Authors: Adèle Geras
Aeneas leaned forward a little and kissed her on the mouth. Just one swift, soft touch of his lips on hers and then he turned and walked away.
Love can be deadly. Especially when two young women fall for the same man â one a queen, the other her serving maid.
Elissa knows she is playing with fire, but she can't resist. Queen Dido suspects nothing, until one fateful night . . . Secrets are revealed, hearts are broken and as dawn breaks, a terrible tragedy unfolds.
This book is for Zahava Lever and Joanna Kramer
A little before dawn; the maidservants' bedroom/the palace corridors/a royal bedchamber
YOU KNEW THAT
you were in a dream when the edges of everything you gazed at were blurred and when figures bent and blended into the background and arrived and disappeared magically, moving in a way that wouldn't be possible in normal life. She'd been deeply asleep but now Elissa could feel herself floating up into wakefulness and the memory of her dream was leaving her. She blinked and turned over in her bed. There had been someone over there, by the door. Did he fly away? She tried to cling to what she'd seen: a slim man, wearing a strange-looking helmet. It had wings attached to it on either side, a little like an extra set of ears. Thinking this made Elissa start to giggle even though she was only half awake. Wings on his head and also on his feet. He'd hovered up and out of the door, and she most distinctly saw greenish feathers edged with gold, flapping gently at his heels as he rose up from the floor.
She'd even heard him speak but the words had disappeared almost entirely. âCome, Maron,' she thought he'd said. âHermes cannot wait. You must come with me now.' Why was this winged creature speaking of Maron? She opened her eyes properly and leaned up on one elbow, forgetting her dream in the shock of seeing Tanith, her friend and one of the two girls with whom she shared this maidservants' bedroom, sitting on her bed, crying quietly â and yes, there was Maron with his arm around her. Men were not allowed anywhere near the women's rooms, and though Maron wasn't quite a man, he wasn't exactly a boy, and what did he think he was doing, whispering with Tanith while she and Nezral were sleeping? Well, I'm awake now, Elissa thought. Those two must have woken me up. Tanith's snifflings were growing louder and louder.
âTanith!' Elissa whispered too, wondering how Nezral could sleep through the noise. âMaron! What are you doing? Someone will come. What's the matter?' She got out of bed and went to stand in front of them. Maron, his gingery hair and sharp features making him look more than ever like a young fox, seemed sad. His smile, which could make the most churlish and bad-tempered person smile in return, was nowhere to be seen and his eyes were bright with unshed tears.
âIt's happening,' he said. âWe're leaving. I have to go. Now. Tanith'll tell you. Goodbye, Elissa.'
He stood up, kissed the top of Tanith's head and ran out of the room.
âTanith? Tell me what he said . . . please. When are they going?'
For a moment her friend did nothing but sniff and wipe her eyes. Elissa sat down on the bed beside her, overcome with sadness. Everyone in the palace knew this time had to come. From the day Aeneas had moored his ships in the harbour, the court gossips had been quite sure that he'd be on his way to somewhere else as soon as possible, but then he and the queen had fallen in love and for a while it seemed as though the Trojan and his crew would stay in Carthage for a long time. Then, more recently, everything became . . . Elissa couldn't name exactly what the change had been, but something was different, and lately the shadow of Aeneas' departure had hung over everything like a cloud billowing up and gathering darkness into itself before a storm. Dido's entire court â advisers, servants, hangers-on â had been wondering for days. They knew it would happen but no one could say exactly
, and now it seemed . . . But Elissa had to be sure. She said, âPlease tell me what Maron told you.'
âYou heard him. They're leaving. They're down at the harbour. The ships are being loaded and prepared; they won't sail till tomorrow morning but Aeneas and his men are already at the dock. Maron says the queen took a sleeping draught so that she'd be spared the sight of him walking away from her, but how can he know such a thing? Oh, Elissa, what shall we do now they've gone? Maron . . . I'll never see him again.'
Tanith flung herself into Elissa's arms and sobbed. Elissa stroked her back and blinked back her own tears. Ascanius â even Aeneas' little son, who had been in her care since his father came to Carthage, hadn't been allowed to say farewell to her. Tanith moved away and found a cloth with which to wipe her eyes and nose. Her face was blotched with red from too much crying.
âCan we see them?' she said. âFrom the window?'
Nezral gave a snore and a snuffle and turned over in her bed. Elissa and Tanith smiled through tears as they looked at their friend.
âShe'd sleep through an earthquake,' Tanith said. âLucky Nezral.'
Their room was high up, on the first storey of the palace, above the kitchens. Leaning over the sill as far as she dared, Elissa could see a corner of the gardens, then a slice of the city: the yellow stone of the houses along the road that led from the palace to the harbour was almost glowing in the pale grey light just after dawn. The night, she thought, is hardly over and he's gone. He must have left in the dark, like a thief, creeping out of the palace. Not wanting to speak to anyone.
âThere!' Tanith pointed. âBehind the harbour master's house. Can you see?'
