Twins; Identical, Eventually

Ezra Azra


© Copyright 2024 by Ezra Azra
Achilles dragging the body of Hector around Troy. Mezzotint after G. Hamilton, 1794.
Achilles dragging the body of Hector around Troy. Mezzotint after G. Hamilton, 1794.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Prince Troilus, heir to the throne since his elder brother, Prince Hector, had died in battle a few days previously, was sad and restless, as he paced up and down in the luxurious waiting room in the Palace. A Lady-in-waiting entered. She curtsied to Troilus.

"The King sends his apology, your highness. Ever since Prince Hector's death, his majesty has been unwell. He seldomly leaves his bed. The queen will come to speak with you, your highness. I will inform her you are here."

She curtsied, and left. Troilus stood, rigid, in silent inward prayer, "You Gods, I'm sorry for opposing my brother Hector's plea, 'Expel Helen from Troy, in order to end this war with the invading Greeks.' You Gods, help me avenge my soldier brother's death in battle."

Queen Hecuba entered. Troilus bowed to her and approached her. She extended her hands. He gently took them in his, and put them to his lips. "Mother."

How are you, my son?

Well, Mother.

The King is thinking he will go alone to Greek King Agamemnon and request your brother's corpse. What do you think?

It's not a good idea, Mother. They are not honour-bound to not kill Father. With the King of Troy dead in their camp, or held hostage, Troy will have no choice but to surrender. Besides, Mother, it was Achilles killed my brother. My brother's body is Achilles's trophy. Only Achilles has authority to give up Hector's body.

Your Father acknowledges Achilles's right, but wishes to enlist King Agamemnon's help by telling him your brother urged we should expel Helen from Troy.

That might work, Mother, if Father takes with him a wagon-load of gold.

My son, know you the tale of Achilles's three gold horse charms?

Yes, Mother. But only as vaguely as most persons know.

I, your Father, and your brother Hector were among those most persons. Until recently.

What's happened recently, Mother?

The tale is that immortal Thetis, Mother of Achilles, made the three horse charms at his birth.

One for herself. One for Achilles. And one for Peleus, the mortal Father of Achilles.

Yes, son. Why did she make them?

Mother, I've heard many different explanations.

There are many. The explanation favoured most is that, as long as Achilles had the three in his possession, he'd be immortal, and undefeatable in mortal combat.

Mother, Hector raided the tents of Achilles. Achilles fled. That proves the tale of the three horses is untrue.

That wasn't mortal combat, Troilus. Hector's battle strategy took Achilles by surprise. Achilles fled, and in his haste, he failed to take the charms with him.

Troilus, after stunned speechless for seconds, "Mother---."

Yes, Troilus, the three gold horse charms were among the trophies Hector and his soldiers looted from Achilles's tents.

Do we still have them, Mother?

No. When Hector handed them to us, your Father kept one for himself, gave one to me, and one to Hector. If they were lucky for Achilles, those charms brought down a curse on Hector. The day Achilles killed him on the battlefield, Hector was without his charm. He'd left it with Andromache, his wife.

Mother, you believe the charms bring down a curse on us?

Your Father, too, believes. When he heard of Hector's death, he flung his charm into the fire, and ordered me and Andromache to fling ours, too. We obeyed.

They're supposed to be gold, Mother. Fire will not harm them. The curse is yet on us.

That's what the High Priest says.

If Father wishes them to be returned to the Greeks, I'll do it, Mother.

Thank you, son. But, now, those charms cannot be found. That fireplace has been dug up. Nothing has been found.

One thing is certain, Mother. That fireplace could not have generated heat enough to melt pure gold.

Then, perhaps, the tale is true that those charms are bewitched against all except Achilles.

For a few seconds, both were lost in silent puzzlement. Hecuba spoke softly.

Have you spoken with your sister, Cassandra?

Not recently, Mother.

Father declared her insane.

Yes, Mother. Father had to.

It's good that you agree, my son. Hector urged Father to send Cassandra to one of his royal friends in another country, instead of declaring her mad.

Mother, that would have served Troy better.

Your sister believes the God Apollo talks to her. Were she in another Country with that belief, Troy would have been a laughing stock, my son.

As children, we're encouraged to believe our gods are real people. My sister's not outgrown a healthy childhood fantasy, Mother.

She was the brightest of our children. The most feverishly creative. We could barely keep up. So very exhausting.

Mother, it was exhausting for Cassandra, too, being the only sister among so many brothers.

There was silence as Hecuba gently placed the palm of her hand on her son's cheek.

"You were the closest brother to Cassandra. You've earned to know a secret, Troilus. Promise you will not reveal it. Especially not to Cassandra.

I promise, Mother. Most willingly.

Good, my son. By ancient prophecy, fraternal twins bring ruin to a House. You and Cassandra are such twins.

Troilus, overwhelmed, brokenly, softly, "Mother! Mother!”

My son. The ancient law is one fraternal twin must be killed at birth. In this case, it's the law the girl be killed. I couldn't bring myself. The nurses helped me keep the secret. They grew her up far from the Palace. In later years, a time your Father was away on yet another of his military ventures, I asked permission to adopt a girl to help me bear the loneliness."
There was a long pause.

"Cassandra does not know; it will be most unwise to tell her now."

Mother, I promise I will not.

