From the High Walls

The young woman awoke in the dust, somewhere outside the great walls of Ilion. She lay face down, resting on her arm, her nostrils flaring in the dust. She listened to the faint cries of her people around her, as they were rounded up like frightened sheep in a scattered herd, to be put on ships and taken away to faraway shores as slaves.

Her eyes were sore and red, from a night of long weeping, and now her head rocked in the harsh sunlight, thumping like war drums, beating to the rhythm of her heart. Still she wept, for now Ilion had been sacked by her enemy and nearly all its people had been put to the spear. All the men were gone, dead, and now she and the women had been left here in the dust to be dished out the fate that awaited them, to be given to Achaean men as wives and slaves, and as concubines or housemaids. They would be forced to accept their new lives in Achaea, to love their chosen husbands and somehow adapt to foreign laws and customs. To leave everything behind, there in Ilion. Such was the fate, for all those who were left after war.

A light breeze picked at her curly, brown hair, and the sun seemed to burn through her dress and on her back. She wanted to roll over, to find some shade, but she knew that there was none. The sun, like her enemy, had taken all that away. And even if she were to move, the Achaeans standing guard nearby would immediately put her back in place.
Her eyes struggled to stay open, and so she lay there hoping to ward off what exhaustion had overcome her. It was a new day now, although it didn’t feel like it. The slaughter from within her city still seemed to carry on, and her body still ached, from having been beaten by three Achaean soldiers last night. She had hit a drunken soldier for slapping a woman, by emotional reflex, and the man turned around and punched her in the jaw. She fell to the ground and she could remember as the three Achaeans surrounded her like a ring, and kicked her until she was crying in pain. She supposed that she was lucky that they did not put a blade to her throat, or worse things still, taken advantage of her. Such was the fate of one woman who had captured the eye of a lustful soldier or two. She could remember the woman hiding in the corner of the room afterwards that they had all been imprisoned in throughout the night. Her bleeding legs were pulled up against her stomach, wrapped tight by her arms, and the woman hadn’t talked. She just seemed to stare in the one area for many hours, with a blank expression and cold white features. The young woman wondered what became of her.

Memories still seemed to dance around in her head as she lay there in the dust. Still she could hear the faint sounds of flutes and drums, echoing through her mind, the cries and cheers of joy shaking elated Ilion that passing night. She could see in the blackness the forms and shapes of people dancing and singing, under a night sky and starry gaze. She could remember the great wooden horse offered as a gift to the goddess, Athene, standing in the middle of the agora where countless people danced around it. The Achaeans have gone, they had cried out, the Achaeans have gone. Even she had cried in happiness, in pure joy, dancing with the throngs of people, holding hands with the springing circles of men and women alike. But then came the hour when they had all went to sleep. Men fell down drunk, and women went to bed with their doors unlocked, thinking they were safe. She then remembered waking up to the cries and screams of a shattered city, and there were hundreds of people everywhere, running like ants in the rain, in their small clothes and nightgowns, running for safety. The Achaeans were running through the streets, torches setting fire to everything and anything, and jumping over bloodied civilians without mercy. Houses were set alight like smoking pyres, and people ran out on fire, their piercing screams enough to give even the bravest man nightmares. What few did put up a fight, many others clung to the streets, bloodied bodies lifeless, and heads rolling from pillows. Such mistakes they had made.

The sun burned brightly, forcing the land to dribble under its heat, and its slaughtered people to stink up the breeze. The young woman could smell it, the dead, coming from over those high walls some one hundred and fifty metres away. She hated the smell, though she had had to endure it for countless seasons. She was only seventeen when she first witnessed from her city’s battlement the great crest of white-sailed ships on the horizon. And now, for ten long years, she had watched as the battles fought between her people and the Achaeans grew waste over the land. Now she was twenty-seven, and she had lost more than her fair share of friends and family. Too long have they been at war, she thought, too long has Ilion been at war.

She lifted her swollen head from the dust, wiping the dust from her cheeks and flecks hanging off her eyelashes. She then shook her hair to free it of any particles and dry grass that it may have had in it. Her jaw seemed to cringe with sharp, needle-stabs of pain, and she put her hand to her cheek feeling a swollen surface, bruised and cut. She noticed that she had another cut on her left brow where there was a trickle-stain of blood, and her bottom lip was swollen from having been hit in the face earlier. She was beginning to regret having hitting that soldier before.

