Chapter Eight

"A man can not be too careful in the choice of his enemies." – Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

"…and bids you, by the power of the Oath of Tyndareus which you swore, to assemble your military might at Aulis, from there to travel across the Aegean to the Troad, to avenge the wrong done against King Menelaus of Sparta."  Having finished his recitation, the herald cleared his throat, but remained staring straight ahead, fearing to look at the King of Ithaca.

Odysseus might have stood had Penelope not been gripping his hand so tightly.  He knew if he glanced over at his wife, he would see an ashen-white face and horror-stricken blue eyes.  He looked instead out the window, at the city that was settling down to dinner, and the fields beyond that would soon begin to yield their meager profits.  The king thought on these things, and sighed.

"No."

The herald looked more than mildly surprised.  "King Agamemnon and King Menelaus command your presence, sir.  They will not accept a declination."

"Tell them anything you like.  Tell them I've gone mad.  But I will not go to Troy."

"Sir—"

"I am content at home," Odysseus firmly declared.  "I have no wish for war, as Agamemnon does.  I do not seek to crush the entire world under my thumb.  No."

The herald opened and closed his mouth a few times, then slunk out of the room, looking over his shoulder several times as he went.  Odysseus shook his head again, and stroked the beard he had been growing since his wedding.  "What… What now?" Penelope asked.

"This won't be the end of it," Odysseus said, his voice sad and resigned.  "He will be back, or, more likely, the Kings themselves will come for me.  But…"  He looked up to the ceiling, turning an idea over in his mind.  "There may still be a chance… with enough of Athene's help…"

~~*~~

"Odysseus won't come, my lord.  I was told to tell you he'd gone mad."

Agamemnon waved the herald off, and turned back to Menelaus and Nestor.  "Gone mad, has he?"  He snorted.  "Mad with love for that wife of his, whatever her name was… well, we'll see about that."

"They say that Achilles will not come, either," Nestor reported.

Agamemnon's dark eyes narrowed.  "Who says that?"

"His mother," Nestor replied.  "Thetis."

"The overprotective hen… a boy of that talent, kept from what will be the greatest invasion of all time!" Menelaus erupted.  "We cannot win Troy without him, brother, you know what—"

"I know what Calchas said," Agamemnon interrupted.  "And I know equally well, as should you, that I do not accept 'no's from men who have sworn an oath.  Now… we can't get Achilles that way, he was too young to be suitor to your wife, but Odysseus…"  Agamemnon rapped his knuckles on the table, where several maps had been lain out for his perusal.  "Odysseus must be persuaded.  And only the word of kings will command him."

"You wish us to go," Nestor said.

"I do," Agamemnon replied.  "I would go myself, but that there are… other matters than need tending to."

Menelaus's eyes widened in realization.  "Another prophecy to fulfill?"  Agamemnon nodded.  "Well, then.  I shall be glad to go to Ithaca to fetch our errant ally."

"Very noble of you, brother," Agamemnon said.  "I will send my captain Palamedes in my stead.  You will coerce Odysseus from Ithaca… and then go see what you can learn from Thetis."

~~*~~

"Well," said Nestor, as the three men watched the King of Ithaca plough errant lines through the field, leading, rather than led by, a mule and a cow, "you do have to give him credit for trying."

"What, exactly, do we do if he has gone completely mad?" Menelaus asked.

Palamedes scowled, and turned towards Penelope, who was holding her son close to her chest.  "How long has he been like this, my lady queen?"

"Oh, ages," she replied noncommittally, shifting Telemachus's weight from one arm to the other.  Palamedes's frown deepened.  He had a suspicion that not only had Odysseus not gone mad, but that his wife was in on the scheme, and Palamedes had never liked clever women.  In one swift movement, he stepped forward and snatched Telemachus from his mother's arms.  Penelope cried out and started after him, but Menelaus grabbed her by one white arm.

Palamedes, awkwardly holding the baby, strode across the field to where Odysseus still marched onward.  Telemachus started to cry, as though aware that this strange man should not have been carrying him, and broke into outright wails when Palamedes set him down on the earth, directly in the path of Odysseus's plough.  Palamedes stepped back and watched as the king turned the plough aside in plenty of time to avoid harming his son, weaving a wide arc so that neither animal would go near the infant.  He continued for a few more steps before coming to a halt and raising a hand to rub his forehead.  The mule, looking annoyed, snorted.  The cow had no commentary to provide.

Odysseus left the plough and went to pick up his son.  Telemachus's crying soon quieted, as his father rocked him, murmuring soothing words.  He strode to the waiting emissaries of Agamemnon, looked Palamedes straight in the eye and said, "You bastard."

"I had my charge, King of Ithaca."

"You should never use a man's son against him.  That's a vile trick."

"And feigning madness isn't?" Menelaus snapped.  Nestor was shaking his head, a somewhat saddened look on his face.

