A Stranger in the City – Chapter Eight

Hello everyone! Here you have another chapter of my story.

History disclaimer: In this chapter, I try to explain Andromache’s Greek name with the theory that Western Anatolia was partly inhabited by people of Achaean descent during the Late Bronze Age. As far as I know, the evidence to this is not definitive, but it worked perfectly with my fiction.

If you wish to hear something more on the matter, I recommend this video by “History with Cy”.

OOO

The two men were silent for some time.

Molossus wanted to ask a something, but he hesitated. His stepfather didn’t really encourage questions, and he was beginning to see why.

“But you don’t feel that way anymore, right? As the king, you speak in public all the time”

Helenus shifted ever so slightly on his chair. For a moment, Molossus thought that he looked uncomfortable.

“It was much worse when I was a boy, and a young man” conceded his stepfather. “But I will never… it will never come easy”

The young prince looked down, confused. He had trouble picturing the man who could silence him with a look as such a painfully shy boy. Yet, it explained so many things: that reserve about his past that Molossus had needed years to win, the poise, the taciturn attitude. All things he had mistaken for aloofness and severity.

“So that’s why you are not talkative. I’ve always assumed you were just as sullen as a person can be” he said quietly.

“Rest assured, you’re not the first one who thinks that” Helenus snorted.

“And I probably won’t be the last one” concluded Molossus, feeling the need to lighten the mood.

Helenus stood abruptly, and the younger prince immediately noticed that he had committed an imprudence.

“You can’t begin to imagine how much this is costing me” his stepfather said harshly. “If you find it funny, then get out of here right now!”

“I’m sorry” the younger man said hurriedly. “I don’t find it funny, I just… you’re telling me these things, and it makes me uneasy… I wanted to lighten the load!”

Helenus sat back again, pale and tight-lipped. Molossus stayed silent, giving him some time to cool off.

The young prince knew that Helenus would not hit him, no matter how angry he was. His stepfather wasn’t a physical person. Still, he didn’t dare to speak when the older man was in such a state.

Finally, Helenus sighed deeply and spoke again.

“Maybe I will regret my decision to share these memories with you” he said quite coldly.

“I am sorry” Molossus repeated. “I didn’t mean to offend you. Please go on, I am glad that you are telling me all of this”

Helenus bit his lip and gave him a stern glare before resuming his tale.

“During the rest of my novitiate, Grymas made me try again several times. He kept telling me that I had to stop being shy – without explaining how. He kept repeating that I should try harder and practice more. He was never mean to me, though”

“Did you improve?” Molossus asked hesitantly.

“A little. I closed my eyes, pretending that I was alone, and it sometimes worked. Still, I was very uncomfortable, and Grymas had to decide what to do with me”

-O-O-O-

It was the day of the summer solstice and Helenus had just been consecrated to Artemis. The summer solstice was Apollo and Artemis’ feast day, and also Helenus and Cassandra’s birthday.

He had assumed that, once clad in his priestly robe, he would feel different, more empowered. He didn’t feel much different, though. He wondered whether other people would see him differently now, whether they would be fooled by the priestly robe.

He was so lost in his thoughts that he didn’t hear Grymas approaching.

The older priest sat next to him with an expression that meant business.

“Now that you are a priest of Artemis, there is something I must discuss with you” he started. He looked like he would have preferred to be somewhere else.

“The worshippers want priests to look confident, and you still have trouble talking to people. I think… you can take care of worshippers when they have simple requests or when I am not available. But otherwise, and especially if the worshipper is a person of note, or a guest… I believe then I should take over”

“Yes. I understand” replied Helenus, swallowing his pride. He hoped that Grymas would just leave him alone.

Grymas had to feel uncomfortable too, because he left the room as soon as Helenus answered.

Helenus let himself fall on the bed, feeling powerless.

He knew that talking to people was not his thing, and that his attitude would compromise the temple’s reputation. He wasn’t even angry at Grymas: the older Artemis’ priest had been patient and had never mistreated him.

But this was yet another failure. Another thing to be ashamed of, to be laughed at.

Grymas had consecrated him just out of consideration for Priam. He was pretty sure of that. The older man had said it clearly, a priest who could not talk to people was unfit.

Then why had Helenus accepted to be consecrated? He knew that he wasn’t up to it! Anybody with a shred of dignity would leave!

Well, maybe he was too pessimistic. Maybe he just needed some more time to get used to his new tasks. Maybe he felt uncomfortable just because the worshippers were older than him.

Lying in his bed, Helenus felt helpless.

-O-O-O-

It was a warm summer evening and Helenus was walking to the royal palace, alone.

He had never visited the palace since he had left for Artemis’ temple. He had seen his family only on special occasions, like religious feasts.

The palace was strangely quiet. Usually, one could hear handmaids and guards calling each other, people discussing and walking down the corridors at all times.

The main hall had been redecorated with marine motifs, likely by Cretan painters. Some musicians were playing their flutes in a corner. Several people were already seated, waiting for the banquet to begin.

He immediately noticed an unknown young woman with black hair, sitting at the centre of the table. She wore elegant jewelry and her hair was loose.

She had to be Hector’s bride, Andromache.