The young woman had a tanned complexion, and she was born under the shadow of Mount Ida, and had been named after it, just like her mother was. Yes, Ida was her name. She looked up into the sky where she could see only blue, and bits of clouds blowing in from the west, from the ocean. It was about midday, she guessed, and already the heat of the sun was beating down over the world. It was summer, so she supposed it wasn’t that unusual. She just wished that they hadn’t been made to sit out here. Ida pushed a strand of damp hair from her forehead, before she decided to sit up. Pushing off from the ground with all her strength, she lifted her body up from the dust. Her arms trembled, but she was finally able to sit up. Her body ached as she fell on her backside, and she groaned. Looking around she saw that she was some metres away from a group of women. They were all Phrygians, like her, captives, and who had been left here earlier this morning by the Achaeans. Soon they would all be gathered like loot and taken to the beach where the Achaean ships sat against the ocean; there they would then be taken to the distant shorelines of their homeland.

The women sat around, some standing up, trying to pass the countless hours ahead of them. Their faces were all dirtied and sullen, all weeping faces, all drawn out and long, withering away under the heat, looks of hopelessness listed on every woman’s features. Their clothes were dirty and marked with the blood of family, and everyone, like Ida, seemed to be wearing no shoes. She also noticed the absence of men. There were no men around, no one from the age of a youth to a man in his late years. She already knew what had become of them. Such a great slaughter had been wreaked upon them that passing night, such a butcher. For now everything was quiet. The world left to nature. But she could feel something tense, something frail, something that was about to happen.

Getting on her knees, Ida let the drowsiness drain from her body. Her stiff legs struggled to hold her weight as she pushed up from the dust with her hands until she was in an upright position. A shield of grey dizziness overcame her eyes, and her head seemed to roll for a moment. She could feel her head throbbing with pain even more as the rays of the sun blinded her. She bent down, looking at the ground, hoping to ward its light from her eyes. Ida closed her eyes for a moment, and felt as the dizziness receded, until it was eventually gone. Then figures emerged in the darkness, and like a cold anvil a memory hit her. She could remember as she was dragged through the streets in the grey-lit morning, a child standing alone among the dead. The child was crying, standing in the middle of the street, surrounded by the bodies of his parents and family, with no one else at all in sight. He still had his blanket clutched in his tiny hand, and she could remember his wailing features, his face, spattered with the marks of dirt and blood; that haunting, chill cry sending shivers up her spine. He seemed so oblivious to the world, with no one running to his help to pick him up, to comfort him, to dry those tears from his face. There was no one, and all she could was watch and look on, hopelessly dragged like an animal before she was left outside the walls. A tear whisked down her cheek, and she pushed it aside, opening her eyes to the sun. Her headache had seemed to settle. Ida straightened, and turned towards the women. She then looked down and noticed that parts of her dress, a long white gown falling to her ankles, was torn and tattered in places. What was once beautiful was now dusty and marked with soot, and her feet, where her sandals should have been, were blackened from the dust and ashes of smoldered wood from the fires.

Ida spat dust from her mouth, and wiped her lips, before staggering over to the other women. Her bruised legs threatened to give way under her weight, aching with each step, and she wanted to sit somewhere. She found a spot a few metres away from the huddled group and fell to her knees, crying. Images of her family began to spread through her thoughts like wildfire, and she felt suddenly overwhelmed. Her father, Agelaos, was slain in battle more than three years ago, seven harvests into the war, and her brother, Apaesos, was severed in half by an Arcadian in the first. Then her mother… Idas… stabbed in the stomach for trying to protect her last night. All her was family gone! And she could see the faces of her friends! Elis, who had died from illness from the war, Epytos, who had been killed in battle, and Aiestes, who had taken his own life after his father had died from war and his mother from silent-grey illness. Now Ida had no one. Not even herself. No thoughts or comfort to keep her sane. No familiar face or happy memory to keep her from despairing life. Everything had been taken from her, a punishment that should not have been hers in the first place. She would see them all again, she knew, but not in this life. No. Not for a long while.

