The Sword of Troy

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Summary

With her country in ruins, Elissa, the Princess of Troy must lead the survivors to safety to a new homeland - all the while pursued by ruthless enemies who seek to kill her and enslave her people. With her brother, Prince Hector killed in the fighting, Elissa, heir to the throne of Troy, must rescue the survivors of the Great War and bring them to safety to a new homeland. In a world where people can be treated as chattel and women reduced to the status of near-slavery, she has been trained by her father to be a ruthless, unstoppable harbinger of death and vengeance. However, a chance encounter with Medon, a hero’s son who must fulfill his own destiny, forces Elissa to question the values of her society and the person she has become, and to wonder whether she is entitled to a life of love and happiness, rather than to simply be “the next princess to be sacrificed” for the benefit of family and honor. The Sword of Troy is a coming of age tale of myth, family, war, love, and betrayal. Through a reimagining of the Iliad, the reader, with Elissa, will be forced to confront the meaning of heroism and responsibility, the conflict between love and duty, and above all, what it means to be human.

Genre:
Adventure / Fantasy
Author:
ltauber
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
23
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
16+

Chapter I

It was well past midnight and Elissa lay in her bed mindlessly tossing her dagger in the air, catching it in the darkness. Her heart seemed to slow a beat each time she felt the cold metal handle slip into her palm. She was good at this game, better than any other Raider – except possibly for Leda.

She woke nearly an hour earlier from her dream screaming. Or had I only dreamed I was screaming? she wondered. Once again the Oneiroi, the dream demons of sleep, had seized her in the night and dragged her soul back into the past. The Oneiroi were cruel that way, plaguing her relentlessly, either transporting her to the beatings and whippings of her childhood or retunring her to past battles (and after nearly three years as a Raider there were more than a few). It was said the Oneiroi lived in dark caves along the Styx, near Hades’ realm, but Elissa could swear they dwelled in the inner recesses of her mind, for somehow they were always able to ferret out harsh thoughts and memories she thought were buried and forgotten.

She did what she usually did to calm herself after a particularly violent nightmare – she took her knife and made a thin sharp cut on her forearm and watched the blood seep out. A Raider dagger was so sharp and exact it could make the thinnest of cuts. One had to be careful though, a slit of the wrist was as easy as a cut on the arm, and she resisted that urge on more than one occasion. Somehow this ritual seemed to halt the rising panic she felt. Then she keep herself awake by flipping her dagger in the night.

If only, she thought, if only there was someone I could tell, someone I could talk to about it. She immediately dismissed the thought from her mind. It would be admitting weakness, How many times father had me beaten when I was younger for showing fear or weakness? And how Arcens so enjoyed making me weep when he carried out the order.

A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. “Yes?” she called out.

“His Majesty is waiting for you in the Council Chamber,” came the answer.

“A moment,” she called back.

She threw on a white night robe and rushed out of her room, without even bothering to step into her slippers. What could father want at this hour? she wondered. He had barely spoken to her in the four months since he ordered her sent home. He was, of course, pre-occupied, what with Troy still at war after ten years and the capital itself under siege once again. Well, she thought, let those stupid Achaeans butt their heads again against the walls of Ilion and see where it gets them!

It wasn’t because of the war, at least directly, that he ignored her. He was angry with her. When isn’t he angry with me? The immediate reason was because she disobeyed orders and took part in the battle at Cosae. Well, she thought, I guess more than took part.

So why now? He certainly wasn’t going to ask her for her opinions, she knew. He could care less what she thought, even though Commander Hippolyte herself had said that Elissa had a good grasp of tactics. Priam, however, never consulted with Elissa on affairs of state. After all, for that he had her brother, technically her half-brother, Hector. He’s a prince and heir in every sense of the word, while I’m just second rate. For one thing, her mother was a slave, what people called a thinking animal, and even though Elissa had been properly legalized in accordance with the ancient laws, she knew it was a blemish on her status which would never truly disappear and that anyone of noble blood would never forgive. Worse, she was a girl to her father’s eternal disappointment. That and the fact that no matter how hard she tried she never seemed to measure up. Well, Elissa thought, the disappointment was mutual. Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple, and she wondered how it was possible that she could both hate and revere her father at the same time. Just once, she wanted to know, why couldn’t he just once say he was proud of me, that I did well? Even after Cosae he couldn’t say it.

