Hello everybody! As usual, thanks to those who are reading and liking this story. I am always happy to read any comments or reviews.
Short notes about this chapter can be found at the bottom of this post.
“Hold on, hold on” Molossus interrupted. “This Eudorus you keep talking about… is our Eudorus?”
“Of course it’s our Eudorus, who else?” Helenus replied impatiently.
“Every second Achaean is called Eudorus!” insisted the younger man, shaking his head in disbelief. “I can name at least five in this town! How was I supposed to know that you were talking about him? He tried to make you betray your city and now he’s your right arm?!”
“It happened about twenty-five years ago” Helenus replied, unperturbed. “Things change. The Achaeans conquered my city, now they accept me as their king. And Eudorus is one of the reasons they do. He is much smarter than I am, he could have become the king if he had wanted to”
“Then why didn’t he?”
“Because” Helenus replied with the hint of a smile “he is much smarter than I am”.
Back on Neoptolemus’ ship, Eudorus told his story. Agamemnon’s arrival had been delayed because of a storm. On the day of his arrival, he had been murdered by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover, he had learned it from one of the palace’s guards. They had come back without meeting the new king.
Everybody listened to this tale in silence. Helenus, even without looking around, could feel the Achaeans’ eyes on him. It was hard not to blush under that scrutiny, and he looked far away, trying not to meet anybody’s gaze.
Of course, it was a lucky coincidence that what he had said to Agamemnon had actually come true. At least for a while, the Achaeans would think that the Huntress did speak in him. But for the same reason, now he was the centre of attention – and he hated it.
All he wanted now was to lock himself up in a room, far from everybody’s eyes. He hoped that they would reach their destination soon: at least he would not be forced to control his face and his eyes like he had to do on the ship.
He didn’t dare to ask what had happened to Cassandra. It would sound very suspicious, the Achaeans would certainly ask him why he didn’t know that as well. His duty now was to provide for Andromache and Aesacus – and they would be much safer if the Achaeans believed that a goddess spoke in him.
But the truth was that he was also scared of hearing the answer, provided that Eudorus knew anything about her and that he told him the truth. For some reasons, Helenus was more and more convinced that his sister had known what her destiny would be, just as she had known that Agamemnon would claim her.
They set sail immediately. Neoptolemus made the ships travel as fast as it was possible, clearly wishing to get away from that region.
A few days later, they stopped at Pylos to supply water and learned that king Nestor hadn’t returned from the war, either. Neoptolemus decided to make a sacrifice to Poseidon in Nestor’s honor, then they set sail again.
Pylos seemed to be the very last city of that part of the world. While heading north, they only encountered small villages or scattered houses.
“We are almost there” Neoptolemus finally announced one day. Pointing at a large island in the distance, he added: “That island is Corcyra. Buthrotum is right behind it, on the mainland”.
They sailed up the channel between the mainland and Corcyra until they reached the mouth of a river, then headed upriver.
Helenus had to admit that the sight was magnificent: a lush valley surrounded by smooth hills and green mountains. At some point, he could spot a small settlement in the distance. There were a few houses which seemed to be made of stone and plaster. A larger building was located on an embankment, behind the other houses. It was built according to the Mycenaean style, with a yard and a colonnade on the front part. At some distance there was another large building, maybe a temple.
Many villagers were already gathering on the embankments. A few were dressed like soldiers, the others were likely peasants.
Nobody spoke until they had landed. Then, one of the soldiers went to meet Neoptolemus with open arms.
“Welcome back, Neoptolemus. I am glad to see that you are unharmed. You come with strangers”
“Yes, Leocritus. The city of Troy has been destroyed, these people are my prey”
Helenus suppressed a grimace. The word prey, uttered in such a casual way, irritated him. The people were staring at them with curiosity, studying their foreign features and clothes. He hid the hand with his father’s ring under the cloak, hoping that they would move. He felt like an animal at the market. Andromache probably felt even more observed than he did. Shooting a sideways glance at her, he noticed that she had wrapped herself tightly in her veil, so that her face wasn’t visible.
