Monday, 22 January 2018


Paris by Desmais
by Philip Womack

About fifteen years before King Peleus was marrying his sea-goddess wife Thetis, and Eris threw down that famous golden apple among the goddesses, in a large, tapestry-hung chamber in one of the topmost towers of the citadel, Hecuba, Queen of Troy, gave birth to a little boy. 

It was an easy birth; easier than any of her many other sons and daughters had been. Some of them were out breaking horses on the plains below the walls, others were washing clothes in the river, and the younger ones were scampering about the room as she lay with her new son tucked into the crook of her arm. She rather liked him: he had a gleam in his eye that she'd not seen before.

But that night, after the nurses took him away and placed him in his cradle, she dreamed.

It was not unusual for Hecuba to dream: but this one was particularly vivid, and it woke her up, gasping, sweating, panting with fear. Instead of a boy, she had given birth to a flaming sword.

She ran through the halls, her yawning maids pattering after her, and went to wake the seers from their sleep. Being seers, however, they had already seen her coming, and so they were prepared, heads bowed, to deliver the sad news. Hecuba asked them to wait until Priam, the King, was there. Kings do not enjoy being woken from their slumbers any more than the next man; and so rather crossly he paced around the room, hands clasped behind his back, hoping that they would get on with it.

Eventually, after much consultation, the chief seer threw back his hood, and said, “The flaming sword is your new son. This boy, my lord, will destroy your city.”

They could not kill him: he was their own son, after all, even though they had so many others, some of whom had crept in, and were listening, hanging off the stairs and railings like so many monkeys. So Priam and Hecuba did what most kingly parents would do in such situations, and after a night and a day of discussion, and with much sorrow, they sent him away with a shepherd, with some firm instructions to abandon him.

(They might have taken note from others who tried to abandon babies with prophecies hanging over them: it never works, and it always comes back to bite you on the nose when you’re least expecting it.)

The shepherd, who was at heart rather a kind man, reluctantly left the little boy by himself on the hillside, where he might be devoured by wolves or die of exposure. That night he could not sleep. And so as soon as dawn broke he returned to the hillside, and to his surprise, found that the boy was still there, finger in his mouth, gurgling. A bear had given him milk - or so the story went. Much relieved, the shepherd took him home in his backpack, and named him Paris.

The boy grew up, ignorant of his princely blood, into a fine, long-haired young man, who would search all night for a lamb, and could set bulls to fight against each other, and could hurl a spear further and with better aim than anyone who lived in the villages around the foothills of Troy. He also had rather a liking for fine clothes, and would run his fingers with enjoyment through the materials that traders brought from the coastal cities.

Because he was such a fine young man, and because they knew anyway what was going to happen, he came to the attention of the gods; and they saw that he was honest, and could judge a dispute well. And also, perhaps, because gods like symmetry, and they had noted that just as Achilles was being born, the man who was to kill him would be making his great decision.

So it was that, one afternoon, much to Paris’s surprise, when he came wandering down the mountain path with a belly full of meat and a wineskin on his back, he found a young curly haired man, much his own age, sitting lazily on a rock with a smirk on his face, a stick in his hand, and a winged helmet on his head; and behind the young man, were arrayed three women. A peacock was pecking at the earth; perched on a tree was an owl; and a pair of doves was glaring angrily at the owl.

Those who have met gods know that there is a power about them which makes the air tremble.

Paris felt it; he pulled his cap off his head, and knelt down at their feet.

Hermes - for that was the curly-haired young man - looked Paris up and down, as if to say, well, you’ll do. He yawned. It was especially tiring being the messenger of the gods, and he had had a lot to put up with keeping Athena, Aphrodite and Hera from tearing into each other on the journey here; not to mention the birds, who had done everything they could to slow things down by trying to peck each others’ eyes out. Fortunately, he had a pocketful of corn from Demeter, and he’d been using it to keep the peace; the goddesses he’d left to themselves. He could feel the tension crackling between them, like the lightning bolts that Zeus would throw when he was in a temper.

 “You’ve been called up,” Hermes said to Paris. “Go on, you can look at them. You’re meant to.”

Gingerly, Paris stood. The three goddesses spread out into a line, like dancers, ready to prepare themselves.

“What do you want me to do?” said Paris.

“Easy,” said Hermes, and threw him the golden apple.

When he had read the message, and understood, Paris bit his lip and put down his wineskin. He would have to make a decision. How could he choose between these three divine beings? Hera was the queen of the gods. Aphrodite - whose glance alone was enough to make him quail - commanded desire. And Athene's weapons glittered brightly. And what, whoever he chose, after all, was going to prevent any of these goddesses from making sure that he never went bull-fighting again?


Read Part 1 Here.

Philip Womack's seventh novel, THE ARROW OF APOLLO, which takes place after the Trojan War, is now raising funds on Unbound.

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