Elissa hurried down the stairs, through the corridor leading to the Council room, past the shadows that flickered in sympathy with the wavering torches which lined the palace’s stone walls until she reached the great oak doors. She forced herself to contain her surprise as she entered the Council chamber. A full session had just ended, itself not a good sign. She certainly had not expected to see the room filled with the King’s ministers and military advisors, not at this late hour.

“You may all go, while I speak to my daughter,” the King responded. “Captain Dardan, you may stay.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” replied a stern young man in white and red military dress, the sword in his scabbard dangling from the belt round his waist.

Each of the King’s advisors nodded or muttered a perfunctory “Your Highness” to Elissa as they passed her by while exiting the room. Commander Hippolyte lightly squeezed Elissa’s shoulder. Arcens, however, said nothing. Instead, he simply stared for a moment. Elissa stared back, paying no attention to his grey bearded face and looked him straight in his soulless eyes, refusing to avert her gaze. Finally, the Prime Minister simply shook his head and walked away.

How I hate that man! Elissa thought. Arcens is nothing but a schemer who says one thing but hides another in his heart. A coward always willing to send young men to their deaths but his flabby frame and protruding stomach are ample evidence that he himself had never seen battle. Elissa was not above letting him know how she felt about him. Carefully and not too obviously to others she thought. Arcens had always let her know how he felt about her in a less subtle manner. When she was younger, he frequently suggested to the King a proper and, by necessity, a very painful punishment for the most insignificant of lapses, that was, of course, for her own good. ‘Spare the rod and spoil the Princess,’ he would say with a smile. She feared Arcens then. The sound of his footsteps, the ruffle of his robes would send her scampering for cover. He would always find her eventually and administer the discipline necessary to remind her not to embarrass the King. She was, he would remind her, a girl, of tainted status, and in any event not as valuable as her brother, and consequently must always remember her place.

Within a few moments, the hall was empty, save for the King, his daughter and the young officer. It seemed almost cavernous and Elissa felt small, even smaller than her tiny frame.

“You sent for me, father.” It was a statement, not a question, which she said almost with trepidation. Elissa had read the despair in the eyes of each of the King’s ministers and generals as they left the room. A thought scurried about the back of her mind. Perhaps this time, it would be better not to know why. But she dismissed it. The coward’s way, to hide one’s head in the sand.

She ignored the sting of the cold stone floor on her bare feet. So late into the night, with the dawn almost approaching, she hadn’t considered that the King was still meeting with his advisors and felt slightly embarrassed by her dress. “If I had known that the Council was present, I would be wearing a warrior’s attire rather than a woman’s gown and I would have braided my hair to look presentable.”

The King shook his head. “No matter. You always talk about braiding your hair to look like a proper noblewoman, but you never do. You would be a scandal were you not the King’s daughter. You’re a scandal in any event. Anyway, I have always loved seeing your hair exposed, long and loose. Its deep red color is a sure sign that you are of the House of Teucer. My hair was red like yours when I was your age. I was not always this old, grey beard you see before you.”

“I see only the defender of Ilion, as strong and vigorous as you were when you took me to the temple at Lemnos on my seventh birthday and then together we sailed the length of the Hellespont and back again.”

“HA!” the King bellowed. “You lie well.” He paused for a moment, then continued. “But no matter, those days are gone, never to return.”

