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She set foot on the slick surface of wet cement, casting long shadows upon the temple grounds.
The girl breathed in ragged gasps; she did not remember why she was here, but cloaked away the increasingly eerie sensation under her smoky dull chiffon.
Where was Mother? Father? Not even the priests, or slave girls were present. Where was everybody? The solitary figure looked around expectantly at the patiently abiding courtyard, the vacant shrine.
The seemingly imperturbable deluge palpably diminished with the sun.
“Blood will spill Blood”
The tension-heavy atmosphere erupted and the girl felt incorporeal walls caving in on her. Something inscrutable snapped, liberating her from her parent’s child and answering to formerly ignored primitive instincts, broke into a sprint as the heavens could no longer control their tears. Even for her, the rain would not relent, and for nobody would the girl stop running.
As a few dragged seconds passed, she glanced behind her shoulder, relieved that only the elusive outlines of her shadow followed behind. Wait. No, that couldn’t be her shadow; dusk had already fallen.
The girl’s inquiry was abruptly cut off with a single strike.
Helen awoke and disregarding the dream, became painfully aware of the dull ache in her back from spinning at the loom all day yesterday. Dear Gods, why hadn’t she actually listened to her old, mother-like maid, Clio?
‘Princesses shouldn’t slouch!’ Helen mimicked, her words dripping acid. Well, it seems certain stubborn young princesses will never learn.
Satisfied with her justification, Helen then realized today she was supposed to pay her honors to Artemis; meaning she goes to some prestigious temple and throws bits of tree resin while priests watch her every move.
Disregarding the protests from her muscles as she rose, Helen dragged herself to fulfill the tedious duties that came attached with her birthright. Ugh.
Upon arrival to Artemis’ temple, the Spartan princess caught sight of Clytemnestra there (instead of Mycenae where she should be with her husband), brushing aside the various people knelt down in worship. Without thinking; as a mental agenda carried itself out, Helen found herself walking over to greet her sister.
“Morning, sister. What brings you to Artemis’ temple on this lovely day?”
Instead of the typical spurious small-talk, Clytemnestra responded with a murderous look and proceeded with her rather unrestrained behavior.
Helen was left thinking of her sister’s brown tresses, the reflection of her own auburn curls. Those green eyes; so much like her eyes; the color of ripe olives. Somehow, even though they’re literally twin images of each other, Clytemnestra always dimmed in comparison with Helen’s comeliness, with the perfectly sloped nose, heart shaped face, full lips with pale complexion and whatnot. It was all blah; stuff the king’s visitors would flatter their parents with. Routinely, it was she’s so pretty for Helen, and she’s such a courteous girl for Clytemnestra, from when they were children to now, approaching seventeen.
Once, a beautiful prophetess named Cassandra voiced Helen to be more; much more, but before Cassandra could even finish her sentence, she was – against her will - taken away by the king’s subjects - who told the future Spartan queen not to believe “someone cursed by the python”. Though that would be nice to believe; Helen having a greater purpose than being someone’s bragging right.
Many holy prayers and expensive offerings of myrrh later, the nursemaid to the Spartan princesses, Clio, scuttled towards Helen clad in a simple black kirtle and newly cut short gray hair.
Before Helen could utter anything sardonic, Clio cried out, enunciating the words so forcibly as to spit in her future queen’s face,
“Your brother-in-law and Clytemnestra’s husband, King Agamemnon has been murdered! MURDERED!”
Taking many deep breaths, Clio told Helen to dress appropriately for the trial of Aegisthus and then bustled to tell the deceased’s wife.
Helen returned to her room in the palace and put on an ebony doric style chiton and cut her hair as a sign of grief she didn’t feel. Again, it was all customary as her feet carried her over to the town council of the trial of whoever Aegisthus was.
The moment Helen stepped inside the Tholos, as Town Council buildings were called, her sister’s shrill shriek of a voice echoed upon the stone walls.
