"Another story?" Kalliste Periakes asked Carlyn humorously. She was sitting at the loom, passing the shuttle back and forth. "Surely you have something better to do." She was a slender woman of indeterminate age with lustrous dark hair and lively eyes. Today she had her hair pulled back so she looked a little like Audrey Hepburn.
"She just broke up with her boyfriend," Anna whispered in Kalliste's ear. Anna ran the Women's Co-op and pretty much knew what was going on in everyone's life.
"Ah." Kalliste nodded. "And right now she wants affirmation in her life."
"Affirm--." Anna blinked in surprised. "I hadn't thought of it that way, but I guess you're right."
"I've seen it before." Kalliste watched Carlyn, who had a distaff in her hand and was trying to spin up a skein of thread. "Carlyn, here, try it this way." She put her hand on Carlyn's, and with a twist-flip of the wrist set the spindle going. The thread seemed to grow magically. Kalliste removed her hand, letting Carlyn do it on her own.
"It's almost like magic," Carlyn said, her smile wiping away the lines on her face.
"It's not magic." Kalliste smiled. "Women have been spinning thread as long as there's been cloth."
"This is why I joined the Co-op," Carlyn said. "I wanted to get in touch with those things that have been the province of women through all of history."
Kalliste laughed. "You are welcome to it. I've spun more than my share of thread." She studied Carlyn's face, and then looked at Anna with a raised eyebrow. "I had a story I was going to tell, but now I don't think so."
Anna nodded, her long face solemn. "Carlyn's boyfriend left her for someone else," she said softly. "Worse, he married the other girl while stringing Carlyn along. Do you know any stories that could ease that pain?"
"One," Kalliste said. "Oh, I know more than that, but there's this one I have she might like." She paused, thinking. "I'm not sure, though. It ended badly for almost everyone involved, and the person who got revenge was supposedly dead at the time."
"Um, maybe not," Anna said. "Still, she needs to get pulled out of her self pity."
"She really needs a different story," Kalliste said quietly. "Still, if you think this will help.
"Carlyn? Have you heard about Iphigenia's revenge on her father for killing her?"
Carlyn looked up in surprise. "Revenge for killing her? What... a supernatural story?" She gave Kalliste a thin smile. "Don't tell me you're telling ghost stories now."
Kalliste's smile was broader than Carlyn's. "No, nothing like that." She saw others slipping into the room. "I see I'm going to have an audience for this."
"You usually do for your stories," Anna said.
Kalliste smiled patiently. She waited until everyone was settled and those who wanted coffee or tea had it in their hands. "All right. How many have heard of the Trojan War?"
"You've spoken about it before," Roxanne said from the corner as hands went up around the room. "Are you going to tell us a new version of the Trojan War?"
"Nothing so bold," Kalliste replied. She tossed her head and smiled as if at some private joke. "I have a friend coming to town tonight. I'll let her tell you about the Trojan War. She has a unique view of the Trojan War."
"Is she another archaeologist?" Anna said.
"No, Kit's not a..." Kalliste paused, smiling. "I'll let Kit tell you what she's doing these days. She has a unique perspective on the Trojan War. No, I'll tell you what happened after Troy fell. It's a tale of revenge that is heavily entwined with the beginnings of the war against Troy.
"All right, first a little history. Agamemnon was the King of Mykenae and was supposed to be the leader of the Greek army that sacked Troy at the end of the Trojan War. He had a wife Klytemnestra, a son Orestes, and two daughters, Iphigenia and Elektra. When the army had been assembled at the city of Aulis they were faced with unfavorable winds. Everyone grew impatient; they were sitting in a harbor when they could be off slaughtering innocents and looting towns.
"Agamemnon consulted an oracle, and he was told that if he sacrificed his eldest daughter one of the Gods would give him favorable winds so he could sail to Troy. He did this, but it's more complicated than that."
"Didn't his wife kill him in revenge?" Anna asked. "I thought I read that somewhere."
"That was part of it," Kalliste said, "but there's more to the story than that. You see tradition held that whoever Iphigenia married would become King. Agamemnon wanted his son Orestes to inherit the throne. Worse, Iphigenia was a consecrated priestess to Britomartis, the Goddess of the Nets and the Hunt, though you may know her as Artemis, and Agamemnon held the Goddess Britomartis to be the cause of a lot of his problems. So sacrificing his daughter cleared the way for Orestes, revenged himself on Britomartis, and got the winds he wanted so he could go to Troy."
"That's sick," another girl said. "Killing his own daughter like that and..."
"I know it's sick," Kalliste said. "And it's what led to Agamemnon's death several years later. Now during..."
During the sack of Troy I was apportioned to Agamemnon by lot. Now Agamemnon claimed to serve Zeus and had a hatred of those who served The Lady, and as I served P'dania he would have slain me out of hand. During the war I had attended Helen as was due her station. I had accompanied her to Troy of my own free will. That kindness paid itself back on the cold beach next to the Meander while the ashes of burning Troy settled around us.
The Argives herded all of us women together, and we were apportioned like so many cattle. Ten women and four children to this warrior, eight women and three children to that one. That lottery gave me to Agamemnon, who had previously chosen mostly young to middle-aged women, proven workers who could labor and bear children in his service.
