Two Acts of Troy
The Tales of Aquarius, Aquila and Gemini

Chapter 6: Prince Paris and Queen Helen

A few years later, King Menelaus returned home to Sparta from a visit to Mycenae to see his brother Agamemnon. He was greeted with disturbing news. "A prince of Troy sailed into the harbor," the servant said. "His name was Paris and he was handsome and exotic. Queen Helen entertained him and she was very attentive to him. No one knows exactly what happened, but the ship is gone and so is Queen Helen."

"A prince of Troy visited," confessed another voice, "and gave our queen a necklace and earrings of sculpted gold and rubies shaped like hearts. She was so fond of the jewelry that she wore it every day and could talk of nothing but Prince Paris."

"The last time I saw her she was dressed in a pink gossamer gown and was wearing a gold necklace with rubies shaped like hearts," said Helen's maid. "She kept saying that she had never really been in love before. She had been crying for she heard that Prince Paris planned to leave the next day."

No one saw Helen go aboard the Trojan ship. No one could say that if she left, she was willing or she was abducted. But no one could deny the desire they had witnessed in their last glimpses of the queen. It did not matter to King Menalaus. She was gone and, however it happened, his honor demanded she be returned.

Menalaus called up the oath extracted by Tyndareus. Helen's suitors had been legion and for a month kings and princes and heroes arrived in Sparta, summoned by the king. Finally the announcement came and war with Troy was declared. "We will quickly destroy the Trojan barbarians," Menelaus said to the gathered troops, "and all of you will share the Trojan treasure. Bring your warriors, and we shall return in victory before many have even heard that we are gone. Gather your men and your ships at Aulis, and together we will sail for Troy."

Most were caught in the fever pitch that surrounds the confident on their way to war. "On to victory and valor. Together we will be victorious," the troops said. "How can mere Trojans compare on the field of battle with Greek heroes? We are better armed and better trained and we have justice and the gods on our side." Willingness to serve was unimportant for the army grew both with the willing and those few who had refused. Of the latter, Odysseus pretended to go crazy, but he was taken anyway. Then Achilles' mother Thetis had a dream that he would never return, so she dressed him in her clothes to hide him. It didn't matter, for he was also discovered and forced to join the Greek army. It was this army that Menelaus turned over to his brother Agamemnon to lead.

The fleet gathered at Aulis and the men were restless to go. Armed and loaded, the ships and army were ready. Only nature stopped them, for the thousand ships were buffeted by high seas caused by the shrill northern winds. The angry winds would not subside, but instead seemed to blow harder every day. There were disgruntled mumblings from the troops that it was useless and they would return home. Agamemnon did not wish to lose his opportunity to lead, so he called a soothsayer named Calchas and asked him the reason for the delay.

"Artemis is angry," Calchas said. "One of her wild hares was killed by a Greek along with all of the hare's young. Artemis says this could not have been for food. It was only for the evil in the heart of the Greek. If you wish to sail from Aulis, the Greek commander must sacrifice his eldest child to appease the wrong committed against our goddess."

As Agamemnon heard the words they cut like a knife through his heart. The gods were demanding the death of his daughter Iphigenia! How could he kill her? But if he didn't, he would never lead the Greek troops to victory over Troy and Helen would never be returned. In isolation Agamemnon made his decision.

"Send Iphigenia at once to Aulis," the messenger told Clytemnestra. "She is to be married to Achilles before he sails for Troy."

"How strange to hurry a wedding so," thought Clytemnestra. "The son of Peleus and Thetis is still young yet he is already famous. He will be a good match for our daughter. Perhaps he would not go unless he were married." Clytemnestra prepared her daughter with a beautiful wedding gown and packed bags for both of them, as both Mother and daughter went to Aulis.

"Queen Clytemnestra and Princess Iphigenia have arrived," a herald announced at Agamemnon's encampment.

"Why did Clytemnestra disobey my second message?" Agamemnon asked himself. "I told her to disregard the first message. She was not to come." He looked around the tent and his eyes settled on his brother. Menelaus fidgeted and averted his eyes. "Menelaus intercepted the message," he devined.

After sending out the first message, Agamemnon had weakened. He talked with his brother about how he must forgo this trip and return to Mycenae with his loving family intact. Menelaus had tried to convince him that all of this was fated, it was the will of the gods, it was part of the glorious destiny of Greece. When his words had failed to change his brother's mind, Menelaus took an action to support his own desires. Now Iphigenia was here and there was nothing Agamemnon could do to save her. Iphigenia would be traded for Helen.

"Father, I'm so happy to see you," Iphigenia said, bursting through the doorway and, hugging her father, she planted a kiss on his cheek. She proceeded to tell him all the exciting details of their journey while her mother quietly and serenely entered unnoticed.

Clytemnestra watched her husband as he avoided his daughter's eyes. She watched as Menelaus stiffly smiled at his niece. Something was amiss, she could feel it in the air. "What do you have planned for the ceremony, Agamemnon?" Clytemnestra asked. "Will there be any sacrifices?"

He responded with a start. "No. It will be a quick ceremony. I want you to return home now. Iphigenia will join you later. There isn't time for anything more traditional."

She fixed her gaze upon him. "I will not leave. It is a mother's duty to be with her daughter." Uncomfortable, he rose and walked out. "It is obvious there is something devious going on," she thought as she watched Menelaus exit quickly after.

As mother and daughter stood in the commander's tent, a strong and handsome young man entered. He was dressed from head to foot in silver armor. "Where is King Agamemnon?" he asked. "I bring critical word from the troops. There is talk of them leaving for home if the treacherous north winds do not stop soon. He must do something immediately."