My son, it is an anciently accepted custom that Kings have children by their concubines. I know the names of all your Father's concubines, and of their children. More than a few such sons have fallen on the battlefield, for Troy. My son, being born a Commoner or an Aristocrat, are mere accidents, quite insignificant to nobleness of mind a person cultivates themselves.

The Lady-in-waiting entered.

"What is it? The King?"

The King is well, your majesty. You said to let you know when Princess Cassandra approached. She's on her way here now, your majesty.

Hecuba turned to Troilus, "I cannot talk with her at this time, son. I have to leave. Engage her gently. Troilus.”

I will, Mother.

Hecuba left. The Lady followed her. After a few seconds, Princess Cassandra entered.

Greetings, brother. I was informed that Mother was with you.

She was, Cassandra, but she couldn't stay long. Our brother's death is wreaking havoc with her health. And Father's, too.

I didn't expect to meet you here, Troilus, but it's good, because you must help me persuade Father and Mother that now that Hector's dead, it is most urgent Troy send Helen back to her Greek husband. That will end this evil war. Then Troy can give Hector his royal burial.

Cassandra, it was our brother first proposed we send that woman back. And I was first in opposition, in the presence of the King's whole Council.

I know, my brother. I was there.

Then know, it would be disrespectful that I support that plan, now that Hector's dead. It will be said I mock my noble brother's memory that I opposed his living word, but now support it when he's dead.

I see your quandary. Then I must do it on my own.

Good luck in that, Cassandra.

Particularly since I'm thought to be insane. You, too, Troilus?

Cassandra, we're at war with Greece. Right from the start you have not shied away from showing sympathy for enemies of Troy. How is that not insane? Had you not been a Princess, you would have been hanged for treason. Our Father's declaration you have lost your mind is what has saved you from the people's wrath.

“You truly don't believe I'm mad?”

Of course you're mad, Cassandra. As was I when both of us as children sneaked passed Palace guards to spend the night in ocean caves, to calibrate the passing of the moon from cave to cave. But, sister, I outgrew obsession to rebel for just rebellion's sake.

I miss that brother you were in my life.

That kind of brother cannot serve Troy best in times of war, Cassandra. Dear sister, please, stop saying Greek god Apollo speaks to you.

My brother, it is honourable in these Greeks demanding reparations for the insult our brother, Paris, meted out to them whilst he was visitor in their own Land. Was not our brother, Paris, just as cowardly as Achilles murdering our brother Hector in our Land?

Cassandra, had the Greeks first pursued diplomacy, theirs would have been an honourable cause. No Trojan would have disagreed with them. But here they are, cowardly invaders, defiling our land, and making threats, demands. Troy's been a perfectly prosperous Country and Nation, for thousands of years. We've won the nineteen wars we've fought. It is unthinkable that we give in to arrogant Greek barbarians.

“Our brother Paris and his Helen, paramour, adulterous wife, are degenerate sluts. Their stay dishonors Troy. They are an evil curse on Troy. My brother, there's no honour in defending Troy, while Troy defends degenerate sluts.”

Cassandra, I'm a soldier. My nation is at war. My only righteous duty is to fight. While there's war, a soldier can't afford to be distracted by the complications of morality.

He looked at her, sternly. She returned his stern look, slightly tilting her head and raising her eyebrows at him. His sternness quickly dissipated. "What, Cassandra?"

Cassandra, spoke softly, and slowly, and pointedly, at him. "Distracted by the complications of morality," my brother? How does your clandestine love affair with Lady Cressida fit into that righteous-soldier plan?"

He was speechless. She continued, "You think it was a secret you were courting low, dear brother? The Lady Cressida proved more practical than you. She knew there was no hope you'd marry her, and so she's run off with a warrior Greek, as common as she is. I think his name's Diomedes. General Diomedes.

You look surprised. Didn't you know?"

Troilus, was contrite. "I suspected; but I did not want to believe."

"But you've always believed, deep down, our Auntie Ruth's tea-leaves prophecy. That is why you have never been harsh on yourself or on any of all those other women in your failed romances."

"Auntie Ruth's 'Troilus means Troy-less' seems to be applying to everyone in Troy right now. I am a soldier; I'm accustomed to hopelessness. I love the Lady Cressida, despite her unfaithfulness to our promises."

And what of Troy?

Troilus, daring beligerence, "And what of Troy?"

Now that your Lady's loyal to the enemy, how much of what she knows from you can she give to the enemy?

"Cassandra, Lady Cressida has not the intelligence---." He stopped abruptly when he noticed Cassandra was slowly shaking her head at him.

My brother, while we are at war, Lady Cressida must be killed.

He turned away, "No! No!"

It is the kinder way, Troilus. Those barbaric Greeks will torture her; turn her strumpet for their soldiers and their servants.

Cassandra, I cannot do it!

"Troilus, it must be done. Best it be done by you, for and by the soldier's oath of loyalty you swore to Troy."

Troilus, broken, weakly, "You do it, sister. Everyone believes you are insane.”

Cassandra, "Defeat would not be facing Troy today had our brother, Paris, killed his evil Helen, another man’s wife he seduced. If you kill Lady Cressida, you might not save Troy; but definitely you will save your loyalty to Troy. My brother; dear, dear twin brother, you have to do it."

If he had noticed she knew they were twins, he did not show it.

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