It’s not like I had the chance to introduce myself before his wife ran off with me. He wouldn’t have known me either, except right at that moment I happened to be bragging about that very thing. Quite loudly.
And then he wants to fight me man-to-man. Sure, that’s a great deal for the armies in general. Win or lose, they get to stop fighting. Also a pretty good deal for him. Given the gap in size and skill levels, he’s not risking much. But you know who it’s not a good deal for? Me. I get to be a sacrifice so that everyone else can go home. No thank you. I’ve been there before, did not enjoy the experience. Zero stars.
But then Hector gets in my ear. I can’t even remember what he said, but it seemed to make sense at the time. Some mix of shame and flattery, to get me thinking I had a chance. I wonder if that’s what people feel like after I talk them into doing something stupid. I’ve got to say, manipulation is a lot less fun when you’re on the other side of it. Never again.
Somehow I got talked into giving the single combat a shot. Only once I was face to face with the king of Sparta, he seemed to lose his enthusiasm for the fight. I’d like to flatter myself that he was intimidated, but I don’t think anyone would believe that. It wasn’t fear on his face, but contempt. Like he’d just been tricked into duelling a dog turd.
It went slightly better than you’d expect, in that I’m somehow not dead.
Okay, so I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory during the duel. Combat’s not really my best thing. I wasn’t one of these pampered princes, with someone putting a sword in my hand as soon as I could walk. I hadn’t even picked one up until I came down the mountain. Not a lot of smithies up there.
I never should have let them bully me into it. I was just over-excited. The sight of that invading army, covering the plain like a swarm of ants… it was just so glorious. They had no idea that I’d brought them halfway around the world to destroy those who wronged me all those years ago. The instrument of my vengeance, laid out at my feet, gleaming in the sunlight. I got a little choked up. Can you blame me for being proud? Even in my wildest dreams, I’d never expected to succeed so well.
Then, of course, we all had to go down and meet them face to face. Get things started on the right foot. And I was just innocently trash-talking, trying get the home team fired up. Or the other team. Any team really. Get the blood pumping. That’s the first step towards getting the blood flowing. And then it’s just a matter of time before it’s running in rivers, like a crimson torrent. But you have to start somewhere, and insults are as good a place as any to begin.
How was I to know the guy was right there?
I must admit, even I was beginning to wonder if the other shoe was ever going to drop. But when it did, it was not alone. It was like a landslide of shoes that threatened to bury us, and each one had a soldier’s foot in it. Day after day they marched ashore until they filled the plain below the city, and the ships just kept coming.
I never expected to be the optimist who underestimated the danger. The wronged king would come in strength, that much was obvious. And, royalty being what it is, there was every chance that he’d have brothers or cousins ruling neighbouring kingdoms, who would send at least a token contingent to back him up. I’d expected maybe a few dozen ships. Not hundreds. Many, many hundreds.
It was suddenly clear why it had taken them so long to get here. With a dozen ships, they could have sailed within weeks. The force I had expected might have taken a couple of months to organise. But this… the ships were so thick on the water that their sails blotted out the ocean. It must have taken a year just to get word to all their homelands, let alone muster the armies and get ready to sail. Just keeping the ships from running into each other must have been a major effort.
After all that, the war was nearly over before it began. When our army went down to meet them, the troublemaker couldn’t avoid being with them. I heard he faced the wronged husband one-on-one, as out of character as that seems. Of course, I didn’t see it myself. No women allowed on the battlefield. But the next morning, the palace could talk of nothing else. Instead of dying honourably so we could send Helen back where she came from and be done with it, the weasel somehow survived. I couldn’t get a straight answer on how that happened. Rescued by a goddess’s pity? Sounds exactly the sort of crap he’d come up with to distract from his cowardice. However it happened, we lost our last hope of getting out of this war intact.
Win or lose, a fight this big will ruin us.
I can’t believe it. Or rather, I wish I couldn’t. Of all the selfish bullshit to pull. It’s like he was trying to bring disaster down on our heads. It was obvious that there would be repercussions. You don’t just abduct the queen of a major foreign nation like that without the king bringing every sword arm in his land to get her back.
But when he marches her into the city, everyone’s like, “Ooh, she’s so pretty!” Never mind the inevitable war trailing in her wake. I couldn’t just stand idly by. I had to get up in her face and denounce her. In retrospect I may have gotten carried away. Ripping at her hair and clothes was not part of the plan. It certainly seemed to take her by surprise. I don’t know what kind of reception she was expecting, after running away from her problems to make them our problems. Not that, anyway. I suppose he’d filled her head with all sorts of ideas about being welcomed and granted refuge from an unhappy marriage. And if not for me, that’s pretty much what she would have got. Not that the crowds knew or cared where she came from. To them, she was a welcome novelty, something pretty to gawk at.
Even if they had known where she came from, they would have forgotten by the time her husband showed up. I mean, if it takes him that many years to follow, you’ve got to wonder if he was really that into her to begin with. Maybe she had reason to leave. But she didn’t have to bring the trouble here. She must have known what would follow. Maybe she was just in denial. Maybe she hoped that her husband’s ship would sink and the rest would go home. Or maybe she’s never once in her life thought about anyone but herself.
So here we are, fleeing across the waves as fast as the wind will carry us. Her husband must have returned by now to find his bed empty, but I don’t know it that was days or weeks after we left. I keep looking for sails behind us, but so far so good. Maybe we’re far enough ahead to lose him. Maybe he won’t try to follow us. Maybe he was as tired of her as she was of him. I can’t imagine how that would be possible, but then I can’t imagine going on a trip while leaving a woman like that at home. Who knows?
I just hope I haven’t screwed up my longer-term plans. On the one hand, a certain amount of trouble is bound to follow. On the other hand, it may be too little to do any real damage to my enemies back home. An act this rash and impulsive may cement my reputation as someone not to be taken seriously. Then again, it might just be enough to seem dangerously incompetent. I don’t need that kind of attention either. And the king may never again trust me with the responsibility that leads to real power.
This trip has been fun, but it will be over soon. There’s a palace full of rivals waiting for me at the end of the voyage, and they’re not going to destroy themselves. I need to get my head back in the game.
Then again, there’s a beautiful woman waiting to thank me for rescuing her, right on this ship. It would be rude to keep her waiting.
I wouldn’t want to be rude.