Elissa stood silently. Indeed, they were gone, she thought. That was probably her last truly fond memory of them together. She could not understand how he changed so much. That he was acting so uncharacteristically sentimental bothered her even more. Her father showing her compassion – now that scared her. He was never sentimental about anything, except perhaps the caged bird that he doted over in his chambers. I could be dying from the plague and he would get more excited if that damn pigeon didn’t eat its bird seed. You would think his life depended upon that stinking bird’s health. If she could ever figure out a way to do it without her father divining it was her, she would take care of it the way he took care of her dog.

“You’ve stalling father,” she said. “You have barely said two words to me in four months, since the battle of Cosae, after you practically made me a prisoner of the Palace.”

“I had no other choice,” Priam replied. “It’s a miracle your stupidity at Cosae didn’t get you killed.”

“Someone had to take a stand. Besides, I wasn’t afraid.”

“No, you’re not afraid of anything.”

“You made me that way,” Elissa responded. “So tell me, why the urgent summons? Why was the Council meeting so late in the evening?”

The King’s voice hardened. “The battle does not go well. The third wall was nearly breached today near the Helias gate. It has been repaired. Sooner or later, the Achaeans will penetrate it, that is, unless they starve us out first.”

“The walls of Ilion have never fallen,” Elissa replied. “How many enemies through the centuries failed to breach its gates? How many fell beneath the swords of its defenders? The priests said that it is blessed by …“

Priam stopped her in mid-sentence. “The priests say!” He laughed. “I taught you better than that. Despite all our harassment, the Achaeans have nearly completed the siege ramp. It is only a matter of time.”

“Is there no hope?”

“Hope? I am King of Troy, of course there is hope!”

Elissa half smiled. Maybe she didn’t know whether to hate him or love him, but she knew one thing - he had fought a hundred battles, been victorious in dozens of campaigns. Even if the Achaeans had devastated their land for nearly five years, she was certain that he would devise a grand strategy which with one masterstroke would bring ultimate victory. She was not prepared, however, for his next words.

“Ilion is to be evacuated. In the morning, we will start moving the population to the shelter of the Citadel. There is an escape tunnel that can be entered through the dungeons below, which leads to safety. I hope. We will send as many through as we can. You will go with them. We will leave as small a force as we dare to hold the city and delay the enemy as long as possible.”

“And you, father?”

“I will remain here. I will defend Ilion to the last.”

“And I will stand with you!” Elissa declared. “I can fight! You know I can fight! Ask Hector about Cosae. You were there Dardan, tell my father…”

Priam cut her off:

“First he strapped the iron breastplate round his chest,

Then over his shoulder the giant Aiax slung the sword,

The fine iron blade with its silver-studded hilt. . .”

“You think I don’t know the Song of Cosae?” Priam continued. “Little children sang it in the streets, at least they did when there was hope. It is no matter now.”

It suddenly dawned on her -- Dardan carried a sword. Only the captain of the Home Guard was permitted to carry a weapon in the Council chamber. Even she, the King’s daughter, had left her knife in her bed chambers. Except her brother was captain of the Home Guard not Dardan. “Where’s Hector, why isn’t he here?” But she already knew the answer.

“Your brother is dead.” Priam gave her a moment to absorb the news. “Now don’t start weeping like an old woman. You are not a child, you are now sixteen and we don’t have the luxury.”

“How?” It took all her strength to simply utter that one word. Not Hector, it can’t be true.

For the first time that she could remember, her father faltered, his voice quivered.

“Dardan, tell her.”

The young captain hesitated and took a deep breath. “The Achaeans were massed along the eastern ridge. Hector led the counterattack that swept them off. His horse stumbled, hit by a stray arrow. He was thrown to the ground, lost his sword and lay stunned and defenseless. He never had a chance. The one who dealt the death blow carried an ornate shield with heavenly bodies and the constellations engraved in the center. It was the Achaean champion, Akhilleus. It happened so quickly. There was nothing that could be done.”

She wanted to lash out at someone, she needed to lash out. “Nothing? There was nothing that could be done? Where were you Dardan?” Elissa erupted in fury. “You were supposed to be by his side, watching over him.”

