Dr. Stephen Carter missed Allison Kinsey. The journeyman scientist and the little super may never have brought each other any joy, but they knew where they stood with each other. He would make her do something pointless for reasons neither understood, and they basked in the shared misery until he went home for the evening.
It was awful, yes, but it was still better than trying to get anything besides thunderbolts and flaming beams of light out of McClare’s oldest inmate. Yet here they were.
Dr. Carter looked across the metal table at the young woman. She was beautiful, certainly, even under the glaring, overexposing fluorescent light of the interview room. Her cheekbones reminded Carter of those great, severe eagles the Americans were so fond of. They framed eyes like storm clouds at midnight. As per McClare dictate, her dark hair was shorn nearly to the scalp.
“You know,” he said, “I always imagined Helen of Troy would be blonde.”
She frowned. “One could mistake the sun for the gold, I imagine. I’ve told you, Carter, it’s Helen of Sparta. I haven’t been ‘of Troy’ for a long time.”
“Sorry, sorry… hey, if you’re Greek, why do you sound so, well, Scottish?”
“Because I learned English from Scotsmen, cleverman,” she answered flatly.
Helen of Wherever1 had been held at McClare since it opened. From what Carter had been able to garner from the few staff who’d been there longer than him, she’d been arrested a little after the Cuban Crisis for melting a police car at a Vietnam protest. She’d put up no struggle. Since then, she had resided in the same cell, telling anyone who asked she was a character from the Iliad and frying alive anyone who objected. She brooked no experiments, and had no fear of punishment. Early on—so the story went—the head of the asylum had withheld all food and drink till she cooperated.
He gave up after nine months.
At McClare, if you had nothing better to do but needed to justify your paycheck, you went and talked to Helen on the off chance she spilled the beans on whatever her secret origin was.
The greying scientist yawned and folded his hands behind his neck. “Okay—”
“I know you don’t believe me,” Helen interrupted. “None of your sort do. Even when you pray to me that your babies will be beautiful.”
Dr. Carter looked at her, his head tilted. “People do that?”
She quirked her shoulders. “A couple of the nurses.” She leant forward. “I hear them.”
Stephen tried shaking the thought from his mind. “Alright. I don’t believe you.”
Lightning flickered in Helen’s eyes. “But maybe you can convince me,” the doctor hastily added. “Right now, in this room.”
The chancy glow subsided. “You think so?”
“Sure. Tell me, what’s it like being part god?”
“Not part. Would I be sitting here talking to you if any part of me could die?”
Carter raised an eyebrow, regarding the shackles that bound Helen’s hands. “I thought you were—what’s the word?” He clicked his fingers. “A demigoddess? Your mum was that queen, right?”
Helen sighed. “You’re thinking of Leda. And she was my mother, in all the ways that really matter. That’s probably where the confusion came from. But she was my mother only in name, not by birth.”
“Then who was your mother?”
Through the swamp of lingering arguments with his wife, through the upcoming birthdays and open days, an image rose to the top of Dr. Carter’s mind like a message in a bottle. A woman. A goddess, Carter knew as soon as he questioned it. Taller than a man, with hair like fire, and eyes like smoke. One hand held a dagger, the other balanced scales. She was as real as a dream in the moments before you opened your eyes.
“Nemesis is a proud goddess, Dr. Carter. Proud and beautiful. My father coveted both. Her beauty, for the same reasons all men do. Her pride, so he could conquer it”
“What are you—”
A silver fish speeding over dark waves in a loud-roaring sea. Snakes and scorpions crawling across the dry Earth. A goose in a storm tossed sky, fighting an eagle.
“My father got what he wanted. He always did.”
The goddess, blood streaking down her thighs, weeping alone in a copse of trees.
“I’m sorry for that. But you must understand why she did what she did.”
Two eggs, lying in the grass. A herdsman presenting a fine wooden box to a woman in still finer clothes.
“My mother I imagine couldn’t bear the thought of me and my brother growing inside her. She existed to punish hubris, to tarry the scales. And what were we but a hubris she could never avenge? So, she exposed us, leaving our futures to the Fates.”
