Well, it's been a very long time in the works ... six years in fact! I have been trying to re-write - and in my eyes improve - my original 'Lament of Phile' first posted here in 2005.
In my mind, there was just too much else to say, other events dramas that happened to Phile, more characters she encountered! What has been flourishing in my imagination has proved hard to get onto paper (the usual - writer's block, losing Phile's 'voice', having to actually go to work in an office to earn my crust which uses up my precious writing time!).
I was going to post this story when completed as I did last time but seeing as I am going in two speeds with this at the moment (stop and slow) I thought I would start posting as I go along and ask the readers for feedback/comment which will spur me on to write. If I know someone is actually reading, it will inspire me to pull my finger out and really tell Phile's story as it lives within me (I've had to take down the original as looking at the FF Terms and Conditions, I am unable to 'double post' original work).
So please - read, leave comments/feedback/death threats, let me know you are out there and want (or not want to!) read more. I am by no means a praise 'ho(although it does make me fuzzywuzzywarm) so be honest. I have had no beta, so critique away!
It goes without saying that this story is not trying to be historically accurate, be completely true to the film or represent any of the characters in Homer's original tales. I merely present to you the universe that now exists in my head.
So, here we go - 'The Lament of Phile' (Redux)
My name is Phile. In my native tongue it means 'to love' – and love I did.
My language survives but my home did not. It was destroyed by the enemy. I remember when the first of their ships were sighted on the horizon – most had menacing sails, adorned with tribal symbols. They billowed in the ill-fated wind that bought them closer to us; faster to us. I could see the huge staring eyes painted on the brow of each ship from where I stood. The invading foreigners apparently believed in them for protection and for luck - but to me, right from that moment, they were demon's eyes. These ships were the first of hundreds that soon beached on the golden sands of Besika Bay, a once tranquil spot where the rising sun would kiss the gently lapping shores with its golden light. The encampment that sprung up there soon after the enemy landed seemed to desecrate the landscape; rows of wood, rope and canvas as far as the eye could reach, blocking my view of the glittering Aegean Sea and making any escape seem virtually impossible.
A huge bronze bell, one that was almost as old as city wall itself was already sounding the alarm. The high north tower where it was housed had always been peaceful in the relatively short years that I had resided in my beloved city. Although I only ever heard its sound once, I can recall it so clearly. I can still feel its foreboding clang echo through my bones, shaking my stomach to sickness.
Watching from the balcony beyond my chamber at the palace, I could see everything unfold.
Before I finish explaining all this, you must try to imagine the splendour of the place that once called my home. Geographically speaking, it was located at the southern entrance to the Dardanelles, a narrow strait linking the Black Sea with the Aegean via Marmara.
In short, it was a rich and sprawling mercantile city encircled by a fortified, high wall.
Since our location allowed for complete control of the Dardanelles through which every merchant ship from the Aegean heading for the Black Sea had to pass, much of our great wealth came from levying tolls on the many trading vessels and merchant travellers that had to take this route. Moreover, our great power came because we controlled the lucrative copper trade, an important commodity, used to manufacture bronze. However, our powerful involvement in trade and the influx of copper was not all we were renowned for. Housed inside our walls were great weaving halls for the manufacture of some of the finest fabrics known to man, woven from raw materials that came to us from the east. Lastly, my people were famed for being excellent horse-breakers – only the most discerning (and rich) purchaser would come to us looking for a steed as they were reputed to be the best horses in the world.
The palace, my home, stood majestically on a hill overlooking the buzzing, beautiful city. It was a massive, imposing building cornered with four towers and it had a smaller fortified wall all of its own. It was constructed from light sandstone so when our patron god Apollo lifted the sun high in the sky, the walls seemed to shine like pure gold. Inside it was a maze of windows, pillars, steps and statues. I loved the beautiful, hidden gardens inside the palace, particularly the South Courtyard where I could often be found in the daytime eating the figs from the trees or cooling my toes in the soothing waters of the fountains, perhaps in the evening sitting under the large laurel tree, taking in the heady scent of the white magnolias as I watched the myriad of tiny stars seem to quiver in the dark sky.
