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Authors: Amalia Carosella

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #Literary, #Mythology & Folk Tales, #Historical Fiction, #Literary Fiction, #Mythology

Helen of Sparta (5 page)

BOOK: Helen of Sparta
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The dreams did not tie me to the future, but they gave me the opportunity to alter it. I saw it even in the small details that changed from nightmare to nightmare. One night, Ajax the Lesser would find me in the temple; the next, I cowered in a bedroom, listening to a warrior break down my door. It was as if the future itself were still in motion, unset until the moments c
laimed us.

The priests would not see it that way; nor would Menelaus, I was certain. He would see my dreams as proof that we were meant to marry, and he would use it
to win me.

But if I did not marry Menelaus, no stranger could steal me away. Everything rested upon th
at choice.

“Good day, Princess,” the pries
tess said.

When I looked up, she
was gone.

I did not spend the morning on my knees as Leda had ordered me, but I sat where the priestess had been, trusting that as angry as my mother was, she would not come to check. The only other person who came to the shrine that morning was Pollux, and I made room for him on
the bench.

“I’m sorry, little sister,” he said. “I heard Nestra speaking of it last night and meant to warn you. She promised me she wouldn’t tell Mother until morning, but then I saw them speaking together at the feast, and it was
too late.”

At the feast.
I traced the carving of a bull in the stone, worn smooth from wind and rain and the touch of other fingers. “She told Menelaus, di
dn’t she?”

Pollux’s jaw tightened. “She had no business speaking of such a thing to anyone but our parents. No right to spread the news of your bleeding like gossip. Tyndareus will not be pleased to realize he is the last
to know.”

“I’m to speak to him at midday.” I sighed and rested my head against his shoulder. At least it explained why Menelaus had come to my room the previous night. He had wanted the truth of more than just
my dreams.

“When you tell him why, he’ll un
derstand.”

“I
hope so.”

Pollux squeezed my hand. “If he doesn’t, I will speak for you. I’ll tell him I told you to keep it a secret. That I made you conceal the truth. He can be angry with me, instead, if
he must.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” I laughed, sitting up to look at him. “You didn’t even know
yourself.”

When I saw his face and the grief in his eyes, my stomach twisted. I had never seen him look so wretched before. Pollux was at worst serious, but never
miserable.

“What’s th
e matter?”

His gaze slid to the grapevines. “He spoke as if he knew it all, as if you had told him everything, or I swear to you I never would have sai
d a word.”

My heart turned to stone in my chest, making it difficult to breath
e. “What?”

“It was after the morning meal. We were on our way to the practice field. He said you had told him. That you had cried in his arms, confessing that he would hate you if you let him love you now. He wanted my counsel as to how he could reas
sure you.”

I released my brother’s hand. The back of my throat burned with bile. “You told him he will be my
husband.”

“Helen, I thought he knew. You have to believe me. The way he spoke of it, it seemed impossible that he
did not.”

I stood and paced to the altar, staring at the empty stone eyes of Zeus. What was Menelaus thinking? Everything else rested on that. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe he would not see it as proof. Last night he had told me they were on
ly dreams.

“I’m sorry, Helen.” I heard Pollux stand up behind me, but I did not turn. “I know that I said he deserved to hear it, but I never would have told him without your pe
rmission.”

“What did he say? When you
told him.”

“He did not say anything, but the color drained from his face, and when he sparred against Castor, I thought he would batter our brother into the dirt. He left the field soon after, and I came here to warn you. I would not have you caught unaware by Menelaus as well as Leda in the
same day.”

“Leda is finished with me. She says now I am a woman, I am to be Tyndareus’s trouble,
not hers.”

The face of the statue unnerved me. There was no kindness or sympathy in the rock. But there was no kindness or sympathy in the gods, either. Not the Olympians, nor had I ever heard Alcyoneus speak of his Egyptian gods as compassionate, though I had begged my tutor for stories of his people, fascinated by the differences as much as the sim
ilarities.

I rubbed my face and turned to my brother. “I should go, or I’ll be late to see Tyndareus. Will you come
with me?”

Pollux’s mouth relaxed from the thin line it had become. “I intended to, whether you asked it of me or not. Leda will have poisoned him with her anger already, though I expect he will be more upset with Nestra
than you.”

“I hope you’
re right.”

We left the shrine together, and walked back in silence through the cork oaks that had taken root all over the hill. I could see in Pollux’s face that he meant to make
it right.

If Tyndareus did not punish Nestra, I had a feeling my brot
her would.

Tyndareus pushed away his meal of bread and goat cheese, the lines on his face more pronounced than ever. The megaron had been cleared of all but me, Pollux, and Leda, though Pollux’s attendance was more oversight than anything else. He had slipped in while the others left, and he stood now in the shadow of one of the large pillars, out of Led
a’s sight.

“This has gone on long enough. Helen betrays even her kingdom with this deceit. You must take your daughter
in hand!”

Tyndareus leaned back in his chair, giving Leda a long look. “And why is it only when she has misbehaved somehow that she is my daughter and n
ot yours?”