Stephen swallowed. An image was lurking just behind his eyes, like the shadow of a whale beneath the sea. A school, or something that looked like a school, far away.
No, it was nothing like that. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Helen smiled sadly. “You can’t judge us by mortal standards, Dr. Carter. We’re not people. We’re spells cast on the world to give it shape. My father did these things, yes, but he also punished tyrants and protected travellers. Bushfires coax seeds from their shells, don’t they?”
Dr. Carter didn’t know what to say to that. “What happened next?”
“Pollux and I hatched in Sparta, in the halls of King Tyndareus. He took us in, reared us up beside his own son and daughter.”
“Gotta say, that probably wouldn’t have been my first idea.”
“Gods are like cuckoo birds, Stephen. We don’t take kindly to those who turn out our byblows. And divine blood is an asset. It can strain gold from your line, or be traded for the same.”
“So you and your… were you ‘twins’ if you were eggs?”
To Stephen’s surprise, Helen laughed. “No one gave us a glossary, but the word works well enough.”
“So you two were gods.”
“But your family weren’t.”
Helen looked down between her bound hands, faint steel eyes glinting back up at her. “Some of our brothers and sisters, they grow up in glades and grottos a mortal man couldn’t find if Father Zeus was holding their hand. Death and pain are just stories to them: little barbarisms their mothers tell them about so they know how good they have it.”
“Not me and Pollux, though. From birth, we were drowned in human frailty. Whooping babies, old nobles with faces like melted candles, haggard slaves—”
“You had slaves?”
“…Yes, we had slaves. We also sometimes ran people out of town for being ugly, exposed children who weren’t immortal, and hardly any of us could read, just to get those out of the way. May I continue?”
Dr. Carter nodded.
“Good. As I was saying, we were surrounded by suffering. But it never seemed quite real to us. Like a game. I think I was four before I realized clumsiness wasn’t an affection, or that the sound people made when they hit their toe wasn’t kin to laughter. I don’t think our foster parents quite knew what to make of us, either.”
“…You said you hatched from an egg.”
“That didn’t stop generations of your kind from calling us mere demigods, and Mother and Father didn’t try bleeding us to check. I remember this one day. It was summer, and Pollux and I had gone swimming in the river. We were scraping away at the mud at the bottom when we saw a couple guards diving in above us. They dragged us out kicking and screaming,”—a smile—“flashing and burning. Turned out we had been under for over fifteen minutes. It must sound strange to you, but all that fuss was terribly confusing for us.”
Dr. Carter shrugged. “Sounds like children, to me.”
“Do you have children, Stephen?”
Carter was taken back by the question, but he answered honestly. “Yes, actually. A daughter. Rachel.”
“Tell me about her?”
To his surprise, he did.
As the weeks passed, Dr. Carter’s sessions with Helen of Wherever became more and more bearable. She would feed him some petty details about her powers to pretty up the reports, and he got to skive off for most of his workday.
Other than that, they mostly just talked.
“How did you meet your wife, Dr. Carter?”
“Oh, it wasn’t anything special. Pam moved to my school in year 12, we went to a few mixers…” The scientist scratched the back of his neck. “I’m not sure when we got serious, but suddenly she was helping me through university and… well, what else was I supposed to do?”
Helen didn’t answer. She was staring right past the scientist’s head.
Dr. Carter clicked his fingers. “Helen? You there?”
She shook her head. “Sorry, nostalgia got me. Sometimes you moderns still sound so foreign when you talk about marriage.”
“I suppose yours was arranged?”
“Yes and no.”
“…I’m just not allowed to be right, am I?”
“No you are not. Do you remember my brother Pollux?”
“Yeah. You sounded close… oh, God, you weren’t married, were you?”
“I wish I could act like that was a completely stupid question, but no, we were not. As for us being close, we got on well enough. Our mortal brother Castor, though, he was the one Pollux really loved.” She smiled. “The Dioscuri, people called them, or the Gemini.”
