Common section




I brought a thousand chariots and fifteen thousand infantry with me to Troy. Priam swallowed his dislike and made much of me, took my poor, demented old father into his embrace and gave Kreusa, my wife (who was his own daughter by Hekabe), a warm welcome; when he saw our son, Askanios, he beamed and compared him to Hektor. Which pleased me a great deal more than if he had likened my boy to Paris, whom he resembled greatly.

My troops were billeted around the city and I and my family were dowered with our own little palace inside the Citadel. I smiled sourly when no one was looking; it hadn’t been a mistake to withhold my aid for so long. Priam was so desperate to be rid of the Greek leech sucking the lifeblood out of Troy that he was prepared to pretend Dardania was a gift from the Gods.

The city had changed. Its streets were greyer and less well kept than of yore; the atmosphere of unlimited wealth and power was missing. So too, I noted, were some of the golden nails in the Citadel doors. Delighted to see me, Antenor told me that a great deal of Troy’s gold had gone to buy mercenaries from the Hittites and Assyria, but that no mercenaries had come. Nor had the gold been returned.

All through the winter between the ninth and tenth year of that conflict, messages arrived from our allies down the coast, promising what aid they could muster. This time we were inclined to believe that they would come, the rulers of Karia, Lydia, Lykia and the rest. The coast was razed from end to end, Greek settlers were pouring in, there was nothing left at home to stay and try to protect. The last hope Asia Minor had was to unite with Troy and fight the Greeks there. Victory would enable it to return home and throw the interlopers out.

We heard from everyone, even some we had abandoned all hope of. King Glaukos came with word from his co-ruler, King Sarpedon, to inform Priam that they were acting as marshallers of the forces remaining; twenty thousand troops scraped together from among those once populous states from Mysia to far Kilikia. Priam wept when Glaukos told him the full story.

Penthesileia the Amazon Queen promised ten thousand horse cavalry; Memnon, Priam’s blood relation who sat at the foot of Hattusilis, King of the Hittites, was coming with five thousand Hittite foot and five hundred chariots. Forty thousand Trojan soldiers were already ours; if everyone came who said he was, then we would outnumber the Greeks comfortably by the summer.

The first to arrive were Sarpedon and Glaukos. Their army was well equipped, but as I cast my eyes over its ranks it was easy to see how deeply Achilles had struck at the coast. Sarpedon had been obliged to include raw youths and greying men feeling their years, rough peasants and shepherd lads from the mountains who knew nothing of soldiering. But they were enthusiastic, and Sarpedon was no fool. He would mould them.

Hektor and I sat over wine in his palace, discussing it.

‘Your fifteen thousand foot, twenty thousand coastal troops, five thousand Hittites, ten thousand Amazon horse warriors, and forty thousand Trojan foot – plus ten thousand war cars all up – Aineas, we can do it!’ Hektor said.

‘One hundred thousand… How many Greeks do you estimate are left to face us?’ I asked.

‘That would be difficult to estimate, except for some of the slaves who’ve escaped from the Greek camp over the years,’ said Hektor. ‘One in particular I’ve come to love – a man named Demetrios. An Egyptian by birth. Through him and others I’ve learned that Agamemnon is down to fifty thousand men. And all he has is a thousand war cars.’

I frowned. ‘Fifty thousand? That seems impossible.’

‘Not really. They numbered only eighty when they came. Demetrios told me that ten thousand Greeks have grown too old to bear arms – and that Agamemnon has never once called for more men to join him from Greece – they’ve sent everyone to the coast to colonise it instead. Five thousand troops died in an epidemic two years ago. Ten thousand members of the Second Army have either died or been incapacitated, and five thousand sailed back to Greece out of sheer homesickness. Thus my estimate. Not a man more than fifty thousand, Aineas.’

‘Then we ought to make mincemeat out of them,’ I said.

‘I agree,’ said Hektor eagerly. ‘You’ll back me in assembly when I ask Father to lead our army out?’

‘But we haven’t got the Hittites or the Amazons yet!’

‘We don’t need them.’

‘You ought to weigh their experience against our inexperience, Hektor. The Greeks are battle hardened, we’re not. And their troops understand how well they’re led.’

‘I admit the inexperience, but I can’t agree about their leadership. We have our fair share of famous warriors – you, for instance. And there’s Sarpedon, a son of Zeus! His troops adore him.’ Hektor coughed, embarrassed. ‘Then there’s Hektor.’

‘It’s not the same,’ I said. ‘What do Dardanians think of Hektor, or Trojans of Aineas? And who outside of Lykia knows the name of Sarpedon, son of Zeus or not? Think of the Greek names! Agamemnon, Idomeneus, Nestor, Achilles, Ajax, Teukros, Diomedes, Odysseus, Meriones – and more, and more! Why, even their chief surgeon, Machaon, fights brilliantly. And every Greek soldier knows every name. He could probably tell you what a particular leader likes to eat, or his favourite colour. No, Hektor, the Greeks are one nation fighting under a King of Kings, Agamemnon. Whereas we’re factions, petty rivalries and jealousies.’

Hektor looked at me for a long moment, then sighed. ‘You’re right, of course. But once battle is joined, our polyglot army will think only of driving the Greeks out of Asia Minor. They fight for gain. We fight for our lives.’

I laughed. ‘Hektor, you’re an incurable idealist! When a man has his spear at your throat, do you stop to rationalise that he fights for gain? They fight for life as much as we do.’