“It’s her!” Clytemnestra pointed an accusing finger. Her funeral chiton was ripped and her usually uncluttered hair unkempt and torn. Even her pale face powder was running with tears she didn’t bother to hold back. Alarmed, Helen stiffened as more than a thousand Spartan citizens turned their judgmental gaze on her.
“Er…” In stunned stupor, she only listened half-heartedly as her sister rambled on.
“Citizens of Sparta, you have all come to the trial of this man, Aegisthus,”
She gestured to the person standing next to her. Helen recognized the royal cousin of King Agamemnon.
“However, I promise you as the Queen of Mycenae, that he is not the killer. My sister here- has done the foul feat herself.”
Gasps erupted from the multitude of jurors. Helen could feel their estimation of her falling by the second. Yet, as shocked as she was, couldn’t find it in her to deny.
“She was always jealous that I had the Kingdom of High Greece and that she would be the lowly Queen of Sparta. That, nevertheless, does not give her explanation or excuse to kill my husband!”
Clytemnestra broke into even more tears, just like when they were little, and she would snivel and whimper pathetically to get sympathy. That’s right, it never changes. Helen always ends up getting held responsible. But this, this is crossing the line.
“She’s lying! I didn’t have anything to do with this!” Fists clenched, Helen would get back at her sister; whatever the consequences.
“Excuse Helen here. She has never grown up to accept the substantial responsibilities as Sparta’s future queen. What kind of ruler would she be if this girl can’t even admit the murder she committed?” Aegisthus alleged matter-of-factly, raising a reproachful eyebrow.
What were they going to do now; condemn Helen to be a common slave and grant Clytemnestra both kingdoms? No, which will not happen; as long as the future Queen of Sparta was still alive!
“I’m telling the truth, I swear it to Zeus! I did not-“
“Helen!” Clytemnestra made a big show of struggling for breath.
“You denied what you did, that was bad enough, but how can you swear it on the divine king of the Gods!”
“Your sister is right! How could you, Helen?” Aegisthus cried with blatant disdain and revelation.
Even Helen’s own mother, Queen Leda was hiding revulsion behind her beautiful, traitorous face.
“Alright, who believes the royal princess of Sparta is guilty?” The self-proclaimed judge bellowed.
A chorus of angry voices boomed off the walls, so thunderous they could have been heard from Athens!
“I didn’t do it!” Helen screeched to the top of her lungs. A few people quieted down to see what the shunned girl had to say. Sensing her chance, she announced,
“If you folk of Sparta do not want to hear your future queen, that you want to listen to her sister says, then at least heed this. I did not murder King Agamemnon. Give me three days to find the real killer, and I swear it by the gods I will get him. Or else you can do with me what you like.”
To make a dramatic exit, the victim of indictment left, leaving her proposal in everyone’s minds to contemplate.
First of all, why would Clytemnestra accuse me of it? She must have an ulterior motive. Helen mused.
Stumbling upon a crumpled piece of papyrus, she picked it up and examined it. How well-situated! That careful and poised signature was none other than her sister’s!
It was a script, written by a scholar, it seemed; the exact words Clytemnestra and Aegisthus had apparently rehearsed for the trial. And the exact words they predicted she would say. And she had said them! Wow, Clytemnestra actually knows a lot about her sister, which makes Helen a trifle ashamed that the nonexistent knowledge of her sister was so inferior.
So they had planned this. They hired someone to write a speech to get her to take the blame for Agamemnon’s death. Either Aegisthus did it or someone he’s covering for, and he made an alliance with Clytemnestra because her voice is important to influence the trial – being the king’s wife. Her benefit from the deal would be that she could rid Sparta of her much more beautiful sister.
Helen smiled a sinful smirk worthy of the offenders themselves. She returned to bed that night convinced she would win this battle of wits. No sweat on the godly brow.
