Enemy of Troy

Some complacent god in the skies might have mistaken the Paeonians for a line of ants crawling toward their trivial ends. The stalking Achaean scouts knew better. The Paeonians were marching for almost a day at the fastest pace the caravan would sustain on rough terrain. Bags of precious wheat, barley and spelt tottered their way from the southern coast of Troad to the hungry army of king Alexander, son of Priam, of Troy.
Smell of pack animals and human sweat filled the nostrils of Teres and the two scores of Paeonian warriors he led as rearguard. Fine dust, stirred under hooves and dragging feet, stung their eyes and powdered their mouths and skins. Teres’ scalp itched under the bronze helmet. The scorching late summer sun had turned it into a boiling pot sending rivulets of sweat that washed paths on the dirty face down his square jaw. The skin under the stubble was irritated from the constant scratching, its color prominent against the white lumpy scar that ran along his left cheek. All his gear seemed to be specifically designed to obstruct his movement and to irritate him. His short bronze sword sheathed in a leather scabbard flapped annoyingly against his knee and his waterskin kept sliding down the long spear he carried on his shoulder. The splashing sound of the water distracted him and, he thought, gave him urges to piss.
“Dropion, do you hear it?” Teres raised his hand and turned to his cousin and best friend marching next to him.
“What?” Dropion’s thin sharp face tensed.
“My ass sizzling in my leggings.” The short burst of laughter startled a bony mule a few paces ahead.
“I miss the cold weather,” Teres said still smiling and lapsed back into silence. Images of the snow-covered mountains in his faraway home swam into his mind. He remembered how much he liked playing chicken over the frozen river and how he would show off for that girl, Meda, and keep walking long after the others had given up, with the ice crackling underneath.
Teres’ eyes were fixed on the rumps of the pack animals at the end of the caravan. He kept yelling at the caravan drivers to pick up pace. Every time he glanced around, some new grove, a crag, or an overgrown gully would have appeared as if out of nowhere. A sharp whistle from far ahead made him straighten and look over the line of men and animals.
“They’re stopping to wait for us. We must move faster,” he told Dropion and waved to his father.
At the head of the column, lord Pyraechmes watched his son pacing along the path urging the men on. The thick chest of the grey-bearded lord was protected by a hard leather corselet with polished bronze shoulder guards and a broad, ornamented copper belt. He carried a spear and a long sword with a bone handle and a horned crossguard. His half-brother Asteropaeus, leader of the Paeonian tribe of the Almopians, stood next to him. Asteropaeus’ long austere face did not reveal any discomfort under the weight of the heavy bronze-studded leather armor and the sheaf of thin-shafted javelins tucked under the round shield on his back.
The two seasoned warriors waited silently in the stifling heat. Finally Pyraechmes nodded and Asteropaeus turned to give orders to the avant-garde to resume marching. Some distance ahead the narrow track opened into a broad valley. A range of low hills was visible to the northwest and behind it were the Scamander and the trampled fields around Troy.
The convoy was climbing out of a shallow trough when a howling mob swarmed over the edge of the ridge to their right, spears and swords bristling. The salvo of arrows from behind them hammered on shields and armor. The time the Paeonians took to turn around while enduring the shower of arrows was enough for the attackers to cut them from the rest of the convoy. The Paeonian front line held the initial ferocious attack, but Pyraechmes’ men were pushed further down the path. In the midst of the press of men, a band of Achaeans were swinging long heavy swords, pounding and thrusting at the line of shields in front of them with fierce war cries. At one point a sword found a shoulder and slashed a chunk of muscle and fabric off and a heavy round shield dropped. A tall Achaean with a red-plumed helmet and an aura of confidence, wielding a heavy bronze axe, plunged into the front line of the Paeonians. The first vicious blow to the right smashed with a thud against a leather-capped head. A side swing broke the spine of a Paeonian warrior throwing forward the wriggling body and expanding the gap in the Paeonian front. Achaeans spilled through the opening, but soon found themselves surrounded by stinging copper spears and nasty sword slashes from three directions.
When Teres spotted the dark figures of the Achaeans and heard their vicious cries far ahead he yelled at his people to gather around him and prepared to run the length of the convoy. His last orders were drowned by the shrill sound of the Achaean bugle, salpinx, calling from behind them. They swung on their heels and crouched, but no enemy rushed down the path.
“Mydon, scout the path,” Teres shouted. His temples throbbed, waves of hot sweat washed over his body.
The young slender warrior darted toward the piercing demonic call of the salpinx, his figure dwarfed by the bulging rocks on both his sides. All Paeonians held their breaths as they watched Mydon sprinting away. He stopped at the point where the path veered behind the rock wall and carefully peered beyond. An arrow bounced off his helmet and a lightning moment later another one pierced and lodged into his oxhide shield. The warrior ducked and crawled back changing his vantage point. After a few moments, he turned and ran back.