Ida fell back onto her backside, her legs stretching out before her. Her limbs ached and groaned, and she felt so exhausted and drained of life. She wanted to collapse there in the dust, to fall asleep under the heat and sweat and the buzzing flies, but she knew she could not, however weary she was. She could not fall asleep when so many of her people had been murdered. When her city had been sacked and put under the torch and flame. When her life had passed right before her eyes. When her family, and friends, were gone. More pressing things kept her awake, though, something that she knew was going to happen to them all. Ida looked around at the dust, feeling its warmth from the sun’s heat between her fingers. The dust stuck to her sweaty palm, and she wiped her hand on her already stained dress, smearing the front with brown prints. She wondered why the Achaeans had been so desperate to slaughter her people. Why they had taken everyone’s lives, and punished those even who were still alive? Was there something that they had done to cause this wrath? Either way, she was glad that the killing had stopped.

Something caught her eye, and she looked up, awakening from her thoughts. A small boy was sitting in the dust some metres away, looking at her with curious eyes. He sat away from the main group of women, almost as though he was alone. Wiping a tear from her cheek, Ida grinned at him, her eyes glimmering with tears. The child just kept staring, his bright eyes looking her up and down. Ida grinned again. The child shied away, averting his eyes, before looking back only a moment later. She could almost have laughed had it not been for what has happened. The child had seen maybe five harvests, perhaps less. He had big, brown eyes and light hair, and his small face was clouded on the cheeks with finger marks of dirt and soot. His white shirt seemed to hang loosely from his neck, and was torn and smeared in places with dirt.

Looking around, Ida realised that the child was alone. She could not see any women who looked like him or who was standing beside him, watching over him like a mother bird does its young. The child, like her, was alone in the world, taken in the night from his home and family. Now he had somehow evaded the Achaeans and made it here to the women where he would be safe and comforted, for a time. Standing up Ida stumbled over to the child. She sat beside the boy, putting her arm around his shoulders, and the child laid his head against her chest, wordless. She knew almost by instinct that he had seen things, things too horrible for the tongue to utter – that a child so young should never have to witness. That no one, she sobbed, should have to witness, thinking of her mother. A tear whisked down her cheek and she sniffled, trying to force it back in. She had already cried too much. Behind her, Ida could hear the murmuring noises of a babe. She turned around and saw a woman breast-feeding her child, smiling under a dusty face, her ravaged-dry hair lying out to the side of her ears like grass. Behind this woman still, Ida could see children hiding within the huddle of women and yet few babes hidden among nurturing arms. She grinned. With luck the women would be able to smuggle them on board the Achaean ships and safely to Achaea. It was a risk, but better than leaving their children to die alone in Ilion, with only the rotting corpses and carrion birds left for their company.

Ida looked back at the child lying against her chest. She wanted to say something to him, to comfort him, but she really did not feel like talking. She just felt so tired. The child yawned in her arms, and he rubbed his tired eyes with his small hand. He probably hadn’t slept for some time, at least since yesterday night, a full day ago. She pitied the child, so young and innocent, so lost in her arms. He does not know why life has existed, why it has ended, why so much pain and confusion is so real. Worst of all he has no one to comfort him, a familiar face that he can lay his head with.

