Helen, Chapter 2 (full)

I hope you all enjoy chapter 2. I feel obligated to tell you that I alway forget that when I copy and paste the chapter, the paragraph breaks all disappear. I then have to go through the entire chapter and put them in. It doesn’t take all that long, but it feels like an unnecessary extra step… Go here to read my thoughts on this chapter. Comments when you’ve finished reading would be lovely!

Chapter 2

Forty men had accompanied Tyndareus to Troy, but fifteen more came off the ship with him. These men were Trojans, Clytemnestra whispered to Helen, and while several were academics or servants, six were clearly experienced warriors. Immediately curious, Helen tugged the end of her father’s tunic a few times.

“Father, why did you bring Trojans back with you? Are they going to live here now?”

“I was about to explain that, my dear – “ as Tyndareus began his answer, a young boy began his descent from the ship’s deck. His clothes were fine, his bearing regal if a little haughty, and his features handsome. The Trojans – aside from the warriors, who maintained a strong, intimidating stance – bowed as he passed them.

Tyndareus gestured toward the boy. “Allow me to introduce Hector, prince of Troy. He has come to study the traditions and battle technique of the Spartans. In one year’s time, King Priam of Troy, will visit us here and Hector will return home with his father. Until then, I will view Hector as my own son, and I have no doubt that you, my beautiful daughters, will treat him as a brother.”

Hector had paused before them, looking carefully at both Helen and Clytemnestra. “I hope we’ll be friends,” he said, his expression quite serious.

In response, Helen quickly stepped forward and flung her arms around him. Hector let her, but did not return her embrace, while Clytemnestra clenched her teeth at her sister’s impropriety. Helen took no notice of this. She laughed and said, “I always wanted a brother.”

Tyndareus hailed a servant and ordered, “Show Prince Hector to his chambers, and show his attendants theirs as well. Allow him to settle in properly, and then escort him to the main hall for the return feast.”

The servant bowed, then addressed Hector. “Please follow me, Your Highness. Your rooms are all prepared for you.”

As Hector and his Trojan entourage trailed the servant into the palace, Helen realized that the messenger who ran ahead of the ship must have informed the servants that Hector came with Tyndareus. “Father, why did no one tell me the Prince of Troy would be here?”

Tyndareus touched Helen’s cheek affectionately. “Because everyone knows how you love surprises.”

Thunder grumbled directly above them. Tyndareus looked up, startled. His face suddenly grew much darker, eyes narrow, jaw firmly set. With an arm around each of his daughters, he urged them inside, leaving the ocean behind him. The clouds above seemed to churn with anger, Helen thought. They had been inside for mere seconds when the rain began. No more than a few drops at first, it quickly became a downpour.

“That was lucky,” Helen said, giggling. “My prayer must have worked. It looks like Zeus smiled on us.”

She peered up into her father’s eyes. He looked down at her, somber and distant, and responded, “Zeus does nothing but frown at me, Helen. He has smiled on you.”

As he headed for his room, looking to change out of the seafaring clothes he had been wearing for weeks or months, he muttered, “As usual.”

Helen tilted her head as she took this in. “What does that mean?” she asked. But Tyndareus was out of hearing, and Clytemnestra just shook her head and she followed her father down the hall. Everyone around her merely passed by her on their way to somewhere else.

After a time, Helen’s nurse came to usher her back to her bedroom. The feast would begin soon, but not until Tyndareus, the returning Spartans, Hector, and the Trojans had some time to refresh their bodies and spirits. The nurse, knowing that Helen would be most restless until she could be near her father, brought out a shining handful of colorful ribbons and helped her to braid them prettily together. Helen lost herself in the task. When they had finished, she asked if she could replace her golden rope belt with the new, more unique option. Nodding and smiling, the nurse took the ribbons from Helen and helped her to make the switch.

“These colors are very pretty with that dress,” the nurse said.

“They’re like the ocean,” Helen breathed, gazing with wonder down at the purples and blues and greens of her new accessory. “I saw something in the ocean today.”

“I’m sure you did.”

Of course the nurse did not believe her – but she felt sure that she had really seen those lights in the water. Thinking that, just maybe, if she saw them again now she could point them out to the nurse, Helen made her way onto the balcony. She peered hard, scanning every visible inch of the ocean, but saw no lights. Instead, she saw, far out from shore and just below the surface, a grand and horrible bearded face with eyes even stormier than the ocean. Helen gasped – but the face was smiling at her.

