A Stranger in the City – Chapter Five

Hello! Here’s another chapter of my story. Thanks to all those who are reading and commenting.

OOO

Helenus sat on his bed, the usual clay tablet on his knees, studying the Hittite signs he had learned a few hours earlier.

They had started studying Hittite a few weeks earlier and it was proving challenging. The Hittite signs looked all alike and he spent most of his free time practicing.

“Helenus?”

He turned to see Hector standing in the doorway, looking cautiously at him.

“Yes?” the younger prince replied.

“Deiphobus, Polydorus and I are going to Artemis’ temple. Would you care to come with us?” Hector asked.

Helenus pondered the question.

More than a month had passed since the day when he had yelled at Hector, and Helenus had been avoiding his older brothers since then. He wasn’t looking forward to being alone with them. What if they brought up that conversation again?

On the other side, it was nice of Hector to involve him. Besides, if he refused to go, he might offend the goddess he was going to serve as a priest. And it was never a good idea to offend the Huntress.

“Yes, thank you” he said eventually, putting his clay tablet aside.

On the way to the temple, his brothers discussed the most exciting news: the visit of king Eetion from Thebe, who had brought a magnificent bow for Hector.

Helenus listened silently. He could never figure out whether he was supposed to join a conversation or not, or what he should say. Why was it so easy for the other people to make small talk?

“Tell us, Hector: will you marry his daughter?” asked Deiphobus, interested.

“Yes, I think so” replied Hector.

“Please wait some more years before you marry!” said Polydorus.

“Why?”

“You’re always too busy to spend time with us. It would be even worse if you had a wife” explained Polydorus.

“I am spending time with you right now” reasoned Hector.

“We mean to go hunting, ride horses, things like that” said Deiphobus. “Going to the temple doesn’t count! We’re doing it just because…”

Hector cleared his throat quite loudly and Deiphobus went silent.

But it was quite clear.

They were doing it just because of Helenus.

He could feel his brothers’ eyes on him, even if he was looking ahead.

Helenus didn’t know how he should feel about this. Yes, his brothers had invited him to join them. But did they really want to be here or was this just a chore for them?

“The bow Eetion gave to you, for example. When are we going to try it out?” asked Deiphobus.

We? I thought it was a gift for me” replied Hector with a chuckle.

“Would you keep it to yourself without letting your brothers touch it? Now that’s mean, it’s such an awesome bow!” said Deiphobus.

“Besides, we have to practice for Ares’ ga…” started Polydorus, but he stopped without finishing the sentence.

Also because of Helenus.

They were mostly silent for the rest of the way. Helenus had a feeling that all of them wanted this little trip to be over as soon as possible.

It was a relief when they finally arrived at the temple.

They met the high priest Grymas, left their offer and prayed. Eventually, they walked to the temple’s terrace.

Artemis’ temple rested on a hill, halfway between the city’s doors and the royal palace. The view from the terrace was magnificent. To the west, one could see beyond the city walls and look at the sea. To the north, there was the lower town, with its vineyards and olive groves, and with the market square. One could see the whole city and, at the same time, stay away from it.

Helenus liked the temple.

He vaguely remembered the day when Hector, sitting on his bed, had explained to him that one day he would serve the Huntress. He and Cassandra had been born on the summer solstice, the solemn feast of the twin god and goddess, it could not be just a coincidence.

Coincidence or not, he liked the idea of joining this temple. Many of his brothers wouldn’t want to give up glory in battle and the company of women for a place in a temple, but Helenus didn’t mind.

“What a great view one can enjoy from here!. And in a few years you are going to enjoy it every day, Helenus” observed Hector, addressing him directly for the first time.

Was it just a comment or an attempt to make him join the conversation?

“Yes… it is beautiful” he replied carefully, after a moment.

On the way back to the palace, his brothers were much more silent. Helenus couldn’t say why, but they looked aggravated.

At the palace, Hector left to go and see their father, while Helenus, Deiphobus and Polydorus walked back to the men’s quarters.

“Alright, I’ve had enough” said Deiphobus, stopping.

Helenus turned to him with a questioning look.

“We invite you to spend some time with us even though you’re always terribly rude. And you? You say a total of -what was that?- four words! What is your problem?”

Helenus looked at him, taken aback.

“Get over yourself and stop being haughty, like our conversations are too stupid for you to join!” added Deiphobus, annoyed.

He wasn’t like that! Why did nobody understand?

