A Stranger in the City – Chapter Seven

Hello everyone! As usual, thank you to all those who are reading my story, I hope you are enjoying it. I would be happy to read your thoughts, positive or otherwise.

OOO

“That man whipped you like a thief in front of everybody and your family did nothing?” Molossus asked incredulously. “I cannot believe that a king would tolerate something like that!”

His stepfather stayed silent for a long time before answering.

“Several years later, I found out that Polydorus and Polites had actually kept it to themselves. They didn’t want it to become public knowledge, believing that it would be too humiliating”

“But that’s ridiculous! All the boys saw that!” Molossus snapped, shaking his head. “And you spent years thinking that they knew!”

Helenus nodded. Molossus thought that, behind the usual poise, he looked aggrieved.

“How did you find out?” the young prince questioned.

“Not now. I will tell you later” his stepfather replied in a definitive tone.

Molossus knew that there was no point in arguing.

“Alright. So, how was your novitiate?”

-O-O-O-

On the following day, Helenus woke up before dawn and couldn’t sleep anymore.

Today, he would leave his father’s house forever. He would sleep in another room, in another bed. He would see his family much more rarely.

He couldn’t say how he felt about that.

He was a stranger in the royal palace, as the previous day’s events had shown for the umpteenth time. Yet, the idea of living alone with someone he didn’t know at all made him feel nervous. The palace was so large and there were so many people that it was easy to go unnoticed. At the temple, it would be only him and Grymas, the high priest. He didn’t even know whether he would have a room of his own.

Besides, he was going to face new expectations. Would he be a good novice? Would Artemis’ priest be nice to him?

He dressed slowly, hissing when the fabric touched the scars on his back. After dawn, a handmaid went to fetch him.

He assumed that she would accompany him to the temple. He was just wondering whether he should take leave from his parents when he noticed that they were both waiting for him in the main hall.

His mother took him by the shoulders and kissed him on the forehead, surprising him. She used to kiss her children only when they were very young. He couldn’t remember the last time she had kissed him like this.

“Be good at the temple. Your father will accompany you” she said simply.

“Yes, Mother”

They set out alone. The city’s doors were still closed and the king was not afraid of walking through his city unescorted.

He wondered whether his father would use this opportunity to speak to him. But the king said nothing, and Helenus didn’t dare to start a conversation.

In silence, they went down the main road that connected the royal palace to the city doors. A few people were setting up their stalls in the market square, neatly arranging onions, fresh eggs and other items. Upon seeing the king and the prince, the merchants simply bowed their heads. Nobody would speak to the king without being addressed.

Still in silence, they finally reached the temple’s main door. Only at that point did the king speak.

“Now I leave you to the Goddess you were destined to serve. Make us proud, and may the Huntress keep blessing our city” he said solemnly before knocking.

-O-O-O-

Helenus already knew Grymas, the short and middle aged priest of Artemis.

Grymas was serious and taciturn but he didn’t look mean. He showed him around the temple speaking as little as possible.

The temple as such consisted of a hall and a sacred area. Then there were a kitchen and three rooms, one of which was for Helenus. It was much smaller than his old one, but the window looked out on the terrace and he could enjoy a great view of the lower city.

The kitchen and the bedrooms were neither clean nor tidy.

“Like every temple in Troy except from Demeter’s one, there are no servants here. There’s just a boy who fetches water and wood and an old woman who does the laundry. But we have to keep the temple clean, cook our meals and take care of the vegetable garden by ourselves” explained the priest apologetically. “It’s a lot of work for just one person”

Some hours later, Helenus’ first attempt at baking bread was quite chewy and slightly overcooked.

“Mmh. I don’t cook much better than that anyway” commented Grymas.

That wasn’t much of a compliment but it wasn’t really an insult either.

Helenus’ first weeks at Artemis’ temple went on quietly.

Grymas showed him how to perform the rituals and taught him a few prayers to the Goddess. He also showed him how to cook some dishes and take care of the vegetable garden.

Helenus had no objection to cleaning and tidying up and Grymas was aloof but treated him fairly.

Helenus couldn’t quite figure him out. After closing the temple in the evening, the priest ate and immediately retired to his room. On the days when the temple was closed, he visited his siblings in the lower city, and Helenus could spend a whole day without seeing him. Helenus couldn’t understand whether the priest was shy like him or just didn’t care for his company. But as long as Artemis’ priest wasn’t mean to him, he could live with the indifference.

The vegetable garden quickly became his favorite place. He felt a propensity for this task that required so much time and attention. He used to spend his free time there.

Maybe he had found his place in the world.

Yes, the goddess hadn’t spoken to him yet, although he now lived in her house. He didn’t know if this was normal or not. He wanted to broach the subject with Grymas but he couldn’t summon the courage. What if the priest said that no, it wasn’t normal, and sent him back to the royal palace?

