Faithless Helen

Mourning and war had turned Helen into a light sleeper. After the almost-full moon set and the city had gone to bed, she changed quickly into a heavy wool garment. It was fine, dark wool the color of night. She tied a heavy ribbon under her breasts to hold it in place and pulled the skirt of the dress up and tucked it in. She put on the heavy sandals she had worn to travel to Mount Ida just a few weeks before.

She added a heavy rope and a small bag of possessions, testing the weight to be sure it wouldn’t be too much. She had brought crates of items from the palace of Sparta when she left and now she would be returning with just this small bag. Sparta would have to do with just this small bit of her dowry returned, she thought. On top of it all she placed a dark veil, hiding the rope and the pack on her back underneath its length. She arranged it carefully to hide her skin, still as pale as the moonlight itself.

The night air was crisp as Helen clung to the shadows. She made a silent prayer to her father Zeus above that she would go unnoticed tonight, guiding herself by starlight and memory. The great ribbons of heaven’s stars strung out above her, lighting the way. If she closed her eyes, she could have made it without so much as stubbing her toe on a crossing stone.

The weight of the pack grew as she traveled. With each movement, she jumped at the sound of her dowry jostling and she watched for the light of an oil lamp in the window or a flash of hearth-light in the doorway that would betray her.

At last, she stood at the bottom of the ramp leading up to the battlements. So gave thanks for coming this far. On the battlements above the firelight was eclipsed now and again by restless soldiers. She watched for a while, letting the cold creep up her bare toes. She wasn’t prepared to return home yet, but the guards and the light caused her problems.

They’d grown complacent from so many years atop the walls. In ten years the Greeks had never tried to come over the walls. That wasn’t how they worked. The guards knew they were just for show. They spent the long nights gossiping and gambling. Helen just had to wait for an opening.

It was a risk to wait. It was a risk to go. She breathed evenly to calm herself, praying to her father, faithless Zeus, for the opening she needed. Of all the gods, he had been the least likely to answer her prayers over the years. But he had backed the Greeks in this war and Helen begged him to interfere for her now. And end to this war and a Greek victory awaited them all if she survived this night.

At last the men at the top of the ramp were called away to one of the fires nearby. Helen breathed a sigh of relief as she stood, stretching sore muscles in her legs and back. She pulled her veil close as she climbed the ramp, a patch of darkness rising out of the city. It was bright in the fires up above, but she only needed a moment unseen to anchor her ropes. She ran her hands along the cool stones, searching for her spot. The walls of Troy were smooth with no gaps where she could tie a rope. The braziers where the fires burned were heavy bronze, but Helen doubted that their tripods would support even her slight weight.

She clung to the wall, looking for something that would anchor her weight. Above the quiet of the city, the sounds of the soldiers’ gossip rose and fell in her ears. With each laugh, each grunt, each whoop as they rolled the knuckle bones, Helen’s heart jumped out of her stomach. She grew hot underneath her veil and pulled it open to get a breath of chilly air.

Her fingers grew stiff with cold as she worked them over the walls in the darkness, looking for a crack in the mortar that she could use. Her hand brushed a solid metal and she pulled back from it in surprise. She touched it again tentatively. It was warmer than the stone around it, making it easier to find in the darkness. The flickering firelight cast odd shadows around it. Helen couldn’t remember a brass ornament in the wall here, but maybe she could use it. There was an eye at the center of it with hooks around it and a rope already attached.

Helen jumped back from it, almost upsetting the brazier beside her. It was a grappling hook. The Greeks were coming.

She pulled her veil closer and looked around, but none of the guards had noticed her. She wasn’t sure what to do now. She could call out, get herself killed, or try to kill whomever came over the wall. They were all bad choices. She retreated back down the ramp to the city below, hiding in the shadows. The sun wouldn’t be up to reveal her for several hours, still, and she wanted to see.

She tried to steady herself. If the Greeks were coming into the city now there would be a battle inside the gates. She knew that she should get to safety, throw herself at the feet of the god in the nearest temple. They might still kill her there if the gods weren’t paying attention tonight. She knew that she should call out to wake the people.

But she waited. And soon three men passed in Greek tunics. She recognized the bearded man in the front. He was dressed in rags and his face was lined and weather beaten from the years. But the clever face and tall bearing were the same. It was Odysseus. The clever suitor who had come to her father’s house so many years ago.

Helen couldn’t help herself. Overcome by homesickness and nostalgia she called out to him quietly from the shadows. He drew his sword against her as she stepped out of the shadows and she quickly unpinned the veil over her face to reveal herself.

“Helen?!” he asked.

She nodded, keeping her eyes low. The alley behind her offered shadows and a chance to disappear again if she chose. She could pull her veil close and slip away. Now that she’d revealed herself, she was unsure of what to do next.

