My name is Taraxandra, and I am what of integer remains in Troy.
Integer not in the sense of ‘just’--no pure soul has ever walked on this blood-soaked ground. I only mean ‘intact’. And if history says, well, not that much, it is because that’s the truth. I am damaged goods, too. It’s only that my injuries are less evident than the city’s shattered houses or the collapsed columns that used to sustain my temple. My scars are less offensive to the eye than the sight of mutilated soldiers or ravaged girls bleeding on the streets.
They’re almost delicate in comparison.
But don’t be fooled, oddly dressed visitors, you who come from a distant world to roam through the debris of this forgotten land. My wounds are worse because they’re ominous. They’re not just witnesses of a past of violence; they point to a future of doom.
Isn’t this the reason the new age discovered me again?
I am Taraxandra, white silky arms and pale green eyes transparent as crystal, eyes that hide under a glance of indifference, as tranquil as it is fake.
The reason I’ve survived?
Fate opens its entrails to my stare and allows me to glimpse in that crimson, bottomless abyss. Time travellers that land here searching for answers, however, have forgotten how wisdom always proves to be useless.
If they knew, they wouldn’t flock to my temple in shambles, taking so many risks.
Those visitors from far-away ages are the only company I have, though at times I feel so alone I’m almost grateful for their visits. An eternity of loneliness is the price for my unwanted gift, and that’s not a novelty, no: I got used to the contempt of my town.
I remember watching my mad sister’s unmarked grave when everyone else fled from the war, never to return. The songs of grasshoppers have been the only sound-making devices populating my visions since that fateful night. Phantom-like wraiths from the Neverland keep the silences in-between at bay.
Even the gods have deserted the losers and their dwellings, all of them, except one: the violet-eyed deity that speaks with my voice and possesses my body with the suave violence of a new lover. She is a gentle god, like a few are, and a cruel god—the way they can’t avoid being. She has always answered to the cries and laments and desperate interrogations ever surging from the eight corners of the world, from all future years this planet has still to live on, and to all the travellers yet to come.
Tottering like a bank of seals on the seashore where killer whales come to feed, those sons of mankind from the future often come back. How many of them have I already seen? Their number is staggering, to a past that has since long lost any consistency even for me, who still inhabits its void shell.
They ask, they interrogate, they order—like pretentious beggars without manners. They believe they’re entitled to know. They assume the technology that allows them to travel back in time translates into the power to change their destinies. This is why they’ve sent him, who now walks through my doors.
Mankind is not ready to hear what the god, and I, have to say. They won’t listen, the way they didn’t listen to Cassandra. They’re like the Trojans, intoxicated with ephemeral might, blinded by hubris.
* * *
The man comes forward, looking at the temple ruins with wide-open eyes. He draws my attention more than usual. He’s the first to come from an age so distant in time from mine, and, as far as I’ve experienced, with any kind of emotion. He must be someone important if he has been chosen for this task--they invariably are--yet his hair is cut short, like a slave or a peasant boy from Mycenae. His garments are weird and vulgar. He doesn’t wear any kiton. Instead, an ugly cloth covers his lower body from his waist to his ankles, too tight on his legs. A harlot would be more elegant than him. Does he intend to insult me or is he a horrid sign of the kind of future that awaits humanity—utter and continuous degradation?
Looking at this man and knowing what is going to come, nausea grips my stomach, and a sense of longing for my dead city. I’d love to rest in the Elysium now, among my dead brothers and sisters, whom visitors from another time can never reach. But the choice of dying was taken from me, together with all the rest.
“You know where I come from,” he says, stepping into the adyton. “From when.”
“I need answers.”
He has ignored the sign that marks this area as inaccessible, allowing only myself inside. Or, he thinks he can get away with his impiety.
“In my age, they say you’ve defeated death, therefore, you can see into the future. Read ours, then.”
What a strange way of talking to a priestess, and impolite. Nobody should ask for the Gods’ words without making an offering first. “Whoever understands the past can read the future,” I reply, glancing at him from behind the silky veil of Cassandra’s shroud. I’ve been wearing it on my head since the day she passed, to shelter me from a sun I have no desire to be warmed by and a moon I prefer to ignore. “Everyone cannot make sense of it.”
Arrogant, like the Greeks, and hopeless, the way we have always been, running blindfolded toward the cliffs overlooking the dark blue Aegean Sea.
“You come from a world in tatters, like the one history has left behind," I say, slowly, hands that hover above the brazier. Pale vapours dance in the hall, creating spirals of smoke. "Like mine, too. Why do you think you can do anything to save it?"
"This is why I came to search for you. Our planet is on the brink of the apocalypse, and I do not have a lot of time left." He approaches, bold yet uneasy. "The legends say that you have the power to save if men listen to you."
"Who has the power to save, has the power to destroy."
I see him becoming paler as he takes a step back.
“Are you a soothsayer of disgraces, like Cassandra? Or, are you a goddess that conjures misfortune with your voice of doom. If I kill you, would Troy’s fate be spared in my world?”
There’s brashness in his tone, but his stare is circumspect now. He has started realizing, confused, what his future is going to bring.
I smile, and I know he can catch the nasty, reptilian glint shining from under the veil. He shudders, fearing what he can’t control. He raises his strange, metal-like weapon to fire at me.
A sense of elation overcomes my sadness, while I see this man’s massacre looming in a nearer time than the one awaiting his world. “You can’t kill who’s already dead, traveller.”
“You’re well and alive and in front of me.”
“Belonging to a past you were able to reach thanks to your machines, not to resuscitate,” I say, with a laugh.“Only you’re alive here.” But not for long, no.
Behind him, the hungry shadows of the vengeful dead are already rising from the graves they’ve never been given, that have been grabbed away from the fingers of the living. They never lose time to consume the fresh bones and new flesh that enter this temple. I turn my head away, averting my gaze from the ordeal.
* * *
I drag the traveller’s body--what remains of it--over the burial ground that has welcomed so many before him, from the moment Cassandra closed her cerulean eyes until now, passing through eons of time, war, and shreds of flesh.
I observe the field with misty eyes. Thousands of tiny white flowers, one for every visitor that has stepped on this grass. Like the others, he was blind, unaware that his world was already condemned by the same logic that had consumed mine: the quest for power, disregard for nature, cosmic hubris and lack of compassion.
New worlds will rise and fade away in tears and blood whilst the lesson remains ignored. Until then, Taraxandra will remain captive in her temple, alone, nursing the asphodels and the forgotten city, listening to questions men don’t want the answer to.
Another asphodel will blossom from the green fields tonight, one more asphodel to make this world beautiful again.
The story has appeared in Helios Quarterly Fantasy, #4, 2017.
Russell Hemmell is a French-Italian transplant in Scotland, passionate about astrophysics, history, and Japanese manga. Winner of the Canopus Awards for Excellence in Interstellar Writing. Recent stories in Aurealis, Cast of Wonders, Flame Tree Press, The Grievous Angel, and others. SFWA, HWA, and Codexian. Find them online at their blog earthianhivemind.net and on Twitter @SPBianchini