30 thoughts on “Enemy of Troy

  1. Anonymous says:

    Your knowledge of this part of history is impressive. I would add in more geographical information and chrolology. When did this take place? Exactly where? Why? What is the background of this event? Bags of precious wheat, barley and spelt tottered their way from the southern coast of Troad (where is this?) to the hungry army of king Alexander, son of Priam, of Troy. Wikipedia says, The Troad or Troas /ˈtroʊəs/ is the historical name of the Biga peninsula in the northwestern part of Anatolia, Turkey. I had to look this up. And didn’t know that Troy is in the Troas region of Turkey, which is on the wastern coast. Also, some of the long names, like Asteropaeus, Paeonian, Almopians, Pyraechmess, really slow down the reading. Can you shorten some of these names? And what is the Scamander? Why mention it? Just say behind it were the fields of Troy. A side swing broke the spine of a Paeonian warrior throwing forward the wriggling body and expanding the gap in the Paeonian front, think you can delete the second Paeonian. Again, the wording is so technical. I had to read Wikipedia to understand so much of this. In antiquity, Paeonia /piːˈoʊniə/ (Greek: Παιονία) was the land and kingdom of the Paeonians (Ancient Greek Παίονες). In the Illiad the Paeonians are said to have been allies of the Trojans. During the Persian invasion of Greece the conquered Paeonians as far as the Lake Prasias, including the Paeoplae and Siropaiones, were deported from Paeonia to Asia.[1] Paeonia roughly corresponds to the present-day Republic of Macedonia, as well as a narrow strip of Greek Macedonia on the borders with the Republic of Macedonia, and a small part of south-western Bulgaria. You need to let the reader know that Paeonia is north of Macedonia, which is north of Greece. And that the caravan was heading west toward the Turkish coast from inland. I was so confused by all the historical names and places that were not identified. Please clarify some of this so that someone with no knowledge of this era can read without constantly needing Wikipedia. I think a map of the area should definitely be added.

    • John G. Dawson says:

      Thanks for the interesting historical detail Anonymous, it brings a whole new perspective to the piece. However, I don’t think its absence should be considered a flaw because to try to include it in this opening passage would have overloaded it with information at the expense of pace and drama to get readers hooked into the story. It would be a valid criticism if it remained unrevealed by the end of the first chapter.

