Part 6: King Priam’s Predicament
King Priam walked along the terraces overlooking the palace. He watched the fires, tiny in the distance throughout the city below, on the braziers that warmed the homes of his people, and the posts of the night watch. They flickered against the darkness like orange eyes that glared at him accusingly. Alcathous, his priest, walked beside him, saying nothing, but thought of Apollo and hoped that his sacrifice would appease the Sun god.
Priam led an entourage of priests and soldiers, into the king’s council chambers when they heard voices.
“You would betray your family, and leave your sister vulnerable to the dangers beyond the walls of Troy for the daughter of a priest?” Said Deiphobus.
“I would die for Cressida!” Said Troylus.
When King Priam’s sons came into full view, they stood near the seat of the king at the far end of the pool in the center of the chamber. Stone seats lined the pool on either side, and pillars towered behind the seats. A large window behind the king’s seat provided a direct view of the Aegean Sea, and the moon swayed lazily on the dark surface of the water.
“This is madness!” Said Deiphobus.
“Madness is love.” Said Priam as he placed a hand on his son’s shoulder. “Come, Deiphobus, sit. We must talk.”
“What is there to discuss, father, when Troylus refuses to divulge anything.”
“Troylus is not our only source of information.” Said King Priam as he motioned a man to step forward. “This is Gordias of Phrygia, and he comes bearing news of Cassandra’s whereabouts.”
Gordias stepped forward, and identified himself as a member of Coroebus’ personal guard. When Troylus asked him why he had abandoned his master’s side, the Phrygian explained that Coroebus granted his men the option of returning to their homes, because he would not order them to embark on the perilous quest he had undertaken.
“ Cassandra’s journey to Mount Ida had not been a dangerous journey.” Said Troylus.
“Perhaps it had not been when she left, but I assure you that the circumstances have changed.” Said Gordias.
“Speak freely, Gordias. You are among friends.” Said Deiphobus.
Gordias recounted that Coroebus had led his men on a patrol of his father’s land when they picked up Cassandra’s trail. They had followed her, the priest, and a young woman to the banks of the Sakarya River where they revealed themselves to the small caravan, and inquired about their travels.
“She spoke of an imminent attack on Troy, but that no one would heed her warning.” Said Gordias. “And so it became imperative that she journey to Mount Ida to call upon the Mother Goddess for help.”
“Help with what?” Said Alcathous. “There has been no mention of war. Not from our spies or the emissaries of neighboring lands. And even if war is on the horizon, no mortal can challenge the will of the gods.”
“That is just it!” Said Gordias. “Cassandra intends to undermine the will of Aphrodite.”
A low rumble of conversations resonated among the soldiers and priests in the chamber. King Priam and Deiphobus exchanged furtive glances and then turned to Troylus, who remained silent.
“Did you know of this?” Said King Priam.
“No, father, I did not. I merely provided her with the horses. She had made no mention of her intentions, and I did not ask.”
“Our sister dares to venture beyond the walls of Troy, beyond our protection, and you don’t bother to inquire about her intent?” Said Deiphobus.
“What’s done is done.” Said Priam. “The important thing is that we find Cassandra, and have her safely returned to Troy.”
“Forgive my candor, father, but that is easier said than done.” Said Deiphobus. “She may have left Mount Ida by now, and we have no insight about where she is head to next.”
“A task that will prove most difficult, indeed.” Said an unfamiliar voice. “However, on this matter that is important to us both, I may have news that will work to your advantage.”
The men turned to the stranger. They parted to let him pass, and he approached King Priam. Troylus eyed him suspiciously, but by his attire and stature knew the man was royalty. His shaggy head of dark hair fell over his brow, and set in his stern face a pair of keen grey eyes.
“Othronus!” Said Priam. “I wondered when you would arrive.”
Othronus bowed before the king and then stood and faced Deiphobus. “It is an honor to meet you. I have heard many great things about your prowess on the battlefield. You are almost as renown as your brother, Hector.”
Deiphobus nodded, and asked him what he knew about Cassandra. Othronus revealed that messengers, and merchants from Phrygia had brought word to his father about a Princess of Troy traveling on horseback through the region. When he had heard that it was Cassandra, he asked his father to permit him to leave for Troy to assist in locating the princess, and to ask for her hand in marriage.
Troylus stood from his seat, astonished, but Priam spoke before he could protest. The men remained silent as the king drew himself up; strong in stature under the blue robes that matched his eyes, and his strong jaw evident beneath his well-groomed white beard. Despite his age he exuded confidence, but regardless of his poise, his face was grave.
