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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 (8 page)

BOOK: Helen of Sparta
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“How old are you, to possess such wisdom?” Her good humor had returned, her mouth softening. She ate a piece of t
he orange.

“Do you really want to know?” He liked to tease her. When she played along, her eyes sparkled. But if she valued wisdom in a man, her choices were limited to those many years her senior. “I’m afraid if I tell you, it will frighten you away, and that will hardly help me to win your ha
nd later.”

She laughed. “You can’t be much more than thirty, even if you are a friend of
Heracles.”

He said nothing, taking a drink of his wine. Perhaps it was not fair to keep it from her, but he’d prefer to let her make up her mind before she realized how much older he was. He set down his cup and leane
d forward.

“Tell me, did anyone else think to bring you something to eat after I left? I thought to stay and watch, but I did not wish to offend your father by not paying respect to him before the
banquet.”

Helen broke off another section of the orange and offered it to him. “If I answer your question, will you tell me
your age?”

He accepted the fruit and pretended to consider while he ate it. “Perhaps if it is a very good answer, I might be persuaded to give u
p my own.”

“What would make it a good answer?” she asked
, smiling.

“If I had intended to make it easy, Princess, I would have told you
already.”

She reached out, uncoiling the orange peel, her lips pressed together. When she looked up at him again, she was not smiling, but there was a surprising new warmth in her expression. It was more than just gratitude, this time, as if he had passed some sor
t of test.

“Of all the men who climbed the dais, none showed the courtesy and kindness that you did, to me or to my sister.” She wound the peel back together again before meeting his eyes once more with a look that made his heart soar. “I will not f
orget it.”

He swallowed the words he could not say and struggled to keep his tone light. “That is a very fine answer, but I wonder if you will be as pleased to k
now mine.”

“Surely the great Hero of Attica does not fear a young woman’s
opinion?”

“You are not just any young woman, Princess. If I were afraid, it might be justified.” He lowered his voice and leaned toward her, brushing her hair behind her ear. “I confess to having seen forty-eight
summers.”

“Impossible!” She clapped her hand over her mouth the moment the word escaped, her eyes wide, though he was not certain if it was because she shouted, or because o
f his age.

He laughed. “The truth, I swear it by my father, Poseidon. Does it dis
turb you?”

Her eyes narrowed, and she leaned forward, studying him more closely; then she shook her head. “I can hardly believe it’s possible. The gods must
love you.”

Theseus forced himself to smile. Beyond Helen, Clytemnestra had turned her attention to Menelaus, who looked as if he had tasted something bitter. The younger son of Atreus looked away, smiling at Helen’s sister the moment he realized Theseus’s attention. Just a heartbeat
too late.

“Somehow I do not think your sister would have responded to my confession with quite so mu
ch grace.”

Helen glanced down the table at Clytemnestra just as Menelaus stole a look in her direction. Helen’s face flushed. Theseus ducked his head, trying to catch her eyes, but she would no
t look up.

“It was meant to be a compliment,
Princess.”

Her smile was forced and distracted. “Forgive me, King Theseus. I think the wine has given me a
headache.”

“Of course.” He called for a servant. “You’ve had a long day.” A boy came forward with a jug, and he poured most of the wine from her cup into his own, refilling hers w
ith water.

“Thank you.” She took the cup but glanced down the ta
ble again.

“Perhaps it would be best if you retired for the evening? A good night’s sleep mi
ght help.”

Helen went white around the eyes and shook her head. “No. Thank you. Perhaps just some fresh air.” She set the cup down
and rose.

Theseus stood with her. “I’ll
join you.”

She smiled at him. “You are very attentive, King Theseus, but I won’t be gone lo
ng. Stay.”

He didn’t like it. Much as he would have enjoyed her company, his greater concern was the crowd of men deep in their cups with too few women to sate their appetites. Helen’s presence was temptation enough, but if she were alone in the dark—opportunity had been encouragement enough for worse than rape. Still, this was her home, her father’s palace. Imposing himself upon her would not do him a
ny favors.

She squeezed his hand, and when she left, he did not follow. But he caught Pirithous’s eye, where he sat at a lower table, and lifted his chin. Pirithous followed his gaze to Helen as she skirted the tables toward the main doors, thrown open to admit the cool night air and keep the smell of wine and sweat from overcoming the lavender tossed periodically into the he
arth fire.

Theseus retook his seat, his gaze traveling over the other men in the megaron. A few had watched Helen as she passed, but now that she was gone, they had returned to t
heir wine.

All but Menelaus. The son of Atreus had follo
wed Helen.

C
HAPTER FIVE

M
enelaus had stared at me throughout the banquet, his expression growing darker with every word I exchanged with the king of Athens. But Tyndareus had not promised me to Menelaus yet, even if he had not discouraged his hopes, either. I was not Menelaus’s to own, Menelaus’s to guard. I could not stand to sit beneath his glare a
ny longer.