“You’ll be soaked, Helen, and then you’ll have to change your dress. Come back inside,” the nurse insisted. Helen obliged, looking anxiously over her shoulder, but the face had disappeared.

When the nurse finally accompanied Helen into the main hall for the celebrations, Clytemnestra was already there, but Tyndareus was not, nor were their new guests. Disappointed, Helen moved toward her sister, who was currently circling the hall in a half-hearted inspection of the room. Helen slipped her hand into Clytemnestra’s and joined her in looking over the festive additions to the room. Light, shimmering fabric had been hung over and between the usual tapestries – well out of the way of the torches, which had all been lit, as the sun was obscured behind thunderclouds – making the room seem to glow. Numerous polished platters of food covered every surface. Musicians tuned lyres and harps.

“There are more musicians than usual,” Helen noticed.

“They are going to great trouble with the entertainment for Hector, I imagine,” Clytemnestra commented sagely. “I heard that there will be dancers later tonight.”

“I don’t understand… no other land’s princes come to stay with us, and Father doesn’t usually stay so long away from us. Why do we do all of this for the Trojans?”

Clytemnestra sighed. “You were very young the last time Father voyaged to Troy. He was gone for a long time – not as long as this time, but longer than I can recall him being away in any other kingdom. I don’t know why any more than you do, but there is something about Troy that makes it special to him. And Helen, don’t ask such questions in front of the Trojans. It will seem ungracious.”

Helen did not understand why she should have to be any more gracious than usual, but she was excited to have a brother at last and would rather not insult Hector. With this in mind, she agreed to show only happiness and hospitability in the Trojans’ presence.

Lightning flashed. It must have struck an arm’s length from the castle, for the shimmering fabric decorating the walls lit the room to impossible brightness. It appeared like all lightning, powerful but fleeting. It was over before Helen had a chance to properly admire the effect. The room seemed unbearably dim in comparison, with torches as the only source of illumination, although she liked how everything seemed to glitter. While the gray clouds grew darker outside, the hall felt like a cozy, dreamy nymph-dwelling.

Clytemnestra and Helen, completing their first circuit around the hall, met their father’s brother Icarius at the main entrance. They each received a cordial greeting from him, then a warm embrace. Their affection for him was nothing like what they felt for their father, but still very strong. “Is Father coming out soon, Uncle?” Helen asked, unable to contain her excitement.

“As soon as he can, little one,” Icarius answered, patting Helen’s cheek lightly. “He had a few matters to see to before the feast – needs to catch up on what’s happened in Sparta in the past year before he can get back to running the kingdom. It’s a lot of information to study, but don’t worry. He knows how much his daughters want to see him.”

Icarius excused himself, joining a group of the Spartans who had accompanied Tyndareus to Troy. He had grown up with them and missed their company in the past months. A goblet of wine in his hand, Icarius was soon exclaiming and laughing as animatedly as any of the Spartan warriors.

Another half an hour passed, and neither Tyndareus nor Hector had yet appeared. Helen wondered whether it would be more polite for Tyndareus to arrive first, making him present to welcome their royal guest, or for Hector to come out and wait for the king of his new host country. She wondered if their opinions on the matter would be the same.

She would have asked Clytemnestra, but her sister had claimed a sofa and was currently picking delicious-looking morsels from a golden plate at a leisurely pace. The plates of gold, Helen’s nurse had told her, were special and few, nearly always reserved for the royalty. Helen only saw them brought out for feasts; she was provided ceramic and silver dishes for everyday use. It distracted her momentarily, seeing that golden plate. They were so polished, bright, rare, that she loved to eat off of them. She began to wander toward the food, in search of her own golden plate. When she found it, she would, as always, briefly inspect her reflection. It was not often that she had the chance to see herself in a plate’s surface, and the novelty always amused her.

Helen had hardly begun her treasure hunt when she heard Tyndareus’ arrival announced. She did not wait to glimpse him, but sprinted toward the door, weaving between bodies when they blocked her way. Her small, perfectly formed feet (her nurse had commented on the shapeliness of her feet many times as she did the laces on Helen’s sandals) carried her swiftly to the entrance, where she ran headlong into her father’s arms. He staggered back one step as her force hit him, chuckling deeply.

