Hector has the emptiness in his eyes, that dead light that shines after he has taken lives, seen lives taken. Yet tonight it is worse. Neither he nor his men have breathed a word of what happened on the field, but it could only be something wretched.
He used to smile freely. On the day of our betrothal, it seemed as if the very sun hid beneath his face, but too many cares have clouded it since.
Even with the storm in those eyes, there is a tenderness and reverence that beguiles my soul. Since the Spartan queen came to our city, I and all others have felt homely beside her. Yet how can I feel plain when he stares as if I am Aphrodite herself?
I reach out and he pulls me to him, resting his forehead against mine, exhaling a weary breath. I want to ask him what could burden him thus, but if he wishes to speak of it, he shall.
With my fingertips I trace his battle scars, the tale of this endless war written upon his body. Each one is a testament to thwarted fate, a time when men sought to take him, but he still found his way back to me.
Hector lightly caresses the edge of my peplos dress, finding the ties at the back of my neck. He fingers it slowly, half with me and half somewhere else. “What would you do if I were to fall?”
The thought is never far from my mind every time he rides out the city gates. I fear for him with a terror that words cannot express—Troy’s firstborn prince, the leader of her armies, the cornerstone of her defense, the other half of me, my husband…
The depth of my fear fills me with shame. I cannot look at him.
“Andromache…” He whispers my name softly, as he did when I came as his bride, when he reassured this fearful daughter of a distant king that she need not dread his touch.
“Why would you ask such a thing?” It is all that I can say.
“I have done something…” He has never been a man of many words, but he has seldom been at a loss for them, either. “I have incurred the wrath of Achilles.”
The name strikes equal measures of horror and revulsion. The Shining One of Greece, the King of the Myrmidons, the Greatest Warrior—all names given to the son of Pelleus who has plagued our armies for these long years.
“What has happened?” I clasp his forearms, willing him to tell me, but he only shakes his head.
“If Achilles comes for retribution, I do not know if I can slay him. Some say that he cannot be slain.”
“You shall,” I whisper, willing myself to believe it. “You are the undefeated prince of Troy.”
Hector’s features soften, but he shakes his head, as if to tell me that the battle is already lost. If this is a matter of men, I needn’t know more. If honor demands it, Hector will fight and nothing shall sway him otherwise.
I have not seen this Achilles, but I know the tales the soldiers tell of him. They claim he is the scion of a god, that his veins throb with the ichor of Ares himself.
He is one of many who have come for the Spartan queen, that Helen. With hair red as the saffron that scents her chambers and skin like fresh milk, it is she who has brought this unending war upon our city. It is she who will bring doom to us all.
Hector kisses me, trying to ease away my cares. After all that he has suffered and all the burdens that he carries, it is he who seeks to comfort me.
“My princess,” his lips murmur against mine. “My love.”
Hector presses me to his chest and I close my eyes, imagining the day when this war shall end and the Greeks shall leave our shores. When I can again see Hector smile and not live in terror of every time he rides out onto the plain.
*Unedited draft. Subject to change.