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"Who?"

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Penthesileia and Andromache

Priam rises,
     clears his throat.
"Andromache,
     please,
     you offend our guest."

"I take no offense,"
     says Penthesileia.
"Andromache.
     Andromache?
You have the name of an Amazon."

"My mother was an Amazon,
     defeated in battle,
     taken from her home
          by my father
          as a war bride
     as will happen to you
if you face Achilles."

"As will happen to you
     if I don't,"
          the war-maiden replies.
"Hector fell on the battlefield.
Your husband is no longer here to protect you,
     but I am."

The Great Hall
     grows silent.
Andromache,
     daughter of lapsed Amazon blood,
     widow of Horse-Taming Hector,
     mother to Astyanax,
          holds the floor.
"Hector was the best of men.
Hector stood tall as a tree.
Hector fought like a mighty god.
     Who are you to speak his name?
     Who are you to defame his chair?
     Who are you to defend his city?
          Are you a match for Hector's strength?
          Are you a match for Hector's skill?
          Are you a match for Hector's heart?
Hector died on the end of Achilles's spear.
     Who are you
          to think yourself his equal?"

Penthesileia lowers her head.
     "I am no one's equal.
Though my father is Ares,
     the deathless god of war,
          I am lower than dirt.
Though my mother was Otrera,
     founding mother of our tribe,
          I am as a slug.
Though my sister-"

Gasps
     from the Amazon companions.

"No, my friends.
     It is time
          that she be spoken of.
     It is time
          that she be honored.
Her name was Hippolyte.
She was our queen
     until she was slain
          by a spear,
          by accident,
          during a hunt,
               by my own hand.
And so I became
     the outcast queen of our tribe.
And so I became
     the hunter,
          hunted
               by spirits
               who avenge blood spilled by blood.
And so I came
     as a suppliant
     to the House of Dardanus,
     to the King of Troy,
     to the City of Ilion,
          seeking absolution
          for my deed."

"Absolution and a bounty of gold,"
     Andromache snorts.
"How much were you thinking to demand?
     As much as Priam's treasury now holds?"

"That was not an offer,"
     Priam sputters,
     red-faced.

Penthesileia considers.
     "My companions should be compensated
          fairly for their labors.
     But I seek no gold for myself."

"Then what?"
     asks Andromache.
"A husband?
     A son of Priam's to warm your bed?
          A man to take back to Scythia
          or would you keep him in a palace on the Troad plain?
     Which will be your pleasure?
          Not Paris, surely,
               Paris is twice claimed already,
          but what of Helenus?
          Of Deiphobus?
          Of Pammon?
     None who remain are peers with Hector,
          but you could not have handled Hector.
               This
               I
               Know."

The princes squirm in their chairs.

"Enough!"
     shouts Queen Hecuba.
"My sons are already wager chips
     on the battlefield
     in a game played by the gods.
They will not also be bargained over
     as breeding stock
     like the stallions of the plain.
You,
     Andromache,
          of all women,
     should know the value of a son."

Andromache
     bites her tongue
     and returns
          with Astyanax
     to her table,
     to her seat,
          ashamed
     that she went too far,
     that she said too much,
          that Hecuba is right again.

"I have fewer sons than I once did,
     and none to spare,"
          Priam admits.
"Fewer horses,
     fewer tripods,
          a smaller lot of Tyrian cloth.
But all that the Trojan treasury holds
     is pledged
     to the one
     who can preserve this citadel,
          containing,
               as it does,
          all the people I love."

Andromache drops her gaze to the floor.

And then, the Amazon sighs.
"A sooth-woman
     read in the bones
          that I can set my sister's spirit free
          and rescue my soul
          from the howling Erinyes
     only through the absolution
          of King Priam
               in exchange for a deed for valor.
     He is to lay a hand on my head
          and grant forgiveness
          with the gods as witnesses,
          and the daimons will abate.
For this price alone,
     I will drive the Achaean army to their bulwarks,
     I will slay Achilles,
     I will set fire to their ships,
          or I will die in the attempt.
So I swear on the beard of my father,
     Ares,
          the terrible god of mighty warriors."

"These terms are acceptable,"
     Priam states,
          and raises a drinking cup
          to seal the easiest negotiation of his kingship.

And Andromache, 
     in her sinking heart,
     feels the price that will be paid,
          as surely as any seer,
     and she frowns,
     and she bites her lip,
     and she commits herself
          to saying nothing more.

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