I stand here now, looking out toward the sea, the wind playing with the tendrils of my hair. I cannot smile at the bitter irony – the day ends so peacefully, but the world surrounding me does not exist in the same state. On the contrary, my world slowly crumbles as each day passes, one of a thousand that have passed in turmoil.
I turn my head at the sound of my name, toward that melodious voice. Helen of Troy stands patiently beside a pillar, watching me with luminous eyes and a soft smile. I have not been outside the city of my birth in all my eighteen years, but it is not difficult for me to believe that she is indeed the most beautiful woman of all the world. I have been her servant for two years, let in on the private world that exists in the high society of royalty and the life of Paris and Helen. Oh, I know that she has ceased to be happy, despite her involvement with the beautiful prince of Troy. If ever a man were to be described as beautiful, Paris would be he. Alas, throughout this war he has proven himself to be a man in name only.
Realizing that I have been staring at Helen for some time without acknowledging her summons, I hurry away from the edge of the balcony and nod my head as I approach.
"I apologize, good Helen," I say. "My thoughts wandered for a moment or two."
She smiles and waves away my words with a gesture in the air. "No matter, Electra. I too find myself slipping into personal musings during the lulls in the day."
Together we retreat into her room, both silent. I am loathe to speak first in her presence, for she is royalty despite the circumstances of it being so.
"Have you heard of the recent events of the Achaeans?" Helen asks me quietly as I helped her prepare for night.
I nod. "Yes. It seems to be a collective whispering of the city. They say Agamemnon has returned the priestess of Apollo that he took, in order to cease the plague upon the Greeks, upon the word of Calchas."
"It is true," she confirms the rumors, "but have you also heard of Agamemnon's other deed?"
"He has instead taken Briseis, belonging to Achilles."
Helen nods sadly. "Achilles refuses to fight."
"That's promising for us, though, yes?" I ask. I wonder at the note of sorrow in her voice.
"Indeed. Achilles was born for war, and without him the Trojans may perhaps press their advantage."
"But?" I probe.
She looks me over, eyes thoughtful. "You are bright, Electra, to hear my underlying thoughts in the words I speak."
I dip my head graciously. "Thank you."
Helen sighs. "It is quite underhanded of Agamemnon to take the woman of another, especially in times such as these."
I bite my lip, wishing to voice the bold question in my head but fearing I will forget myself in doing so. I am not the only bright one in the room, however."
"Do … I mean …" I hesitate. "Do Agamemnon's actions remind you of your own removal from Sparta?"
She smiles a wistful smile. "In a way, but it wasn't the same. I was in love then."
"Then," I repeat.
Her eyes meet mine, and they are raw and honest. "Yes." She shakes her head, as though throwing off a bad memory, making her golden hair catch the candlelight in a way that is just so. "You are released for the night, Electra. Do sleep well."
I bob my head. "Thank you, Helen. Good night."
I pretend not to hear the heavy sigh as I leave her presence.
* * * *
A few days later I stand in the same place, look out over the same horizon, but this time with tears in my eyes. This war continues to take lives, more every day. I hope for the victory of my home country, of course, but I understand the value of a human life when it is lost. Today it was Patroclus, friend of Achilles of the Greeks. The Trojans have wounded many in the latest battle, but Achilles still refused to fight because of Agamemnon.
I have no doubt that he will fight now.
Patroclus, it has been said, beseeched Achilles in his tent. If he would not fight, he could lend his armor and allow Patroclus to lead the Myrmidons into battle. With Achilles' armor, Patroclus would go to the field and strike terror into the hearts and minds of the Trojans once more.
"Dwelling on this terrible war once again?"
I turn slightly, not bothering to wipe my face of tears. Helen has her share of pain; I should be allowed mine. She stands next to me, eyes fixing on the water as mine do.
"So much death," I say softly. "More will come, now. I can feel it."
"Yes," Helen agrees. "Achilles will be most upset by the loss of his friend."
I sigh. "Patroclus was a fool to engage Hector. He may be a skilled warrior, but not invincible as Achilles seems to be. He must have known that."
"Hector did not realize that it was not Achilles he was fighting," Helen frowns. "The blame cannot be placed solely with him."
"He took the armor of Achilles," I remind her. "Even after discovering whose body he had really slaughtered."