  2. Kathy Panzella says:

    Your knowledge of this part of history is impressive. in my opinion, the story needs more geographical information and chronology. When did this take place? Exactly where? Why? What is the background of this event? Bags of precious wheat, barley and spelt tottered their way from the southern coast of Troad (where is this?) to the hungry army of king Alexander, son of Priam, of Troy. Wikipedia says, The Troad or Troas /ˈtroʊəs/ is the historical name of the Biga peninsula in the northwestern part of Anatolia, Turkey. I had to look this up. And didn’t know that Troy is in the Troas region of Turkey, which is on the wastern coast. Also, some of the long names, like Asteropaeus, Paeonian, Almopians, Pyraechmess, really slow down the reading. Can you shorten some of these names? And what is the Scamander? Why mention it? Just say behind it were the fields of Troy. A side swing broke the spine of a Paeonian warrior throwing forward the wriggling body and expanding the gap in the Paeonian front, think you can delete the second Paeonian. Again, the wording is so technical. I had to read Wikipedia to understand so much of this. In antiquity, Paeonia /piːˈoʊniə/ (Greek: Παιονία) was the land and kingdom of the Paeonians (Ancient Greek Παίονες). In the Illiad the Paeonians are said to have been allies of the Trojans. During the Persian invasion of Greece the conquered Paeonians as far as the Lake Prasias, including the Paeoplae and Siropaiones, were deported from Paeonia to Asia.[1] Paeonia roughly corresponds to the present-day Republic of Macedonia, as well as a narrow strip of Greek Macedonia on the borders with the Republic of Macedonia, and a small part of south-western Bulgaria. You need to let the reader know that Paeonia is north of Macedonia, which is north of Greece. And that the caravan was heading west toward the Turkish coast from inland. I was so confused by all the historical names and places that were not identified. Please clarify some of this so that someone with no knowledge of this era can read without constantly needing Wikipedia. I think a map of the area should definitely be added.

    • Alex Zaykov says:

      Hi Kathy,
      Thanks a lot for the valuable input!
      It gives me a few points to think about. Generally, I am trying not to dump too much information, only enough to make sure the reader places the story and the characters in the correct historical context. The fact that you and a couple of other fellow campers (from 2015 camp, too) could not quite figure the time and place is an indication that I need to work on it.
      I mention king Alexander, son of Priam. This is the hero of legend that most people know as Paris from the Iliad, the one that eloped with Helen and caused the great Trojan War. His father, Priam is also sort of a famous name from the legend. Now, my problem is that I couldn’t bring myself to use the name Paris. King Paris just sounds so wrong on so many levels. First, it sounds a bit like a female name – Paris Hilton, etc, 🙂 Also, it links, at least in my mind, with the city of Paris, France. That is why I opted for the second name with which Paris was known in the legends – Alexander.
      The Paeonians are a little known allied tribe during the Trojan War. Together with the Thracians, they were the only “continental” allies of Troy from across the Straits, and good candidates for a “barbarian” and “northerner” status that I was seeking. It also helps that I currently live in Bulgaria where both tribes used to reside. 🙂
      I agree with you that names such as Asteropaeus and Pyraechmes are hard to read, but I do want to keep some of the characters from the legend of the Trojan War and Iliad even though my story departs seriously from the legend. I hope this adds a sort of believability and would make it more interesting for a historical fiction reader.
      What I want to achieve in my writing of historical fiction is to have a story that represents the general catastrophe in the ancient world at that time, incl. the Trojan War, through the adventures of a Paeonian mercenary.
      What I wonder is:
      – Will a historical fiction reader, fan of the period (Trojan War, Bronze age) be able to figure out things better than the average reader?
      – Is it correct to pursue the historical fiction readers of the period as a target group for my book? – Is this how a publishing house would view the historical fiction book- as proper or improper for a certain readership group?

      Perhaps, these are questions for Ellen, too. 🙂

      Thanks again!

      • johnsonofdaw says:

        Hi Alex,

        If your story does depart “seriously from the legend” you are in good company – so do most of the retellings of the legend down through the centuries.

        No doubt Ellen will answer your question but I can’t see why you shouldn’t target both the general reader and the history buff who would appreciate it on a different level.

  3. gainford says:

    I like it, well written, great descriptions and seems very well researched (but then I know little to nothing of Troy, if you made it all up I wouldn’t know but if so it’s well done). I’d like to read more.

    • Alex Zaykov says:

      Thanks Gainford,
      Appreciate your time and feedback!
      The story steps on the legend of the Trojan war and Homer’s Iliad. As I mention in another comment, my novel departs seriously in several important aspects: I have tried to represent what a prolonged war at the end of Bronze Age would look like, realistically, based on the sources we have. For example, it is very unlikely that the Greeks besieged Troy for 10 years. The wars were seasonal affairs, fought between spring and autumn and discontinued during winter. The other thing I have attempted is to show the general state of the world in this catastrophic period in history (the fall of the Hittite empire, the attacks of the Sea Peoples, etc.).