“Yes, Stephen, that Gemini. You’d think growing up in the company of gods—even ones as small and petty as me and Pollux were—would’ve stunted a boy like a flower in the shadow of a great tree. But Pollux wasn’t like that. His divinity didn’t cast a shadow over anyone. Only light. Or maybe Castor loved him too much for that to matter.”
To Dr. Carter’s ears, they sounded exactly like the kind of sibling duos that made his life hell in school. “They get up to much?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe. I remember once, when Theseus and his mate abducted me—”
“Wait, you got kidnapped by Theseus? The bloke who fought the Minotaur?”
Helen waved her hand. “This was years after that. He and… Pirithous I think it was were looking for new, divine wives. I was Theseus’ choice. I was also ten.”
“Oh, it wasn’t as bad as all that. All it meant was that my brothers had plenty of time to come get me. We took Theseus’ mother with us as my handmaid. Aethra. Sweet thing, a bit thick.”
Stephen chuckled. “Is that some old Greek code of honour? You take our sister, we take your mum?”
“Not really. I just needed a new handmaiden. I hear after they lost me they tried stealing away Persephone. You can probably guess how that turned out for them.”
“Her husband is the king of hell.”
“Oh. To be fair, I can’t imagine that was ever anyone’s normal.”
Helen sighed, turning away from Dr. Carter as best she could in her chains. “I never said it was. My actual wedding hardly was, either.”
Carter was no great reader of people, but he knew when a tangent was a sanctuary. “You still want to talk about it?”
“Yes, I do.” She took a deep breath. Dr. Carter wondered if breathing was just something she did not to freak people like him out.
“Castor and Pollux disappeared when I was sixteen. Some cattle raid in retaliation for a cattle raid in retaliation for I can’t even remember what anymore. They set off one morning. Days became weeks, weeks become months, and months became forever.”
“Castor must’ve. Pollux… I think he just couldn’t bring himself to come back without him.”
“English is strange. Always making you apologise for things you didn’t do. I just hope they’re together, somewhere.”
“How’d your father cope?”
“He wept. And then he went groom hunting for me.”
“Am I allowed to say that wouldn’t have been my priority?”
“You may, though I might say you wouldn’t have made much of a king. My father had lost both his heirs. His kingdom was one death away from dissolution.”
“Didn’t he have you?”
“I’m a woman, Dr. Carter. Our thrones weren’t like yours. They never would have tolerated your queen reigning alone, over even her own husband. The best me and my sister could hope for was to be conduits for our father’s blood and legacy—to be bartered away for a new son.”
“But you’re a goddess!”
Dr. Carter suddenly went very quiet.
Helen grinned slyly. “Ah, so you admit it.”
“I mean, so you say.”
“Close enough. Either way, being a goddess means very little outside a temple. Our palaces were littered with nymphs and small goddesses, thrown to mortal princes like meat to dogs by indulgent fathers. Rotting on the vine for eternity.”
For some reason, Stephen found himself recalling the time Allison Kinsey listed all the bones in the human body, and the man who could answer any question posed in exactly one hundred words. “Seems… wasteful.”
Helen shrugged. “Divine loins never falter.”
“…Forget I said anything.”
“Very wise. They came from all over, my suitors: Mycenae, Argos—and those names mean nothing to you, do they?”
“Don’t be. I need to stop assuming everyone is familiar with my sliver of the world. Are you a churchgoing man, Stephen?”
“Then maybe you’ll have a beginning of an idea of what it was like in my father’s hall that night. That holy scent of incense embracing the blood of beasts and the sweat of throngs of men.”
Dr. Carter tilted his hand. “Two out of three.”
“I remember sitting behind the screen, watching the shadows argue their right to me. To my right was my sister, Clytemnestra.” She looked at Dr. Carter expectantly, before shaking her head and muttering something in Greek. “Poor Clytemnestra. If I had hatched anywhere else, she might have been our father’s jewel. If she had been born some other time, she might even have been allowed to be a person. At the very least, we’d all have learned what she was capable of.”