Flags relentlessly flew from the high turrets of the four towers, bearing the insignia of the horse, a symbol of our city. There was always a wind blowing across the sea and over the beach, the flat plains and into the city, which I suppose some may have found irritating - but I always found the sound of it whistling around the city walls and through the vein-like streets comforting. It was the unmistakable sound of home. Sometimes these winds brought a welcome respite from the heat Apollo had gifted us with. It was always hot in my country; the sun baked our buildings and tanned our skins but we were used to it of course, generations of my countrymen had lived like it and we had adapted long ago - our windows were designed to catch the breeze and our clothes were loose and airy. Any activity tended to take place in the morning and late afternoon – the hot midday was the perfect time to take a good meal and leisurely rest until the sun began to dip and the air was cooler. It was all so different from where I live now.
The wall was there to protect us, not contain us. We made good use of not just the docks but our surrounding lands. Just outside near the sea stood the sacred temple of Apollo, which glinted like a beacon on the beach, welcoming soldiers and merchants home from a treacherous journey on Poseidon's waves. The river Scamander, sacred to us, wound like a serpent from deep inland at Mount Ida, past the city walls and down towards the sea. When I was a child, my father would take me for walks there to watch the waters flow and see the little fish riding on its current. It would make me feel serene and content as I watched their little silver bodies silently wriggle and glide under the surface. This river also sustained many smaller Trojan provinces, villages really. These mostly consisted of farms that provided the city with grain for bread and beer, grapes for wine and cattle, goats and sheep for meat. Despite for the odd drought over the years, we ate well.
When the enemy ships came and the bell rang out clearly over the city I watched the townspeople who filled the narrow streets below scatter, very much like ants in a disturbed nest. They packed away their market stalls, shooed their playing children into their little homes, rounded up their chickens and goats - people were panicking, momentarily anyway. But in truth most were not intimidated by the hundreds of ships, a foolish arrogance and an underestimation of the enemy. You see, in the in the past many nations had come before to try to topple the protective fortifications and invade the city, the city of Troy (some may know it as Ilion or Wilusa) and they had always failed. The walls were too high and thick, protected by the best army the world had ever known.
But I knew that it was different this time. They were a real threat.
Prince Hector of Troy, heir to the throne and Commander of the army had told me. He had confided his fears to me so I would be ready. Ready to flee Troy if the time came.
A day before the invasion, he had taken me deep into the belly of the palace. It seemed like a long-abandoned corridor which had been recently disturbed - empty spiders webs were torn, broken and floated around our heads as he led me, torch in one hand, his other holding mine. My arm ached as he guided me; his manly strides were huge and all I could do was dawdle along behind him. He had a strange determined stare in his eyes and the orange torchlight flickered on his face, causing odd, moving shadows. He finally halted outside a huge wooden door.
He had not spoken to explain at all during our mysterious trip this so of course I was wondering why he had brought me there. I'm sure he could see the confused look in my eyes as, without a word, he demonstrated his reason by pulling the bolt on the door across with a stiff thud and pushing it open with some considerable effort. The hinges creaked loudly in protest. As he lifted the torch up to the door jamb it was revealed that beyond lay a dark tunnel. He made me tell him if I remembered how to get there. I thought so. His voice rose in impatience, he ordered me to be sure. This had startled me as I did not expect him to speak so indignantly to me – it was unlike him, so I knew then that that something was gravely wrong. I told him I did with a lump in my throat, slightly upset by his cross tone. Luckily, Hector's determined frown softened when he realised he had distressed me. As he affectionately squeezed the hand he still held I asked why he had brought me there. He sighed before he spoke:
"I cannot hide it from you any longer Phile, although I think you realise it already. Men are coming, hundreds, perhaps thousands of them. They come for war with Troy. I will keep the city safe with all the strength I have in my very bones … but if anything should happen to me …"
I was shocked at these revelations. I did not want to believe it to be true although I must admit the threat of an invasion had played my mind since the visit to Sparta some weeks before. I still only a young woman yet during my time at the palace I was certainly not ignorant of politics – let me just say I was happy to live in denial. However, I knew Hector well enough to realise he was deadly serious. I closed my eyes, wishing that he would halt from speaking any further as to imagine the world without him was an unthinkable torture. Denial had seemed an excellent option under the circumstances – yet Hector did not stop talking:
"If anything should happen to me…" He reiterated as if to highlight the seriousness of the situation: "…I am not sure how long the walls will hold. You must flee. Run. Run to this tunnel, take as many people with you as you can - but make sure you get out. It leads to the river. When you get there, follow the river up to the mountains, you will be safe there, I promise you…"
I wasn't his relative, I wasn't his wife. So I suppose you are wondering why he had shared this with me. The uncomplicated answer is that I was Prince Hector's concubine.