“Go get it back” said Zeritos, the master of arms.
Helenus hastened to pick up the spear, which was stuck to the ground a few feet away from him.
The other boys pretended to be busy throwing their own spears, but he knew that they were listening.
He felt his cheeks going hot. Why had he to make a fool of himself in front of the other boys?
“Throw it again” said Zeritos tiredly.
Helenus could feel his whole arm shaking as he tried again. His new throw was worse than the previous one.
“That’s pathetic. How can you not understand how to throw a spear? You don’t even try!” yelled Zeritos. Helenus could hear some of the other boys snickering.
“Go back to your own practice!” Zeritos barked, turning to them. Then he addresses Helenus again.
“What are you waiting for? Do I need to tell you to try again?!”
Helenus picked up his spear once again, trying to hold back the tears. The master of arms didn’t like it when he cried.
Again, the spear hit the ground just a few feet away from him.
“You are disgracing your father the king. He would be ashamed of you” Zeritos said coldly.
Like he needed to be reminded of that.
“I am sorry” Helenus whispered, looking down.
If the master of arms saw him weeping…
“I couldn’t care less! You don’t have to be sorry, you have to try harder! Look at me!”
When Helenus didn’t comply, Zeritos grabbed his arm and yanked.
“If I tell you to look at me, you look at me!”
Helpless, the prince looked up.
The master of arms slapped him hard.
“Crying like a girl, that’s what you’re good at! Now I’m tired of losing my time. My word, if you weren’t the king’s son I would have kicked you out months ago!”
Zeritos walked away, cursing.
The two boys who were practicing next to Helenus looked the other way. But they had seen and heard everything and, Helenus could bet, they were enjoying it a big deal.
Some time later, the master of arms finally let them go. With a sigh of relief, Helenus gathered his spear and prepared to go.
“Aren’t you coming, Aeneas?” he heard a boy ask.
“Not yet. Ares’ games are in a month, I need to practice” Aeneas answered.
Aeneas, the son of Anchises, was a few years his senior. He seemed to be a natural at everything he did. He could do what the master of arms asked of him without any effort.
“You’re already the best one with the spear. Come on, let’s go home!” another boy said.
“I want to win the games. I will practice a little more. Please tell my father I’ll be home shortly” said Aeneas finally.
“I could use some more practice too” mumbled another boy, picking up his spear again.
Eventually, several boys decided to stay.
Helenus was at a loss. He badly wanted to run away and hide in his room… but what would they think? What would they say in his absence?
He’s the worst of us and he doesn’t even bother to practice. He doesn’t care about disgracing his family.
With a deep sigh, he took his place and tried to throw his spear again. His throws were slightly better now that the master of arms wasn’t there anymore, but compared with the other boys they were still miserable.
Annoyed, Helenus noticed that Aeneas was practicing close to him, much closer than before. Like he needed to look even more ridiculous.
“You are not rotating your shoulder” Aeneas said loudly to Naris, one of the youngest boys. “The throw cannot be powerful if you only use your arm. Look”
Aeneas slowly showed the appropriate movement of the shoulder.
With irritation, Helenus noticed that he was doing the same mistake. Of course, Aeneas had noticed. He was correcting Naris because he couldn’t correct the prince.
This was beyond embarrassing.
He listened to everything Aeneas said, while pretending to be absorbed by his own practice. His throws got slightly more powerful but, no matter what, the other pupils managed to do better than him.
He was relieved when the sun began to go down and they had to stop practicing.
It was the night before his first Ares’ games and Helenus couldn’t sleep.
The whole city would witness his humiliation.
He felt sick at the very thought of it.
His father would be even more disappointed than he already was. Helenus had lost count of the times he had been reprimanded and punished because of Zeritos’ complaints
His brothers were going to resent him – like they didn’t dislike him enough. They barely even spoke to him, and when they did, it was to mock him.
Alright, sometimes they asked him to come with them when they were doing something. But it was always racing or hunting or some kind of competition.
And they knew he hated that!
Loner, they called him.
Helenus stood up before dawn. It was pointless to stay in bed, he wouldn’t sleep in any case.
On the way to Ares’ stadium he walked silently, while his siblings chatted happily.
The stadium was even more crowded than expected, he thought with a gulp. Beside the royal family, there were Troy’s most important families: Aeneas’ father, the kings’ cousins, the warriors, his father’s advisors. There were Troy’s most important priests: Laxani, head of Apollo’s temple, Aesacus, priest of Hermes, Ergyna, priestess of Demeter, Grymas, priest of Artemis.
All of them looked with curiosity at the young prince, who was facing Ares’ games for the first time. Was he going to be as worthy as his brothers were?
Helenus sat with his family while his brothers, Hector, Deiphobus, Polidorus and Polites, distinguished themselves in the wrestling contest.
Then, it was Helenus’ turn. He faced Dolon, son of an advisor to the king, wishing more than anything else that he could be elsewhere.
Dolon was strong. In a short time, Helenus had received several blows, without delivering any. He tried to attack, but his opponent somehow managed to see it coming and block him every time. Dolon tripped him and Helenus fell on his knees.
He stood up immediately, noticing that the public was starting to murmur. He aimed at Dolon agan, and this time his opponent didn’t manage to block him. Dolon pushed against his shoulders and tried to trip him again, but this time Helenus didn’t fall.
It took him a moment to realize what was going on.
Dolon wasn’t really fighting now. He was trying to spare him the humiliation.
Furious, he tugged at Dolon’s arm.
“Stop this farce! Everybody sees what you’re doing!”
He expected the other to deny, but Dolon just complied. He shoved him to the ground and the fight was over.
“You tried to let me win! How dare you?” Helenus spat while they walked out of the pitch.
“I am sorry, son of Priam. I only wanted to…”
“What? To make me look ridiculous?!”
Helenus walked away without waiting for an answer.
In his bed, Helenus tried to cry himself to sleep.
After the wrestling contest, it had gotten even worse. In the spear throw, he had been the worst one, although he had improved after that practice with Aeneas. In the footrace, he tripped again and fell face-down, and his nose started bleeding. It was a catastrophe. He didn’t even dare to look at his brothers, let alone his father.
“Hey”, said Deiphobus, patting his back.
Helenus didn’t acknowledge him.
“Look, you just had a bad day. It will get better, you just need… eh…” Deiphobus went on. He didn’t seem to know what Helenus needed, though.
Helenus angrily pushed him away and picked up the pace. He found himself right behind his father’s back.
“We are lucky that the boy is going to become a priest. What an embarrassment. The king’s son making a fool of himself…” he was saying to his wife.
As soon as they were back at the palace, Helenus ran to his room and closed the door.
A few notes to clarify what this is about:
– Many ancient Greek and Latin writers like Virgil, Sophocles and Euripides mention Helenus as one of the sons of king Priam and queen Hecuba of Troy, and as the twin brother of the seer Cassandra. I will go back to his canonical portrayal later in the story, for now let’s just say that my own portrayal of him is only partly canon compliant (for example, I portrayed him as a priest of Artemis)
– Many scholars identify the fictional city of Troy with the city of Wilusa, an ally/vassal of the Hittites in Western Anatolia. In my story, I accept this interpretation with some poetic licenses. For example, it is unlikely that the people of Wilusa would have worshipped Ares, Artemis or whatever deity from the Greek pantheon