HECTOR’S PYRE • by Morgan Want

Andromache thought that when they burned Hector upon his pyre, they should just burn the rest of Troy with him. It was to happen soon anyway, without him to guard their gates, and she had told him as much, the last time they spoke. She had wept then, but now she wished she’d saved her tears for his funeral, for they had not been enough to keep him by her side. She doubted anything could have.

It took old King Priam nearly two weeks to get his body back from Achilles, and, in truth, Andromache had expected to see Priam’s body strung out behind his son’s when she next looked over the Trojan walls.

As his wife, it was her duty to prepare Hector for his funeral, so she ordered his body laid out upon their marriage bed. She felt he would have preferred their room to a cold and empty chamber, where no one living had ever passed a night. And he had made their bed himself, as a marriage gift, of sorts, one they would be the first to use, and now, it seemed, the last.

Andromache did not speak much to Hector throughout their courtship. Most brides didn’t, her mother told her, with somewhat rueful eyes. But Andromache thought him handsome then, with his great height and russet colored beard. At the least, he had a face she would not mind waking up to each day.

Her handmaidens had helped her bathe before she was presented to him, her long black hair left loose beneath her veil. That night, after the singing and feasting was complete, was their first night alone. They spoke together, at last, and he’d been gentle when he laid her down upon the bed. With his face hovering above her in the candlelight, she’d thought him then not just handsome, but the most beautiful man she’d ever seen.

Now, lying battered upon their bed, Andromache almost did not know him. Priam told their people that the gods protected Hector’s body from further harm — for there was no reason to demoralize them further, he said — but the Greeks had had two weeks to do their work. His great red beard was gone, and his veins hung out of his bloodied skin like thinning threads. His flesh had been stripped away as easily as the skin off an olive.

Andromache sent her maids away, and washed his body herself. She bandaged up his wounds, as if that could make him well, then covered his mottled face with a thick white veil. She stood over him, when she finished, and the sound of mourners, wailing and lamenting, filled the halls outside their room that night.

Dawn did not rise to mourn with her when the funeral procession began the following day.

“Why would she?” thought Andromache. “Her lover still lies next to her, still alive, and always will be.”

Dew glistened off the sea-dark grass like tears, and stuck to her heels as the procession stretched out, like a sickened vine. Priam’s beard, bleached white from grief, was soaked with weeping, and Andromache kept her head bowed in hopes no one would see how dry her own bone-pale face still was.

By the time they set Hector on his pyre, Dawn had, at last, deigned to join them, and stretched one long, rosy finger across the dark blue sky. Her consort, Tithonus, had been a Trojan prince once too, Andromache recalled, before she made him her immortal lover.

Andromache watched the first flame jump from the torch onto Hector’s body, and imagined Tithonus, old and withered, lying with his Dawn in their bed, her soft pink hands entangled in his knobby fingers, like a rose in a gnarled branch. How must he look every morning, when she rises and leaves him lying alone in their chamber, too enfeebled to get up and follow, folds of wrinkled skin sagging over his eyes, as he watches her go? Always aging, but never dying.

The flames jumped up one last time, and then the libation bearers poured their wine out on the pyre. Andromache felt her bitterness and envy drain out of her, like pus out of a wound.

If the Greeks had never sailed their way, then Cronos would have pressed his hands upon Troy, and brought the city down, slowly, into dust, and all its people with it. Andromache saw her life measured in weeks, perhaps days. Days where she would tend to Hector’s grave and bring libations of her own, just as she had tended to their home. The Greeks and their campfires would race up from the beach and grasp the city walls, and Andromache would be glad for the time when she and Hector could remain entwined. For only the gods tried to keep things as they were forever.

Morgan Want is a former journalist whose fiction has previously been published in Vine Leaves Press’s 50 Give or Take anthologies and Heart of Flesh literary journal. Her work can be viewed on Instagram @wantmorgan.

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Every Day Fiction