The child wiped some sweat from his brow, and looked up from her arms, staring with those big brown eyes. He looked confused, as if frozen in his thoughts. His dry lips, so small, hung open. The child was trying to say something to her, but looked away as the approaching soldiers caught his attention. Ida too looked away, seeing three Achaeans gesture to the child in her arms. They came walking over to them, two of the Achaeans brandishing their bronze spears, while the third one, in the middle, carried only a sword by his belt. They looked like giants from where she was sitting, their footsteps seemingly shaking the ground. Ida could feel her heart beating hard against her chest with their approach, fearing for the possibilities of what could happen. The Achaeans stood in front of her, one of them speaking some far off foreign tongue and pointing to the child in her arms. She just stared at the three, confused. One of the men, whom Ida assumed was the interpreter, stepped forward from the middle of the three. He had a black beard, tinged grey from age. His weary eyes and sun-dark face looked down at hers.
‘I am Ke’as,’ the man spoke, ‘the messenger and herald of the Achaean army. Under your king’s orders your child must come with us.’
‘Why, what are you going to do to him?’ Ida asked, her eyes growing wide.
‘The child must leave his life here, and instead, go to his death.’ The messenger could see something grip the young woman’s face, and he was amused to see such a reaction. ‘King Agamemnon has ordered that all male children, of any age, are to be thrown from the high walls of your city.’
Ida could feel the blood draining from her face.
‘You would take this child’s life? What on earth for, you barbarian?!’
‘Let it be known to all that the crime of one person shall be the crime of all those involved.’ The messenger paused a moment, staring Ida right in the eye. ‘Your people stole our King’s wife, denying him of any children, and for that we shall deny you of any children. We will search high and low for any one of your young until they are all dead. That, woman, is the fate of criminals.’ The messenger grinned arrogantly, and tears began to flow down Ida’s eyes.
‘Take a moment to say your good-byes, but do not try to put up a fight, or else you will find the Achaeans less considerate for your fate as they already are. There has been enough resentment already.’ The messenger indicated, as he looked around at the dead. Ida was wordless, looking around as if for some explanation, one that clearly did not exist. Moments passed, and she seemed to grow white, trembling, trying to decide what she would do. This child wasn’t even hers, and she was expected to just give him up, to pass him over, without so much as a word in his defence. She looked up at the messenger, feeling desperate and hurt.
‘Take me instead! Take my life in exchange for the child’s!’
‘We do not want you, woman. We want only the child. Your services are needed elsewhere.’
One of the soldiers standing behind the messenger suddenly smirked, and the other one began to laugh all so provocatively, knowing what he meant. Rage overcame Ida, and she wanted to hurl herself at them. The soldiers began to laugh yet even louder with the look of her face contorted in anger.
‘You have a moment.’ The messenger chuckled, eyeing Ida off one last time before leaving. The two soldiers immediately took a step forward, taking the messenger’s position, as if to indicate their means; their amused faces suddenly turned to hard steel.

Ida watched the man leave, feeling angry, yet sad. Was this really happening? She thought. Was it all some wicked dream cast down upon her from some rogue god? Some dream caused from some sick fear in her mind? She wanted for it all to end, to wake up in her bed back home in Ilion. But she knew it all too real, and that was what scared her. That such things are so possible. Looking back at the child in her arms she wanted to say something to him, but she couldn’t. What could she say? That he was about to be murdered? That he should jump from the high walls of their plundered city and break his neck? Ida looked at him, through those large brown eyes, that innocent stare in his face, expressionless and lost in thoughts. She smiled at him. Sometimes no words at all are as good as many.

Ida looked up at the two soldiers standing menacingly before them, looking down at her and the child with contempt. She ignored them. The child looked up from her arms, uncertainty shrouding his features. It was enough to put the strongest woman in tears. Ida looked at him, trying her best to hold back her tears, though there were already some running down her cheeks. How unfair is this?! This child has no idea why any of this has happened. He does not know why his family is gone. Why his mother is no longer there for him. Why his father will never again pick him up and swing him around like a bird. He does not know why he will never again laugh. Why he will never again feel hungry, tired or sad. He does not know why. All he knows, is that he has lived through a war for his entire life. That he has known only bloodshed. And now, he must go to his death for a meaning that is as unjustified and clouded as the war itself.

The child stood up, and hopped out of Ida’s arms, walking over to one of the soldier’s. The child paused at the man’s leg, and held up his arm to touch the man’s spear. He ran his finger up and down the hilt, curious. Ida stood up and knelt by the child, turning him around. He had tears running down his face, and his lips quivered. She put her hand against his cheek, stroking his skin with her thumb, drying those tears falling from his eyes. So young, so innocent, yet a toy to a king and his people, to be thrown around and decided upon at their leisure. Putting her arms around his neck, she gently wiped her face against his, closing her eyes, his skin so smooth, his hair so fair, smelling beautiful. Ida hoped this moment would last forever, but she knew otherwise. One of the Achaean soldiers took the child’s arm, pulling him away from Ida, and she opening her eyes. She jumped up to grab him, her face growing white, but one of the soldiers kicked her in the stomach, sending her back in the dust. She landed hard, and she could only sit and watch as the young boy was taken away, hoisted over one of the soldier’s shoulders like an object. She could see the child’s small face looking back at her, his small body and arms hanging over the Achaean’s back, those fearful brown eyes and that pale face staring right through hers. Goodbye. She thought. Go to meet your death. Show those Achaeans how a Phrygian braves his end. Be together with your family again.

