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aphrodite's war

Chapter 3

Helen

 

The trip from Sparta to Mycenae was beastly hot and uncomfortable.  I bumped and bounced so much that my arms and legs were bruised from hitting against the sides of the carriage. I don’t like Mycenae with its ostentatious Lion Gate, but I was glad to have arrived and step down from the carriage onto solid ground.

My sister greeted me, and asked about my journey, as if she didn’t know from experience, or couldn’t tell by the look of me that it was miserable. I think she took some pleasure in knowing that I had suffered.

Klytemnestra and I had never gotten along very well. She is the first-born and has always tended to boss me around. She is strong-willed and ambitious, and despises me for being weak-willed and shy. However, I think that in her own way, she loves me well enough, so I tend to overlook her barbs and criticisms. Besides, it was she who engineered my marriage to Menelaus, saving me from a lifetime of misery with that arrogant, self-centered boor, Achilles.

It was also she who convinced that pig of a husband of hers to marry off their eldest daughter, Iphigenia, to Prince Paris of Ilium—a tremendous coup, and a testament to her cunning and ambition. Paris is third in line to the Trojan throne, and I am sure that Klytemnestra already has plans for getting rid of numbers one and two.

I feel sorry for Iphigenia. She is very young, and has been so bullied by her mother that she is afraid to speak. She is a mere 13 years of age, knows nothing of men, and has only started to bleed in the past half-year. She is a lamb being led to slaughter. I hope this Trojan Prince, about whom we have heard so much, is kind as well as beautiful.

Klytemnestra escorted me to the women’s quarters, where her maids bathed and dressed me. She wanted me to accompany her to dinner, but I begged off, claiming fatigue—which was true. I was exhausted, and in no mood to watch Agamemnon, my sister, and the rest of the Greeks drink themselves silly and argue till the early hours of the morning.  Besides, I was told that Odysseus was expected the next day, and the Trojans the day after that, so I had several days of feasting and public ceremonies to look forward to, although ‘look forward to’ is the wrong expression—‘dread’ is much more apt.

I took a short nap, and awoke to find Iphigenia sitting in my room, patiently waiting for me to wake.

“Effy,” I said as soon as my eyes had adjusted to the light, “What a pleasant surprise. What brings you here?”

“I didn’t wake you, did I, Aunt Helen? I’m sorry if I did. I tried to be quiet and not disturb you.”

She was so childlike, it was difficult to imagine her as a married woman. It was pathetic. I wished there were something I could do to help her, but I couldn’t even help myself, let alone someone else.

“What is it darling?” I asked, patting the bed to indicate that she should come and sit by my side.

“I’m scared Aunt Helen. Mother says I’m just being stupid, but that doesn’t help. What if Prince Paris doesn’t like me? Or if he’s mean to me?”

“How could he not like you? Of course he will like you. And he will not be mean to you. I have heard that he is a gentleman. Besides, if he is mean to you, I will have Uncle Menelaus send his entire Spartan army to Troy to bring you home.”

Iphigenia smiled at that. “You always know how to cheer me up,” she said. “I wish you were my mother. She doesn’t like me.”

“Hush, Effy. That’s a terrible thing to say. Your mother loves you.”

“Maybe, but all she does is scream at me and tell me I’m a baby.”

“It’s just that she’s worried about you. You are a woman now, and will soon be a wife. I think she is afraid that you may not be ready…”

“I’m not! I’m not ready! I don’t know what to do! I don’t know how to please a man, and I’m afraid, but Mother doesn’t understand…”

Iphigenia broke down completely, burying her head in her hands and weeping uncontrollably. I held her tightly to my chest and consoled her as best I could, but, in truth, I had very little to offer her. What could I say to her? I know nothing of how to please a man. My husband is impotent, and I have not consummated the act with him or any other man. Iphigenia and I are more alike than people knew. We are both virgins.

 

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