The cool night air made it easier to breathe. I had not realized how stifling it was inside the megaron, with so many men at the banquet. So many men, and yet the one we hoped for had not come. The stranger, the prince who would steal me, had not shown himself. But if he was not Achaean, if he was some foreigner, why should he? He might not yet even know that I lived. It was folly to think that just because I was known in Achaea, the rest of the world knew of me, too. Or worse, perhaps it was the rumors spread by this very celebration that would bring him here later. Tyndareus and Pollux had refused to even co
nsider it.

The torches in the courtyard had guttered for the most part, and the servants had been too busy pouring wine and refilling platters to replace them. The columns of the entry loomed over me, drained of color by the moonlight and casting deep shadows over the walkway. I followed the wall far enough that I would not be tripped over by drunk men stumbling about and took shelter in the darkness, sliding down the wall and wrapping my arms around my knees. The chill of the stone beneath me raised gooseflesh on my skin, but I didn’t care. I needed to breathe and think and settle for myself what I must do now that Tyndareus’s plan h
ad failed.

It had been a year in the making, spreading rumor of my beauty to the far corners of Achaea before inviting the men of every city to this celebration, and the stranger had not come. For me, his absence brought relief more than anything. I did not want to even allow this strange prince to see me. I did not want him ever to come this far. I did not want to follow the path the dreams had laid at my feet any more closely th
an I must.

But Theseus, king of Athens, Hero of Attica, had not appeared in them at
all . . .

“Helen?”

I sighed. Of course Menelaus had followed me. I should have expecte
d as much.

Pottery clattered against stone, and Menelaus’s low curse followed, then my name again, with less
patience.

“Here,”
I called.

It would be better than having him trip over me in the dark. I saw a flash of moonlight on gold and caught his arm before he stepped on me. He sank down, his back against the wall, and held my ha
nd in his.

I stared at the shape of our hands together in the dark. “You should go back to the
banquet.”

His thumb caressed the back of my knuckles. In the last year, since learning of my dreams, Tyndareus had allowed him too many liberties. Perhaps I had as well. I pulled my hand free from his, and tucked it away where he could no
t take it.

“And leave you to be stolen away?”
he asked.

“I won’t be stolen. Not tonight.” Our shoulders touched, the heat of his body seeping into mine. If we had been younger, I would have nestled myself against him and wrapped myself in his warmth. But we weren’t young anymore, and it would have been cruel to encourage him. “Tyndareus doesn’t want us to be seen
together.”

He put his arm around me, and when he spoke, I felt his breath against my ear. “We won’t
be seen.”

I shivered and pushed him away. “Stop, Menelaus. If anyone saw us, it would ruin ev
erything.”

He laughed, pulling me closer. “You’re going to be my wife, Helen. It hardly
matters.”

“You don’t know that.” I slid out from beneath his arm, my body cold where it no longer touched his. “Tyndareus might still promise me to someone else. And better for everyone if
he does.”

“You cannot mean that.” All the humor had left his voice, and I was glad I could not see his face clearly. “You can’t really want to be married to some fool who only sees your beauty and your kingdom, who cannot appreciate you for the sharpness of your mind, or the kindness of your heart. You think that Athenian will treat you as anything more than h
is whore?”

“Better that than see your friendship turned into hate. Better that than to let the wo
rld burn!”

I stood, intending to return to the feast, but he rose and caug
ht my arm.

“I love yo
u, Helen.”

I tried to pull myself free, but he tightened his grip, jerking me back. The force of it startled me, and I stumbled into his chest before regaining m
y balance.

“I would kill a thousand men, burn a hundred cities to
have you!”

“Do you think that’s what I want? Wars and death, bodies and ash?” I shoved him, forcing him back a step. “Maybe a son of Atreus can live with all that blood on his hands, cursed as you are, but I can’t! You understood that once. Before you went to war with A
gamemnon.”

“The curse.” He flinched, turning his face away, his jaw working. “What could you possibly know of that? Of any of it! This has nothing to do with my family. Nothing to do with my brother, at all. I’ve made sure of t
hat much.”

“It has everything to do with him.” I was shouting, but I didn’t care. “Do you know what your brother will do to me, if this future comes to pass?” I didn’t wait for him to answer, but he had stepped back again, releasing me. “Agamemnon will rape me on corpses in the palace while the ci
ty burns!”

Menelaus grabbed me by the shoulders, almost throwing me into the wall. His face was so close to mine, I smelled the wine on his breath, felt the sour heat of it against
my cheek.

“Do you spread these lies to your father, too? Do you think it will stop him from making you my wife? After everything I have done to help you, to protect you? The promises I made!” He shook me, and my heart pounded in my chest. His body pressed against mine. “Do you think this was what I wanted? Bad enough that I must bend my knee to my brother, but now you would give him reason to mock me with your refusals, and for what? A child’s fear of a passing n
ightmare?”

I swallowed against the tightness in
my throat.

“You don’t believe me,” I rasped. “After everything. You don’t even be
lieve me!”

“My brother will never touch you,” he snarled, his fingers digging into my arms and bruising my skin. “He swore you would be mine when I went to war with him, and he will not break
that vow.”

“When you went to war?” I could barely hear anything over the roar of blood in my ears, and I clawed at his fingers on my arm. “What has that to do
with me?”

