Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Troy belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon and Wolfgang Petersen/David Benioff/Homer.
On a night when the Moon was full, Hiscilla, queen of Thessaly, bathed naked in quick-running water, her hair blacker than death against her white body. When she emerged, her women pulled back her hair and clothed her again in robes as black as the garb of Egyptian priests or Myrmidon armor.
Silently, without looking at him, she led her husband to the road. They followed it for nearly a mile, their bare feet bruised and raw against the dirt and rocks, and then they came to the crossroads.
There, where the road split in two, where men and women could walk in three directions, Hiscilla stopped and pointed to the pole that had been set at the center, the three faces of the triplicate goddess hung to face the three branches of the road.
To this pole came Triopas, king of Thessaly, and in his hands he bore a golden vessel.
Hiscilla's women stood back, their cloaks drawn close. With them were the picked men Triopas had brought, among them his champion Boagrius, who carried the only sputtering torch. By its faint light, and the light of the stars and Moon, their faces were wan and ghostly.
Triopas did not look at his wife. He looked up at the faces of the Trioditis, the Goddess of Three Faces, and he proffered the vessel.
When he spoke, his voice was hoarse, a whisper. “I beg you, Enodia-Hecate, Keeper of the Keys, Woman of the Crossroads, the Gatekeeper! My people are in peril, the wolves are at our door. I beg you, Protector of Men, help us! Give us your aid, and I swear I will be your servant for all of my life, and after it.”
With his hands, Triopas dug a hole in the ground beneath the pole. Into it he poured the contents of the golden vessel, and the smell of blood and honey rose like smoke in the air.
Boagrius came forward, and under an arm was the carcass of a ram, throat cut. This they placed on the other side of the pole, and, dousing its wool with oil, put the torch to it. The smell of charring flesh filled their nostrils.
“Help us, Enodia,” said Hiscilla then, and her women echoed her like the echo of water. “Help us, Mother of Death and Night!”
The ram burned, and the night was filled with smoke and blood. They waited, the men and the women, without looking at each other, without speaking, until the animal was nothing but ashes and bits of smoldering bone. Then they waited again, until the crackle of fire had died away and the night was again the night, with no other noise but the air and the ground and the howls of wolves and the hooting of owls.
Triopas's legs became stiff and cold. His joints would be afire with pain the next day.
At length, disappointment curdling in his gut, he turned to tell his wife to give up, to come home with him. His mouth was open to give the command when his eyes slid past Hiscilla, and then all other thoughts vanished like white smoke on a wind.
“My king,” began Boagrius uncertainly, but then he, too, saw what Triopas saw, and the widening of his eyes made the others turn, made the others see what the king and his champion saw.
The crossroads stood at the edge of a wood, where the trees began to thicken and clump together. There it was dark and dangerous to go by night, and it was from there, from the shadows, that the small figure crept.
A dog, black in the moonlight, skulked from between the trees. At seeing the men and women standing about the pole, the creature stopped, raising its head.
Triopas heard Hiscilla breathe, “Hecate, Black She-Dog, I am your servant!”
The dog stood still for a moment longer, and then, turning away, began to stalk off into the wood again. Before going completely out of sight, however, it stopped, and, yet silent, turned its head to look at them, its eyes gleaming gold in the dark.
Heart hammering in his chest, Triopas went forward. Behind him came his wife, her pale face blazing with light, and, behind her, Boagrius, fearless Boagrius, who would follow his king even into the arms of ghosts.
The dog walked slowly, without hurry, and Triopas did the same. He followed the beast through the trees and thickets, struggling sometimes where the dog had slipped effortlessly through, and after a while he was scratched and bleeding from his face and arms. Still he followed the dog, his mouth dry with a fire that he had not felt since Timaios had died.
He heard nothing. He said nothing. He saw nothing but the dog, saw only the black fur and golden eyes that beckoned him on and on, and he ignored the pain of his lacerated flesh.
Thessaly, Thessaly. Enodia-Hecate, give me Thessaly, and ask of me what you will.
The black dog disappeared around a copse of small, gnarled trees, and Triopas felt his chest clench with alarm. Desperate not to lose the dog, he charged forward, slapping aside the branches and reaching foliage, and emerged abruptly, unexpectedly into open air.
The dog was gone. In front of him was a clearing, ringed with trees, open to a sky filled with luminous stars and a huge, pregnant Moon. The ground there was soft and black, cold to his bare and bleeding feet.
At the center, rising out of the ground, was a small, smooth stone.
Triopas's ears were deafened by the sound of his own breathing. Behind him, he felt more than heard Hiscilla and Boagrius approach, their movements hesitant.
The stone gleamed gray in the pallid light.
Hiscilla was whispering, praying to Enodia. Triopas swallowed painfully, throat dry, and, making his aching hands into fists, went forward.