“I’m so glad to see you, dear daughter. You look lovely. What a pretty belt of ribbons.”

Her father always noticed things like that. Helen smiled broadly. “Thank you, Father.”

An especially loud crack of lightning resounded through the room, flashing several times before it was gone. Startled, Helen gripped her father’s arm until the lightning stopped. The scowl on his face made her nervous. It was the expression he always wore when a thunderstorm became particularly violent, or lightning struck especially close.

That one, drawn out bolt signaled the end of the storm. The rain soon abated to a few drops here and there. Once Tyndareus had said a fond hello to Clytemnestra, he made his way to the head of the long table in the room’s center. Some of the men sat with him. Tyndareus promised them his full attention once he had taken advantage of the food, and they laughed, their spirits no doubt lifted by the ceasing of the rain. In no time at all, the clouds had melted from the sky, leaving them with a view of a lovely twilight.

Twinkling pinpricks of stars were slowly dotting the sky, soon to be filled with thousands of bright lights, when Hector led the Trojans into the hall. Helen, standing by her father’s chair, looked up with interest when they entered. She was eager to spend time with her new brother, to become as close to him as she was with her sister. When his eyes, sweeping over the room, met hers, she smiled brightly. Hector did not smile back, but he inclined his head to acknowledge her.

Tyndareus rose as they approached. He raised his half-full goblet and, with a hand on the Trojan prince’s shoulder, he said, “May your time with us further the good relations between our kingdoms.”

A youthful servant handed Hector a goblet of wine, not at all watered down, as Helen’s always was. He seconded Tyndareus’ wishes and drank with him. All who had heard joined in the toast, taking deep draughts of wine. Helen sipped a little, too distracted watching everyone to fully take part. What reason did she have to drink to good relations between Troy and Sparta? They seemed to get along just fine – so well, in fact, that her father stayed longer in Troy than any other country he visited. For her part, Helen found the motions of Hector’s hands and his lithe, stately way of walking much more interesting.

“Thank you, King Tyndareus, for your hospitality. The accommodations you have provided for me and my fellow Trojans are quite comfortable, with all the amenities we could have wanted. And this impressive feast is a magnificent welcome. We are extremely grateful for everything you have done.”

“It pleases me to hear of your satisfaction,” Tyndareus replied, holding out his hand to receive his newly refilled goblet. “Would you join me at my table?”

“I would be glad to, Tyndareus – and I hope to become acquainted with some of those Spartans I did not meet on our journey here.” Hector looked at Helen and Clytemnestra as he said this.

Tyndareus nodded, smiling. “There will be ample opportunity for that, young Hector. We are all glad to have you here, and any citizen of Sparta will readily engage with you, in any way you wish. I do hope that you will never experience enmity from any person under my rule.”

Helen shifted from foot to foot, growing restlessly impatient. This exchange between Hector and her father seemed unnecessary, especially after they had spent at least one month on a ship together. They would have spent enough time in each other’s company to dispense with such formalities, and let Hector take his leisure at Helen’s side. She supposed, though, that they had some reason for this formal greeting.

As Hector claimed a chair near Tyndareus and selected food from the many polished platters, Helen asked Clytemnestra why they spoke to each other like strangers. Patiently, Clytemnestra explained.

“It’s not an expression of their current relationship, Helen, but a display for those who will follow our father’s example in how they treat Prince Hector. This is Hector’s first visit to Sparta. What just took place between the Prince of Troy and the King of Sparta officially indicates their good will. And it gives our countrymen occasion to witness their King’s respect for Hector. From now on they will most likely behave with much more familiarity toward each other.”

Helen understood this, but could not grasp the necessity of it. She prodded, “But why must they do it this way? Shouldn’t they all realize Father’s regard for Hector just by the fact that there is friendship between them?”

Clytemnestra shrugged. “Why do we have ceremonies when a new ruler assumes the throne? Everyone knows who their ruler is, don’t they?”

Helen tapped her chin thoughtfully. “I suppose I understand,” she said, but it still rather puzzled her. It seemed to be one of those things that would become plain to her as she grew up and became more familiar with diplomacy – something that could hardly concern her at her age.

