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The Hill

posted Jun 25, 2012, 2:04 PM by Gordon Doherty   [ updated Jan 27, 2015, 3:35 AM ]

He had set off in the pitch of night, when owls hooted their support and crickets sang his name from the undergrowth. Anything was possible – if he could be swift. The grass whipped wet and chill on his shins, the sharp sting of dawn air burned his nostrils.

'No excuses,' he grunted. A fresh band of sweat droplets spidered across his forehead to shudder and fall from his brow. ‘They’re my people and I won't admit defeat, not for anything!' The words died with a breathless croak as he clutched his side. The growth taunted him, its claws searing into his flesh.

Stop, it hissed in his mind, you have already failed.

‘Never! Troy must not fall!’ His teeth crunched inside his head as he snarled in desperation, glaring at the hilltop. The steep incline seemed to thrust at him him like a stubborn palm. ‘Just over the ridge,’ he gasped. The city, the golden city, would fall unless he could reach it before the Greeks and their ugly wooden sculpture. Only this rugged hill separated him from his people. From Aniche.

Aniche. Her sweet scent rippled through his thoughts. The milky nape of her neck, the warmth of her skin on his lips. The perfect crescent of her belly and the child she carried. He screamed as the growth twisted it’s dagger up and into his ribcage.

‘Aniche!’

Tearing on snaking roots, he hauled himself up the near vertical slope, exasperated at the slowing of his pace: his withered arms seared as he hauled his bulk upwards, lungs heaving, skin prickling. In his mind the terrible truth of the Greeks’ plot blazed like the heat of the midday sun itself. His sprint felt like it had lasted an age already – and now grey fought with an ember of orange as the sky strained to burst into a brilliant dawn.

Time is of the essence…..and you are too late.

He stumbled, sharp granite stabbing at the gnarled flesh of his kneecaps like a Greek blade. With a groan he was back on his feet and tearing at the roots. The hilltop was within his grasp. He clutched at the earthen peak – the soil crumbled in his fingers, and he scrabbled like a defiant but drowning dog. At last amber light bathed him as he slapped onto the hilltop, washing away the blackness nibbling at his vision.

‘Aniche,’ he whispered, pulling his legs round to sit, his head bowed, his chest shuddering. He held his hands over the roaring fury of the growth, shivering at the thick metallic wash it jettisoned up his throat in protest. He didn’t look down on the city. There was no need.

‘Forgive me, Aniche,’ he wavered. His chest lurched and he could only listen to his own sobbing. ‘Forgive me for my failings.’

Sunlight bathed the land, examining every fissure in the crumbled ruin of Troy. The foundations of the old beetling walls smooth now like the blackened stumps of long-decayed teeth. Tall grass and velvety moss congregated in every crack, pushing the old city from history. He had made the run on the night of the Greek deception. He had made the same run every night since.

You failed, you failed and let your people burn!

Age had rampaged across his body in the twenty seven years since that night and now the growth roared like a victorious Greek sword embedded in his side, cherishing the moment it was to strike the killer blow. He felt his breathing grow shallow and his limbs numb. His mind rose above the biting pain and the onrushing blackness to the place where he held the image of the golden city in his mind like a butterfly: on the great tower over the Scaean gate. The scent of the ocean danced on the whipping Dardanian breeze, the midday sun warming his skin.

Aniche took his hand.