A gentle evening breeze wafted through the window opening, bringing with it the tang of salty sea air and making the candle flames flicker. Elissa watched their shadows play and change on the wall, apparently entranced by the ever-changing patterns on display, but truly her mind was far removed from the dancing silhouettes.
Her husband was dead.
They were words that filled her with fear. Fear of what would happen next. Fear of what her brother would do next.
Younger than she, with his head turned by the allure of power that should have been theirs shared evenly, he had become someone she hardly recognised in the months since their father's death and yet even she hadn't expected him to do this. True enough, Acerbas had not been much of a husband – being years older and not at all interested in her beyond the power she represented as joint heir – but nor had he deserved such treatment. Struck down by an assassin on the steps of the temple. Murder and sacrilege in one foul blow and all looping back to her brother.
Her brother who wanted the wealth that Acerbas had accrued.
Her brother who was jealous and desperate to prove that he alone was right to rule, just as the people said.
What would Pygmalion do next?
The answer to that question was one that Elissa was reluctant to give voice to, but was obvious and inescapable for all that. With Acerbas disposed of, Pygmalion would be coming here, seeking that treasure, and he would not be too choosy about the way in which he acquired it.
Outside her chambers she heard the distant calls and cries of the fishermen landing their catches and readying their boats to sail out for another. They would be gone with the tide - drawn out over the glistening waves to ply their trade. Some would return to Tyre the next evening, others would be gone for longer as they worked up and down the coast and criss-crossed the silvery sea.
They knew beaches and coves and islands of which her brother could not begin to dream.
They could carry her away to freedom.
Elissa allowed a small smile.
They would carry her away to freedom – her, and those others that her brother would soon be turning his murderous gaze upon.
Such a flight would not be simple, nor would it be easy, but it could and would be done.
From the top of the hill she saw them approach. Phoenician ships – three of them – bearing the scars of a long journey. Their progress was slow – little breeze and few oar slaves to propel them – but she knew that by nightfall they would be beaching in the cove below.
Seeing them made her smile.
She had been alone so long, tied to this place.
They would become her people. They would honour her and, in return, she would protect them for as long as she was able.
Hanna paused in the doorway to study her sister.
Acerbas was dead and yet Elissa had not shed a tear. She had donned her widow's clothes, performed the rites and sacrifices appropriate to mourning and funerals, but it was all done with a muted grace. There was no weeping and no wailing; no clutching at her breast and no tearing at her clothes. In fact, none of the hysterics that one might expect from a newly widowed young woman.
And Hanna didn't know what to make of it.
She knew Acerbas to have been a distant husband at best, but still – surely her sister should have some feelings on the matter?
"Little Sister – I see you. Why do you lurk, there in the dark? Come into the light and be peacible with me."
Shamefaced at being caught, Hanna stepped into the room. "I did not wish to intrude on your grief."
Elissa snorted softly. "I do not have the luxury to grieve, Little Sister. I must plan my way out of the trap our brother is setting for me." There was pain in the words, raw and untamed.
But not, Hanna sensed, for Acerbas. "What trap?" she asked, even as she seated herself on the footstool before her sister's seat.
Elissa spread her hands wide. "You know that it was an assassin's knife that took Acerbas?" Hanna nodded slowly. "Sisa saw the whole thing. She recognised the assassin as one of our brother's retainers."
"Because our brother is eliminating those that might be a threat to him. You know already that a good half the court is already either beholden to him or exiled. Acerbas would not bow down and Pygmalion does not yet have the power to exile the High Priest of Melqart. That left our brother one choice – the choice of the assassin's blade."
Hanna took a few moments to turn her sister's words over in her mind. She still had some difficulty considering Pygmalion as anything beyond the little boy she sang to sleep after a nightmare and trying to picture him as such a calculating and cold individual was beyond her.
"Think on this another way," Elissa continued. "By the normal order of things, Pygmalion should be the king. He knows this. But our father desired that he and I should rule jointly until he is of age – for he is so much younger than you and I."
Hanna nodded slowly. "This is true – but surely Pygmalion does not see you as a rival? Surely he knows you are bound to step aside when he is of age?"
Elissa smiled an odd, crooked smile. "But that day is still years away and he wants his power now. Thus, he does everything he can to achieve it. Acerbas was one of the biggest obstructions and, additionally, was one of the richest men in all of Tyre. By disposing of Acerbas, Pygmalion clears an obstacle and, so he believes, gains access to additional wealth."
With the plot spelled out, Hanna felt silly for not being able to recognise it. "It is as well father selected you to rule – I should never have seen it."