“We find ourselves at a crossroads. We know the inevitable, yet we are powerless to prevent it. No city has ever faced greater peril, and will be destined to suffer a more notorious damnation than Troy.” Said King Priam.
He forgave Troylus for his part in aiding Cassandra’s escape, and asked forgiveness of Deiphobus for withholding the truth. He confessed that he knew all along about Paris’ intentions, and that Cassandra’s prophecies were not tirades of lunacy, but had in fact been the will of the gods.
“I have gathered you here, for here your questions will be answered.” Said the king. “It is now many years ago that a shadow of doom fell upon Troy. Whence it loomed we did not at first perceive. Warnings had been whispered, but ignored, and when the memory of the betrayals had faded beyond recollection we reveled in the greater wealth and splendor for which Troy is famous.”
Priam sighed. “Troy! Troy! The high walls, and vast riches! Vanity blinded our faults, and the gods now seek their revenge. Long has it been since the walls had been erected. But now, that which had been foretold by Apollo shall come to fruition. And in immense perdition the fate of our lineage is ordained to fall.”
“Father, what are you saying?” Said Deiphobus.
Then all listened as the king spoke of the gods, and the heroes, and the legend of how the walls of Troy would rise and fall. A part of his tale began in a distant land long ago, when Zeus fell in love with a maiden, and Hera’s jealousy caused a pestilence that decimated a population.
The maiden, Aegina, had been the daughter of the river-god, Asopus, and she bore Zeus a son. But when Hera learned of the impending birth, she sought to punish Aegina, and Zeus carried her off to the island called Eenoni that had not yet been inhabited, but afterwards came to be known as Aegina.
Then through the years that followed, Aeacus emerged as king; but since that history was recounted elsewhere, it was not recalled by Priam. For it was a long tale, full of deeds commendable and disastrous, and only briefly did Priam speak of the latter.
Of Hera, he spoke, her jealousy and wrath, and the retribution she inflicted by sending a plague, and a fearful dragon out of the depths of the sea. Aeacus knew that Hera remained bitter about Zeus’ love affair with Aegina, and devastated the land that bore her name. For more than a season the pestilence ravaged the island until all but Aeacus and his son Telamon had perished.
Thereupon Priam paused a while and sighed. “Generations of mortals are cursed to suffer terribly at the hands of the gods; for the actions of the gods echo through eternity like ripples in a pond that reach to distant shores.”
And so it came to pass that Aeacus stood before the altar of Zeus with his hands and eyes raised to the heavens in a tearful plea. He begged the god of gods to remember that he was his son, and when Aeacus saw a colony of busy ants he requested that Zeus replenish his land with people as numerous and hardworking as they. Finally, he appealed to Zeus in the name of Aegina, the mortal woman he loved most, and adjured him to deliver him from his plight.
Aeacus collapsed, and guided by his tears and broken breaths fell into a deep slumber, where he remained until a clap of thunder roused him the next morning. His son Telamon approached through the gates of the temple with a multitude of men on his heels, and Aeacus knew that Zeus had answered his call. He gazed with wonder and delight as the men approached, their armor the same color as the ants, and they knelt before Aeacus and hailed him as their king.
“Aeacus named them Myrmidons, after the ant—myrmex—from which they had sprung.” Said King Priam.
“Myrmidons? As in—“ Said Deiphobus.
“Yes, the very same.” Said Priam.
The men shifted in their seats, unusually quiet, and their faces grim. They had heard legends of the Myrmidons, the fiercest warriors in all of Greece with their unwavering loyalty, and unrivaled brutality.
At this the stranger, Othronus, broke in. “So this is what you fear, the Myrmidons!” He stood, and said, “If ever such a force dared to storm the walls of my city they would be met with a formidable military puissance as to drive them into the sea! And rest assured King Priam that should the day ever come that the Greeks arrive at your shores to make war, we will come to your aid.”
“I commend your bravery, and appreciate your pledge Othronus, but it is not merely the Myrmidons that concern me.” Said Priam. “For it is their link to Aeacus, and his descendents that dooms our destiny.”
“Forgive my interruption. Please continue.” Said Othronus, and he sat and listened.
Over the years, Aeacus had been renowned for his just and pious nature; both mortals and gods often turned to him to settle their disputes. Such a favorite was he of the gods that Apollo and Poseidon enlisted him as their assistant in building the walls of Troy.
Each built a separate section of the walls, and when they completed their task they ascended to Mount Olympus where they feasted on ambrosia and nectar. Aeacus, however, had been given wine and slept among the clouds where he dreamt of three dragons that rushed the walls of Troy.
