endure; Kassandra slept no more that night.

CHAPTER 15

It was Andromache rather than Kassandra who first saw the great high walls of Troy rising in the distance. She sounded overwhelmed as she said, "It really is bigger than Colchis."

"I told you so," Kassandra remarked.

"Yes, but I didn't believe you; I could not believe that any city could really be bigger than Colchis. What is the shining building high at the top of the city? Is that the palace?"

"No; it is the Temple of the Maiden; in Troy the highest places are reserved for the Immortals. And she is our patron Goddess who gave us the olive and the vine."

"King Priam cannot be a truly great King," Andromache said. "It is forbidden in Colchis for any house—even a Goddess's house - to be higher than the royal palace."

"And yet I know your mother is a pious woman who respects the Goddess," said Kassandra. She recalled that when she had first come to Colchis, it had seemed blasphemy to her to build a mortal's house so high. Her eyes sought out the Sunlord's house with its golden roofs, rising a terrace above the palace; she pointed out the palace to Andromache.

"It is not built so high; but it is as fine a palace as any in Colchis," she told Andromache. Now that they were actually within sight of the city, Kassandra examined her own feelings warily, like biting on a sore tooth: she did not know how she felt about returning to Troy itself after her years of freedom. She realized that she was almost painfully eager to see her mother and her sister Polyxena, and without trying she felt her mind reach out for that insubstantial and confusing link with the twin brother who was at times even more real than her self.

I will not be caged again. Then she amended it a little: I will never let them cage me again. No one can imprison me unless I am willing to be imprisoned.

She looked round at her escort, half wishing she might return to the Amazon country with them. Penthesilea was not among them; she said that after their long absence she must remain to set the affairs of the tribe in order. Kassandra knew that if she was dwelling among the Amazons now she would be sent with the other women of childbearing age to the men's villages to bear a child for the tribe. She felt she would even be willing to observe that custom, if it was the price of remaining with Penthesilea's tribe, but that was not among the choices offered to her.

"But what is happening?" Andromache asked. "Is it a festival day?"

Processions were coming forth from the gates, long lines of men and women in holiday garments, animals garlanded with ribbons and flowers, whether for show or sacrifice she could not tell. Then she saw Hector and some of her other brothers wearing only the brief loincloth in which they competed on the field and knew it must be the games. These were no business of women -though her mother had told her once that in ancient times women had competed in the foot-races and in casting of spears and in archery too. Kassandra, who was a good shot, wished she were still small-breasted enough to pretend to be a boy, and shoot with the archers; but if she had ever been capable of such disguise, she was not now. Resignedly, she thought; well, one day my skill at weapons may still be of use to my city—in war, if not at games - and then saw, bringing up the end of the procession, a chariot bearing the shrunken but still impressive figure of her father Priam. She was about to throw herself headlong from the wagon and embrace him, but the sight of his grey hair shocked her; this old man was all but a stranger to her!

Behind him, riding on a smaller chariot, and wearing the insignia of the Goddess, Kassandra saw her mother; Hecuba seemed not to have changed by a single hair. Kassandra got down from the wagon and came forward, bending low before her father in token of respect, then hurrying to throw herself into her mother's arms.

"You are come at a good hour, my darling," Hecuba said, "but what a woman you have become! I would hardly have known this tall Amazon for my little daughter." She drew Kassandra up on the chariot beside her. "Who is your companion, my child?"

Kassandra looked at Andromache, who was still seated on the forward seat of the wagon. She looked very much alone, and out of place. This was not how she had intended to introduce her friend to Troy.

"She is Andromache, daughter of Imandra, Queen of Colchis," said Kassandra slowly. "Imandra our kinswoman sent her to be a wife to one of my brothers. She has a wagonload of treasure of Colchis for a dowry," and as she spoke it seemed crude, making it a mere matter of purchase and queenly expediency, as if Imandra had sent her daughter as a bribe for Priam. Andromache deserved better than that.

"Now I see she has a look of Imandra," said Hecuba. "As for a marriage that is for your father to say; but she is welcome here, marriage or no, as my kinswoman."