      Thanks again!

        • Bjorn Schievers says:

          There is also an early medieval book about Troy that supposedly has great descriptions and much more info than any other source: Historia Destructionis Troiae.

          By the way I assume the Trojan War lasted ten years, not the actual siege.

        • Alex Zaykov says:

          Hey Bjorn, a very interesting site, indeed! I was pretty surprised I hadn’t found it before. Then I saw the news that the English version of the site went live in May this year. It’s a pity, the information inside would have certainly influenced the details in my story. Still, I will definitely take time to dig into it and enjoy the information on this wonderful historical period!
          Thanks again!

        • Maureen says:

          Ooohhh, thanks for the link! My books are set few hundred years earlier in the Minoan civilization but I hope to have characters go to Troy in a future book.

  4. johnsonofdaw says:

    I like your style Alex, e.g. your descriptions of selected details – be careful not to overdo them.

    To nitpick: Rethink “trivial”. “The Paeonians were”, or “had been”? Down to his square jaw “distracted him. and “gave him urges to piss” – no thought about it. Lord Pyraechmes. Change avant-garde to advance-guard – the french words in English usually denote the metaphorical rather than the literal meaning. A tall Achaean with a red-plumed helmet confidently wielding a heavy bronze axe. The syntax of some sentences seems a little off.

    Best wishes with your ambitious project Alex. Do you have a link to your 2015 submission, I’m interested in comparing it?

    • Alex Zaykov says:

      Hi John,
      thanks a lot for the good remarks! I’ve incorporated all of them except “were marching” vs. “had been marching”. Will do that doo, but need to double check something.
      Appreciate your notes!

  5. Bjorn Schievers says:

    This is amazing! For the most part you write the way I want to be able to write. I taste the dust and I’m laughing along with these men. Your kind of writing is what I’m working towards.

    I think for someone who has some notion of Antiquity it’s very clear your story takes place on the west coast of Turkey at the end of the Bronze Age. You even mention Troy by name, so it’s reasonable to expect this will be about the Trojan War or during the last 100 years previous to that. But when you mention Alexander, son of Priam, you totally lock it in. I have some notion of the Paeonians, the Achaeans are part of Greece and I know Troad too. But I think your kind of story best comes with a map before the opening of the novel. Your story is not for the general audience, they don’t care about Troy (or history). Your story is also not for historians (only). It’s for anyone who likes historical and mythological stories, people who watch shows like Spartacus and Rome, and people who like historical novels. They probably won’t know Paris was known by more than one name and they probably don’t know where Troad was. But you explain things well. However, I think your type of story inevitably comes with a map right before the opening.

    I think you’re probably giving just enough description to picture everything, but not feel like you’re getting a history or geography lesson. When you mention the Scamander you could say it flows, making it clear for everyone that it’s a river. Other than that I really don’t want a lecture on page one. 😉
    So don’t add background info. When you mentioned Alexander it could have confused some people, since that name is usually associated with Alexander The Great. But you do explain you are speaking of the son of Priam of Troy. People who like history will accept this.

    I think you nicely set up that they were being ‘stalked’ by Aechean scouts and then later ambushed. I love the great attention for details. But there are so many personal names to keep track of so early on, this is probably your opening’s Achilles heel. No pun intended. I’d avoid names where possible. In paragraph one you can easily say ‘the hungry army of Troy’. Alexander (great choice by the way, I also dislike Paris) and Priam can be mentioned later, they’re not THAT important on page one. At the same time, PLEASE don’t shorten names, we want authenticity here! Instead of that girl Meda you could say he was showing off for THE GIRLS in general. Maybe you want to keep Meda, but they’re just simple ideas to reduce all the names to wrestle through.