He lied so peacefully there; upon the soft linen sheets. The last rays of sun died through the stained-glass windows, launching the room into darkness, so unexpectedly. The night seemed to stretch out; eternal, almost. There was something uncanny; something lost so subtly, as if planned in fate. He had realized what had happened then, but it is too late now. Why oh why didn’t he listen to the she who spoke of it? He will spend the rest of infinity with remorseful ignorance, wondering.
Then, the last awareness disappeared and all was gone.
Helen gradually arose, but she sensed something wrong. Wait, why couldn’t she get up? Why couldn’t she move any part of her body? A most unpleasant sensation of helplessness washed over her, as her mind was left to explore the worst possibilities.
Is there something wrong with me!? Am I condemned to lie in this bed throughout eternity!? Helen tried to scream for help, for somebody, but even her voice betrayed her. Even more now she felt like a prisoner within her own body; a prisoner in a devious trap. After a few dreaded minutes the strange feeling subsided.
Pushing the dream to the recesses of her mind to be ignored, Helen guardedly carried on with her day as usual, spinning cloth in the women’s quarters.
On her way there, her mother, Queen Leda, stopped her.
“Helen, I uh, just want you to know that I support you fully, and that you shouldn’t be afraid.” She paused, and looking deeply into her daughter’s eyes, added, “Remember you are a true Spartan princess”.
Leda lingered a bit to let her words sink in, and then walked away, leaving Helen to her spinning.
“Did you hear? Two weeks ago, ‘bout what happened to Iphigenia?” Aleta, the biggest gossip of all the royal cousins of the queen posed, while the other cousins sighed in exasperation.
“What?” Helen looked up from her miserable attempt of spinning. Iphigenia was Clytemnestra and Agamemnon’s three-year-old daughter.
Aleta smiled, feeding the information to her cousin’s daughter. It was almost as if she took joy in it.
“Well from I’ve heard; she’s been sacrificed to the goddess Artemis so Agamemnon could have good sailing winds. Good sailing winds! By the gods, who would sacrifice their eldest daughter for good sailing winds!” The garrulous woman chuckled at her own gag.
“I bet it by Artemis the mother of Iphigenia is livid! –Chuckle, chuckle-”
Helen froze mid-spin. No wonder Clytemnestra was so angry the other day, and at Artemis’ temple! Gods, did her sister mistrust her so much she couldn’t tell her? Helen remembered when her they were younger, and her sister didn’t even tell her when she was getting married! From when she was still a princess of Sparta, Clytemnestra would always try to keep her sister in the dark. Oh, the way she would sail through the palace with nose held high; dismayed as if she smelt rotten fish.
Darkening at those memories, Helen continued the rest of her spinning in silence, blocking out all that sprawled out of Aleta with her own pernicious contemplation. So on and so forth it continued throughout the day.
The girl, covered with coarse boar-hide, was carried roughly to the open pasture. She looked all around at the unfamiliar surroundings and feeling the sharp north wind bluster, began to whimper.
He hissed harsh words to shut her up, but she only cried harder. Young as she was, this girl knew that something bad was going to happen, and she hoped at the sound of her crying, mommy would come and take her far, far away from this strange place.
Beyond frustration, he left the nuisance to her fate and stormed off; now that this has been done, he had more important responsibilities to take care of.
The girl was now howling, but to no avail. She learned too early the delicate dependence of infants such as her. She was exposed so soon how unfair the world could be.
Forsaken, the child waited for the sweet release of eternal sleep, but it didn’t come. Instead of the ending she was expecting, a wind arose, smelling of wild creatures, and carried her off into the indefinite.
Helen awoke, with a powerless sensation of bereavement. She was tempted to lie in bed all day and wallow in lonesome thoughts
if it hadn’t been for the realization that this was the last of her three days to find the real killer of King Agamemnon. There’s no rush to it, a slave’s life would be more fun anyway, but there was Helen’s dignity. Helen’s stubborn, self-righteous dignity. Only on her dead body could Clytemnestra get away with falsely accusing the future queen of Sparta of murder.