Elissa looked at the tiny, insect-like creatures moving in the distance. It was hard to believe that these were men, Aeneas' crew, loading his ships. Leaving. She gazed down on them for a while, unable to think or move.
Then a scream tore through the silence, ripping into Elissa's thoughts. It was horribly loud in the still air of the early morning and was followed at once by more screams, and then shouting and sobbing and a shrieking that sounded like a trapped animal.
âIt's Dido. It's the queen,' Tanith said. âQuick, Elissa, we must help her. Come.'
They ran down the steps to the main corridor of the palace and found Dido standing in the doorway of her bedchamber, her hair wild and tangled around her face, her eyes wide and horrified, her mouth agape. The Queen of Carthage, Elissa told herself, shrieking like someone demented. She was still screaming, but her words were clear.
âMaster of the guard!' Dido's eyes blazed. She was beyond tears. âWhere in the name of all the Gods is everyone when I need them? Elissa! Tanith . . . Where are my courtiers? Where is everyone?'
Elissa and Tanith watched as, from all over the palace, they came running. The master of the guard reached Dido first.
âMadam,' he breathed, falling to his knees, âI'm here. I'm at your service.'
âThen see to it that the bed in this room is got rid of. As soon as possible. I no longer want it here. Take it away. Now. As soon as you can gather enough men to carry it. Put it in the courtyard. You' â she turned to Elissa and Tanith and two other women of the household who had appeared in the corridor â âall of you. Follow me, please.'
Dido set off down the corridor and Elissa found herself almost running to keep up with her. When the queen reached the chamber that used to be Aeneas', she flung open the door and stepped inside.
âHere,' Dido said, walking past the bed and into the adjoining room where he kept his armour and his clothes. âTake these. Take everything.'
There were two trunks carved from sandalwood standing against one wall. The queen opened them both and a fragrance like old forests rose in the room. âThese are his shirts, his robes, his footwear, his sword â here . . . take them all and put them in the corridor outside. When the soldiers have dealt with the bed in my chamber, I'll give orders for them to come and help you carry out this rubbish.'
âBut there's so much here, my lady,' said one of the serving women. âAnd of excellent quality. There are many down in the city who'd be grateful for such garments.'
âNo one will wear them. I'm going to burn them. I'm going to burn everything, every single thing that reminds me of him. All his possessions. They're tainted clothes. The leather and the wool and the fine dyes and the metal clasps and the rich embroideries â I want them destroyed, d'you understand?'
Dido sat down on a stool near one of the trunks and wiped tears from her eyes with a corner of her scarf. âThey're
things, if the truth be told. Mine. I gave him all of it. Every single thing in here: the garments, the weapons, the ships even. I'm the one who saw to it
that the broken-down wrecks he sailed in on were made seaworthy again. I can't get the ships back. Maybe I'll make a sacrifice to Poseidon and beg him to send storms, to wreck my bastard husband on the rocks, which is what he deserves.'
She put her hands to her eyes and bent over, with her head nearly on her knees. Elissa could feel something in her own throat that was like a great lump of grief and sorrow. The queen began to moan. Elissa wanted to go and comfort her, just as she'd comforted Tanith, but her own sadness prevented her.
Another of the women came forward and said, âLady, don't cry. I'll take everything outside now. You'll feel better when you don't have to look at it any longer.'
Dido stood up. âWhen you've finished in here, I want you to search through every single room in the palace. Collect everything â
â that used to belong to Lord Aeneas, then take it to the courtyard, and when our accursed bed is in place, you can pile all his belongings on it.' She looked round at them and must have seen the horror on every face. âAnd stop staring at me like that. I know exactly what I'm doing. I no longer wish to see a single reminder of Lord Aeneas anywhere near me. That's all. Go. I want this done at once.'
She swept out of her chamber, almost running. Elissa left the others to their work and ran after her.
Just after dawn; the palace kitchen/the courtyard
HE KNEW THAT
they'd only chosen him to carry the bed because he was strong and big for his age. If they'd wanted someone clever, they'd have taken any one of the other lads who did menial jobs around the palace. Cubby (he'd practically forgotten his real name) had a pretty good idea what everyone thought of him. They'd called him Cubby for two reasons. When he was small, he'd been fair-haired and lively and had bounced around the kitchen and the servants' quarters like a small animal. Like a lion cub, perhaps. That was what he liked to think. But it was also true that he spent his early days sleeping in a room that was as small as a cupboard and was used to store brooms and cleaning materials. So
more probably came from
. He'd stopped being like a lion cub when he got older and slowed down a little. He grew heavier and his hair became a kind of muddy brown and he had a round face and often looked puzzled.
They called him dim-witted: if not exactly backward, then certainly not advanced when it came to thinking clever things. As for speaking, he was useless at that and knew it and therefore generally kept his mouth shut and his thoughts to himself. He didn't have many friends â well, none really, until Maron fetched up at the palace with his master, Aeneas.