“Penelope was with us, too, trying to comfort me.” Helen studied Carter’s face, searching in vain for a sign of recognition. “You really don’t know who Penelope is?”
“Teach the masses to read and this is what they give you.”
“Weren’t you just saying it was alright I didn’t know Greek geography?”
“Do you know what the word ‘mentor’ means?”
“I rest my case. I watched their silhouettes through the screen, like a shadow-play. The men had their hands at their swords, all shouting at my father why they ought to be allowed to rut with the cygnet of Zeus.” The goddess flew into a series of impressions of long dead men. To Carter’s ear, she sounded surprisingly authentic.
“My coffers are the envy of the Rich One himself!”
“Look at how Father Zeus has blessed me with great size!”
“I fought alongside Heracles himself!”
Helen shot Carter a flat glance. “That last one had to be at least seventy. Not sure if he was better or worse than the seven year old.”
“You really think they were going to kill each other over a woman?”
“My, aren’t we civilized? They weren’t just competing for my hand, they were fighting for all my father’s lands and wealth. I was just the ribbon around the box. And back then, the Greeks were only one people in the sense we thought everyone else was worse. If anything, that started to change that very night, but that’s another story.”
“So how’d you get it sorted?”
“There was one man there who wasn’t interested in me, or even in Sparta. He’d arrived weeks before any of the other suitors, and had been pestering my cousin all that time. I hadn’t thought much of him—some podunk island prince with too-short legs—but Penelope seemed taken with him.” She smiled again. “He was called Odysseus, and his name meant trouble.”
“Oh, him!” exclaimed Dr. Carter.
“Indeed. His idea was simple. There would be no more debate, no more wheedling, no more gifts. I would decide who I would marry, right there, in front of everyone.” Helen laughed. “Radical concept. Do you see why they called Odysseus the wiliest of the Greeks?”
“Christ, how do you make that kind of choice on the spot?”
“Easily. I said ‘Menelaus’ before Odysseus’ words had stopped echoing.”
“Because he was a redhead. The fact his elder brother held all his family’s lands didn’t hurt, either.” Helen steepled her fingers. “So, anything good on TV out there?”
Dr. Carter knew not to press.
It was some time before Helen discussed her youth again. What stories she did share were from much later. She rarely mentioned dates, so Dr. Carter learned to pay attention to the names of monarchs and other context clues. Mostly were surprisingly dull—long anecdotes of daily life through the ages, or wars Dr. Carter didn’t remember the names of.
“Did you know any famous people who weren’t Greek?”
“Stephen, if you ever become immortal, I’m sure you’ll spend days hovering around celebrities in case you need to entertain a deputy-assistant-minion in a concentration camp. I on the other hand had a life to attend to.”
Things improved greatly when Carter started sneaking in booze.
“Here ya go.” He slid a bottle of Swan Draught across the table, before remembering the handcuffs. “Oh, sorry. Maybe we could—”
Helen’s finger sparked, and the left handcuff chain snapped. She took a swig of her beer.
The next big step in Carter and Helen’s growing friendship was the discovery of a copy of The Greek Myths for her to fact check:
“Dionysus was actually Persephone and Father Zeus’ boy, they just regrew him inside that mortal lady. You’d think him being a god and all would be a clue…”
“Medea didn’t kill her boys, it was the peasants. Always blaming the woman…”
“ ‘Fully-formed from Zeus’ head’? Only when Hera’s in earshot. Just ask Triton.”
Stephen grinned crookedly. “Look, lying to your missus is a vital skill. Just look at this bloke.” He flicked through the book, muttering silently to himself as searched for his example. “He’s gone for ten years, and soon as he gets back, his wife stabs him in the bloody bath!” He laughed. “Should’ve just stayed in Troy with Cassandra.”
Helen did not laugh. “That was my brother-in-law.”
Dr. Carter went red. “I’m sorry, Helen. If I’d remembered…” He chuckled nervously. “All these foreign names, you know.”