"He just left," she responded. "Who are you?"

Removing his helmet, he bowed. "I am Achilles."

"And I shall be your mother-in-law and Iphigenia there your bride," Clytemnestra said.

The young man looked confused. "I have no plans for a bride and I don't know your daughter at all. She is very lovely, but she is not my bride." He hastily took his leave.

Clytemnestra knew that something was very wrong but she couldn't yet decipher what it was. She left the tent to go for a walk and gather her thoughts. It was then that an old man confronted her. "I have no loyalty to these kings," he began. "They abandon whoever does not serve their designs for power at the moment. Just as you, poor queen, and even his own daughter have been abandoned by the one who should protect you. No, I have no love for these kings, nor do I have any respect for what they do. To stop the ill winds and bring fortuitous ones, the seer told Agamemnon to sacrifice his eldest. He has changed his mind a few times, but that is what he intends to do."

Kill his own daughter, just to bring back Helen! Clytemnestra was aghast. To lose her wonderful daughter just to bring back her miserable sister and satisfy the egos of the brother kings was worse than anything she could have anticipated. "It will not happen," she vowed. She went back to the tent to await the return of Agamemnon.

"Do you plan to kill Iphigenia?" she demanded as Agamemnon entered the tent. His face reddened with the rage which clogged his throat and stopped his voice. His reaction spoke volumes and Clytemnestra said, "If you kill our daughter you will pay dearly."

It was then that the guards came. They grabbed the tearful Iphigenia and dragged her away as she whimpered to Agamemnon, "Why, father? Why?"

Clytemnestra watched. She was sure Agamemnon did not know the answer to his daughter's question. "Someday, my darling, he will know the answer," she whispered as her daughter disappeared. "I will teach him."

The royal family of Troy was gathered in response to a formal request by Prince Paris. He had remained in his chambers for weeks since his return. The servants claimed he had a woman with him and that was why no one in the family had seen him. The family buzzed with excitement and rumor. Soon Prince Paris would address them.

But there was one in the family who showed no interest in the rumors. Sitting alone, hair disheveled and in a rumpled tunic, she was still the most beautiful in the room. "He brings a daughter of Zeus. She was born a plaything of the gods to end their boredom for a while. Their amusement is at our expense for she will destroy us. A thousand ships of old lovers have been launched on the blood of her niece. Many will die for her and others will die for the niece. It is a costly show for the gods." Cassandra rocked in her corner as she chanted her words. Paris and Helen walked past her as she spoke and her voice and words, like an icy wind, chilled Helen to the bone. "Who is this who speaks of me?" she demanded of Paris.

"She is my sister Cassandra, priestess of Apollo. She gives her prophecies and takes them very seriously, but she is crazy. Don't concern yourself with what she says; as you can see, no one else pays her any attention."

Indeed, no one listened to her prophecies. That was the revenge of Apollo. When Cassandra was a child her ears were licked by serpents and voices spoke to those blessed ears of what had been and would be. Apollo listened in on the voices as they spoke to Cassandra. She was very beautiful and would bear him handsome children. He approached her with his offer; he would give her mastery of all forms of prophecy if she would bear him a son. She agreed and Apollo bestowed his gifts upon her. But Cassandra reneged on her promise for, when the time came for her to make love with Apollo, she refused and claimed that his priestess must be untainted.

Apollo raged. Shamed and fooled by a young girl! How could she turn down a god? Especially a god like him? He had already given her the promised gift, there was no way he could now take it away from her. But, he could place a curse upon her in which no one would believe what she said.

"I would like to introduce all of you to my wife, Helen," began Paris to the assembled family. They all graciously embraced this beautiful Greek as Paris, one by one, brought her to each of them.

"Hector will ride Zeus' storm gray horses to battle after battle. Our valiant hero, our brother, will lose his life though many shall fall at his hand. Not only will you lose your life, brother, but your body will be defiled, dragged by his horses as Achilles' revenge. Even your future, your son, shall die, thrown by the Greeks from the high wall of Troy," Cassandra chanted as Hector embraced his newest sister-in-law. "Do not embrace this serpent, my gallant brother, but use your hands instead upon the delicate neck of our real enemy."

"My dear father and our dear king," began Cassandra as Priam embraced Helen in turn, "how can you so willingly welcome your death? How can you embrace the obliteration of family, home and country, of all that you hold dear? With the finest of your treasure, you will be reduced to ransom the mutilated body of your finest son. And in your last day, you will see a horse that is said to be for Athena. It will house the final means for our destruction and will carry the hand that brings your death. Reject her now and you will never be faced with that horse or these acts."

"Queen Mother, please hear my words and protect your land and family," Cassandra pleaded with Hecuba as she, too, kissed Paris' lover. "Were all those months of bringing us to life to be tossed aside, were all your labors in vain? Shall there be no future for your family or for Troy? Please Mother, believe me. What I see and hear is true unless you kill her. The bodies of your children lie rotting under the light of Troy burning. And you, mother, shall not finish your life on the soil that you love for you, our queen, shall be given as a slave to a trickster of a man. Please Mother, at least you must hear me," Cassandra wept as she begged. But, like the rest, Hecuba ignored her.

Greek ships appeared on the horizon, their thousand white sails clouded the west with a storm that would hail its destruction upon them for ten long years, the storm that would bring their annihilation.

Chapter 5: The Curse of the Golden Apple | Myth Index | Chapter 7: Agamemnon's Return

Tales of the Immortal Night ©2003, J.J. Kuhl


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