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Red New Day

by Angela Slatter

The chariot awaits, but I cannot leave.

As long as my husband lives he will follow me.

The axe is sharp, bright and washed clean of my sister's old blood. This is the weapon she used against her husband, and the one her son used against her in turn. I bade Orestes abandon it when he fled the Furies.

'You will never be free while you carry it.'

I hid it for many years, until I had need. It is heavy in my hands, but I swing it, find my rhythm, feel my muscles hum with effort and recognition; I am, after all, a daughter of Sparta.

Though I look not a day over eighteen, I am old. The blood from my father is a god's, but in my bones I feel old. The years weigh on me.

I heft the axe again, hear the whoosh of it slicing the air, watch the sunlight of the red new day flash against the great double blades. For a moment I am blinded. I think of other battles, other stained weapons.

Memory takes me.

Paris, petulant adolescent, did not like the word 'no'. When Menelaus left his palace and wife unattended, the Trojan boy struck.

I did not consent, no matter what they say. I did not say 'yes'. But I took life and limb from seven of them before I was overwhelmed. They dragged me to their ship covered in the blood of others.

And ten years in a gilded cage, rich with Trojan contempt. Watching as the black ships dotted the shore, watching from the high towers as both sides died, all in my name. Until sly Odysseus came, disguised, past rotting corpses the Trojans no longer had the heart to bury. I sent him away with an idea. When at last Menelaus stood there, unable to kill me even though he blamed me, because that would set me free.

In the bottom of the chariot, the scrolls, my history and Troy’s; how it burned, its children dashed against stones, its women parcelled out. How its men allowed destruction within its walls.

I take my bright axe and walk to where my husband lies in half-slumber. I think of my sister. I think of escape, of dark caves where I might hide, or shadowy cities where I might wander. I think of my future and it holds shadows.

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