“Your Highness, I was there. We were separated in the fighting. There was no…”

“Don’t Your Highness, me,” she interrupted. “You swore! When we were children, you swore. Defend and protect, defend and protect. Against all enemies. You swore…”

“Elissa, please,” Dardan pleaded.

“No, you swore, you swore…” she broke down in sobs, and beat his chest with her fists.

“ELISSA, STOP IT!” Elissa stiffened to attention at her father’s command. “Yelling at Dardan accomplishes nothing. We both know he would have given his life to save Hector if he could have. And there is no time, you must prepare to leave immediately. Stop acting like a foolish little girl.”

“You must come then,” Elissa answered. “I have no one but you now.”

“Dardan leave us, wait outside.”

The King waited until the young man had left the room, then faced his daughter. He scanned the colored tapestries hung along the wall that celebrated victories of days long past or achievements such as the great trade mission to the ends of the earth, before his eyes settled upon a particular scene and he seemed lost in thought for a moment. “This has always been my favorite,” he finally said.

“I know, father, you told me many times when I was little. Samos announcing that the gods have proclaimed that our ancestor Teucer is to be anointed the first king of Troy. I always loved that story -- the boy who went looking for donkeys and returned a king.”

“Things are worse than you imagine. I had to release the hostage.”

Good riddance. “One can hardly call Helen a hostage,” Elissa answered. “Her capture was completely accidental.”

“True,” Priam responded. “How strange is fate? We launch a successful attack on an enemy fleet and it brings us not gold or riches, but the betrothed of the Spartan King, en route to both their first encounter and nuptials. And when we try to negotiate her return and deliberate what to do with her, she announces that she wishes to stay in Ilion. Your noble brother, of course, rejected any thought of forcing her to leave.”

“It was not all that surprising,” Elissa coolly replied. “After all, she was no older than I am now when she practically fell into our hands and she had no affection for her husband to be. Her marriage was simply one of convenience, arranged by her father in order to cement ties with Sparta. Hector was not much older than she was, so handsome, so kind, how could she not fall in love with him? That he himself was betrothed concerned her not in the least.” Elissa started to choke as she mentioned her brother’s name, but caught herself. “A hostage that refuses to depart is not much of a hostage.”

“I thought you would take that news harder,” Priam replied. “You two were as thick as thieves when Helen first came to the Palace.”

That was before she pushed me aside. “Yes, well, of course, I rather liked her. It was like having a big sister. She would comfort and hug me when I was younger, after the requisite beatings you never interfered with.” She paused, hoping for a reaction but there was none. Never did he acknowledge his role in her sufferings. “You were always fawning all over her.”

“She was like one of the family, wasn’t she? And so beautiful,” he said with a smile. “Everyone was enamored with her, even Andromache liked her. I think Hecuba was the only one who didn’t take to her, but you know the Queen, a difficult woman.”

Difficult is an understatement, Elissa thought. But for once I agree with her. Helen was so smart, so devious, pretending to be my friend, comforting me and hugging me after I was beaten. Such a schemer. “She probably didn’t even mention me when she left.”

“Actually, she said to tell you that she understood, that you shouldn’t feel bad. What’s that about?”

“I don’t know what she meant,” Elissa lied. “I guess we’ll never know. I assume she wanted to leave once she learned that Hector was gone.”

“No, no, she still wished to stay with us. She said that she felt closer to our family, to you and even to Andromache, than to her own family, than to her father who sold her to Sparta without asking, without even telling her first, to a man she had never met. She even said she needed to stay to take care of you. It was quite touching really. She still thinks of you as a little girl.

I’m sure it was very touching.

“And then she said,” the King continued, “’Wherever you go, I will go, your people are my people, your gods are my gods’ or some similar nonsense.”

“So what happened?”

“I convinced her otherwise,” Priam replied. “They would not release Hector’s body. The Achaean chieftain Akhilleus tied it to his chariot, and dragged the corpse around the city walls like the carcass of a dead dog.”