His hands gentled at once, as if he had only then realized what he had done. He raised his hand to my face and stroked
my cheek.

“Helen.” It was more a sigh than anything, and he dropped his forehead to mine, our noses brushing. “Don’t you see? I have done everything for you. To protect you. To
keep you.”

His mouth hovered over mine, sharing my breath, and I felt his body growing harder against me. He pressed closer and my heart raced, even as my body stilled and my stomach lurched. He could claim me, now, and I would not be able to stop him. If I screamed for help, there would be no hiding my shame. And Tyndareus would have no choice but to
marry us.

His lips brushed against mine, hesitant, and then fierce, forcing my mouth to open. I heard m
yself sob.

There was a crash of clay, and Menelaus jerked back. I turned my face away, biting my lip and holding my breath to keep from crying out with relief. A man laughed and began to sing. Menelaus let me go, slipping into th
e shadows.

I ran back to the entrance, eager to step into the light that spilled through the open doors. In the light, he could not kiss me or press me back against the building. In the light, he could not bruise me and shake m
e in rage.

I wiped my face and raised my chin, forcing a smile to my lips. I walked back into the megaron, the tang of men and rich aroma of the food almost overwhelming me after the crisp air outside. But when Theseus rose to meet me, I knew at once that I
was safe.

I waited, hoping Menelaus would return to the banquet, so I might go back to my room without fear of meeting him on the way. Many of the men in the balcony had left, or been herded out by Tyndareus’s guards, but the megaron was still more full than empty. Most of the nobles would find beds on the tile and plaster floor, outside on the porch, or within the courtyard, though the most honored had been given rooms of
their own.

Castor and Pollux had been forced to give up their beds for guests, according to their grumbles, and would be sleeping in the stables with the horses. It was one of the few benefits of being a woman in the palace; Tyndareus would never put warriors in the women’s quarters, and our rooms would always be our own no matter how many men descended upon Sparta. At least until
marriage.

“You’re falling asleep, Princess,” Theseus
murmured.

He shifted slightly, and I realized I had been leaning against his shoulder. The table had been cleared of everything but figs and honeyed nuts. Oil lamps glowed softly beside the platters, lighting the hall without the smoke of torches. As long as the kraters were still full of wine, a good portion of Tyndareus’s guests would stay up to
drink it.

“No,” I lied, sitting up. “
I’m fine.”

“My lady, I would not be offended if you went to your bed.” His lips twitched, forming something between a smile and a frown. “Let me call your brother to es
cort you.”

I hid a yawn behind my hand and glanced down the table, but Menelaus hadn’t returned. The last thing I wanted was to meet him in the corridors on the way t
o my room.

“Too much wine,
perhaps.”

“Wine does not account for the circles beneath your eyes.” He tilted my face up with a gentle finger beneath my chin. “You hide it well, you know. But I wonder what could keep a princess from sleeping
at night.”

I flushed. “I appreciate your concern, my lord. You’re v
ery kind.”

“But not kind enough to have earned your co
nfidence.”

“Kind enough to have earned my respect,” I said. Never before had I spent an evening in the company of a man who only looked on me with consideration and not lust. “More than any other has done in
one day.”

He laughed, waving for Pollux. “You are more generous than I deserv
e, Helen.”

It was the first time he had used my name so informally, and I searched his face. His eyes were like the sea, sunlight glinting off water. Fitting in the face of a man who called himself Posei
don’s son.

“Little sister.” Pollux joined us. “It seemed almost as though you had forgotten the rest of us
existed.”

“I apologize for keeping her to myself.” Theseus turned his smile on my brother. “But I wonder if you would do me the favor of helping your sister to her room. There are too many men who have had too much to drink for her to wander the pala
ce alone.”

Pollux arched an eyebrow, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth so slightly that I doubted Theseus would notice. He bowed. “I appreciate your caution, King Theseus, and your attentions to m
y sister.”

I took Pollux’s hand when he offered it, and rose from the table. “Thank you,
my lord.”

Theseus stood and bowed. “Please, Princess. We are equals. Call me
Theseus.”

“Thank you, Theseus.” I met his eyes again when he straightened, and for just a moment, I heard the sound of waves crashing against the shore. Too much wine, almost certainly, and exhaustion, playing tricks on
my senses.

Pollux pulled me gently away, and I stilled the desire to
look back.

“You must have impressed him,” Pollux murmured as we passed through the side door and into th
e hallway.

In the semidarkness, the painted oak trees seemed to grow faces to stare at us. The owls in the branches came alive, golden eyes
glinting.

“If you’re not careful, you’ll have another admirer. Menelaus won’t like competing with the king o
f Athens.”

I pulled my hand free from his and glared. “And what about what I like, Pollux? Or do you think I should not try to prevent my future
as well?”

“You know that isn’t what I meant.” He frowned, slowing his pace and pulling me with him. “What’s the matter with yo
u, Helen?”

“I don’t need to be reminded of Menelaus’s feelings.” I pressed my fingers to my lips. There had been so much hunger in Menela
us’s kiss.

BOOK: Helen of Sparta
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