Ida felt so hopeless. What could she do, truly? Hearing screams, Ida turned around, her eyes widening. All over soldiers mingled in the crowd of women, searching for the hidden child or nurtured babe! Women cried and yelled, torn apart from their children as they were found and taken away. They grabbed hopelessly, hitting the soldiers hoping to get their sons back, their only means for living. But the soldiers just pushed right past them, ignoring them, their gaze’s sight set on the walls before them. The woman before Ida broke down into tears, falling to her knees as her young babe, still being breast-fed, was taken away by the Achaean soldiers to be thrown from the high towers of Ilion. Ida herself began to cry, tears running down her cheeks and marking trails through the dry dirt on her face.
‘Gods, are you watching this?!’ she cried, jumping up from the dust – ignoring the throbbing pain in her head. ‘Are you seeing these men about to carry out evil?!’
She prayed so desperately, looking into the blue sky above really believing in the words that she was saying.
‘Please, gods help us! For all the years that you have worked miracles, work another one for us and save these children!’ But she heard nothing, and she felt nothing. There was no answer. No presence. Nothing. She gave up. What was the point? What was the point with anything anymore?

Turning she watched as the Achaeans carried the children away, dragging them, holding them by the arms as if a cross mother taking them away from a fight. Ida’s stomach churned, her lips trembled and her eyes watered. She was in such disbelief that something so unimaginable was about to happen, that children could be treated so unjustly. Thinking of that boy, she wanted to charge forward and take him back, running for the safety of the hills. But she knew she could not. Her strength was nothing compared to those men around her, and still to even do anything she would need the strength of the gods with her. Besides, not only would such a ploy cost her, her life, but do nothing for the child either.

The mother before her was hysterical now, weeping tears and red eyes, rocking on her knees, her arms folded around her stomach – knowing that her child was about to be murdered. Two women knelt by her side, putting their arms around her back. Ida could feel her legs begin to tremble, growing weak, seeing as the Achaeans disappeared behind the broken gates of Ilion, climbing up her broad walls. She could see their tiny figures bristling on the battlement, not two hundred metres away; forms of silhouettes struggling and turning. Then everything seemed to pause. The wind stopped, and all sound disappeared. The women held their breath, the world pausing its daily movements. Everything so quiet. For a moment, it seemed as though a god would really appear to save these children, to put an end to the Achaeans hatred, and Ida held her breath for so. But there was nothing.

Her eyes grew wide as she saw an Achaean lift his arms above the battlement edge, holding a tiny figure in his hands. It was a baby. Ida shook and clenched her fists, her eyes sealed shut, praying so desperately in her mind for help, for a divine intervention –still hoping that there was maybe someone or something out there watching over them. Opening her eyes she saw a cloud of dust rise at the base of the walls. She gasped, and she could hear a woman or two crying beside her.

Ida could hear the children’s panicked screams from above now, struggled voices as they were dragged to the edge of the wall, by men who were not men at all, but dark malignant spirits from the underworld. For truly, they had no conscience whatsoever, and a man willing enough to kill a child has no soul. Women gasped to her right, putting cold, bloodless hands to their mouths, biting nails and fistfuls of clenched hair. Ida closed her eyes and shook with anguish as the children were thrown from the battlement, without so much as hesitation. This is not happening! She cried out in her mind. This is not happening! She opened her eyes, bleary from tears, seeing as the earth before the walls clouded with dust. She looked around and saw the women were all quiet, looking at the dust at their feet, or like mindless beasts in the sky, silently sobbing to themselves. The hysterical crying of the mother disappeared from her hearing now, the world mute once more from what it had just witnessed. Ida could see that some of the women were shaking, from fear and distress, from what they had just seen. She could hear their whimpering, and see women on their knees, their eyes shielded by hands, women standing up, looking around as if for some answer, for a savior. But there was no one. No brave Hektor to rise from his grave, gripping glorious spear and shield. No charge of Phrygians. No God to come at their call, to unleash molten fury upon the Achaean ranks. No one! They were all alone as slaves, forced to look on.