We remain quiet for minutes, simply staring out at the sun setting over the water.
"What do you think will happen?" Helen asks. I look over at her warily. She smiles slightly. "I allow you to speak freely, Electra. I cannot discuss this within the walls where politics rule, although I wish to."
I sigh heavily. "Death, good Helen. Nothing but more death will come from this."
* * * *
The next night is not a time for talking. Helen and I hold each other as we cry, for my unfortunate theory has indeed been proven true. Death has followed, in a most terrible form.
Hector, our beloved Prince of Troy, has fallen to the spear of Achilles.
I watched with others of our city this very afternoon, next to Helen. Achilles approached Troy with the Grecian armies behind him, protected by new armor and weapons, crafted by the god Vulcan, and driven by his rage and longing for revenge. He killed many as soon as he reached the field; I could see the blood staining the ground even as I stood within the walls.
Aeneas, son of our good King Priam, encountered Achilles first. We watched as he hurled his weapon toward the notorious warrior, watched the spear sink itself into the god-crafted shield without coming close to the body of Achilles. The Greek retaliated by throwing his own weapon, which by the hands of the gods left no wound on Aeneas. Achilles was about to rush his enemy when a cloud suddenly appeared between the two; when it cleared, Aeneas had been moved to the rear of the battle.
The gods and goddesses must have some say in this war, then. The other maidens in the company of Troy royalty whisper that Aeneas was spared from death by the goddess Neptune. I am thankful for the divine intervention, no matter by whose hands. One less death to mourn this evening.
Helen releases a particularly dreadful sob and I hold her tighter, stroking her hair.
"Why?" she whispers brokenly.
Why indeed, my good Helen. I have no answer for you, for if I did, I would be a goddess myself. And we know this is not the case.
"I don't know," I reply instead, my voice raw from grief.
After Neptune's show of grace to Aeneas, the royal family and we maidens who serve them watched as the army of Troy fled back towards the walls; Priam ordered the gates to receive our warriors and shut them again once our men had passed.
The Grecian army would have stormed the gates as well, had the form of Agenor not appeared to Achilles and distracted him totally. I say 'form' because the flesh of Agenor, Priam's son, was within the walls of Troy with the royal family. Achilles was drawn away from the city by this illusion, or imposter, so the army of our enemy did not breech our borders.
The true tragedy of the day falls next, and my tears start again by the thought. While the rest of our army retreated within the city walls, our prince Hector stood without, awaiting the combat sure to engage with Achilles. Priam his father begged him to return to the city, and his mother Hecuba as well. I heard the brokenness in her voice as she called down to him, but he would not be moved. I do not know why. Perhaps he believed Achilles deserved his vengeance for Patroclus.
Upon seeing Achilles and his wrath, however, our prince ran. I cannot blame him for doing so, for Achilles looked as terrible as a god in his pursuit. One man chased the other thrice around our city, and here again I acknowledge divine intervention – for Hector could not have sustained his strength without help from the immortals.
I recall perfectly the exact moment I knew that all had been lost. Another form, this time in the body of Hector's bravest brother Deiphobus, which strengthened the heart of Hector so much so that he stopped his fleeing and turned to face Achilles. He fruitlessly threw his spear, as it bounded off that mighty shield and inflicted no damage. As he turned back, the form of his brother had disappeared. I believe I stopped breathing then. Hector would not survive to see the next hour.
Though not a prince of Troy for nothing, Hector drew his falchion and rushed Achilles, who merely waited for this enemy's approach. Time moved slowly as Achilles drew back his spear and thrust it into the unprotected neck, mortally wounding our Hector. I watched numbly as they exchanged words, and Achilles laughed at the death of our prince. He had his revenge.
I can hardly describe the unfolding events without breaking down into hysterics. Achilles, that devil of man, stripped Hector of his armor and bound him to the back of his chariot. He then mounted his chariot and dragged the body back and forth before the walls of Troy, desecrating the body of our Trojan hero. The grief and pain of the royal family on that balcony was terrible. I could only watch as Priam and Hecuba descended into the blackness of near-destruction over their son's death, and the weeping of our citizens was almost too much to bear. I was one to catch Andromache, wife of Hector, as she fell into a faint at the sight of the degradation of her husband. When she recovered, she uttered a wail from the very pit of her soul; the sound of it will haunt me until I die.
