"You're Kalliste's friend aren't you?" Caroline asked Kit Cameron. It was Tuesday night at the Northwestern University Women's Co-op and people were busy everywhere. "Do you know any stories?"
Kit was taking her turn at the loom and glanced at Kalliste Periakes over her glasses. Kit was like Kalliste, a woman of indeterminate age with dark hair and a slight olive cast to her skin. Her thin face showed a few lines, and at times her dark eyes seemed deep and unfathomable.
"We've known each other for years," Kit said in a soft southern drawl. "I'm sure you'd rather hear her stories than one of mine."
"She knows a few," Kalliste said. She was teaching a couple of women how to make yarn with a distaff. "Go ahead and tell them one you were talking about the other day. It had a happy ending, they'd like that."
Kit sipped her tea, considering the request. "All right," she said, putting the tea aside. "You want me to tell you a story. I'll tell you one that was not so good at the time, but it turned out good in the end."
Both Loretta and Yvonne composed themselves, just like children in school at story time. Kit suppressed her smile. They looked just like the kids she'd taught in Alabama.
"You've heard of the Trojan War," she began.
"Sort of," Loretta said. "Saw somethin' on the Discovery Channel, 'In Search of the Trojan War'. They was tryin' to find out if it really happened. Kalliste's mentioned it a couple of times."
"What did they decide?" Kit asked, her tone patiently humorous.
"They said they found evidence that it really happened."
"The Troad, that whole part of northwestern Turkey, is covered with ruins and destroyed buildings, and most of that destruction was caused by war." Kit smiled. "You could call almost any war around there a Trojan War."
"This was different," Loretta said. "This was something they found in some sort of royal archive in a ruined city somewhere in the middle of Turkey. It was a capital of some empire or something."
"That would be Hattusas," Kit said. "That was the capital of the Kingdom of the Khatti--you know them as the Hittites. Archaeologists have been digging there for 70 or 80 years. A number of years ago they found the Royal Archives." She smiled. "They picked a place to dig and hit the Royal Archives almost right away. The odds against that happening can't be calculated. I've always thought they had help deciding where to dig."
"They also said the war probably didn't last 10 years," Loretta added. "They had some general on the program who said it couldn't have because of food or somethin'. But Homer said it lasted 10 years."
"Homer was a storyteller," Kit said. "You can't rely on them for accurate history. Look at that television show MASH. It ran longer than the Korean War. No, the final part, the siege of the City, took only a couple of years. It wasn't a siege so much as a blockade. They didn't have the city completely surrounded, they just made it difficult for anyone to get in or out. That's not quite a siege, but it'll do in a pinch.
"Eventually the city fell, and when it did the men were slaughtered and the women were raped, the usual way those things happened. Kassandra, King Priam's daughter, took refuge in the Temple of Atane, you know her as Athena, though that did her no good; she was raped by Aias the Greater. The next morning, while the city burned, the women and children were told off as slaves, some to this man, and some to that one."
Loretta gasped in surprise. "That's barbaric."
Kit shrugged. "That's the way things happened back then. You act like that's a startling thing. But we saw that happen in the Balkans only a couple of years ago, in Kosovo and Bosnia. One side would take a town, kill all the men and boys, and rape the women and girls. Barbarians have always done it that way."
"Look it up in your history books if you don't believe me. Anyway, Kassandra was given to Agamemnon. He didn't want her, said he would sooner take a viper to his breast. He was going to kill her and the other priestesses of the temples, but that stopped when Helen joined them and said he would have to kill her first.
"Agamemnon wasn't that dumb. First of all she was his brother's wife, and a man who killed family was accursed. Agamemnon knew all about that, his father had been cursed for killing kin, and he was still suffering from that crime. He ended up getting killed over that, too, but that was later. He still might have killed Helen and tried to brazen it out, but he knew that the men he'd led outside Troy would have been camped outside Mycenae in a heartbeat. He didn't want to, but he took her as a concubine.
