A Mortal Affair

Tyndareus was at his wits' end. Every eligible man of Achaea stood now at his doorstep, wanting the beautiful Helen for a bride. With her hand came the kingdom of Sparta, which he supposed was rather less desirable than his daughter, being rocky and not particularly fertile.

The thoughtful Odysseus had arrived just in time to hear his friend's complaints. He had, of course, precious little interest in Helen, being possessed now of a son in addition to a wife whom he loved dearly. Nevertheless, the lord of Ithaca could no less resist a puzzle than he could a brawl—and the matchmaking of Helen of Sparta was sure to provide both in full and equal measure.

"Curse beauty," Tyndareus moaned. "There'll be a war over the foolish chit yet."

Odysseus laughed. "My wife Penelope suggests that you bid Helen choose her mate, so as to leave yourself blameless."

"Helen would make a right mess of it," the old Spartan disagreed. "What, if you gave her a choice she'd run right back into old Theseus' hands, and I won't have Athens overtaking Sparta on any account."

"Well, my old friend, you certainly won't have it both ways," Odysseus replied in disapproving accents. "All alliances are politics, but your mandate is first to keep the peace between these men and then to ensure Sparta's survival. Any action you take that does not address the first consideration will inevitably destroy any prospects you have for the successful deliverance of the second."

Tyndareus tossed restlessly that night. Of course the Ithacan spoke truth—for when was he ever wrong?—Odysseus, like Laertes before him, was wise beyond his years. Tyndareus even suspected that his friend had the answer to the problem and refused to say it. Odysseus was the cleverest devil that the king of Sparta had ever met, but it was well-known that he would only appear where there was something for him to gain. Usually entertainment. Oh, yes, Ithaca would be fully entertained by this sad business. It was aggravating.

As Tyndareus had rightly suspected, Odysseus did indeed have a solution. However, he had no intention of keeping it to himself—that would embroil his own kingdom in a war, which was not at all to his taste. As Sparta slept, he dictated his decision to a scribe he had found lolling on the steps in front of the women's quarters. "I swear," he murmured, so as not to wake Agamemnon of Mycenae, with whom he'd been forced to share a room, "that I shall not participate in these games…" he paused. "No, that won't do a jot. Begin again."

Night turned to dawn as Odysseus attempted sentence after sentence. How to craft an Oath that would neither deeply offend its takers nor force them into an unwanted agreement? Agamemnon stirred, and Odysseus turned sharply. The scribe had fallen drunkenly over his papyri some hours earlier, and at that moment the Ithacan king was grateful that Agamemnon had never learned his letters.

"What's this? A scribe?" he muttered, waking up, his bleary eyes surveying Odysseus' half of the chamber. "Ah, Penelope's literate, is she not. Really, Odysseus, no king has any business being in love with his wife." Agamemnon lurched out of bed. "Clytemnaestra's an excellent bed, but I'd expect nothing more from her than children."

Odysseus' smile may have tightened slightly, but if it did, Agamemnon hardly noticed. "It was Priam I was writing to," he quipped, "to inquire as to whether we might expect any Phrygian suits."

As expected, the very notion threw Agamemnon into a rage. "Curse you, and Priam too—it was bad enough that those damn Easterners came here for Telamon's brother's wedding, that anybody had thought to invite them, but we won't hand any of our women into their barbarian hands! Anyway," he added, a touch more reflectively, "they don't have any eligible bachelors. Curse you in any case, Odysseus." With that, Agamemnon stalked out of the room. He, like Odysseus, had arrived for the entertainment factor—unlike the Ithacan, however, he was more liable to incite a fight than to prevent one from occurring. He was struck suddenly with a flash of inspiration. If the powerful lord of Mycenae was, as Odysseus now expected, trundling towards Tyndareus' quarters, then he would need to act quickly.

"I've solved your problem," he announced, interrupting Mycenae and Sparta's quiet dialogue. "Agamemnon, if you please." Odysseus gestured towards the door, casting Tyndareus a meaningful look as he did so.

The dark-haired king's face reddened. "Why, of all the—"

"I'm sure he won't be more than a moment," Tyndareus interjected smoothly. "After all, we were speaking of nothing more than my daughter whom you've wed."