A Spartan warrior, stretching his arm backward, jostled the arm of a servant, causing him to spill the contents of his tray across the floor. The platter itself clattered against the stone. Tyndareus, having been deep in conversation, looked up suddenly and snapped, “Careful!”

As he did only when indulging in festal wine, he was letting his internal turmoil be known. He had cheered somewhat when Hector had entered, distracted by his duties as host of a foreign prince, but once the official welcome had been fulfilled – and Tyndareus had taken in a bit more wine – Helen noticed his expression darkening. She wished that he would lose his troubles in the joviality of the celebrations, but as the night passed, Tyndareus sank more and more into brooding isolation.

Hesitantly, tentatively, Helen approached her father and touched his arm. He turned his unfocused eyes upon her. He caressed her cheek, intoxication hindering his movement. “My daughter,” he slurred, at once loving and resentful and dejected. With a hollow noise somewhere between a laugh and a depressed groan, he stood with difficulty and wandered away.

She came to him because she hoped that she could make him feel better, but it always turned out just this way. Moments like this convinced her that, although he loved her, her father also hated her. She stood in the spot where he had left her. Her eyes started to fill with water.

Clytemnestra startled Helen when she placed her hands gently but suddenly on her shoulders from behind. Without a word, she steered Helen into the courtyard, where the ground was damp from the rain but the sky overflowed with stars. Under that infinite sky, breathing the cool, moist air, Helen calmed considerably. Still, she felt the sting of her father’s words. She looked at her feet.

“Helen, it’s not your fault. Adults always have some kind of deep wound on their souls, and because of that, they cannot help their moods. You know that Father loves you.”

Helen sighed. After a moment, she nodded. “I know – but I don’t understand. Why is he so sad? Is it just that he misses our mother? But why does he say the things he says? He never does this to you, only me.”

“Oh, Helen,” Clytemnestra burst out, sitting on a ledge. “In his way, Father slights me as well. You’re too young to understand even if I tell you this… although he loves us both, you are very special to him. I cannot make him as happy as you do.”

“Or as unhappy,” Helen added, and her sister did not deny it.

They grew quickly silent. Helen knew that Clytemnestra would not explain things fully. Everyone she asked always waved her away, claiming that when she was old enough she would be told, but she suspected that she would never find out why Tyndareus acted this way. She was still curious, but so tired of asking. Letting the peaceful sounds of the night and the faint noises from the ongoing feast become a peripheral cadence, Helen watched the stars. The stars twinkled at her. She could not tell whether they laughed at her ignorance or smiled consolingly. One more mystery.

“See any faces?” Clytemnestra asked suddenly. She leaned toward Helen, supporting her weight on one arm and smiling in amusement.

“No,” Helen responded indignantly. She knew that Clytemnestra teased good-naturedly, but she did not appreciate the joke.

“Just stars, then,” said Clytemnestra, still smiling. Helen smiled back. She could not help it, when her sister showed so much care toward her. Clytemnestra did this often; she warmed Helen’s heart when Tyndareus took away his encircling arms.

When Clytemnestra suggested that she take Helen to bed, Helen protested, “I haven’t spoken with Hector tonight. I was so looking forward to it.”

“He’s here for the next year, Helen, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to speak to him. I’m sure that in no time you’ll be as close with him as you wish.”

Helen did not feel quite as sure, but she found her sister’s assurance encouraging. Temporarily placated, she allowed Clytemnestra to lead her, by the hand, through the room full of revelers and the halls littered with those who sought a moment of quiet, to her bedroom, where Clytemnestra turned her over to her nurse.

“You must be tired, dear. You rarely stay awake this late,” the nurse commented as she unwound the laces of Helen’s sandals.

“I’m not tired. I could stay up all night,” insisted Helen. Excitement and sadness and deep thoughts jostled each other for front position in her mind. She contemplated her father’s stormy melancholy and the secrecy surrounding its source, the promise of a new friendship with Hector, the visions from the ocean, and the splendor and gaiety of the feast. With so much to occupy her, Helen could not fathom falling asleep.

Almost as soon as she lay her head down, she drifted off to her nurse’s gentle lullaby.

3 thoughts on “Helen, Chapter 2 (full)

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