Dido's Tale
  Shipwreck brings the legendary Lord Aeneas to Queen Dido's shores, but when the gods demand Aeneas’ return to his mission, what price is Dido willing to pay to change fate?

Dido's Tale - Extract

He came from across the sea. Weary and all but heart-wrecked, his men flocked my shores like seabirds, bedraggled with salt and grief. They barely survived the storm, which rose in the flicker of a star, as storms in such a land as mine often do, and drove them through the unforgiving waters towards the waiting rocks. Great Neptune must have saved them, they say, as the storm was none of that god's making but a frenzy sent from jealous Juno. At least that was what the people whispered behind their hands and some may even have believed it. Who knows? But my own faith is bleaker, sprung from earth and passion's blood. Not for me the winged lightness of air and sky beyond which they say the gods exist. Nothing but fantasy or a coward's dream, a story told for children. This land I own is all the god I have and I will never leave it for it is mine.

The day the sea released the man, the skies were burning hot. All afternoon the wind blew from the west and brought with it the scent of pine and cardamom. I wandered through the avenues of my great palace and rested in the shade of the gentle laurel. The air vibrated with expectation and I knew a storm would come; I could interpret it from the clouds and the way the eagles flew. Sending my slaves away, I waited in the garden, shrugging my cloak from my shoulders and letting it fall unheeded to the ground. When the rains came, I lifted my arms to the fertile sky and welcomed the water's power on my naked flesh. It seeded me. In the jagged lightning, I danced, rejoicing in the skies' destruction, reaching out for the fulfilment which only light and storm can bring, the unimagined breaking of the mind. Such thoughts release from me the burden of my power and give me back if only for a while my womanhood. No-one sees me and no dignity is lost.

All night long the storm raged around us, casting strange sea-creatures and dying birds, wing-torn, out from the inhospitable sea and across the stone houses and royal temples of my noble city. And with them, saved out of the depths of hell, came the men.

The whispers began slowly at first, but then open-tongued Rumour caught the flame and the fire of it spread from the outer dwellings, up the wind-battered streets and to the gates of the palace itself. The tales spun out of air and salty breath told of men in bright costume beached on our shore, some lying all but dead on the grey expanse of coast, others wandering to the city, crying out for help and their god's mercy. And behind them, torn masts wet with blood and tears, the tall ship hung wounded over the sea.

When in the feasting hall I stood and raised my hand, there was silence. I waited, knowing that the source of all my power lay in measured expectation. Only when all eyes were lowered and heads bowed did I speak.

“Come,” I said. “We will see.”

My people parted at my coming like a morning mist burnt dry by the sun. On my journey I saw here a beggar, there a crying child and over each I raised my hand in blessing, not command. It seemed to ease their pain a little and whilst I no longer believed in such magical fancies, I was the guardian of my people's faith always.

At my journey's end, the rocky coastline claimed its ancient ground against the sea's relentless onslaught. There some forty or fifty men were lying, sitting in eloquent puzzlement or struggling to gain a footing on the troubled land. Amongst them one, a full head taller than his companions, stood upright when he saw me approaching, flanked by the curious crowd. Moving to the front, he bowed once before meeting my gaze. He was straight-backed and proud, with hair as dark as night and eyes as blue as the summer sea. When he spoke, his voice was the voice of a king.

“I am Lord Aeneas,” he said.

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