"Mother," said Kassandra seriously—after coming all this way Andromache should not be rejected -'she is the only child of the ruling Queen of Colchis; my father has sons and to spare and if he cannot find one of my brothers to marry her for such an alliance he is not as clever as he is reputed to be." She hurried to fetch Andromache, helping her down from the wagon and presenting her to Priam and Hecuba; Hecuba kissed her, and Andromache smiled and dimpled as she made a submissive bow to them. Priam patted her cheek and took her up on the stands beside him, calling her daughter, which seemed a good start. He seated her between himself and Hecuba, while Kassandra wondered why Andromache was being so submissive. She asked, "Where is my sister Polyxena?"

"She has stayed in the house like a proper modest girl," Hecuba reproved in a whisper. "Naturally she has no interest in seeing naked men competing at arms."

Well, Kassandra thought, if I ever had any doubt, now I know I am home again; am I to spend the rest of my life as a proper modest girl? The thought depressed her. She watched with tepid interest, trying to pick out those of Priam's sons whom she knew by sight. She recognized Hector at once, and Troilus who must now, she thought, be at least ten years old. As they set off Hector quickly took the lead and remained there throughout the first lap; then behind him a slighter, dark-haired youth began to gain: almost easily he overtook him and flashed past, touching the mark a fraction before Hector's outstretched hand.

"Bravely run," shouted the other contestants, clustering around him.

"My dear," Priam said, leaning across Andromache to Hecuba, "I do not know that young man, but if he can outrun Hector he is a worthy contestant. Find out who he is, will you?"

"Certainly," Hecuba said and beckoned to a servant. "Go down and find out for His Majesty who is the young man who won the foot-race."

Kassandra shaded her eyes with her hand to look for the winner, but he had disappeared into the crowd. The contestants were now fitting strings to their bows; Kassandra, who had become an expert archer, watched with fascination, and suddenly, dazzled by the sun, felt confused—surely she was herself on the field, nocking an arrow into the bowstring - my parents will be so angry— then, looking down at the strong bare arm so much more muscular than her own, knew what had happened, that her thoughts had again become entangled with those of her twin brother. Now she knew why the young winner of the foot-race had seemed almost painfully familiar to her; this was her twin brother Paris, and as she had foreseen, she was indeed present at his homecoming to Troy.

With that curious double sight, it seemed she was at once on the field and in her seat above it, looking up at Priam as if it were the first time, seeing him at once as her father and as a strange frightening old man with the unfamiliar majestic look of royalty; there were also old men whose names neither of them knew - Paris deduced, rightly, that these must be the Trojan's King's advisers—a sweet-faced old lady he was sure was the Queen, a gaggle of young boys in expensive bright clothing, whom he assumed—correctly - to be Priam's younger sons, not old enough yet to take part in these contests, and some pretty girls who caught his eye mostly because they looked so different from Oenone. He wondered what they were doing here - perhaps the palace women were allowed to watch the Games. Well, he would give them something to watch. Now they were beckoning him forward to shoot at the mark; his first shot went wide because he was nervous, and his second flew past the targets and far beyond.

"Let the stranger shoot again," Hector said. "You are not accustomed to our targets; but if you can shoot so high and so far, surely you cannot be incapable of a proper shot." He pointed out the target and explained the rules; Paris prepared to shoot again, thoroughly surprised at Hector's courtesy. He let fly his arrow, this time straight into the center of the target. The other archers shot one by one, but not even Hector could better his shot. Hector was not smiling now; he looked cross and sullen, and Kassandra knew he was regretting his impulsive generosity.

There were other contests, and Kassandra, pulling herself back into her own mind and body with a fierce effort, watched with interest and pleasure as her twin won them all. He threw Deiphobos almost effortlessly at wrestling, and when Deiphobos got up and rushed him, stretched him out insensible, not to rise till the games were over; he cast the javelin further even than Hector, listening to their shouts of 'He is strong as Hercules' with ingenuous smiles of pleasure.

A servant came to the King and Queen with a message, and Kassandra heard her father repeat aloud, "He says that the young stranger is called Paris; he is the foster-son of Agelaus the shepherd." Hecuba turned white as bone. "I should have known; he has a look of you. But who could have believed it; it has been so long, so long…'

The contests now were ended, and Priam gestured for Paris as the winner to come forward; then he rose.

"Agelaus," he called aloud, "you old rascal, where are you? You have brought back my son—"

The old servant shuffled forward, looking pale and ill at ease. He bowed before the King and muttered, "I didn't tell him he could come today, your Majesty; he came without my leave, and I'd perfectly well understand if you were angry with me—with us both."