“Agamemnon. My father gave Clytemnestra to him when I married his brother. ‘Strengthen our kinship’ he said.” She frowned. “Agamemnon was always a sore loser.”
“I don’t want to speak ill of your family, Helen, but you have to feel sorry for the guy.”
“I don’t. I feel sorry for my sister, for my nieces and nephew, even that poor madwoman he dragged home, but never him.” Helen bored into the scientist with those dark, eagle eyes of hers. “Doctor, have you ever been unfaithful? With Pamela, I mean.”
Dr. Carter sputtered, before trying and failing to match the lady’s glare. “What kind of question is that?”
“…Once or twice.” Why was he being honest? Why did she have to use Pam’s name? “You have to understand, it wasn’t an ongoing thing. Just a couple of spills back in uni. And once… we were having a dry-spell, alright? She didn’t—what she doesn’t know won’t hurt—isn’t hurting her.”
Helen nodded. “Discreet. Good. Menelaus was like that too, when he took a slave or a handmaiden to bed. I always knew, but he didn’t rub it in my face, you know?”
“Helen, I didn’t—”
“I just wish my infidelity could’ve been so quiet.”
Stephen knew when to be quiet.
“My father died a year after the wedding. Heartbreak, I think.” She shook her head. “God, he loved my brothers. Menelaus took to kinging well enough. He was a prince, after all. His big problem was that he didn’t know the lay of the land, but then, he had me.”
“Power behind the throne?”
“I wouldn’t go that far, but you could say I was his map. Honestly, it was something of a relief having him around to do the ruling. Even at that age, mortals still confused me.”
“So you were happy?”
“As much as I could ask to be. For a girl in my place and time, the choice I’d been given was rarer than gold. I knew enough of the world to know I’d gotten lucky. Maybe not as lucky as Penelope, but definitely luckier than Clytemnestra. And Menelaus… Menelaus was kind. He sought out my company more than most kings would their wives. He listened to me. He was a good man.”
“You said he cheated on you. With slaves.”
Helen put her free hand to her temples. “It was the time. I was with child as soon as you could look for for it.”
“And how old were you again?”
Helen sighed knowingly. “Sixteen.”
“Twenty-five, I’d guess.”
Dr. Carter suppressed a shudder.
Helen ignored him. “I knew before anyone else. How could I not? A part of me was suddenly vulnerable.” She sighed. “I knew it’d be mortal. They almost always are with your kind.”
“I wonder about that sometimes. Almost seems counterintuitive to me. You’d think god genes or whatever could beat up ours.”
“Godhead—our godhead, at least—is like diamond. Harder than anything human, but brittle. Mortality can shatter it like nothing else. The moment I lay eyes on my daughter, I knew I’d outlive her.”
“I couldn’t imagine.”
“No, you couldn’t. Still, I had her for the moment. And she was good. And yet… as the years went on, I kept thinking back to my betrothal. I was a goddess. Something eternal—a part of the world. And I let a room full of men make me pick one of them to shackle myself to, all so they could call themselves king for a few decades before shuffling off into the shadows. It—it just stopped making sense to me.”
“How’d you cope?”
“Same way all women do. I kept it to myself. Until Paris came along.”
“The Trojan bloke?”
“Yes. ‘The Trojan bloke.’ ”
“How’d you meet him?”
“A diplomatic mission from the east. Paris was young. An exiled prince come home again. Of course, his family sent him abroad as soon as they could, but I’m not sure he ever thought about it like that. All the men at court scoffed at him. An effete eastener they called him, poisoned by comfort and the riches they envied2. And he was an archer to boot.”
“What wrong with archery?” Stephen didn’t mention taking archery in high-school.
A wicked grin. “A real man kills up close, Dr. Carter. With his own hands. Unless you were my cousin-in-law. Still, I couldn’t keep my eyes off Paris. The man smelt of sandalwood, all day long. He joked like Thalia was his mother, and he looked like Apollo was his father. I was twenty-three years old, and he was my first crush.”
“The night before he was due to leave, I woke up to find him in my chambers.”