Leda drew herself up, regal and furious. “If you had allowed me to punish her as she ought to have been punished, instead of letting her behave so willfully, none of this would have happened. What she has become is your doing, Tyndareus,
not mine!”

“And what precisely has she done?” Tyndareus asked, his gaze resting on me. The plaster floor beneath my feet was painted with two charging bulls, one the gray of a thunderstorm and the other sea-foam white. I would have gladly faced a herd of them, horns sharp and nostrils flaring, rather than Tyndareus now. “What is it that has offended you so
utterly?”

“Ask her yourself.” Leda did not l
ook at me.

“Helen?”

I bowed my head. “I hid from my mother that I had become a woman, out of fear of
marriage.”

“According to her sister, Helen has been bleeding for the last six months at least!” Leda said. “I will not tolerate it, Tyndareus. This lie is too great to be overlooked, even
for you.”

“And yesterday you would have had her punished for speaking the truth.” Tyndareus’s voice was cool. “What would you have her do, Leda? No matter how she behaves, it will not please you. You punish her for nothing more than h
er birth.”

“And you have spoiled he
r for it!”

“Enough!” Tyndareus rose from his seat. “You have brought her to me for punishment, and I will see to it. Yo
u may go.”

Leda opened her mouth, then shut it. Tyndareus had spoken as her king, not her husband; the dismissal was clear. Leda might rule absolutely as queen and high priestess when leading rituals of thanksgiving and mystery, but in this, she had little power. She glared at him and left, the heavy door slamming b
ehind her.

Tyndareus sighed and retook his seat. The rest of the tables had been cleared away by now, the floors swept and washed. No wonder Pollux had come to see me. While I had been at the shrine, the rest of the palace had been cleaning. Someone had even thrown herbs in the fire, and the scent of lavender hung i
n the air.

“Princes should not slink about in the shadows, Pollux,” Tyndareus called. “Nor should a son of Zeus lower himself to such behavior. If you are intent on remaining, you will stand before m
e openly.”

Pollux straightened, stepping out from behind the column. Tyndareus waved him t
o my side.

“Am I correct in assuming you are here to defend you
r sister?”

“I am.”

“I wonder that you think she cannot defend herself, after everything she seems to have accomplished in my absence.” Tyndareus studied me as he spoke, but the anger he had betrayed in Leda’s presence was gone. “If Pollux will stand beside you, there must be some good reason for your behavior. Unless your brother has lost the wits he had whe
n I left?”

I smiled. “No, Papa. Pollux is stil
l Pollux.”

“And yet, he could not seem to keep you out of trouble altogether.” Tyndareus picked grapes from a dish of fruit. “I should have realized that yesterday was not the end of this, but it never occurred to me that you might take things this far, Helen, and to find Pollux has a hand in it makes it all the more alarming.” He held my gaze, and there was no humor in his expression. His brown eyes were hard and sharp. “My patience wears thin. I will have the truth of it now before this goes on an
y longer.”

I swallowed against the tightness in my throat and stared at the bulls. The gray animal stood for Zeus, lord of the sky, and the white for Poseidon, god of the sea and the earth. Before the swan, Sparta had worshipped Poseidon the Earth-Shaker above all others, but the priests had felt Zeus’s appearances warranted a change. Alcyoneus said it did not make any difference. No matter whom we worshipped first, the other gods would take exception. That was the way of things among the Olympians. His own gods, he had assured me, were much more reasonable, but I d
oubted it.

“Pollux had no part in my actions, Papa. He did not know I planned to dye my hair, nor did he help me to conceal that I was no longe
r a girl.”

“But he knows why yo
u did it.”

“Yes,” Pollux said. “And had she asked me for my help, she would hav
e had it.”

“What of Castor and Clyt
emnestra?”

“They had nothing to do with any of it
,” I said.

I took a deep breath to steady myself, and felt Pollux step closer. I was shaking just thinking about what I must say, feeling my freedom slip away with every breath, but I made myself look at
Tyndareus.

“It is the nightmares, Papa. I thought they would stop when you left with Menelaus and Agamemnon, but they
have not.”

“You remember them.” Tyndareus watched me closely. “Or have you always? No, never mind that. I know well enough why you might hide that truth. Tell
me, now.”

“After I am married and made queen, a man will come from another land. A prince, I think, but a stranger to us. He will feast at my husband’s table, live with us as a guest, and accept our gifts. But he will betray us and steal me away with him.” I could feel the pressure behind my eyes again, and the dream lapped at the edges of
my vision.

So often, I saw the stranger, on the deck of the ship, holding his hand out to me, golden-brown eyes flashing with power I could not understand. Did I go with him willingly? It seemed impossible that I could be so faithless, to Sparta or my husband. I saw the golden city, walls rising into the heavens, as beautiful as any Olympus. Then the fires, all of it turning to blood and cinder. Ajax of Locris in the temple, grunting as he raped the woman above me before finding me beneath the altar, his surprise turning to lust. And Agamemnon, too, rutting like a boar. Menelaus, calling my name as if he would battle me to the death. And perhaps he would. Agamemnon had said he intended t
o kill me.

BOOK: Helen of Sparta
10.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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