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"A Table of Allies"

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Hippothoe

War-scarred Hippothoe
     finds her table
          among allies
          who'd flocked together
          to aid Priam's Troy.

Amphimachus of Caria
     beckons a kitharode,
     raises a wine cup,
     and sings to the lyre's accompaniment:
          "When we win this war,
               rewards of all kinds
                    will be heaped
                    upon Troy's mercenary protectors:
               rewards of the purse
                    from the rich treasury
                    of generous King Priam,
               rewards of the heart
                    for the warmth that comes
                    from helping an ally in need,
               but greatest of all,
               rewards of the soul
                    earned only
                    from a homeward return
                    bringing back the well-earned glory
                         of victory.
          So Muses, give me words
               to describe the lands
               where my heart dwells,
                    my humble halls at Mycale,
                    the white peaks of Latmus,
                    the long valleys of Branchus,
                    high-banked Panormus,
                    and the streams of deep Maeander,
               which twists its water
     around many bends,
          and flows
               from Phrygian sheep country
     to the vineyard lands
               of my Carian kin.
          No man would leave such earthly heaven,
               not without great cause,
                    and so,
               our cause,
                    to protect these fine people
                    to repel the Western invaders
               must be very great indeed.
          We will prevail,
               by the will of the gods,
          and I will toast you all again,
               my friends and companions,
                    by the hearth
                    in my Carian halls
                    at the end of this war."

"Hoorah!"
     the company shouts.

Hippothoe bangs the table 
     as loudly as the rest,
          with misty eyes
               longing
          for her Scythian steppes,
               Oh, the stories she would tell!
               Oh, the honors she would bring!
                    after a glorious battle
          although her queen
     has yet to commit
     Amazon bronze
          to a Trojan cause
          from which any of them might return.

Dresaeus of Lydia
     next raises his cup
     and joins the lyre with his song:
"I was born under snowy Mount Sipylus,
     near the place
          where the gods turned Niobe
               to stone
          for daring to compare her brood
          to the glorious children of Leto.
This marvelous cliffside,
     this woman of stone,
     this destination of travelers,
          still weeps in wretched grief.
Tears by the thousand trickle
     from the eyes of the rock
     down the rough face on high,
     feeding the streams of the roaring Hermus
          which groan
     with the weight of her sadness,
     and cast a mist
          that reaches the lofty peaks above."

Twin streams flow,
     echoing the story,
          down the cheeks of Hippothoe.

"Are you perchance a mother?"
     asks Agelaus,
          one Lord Hippasus's sons,
          up from sea-faring Miletus.

     Hippothoe nods
     and wipes her face.
"I am so honored,
          twice over.
     Though I'm not fool enough
          to compare my daughters
          to the immortal children of Leto,
     I'd stake my pride and my love for them
          against Niobe's.
     The salt in my eyes,
               should tragedy ever befall them,
          would make Niobe's tears
               taste sweet."

The man to her right,
          Eyneas,
          the deposed king of Hyllos,
     silent to this point,
               nods,
     and tips his Phrygian cap.
"I have three sons
        in my ranks,
          my lady,
   and would tear my own heart out
     rather than see them slain."

More wine is poured and consumed
     than the eve of a battle should allow.
But Priam has dictated a celebratory air.
     Trojan princes and princesses,
          children of Priam by the dozen,
     flit from table to table
          like bees in a meadow of flowers.
     Even Paris
     mutters a quick,
          "Good luck in battle on the morrow,"
               as he buzzes back toward the queen's table.

"Prince Alexandros?"
     Cabierus,
          a Thracian from Sestos,
          across the Hellespont,
     invokes Paris by his birth name,
          the name used on formal occasions,
          intended,
               probably,
          as a gesture of respect,
     but even Hippothoe,
               freshly arrived at Troy,
          knows this to be a mistake.

     Paris winces.
"Prince Alexandros is the king's son.
Prince Alexandros
     has duties
     and obligations.
You,
     my Thracian friend,
          may call me Paris."

     Cabierus's eyes sparkle.
"Oh, to be called a friend
     by a man such as yourself!
Good friend Paris,
     I must confess to you
          a personal shame.
     Other fighters have come to Ilion
          from distant lands
               seeking glory or gold
                    but I
             came to lay my eyes
                  upon your glorious wife.
          You,
              friend Paris,
                  are a lucky man
                  with excellent taste
                  who made a very wise choice."

Paris smiles
     a warm, genuine smile.
"Unlike some in my family,
     I don't profess to prophesy,
          but
     I will pray to the gods
          that my warm feelings
          for a fellow lover of beauty
               will bring luck to you all.
Now,
     I must beg your leave.
A seat is growing cold
     next to the most beautiful woman in the world."

The men turn,
     admiringly,
          toward Helen.
Hippothoe
     acknowledges
          the Spartan woman's beauty
               although,
                 truthfully,
            she finds her lack of tattoos
               disturbing.

Hippothoe
     looks away,
     scans the hall,
     finds Alcibie
          dancing on a table,
          juggling three daggers,
          to the delight of a small crowd,
     finds Derimacheia
          in an animated telling
          of how she slew the Bactrian Stag,
          and the longer tale
          of how she cooked and served it,
     laughs
          and
     rubs her fingers
          along the carved surfaces
          of her blood-metal bracelets,
     and prays to the gods
          for the safety
          of her daughters.

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