The stone was like no other stone Triopas had ever seen. It was flat, as a tablet would be, and stood on its end. Smooth, without carving, it had been inscribed on one side with words, but in no script he recognized or could understand. It was not very large, barely reaching to his waist, and it stood, mysterious and voiceless, in that unearthly clearing, without obvious purpose. Stelai.
Where the thought came from, Triopas could not say, but as he stared down at the stone, it suddenly seemed to him that it could be nothing else. “Stelai,”
whispered Hiscilla, and there was a thread of fear in her voice.
Hecate, the protector of the dead and dying.
At the edge of his hearing, Triopas heard a strange noise.
“My lord,” whispered Boagrius, but Triopas silenced him with a raised hand.
He waited. He strained to hear.
The night was cold, and empty. Triopas stared down at the ground at his feet, and he saw, for the first time, that it was black because it had been freshly churned, a wound in the earth recently made.
Then, from the ground, from beneath their feet, from beneath the stelai
A cry, high and terrified, like a child in pain.
Any other man would have fled. But Triopas had recognized that cry, had, in that part of his heart where he was still a father, still mourning the deaths of his two children, his two babies taken by sickness, recognized the desperate fear in that childish wail, and all terror emptied from his mind.
“Hades's balls,” swore Triopas, and, dropping to his knees, tore at the ground.
It was Boagrius who rived the stelai
from the ground, throwing it down several yards away, and then he, too, fell to his knees beside his king and dug. Hiscilla was beside her husband, raking with her fingers, and the three of them dug frenziedly with their hands, panting like runners in the Olympic Games. The earth was still loose and soft, coming away easily, but hands were still hands, and the hole grew deeper only slowly. To their knees, then their waists, until the hole was nearly the height of a man, and it was Boagrius who did most of the work, who had taken off his sword and was using his shield to haul out the dirt, his immense body slick with sweat as he worked like a man possessed.
At last, after what seemed like an eternity, Triopas's nails scraped something hard and wood, and his shout brought Boagrius's shield to stop. Then it was with their hands again, sweeping away the dirt, and they were looking down at a long wooden slab, half-buried.
“Boagrius,” said Triopas, and Boagrius seized the sides of the slab. His muscles flexed, his flesh stood out in ridges along his body, and, with a hoarse shout, he tore the top of the wood away with a groan of breaking wood and a spray of splinters.
When Triopas bent down, he looked straight into the eyes of a girl.
From the waist and below, what remained of the wooden slab covered her body. But her neck and her face were now exposed to the air, and Triopas glimpsed the bright gleam of golden hair, the shape of a small, pale face.
Her face was white, her mouth open as she gasped for air. At the sight of them, from her throat came a low, agonized moan, and she turned her head and clenched her jaw as if against pain.
Triopas pulled her from the wreckage of wood, from the earth that was spilling onto her hair. She came without resistance, hanging limply from his grip, and he found that she was a little thing, smaller than any grown woman should be, and weighed nothing, as if she were made of air.
He picked her up, his arms beneath her back and under her knees. She wore black, a dress of some foreign style, and she was shaking violently.
“Oh, Enodia,” Hiscilla was groaning. “Enodia!” When Triopas looked at his wife, her face, soiled with dirt and sweat, was streaked with tears.
Boagrius stared at the girl, a dazed look in his eyes. Wonderingly, he reached out to touch the tips of his fingers, the nails black with dirt, to her hair, which shone like gold in the moonlight.
Triopas climbed up out of the hole they had made, Hiscilla and Boagrius following him and the girl in his arms. He felt her trembling, felt the fragile shapes of her bones against his body, and he murmured a low shhh into her ear, as he had done for his own children.
On the ground, in the light of the full Moon, he cradled the girl they had pulled from beneath the stelai
to his breast and looked at his wife.
A great calm came into his heart.
“Wife,” he said, and his voice was full and deep, “see what the goddess has given us. See what Enodia has granted us.”
Hiscilla put her hands to her face, covering her mouth, and nodded, weeping noiselessly. Her black robe was torn and awry.
“Look, Boagrius,” said Triopas, and turned to his champion, who was still staring at the girl. “Look upon her, king's champion. Look upon my daughter.”
Boagrius's eyes came up, then, and he met his king's bronze gaze. “The daughter of my king,” he said, and there was not the slightest disbelief in his voice.
“My daughter,” said Triopas, and, leaning back his head, he showed to the Moon the girl he held in his arms, in the manner he had once shown his newborn sons to the Sun.
The girl's hands rested against his chest, her head against his shoulder, and her fingers clutched at the folds of his cloak.
From around them, from every direction at once, came a savage barking, the yowling of dogs.
Her eyes, opening, were phosphorescent green.
“My daughter,” said Triopas, and his voice was the voice of a king, powerful, and triumphant.