No, it was definitely better to keep silent.

OOOO

Although he was very tired, Helenus couldn’t sleep.

It had been a bad day.

Three years had passed since he had joined the temple.

The young boy who had walked into the temple three years before was almost a man now, nearly as tall as Hector. The child with the smooth chin now needed to shave almost every day.

Only a year separated him from his consecration. Now he knew all of the rituals and prayers by heart, even the most long and difficult ones. He could do all of his chores and he was the master of the vegetable garden. Grymas had never had any serious complaint about him so far.

But that morning Grymas had come to his room before opening the temple.

“From today on, you are going to take care of some worshippers. You are old enough now”

Helenus had felt very nervous. Yes, he knew the prayers and the rituals and everything… but the idea of talking in front of people who expected something from him made him feel uneasy. Yes, this wasn’t the first time he talked to worshippers: sometimes, Grymas asked him to translate when a foreigner came to the temple. But translating and speaking were two different things.

Repeating the most common prayers to the Huntress in his mind, he began the morning rituals together with Grymas.

The temple had just opened when the first worshipper arrived. As it was often the case at Artemis’ temple, it was a pregnant woman.

Helenus took her offer -a basket of fruit- and put it on the altar. Then he fetched some leaves and burned them.

Eventually, he recited the prayer.

“May the Huntress bless you with many children… she who helped her own mother giving birth” he said hesitantly.

The woman raised an eyebrow at him and he noticed that he had made a mistake. The part about Artemis helping her own mother during childbirth came first.

But why? He could remember prayers that were much longer than that without making any mistake!

“Thank you” the woman said pointedly. She didn’t look very happy.

He felt ridiculous.

Grymas, who had been listening from the sacred area, said nothing.

It went even worse with the second worshipper. A young man came with a bow that had to be consecrated.

Helenus knew him by sight because they had often made military exercises together.

Once Zeritos had told him that one day he would consecrate bows although he wasn’t even able to handle them.

That sudden memory made him blush and he almost dropped the precious bow. The worshipper noticed it and Helenus saw the he was trying to hide a sneer.

Helenus found that he couldn’t remember the prayer at all.

He closed his eyes and pretended to be in deep meditation until, finally, the words came to his memory.

“May the goddess who wears the silver bow give you vigor”.

His voice sounded shrill. When he looked up, he noticed the worshipper’s pitiful look. The man swiftly took the bow from his hands and left almost in a hurry.

After a moment, Helenus heard Grymas’ footsteps behind his back.

“I will have to take over again. You stutter and you almost dropped that bow. That would have been a very bad omen” he said matter-of-factly.

“I’m sorry” replied Helenus, confused.

“You don’t like talking in front of people” the priest stated. He sounded blunt but not mean.

“No” conceded Helenus, bowing his head.

“Well, you should deal with it. A priest is required to talk in front of people. Not just in front of one worshipper but in front of the whole city during the processions”

His mouth felt dry at the very idea of speaking in front of so many people.

How was he supposed to just deal with it?

“I’m not sure I can do that” he said quietly, hoping that Grymas might provide him with some advice. The priest wasn’t talkative, maybe he had once had the same problem during his first years as a priest.

“If you want to become a priest, you will have to” answered the priest.

For the rest of the day, Grymas took care of the worshippers as usual and he didn’t return to the subject.

The sun had not set yet when Helenus retired to his room.

Everything was so frustrating.

The last three years at Artemis’ temple had been much better than the previous ones at the royal palace. Although the goddess hadn’t sent him a sign yet, although the priest barely spoke to him, he had felt fine here. He felt no pressure, no competition. He had thought he might become a good priest, that he might be respected by people who had laughed behind his back until then.

And now it turned out that this wasn’t his thing. 

Yet again.

He had thought that the dread of speaking in front of other people, of exposing himself, would go away with time. Maybe he had been a shy child but he wouldn’t not become a shy man, right? Adults were not shy. Men were not shy. He would grow up, give up his childish reserve and start behaving like everybody else at some point, right?

Well, apparently not. It didn’t matter how well he could remember a prayer. As soon as someone watched him with expectation, he forgot even his own name.

Several years before, Aesacus had told him that he could be brave and strong and whatever even if he was shy. He had felt reassured back then.

But now it looked like Hermes’ priest had deceived him. He couldn’t be anything! He had become a novice because he couldn’t be a royal prince, and now apparently he couldn’t become a priest either!

And Grymas had told him that he had to deal with it. Like he didn’t want to! Like he enjoyed looking stupid in front of other people! He could use some guidance, but the priest hadn’t bothered to tell him how to deal with it.

He wanted to be comforted and to be left alone at the same time.

He spent a restless night.

OOO

A Stranger in the City – Chapter Six


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