One Thousand Ships

She had heard news of the cities to the east being sacked by an unforeseen force; a force witnessed by many to be as numerous as the beach sands itself. Refugees had flooded through her city’s gates over the past few years, bringing with them word of the destructive foe. They all knew whom, of course. Who this mysterious force was. After all, they had waited three years for their arrival. Those who had come because a man had wronged a husband.

On the crest of the ocean came their white sails, thousands of them, or so it seemed, hundreds of white sails pinpricking the ocean like the white glimmers of the sun’s reflections. The young woman stood on the city’s battlements, watching with fear as the fleet slowly drew up on the horizon.

With brown eyes and hair, Ida was seventeen. She had been serving food to one of the guardsman on the towers when she first noticed a glimmer of light reflect from the sail of a ship in the distance. She stood there, waiting, when suddenly hundreds more sails appeared. Alarming the guards the ringing bells of bronze were soon to echo across the city. Hundreds of people scurried through the streets like ants, many hundreds standing motionless along Ilion’s high walls beside her –watching the dark terror slowly sweep down toward them, about to be unleashed upon their lands. They were the Achaeans, seafarers like her own people and from a land in the west united into a Great Empire, forged from the many years by the spear and the shield.

Ida could hear the crying voices of men and women alike from the panicking mass around her, voices condemning Queen Helen and Prince Alexandros. It was only three years before when Prince Alexandros had brought Helen to Ilion. It seems like it happened only yesterday. Now the Achaeans had finally come, to get their vengeance on those who did not ask for it and to put to death her entire city and call it justice. She had ever dreamt of when this day would come. When her city’s fate would be decided by a few brave men against countless thousands. When the fate of an entire land would be hung on the balance by a woman who was as mysterious and ill fated as the men from the stories sung by the bards.

Prince Alexandros had brought this on them, for his heart’s desire, and not for his people’s safety –against a foe who was stronger and larger. He had done this for a woman who he loves, a queen who was another man’s wife, not his own. Now seventy thousand Achaeans had come to unleash their hunt for Helen and her unlawful love, to exact their revenge on those who were wrongly caught in it.

Her people had nothing to do with this, Ida thought. They did not want this woman nor did they invite war, but now it was upon them and they had no choice but to fight it. Nobody travels two hundred miles to negotiate.

What Ida couldn’t understand was why Prince Alexandros hadn’t mended his error and sent Helen back to her people to avoid the looming conflict. He did care about his people, didn’t he? Or was the love between the two so strong that this was impossible? She doubted this. Her prince after all wasn’t half known for his ‘doosying’ with the women.

Ahead the sun began to shimmer as it fell beyond the ocean’s crest, its dying light glinting on the many white sails of ships and on the clouds laying over the horizon. Ida’s features began to glow golden, bits of light running through shadows across the battlements and rooftops of houses behind her. Turning, she left the battlements pushing past the panicked hundreds of people to go home -hoping to get one last look of her father before he went off to war the next day. She could see worried faces among the crowd; women who were shocked that the Achaeans had come so soon, that their husbands would be going off to war the very next day. Men looked around nervous, knowing of the many battles that lie ahead, fearing for the day that they would never return home to their families.

Ida knew all too well of the pains that they were feeling. Was love really that great a thing that the lives of all her people should be endangered? That they all must suffer? Was it so important to her prince that he be with this woman even if it meant the destruction of the whole of Ilion, the eradication of all that she knew, of all those people around her? Was it so important to Menela’os, Helen’s husband, that he have her back? Now Ida grew anxious with the feeling of what would be brought to them in the coming days. How much blood would be spilt? How much pain and sadness brought to her eyes, and all for the sake of one woman? For her at least it seemed as though the fate of tens of thousands, both east and west hung in the balance with this mysterious queen.

Ida sighed, walking through the front door of her house –seeing her father talking to her mother, looking worried. She just hoped that this foreign queen was worth fighting for, that she was worth dying for. After all, how many men in the coming days would be sent to their graves to ensure the safety of this one woman? What price love?

One Thousand Ships

Matt Penrose

Joined March 2007

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Artist's Description

A short story I wrote for the ‘Unleashed’ competition hosted here at Redbubble. It depicts the beginning of the Trojan War, and the young girl who witnesses it. This story is also a prequel of sorts for the much larger piece entitled “From the High Walls”.

Artwork Comments

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