Helen soon found herself thinking of going over to the guest room, where her sister was temporarily staying. She was so gonna knock some sense into her! Well, she didn’t know what she was going to say or anything; that could be made up on the spot, but bottom line, her sister needed to be confronted!
Taking long, confident strides towards the room, Helen only stopped when she couldn’t believe what her eyes were seeing. What in Hades is Aegisthus doing here?!
Open-mouthed, Helen hid behind a small statue of Zeus and watched. He’s going to Clytemnestra’s room… To further plot my trouble, Helen snorted. She’s opening the door – why doesn’t she look appalled, and why isn’t she wearing all black to show grief? She’s smiling at him… Whoa. She never smiled like that for Agamemnon… He’s smiling back… He‘s – Oh my gods – he’s cradling her head! Oh my gods, she’s smiling flirtatiously into his awaiting lips…
Helen quickly turned her back before she could witness what she unfortunately knew was about to happen. The door slammed behind the couple, undoubtedly to swallow each other in private. After many moments of deep breathing and gagging, she mused about it.
If Aegisthus and Clytemnestra have an affair; that means Clytemnestra was cheating on Agamemnon. Maybe – maybe that would give them enough motives to murder the King and frame me! Clytemnestra was also fuming about Agamemnon sacrificing their eldest daughter! Yes! Then I could report them, and they would be the ones who would be shunned! And everyone would feel guilty that they actually believed the garbage Aegisthus and Clytemnestra dished out!
Feeling proud of herself (and deliciously smug towards Aegisthus and Clytemnestra) for putting together the pieces of this puzzle, Helen began on a ramble to the sanctuary of Zeus to pray first.
“Hmmm, hmmm, hmm, hmmm.” At Helen’s content humming, a light drizzle began to fall, pale against the evening sky. No matter; she pulled the hood over her head; nothing could ruin this glorious day.
“Hmmm, hmmmm, hm.”
Huh. That’s rather odd. Where is everybody?
An unnatural feeling crept through Helen. Okay, it’s getting a bit creepy now. Seriously, where is everyone? Helloooo?
Helen looked all around.
Suddenly, something snapped. Before she knew what was happening, she burst into a run; although these were different instincts; unlike the ones of a royal princess. The rain came down, and it came down hard. Helen clutched her gray chiton so it wouldn’t tremble against the wind.
It seemed like she was running from everything now, from king Agamemnon’s death, her trial, and her sister’s unexpected lover. It was all too much, and Helen knew she could escape it.
Just one step from the temple grounds now…
“Hello, Helen.” Was that Clytemnestra? It was hard to distinguish with the fading light, even though the rain diminished. She really was the twin image of Helen; they were even dressed the same.
“I see you’ve found out.” The corner of Clytemnestra’s mouth curved up in a smirk.
“You know what Helen? You really are gullible.” She sauntered over so that her leering face was right in front of her sister’s. She knew that her sister knew that she knew her so well she could use her weaknesses to her advantage. And Helen hated it.
“I’m not gullible!” She retorted.
“Oh, but you’re wrong. You, my sister, really thought you could outwit me?”
Helen paused, pondering over Clytemnestra’s words. What did she mean?
Narrowing her eyes in condescension, her sister continued, walking circles around Helen. The only sound was her leather sandals clacking on the ground. The air crackled with tension.
“I had left those clues for you. Threw that piece of papyrus for you to find, and told Aleta about Iphigenia’s sacrifice. I had invited Aegisthus over.”
Helen was ready to throw out a scathing, witty comeback, but for the first time in her life, was speechless. Utterly speechless.
“And just like I had planned, you fell for the bait. Honestly, I thought you were more knowledgeable than that, but it seems you’re the same Helen from when we were kids. You never grew up.”
Helen felt like ignoring it, denying everything Clytemnestra spewed out, like she had always done before when she didn’t want to listen, but her sister’s words stuck truth. There was just nothing to say.
