Heroes (formerly Talisman of Troy)

Heroes (formerly Talisman of Troy) by Valerio Massimo Manfredi

Book: Heroes (formerly Talisman of Troy) by Valerio Massimo Manfredi Read Free Book Online
Authors: Valerio Massimo Manfredi
veiled. He sat on a wide stone seat on the banks of a dark, clear spring. His skin was black and wrinkled, while his beard and the hairs on his arms and legs were pure white.
    ‘Are you Charon, perhaps, who ferries souls to the under-gloom?’ asked Menelaus. ‘Must I die here? Here, so far from my homeland, forgotten by all?’
    The old man raised his head and showed two deep, glittering eyes.
    ‘I have come to learn my destiny,’ said Menelaus. ‘I have suffered greatly, I have sacrificed my life and my honour. I want to know if this has any meaning.’
    The old man did not move. His gaze was locked into a fixed stare. Menelaus drew so close he could touch him.
    ‘I am a king,’ he said. ‘I was a powerful sovereign, father of a daughter as lovely as a golden flower, husband of the most beautiful woman on earth. Now my life holds naught but poison and despair. My warriors die without glory and I am going mad in this torrid, flat land. Oh Old Man of the Sea, they say that you have the wisdom of the gods. Help me, and when I have returned I shall send you a ship laden with gifts, with all those things that can gladden your heart. Help me, I beseech you, tell me if I will return, if I will escape an obscure death in a foreign land after enduring such pain for so many long years. Shall I ever return to live with the queen in my palace? Will I ever forget the shame and dishonour that keep me awake at night?’
    He sat down in the dust and lowered his head like a suppliant.
    The old man neither moved nor opened his mouth.
    ‘I will not go from here,’ said Menelaus, ‘until I’ve had an answer. I will starve to death if you do not answer me.’ And he too fell into silence.
    Nothing happened, for some time. But then all at once, the ray of sun spilling down from the ceiling of the cavern touched the surface of the water, and the spring shone with myriad reflections, lightening even the walls of the cave with a pale glow. The old man shook out of his torpor and pointed his finger to a point at the centre of the pool. Menelaus stood and stared at that point, as his soul was invaded by a strange, untried trepidation. He heard the voice that had already greeted him in the guise of the dragon, the bat and the serpent; it was different now, with a deep harmonious sound like that of a song whose words he could not understand. But that melody roused images from the surface of the water, as if it were a mirror. Menelaus saw and heard as if he were present in the events that flowed beneath his eyes, but unable to speak or react.
    He saw an impostor seated on the throne of Mycenae along-side queen Clytemnestra, grasping the sceptre of the Atreides. He saw the funeral mask of his brother Agamemnon rising like a golden moon from behind the palace and weeping tears of blood. He saw a maiden escaping from a hidden doorway, dragging behind her a blond boy with terror-stricken eyes. They ran through the windy night, stopping often behind a tree or a rock in the fear they were being followed. And then they ran again, until they found a man awaiting them with a chariot to which two fiery black steeds had been harnessed.
    The maiden clasped the boy to her breast in a long embrace, kissing his face and forehead. Her lips moved as if she were imparting warnings, advice, encouragement. And the light which flickered in her eyes blazed with passionate love and with fierce hate. She hugged her brother again and spoke more hurried words, turning often to check behind her. Then the young prince got into the chariot next to the driver who held the reins still; the wind filled his great dark cloak like a sail in a storm. The maiden turned over her charge to him and she cried as they left. The man whipped the horses and the chariot departed swiftly in a white cloud. They were Agamemnon’s children and his own niece and nephew: princess Electra and prince Orestes, forced to hide and to flee, orphaned and persecuted.
    He shouted and wept with rage,

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