Glowering, Agamemnon marched out, and Tyndareus turned on the only remaining man in front of him. "Odysseus," he growled, "what could you possibly be thinking? If he was not already on the verge of attacking Sparta, he certainly will be now!"

"He won't, not at all," came the cheery reply. "Because Helen is contracted to wed his brother." Tyndareus gaped, a response that more than sufficed for the gleeful Odysseus. "You're to arrange games for your daughter's hand: running, chariot racing, wrestling, dueling, and spear-throwing. There'll be no bowmanship, as it's considered cowardly, and because it's not to Menelaus' strength. Keep listening," he interjected, as Tyndareus began to speak. "The plot works perfectly. Menelaus is the strongest warrior amongst us, save perhaps his brother—and myself—and neither of us are able to compete, being contracted already to women of your family. He'll win the five competitions, and you'll give Helen into his hands."

Tyndareus objected. "The intelligence you provide me with regarding Menelaus' prowess is known to all Achaeans. They'll know it as a set-up, and I don't much fancy Menelaus running my kingdom in any case."

"You're an old man, Tyndareus, it won't be your kingdom much longer," came the reasonable reply. "There is a catch to the competition."

"And what could that possibly be?"

Odysseus' excitement was infectious. "You'll not permit any suitor to compete for Helen's hand unless they swear fealty both to you and her future husband in your respective roles as her protectors."

Tyndareus blinked. The idea took a moment to sink in, but slowly, he began to smile. "And so we must rig the games to allow Menelaus' suit to succeed, because Agamemnon will never agree to such an Oath unless a personage of the House of Atreus rules Sparta as well as Mycenae." He paused, thoughtfully, and bade the boy who sat perpetually at his side bring Agamemnon forth. "You're quite the trickster, but it's not at all a poorly-conceived notion."

In fact, it was a particularly well-conceived notion, and, with Agamemnon's blessing, events transpired precisely as the three kings had intended. If Helen was at all disappointed that Menelaus had won her, she disguised it well. The feast to celebrate her union was rather less lavish than Peleus' had been, but went unmarred by the untoward events that had graced it. More strikingly, there was not a woman—save her own—to be seen at it. Odysseus noted to himself, not without concern, that Helen's lovely eyes seemed as lonely as they were brilliant. Achaea had been saved for now from war on the lady's account, but he was not entirely convinced that this state of affairs could continue indefinitely. He fervently hoped that he hadn't made some dreadful mistake. Although he sailed home and into Penelope's golden-toned arms, feted again as the king that'd saved Achaea from certain disaster, the niggling uneasiness stayed, dormant, in the back of his mind.

A/N. Hooray, first review! I do have a few things to say at this point. Firstly, this will, yes, eventually be a story about Cassandra. I love the rest of the Trojan Cycle too much to leave it out, though.

I've borrowed certain parts of the Zimmer-Bradley conception of Phrygian women and combined them with the relative independence that has historically been ascribed to Hittite royalty. Research has indicated to me that women from the eastern side of the Aegean generally were afforded more liberty than their Bronze Age Greek counterparts, so at least to some degree I'm not going out of my way to make the Achaean soldiers look stupid and the Trojans look modern and advanced. That was nevertheless a part of the historical reality.

I've taken the liberty of having them all worship the same gods.

I'm really consciously trying to set up a world where the politics of the Trojan War's ultimately do make sense. Too many stories I've read leave out all the political intricacies and intrigues that must have plagued the region--if Troy hadn't already existed where it was, its status as a trading port meant that somebody would have built it anyway, and that it would have been rich. That's why I've shifted this story from the Mythology to the Historical section. Gods aside, I do want to be as clear as I can with the fact that there's a really startling historical reality that underlies the Trojan cycle.

As for my anonymous reviewer--I would never describe Cassandra as 'selfish', but certainly the Apollo/Cassandra relationship is one of the most interesting and complex and overlooked in the Trojan Cycle. I've written and rewritten this story a few times, actually, but never with a really close mind to keeping it in some kind of historical context. As a result I don't really know how she's going to turn out. We'll have to see, given that she hasn't even been born yet!