I know why Helen is so distraught as I hold her – Hector was one of the few people who remained kind to her throughout all her years here in our city. Even when it seems Paris has abandoned her in the world, Hector always keeps – or kept, rather, I think with a sob – a mild manner toward Helen. Her list of friends dwindles quickly the longer she stays.
"Everything will be okay," I whisper to her desperately, even though I know my words are lies.
I hug her tighter. "It has to be."
* * * *
Last night I saw the funeral pyres, and this morning our prince is returned to the city with no sign of the humiliation inflicted upon his body. The whisper is that our king Priam himself ventured beyond the walls and at the feet of Achilles begged for his son. Somehow the enemy warrior agreed, and our city has been granted twelve days for the funeral solemnities in which we shall honor Hector. Helen will attend his services, and I will be at her side. I vow to be there for her, and for my fallen prince.
* * * *
"Achilles is dead."
Helen's proclamation holds some triumph, but mostly her voice is broken by sadness. I echo her feelings on the matter. The last weeks have brought too much destruction. We are again standing on the balcony of her room.
"You must be thrilled," I say sincerely, my voice subdued.
"You would think," she replies softly, "but a life for a life seems to be little victory to me."
"And me," I agree. After a pause, "How did he meet his death?"
I glance over at Helen in surprise. She has a sad smile on her face. "Yes, I know. An arrow to his heel."
"The one place where he is said to be mortal and vulnerable," I supply.
"Yes. I suppose it to be true, as the wound did indeed kill him."
I pause. "Helen . . . I ask permission to speak frankly."
She gives me a weary nod. "You always have my permission, Electra."
"But ask for it I do." I frown, my eyes far away with thought. "Helen, I do not wish to speak ill of my prince and your lover –" Helen makes an indiscernible noise, but I do not stop, "–but Paris did not have the skills of a marksman with a bow. He could not have shot Achilles exactly in the one place that would kill him without help."
"Ah," Helen breathes. "Divine intervention again, Electra?"
"I see the proof of their stakes in this war, undeniably," I tell her boldly. "Some have been saved, some have been killed, but these acts were not by mortal hands or wills."
"So it was the will of some god or goddess to give false glory to Paris?"
I sigh. "I mean no disgrace to him, my good Helen. I only mean to point out that the arrow he used was driven by divine guidance. It makes him no less of a hero, nor does he deserve no less glory."
Helen echoed my sigh. "Thank you for your honesty. I appreciate it. Do you wish to know the worst of it all?"
I nod my head, curious at her statement.
"I believe the immortals are involved as well. I know Paris, and I know his limits. Perhaps he does deserve this glory, false though it is, but a part of me knows that it is a lie."
"Do you resent him?" I speak boldly, without thinking. I am lucky that Helen is also in a contemplative mood tonight.
"Sometimes," she answers truthfully. "I never used to, and I do not resent him always now, but some days I cannot stand the sight of him."
"Would you have never left Sparta in the first place?"
Helen gives me a wry grin. "And miss all this excitement?" she asks humorlessly. "I honestly do not know, Electra. What's done is done, what is happening is happening. Nothing can be done to change that."
* * * *
The time has passed quickly, yet now it seems to stand still. Helen and I sit on her bed, not speaking. No tears will come for her; I believe a sort of numbness to have settled over her body, mind, and spirit. I have no words to comfort her. I am not sure she necessarily needs comforting. Maybe later, but now I think her in shock.
It is after the tenth year of this war, and another has joined the land of the dead – Paris. A second prince of Troy has fallen, and Helen has not said a word since hearing the news. I am with her, not voicing my thoughts, not knowing what to say. We are both stunned.
Philoctetes had been brought from the island of Lemnos with the bow and arrows of Hercules. He was healed and brought to the battle front, and shot one of Hercules' poisoned arrows; Philoctetes barely scratched Paris, but that one mark was enough to kill him.
I do not look at Helen as I address her. "Helen?" Asking if she was okay seems so heartless. "How are you feeling?"
She does not answer me for a very long while. The sun has noticeably shifted positions in the sky. "I don't know."
"What happens now?"