“What are you doing here?” Odysseus asked, stepping forward. She backed away from him, suddenly afraid by the look on his face. The shadows of the alley hid his face as they stepped into it. “If you reveal us I can kill you.”

Helen held up her hands in a supplicating gesture. “By all rights, you should kill me anyway. What are you doing in the city? Is this the start of an attack?”

“Tell me what you’re doing here first,” Odysseus demanded.

His voice was a whisper but hard as stone. “Paris is dead. I’m to marry his brother, Deiphobus but he is not the husband I choose. I came to climb the battlements and see if Menelaus would have me back.”

“So after turning your back on one husband, you thought that you would turn your back on another? Helen, you can’t always just do anything you want. You can’t treat husbands like they’re some piece of furniture you no longer like,” Odysseus said.

“I know that. Don’t you think I know that by now? Don’t you think I regret everything that happened twenty years ago?” Helen asked.

“And yet you stayed,” Odysseus said.

“With the man I loved. But there’s no reason for me to stay anymore. Maybe I can’t stop the war, but I never stopped loving Menelaus. Aphrodite gave me two legitimate husbands and one of them is dead. I have no loyalty to the Trojans anymore. I won’t raise the alarm,” Helen said.

Odysseus was a man that was always thinking, weighing and measuring the cost of his words before he said them. Helen waited while the cold shadows crept through the wool of her gown.

“We’ve had word of a prophecy. Priam’s son, Helenus, has prophesied that Troy will not fall unless we take the Trojan Palladium from the temple,” Odysseus said.

“Helenus is alive?” Helen asked. Odysseus nodded. “The Palladium statue is sacred to Troy. I’ve seen the anger of the gods first hand. Are you sure you want to be the one to incur it?”

“We may have no choice,” Odysseus said. “The war cannot end without someone taking it. Better me than one of the younger men.”

“The war can end any time the Greeks choose if they’ll just withdraw their ships,” Helen said. “Take me back with you and set sail. That’s all that we need to do.”

“And the Trojans will build ships of their own and follow us. They’ll wage war on our palaces in all of the city states of Greece. No. Troy must fall. And now we know how to do it. Will you help us or hinder us?” Odysseus asked.

He held his sword between them still but it was the weather that chilled her, not fear. She’d made up her mind days ago, when her husband fell to the poisoned arrow. “I can show you the quickest route, the safe ways into the temple, but don’t take it tonight. You’ll need a distraction if you want to make it out of the city alive. In three days I marry Deiphobus and there will be feasts and festivities throughout the city. You won’t be noticed if you do it then,” Helen said.

Odysseus agreed.

Helen led them through the back alleys of the city, the dark places where no one would be peeking out windows. She led them through the city to the very heart of Troy and Athena’s temple. It was an older temple, small but well repaired and kept clean and polished.

Helen led them around and in through the back door. The shadows were thick inside without a torch to drive them away. At the end of the aisle was a small wooden statue of Athena, draped in a fine purple wool dress. It was crudely carved, really just the barest attempt to reveal the beauty of the goddess.

“They say the statue fell from heaven when the city was founded. It’s protected the city ever since,” Helen whispered.

Odysseus had a more practical mind. He turned to his companion, Diomedes. “How much does it weigh, do you think?” he asked.

They stepped up right to the statue itself, tipping it to check the weight. “One of us could carry it easily, while the other watches for soldiers,” Diomedes said.

Helen stayed in the shadows, unwilling to approach the altar while they worked.

“Let me help you watch for soldiers. They won’t question me,” Helen said.

Diomedes looked to Odyssesus, who answered, “No. Your wedding is our distraction. You have to stay there and keep everyone entertained. All eyes will be on you and your husband and if you slip away early then they’ll wonder. If they come looking for you then our plan will fail.”

“We should get back,” Diomedes prompted.

“Yes. The sun will be up before we get out of the city if we don’t go soon. The main wall is too far away. Helen, what’s the best way out of here? Somewhere that isn’t being watched closely?” Odysseus asked.

There were hundreds of ways in and out of the city. The walls were old and sturdy, but there were ancient gates cut out of them to reach crumbled temples that no one visited anymore. Paris had shown her half a dozen of them when they’d first come to the city, looking for a little privacy. They’d had ten years together before the war came. It seemed like a lifetime ago already.

She led them out, to a forgotten passage in the wall that was closer to the temple. It was an old wooden door, hidden by brush that had grown up over it. “Go now, and I’ll hide any sign that the door was opened when you’ve gone.”

They thanked her as they disappeared beyond the wall. Helen waited there a while, considering the door, before she turned to find her way home to the house Paris built for them. She had a wedding to prepare for.

Dianne Williams lives in Lawrence, Kansas. She grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries and classic science fiction. She once dreamed of being an astronaut. Or maybe a lawyer. Or an artist. She settled for being as many of them as she could all at once through fiction writing.

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