Written by: Justin Biggi
Words take bright flight. Torn from the round, a city fire, a city burning. They spread their wings like black omens. Carrion birds line the walls. They wait, eat a child’s arm. In a silence too still to be real, Cassandra waits. She waits because there is little else to do. She sought refuge, her body a thing to be sacred. They have denied her that refuge. In a torso no longer able to be breathing, she must relearn who she is without Troy around her. Troy, that hated her and raised her. Troy, that she loved with the love of the despairing.
She is a creature of in-between. She is shaped like the present, and her words reek of past. Here she is, awake, alive, alert. But behind the glass of her eyes there are oceans, a myriad of ships; and a frightened girl in a temple, curled around her grief like poison she cannot live without. She has been branded and re-branded. They have torn her, broken her, denied her a voice. She is tired. She has grown tired in ways that are impossible to speak. A war that lasted too long and took too much. She has seen it all. She has known it as well as she knows the shape of her own despair. It is shaped like men, so many men, too many goddamn men. Cassandra has no words left inside her. In the end, they made her tired, and her voice does not matter at all.
She has been touched, spoken to by the lightning, the lightning a child of thunder. She has been touched, and she did not want to be. Ajax holds her, holds her. Agamemnon claims her. She spits venom and it burns as it falls. In her hands there is nothing: she is the abstract act of prophecy. And in a new world where heroes die, prophecy is as meaningless as iron, its song of blood poetry. As meaningless as what stays behind after genocide: the broken bits of a wooden horse. A child devoured by crows. A snake that slithers back into water.
So sang the thunder’s light. It spits in her mouth, and she sings back. Sings, in her throat of black prophecy. The earth bends like ice after winter, on the brink of breaking, ready to give. A sheet beginning to fracture, open wide. Like old bones left out too long, the rot all bleached out of them. Ready to snap underneath feet. In the harsh smell of the air, the soot and the charred bodies. There is little answer to be found here: death has taken and there is no other way.
She spoke to them of it. They did not believe her. Across the plane of her father’s ruination, in the stench of the burning, thick and deep inside her, she sees every second she has ever dreamed of manifest too bright to bear. The ashes of Troy fall on her head, this newfound baptism. So few of them are surviving. Living is no longer part of the equation.
Sometimes she damned her voice. Sometimes she wanted to go back, shake the god who gave her this gift until he relented, until he took it back, until he denied, denied, denied. But she had made her choice and he had made his, what came after had not been her fault, nor his. Some things are simply written, going back upon them is as impossible as stitching a wound without scarring.
And besides. And besides…
Who would she be, without the days that unfold backwards? Who can she be, if not incapable of going forward, unable to look back? They trapped her. They made her this: prophetess without belief. She has taken these gifts and she has washed them in blood, over and over, and they have laughed as she tried to make them listen. In the end, they listened, in the end, and she stood and watched unfold a horror she knew would happen and they did not. Did it make it any less terrible?
Perhaps that is the only answer she has left. That the knowledge did not make it any less painful. That to know did not hurt her any less. That the ash was the ash of her family, that this was a world, then, where heroes came to die.
Image: Cassandra in front of city of Troy by E. De Morgan (1898, London)