"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.
"You are stubborn and prideful," He said at last. Even in the dark of the room I could see His gray eyes flash. "I see I must teach you a lesson." He raised His hand, pointing it at me. "From this time forth, Kassandra, daughter of Priam, no one will believe you when you tell them what you See."
He smiled, but it was a terrible smile. "Cherish your pride, Kassandra, for it is all that you have left. And soon even that will be taken from you." With that He was gone, vanished, the air swirling a little behind Him.
"... tell them what you See," Kalliste repeated softly. "Oh, that is deliciously wicked. But it is flawed, too. Can you not see it, Kassandra?"
I shook my head. "All I know is that He killed me in all but name. His punishment was so elegantly crafted, Kalliste. He did not take away His Gift. He just made it useless, made it so that I was useless. He would have been better served if He had killed me." She hit her fists against her thighs. "And all because I would not lie with Him!"
"If you tell someone what you See," Kalliste said softly, "they will not believe you. What of someone who happens to overhear what you say when you are talking to someone else?"
"That seems... that seems... I don't know." I shook my head. That seemed ridiculous. "There is something wrong with what you said."
"If you tell Anysia what you See, she will not believe you."
"If you tell her, but you do not tell me, then I can believe her or not as I choose."
"You will not believe me, either."
"I think not," Kalliste said slowly. "His words were that no one would believe you when you told them what you Saw. But if don't tell someone, if you tell someone else, then His curse has no weight. Don't you see that?"
"No wonder you K'ftiu are such good traders," I said at last, "you have a slippery way with words. It can't be that easy, Kalliste, there must be something wrong with it."
"I think Lord Apollo has plans for you, Kassandra," she said. "I think He Sees some future in which you can serve Him. He kept you alive, but rendered your Gift useless until that time."
"Then why doesn't He just tell me what He wants done?" I asked. My words were filled with the anger and injustice of it all. "The Lady does that with you, why can't Lord Apollo do that with me? Why destroy my family and my home just to teach me a lesson? What was the lesson? Why did so many have to die? What in the name of all of the Immortals could be that important?"
"You are asking too much," she said. "I have served Them for many years, and I cannot always tell you why They have me do certain things. I am but a tool in Their hands, and the hammer does not question, it merely strikes.
"Suppose you escaped from here," she said, changing the subject. "Suppose you could go anywhere and do anything. What would you do?"
"What could I do? Where would I go?" I shook my head. "Where can I go, Kalliste? I am passable with a loom and I can bear healthy children. If the King my father was still alive I could claim kinship to a Royal House."
"Your brother Helenus is still alive," Kalliste said, "so you might still claim that kinship." She turned, resting her elbows on the window sill and staring at the lightning flickering among the distant peaks. "I was thinking of something else. Suppose you became a Seeress again?"
"People would laugh at my prophecies," I said. "They would not believe me, and a Seeress whom nobody believes comes to a bad end. I am proof of that."
"Then you need an intermediary. You tell somebody else what you See, say a lesser priestess. She does not have to believe you, but she writes it down and passes that written word on to a priestess who reads it to the person who asked for the Seeing, and they can choose to believe you or not."
I snorted in disbelief. "You are making too much of my Lord Apollo's words, Kalliste."
"I don't think so," she said slowly. "He Gifted you with this, and He only modified His Gift, He did not remove it. What He did is now part of His Gift, just like a colored thread is part of a tapestry. If you tell Anysia, she will not believe you. If she tells me, then I can choose to believe or not believe it as I see fit."
"All right," I said at last. I faced the bed in the corner where Anysia was snoring slightly. "Anysia, I See that you are in great danger. Aegisthus is going to kill Agamemnon, though I know not why. He is only awaiting a sign before doing so. When that day comes Klytemnestra will kill all of her husband's concubines and their children, and then marry Aegisthus."
Anysia murmured something in her sleep but otherwise did not stir.
"I heard an interesting story in the market recently," Kalliste said from behind me. "A woman selling fish in the market told me that Aegisthus is seeking revenge for what Atreus, Agamemnon's father, did to his brother Thyestes, the father of Aegisthus. The story is that Atreus and Thyestes feuded, and Atreus held a feast of reconciliation for Thyestes. During that feast he served Thyestes the cooked flesh of his own children."
"Barbaric," I said at once. "I doubt if even Agamemnon would stoop so low."
"Afterwards Thyestes fathered another child, Aegisthus, who was raised to avenge himself and his father on Agamemnon." She snorted. "As for what a son of the House of Atreus might or might not do, everyone knows Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to gain favorable winds to Illios." Kalliste's face was unreadable, and I remembered the rumor that Iphigenia had been concentrated to The Lady. The Lady would look with disfavor upon things like that. Could Kalliste be caught up in some plot of The Lady? It would bear thinking.
"I heard that story," I said, "but that doesn't make sense. Not unless They accept human sacrifices. I thought They no longer did. That is what I was taught," I added, remembering Kalliste probably knew more of Them than I did.
"There are more of Them than just the few you have heard of," she said, "and some still feast on human flesh. My personal opinion is that Agamemnon was after two things: first, he wants his son Orestes to inherit his kingdom. Everyone knows that, but as long as Iphigenia was alive she would inherit the kingdom under the old customs and he could do nothing to prevent that. Orestes would only gain a throne if he married into one."
"He sacrificed her to one of Them who does accept the sacrifice of people, and was granted favorable winds for that homage. Agamemnon willingly gained the animosity of several of Them for a short-term advantage. I would not be so optimistic about the future if I was him."
This all sounded twisted and uncivilized, and I said so. Kalliste surprised me by agreeing. "I have seen a pattern in the tasks I perform for Her," she said. "It falls to those few of us who work directly for Them to pound civilization into the heads of the people around us, whether they want it or not. Some resist strongly."
"These Argives certainly don't want it," I said. "Not when it is easier to steal it."
"They are little more than pirates," she said. "Oh, Anysia asks when do you See this most welcome of deaths occurring?"
"In six days," I told the sleeping girl. If Kalliste wanted me to play along with her silly game, I would. "Then will come a day and a night of death and blood will flow in the House of Atreus."
Kalliste made a silent O with her lips. And then her eyes grew vacant as if she was Seeing something herself. "Kassandra," she said. "You would do well to flee this place before the concubines and their children are slaughtered."
"Is that something you heard from a failed Seeress?" I asked.
"No," she said. "It's something I pieced together from little hints and my understanding of how the politics in these Argive families run. If I were you I would gather food and clothing on the sly and leave these accursed halls. There will be great confusion when Aegisthus strikes, and in that confusion you can slip out unnoticed."
"And they will track me down and kill me on some nameless road."
"I will put it about that you were slain. In the confusion there will be more than a few bodies, and I will make sure one resembles you."
I looked at her in disbelief. "Do you honestly believe people will believe a Seeress did not foresee her own death and flee from it?"
"In all of the excitement they may not think to ask that question," Kalliste said. "And if they do, a convenient fire can cover most anything. All that is really required is that you be far away from here when the day comes."
"What of you?" I could See Kalliste alive and tending a small shrine, but I did not want to tell her that. Somehow in all of this she would survive, I was sure of that. The Lady would not have it any other way.