Another body clouded the dust, and they all jumped. Even some of the Achaean soldiers standing nearby seemed to jump, watching in disgust, in such shock that man could commit such wrongs. Those children, did they deserve such a fate? Ida thought. The gods know they had nothing to do with this war, nor the wrong committed on the Achaeans. That was two people’s mistake, not ten thousand! Ida’s head seemed to throb more than ever now that she was under pain and stress, witnessing horror. She wondered why the gods did not answer her calls, why they did not come to save those innocents. She was beginning to doubt their existence. For after all the years that they had prayed and worshipped to them, that they had sacrificed to them and performed their daily rituals, the gods had abandoned her people, and at a time when they were most in need of their help.
‘Apollo! Were you not supposed to protect your people?!’ She cried, her voice touched with sadness and despair. She looked around at the top of her city’s walls, toward where a crow perched on its dusty edge.
‘Why do you abandon us after all these years? Why after all our offerings and prayers do you not hold sway over Ilion’s destiny?’ Anger grew in her now.
‘Your people are dying, they are at your feet, and still you do not appear to help them! All that we have done for you, was it never enough?! Is seeing the lives of ten thousand Phrygians being slaughtered not enough?!’ Her hands shook, and still she heard nothing.
‘You gods do not listen to us! You do not hear us! And you do not talk to us!’ She could feel her legs give way beneath her, and she fell on her knees, her hands pressing hard into the warm, dusty earth. She felt as the tears fell from her face, soaking in the dust, as her long, curly hair fell down in front of her eyes, shielding her from the sun. She sobbed, and she could feel as everything drained from her body. She looked up, looking around dazedly, at the dead, at the alive, at birds tearing flesh from limp carcasses near the walls – carcasses that were too small to be a grown man’s. Why? Why all this?
Ida dried her tears, but yet, her heart still hurt more than ever. She just wanted to let it all out, to end it all there. But she couldn’t. Why the war? Why the death? Why this senseless madness? Why did it have to happen to her people? Because they were a threat?

She sat up, and her attention was taken by a nearby Achaean soldier. He was old, and he turned from the walls with a pale expression. His frozen eyes were red, and his mouth hung open. His features were still, and he stumbled for a moment. This was a man who had seen a decade of war from the forefront of it all, and yet he was taken by this. The man’s eyes locked with Ida’s, and for a moment they both understood one another. They each saw in them a sense of lost innocence; something beautiful that had been torn from them, a scar to forever haunt their souls. Battle was one thing, but murder?

Ida found what little strength there was left in her body, and she stood up. It was too hot on the ground. She looked to her left, toward where the Achaeans, Danaans and Argives gathered in a thickening mass. There, Menelaos led accursed Helen back toward the Achaean ships down at the beach. She looked so defeated, like a skinny rabbit caught in a hunt. Ida was glad that she was finally captured. That her wickedness could never again bring two nations to war. But it was too late for that now. How many men and women had died out of all this meaningless-ness, how many of those who had nothing to do with the crime that she and her lover committed? Ida wondered if Queen Helen even knew of what had just taken place across those high walls that she without permission called home. Did she even know what her stupid game had cost her?! That had cost Ilion’s people?! Right now Ida could feel the anger pulse through her clenched fists, slowly making its way through the rest of her body. She despaired. They had taken all their lives away for a crime they did not commit, but because of a woman, a wicked queen who went willingly – not abducted! Why must Helen’s punishment fall on them? Why must it always fall on those innocents? Is punishing one woman not justice enough for her invaders? That to feel fulfilled in their cause they must instead take it out on all those around? She just hoped that this woman would get what she deserved.