He stopped as Elissa seemed to stagger for just a moment, as though the force of his revelations had physical effect. Gods, she thought. Can it get any worse?

“Men say Akhilleus is the son of a goddess! He is barely subhuman,” Priam continued. “I humiliated myself before him and pleaded for the return of the body for a hefty ransom, throwing in Helen for good measure. I told her that we would never have any peace of mind if Hector did not receive a proper burial. It was a good trade and it is better this way, since there’s no future for her here. Why take her down with us? Her honor is preserved and we can perform the rites for Hector. Besides, don’t imagine for a minute that the Achaeans would call off the attack for fear of her safety. They want our blood, they want our lands and they want the gold and riches they think we still possess.”

This cannot be, she thought to herself. And then her self-pity erupted into anger and she lashed out again. “Dardan could have prevented this!”

“Elissa, this is not his fault, you must not be so hard on him. If you turn against Dardan, he will break.”

“He failed us, father. He failed Hector. He failed me.” He promised, he swore. He said he would protect us and I believed him.

“The fortunes of war. Dardan now commands the Home Guard. There is no one else we can trust so completely. We need him. You need him. You can’t imagine how many enemies we have. He knows the plan, such as it is and will give you some of the details. But no one can know it all, not yet. There are spies everywhere.”

“Then lead us!”

“I must stay. I have lived long enough. Besides, I have caused enough damage. I am to blame. For Hector, for all of this.”

“It is not so, father.” It cannot be so.

“But it is. The Great War, I am its cause. The Achaeans were pressing us for years, harassing our ships, stirring up unrest with our Lydian and Carian neighbors to the south. I thought the time was ripe to strike. The Achaeans, the Argives, and all the cities of Hellas are always squabbling with one another. Sparta attacks Athens, Athens is at war with Pthia, Pthia with Ithaca. They’re divided and I will conquer, or so I thought. It was ten years ago, in my arrogance, that I invaded Hellas, seeking an empire. It seemed at first I would have it. But then, the gods abandoned us, as they do to all eventually. Agamemnon united them all against us – the Achaeans, the Argives, the Cretes, the Danaans and so many others, I can’t even remember all the names - I have never seen such numbers. They may have hated each other but they could agree on one thing, to hate an outside race, particularly when they thought there were great spoils to acquire. We never reached the capital. Instead, Agamemnon and his allies drove us from their shores and pressed on to ours. Secretly, I sent a peace mission. I was prepared to pay any tribute. I even offered you up. Don’t look so surprised, we are all expendable. Besides, there was little chance he’d have actually agreed to take you at the time. You were such a scrawny little thing back then. I remember your mother, Hecuba…”

“The Queen is not my mother,” Elissa interrupted.

“Your stepmother.”

He was interrupted again. “She may be your wife, but I don’t think you can call someone who refers to me as ‘my husband’s little slave-spawn’ as my stepmother. I will shed few tears the day her shade descends to the Land of Shadow.”

“Fine, I remember Queen Hecuba saying that you were so under-developed she truly doubted you would ever be able to bear a child, which would have made you practically useless and totally worthless to barter with. In any event, Agamemnon rejected all terms. He realized it then too – even the great walls of Ilion could not hold off such armies forever. He sent me this response.”

Priam handed her a yellowed scroll. Elissa read it aloud, a slight, barely perceptible tremor in her voice.

“Priam of Troy. You attack our homes, and desolate our lands. This I can forgive, for such is the nature of kingship and the ways of man.”

“Three sons I had. The eldest, was Tibertus. His bravery and audacity were matched only by his impetuousness and foolhardiness. My command was clear. Give us time to call our confederates to join us. But Tibertus was headstrong. He thought that victory could be attained by sheer force of will. Outnumbered, he fought with valor. This I can forgive, for one cannot expect a stout heart to overcome a bad strategy.”

“Then there was Catillus. He replaced his brother’s courage, with timidity. He followed his armies when they advanced, he led them when they retreated. I cannot hide the story of his fall. Fleeing from battle, he drowned, weighed down by his armor. This too, I can forgive, for the loss of a coward is no loss at all.