"He raped her before they got back to Greece, and he got a child on her, too. That winter, in Mycenae, she bore him a son, Teledamus. As soon as he could, Agamemnon took her to bed again. He was getting no pleasure from his wife Klytemnestra, so it was left to the slaves, especially those taken at Illios, to give him something to do at night.
"It was while she was carrying that second child, Pelops that..."
I awoke, sweating in the close heat of the room. A summer storm bawled in the distant hills, lightning flickering against the higher peaks. A breeze barely touched the curtains framing the windows. I lay there with the blankets still on, trying to go back to sleep. But I couldn't, it was just too hot.
I got out of bed and wrapped a thin robe around my swollen body. This was my second pregnancy in two years. My mother had had four children, but we were born years apart. While the King my father had had numerous concubines, mothers to his 50 sons, even he didn't treat them like brood mares, forcing them to give birth every time they could.
"It's hot in here," Kalliste said from her bed.
"I didn't know you were awake."
"In this heat?" She joined me at the window. "It never seemed so hot in Illios, and even the south side of K'ftiu was never this hot at night."
"We were close to the water in Illios," I said. "At night we always had a cool breeze off the bay. Here we are far from the water."
Kalliste nodded. "It wasn't just the heat, was it, Kassandra." I looked at her curiously, but she was staring through the window at the guards atop the walls. "What do you See?"
"Why should I tell you?" I asked. "You would never believe me, nobody would."
"Perhaps," she said with a small smile. "But I am still curious. What do you See for yourself and for Agamemnon? The whole palace is thick with plots, and I have no doubt you are Seeing them."
I opened my mouth to speak, but she stopped me with a gesture. "Tell me something else instead." She eased back from the window, fanning herself with her hand. "Tell me, priestess of Phoebus Apollo, He who is known as Far-Seer, tell me what happened that night when you rejected Lord Apollo? What really happened? Tell me exactly. I've a mind to hear that instead of something you'll make up about this palace and the plots brewing here."
"Don't you know?"
She shook her head.
I gazed at her, wondering how much of the story to tell. But she was a priestess of The Lady. Even more, we were friends.
"He came to me..."
He came to me in the Temple. He came to me in the still of the evening, in the repose that followed a day of strife. He came to me not as my Lord Phoebus Apollo, but as a God who was also a man, and in coming to me He wanted those things a man always wants from a woman.
"My Lord, I cannot," I said with a shake of my head.
"It is not hard," He said. In the dim light of the bed chamber He wore the guise of a man. But even there I could see He was more than 'just' a man. He was perfect in all ways: strength, power, presence, a beautiful man that shamed all other men by comparison. Even my brother Hektor was but a pale reflection of Him.
"Come," He said softly, taking a step toward me, His hand out.
"My Lord, no," I said, clutching the blanket to my breast. "Ask anything of me but this." I had seen other girls go to men, I had heard their stories. I did not want to think of my Lord Apollo as just another man driven by His lusts. Somehow I did not want to believe that of Him.
"No," I said with a shake of my head. I pulled the blanket tighter around me in protection.
"I won't hurt you, Kassandra."
Men always said they would be gentle, but if they were so gentle why did a girl hurt so much afterwards? And my Lord Apollo would be more than a man, especially in that way.
"Why do You ask this of me?" I asked. I wanted to go to Him, I could feel the pull of Him and with nearly every fiber of my being I wished to lie in His arms. But... but I didn't want to think of Him that way. I had this image... He should be above that. He should be pure and noble, not lewd and grubby like I had seen too many times from the men who inhabited the palace.
I shook my head.
"Do not refuse me, Kassandra."
"Why are You being just like other men?" I asked plaintively. "Why do You demand this of me? Am I so lovely that I cloud Your mind? Is my beauty so ravishing that it is all You can think of?" I had heard stories about Them and the way that They acted around women. He was silent, which made me wonder. I wasn't plain, but I was no beauty, either. Compared to Helen I was very ordinary. So why did my Lord Apollo desire me? Somehow He disappointed me. Somehow I had expected better of Him.
.... There is more of this story ...