Helenus studied her. She was probably a few years older than he was, and looked healthy and pleasant, made even more becoming by the ceremonial dress and the jewelry.

She had an Achaean name – quite unsurprisingly so. After all, her people descended from the Achaeans who had crossed the sea and settled in the South, centuries before. They now spoke the Luwian language and had forgotten the Achaean one; only personal names reminded of what had been. Besides, Actually, Priam’s own mother had been Achaean by birth: this was the reason why he and many of his siblings had Achaean names.

Andromache was chatting with Cassandra, who sat next to her. They seemed to have fun, because they kept bursting into laughter.

Cassandra was as lively and cheerful as one could be, just like during their childhood. She wore her priestly robe with nonchalance, apparently very much at ease into it. She had been a good-looking young girl, but now that prettiness had blossomed into spotless beauty. Even with the plain white robe of Apollo’s servants and without jewels or face powder, she looked more beautiful than the bride.

As usual in Troy, very few people were attending the wedding. There were the royal family, Andromache’s father, Anchises, Aeneas, Aesacus and a young man who, Helenus supposed, was another relative of the bride’s.

“Helenus! Thank you for coming” said Hector’s voice form behind his back.

He turned to see his older brother, smiling and clad in a ceremonial robe.

“Thank you for inviting me” he replied.

“You have never come home since you left for Artemis’ temple, years ago” went on Hector. “You should visit more often. We only see you at religious feasts”

Helenus wanted to say that Artemis’ temple wasn’t so far away from the palace, if someone wanted to see him.

“I am very busy at the temple” he said instead.

“Cassandra is busy, too, but she visits often” Hector replied, still smiling.

Helenus wanted to keep silent, but the words were out of his mouth before he could even think.

“Yes, I know that Cassandra is way more likeable than I am!” he answered testily.

Hector bit his lip.

“I didn’t say that” he replied. His voice was calm, but Helenus noticed that it had an edge.

There was a long, awkward silence.

Maybe he should apologize. Certainly, Hector didn’t mean to be rude.

“Come, let me introduce my bride and our guests” his brother said after a moment, more lightly.

Helenus greeted Andromache and her father Eetion, then turned to the young unknown man who was sharing a cup of wine with Deiphobus.

“And this is our guest, prince Patroclus, son of king Menoetius of Opus” explained Hector.

Now this was unusual. Since when did they host Achaeans? They barely traded with one another! Priam was constantly worried that the Achaeans would wage war on the city.

Patroclus smiled to him, outstretching his hand. He had dark brown hair and eyes and the tanned skin of someone who spends most of his time outside.

Helenus had barely time to greet the rest of his family before the banquet started. He took place and he was quite surprised when, after a moment, Patroclus and Deiphobus sat right next to him.

“At least you can understand everything he says” explained Deiphobus in a whisper “My Achaean is awful”

“Your brother told me that you are a priest of Artemis” said Patroclus in Achaean.

“I am”.

“You said something about Artemis’ priests and warriors in Sparta, Patroclus. I’m afraid I didn’t understand much of it” cut in Deiphobus.

Patroclus laughed and turned to Helenus again.

“I said that Spartan warriors let themselves be whipped on Artemis’ altar to prove their worth. The one who faints last is said to be the best of them all” he said.

Helenus translated dutifully, and Deiphobus burst into laughter.

“Thank the Gods, we don’t have anything like that here! If I gave Helenus a whip and told him to use it on me, I would be a dead man!”

How could Deiphobus joke about whipping, of all things? His family had done nothing after Zeritos had publicly whipped him. That was bad enough. Did Deiphobus really need to rub salt in the wound, and in front of a guest, no less?

“Do you have no shame at all?” Helenus hissed, glaring at Deiphobus with hate. His older brother rolled his exes.

“It was just a joke. Don’t make a fuss about it!” he hissed back.

Patroclus looked at them, not understanding what was going on. Helenus hastily translated Deiphobus’ joke: he didn’t want to make a scene in front of everybody.

During the banquet, he kept translating what Deiphobus and Patroclus said to each other. Patroclus, however, tried to discreetly involve him in the conversation. He complimented him more than once about his knowledge of Achaean, and he sounded sincere.

Helenus found him likeable.

Patroclus looked humble and even a bit shy. He was clearly embarrassed when Deiphobus praised his combat skills and he didn’t talk very much unless he was spoken to. He was also very polite and respectful. Helenus wished that he could talk to him without Deiphobus’ bulky presence.

He had always wished that he could have a friend.

“How long are you staying in Troy?” he asked eventually.

“I am going to leave in a few days. My father is going to war and I must help” explained Patroclus. “I’m sorry that I must leave so early. My stay here in Troy has been a pleasant one”

At that very moment, the king invited the guests to accompany the newlyweds to their bedroom, as it was customary in Troy.

Once the door was closed behind the bride, the guests began to leave.

“I must go back to my temple” explained Helenus to Patroclus.

“It was nice to meet you. Thank you for translating, it was very kind of you” said Patroclus, shaking his hand.

Deiphobus’ bade him goodbye in a sharp voice, without looking at him, and Helenus didn’t grace him with an answer.

OOO

A Stranger in the City – Chapter Seven

A Stranger in the City – Chapter Nine


2 responses to “A Stranger in the City – Chapter Eight”

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