"No, indeed," Priam said graciously, and Kassandra saw her mother's knuckles unclench their painful grip over her heart. "He's a credit to you, and to me too. My own fault for listening to superstitious rubbish; I have only thanks for you, old friend." He took a gold ring from his own finger and put it on Agelaus's work-gnarled finger.

"You deserve more reward than this, my old friend, but this is all I have for you now; but before you return to your flocks I shall have a better gift for you."

Kassandra watched in astonishment as her father, who had slapped her to the ground even for inquiring of the existence of this brother, embraced Paris and awarded him all the prizes of the day. Hecuba was weeping and came forward to embrace her lost son.

"I never thought to see this day," she murmured. "I vow an unblemished heifer to the Goddess."

Hector frowned at the sight of his father bestowing lavish gifts on Paris: the promised tripod (which Paris said he wished to send to his foster-mother), a crimson cloak with embroidered bands of the palace women's weaving, a fine helmet of worked bronze, and an iron sword.

"And of course you will return to the palace and dine with your mother and me," he invited at last, smiling expansively. As Priam rose, gathering his cloak over his arm, one of the old men in the circle surrounding him came up and whispered urgently to the King; Kassandra recognized the man as an old palace hanger-on, one of the priest-soothsayers in his circle.

Priam scowled and waved the man away.

"Don't talk to me of omens, old croaker! Superstitious rubbish; I should never have listened to them."

Kassandra could feel the shock - partly fear - that went through Paris at the words. Of course; he would know of the omens which had exiled him from the palace and his birthright—or was he only now learning of them?

Hector said into his father's ear - but clearly audible to Paris: 'Father, if the Gods have decreed that he is a danger to Troy—"

Priam interrupted, "The Gods? No; a priestess, a reader of chicken guts and dreams; only a fool would have deprived himself of a fine son at such a one's blitherings. A King does not listen to the omens of a breeding woman, or her fancies—"

Kassandra felt torn, half in sympathy for the twin whose fear and insecurity she could not but feel as if they were her own, half for her mother's dread. She wanted to step forward, and draw away her father's anger to herself as she had so often done before; but before she could speak, Priam's eyes fell again on Andromache.

"And now I'll put right my old mistake and bring home my lost son. How say you, Hecuba, shall we marry the Colchian Queen's daughter to our wonderful new son?"

"You cannot do that, Father," said Hector, even as Kassandra felt Paris's eyes rest greedily on Andromache, "Paris has already a wife; I beheld her myself in the house of Agelaus."

"Is this true, my son?" Priam asked; Paris looked sullen, but he understood the implied threat. He spoke politely: 'It is true; my wife is a priestess to the River God Scamander."

"Then you must send for her, my son, and present her to your mother," Priam said, and turned to Hector. "And to you, Hector, my eldest son and heir, to you I give the hand of Queen Imandra's daughter; tonight we shall solemnize the marriage."

"Not so fast, not so fast," said Hecuba. "The child needs time to make her wedding clothes like any other girl; and the women of the palace must have time to prepare for this feast, which is an important one in a woman's life."

"Rubbish," said Priam. "As long as the bride is ready, and the dower arranged, wedding clothes can be made any time. Women are always worrying about such trivial things."

All this might be a foolish thing, Kassandra thought, but it is crude of Priam to disregard it. What would the Queen of Colchis think to have her daughter's wedding tacked on to the end of the festival?

She bent close to Andromache and whispered, "Don't let them hurry you this way. You are a princess of Colchis, not an old cloak to be given as an extra games-prize or a consolation for Hector because he did not win!"

Andromache smiled and whispered to Kassandra, "I think I'd like to have Hector before your father changes his mind again or decides he can use me as a prize for someone else." She looked up and murmured in a small and timid voice which Kassandra had never heard her use before, so false she did not see why Priam did not laugh at her: 'My Lord Priam… my husband's father… the Lady of Colchis, my mother the Queen, sent with me all kinds of clothing and linens; so if it pleases you, we can hold the wedding whenever you think proper."

Priam beamed and patted her shoulder.

"There's a fine girl," he said, and Andromache blushed and looked down shyly as Hector came and looked her over just as, Kassandra thought, he had looked over the virgin heifer Paris had chosen for the sacrifice.

"I shall be most content to take the daughter of Queen Imandra for a wife."