The walls built by Poseidon and Apollo withstood the charge of the first two dragons, but when the third dragon rushed the part of the walls built by Aeacus it had collapsed. Aeacus woke with a start and conveyed his dream to the gods. It was then that Apollo prophesized that Troy’s collapse would come at the hands of Aeacus’ descendants.
And so it came to pass that Aeacus and his wife, Endeïs, daughter of the Kentaur Chiron had two sons, Peleus and Telamon. Peleus married Thetis, and it was at their wedding banquet that the dispute between the goddesses: Hera, Athena and Aphrodite had originated. Their son Achilles, the notorious warrior trained by Chiron later emerged as the leader of the Myrmidons. Whereas Telamon fathered Ajax the Great, and Teucer with the Trojan princess kidnapped a generation before.
“What?” Deiphobus and Troylus said incredulously.
A thunderous silence resonated within the chamber, and all turned their eyes on Priam. He felt a sudden shame and fear; and he felt a great reluctance to reveal the truth that he had kept hidden for several decades.
“The arrogance and jealousy of the gods has bestowed a malediction on the sons of Troy to pay for the sins of our fathers. Even my progeny shall suffer at the expense of my faults.” Said Priam.
The king’s eyes glinted as he gazed upon his sons. When Poseidon and Apollo returned to Troy to be compensated for the building of the high walls, King Laomedon cheated them, and refused to pay. Angered, Apollo sent a plague, and Poseidon sent a sea serpent to exact their revenge.
Laomedon turned to the Oracles, and they promised him that Troy would be spared if he exposed his daughter, Hesione, on the shores of the Aegean to be devoured by the sea monster. The king agreed, and fastened her naked body on the rocks near the sea.
But before the sacrifice had taken place, the hero Hercules happened to arrive with his friend Telamon from their expedition against the Amazons. Hercules agreed to rescue Hesione in exchange for the horses that had been given to the Trojan king’s grandfather by Zeus, but when Hercules had slain the monster, Laomedon again went back on his word.
Hercules attacked the city, killed Laomedon, slaughtered all of his sons, except the youngest—Priam—who had been absent during the siege, and gave the maiden to Telamon whom he took as his wife.
When Priam returned, and learned of the abduction, he sent his advisors, Antenor and Anchises of Dardania to demand her return, but they were refused and driven away.
“I failed my sister when I neglected to embark on a campaign to retrieve her from the clutches of the Greeks. I will not permit my daughter to suffer a similar fate.”
Priam fell silent, and gazed out at the sea where the reflection of the moon goddess glowed. He prayed that she watched over Cassandra, his blue-eyed daughter with hair as fiery as her personality. He signed.
“The men of Troy, and its allies, are valiant men.” Said Deiphobus. “We will never submit to the Greeks, nor will we be defeated by them!”
“My concern at this time is not war, my son. We will stand against the Greeks when the time comes. My priority is your sister. She must be found, and brought back before a war arrives on our shores.”
“And what will become of Hector, and Paris?” Said Troylus.
“Their fate is beyond our control. But we have until their return to secure Cassandra. If she remains abroad when Hector and Paris return, then she will be as exposed as my sister had been when my father was king.”
Othronus looked at them doubtfully, and he bowed his head. “So be it.” He stood. “Then we must trust to such weapons, and the armies that we have. And at the least appeal to the gods with whom we still have good favor. Until then, we shall make finding Cassandra our priority, and pray we return before Hector and Paris.”
“Who will go?” Said Gordias. “For though Phrygia would come to the aid of Troy in war, we do not dare to challenge Aphrodite.”
“May the day not arrive too soon,” Said Deiphobus. “Though it is comforting to know that our allies will fight with all the means they have when the time comes.”
“Then be comforted now, prince of Troy, that I represent Kavissos, and lend my hand to search for Cassandra as well as to fight at your side.” Said Othronus.
“But what would happen if the Greeks arrive at our shores, and the search party has not returned?” Alcathous asked.
“We know not for certain.” Said Priam. “Yet we must be willing to endure this chance, as we cannot allow harm to befall Cassandra.”
“And who are they to be, the ones charged with finding Cassandra?” Alcathous asked.
“That seems to me what this council has to decide, and all that it has to decide.” Said King Priam.
“I will search for my sister,” said Deiphobus, “though I cannot bear this burden alone.”
“I will accompany you, brother, for it was by my involvement that she fled the city.” Said Troylus.
“Three mortals risk the wrath of a vengeful goddess to search for one woman with little chance of success, and the fate of Troy hangs in the balance? Quite the conundrum we find ourselves in, eh?” Said Othronus. “What are we waiting for?”
To be continued…