“I think my wife has nightmares about that sort of thing.”
“Many women do. Many also dream of it. It certainly took me a moment to realise I was awake. He told me he’d dreamed of me for years, before we’d ever met. That Aphrodite herself wanted us to be together.” For the first time Dr. Carter could remember, Helen looked ashamed. “God, I believed him.”
“You don’t think he was telling the truth?”
Helen moaned. “Oh, I don’t know. The poets thought he was, but of course they’d think that. And aren’t all couplings the will of Aphrodite?”
“So you went with him.”
“Of course I did. The chance to decide my future, to be with a man that hadn’t been laid out for me like toys in front of a child: it was like wine. We were creeping through the halls of the women’s quarters when I heard her voice.”
“My daughter’s. She was just standing there, woken by a nightmare. She’d been looking for me. Moonlight was streaming over her through the windows. She didn’t say anything about Paris. Maybe she didn’t see him in the shadows. Maybe she didn’t know she was awake. Either way, she was soon pulling at my chiton.”
“What did you do?” Dr. Carter asked, dreading the answer.
“I took her back to her bed, and held her until she fell asleep again. Then I made my way to Paris’ ship.” Helen turned her head down. “I wouldn’t see Hermione again for ten years.”
Carter started at her. “You just left your daughter?”
“We were always going to part. At least this way I didn’t have to watch her whither. And should I have stolen her from her father, too?”
The doctor shook his head. “Lady, you wouldn’t be the first woman to outlive your kid. They don’t abandon them.”
“You don’t understand. You can’t. You’re mortal. And a man.”
Stephen stood up. “I think we’re done for today, Helen. The guards will be here in a sec. I’d recommend you weld the chain back up before they get here.”
“They won’t care.”
“Who does, here?”
Dr. Carter went home confused and guilty that night.
By Stephen Carter’s request, it was some time before he had another session with Helen of Sparta. Instead, he spent the better part of two months recreating his time with Allison Kinsey with a parade of new sad children.
By the time bureaucratic callousness put Dr. Carter and the goddess in the same room again, he didn’t complain.
“I told Pam,” he finally said after ten minutes of silence.
“How did she take it?”
“That’s the thing. I thought she’d be screaming and chucking skillets at my head. But she sounded so… wounded. Resigned. Like I’d taken a knife and cut open an old scar.”
“I know the feeling.”
“Helen, could I ask how it all turned out? Paris, Troy.”
“There are whole epics about that, Stephen.”
“But they’re not you.”
“That they aren’t.” Helen took a deep breath. “Ilium was beautiful. The very grain of the buildings and walls were like nothing I’d ever seen before. Everywhere I looked, there were icons of gods whose names I had never heard. The gods I did recognize, they almost could’ve been different divinities altogether. For the first time, I knew how small my world truly was.”
“Sounds like when I went to London. I felt like a complete rube.”
“Paris’ family—the royal family—they never really liked me. I can’t blame them. They knew what I’d bring. The people loved us, though. The darling prince and his divine foreign lover. I think I was their Princess Margaret for a while.”
“Don’t give me that look, I didn’t spend the last three thousand years in a cave. It was good for a while, what Paris and I had. Or at least it seemed that way from the inside. We’d make love till the walls of our chambers had disappeared under waves of shadow, or we’d go into the countryside, and he would show me where he once pastured his sheep. For a while, I thought it might last.”
“Then your husband came after you, didn’t he?”
“Not completely ignorant, I see.”
“I did go to school, you know.”
“True. And, yes, Menelaus did come for me, along with the rest of Greece. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Menelaus’ throne was in question. An alien might have had a claim to one of our kingdoms. And Troy had riches beyond avarice. Heracles sacked it, long ago, and my people loved nothing more than emulating him. I don’t think you can could imagine what that war was like.”
Dr. Carter frowned. “I’ve lived through a world war, Helen.”
“Were you a soldier?”
“…No,” he admitted.