No doubt you would, Kassandra thought, but hadn't anyone even noticed that neither he nor Andromache had been asked what they wanted? It did not surprise her - marriages were always arranged this way - but did no one even make a gesture for the approval of the daughter of the most powerful queen in the world? Kassandra thought that if Imandra could have foreseen this she would have made the journey herself, if only to ensure adequate ceremony for the daughter.

Well, at least Andromache was willing; she seemed eager to make certain she would have Hector, even at the cost of a hasty wedding. If it suited her, why should Kassandra be indignant on her behalf?

The long day was drawing to a close. Priam and Hecuba were helped into their chariots for the return to the palace. Kassandra found herself walking at Paris's side; she was deeply distressed because as yet he had not addressed a single word to her nor acknowledged in any way the bond between them which was so important to her. How could he ignore it?

She wondered if he too was under the special protection of the Sunlord, or of the three strange Goddesses, that he could come and face the father who had intended to expose him at birth; and now acknowledged him and intended to restore him to his rightful place in the family.

Hector was walking close to Andromache; he turned and laid his hand on Kassandra's shoulder, then gave her a rough hug of welcome.

"Well, sister Kassandra, how brown and sunburnt you are -though after all these years with the Amazons I should not be surprised. Why did you not gird on your bow and go into the field to shoot with the archers?"

"She could have done so, never doubt it," said Andromache, "and bettered your shot."

"No doubt," said Hector, "I was not at my best this day; and—" he coughed and lowered his voice, casting a quick look over his shoulder at Paris, "I would rather be beaten by a girl than by that upstart." He gestured to Deiphobos, who was still holding his head as if it hurt him, "Tell me, brother, what are we to do with this fellow? I cut my teeth on that old story about how Father exposed him because he was a threat to Troy, Am I to overlook it because Father saw fit to bribe me with a beautiful wife?"

Deiphobos said, "It seems Father is already besotted with him. He should take a lesson from King Pelias when he was confronted with his lost son Jason; I recall he sent Jason on a quest to the far ends of the world - to seek for the Golden Fleece—"

"But there is no longer any gold in Colchis," said Andromache.

"Well, we must devise some way to rid ourselves of him," Hector said. "Perhaps we could persuade Father to send him to use some of that charm on Agamemnon and persuade him to return Hesione."

"A good thought that," said Deiphobos. "And if that fails, we can send him - oh, to talk the sirens out of their sea-hoards, or to shoe the Kentaurs where they dwell - or to harness them to pull our chariots—"

"Or anything else that will take him away a thousand leagues from Troy," agreed Hector. "And this for Father's own benefit; if the Gods have decreed he is not a boon to Troy—"

"Nor, certainly, to us," said Deiphobos, but Kassandra had heard enough. She stepped out of the path and dropped back to walk at Paris's side.

"You," he said, looking at her rudely, "you - I thought you were a dream." And as their eyes met for the first time she felt again the bond establish itself between them; was he too aware of how they were linked, within the soul?

"I thought you were a dream," he repeated, "or perhaps a nightmare."

The rudeness of his words was like a blow; she had hoped he would embrace her in welcome.

She said, "Brother, do you know they are plotting against you? You have no welcome in Troy from our brothers." She reached for contact again, only to feel him draw back from her angrily.

He said, "I know that; do you think me a fool? After this, sister, keep your thoughts to yourself - and stay out of mine!"

She recoiled with pain at the harshness of being shut out of his mind. Ever since she had known of his existence and the bond between them, she had fancied that when they met he would welcome her with joy and thereafter she would be special and even precious to him. Now, quite unlike her fantasy, he rebuffed her, thought of her as an intruder. Did he not even see that she was the one person here ready to welcome him with acceptance and love even greater than Priam's own?

She would not weep and beg him for his love.

"As you will," she snarled. "It was never my wish to be bound to you this way. Do you think then that perhaps our father exposed the wrong twin?" She flung away from him, hurrying down the path to rejoin Andromache, all the joy of her homecoming spoilt.

CHAPTER 16

Throughout the evening Kassandra thought that this was more of a celebration of Paris's welcome to the family than a wedding feast for Hector and Andromache, though once Priam had decided to solemnize the wedding he went to considerable trouble to leave nothing undone. He sent to the royal cellars for the best wine, and Hecuba went to the kitchens for delicacies to be added to the evening meal: fruits, honeycomb, all kinds of sweetmeats. Musicians, jugglers, dancers and acrobats were summoned for entertainment.

A priestess from the Temple of Pallas Athene was summoned to supervise the