“Coras was Catillus’ twin. Though identical in appearance, they shared little else. Coras! A prince born to rule! In splendid fashion he led our forces. He led the battle which drove you from our land. As your armies desperately sought their ships, with victory in our grasp, a stray arrow found its mark. Troy was defeated, what gain was there for you by this death? This I cannot forgive.

“So I make this oath to the gods and time everlasting. While I live, neither love nor treaty shall ever tie Hellas to Troy. The battle shall not end, until every man, woman or child in whose veins flows the blood of Teucer is no more. To the ends of the earth I shall pursue you. But before I begin this quest, I leave you this last gift.”

Her hands shook as she lowered the scroll. “A gift, father?” she asked in sudden confusion. “What gift was this?”

“The heads of our peace emissaries,” Priam answered stoically. “Delivered in two separate baskets together with the message you hold in your hands. This, though they entered his palace as peace-bearers under the protection of the god Hermes himself - another myth. So I would know that there would be no turning back and no quarter given. And so it has been. He brought his forces to bear everywhere in our land, destroying first Dardanus and Abydos until finally every village, hamlet and settlement in Troy has been burned to the ground, an ever tightening noose. Nearly every surviving Trojan in our land has been forced to seek shelter in Ilion itself. We are all in one place now, gathered together for the final slaughter.”

“Then what hope does flight offer father? A few thousand may escape into the hills, for what? To be hunted down like wild dogs? Where shall we go? The fleet was lost in the great storm more than two years ago. Hellas and her allies swarm throughout our country. Even once friendly Thrace has treacherously betrayed us. Every Trojan is a soldier in this war. Women bear arms, old men and children stand along the ramparts beside seasoned veterans. Let us fight to the death. Let us die with honor, not cringing like frightened prey. Let the world see that Trojans know how to kill!”

“You talk like a fool.” He paused and his voice softened. “I said there was hope, my child. I have been preparing for this day since Agamemnon declared his oath. I knew then that this day would surely come.”

“For five years I have been preparing our people. Everything I have done since I read that accursed message has been done with one goal in mind: To ensure the survival of the people of Troy. Women have been trained as warriors. Even slaves have been granted freedom and citizenship in exchange for pledges of service. All Trojans have been trained, whether they knew it or not, with all the skills that could be imparted to them for one purpose, and one purpose only – survival.”

“And a plan – if all else should fail, a plan of escape to preserve our nation. Honing it carefully, keeping its details only in my mind. I took actions which some could not understand or comprehend because they could not see the entire picture. I have been condemned for violating the ancient traditions, but none of it matters. Survival is all that matters.”

“The journey will be long and arduous. It will tax even the young and the strong. You must follow my instructions, without question. Let nothing stand in your way. You must be ruthless, as ruthless as I have trained you to be and more. Now we must make ourselves ready, to bring your brother to his final rest. But before you leave Ilion, I will reveal all to you and you alone. You will be the symbol of Troy. Every day, for five years, I have been readying you and your brother for this task. Now you must undertake it without him. And when the time is ripe, take your revenge for all of Troy, spare none, and let the blood flow. Make certain Agamemnon pays. Do not fail me!”

“I will not fail you father! Agamemnon will die by my sword. I swear it.” I will be Troy, she thought. Whatever Troy will need. If it needs a rock, I will be a rock. A shield, I will be its shield. A sword, yes, a sword. Above all, I will be its sword. I will not fail.

“And there is one more thing. When you are done, I need you to do this for me. I need you to swear by the gods and all you hold holy, that this mission you will carry out.”

“I know what you want me to do,” she answered.

“The man who killed my father, who killed my brothers, all of them. You will kill him and his family, as he slaughtered mine.”

“It was a long time ago. Rumor has it he is dead. How would I even find his family?”

“Do not worry. Whoever is alive will find you.”

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