She was always pale. The King’s daughter did not take the sun and went swathed in veils outside the palace, but even so. Skin like white marble, like an absence framed by her long dark hair. Translucent skin against which her black eyes burned like holes cut through to something else. Something old.
Agamemnon disliked her. He disliked women habitually, other than as objects to be owned and used, no matter what he said for public consumption. But Iphigenia he especially avoided, shuddering a little as he turned away. Her strangeness affronted him. A King should not have to tolerate a challenge to his power from the daughter of his blood. It made him doubt Clytemnestra; had he been betrayed? She denied it of course, even when he staggered into her chambers one night, drunk and reeling after meeting Iphigenia on the stairs. The girl’s smile had been cold, her eyes fathomless, and his skin had crawled. He beat Clytemnestra bloody, but she denied infidelity and he did not raise it again when sober. If his wife had lain with another, he feared that her lover had not been mortal.
Inevitable, then, with the fleet lying becalmed in Aulis and a sacrifice needed to unleash the winds, that it would be Iphigenia. Give the gods one of their own back; it seemed only just. Her mother would not see it that way; women did not understand the ways of gods and men, of warriors. Women thought only of fireside and childbirth, of home and marriage. Well, he would say there was a marriage then, anything to placate her.
Achilles shrugged off being named as the husband-to-be. Like Agamemnon he cared only that their journey resume, training daily with Patroclus for the battles to come. Women were irrelevant to their bond and the bronze knife awaited her in the end, not a marriage bed. It was necessary for victory and that was all that mattered.
Miles before the galley carrying Iphigenia reached Aulis, the winds dropped to nothing. Truly, the gods were displeased. Banked rowers sweated to carry her to her father, and at dusk they arrived, bringing her before him by torchlight.
Her eyes were even more unsettling in the flickering half-light. Agamemnon told her of her fate, and her women wailed, clutching at her robes. Iphigenia gently untangled their hands; her face was unreadable, blank as bone.
Agamemnon assigned guards to her tent, but he did not sleep that night. Later, much later, there were tales of her wandering outside the camp under the moon, through the trees. Tales of strange shadows where she walked, and of animals following her. One man was said to have been blinded when he looked too long.
Easy to set that aside in the light of day, dawn pink and gold in the east as they waited by the altar. Agamemnon breathed out, shaking off the chill of night and welcoming Apollo and Zeus. Daylight gods. Sky gods. Men’s gods. Yet still, Artemis must be placated. His jaw clenched: women.
He called for his daughter to be brought from her tent. She was shrouded in silks, straight-backed and silent as she passed through the still rows of warriors and laid herself down on cold stone. She did not look at him, nor he at her. He had seen enough of those eyes.
He closed his own eyes at the end, as the knife struck, so he did not see her change. Did not see the white doe take the blade's edge, blood gushing from its throat. He saw the body afterwards, one two-toed hoof faintly kicking, the hide stained with red. Saw it fall still. Watched as they read the entrails, feeling a breeze stir the hairs at his nape, where cold sweat had congealed. His forearms were sticky with blood, but that was nothing new.
They said, much later, that Artemis had taken back her own. They said she had made Iphigenia her priestess in a distant land. Agamemnon did not care. It was over, the goddess was appeased, or as much as she ever was; women were hard to please. He did not find it strange that his daughter had changed into a deer. She had never been his daughter, not really. Never been mortal, he suspected.
What troubled him most as he stood at the prow of his ship, sails cracking behind him in a stiffening wind, was the thought that surely her death was no sacrifice? He did not mourn her, feeling only relief. Achilles, her sham betrothed, had not even attended the ceremony, limbs still entwined with Patroclus in their nest of cloaks.
Agamemnon squinted into the foam-flecked wind and wondered when, and how, the sacrifice would be required of them all. The sun seemed less bright, and he shivered. Behind him, Achilles laughed with Patroclus, oblivious.