He wanted to explain so many things. That he was grateful for their invitation. That he wanted to join their conversations but he was scared that he might say the wrong thing. That he wanted to have a friend but was scared of being disliked. That being around people made him so nervous.

But Deiphobus would just laugh at him. Everybody already thought that he was a weakling.

“Well, I didn’t ask you to invite me!” he said harshly.

Great! And believe me, if it hadn’t been for Hector I wouldn’t have” growled Deiphobus, walking away.

OOO

It was a sunny spring day and the Trojans were gathering in the stadium to attend Ares’ games.

Helenus followed his family into the royal box, wishing that he could be invisible.

The news that he wasn’t going to participate had spread quickly. Zeritos, the master of arms, had not hesitated to share this information during a particularly embarrassing practice. The other boys hadn’t dared to openly laugh at the king’s son, but they had certainly done so in private.

Close to him, Priam was welcoming the most distinguished Trojans and introducing them to his guest king Eetion, his future in-law.

“This is my dear friend and advisor Anchises. And here is his son Aeneas, one of our most promising warriors. You will be able to appreciate his prowess during the game. I will not deny that I would like to see him married to one of my daughters” explained the king.

“It would be a great honor, my king” said Aeneas, bowing his head with a smile.

So, Aeneas was going to become his brother in law, thought Helenus. The king would never say such a thing just to make conversation. Aeneas was likely going to marry Polyxena, or Creusa.

“And this is Hermes’ priest Aesacus, my oldest advisor and my children’s teacher. I hope that my youngest ones aren’t disappointing you” said Priam, taking Aesacus’ right hand as it was customary.

“I’m very pleased with the prince and princess, my king. They’re intelligent and hard-working, I couldn’t ask for more” said Aesacus, resting his hand on Helenus’ shoulder.

Helenus bit his lip to hide a small smile.

“I’m glad to hear it. And you, young boy…” said Priam, turning to Helenus. “If you worked just as hard with the master of arms, you would improve there as well!”

He looked down, the smile completely gone from his face. He thought that his father was going to praise him, just once.

“Yes, Father” he said meekly.

Aesacus’ grip on his shoulder tightened slightly.

“Very well” replied the king, before finally taking place next to the queen.

“We should take a seat too” said Aesacus softly.

The prince let himself be guided to one of the rows behind the king’s seat, as usually occupied by the royal family and by the most important guests. He sat next to Hermes’ priest without a word.

For some time, they were both silent. They watched Hector, Deiphobus and Polydorus defeating their opponents in their wrestling matches and Aeneas winning the spear throw.

“Some time ago, Hector told me that you memorized the lines you read at the temple and wrote them down” said Aesacus suddenly, in a low voice. “That’s brilliant. I cannot say that I’m surprised, though: you’re pretty smart”

Helenus eyed him suspiciously. Was Hermes’ priest trying to cheer him up?

He hated it when people pitied him.

“Why are you glaring at me? I’m not making fun of you. I really think that you’re smart” said Aesacus with a smile.

“Helenus, I don’t think poorly of you just because you’re not talkative and you keep to yourself. That would be preposterous. It is alright to be a private person. It’s alright for someone to be uncomfortable with talking”

The prince blushed, not knowing what to say.

People usually tried to push him into being more outgoing, more competitive, more talkative, and were annoyed when he didn’t comply. Nobody had ever told him that he was shy and that it was alright.

But it was easy for Aesacus to say it. He wasn’t shy – and he wasn’t a royal prince.

“I know that it makes things difficult for you, and that you wish you could be different” said Aesacus in a very gentle voice. Not for the first time, Helenus had the feeling that his teacher could read his mind.

“But Helenus, your shyness will never make you less smart, less wise, less strong. Wisdom and strength have nothing to do with your willingness to chat and swagger around. They have to do with the way you face obstacles and adversities. Just be careful not to reject people who might very well like you”

Helenus snorted. He didn’t believe that anybody would like him.

Again, Aesacus seemed to read his mind.

“Believe it or not, not everybody thinks poorly of you” he said.

Helenus couldn’t think of anything to say, but he knew that Aesacus wouldn’t mind.

He nodded tersely, looking at the pitch.

“If you need my advice, you can come to me whenever you want” Aesacus said eventually, patting his shoulder.

“Thank you” he whispered.

OOO

A Stranger in the City – Chapter Four

A Stranger in the City – Chapter Six


One response to “A Stranger in the City – Chapter Five”

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