“Let’s thank the gods for leading you to success. And where is your father Achilles?” asked Leocritus hesitantly.
Of course, the news of Achilles’ death hadn’t reached this end of the world…
“My father has died” answered Neoptolemus solemnly.
Helenus expected that people would cry like the Trojans had done at the news of Priam’s death. The reaction, however, was much more composed: only a low murmur ran among the people.
“I am sorry to hear that. It’s good that you have returned home and can now take his place”
After this, to Helenus’ great relief, a chariot arrived and they moved towards the palace.
The king’s residence was much smaller than his father’s palace in Troy and looked more like a large house. In the hall, only the columns were painted, while the walls were just plastered. It had to be difficult to find a painter here.
“The men to the right side now, the women to the left” said Eudorus’ voice, interrupting his musings.
They seemed to have reached the back of the house. In front of them there was a room – probably the king’s bedroom – and at the sides there were two corridors, partly hidden by curtains.
“Wait. Where is Andromache going?” he asked anxiously. He had never been separated from Andromache since they had left Troy. She was still under her veil and hadn’t said a word.
“To the women’s rooms, where else?” said Neoptolemus, annoyed. “I certainly don’t wish to celebrate the wedding today. She doesn’t have a proper dress and we need to organize a banquet”
“I trust that she will be treated accordingly” Helenus replied coldly. Formally, Andromache was a slave and Neoptolemus could do what he wanted to her.
“Of course, she will sleep with her maids. We are not a bunch of barbarians” muttered Neoptolemus.
“Very well” he said, turning to look at Andromache. He didn’t know whether she could see him from under the veil.
Aesacus room was right next to his one. He made sure that the blanket on the bed was thick enough and that nobody would take away Aesacus’ woolen cloak.
Helenus was glad when he was finally left alone in his own room. He had never been really alone since they had left Troy.
He sat on the bed, taking his head in his hands, sighing deeply.
Suddenly, everything began to feel real. He could feel the rubble falling on his head during the earthquake, see the bloody stains on his father’s tunic become larger and larger, he could smell the burnt bodies of his last day in Troy. For a moment, the memory of that smell made him intensely sick. He inhaled slowly and deeply, trying to think about something else.
During the travel, he had been surprised at how little these memories were taunting him, at how little he was aching.
Well, it looked like a part of him had just been holding fast. He had spent the whole travel faking a strength and a confidence he didn’t possess.
He lay back on the bed, too exhausted to sit, but he immediately stood up again, unable to be still.
This was not a dream. He was far away from home, almost at the end of the world, a prisoner in the house of a foreign king. His city would never be again. He would never again wander through the city’s market or look at the sea from the temple’s terrace. His family had been exterminated. Hector’s widow, who should have become the queen of Troy, was now going to marry their enemy.
He leaned with his forehead on the wall, trying hard not to sob. He had to be quiet because Aesacus was in the next room. He didn’t want to bother Hermes’ priest with his misery: his old teacher was certainly aching on his own.
“I’m feeling that way, too”
Helenus turned to see Aesacus in the dorway. Hermes’ priest walked in and sat on the bed, where Helenus joined him.
He felt relieved. He had been craving solitude during the travel but now he didn’t want to be alone.
“There is no way of sweetening the pot, there really isn’t” said Aesacus, taking his hand. Helenus thought that he had never looked so old. “We are going to suffer for quite some time. It will hurt, and it is alright. And then we are going to get through it” Hermes’ priest added with a sad smile, wiping away a tear.
Helenus wanted to ask what if I don’t have the strength for it?, but he thought better. It wasn’t right to seek comfort from Aesacus now: his teacher was barely holding it together.
“Yes, we are” he said instead, squeezing Aesacus’ hand.
- The city of Buthrotum or Buthrint really existed. It was probably founded at the end of the Bronze Age and was located in present day Albania, very close to the Greek border. The landscape around it is a sight to behold (you can easily look it up on google maps).
- The presence of Helenus and Andromache in Buthrotum was mentioned by the Roman poet Virgil in his epic poem “The Aeneid”, but not exactly in the same circumstances (according to Virgil, they got there only after Neoptolemus died).