    • Maureen says:

      I want to agree with Bjorn here–thought it was a great opening scene. I am a big fan (and writer) of ancient history, so I knew where the Scamander was and not too confused by all the names. Seriously, what confused me the most and brought me out of the story was calling Paris Alexander and my mind wandered to try and remember other sons of Priam besides Hector and Paris. Maybe, you can find a non-clunky way to throw in there: aka Paris and perhaps add River after Scamander. (Only if it isn’t info-dumping, otherwise, have someone call him Paris soon after and let him cringe or something so we know it’s him and he hates the name.) 🙂

      I would absolutely keep reading and believe it sounds very polished. People with no interest in the time period, etc. are not your target audience because they are unlikely to pick it up over the 1000’s of other books available. People like me who eat up anything set in this time period will keep reading and referring to the accompanying map and character list until we get it all straight.

      Cheers to your success!

      • Alex Zaykov says:

        Maureen, thanks so much for dropping by to offer your useful feedback. I think I will follow your advice on inserting the name Paris early on to make it clear for the reader, then drop it under a legitimate excuse. Thanks again!
        Which one is your novel opening? I’d love to check it and comment.

        • Maureen says:

          Unfortunately, I didn’t get into the peer critiques, but I was following the boot camp posts for a completed novel I have out with some agents (and the sequel I am working on now). It is called Akrotiri and takes place sometime around 1600 BC on the Minoan island of Thera. One of my MC’s is from Thrace, and I pepper his comments with a few Bulgarian words. If you are looking for a writing pal, let me know and perhaps we can help each other out. Best luck!

          • Alex Zaykov says:

            Hi Maureen, iI’d love to help you out. There are numerous works on the Thracians, many of them in Bulgarian. Let me know when you need to check or reference something. Also, if you want me to review a draft, I’d be hapy to. My mail is aviolator@yahoo.com

  6. John G. Dawson says:

    I agree with everything Bjorn says here.

    If you want to keep Meda in order to introduce a character of importance you might pick out a distinguishing feature: the girl with the dark angry eyes, with the long black hair, the slave girl, or whatever, then he/we find her name later.

  7. Alex Zaykov says:

    Bjorn, John,
    I totally take your point and I am kicking Meda out 😉
    Last year, during the boot camp, I took out two more names from a dialogue that no longer exists. The feedback was the same – too many names.
    I still have doubts about Alexander, son of Priam, as it fixes the period well. Problem is that the protagonist meets Hector sometime in the second chapter and Alexander is not organically mentioned. Probably I can devise a way for Hector to mention his royal brother.
    BTW, Alexander and Asteropaeus are the antagonists of the first third of the book.
    Thank you so much for the valuable feedback! I will critique John’s beginning.
    Bjorn, if you have an excerpt loaded I can review it too.
    Alex

    • Bjorn Schievers says:

      Alex, I would love to hear your feedback since you write the way I’d love to write. I’m currently doing my best to edit my opening and would love it if you gave me a review after it’s up. I’ll let you know here when that’s happened. My opening is The Fall Of Arkanar, which is only the working title. Thanks and good luck!

      • Alex Zaykov says:

        Hi Bjorn, I’ll be happy to critique your your novel beginning. We’ll try tomorrow evening or the day after, latest. I’ve read it and I like it, but I want to provide a meaningful feedback on both the details and the bigger picture.

  8. John G. Dawson says:

    One last vote re. names Alex. I do think Alexander is wrong for the reason mentioned, it has such a strong association with Alexander the Great that your readers will be confused for seconds or minutes depending on their historical knowledge, and you can do without that distraction. If you don’t like Paris, how about using a description of his rank or demeanor or defining physical feature?

  9. Alex Zaykov says:

    Hi John, Bjorn, I’ll continue to pound my head over the introduction of Alexander. I think that Maureen offers a good suggestion to allow the name Paris to appear early and then provide a plausible reason to drop it.

  10. Bjorn Schievers says:

    Hi Alex, I’m finally ready to get some feedback from you on the newer edit of The Fall Of Arkanar. It’s a struggle crawling my way up to your level of writing. 😉

    My story is fantasy, but Arkanar could be loosely compared to Rome while Avarris could be loosely compared to Carthage. So I think it’s potentially a story that might interest you.

    Many thanks!

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