Helen speaks slowly, her voice barely above a whisper. "I don't know. More days only mean more bloodshed, for both sides. It will not end in victory for one side, and I'm beginning to fear that Troy may be that side."
I feel fear clench my heart. "You believe Troy will lose the war?"
"I'm afraid that it's beginning to look that way."
I swallow convulsively. "Helen, I'm scared."
She turns to look at me, her eyes bright but subdued. "You are young still, Electra. I find myself forgetting that at times." She seems thoughtful for a few long moments before her eyes lock with mine. "You must leave Troy, Electra."
I cannot stifle my gasp. "Leave?"
She gazes at me seriously. "A massacre is coming. I do not know who will win or lose, but you should not have to see that when it happens. And if Troy falls, I do not want you in harm's way. You have too much potential. You have a brilliant mind that can be put to better use than waiting around to be murdered."
I stare at her, my eyes wide. Helen has never spoken so openly before, least of all to me. Moreover, she is telling me to leave Troy. The only home I have ever known.
Helen seems to read my thoughts. "You are strong enough, Electra. I know you are." She sighs, grabbing me tightly by my hands. "Promise me, Electra. Promise me that you will run tonight."
"Tonight?" I gasp.
"Yes. Tonight. Leave the city. Get out alive, Electra." Her eyes pierce me. "Promise me."
The world seems to spin. "It's too fast, Helen. I can't even imagine . . ."
Her grip tightens to an almost painful extent. "Promise me, Electra."
The urgency in her voice sways me, and I want to make her happy. I nod my head slowly. "Yes, Helen. I promise. I will leave Troy . . ." I swallow, "tonight."
Her face breaks into a small smile. "Thank you, Electra. It means very much to me, knowing that you will be safe when the slaughter comes."
She pulls me into a hug suddenly. I am startled by the overt gesture, but I cannot help but hug her back. Our embrace lasts for a long time, and I realize that she is saying goodbye to me. We may never see each other again in our lives. Helen eases back from me and smiles.
"Go, Electra. Ease my mind."
I slowly stand and walk to the door. Glancing back, I see my life as I have lived it for three years. I know nothing else. What I am walking away from is familiar, and what I am walking toward is completely unknown. Helen must see the hesitation on my face, for she gestures with her head. I take one more look around, give her the bravest, brightest smile I can muster, before turning and walking out the door . . . out of the life I know . . . out of Troy.
* * * *
I stand here now, watching from afar, seeing my city burn. The Greeks have won, then. My tears fall silently as I observe the flames illuminating the sky, reaching for the stars, licking at the darkness of the night.
The numbness has returned, worse than before. I cannot allow myself to fall apart, or I might never recover. The worst of everything is that I will never know what happened to the people I knew and loved. My king Priam? The good Helen, whom I served devotedly? Are they dead, are they alive, are they suffering?
A touch on my shoulder draws my out of my reverie. The hand belongs to a young man. Alexander of Troy, he has told me. A few of us have congregated here, outside the reach of the Grecian army and its rulers. We were told to run, we felt the need to run, but somehow we escaped before the invasion and the destruction. We are the ones left to carry on the name of Troy.
I accept Alexander's comfort, and I know I am returning the favor by simply doing so. We all stand until the sun begins its ascent into the sky, until our city is a mere pile of smoldering ash. Together we turn toward each other, instinctively, looking for a leader to emerge. Like me, I know many have never been outside the walls of Troy – of what used to be Troy, anyway.
Alexander steps forward, looking around at each of our faces. I offer him a small smile as his gaze passes over me.
"We are Troy now," he addresses us quietly. "We will go on, we will go forward, because nothing is left for us behind. We must be strong. And when they ask our names, we will tell them we are of Troy, and we will not hang our heads in shame. Our nation was a strong one. We must be proud of this, no matter how devastating and hopeless our journey may seem. We carry the spirit of Troy within, and nothing will take that away."
I hear others murmur their agreement. I look to Alexander in admiration. He is our leader – he was born for it. I nod my head. He catches my eye and walks toward me, stopping feet from my being. He nods solemnly.
"And you, fair lady. When they ask your name, what will you reply?" Alexander raises his voice. "I ask your name!"
My voice rings true in my answer.
"I am Electra, daughter of Troy!"