"Because you are a good hearted person, Hanna." Elissa's smile flashed again. "And for that reason, you must come with me."
"Two nights hence, I will be leaving Tyre. I will not stand by and allow the city I love to be torn in two and that will surely be the outcome if I stay. So I will go and I will find somewhere new, where I might make my own life."
The intensity burning in Elissa's eyes made Hanna look away. "Surely it will not come to that."
"It will, and worse."
With a splash and a cry, the first of the ships dropped anchor in the bay, as near to the beach as could be achieved.
She watched from the head of the path out of the cove with anticipation, waiting for her first look at her people.
Would they see her?
Though she stood and she felt the burning sun and cooling winds, she knew that not all people would know her to be there. The tribes to the south did not know her, after all, even though she'd walked among them for as long as they'd been settled.
But these people…
These were different.
She could feel it.
Hanna turned her gaze back to Elissa's face and read the certainty and resignation there. Her sister was wise in the ways of power. In fact, before Pygmalion was born, their father had been heard to lament that, Alas, if only Elissa had been born a boy!, such was her skill at reading people and situations.
She would have made a very good king.
Hanna smiled. She would make a very good queen, were they to strike out as Elissa was proposing.
"You believe that Pygmalion would turn on me?" she finally asked.
Elissa nodded once. "Though you and I both know you have no desire to rule, you are still older than he and you could be used by his opponents."
Hanna shuddered at that thought.
"So, will you come?"
"It would seem I have little option. Where will we go?"
Elissa's gaze turned distant. "I do not know," she admitted. "But it must be far from here. Somewhere where the scent of the sea is strong and the lands are fresh and new." She looked up at her sister again. "We will know it when we reach it."
Where she might have expected to hear a thread of fear, Hanna could only detect certainty. "You are sure this is right?"
"Yes. I feel it." Elissa smiled and started to push to her feet. "Come; it is late and we should retire. The soonest I expect Pygmalion to act is tomorrow, when he will ask for Acerbas' money with honeyed words and pleasant tones. That gives us time to sleep and to plan and prepare. It does not need to be done in this moment."
Hanna nodded and climbed to her feet, then paused in the very act of leaving as new thoughts struck her. She turned back. "If we two are in danger, so too is Barnabas. And Kemoc. And--"
"I know." Elissa's expression was pained, even as she interrupted. "Those in the court who are not under our brother's control are in as much danger, if not more – for our brother can act against them with an impunity that he dare not employ on us. They too must leave with us, or perish, so I will see to it that they are aware, but we shall have to be careful lest our plans are betrayed."
"You believe Pygmalion would stop us from leaving? Even though that will grant him what he wants?" Hanna shook her head. "Surely even he cannot be so perverse."
Elissa just smiled that crooked smile again. "Perhaps – and perhaps not. We should not risk to chance it, all the same."
There was much sense in Elissa's words and Hanna found herself nodding.
"So, sleep now, Little Sister. Sleep and dream of your freedom."
At that, Hanna smiled. They would be hopeful dreams indeed.
With an agonising slowness from her perspective, she watched as they lowered a little boat – an awkward looking coracle that lacked the elegance of the main ship – and then, one by one, people were helped down to it. The main ship itself would be beached later, but that could not be done until the passengers had disembarked.
Her long gaze told her this group were important people, guarded by men with spears and swords – she could see the late afternoon sun glint off their armaments. Were they the leaders of the group or simply the vanguard?
The little boat drew nearer and she saw that the party consisted of two women – one elder, one younger, both enough alike as to suggest siblings – an elderly man with a long, whispy beard and five soldiers, with a boatman to guide the craft into the shallows. The soldiers looked warily around the cove, as if expecting people to leap out from behind rocks or from within caves. The elderly man looked as if he simply wished for this journey to be over. The two women...
...were staring straight at her.
They could see her.
They were the ones.
She felt a thrill of excitement course through her and she finally set foot upon the gritty sand of the beach.
The elder woman was first to set foot the land, helped from the coracle by one of the soldiers.
She approached, nervous in her steps. The soldiers tensed. The elder woman simply raised her hands in a gesture that had the soldiers putting up their weapons.
"What is this place?"
"This is my land," she answered. "I am Tanith, the spirit of this place. All that you see is under my protection." She took a step closer and a wave of boldness overcame her. "What is your name?"
"I was Elissa of Tyre, but that life is done. So I will start afresh here , as Dido, and found a qart-hadašt – if that should please you, oh spirit?"
She smiled and held out her hands. "That would please me greatly." The newly born Dido clasped hands with her, sealing the pact in that moment. "Welcome, Dido of Qart-hadašt. Welcome home."