The Sun’s last rays diminished; the night was upon them.
“I only lured you to the reality of what happened because, well, I’m faithful to my blood. But you planned to be disloyal to me, so of course I must make certain you won’t be alive tomorrow to tell them.” Clytemnestra cooed, her deadly intentions betraying her sweet tone as she pulled out a dagger, brandishing the point as if she took pleasure in it. She probably did.
“I’ve killed once, I can do it again. Goodbye, Helen” In a skilful, smooth motion, she plunged the dagger into Helen’s heart,
They say milliseconds before your death, all your life passes before you. This was especially true for young Helen. In the short moment it took for Clytemnestra to bring down the blade, she remembered everything. Before, she was Iphigenia, lured to the sacrifice. Right now, she was the girl in her dream, Helen, killed when running away. After her death she would be dead like Agamemnon, roaming the underworld, eternally regretful.
Helen thought she should do something, maybe stop being so wimpy and smack the smug smile off Clytemnestra’s supercilious face, but she couldn’t bring herself to. She knew that Clytemnestra knew all her weaknesses that she would use to her advantage; she knew that this was all part of the plan, and she hated being this way. Worst of all, she knew that her sister knew that we would spend infinity wondering why she had been so pathetic as to allow her own death.
And Helen was sad. She had failed. So accepting what fate had determined for her, she exposed her chest, her head just touching the statue of Zeus, one last prayer before she died.
Now Clytemnestra knew all this. She knew exactly. This had indeed been planned from when Agamemnon sacrificed their eldest daughter. She knew that her untried, innocent sister would submit to her will.
What she didn’t know, as that fateful blade tore through the air and connected with flesh, was that Helen wasn’t her sister.
She was her half-sister.
What Helen never knew was that she wasn’t as weak as she thought. Unknown to both, Zeus, king of the gods, was Helen’s real father. Immortal blood pulsed through her veins, threatening to burst out and show itself.
So it did. Golden ichor spewed out of the wound, shooting towards the heavens; a lightning bolt that lit up the sky.
It began to rain, harder than ever. The undying water splashed over Helen’s pallid body, cleansing the wound until color and life were restored.
Clytemnestra merely stared, agape. All of her past certainty washed away with the deluge, every moment appeared more doubtful. It seems she did not know her sister as well as she believed.
Helen opened her eyes; where was she? She was dreaming, yes. Somewhere, there was an incredible light, making it hard to see anything. Everywhere she tried to look; wait, she was emitting the light! That immortal glow was deep inside her. It was a part of her.
Images flashed inside of Helen’s head, a swan that had an immortal light; not the swan, but the god within, and her mother, together. The god… could only be Zeus! With that realization, Helen went back to the mortal world.
Gaining consciousness, Helen became aware of that dagger stuck in her chest. Slowly, she pulled it out and with it came all the loathing thoughts, the mortal imperfections, the child in her. All within that sharp, silver blade.
Clytemnestra watched cautiously, her heavy breathing drowning out even the splatter of rain. She gasped as her sister’s unblinking gaze collided with hers. Those olive green eyes met their match.
More swiftly than she could follow, that unfamiliar woman closed the distance between them and returned what she was given.
With the dagger, came death. When death came, the heavens stopped crying, a few seconds short of sunrise. Has it really been that long? It really feels like it. So maybe it was.
Helen took one last glance at her sister’s pallid body, just like her own had been, took one last glance at everything she let go of, and then walked away to new horizons as dawn broke over the heavens.
The citizens of Sparta held a funeral for Clytemnestra under Helen’s command; whoever she was, Helen was still tied to her by blood.
Aegisthus got banished from Sparta and Mycenae, and took up as a beggar on the streets of Athens.
Helen became the queen of Sparta once her mother passed away, and got married off to king Menelaus. It was decreed in her fate, although Helen always liked to dream that one day, a handsome Trojan prince would take her far, far away from this place.