“Even if you were, I don’t think you’d understand. The war you remember was this distant, mechanized horror. Normal life died wherever it touched. It couldn’t happen that way in Troy. The Greeks were far from home in a land that did not love them. If they tried burning the fields or slaughtering all the cattle, they would starve too. So standards formed. Days where both sides would go about their lives; sacrifice, bury their dead. And that made it all the more terrible.”
Stephen blinked. “Sounds mighty civilized where I’m sitting.”
“Maybe on festival days. But it made war tolerable. And tolerable wars never end. It’s nothing but bodies and bitterness.”
“It broke Paris. His family hated him now as much as they did me. They muttered about old prophecies and dooms. He would rant and rave at me about how he should have taken the other offers. I didn’t know what he was talking about then. Now, I still don’t think it’d have made a difference. Fate has many paths, but they all lead to the same place.”
“Did you ever… you know, fight?”
“…Sometimes. I tried to hold back, but those were never good days. For anyone.”
“And then the horse?”
“There was no horse.”
“There was no horse. It was poetry.”
“You’re telling me Troy and the gods are all real, but the Trojan horse wasn’t?”
“A thing can be true without another thing being true.”
“What happened then?”
“Come on, Carter. We’ve gotten drunk together over that book. Who is the god of horses?”
Carter thought about it. “Poseidon.”
“And what was his other domain?”
“I woke with the shaking of the world. The walls were tumbling down, the Greeks pushing through their own terror and confusion to storm the city. And I walked among them, burning all who offended my gaze. And then Menelaus found me.”
“All at once, I realized what age was. This memory of a man, a decade removed. He saw me, bright with glory, my hands black with the ashes of Greeks, and still he approached me. That was when I realized.”
“The awful, terrible truth. All those reasons I thought of for why Menelaus had come for me, and it all boiled down to this: because he loved me. And I still loved him. And so we went home. We were both selfish enough to break a land over our knees for our own desires, and we got to go home.” Tears started trailing down Helen’s face. “Did you know how many villages were razed to the ground because of us, Stephen? How many sons the king of Troy had left? My daughter grew up without both her parents, because of our greed. Because he couldn’t let go. Because I was young and stupid. ”
Dr. Carter reached to wipe away Helen’s tears. They were warm like raindrops in the sun.
“Thank you for listening Stephen. Even if you don’t believe me, it’s good to be heard.”
“I do believe you.”
As Helen watched, the scientist got on his knees and crawled beneath the table. She felt arms wrap around her ankles. A story she once told the man rang again in her ears. Her father, the King of Sparta, receiving a supplicant.
“To be honest, child, I’d rather have had a knife to my throat.”
“Helen, me talking to you, being your friend, or whatever it is I am to you… has it made your life better? Made this place more bearable.”
“I’ve missed so many chances to be kind. To do the right thing. This place… it’s wrong. And I went along with it because I couldn’t be bothered to stand up for the people here, or even just not take their money. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of being so bloody pointless.”
Helen stroked his hair. “It’s never too late.”
“There was a girl. Before we started talking. Allison, she was called. I was sort of in charge of her. I never did anything to help her, until this doctor fella came asking for her. Said he was going to take her somewhere better. I signed off on it—didn’t have a choice really, but I hardly cared. Now I’m hearing things… there’s some men waiting outside. Important men. They want your help.”
“And they asked you to try and convince me.”
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
She stood up. “It’s alright, Stephen. It’s time my holiday came to an end.” She started walking towards the door. “May I give you some advice?”
Dr. Carter looked at the goddess, still lying under the table. “Please.”
“They dug up Troy decades ago. More of it remains than my own home. Resign from this place. Go to Troy, and leave an offering.”
“To the gods?”
“No. To the people who died there, because of the decisions of people freer than them.”
“Then what do I do?”
“Try to be better.”
Helen knocked on the door. “I’m ready to talk.”
The man who opened the door was greying, battle-worn; his face knitted with tiny scars.
1. A nickname that predated Stephen Carter by an age. ↩
2. One wonders whether or not the years spent shepherding in the hills counted as luxury. ↩