A Stranger in the City – Chapter Four

Hello everybody and thank your for reading my story so far. And even more thanks to those who have left a like or a comment to the previous chapters.

As usual, you find some notes at the bottom of this chapter.

OOO

“Very easily Hermes softened the son of Leto, stern as the Far-Shooter was” Cassandra read loudly and confidently.

“That was very good, Cassandra” said Aesacus, turning the clay tablet to Helenus.

“He… took the-the lyre upon… his left arm and… tried each… string… in turn” the prince read slowly.

He felt so stupid.

After every lesson at Hermes’ temple, he spent hours practicing while Cassandra went to play with their sisters. He could trace all of the symbols and knew what they sounded like. He wrote short sentences and then practiced reading. He was so obsessed with those symbols that he even dreamed about them.

But every time he had to read in front of Hermes’ priest, his mind went blank. He stuttered, his voice quivered, he was slow. It was so frustrating!

Aesacus would think that he couldn’t read yet. He would be disappointed.

“I’m sorry” he whispered eventually, feeling a tear on his cheek.

The priest rested a hand on his back.

“Never mind, my dear. Reading aloud can be distracting. Now try and read the next sentence just in your mind. No, without mouthing the words. Just in your mind”

“It sounded delightfully, and the music touched Apollo’s heart” Helenus read silently.

It was so much easier now that nobody could listen!

“Would you try to read the same sentence out loud, please?” asked Aesacus.

“It sounded delightfully… and the music touched Apollo’s heart” the prince read in a low voice.

“Very well done, Helenus” said the priest with a smile. “You’ve practiced enough for today. Now let’s go to the market square. An Egyptian merchant arrived yesterday and he has some very interesting items. Which reminds me, I should tell you something about the Egyptian language. You see…”

Helenus tried to listen but his mind kept going back to the reading practice.

He had been studying with Hermes’ priest for almost a year now.

It wasn’t like throwing spears or wrestling, something at which he was hopeless. He could read and write, he was even good at it! Then why did he look like he couldn’t? Why couldn’t he be like Cassandra?

-O-O-O-

Some hours later, back in his room, Helenus sat with a clay tablet on his lap.

“Very easily Hermes softened the son of Leto, stern as the Far-Shooter was. He took the lyre upon his left arm and tried each string in turn. Bright Apollo laughed with delight and his heart was filled with longing” he read promptly.

Even if Aesacus was always very kind to him, it was so much easier when nobody was listening. It was even enjoyable.

“That was impressive” said a voice behind his back.

Startled, he turned to find Hector standing right behind his bed. He was so focused that he hadn’t even heard his older brother coming in.

“Did Aesacus write it for you?” asked Hector, taking the tablet from his hands.

“No, I just… wrote down some lines we read today”

Hector frowned.

“You mean you copied them from Aesacus’ tablet?”

“No, I… I… remembered the lines from earlier today and just… wrote them down of my own”

His brother looked at him with wide eyes, clearly impressed.

“Alright, let me get this straight. You memorized the lines you read today and wrote them down?” asked Hector.

“I… yes…” answered Helenus.

“That is brilliant” said Hector, looking closely at the tablet “These symbols are flawless, there are no errors. I bet Aesacus would be proud”

Helenus noticed that his cheeks felt very warm but for once it wasn’t unpleasant.

“There’s something I should tell you” said the older prince, sitting on the bed and putting the tablet aside.

“Ares’ games are coming in two months. I talked about it with our father and he considers that you shouldn’t participate” Hector said carefully.

Helenus swallowed.

On one side, he was relieved that he wasn’t going to be humiliated in front of the whole city again. But the royal princes always competed in the games. The very idea of a prince not participating was unheard of. Helenus’ absence would be noticed, the people would talk about it.

Apparently, he was such a disgrace for his family that his father wanted to avoid the ridicule at all costs. Even if it meant taking an unprecedented decision.

He looked down, not knowing what to say.

“Father is of the opinion that wrestling at Ares’ games would be inappropriate for a future priest of Artemis” Hector said hesitantly.

Hector was too honest to be a good liar.

“That’s not the real reason and you know it!” cried Helenus, offended.

His older brother looked very embarrassed.

“Fine. That is not the real reason” he conceded after a moment.

“The reason is that you are ashamed of me!” yelled Helenus, bursting into tears.

He hated crying in front of other people.

“We are not ashamed” Hector said soothingly.

“I heard Father saying it after the last games! That I was an embarrassment! That I had made a fool of myself! Or do you think that I don’t know it?”

“Please calm down, Helenus, don’t be like that”. Hector tried to reach for him but the younger prince jumped back.

Leave me alone!” Helenus yelled so loudly that his throat hurt. He ran to the door and bumped into his brother Deiphobus, who stood in the doorway.

He tried to push him out of the way, but Deiphobus didn’t move and looked sternly at him.

“How dare you yell at Hector like that? Where’s your head?” he asked harshly, giving him a shove. “Apologize right now!”

When Helenus didn’t react, Deiphobus grabbed him by the hair and pulled. “I said right now!”

“I am sorry” said Helenus, defeated.

“It is alright” Hector replied calmly.

Deiphobus let go of him, but he wasn’t done yet.

“Do you want to hear it? Be my guest! Last year you were a disgrace and Father doesn’t want to be embarrassed like that again. There! Are you happy now?”

Helenus kept sobbing, unable to speak.

“Deiphobus” warned Hector, walking up to them.

But Deiphobus ignored him

“You could have accepted it silently but no, you had to make a scene! You’re lucky that I don’t give you what you deserve right now! I don’t do it just because it would be like hitting…”

“Stop that” said Hector in his toughest voice, and Deiphobus complied.

Helenus hastily wiped his face. With the corner of his eye, he noticed that some other of his brothers had gathered out of his room, alarmed by the screams.

Hector gently pushed Deiphobus out of the room and then walked out, closing the curtains behind his back.

From the inside, Helenus could hear him quietly dismissing their other brothers.

“It’s nothing. Just an argument that got heated” he said.

Helenus threw himself on the bed, exhausted.

-O-O-O-

“Whoa. And you complain about my temper. You’re one to talk” said Molossus.

“I don’t get angry like that anymore. Besides, I remember an argument between the two of us a few years ago when you said a number of things…” said his stepfather.

Molossus blushed at the mention of it.

“Alright. I guess my temper is worse than yours” he conceded.

“What happened with your brothers after that day?”

Helenus sighed.

“Deiphobus gave up. After that, he was nothing more than civil to me. Hector… he stayed away for some time, but he wasn’t angry. He didn’t even tell my father, otherwise I would have been punished”

He stayed silent for a long time, seemingly lost in his thoughts.

“And… what about Ares’ games?”

OOO

A Stranger in the City – Chapter Three

The text Helenus and Cassandra are reading at the beginning is an adaptation of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. If you don’t know it, I definitely recommend it.


8 responses to “A Stranger in the City – Chapter Four”

  1. Your story is so awesome! I can tell how much effort you put into it. I just wanted to say, it might be helpful if you add buttons at the bottom of a post that will take someone to the next part of the story. That is really only a suggestion though, keep up the good work 😁

    Liked by 3 people

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