“...but will I pine away in sorrow anymore than I do already? ”
The skies had been clear and star-studded, with no signs of any upcoming storms. The weather was fairly pleasant, and on such nights as this, people usually sought the company of their loved ones in pursuit of happiness. But the beautiful Queen of Sparta seemed alone and distracted, lost in deep introspection. My mother and I were her closest confidants, and she always preferred to have us beside. Yet sometimes the human mouth failed to pronounce what really went on inside.
And it became a chore for others in close quarters to decipher the convoluted psyche by being too discreet.
Troy had provided me with a fresh identity after a considerably rough start in life. My mother, Aethra, daughter of King Pittheus of Troezen, never had to part with me. She had been the only support and inspiration in my dark hours, as I had been to her. But for the first time as our lives
were making sense, destiny spared no chance to turn hostile with peace - we however, became the scapegoats, although we hardly knew how to rebel against the same.
It is true that rumours spread faster than wildfires; especially when foreigners step on our soils and invoke noticeable awe and interest among the masses. Often it is even the guest who brings hearsays along with him, that folks find ideal to exaggerate. We were well aware of Helen’s secret affair with Paris, Prince of Troy, who was staying as a guest in the Greek court. It was my mother who had arranged a secret rendezvous at night for the two in Helen’s boudoir, to the oblivion of King Menelaus; while I was trusted with the clandestine assignment of ensuring the
smooth exchange of ardent verses. But now we knew that they planned to sail away to Troy to start a new life; and all she had was the night’s time to reconsider the odds and decide.
Queen Helen was regarded as a woman of great beauty and resilience. Her marriage to Menelaus had been a reason for regret and unhappiness, although she realised there was none to blame for the choice she had made herself. Her subjects loved and admired her, while her husband took greater pride in possessing a woman of such charm than making her feel loved and coveted. Our
Queen hardly ever let her emotions show. Behind her firm and smiling face, a heap of sorrow lay, that only we had the honour to discover and explore. And as we drew closer, Helen seemed more helpless than arrogant, and it always made me wonder how we could make her feel any better.
My mother had been listening to Helen speak her heart; she was a princess once, but fate had brought her to Helen as her handmaid, and I was born to serve her too. At times I envied my mother for having lived the life of a princess before being enslaved, as it gave her several insights into royal life, unlike me.
“I have seen three generations of men come and go upon the face of the earth, but no woman as brave as you, Your Highness”, my mother exclaimed. There was a reason why she had remained
Helen’s handmaid. She had the wonderful capacity to make everything sound sweet and fine even when one anticipated the worst, yet retained her wisest intuitions to circumvent any unpleasantness.
Helen stood and sighed. She had woken up in the middle of the night to thoughts that kept haunting her. She had had a vision of a confrontation with King Priam, Paris’ father that had made her further restless and anxious. “...I wish I had chosen death rather than following your son, leaving behind my bridal chamber, my beloved daughter, my dear childhood friends and my
kin. But I did not, and I pine away in sorrow. ” She tried to summon Aphrodite, but the goddess made no attempts to pacify our Queen.
“I really wonder if happiness lies in the life that awaits me on those distant shores. A new place, new people. Will they accept me as one of them?” Although my mother and I were convinced that Helen’s decision to leave Troy would prove to have unwanted consequences, we knew that no amount of persuasion would alter the mind of the woman who had tasted love and freedom for the first time in her life. In her, we had found a life that we both had craved for long - that any
individual would even die for! “ I am aware of our differences, but I could do with half the respect I have here. This has been my home and a place of worship. But tomorrow when I step onto Paris’ ship, the doors to this castle will close on me forever. My roots will be torn and oh dear, will I be able to bear with it. ”
Her words reflected the unrest that had been ensuing within.
Paris was a prince with bewitching looks and an infamous reputation who had showered our Queen with love. But his lack of gallantry and a propensity for elusion seemed too problematic to overlook. And Helen became another woman who had to compromise her situation to stay with the man she loved, while he made plans to oar themselves nearer to their doom.
“We’ll come with you to remind you of your roots in Troy. But I fear, so shall Menelaus, when he learns about this,” my mother seemed genuinely concerned.
Helen could sense it. She said, “Yes, there could be a war. Death. And the Trojans will never forgive me. I could even be banished, and I’ll have nowhere to go, because I’m no longer virtuous.” She paused to face my mother and started again, “ And what if Paris fails to keep me safe, or love me as I love him? I feel the happiest around him, but what if it’s a dream that ends soon? Could this be just to prize my unparalleled beauty, or is it the purest love I prayed for? I hope this wasn’t any God's doing.”
Thoughts were swelling up inside my little brain and so was a feeling of powerlessness. Helen’s face looked crowded with darker presumptions. Just as she turned to make her way into Paris’ chamber, I asked, “Will you ever long to come back here? ”
Helen became quiet. “I don’t know, Clymene. If I am to fit in there, I should dare not think of Troy. It would weaken my intentions.” I nodded in agreement although I knew it would be
utterly impossible to forget this land she adored.
“ But I’ll miss someone dearly. Hermione, my daughter. If only she would ever forgive me.”
Finally, Queen Helen of Sparta was heard weeping softly under her breath. She desperately loved her daughter though they often had fall-outs to settle. And since she had made up her mind to risk everything for her uncertain amour, she wished to remember this last night by lying beside her daughter, whom she might never see again in this lifetime. She knew she could not live without Paris, but what really filled her with regrets was her failed motherhood.
“Any moment might be our last, dearest Clymene, but I would never leave your side.” My mother whispered into my ears as Helen retreated to her daughter’s bower, probably for the last time.