Ida could feel the heat of the earth press through her bare feet, and she wanted to jump up on something that was cooler. She walked over to where a small patch of yellow grass was and stood on that. She could feel it prick her feet as it crunched under her weight. The land was a reminder of the war that they had fought so long for. That not only had her people died, but the land as well. The land was now drought-stricken, and the soil infertile. Grass was weedy and dry and what few trees there was around were all withering away under the heat. Ida could remember playing around these fields when she was just a child. Those days weren’t so hot. She remembered playing by the river to the east, called the Scamander by her people, which winded deep from within her country and fell into the sea. There she would leap around the rocks, and the rushing torrent of water, playing with her friends. The water there was so clear and fresh, and was abundant in fish. The boys would go there frequently to fish and to hunt, and she and her friend Elis would watch them. Ida smiled at the thought. Now the river had been untouched for many years, and it sometimes ran red with the blood of the fallen from the battles waged on its bank. There were no more fish, and the once vibrant flowing waters were now left to trickles around rocks and the fallen branches of trees.

Ida looked up in the sky, where a harsh sun was blinded by the earth-brown smoke of fires still burning from within her city. The sun was beginning to turn a sharp golden, and its light was dimmed from upon the land, though it was still very warm. She looked up at her city, those great yellow-stone walls, carved many centuries ago by her people’s ancestors. Black smears marked some of their stones and towers, and rooftops arose from beyond, their tops crumbling like dust in the heat, falling under the rise of smoke.

A single grey flake caught Ida on her nose, and she was caught surprised. She brought it to her eyes with her finger and looked at it, studying it. It was ash. She frowned and let it fall to the ground, twinkling her two fingers as to unstick it from her skin. She watched as it dropped to the ground, fluttering about slowly in the breeze, falling in a nurturing-like motion. All around her the flutters of ash suddenly began to wave about, in soft eddies, falling on her face and hair. She looked up into the sky and saw that the smoke from the fires from within the city had fallen over them. She held out her hand, and felt as the small flakes landed softly on her fingers, falling across her palm, dancing in a soft breeze. She wondered what was burning in the city to so create so much ash.
In the city piles of bodies were being burnt, laid up in two-metre-high piles in the middle of streets and market squares. Soldiers stood around with their torches, digging them into mounds of bodies and wicker and watching as the smoke drifted into the sky. Bodies churned up from the heat and the flakes of bodies rolled with the smoke. This is not custom. This is not God’s law. Bodies should be burnt separately, on a funeral pyre, or buried with full rights, with their family to witness and lament. Only there were no families, none for mourning, or for doing the burial. There were only soldiers with torches.

Ida suddenly felt dizzy, her head rolling. She knelt down, and watched as the fall of ash covered the ground and the women. She could see heads looking skywards, Achaeans and Phrygians alike, watching as the ash came down, they too awoken by the commotion. Within a few moments the ash seemed to dissipate and the sun broke through the cover of smoke, pointed rays piercing the forefront of it all. A cool wind began to blow, and the heat was forgotten as it pressed against Ida’s skin. She was tired, and she decided to lay back in the dust, letting the exhaustion take her, feeling as the cool wind blew gently across her features. Her head felt better now, her eyes drooping, weighed down by conviction and despair. She closed her eyes, wishing she would never wake up. Or that she would open her eyes to find herself back in her bed in Ilion, awakening to a slow rising sun under the soft calls of seagulls from the ocean. She wished that this war had never started, that her prince had never given into temptation and stolen another man’s wife, to bring to Ilion and wed. She wished that… she wished that she could see her mother and father again, her brother, and her friends. Most of all, the children. The world suddenly so much less bright without them.

Trailing off, she felt as the darkness took her. As a soft wind seemed to pick her wrecked body up from the ground, to take to another world. She felt comforted, and for once in what seemed like an eternity of distress and bloodshed, in peace.

From the High Walls

Matt Penrose

Joined March 2007

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Artist's Description

My first short story in a year, depicting the Trojan War’s bloody aftermath. You will witness through a young woman’s eyes the senselessness of the war, the futility of the Achaean cause, and how even the bright spark of a child and the joy he brings can so easily be blown out…

Artwork Comments

  • Pilgrim
  • Matt Penrose
  • kseriphyn
  • Matt Penrose
  • kseriphyn
  • Matt Penrose
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