My relation with Helen was peculiar, to say the least. She knew who I was. Few things ever escaped those keen blue eyes. She knew those secrets about me that I dared not reveal to others, and knew also that I was a priestess of The Lady. That served me at Troy during the siege, it served me again when all of us in Her service were set to one side to be slaughtered.
Helen, likewise consecrated to Her, put an end to that foul deed when she realized what was to happen and boldly left Menelaos' side to stand with us. Reluctantly Agamemnon accepted the lot that placed him over me. He had taken the women of others during the siege, so the others forced him to take me. Little did either of us realize what awaited us, and the roles we would play at Mykenae.
Klytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife, had impatiently awaited her husband's return. With him away at war Klytemnestra had taken a lover. Aegisthus was his name. Some said he was a prince from a distant city, others that he was a man revenging himself on the House of Atreus for a wrong done years before to Aegisthus' father. Iphigenia was dead, and Agamemnon's other daughter Elektra mysteriously vanished--one tale said she was seized in a pirate raid, another said she was carried off by the Gods, while others said she was in hiding plotting her revenge on her father.
Whatever the truth of the matter, the issue was clear: if Agamemnon fell in battle, Aegisthus could become king by marrying Klytemnestra. This was not a step taken lightly, and the lovers had sought divine help for their deed. Hearing Agamemnon was returning, they had been hoping and praying for a sign. What they got was most unexpected.
Others had troubled voyages back to their homes, we sailed over smooth seas. We paused for the occasional raid, as if Agamemnon and his men could not get enough of killing. Ships that were filled with the loot of Troy soon overflowed with the casual booty of a dozen towns and cities. Soon there was scarcely room for those of us he had previously taken.
Even on ship I could feel how thick the tension was that gathered around him. Agamemnon understood loyalty as few did. Over the years he had sought to reinforce his position as head of the Argives by taking to bed every slave woman of child-bearing age in the palace, and then placing their children as wives or sons in every kingdom in the Argolid. By the time he sailed to Troy his seed was in every palace in the land. As we sailed home he sought to continue this practice. He did not wait for us female slaves to be installed in the palace. Every night of that trip home he took two of us to his bed. I had my turn. Unlike others I did not come away with his get, for which I privately gave thanks.
We landed at Argos on a fair day. The sailing season was at its height and the beach was crowded with ships carrying the lifeblood of the land. As we bore into view I could see a great scurry in the towns and ships. For ought they knew we were pirates come to feast while the lord was away at war. Agamemnon sent in a boat with the tidings of who we were. We followed slowly, coming ashore to much jubilation and celebration. Wives welcomed their husbands gone these many months. Mothers clasped their sons, sisters their brothers. In the excitement few noticed that the ships carrying the warriors from Mykenae and Argos together scarcely numbered half those that had sailed so bravely from just one city only two years before. War, hard war, had cut down the prime of the Argolid, laying great lord and minor warrior in the dust side by side.
In the next few days we traveled up country, visiting each of the kings and warriors who had fought at Agamemnon's side. He was careful to present himself arrayed in regalia befitting a conqueror. He dispensed the gold of Troy to all in sight, securing their loyalty with a generous hand. He likewise dispensed some of the slaves he had taken, slaves to work the land emptied by the death toll of war. Twice he passed me over, ridding himself of those who had proven difficult for him to tame in bed. Perhaps he found me more tractable, perhaps he sensed something in me, perhaps it was something else. More and more, as the days slipped past, I was called to his bed in the evening. I grew used to his weight, the harsh strength of his arms, and the rough touch of the scars on his sweat-slicked skin.
In such state we finally proceeded up the road to Royal Mykenae. The day was hot and windless. Dry dust kicked up by the horses and feet of his warriors rose slowly in the air after we had passed. Around us olives were drooping heavily from their branches and wheat nodded gently to the slightest touch of breeze. People lined the ramparts above us, cheering until they were hoarse. Royal Mykenae's curved walls glistened in the afternoon heat. Royal Mykenae, where Agamemnon had patiently gathered the strands of loyalty and power, gathered as a spider spins the threads of its web. Royal Mykenae, the center of the Argive world, with Agamemnon ever ready to pounce on the unwary or unlucky fly.
Klytemnestra's greeting was restrained. She bent her knee to her husband, and they spoke together briefly. I had never seen her, though I had heard of her. I saw a woman several years past the prime of youth, care lines worn in her fleshy face. Her brown hair seemed lifeless, as did her regalia and finery. It was as if she had been worn down by the responsibilities thrust upon her when her husband had gone across the seas with his hundred ships and the finest warriors of his land. As I was remanded to her chief slave, I noticed how lifeless and flat her brown eyes were, only coming to life when they gazed at the crowd of men gathered across the courtyard, men who were officially granted guest privileges in Mykenae.
The chief slave assigned me to Agamemnon's bath as his attendant. I was to wash him, oil his skin and hair, and take care of his other needs. In this Agamemnon was unsatisfied; I tended him for more than a year and yet he did not get a child on me, for which I was thankful.
Two years after returning from Troy, on the morning of the first day after the close of the sailing season, Agamemnon finished his bath and sent me to my cot. As I did after every time with him, I bathed and then prayed to The Lady. This morning my prayers were answered. I knew what I was to do. I spent the morning assembling and preparing the dress of a senior priestess of The Lady. As the time of the mid-day meal approached I slipped into regalia I had not worn since before Helen was born. As servants prepared the food I prayed and nerved myself for what was to happen.