Not caring to comment on that, he refilled the wine cups.

‘So you intend to ask to lead the army out?’

‘Yes,’ said Hektor. ‘Today. To think that I look at our walls and see them as barriers, my home as my prison!’

‘It sometimes happens that the things we love the most are the very things which destroy us,’ I said.

He smiled, though he was not amused. ‘What a strange fellow you are, Aineas! Do you believe in nothing? Love nothing?’

‘I believe in myself and I love myself,’ said I, me, myself.

Priam wavered, commonsense warring with his overwhelming desire to drive the Greeks out. But in the end he listened to Antenor, not to Hektor.

‘Don’t do it, sire!’ Antenor begged. ‘It would be the death of all our hopes to meet the Greeks prematurely. Wait for Memnon of the Hittites and for the Amazon Queen! If Agamemnon didn’t have Achilles and the Myrmidons it might be different, but he does have them, and I fear them greatly. From the day of his birth a Myrmidon lives only for the fight. His very body is fashioned from bronze, his heart is stone, his spirit as dogged as the ant he’s named for! Without the Amazon warriors to deal with the Myrmidons, your van will be cut to pieces. Wait, sire!’

Priam decided to wait. On the surface Hektor seemed to accept his father’s verdict philosophically, but I knew the Heir better. It was Achilles he most yearned to meet, yet his father’s fear of that selfsame man defeated him.

Achilles… I remembered encountering him outside Lyrnessos, and wondered which was the better man, Achilles or Hektor. They were about the same size, they were equally martial. But somehow I seemed to feel in my bones that Hektor was doomed. Virtue is overrated in my opinion; Hektor was so virtuous. Now I, I burned for other things.

When I left the Throne Room it was in a mood of disquiet. Because of that hoary old prophecy which said I would rule Troy one day, Priam had alienated himself from me and my people. For all his civility since my arrival, the veiled sneer was still there. Only my troops made me welcome. But how could I possibly outlive fifty sons? Unless Troy lost the war, in which case it was feasible that Agamemnon would choose to put me on the throne. A nice dilemma for one whose blood was the same as Priam’s.

I walked into the great courtyard and paced up and down, hating Priam, wanting Troy. Then I became aware that someone was watching me from the shadows. The back of my neck grew icy cold. Priam hated me. Would he sin by murdering a close relative?

Deciding he would, I drew my dagger and crept behind the flower-decked altar to Zeus of the Courtyard. When I was no more than an arm’s length away from the watcher I jumped, clapping my hand across his mouth, my blade at his throat. But the lips pressing softly against my palm were not a man’s, nor was the bare breast below my dagger. I let her go.

‘Did you take me for an assassin?’ she asked, panting.

‘It’s stupid to hide, Helen.’

I found a lantern on the altar step and lit it from the eternal fire, then held it up and looked long upon her. Eight years had passed since last I saw her. Incredible! She must be thirty-two years old. But lamps are kind; later, in better light, I was able to see the mild ravages of age in the faint lines about her eyes, the slight subsidence of those breasts.

Gods, she was beautiful! Helen, Helen of Troy and Amyklai. Helen the Leech. All the grace of Artemis the Huntress flowed in her pose, all the delicacy of features and wanton attraction of Aphrodite shone in her face. Helen, Helen, Helen… Only now as I looked at her did I fully realise how many nights her image had torn my dreams asunder, how many times in my sleep she had unlaced her gem-studded girdle and let her skirts fall about her ivory feet. In Helen was Aphrodite born to mortal form, in Helen I recognised the shape and countenance of the Goddess mother I had never seen, only heard about in the ravings of my father, who had been driven mad by his amorous encounter with the Goddess of Love.

Helen was all the senses incarnate, a Pandora who smiled and kept her secrets, enslaved and enslaving; she was earth and love, wetness and air, fire mixed with an ice fit to crack a man’s veins open. She dangled all the fascinations of death and mystery, she taunted.

Her polished nails gleaming like the inside of a shell, she put her hand on my arm. ‘You’ve been in Troy for four moons, yet this is the first time I’ve seen you, Aineas.’

Revolted and maddened, I dashed her hand away. ‘Why should I seek you out? What good will it do me with Priam if I’m seen dancing attendance on the Great Harlot?’

She listened to this unmoved, eyes lowered. The black lashes lifted then, her green eyes looked up at me gravely. ‘I agree with all of that,’ she said, settling herself on a seat, shaking out her frills and ruffles with little chiming noises. ‘In the eyes of a man,’ she said composedly, ‘a woman is a chattel. A piece of solid property he owns. He may abuse her as he sees fit without fear of reprisal. Women are passive creatures. We have no voice of authority because we are not deemed capable of logical thought. We bear men, though that is forgotten.’

I yawned. ‘Self-pity doesn’t suit you,’ I said.

‘I like you,’ she said, smiling, ‘because you’re so turned in upon your own ambitions. And because you’re like me.’

‘Like you?’

‘Oh, yes. I’m Aphrodite’s bauble. You’re her son.’

She came into my embrace with eagerness and dizzying caresses; I lifted her into my arms and walked with her through the silent corridors to my own private room. No one saw us. I suppose my mother ensured that, the vixen.

Even when the depths of her passion shook me to the core of my being, there was a part of her which didn’t even know that she was possessed, some corner of herself withdrawn and secretive. I met her in an agony of pleasure, but while she drained me of all my spirit she kept her own locked fast in some hiding place, and I had no hope of ever finding the key.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!