"I had my reasons," Odysseus said darkly.  "But so be it, gentlemen.  If you wish this war, and you wish Odysseus in it, you have him.  But I dareswear you will regret both desires before all is done."  His piercing glance shot through Palamedes as he said this.  "Give me a short time to prepare my things.  We can leave on the evening tide."

~~*~~

"He is not here," Thetis stated simply.

Odysseus gave her a scrutinizing look, but the Nereid did not flinch.  "Lady, this war can not be won without him."

"Then I suppose it will not be won," she replied, resuming work on her embroidery.  "Perhaps you should stay home and save yourselves the trouble."

The Ithacan king's jaw set.  Indeed, such an outcome would please Odysseus greatly, and for a moment, he allowed himself to wonder what would happen if he returned to Agamemnon with the news that Achilles simply could not be found.  But he had his duty, and would see it through.  And Agamemnon is so bent for this war, he would probably go ahead without Peleus's son, even if it mean the doom of us all.  Odysseus cleared his throat.  "You can not protect him from his destiny, Lady."

"His destiny is his own choice!" Thetis snapped, then abruptly realised she had perhaps said too much, and returned her attention to her work.

"Indeed," Odysseus said coolly.  "In that case, I thank you for your time, Lady Thetis."  He made an elegant bow, as did his companions, and departed.

~~*~~

"So that's it?" asked Palamedes.  "We just leave now?"

"Now, we go to Scyros," Odysseus replied.  "For I have heard that Achilles has a sister in the court of Lycomedes there."

Palamedes furrowed his brow.  "But Achilles has no sister that I know of."

"Precisely."

When the recruitment party landed on Scyros, they asked immediately to be shown to the lady's quarters.  The request was flatly refused, but Odysseus, in no mood to take no for an answer, barged right through the front doors , grabbed a eunuch by the back of his neck, and demanded to be led to the women's rooms.  Terrified, the man squeaked, and did as he was told.  As he strode through the hallways, Odysseus grabbed a trumpet from a standing guard, who was too surprised to react.

Once shown into the room where all the collected women of the court of Lycomedes were sitting, Odysseus looked around once, then blew a charge call on the signal.  Nearly all the women yelped and covered their ears, but one youth, rather broad-shouldered for a female, looked up towards the source.  Odysseus lowered the trumpet and grinned.  "There's our man."

~~*~~

The procession through Aulis had been a cheerful one, a wedding parade, but when it became apparent what purpose Mycenae's princess was truly to serve, the mood sobered considerably.

Agamemnon steeled himself not to look down at his dark-haired daughter more than was necessary.  He could feel all eyes on him, some supporting, some condemning, all judging.  I will be forgiven for this, he thought.  The gods, at least, understand.  What care I for the opinion of mortals, when I am doing the will of the gods?  But as he looked across the room, he met the dark eyes of his wife, and nearly shivered from the malice he saw there.  She will hate me for all time for this… Well.  It can't be helped.  Still, though, something had shaken him.  He had seen anger and hatred in the eyes of men on countless battlefields, but this female ire, burning deep below the surface, somehow seemed more dangerous.

Iphigenia, for her part, bore it all as well as a woman could.  Agamemnon felt that this was a daughter he could be proud of, for though she could not check all of her tears, those that fell had the grace to do so silently.  Even lying on the altar, Iphigenia did not snivel and sob like a lesser woman.  She accepted her fate with the dignity of a Princess, and Agamemnon was glad for it.  "Artemis keep you well, daughter," he murmured as he raised the knife.

~~*~~

The fleet set off with the next tide.  Before setting out, the kings gathered for one final meeting.  No one spoke of the sacrifice, though at least two among the assemblage met Agamemnon with harsher eyes than usual.  He expected as much from Achilles, who had been an unwitting accomplice to the deception.  But the dark glare of Odysseus surprised him at first.  Would not any king have done as much?  The thought haunted the back of his mind that no, not every king would have acted in this way.  Perhaps most of them would.  If Menelaus had been forced to sacrifice his daughter in order to win back his wife, Agamemnon felt certain that he would have.  Odysseus, though, was a different sort of man.  His desire was to stay home rather than go to war, and yet, when killing his son might have made that possible, Odysseus could not make the sacrifice.

This realisation troubled Agamemnon for a short time.  Eventually, though, he consoled himself with a certain disdain for the family-man.  Kings should not place familial love before power and conquest, he assured himself.  A King who allows such events to rule him lets the world know his weakness.  No, I could never be such a man.  Such a man is a vulnerable leader, and I will be no such man.

~~*~~

[Authoress's Note:

[I was not really fond of this chapter, which is why it took so long to write.  But it had to happen.  I know it seems disjointed, and I swear that's what I was going for.  You'll see why in the next chapter.  Better things next time.  Reviews are, as always, appreciated]