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[Aeneid; Aeneas] The stars above Carthage are obscured and the flames glow like embers on the horizon. They must be massive, a blaze like the firestorm that destroyed Troy. AU
Written for the LJ comm 31_days, October 1.
Over the water, Aeneas can see clouds of smoke rising into the sky. The stars above Carthage are obscured and the flames glow like embers on the horizon. They must be massive, a blaze like the firestorm that destroyed Troy. He swallows, thinking of what could possibly cause such a fire. A funeral pyre, an enormous funeral pyre, an enormous regal funeral pyre.
It was right to leave, he thinks. You are right, he tells himself. His destiny demands that he establish a new kingdom. It's for your people, he says, and looks around at them: beaten, weary, exiles without a home. We'd always be foreigners in Carthage, he convinces himself, we'll never have a home until we make our own, raise it from the bones of the earth with our own hands.
"Aeneas! Aeneas!" Achates comes running up to the poop and gestures back toward Africa. "Ships are coming!"
This wasn't unexpected. He had imagined it all in his mind: first, Aeneas departs, leaving his sobbing wife on the floor. Second, Dido lifts her chin and composes herself because she has too much pride and too much courage to weep for long. Third, she leaves her city to Anna. Fourth, she kills herself and curses the Trojans with her dying breath. Fifth, Anna sends her sister to heaven on a funeral pyre that licks at the vaulted ceiling of the sky. Sixth, every single man in the city boards a ship, intent on destroying Aeneas and all his followers.
"Turn us around," Aeneas instructs Achates. "We can't outrun them for long, we'll have to make a stand here." Achates swallows and nods, the whites of his eyes huge.
The Carthaginian ships grow larger and larger and he counts them off. It looks like the entire fleet is coming and they're more than enough to destroy his few boats. This is gratuitous, he thinks, Dido's curse must have been fierce and bloodthirsty. Maybe Creusa's spirit, also abandoned for his destiny, is lending her vengeance to Carthage.
The fleet surrounds the Trojan ships, hemming them in with no chance of escape. Maybe I can surrender, Aeneas thinks. Maybe they'll let the rest go. Nothing happens, the breeze carries no clash of weapons or screaming battle cries across the water. The Carthaginians don't move.
"Aeneas!" Achates is beside him again, pointing at a speck bobbing in the water. The speck is a rowboat and there's a Carthaginian waving a white cloth in it. "They look like they want to parley! What should we do?"
"We'll meet them halfway. Get the rowboat ready."
Out on the water, Aeneas wonders that he isn't more panicked. This could be a trap, he could be sailing to his death, he could be ripped limb from limb when his men ship oars next to the Carthaginians. He's already died today, though, torn out his heart and left it on a foreign shore for his destiny. Maybe that's why he doesn't care, he can't feel anything under his grief. He stares at the starlight glittering on the waves. His rowboat halts and he prepares a speech in his head.
"Aeneas!" That voice, that voice, it can't be, it shatters his half-formed speech and whips the breath out of his mouth. He chokes as he tries to breathe in and gasp at the same time and Achates pounds on his back while he jerks upright and stares over the water.
Dido is there. She is there and she's alive and he throws himself into the water to get at her. "Dido!" Her men might have arrows trained on his head, he might be shot like a fish in the water and left to drown without funeral rites. "Dido!" He's pulled up into her rowboat and he collapses at her feet. Her ankles feel real and alive under his clutching hands and he looks up to see her silhouetted by the stars. He can't see her expression. "You're alive! You're here!"
With a whisper of fabric, she kneels and puts her arms around him. "Yes," she answers. "I am here."
"I'm so sorry," he chokes. "I couldn't stay with you, my mother, my people," and his voice is making excuses for leaving while his arms are grabbing her fiercely. He'd pictured her body melting into fire so vividly that he can't believe she's alive. This feels like his heart is coming back to him and the mourning that had smothered him is slowly easing off and letting him breathe. He can see and he can hear all of a sudden, his senses feel lses muffled and his mind is starting to think again.
"I know." She tilts his head so that he's meeting her eyes. "Carthage is burning."
"What?" He can't make that make sense no matter how he looks at it.
"Carthage is burning," Dido repeats slowly. She gestures around at the ships surrounding them. "We are all here. Your destiny cannot allow you to stay with us. So we are going with you."