He walked the walls of Troy one autumn night, looking out over campfires like red stars on the plain. Where had this path begun? That glade on the slope of Mount Ida, most like; but perhaps it had been drawn earlier. His mother's dreams before his birth, his father's furious judgment -- "The child must die, or be the death of Troy!" -- the shepherd carrying him to the mountain for the wolves to rend. The tender-hearted shepherd, not murderer after all but foster-father.
That afternoon on Ida, decided Paris. It had rained, and the herd was restless. The sun made golden veils of late-falling raindrops beneath the trees. And down the brambled path from the summit, through the curtain of light, had come a youth and three ladies.
A heavy pulse of lust shook and hardened his body, just at the remembered sheen of rain-wet skin as the goddesses shed their robes. The cold wind across the plain felt like a caress.
"Travel with Eros as your guide," Aphrodite had advised him. "Helen, Sparta's queen, is almost as beautiful as I. She will love you as soon as she looks upon you."
"But she is Menelaus' wife!" Paris had said.
"Wife?" Aphrodite had gestured disdainfully. "That is nothing to me. He is nothing."
Paris had learnt to hate her for that gesture. For Menelaus was far from being nothing.
It was true, though. Helen had more than mortal loveliness. They said she'd hatched from an egg, her mother a swan-maiden seduced in her winged form by Zeus. It had been a game between them, that first year, for Paris to hunt the soft quills of feathers on Helen's body. Now she lay wakeful in their bed, moonlight bleaching her white throat, while her not-husband walked the walls and gazed towards the beach.
Leaving Ida, he had never seen the sea. He remembered coming down from the mountain and seeing a golden country to the west, as the sun set over the water. He had known nothing, then. Had come to Troy like any peasant. His brothers had tried to kill him, but Agelaus his foster-father had cried to Priam, "Stay them! This is your son!"
"Put him to death," Apollo's priests had urged. "If he lives, Troy must fall."
"This is my lost son!" Priam had cried, sending away the priests.
He had become a prince, falling as easily into it as into the shepherding, into the bull-fights and the judgment and the long days dreaming on the mountain. His brothers eyed him warily: tall Hector, careful always to leave a mark in sword-practice, and silent Deiphobus who looked askance at him, frowning, and would not say why. Priam celebrated him, and Hecuba blinked back tears when she saw him.
And then came Menelaus, sailing to offer sacrifice at the tombs of Prometheus' sons.
Paris could remember a time when he had thought that Helen's husband would be an old man. Agamemnon's brother, the ruler of Sparta, must surely be a monster, and Paris a hero, rescuing the swan-necked princess. But Menelaus was not old, though there was silver in his dark hair. The lines around his mouth were carved by care, by the judgments and strategies of Sparta's ruler, but that mouth could curve like a bow with laughter. Age had not begun to eat his strength. One night in Troy, both oiled from the bath, Menelaus had pinned him -- both of them laughing -- to the couch beneath the window, slick as a dolphin against his back. Paris had tried to rear up under him, to push Menelaus back and taste him; and Menelaus, still laughing, had simply held him down.
Another hot pulse through his veins, there in the cool autumn night.
Menelaus was still stronger than him. Paris had faced him in single combat, when the ships first beached below the city walls. He still cherished the scars on his skin, though the ache of those had faded faster than the pain of Menelaus' blank blue gaze through the eye-slits of his helm.
"Helen will love you," the goddess had promised. Paris had never thought to ask if he would love her, too; never thought to question love. Heart-whole until that night in Troy, he had never thought to fear Eros. Love was a dalliance, an hour's courting and a minute's bliss, something to fall into and out of like a bed, a nest of leaves, a pretty girl's smile or a companion's strong arms. Eros' arrows had only grazed him, until that night in Troy.
The oil had been scented with rosemary. He could smell it now, on the east wind that blew from Mount Ida. There had been sparks in Menelaus' blue gaze, and Paris -- staring unseeing at the campfires across the plain -- wondered if he had seen this future, that night in Troy.
He had sacrificed to Aphrodite, seeking guidance. Two fine white kids, and for what? "Let Eros be your guide, and sail to Sparta".
They did not speak of love, he and Menelaus.
Paris remembered the crossing, wracked by more than Poseidon's summer storms. Eros had been the ship's figurehead, gilded arrows aimed at the horizon where Sparta lay. Paris had clung to Menelaus, and pleasure had rocked them both. Menelaus' mouth had traced the lines of Paris' bones, his hands ... his hands.
"This is Helen, my wife."
"Your servant," kneeling, Paris had said, his hands between her cool white palms; not looking at her legendary beauty at all, but holding Menelaus' blue, opaque gaze.
Later, he had said, "She is lovely." And when he had reached for Menelaus, his lover had stepped back, drawing his dignity -- the King's dignity -- around him like an invisible shield, a shield to protect him from dark-haired boys who knelt at his feet, whose hyacinthine eyes met his without shame.
"You are as lovely as she," he had said, turning away. "You dazzle me." And then the lamp-light had splintered and sparkled in Paris' eyes, hiding Menelaus as he spoke at last of love, and of Helen. He did not name what he felt for Paris.
"But I love --"
Menelaus had turned swiftly on his heel. "Never say it. To speak of this is to taunt the gods."
Paris had stood, silent, shocked.
"If you say it, I must send you away."
"My heart cannot be silent, even if my tongue is still!"
Menelaus had not answered him, but there had been sorrow in his eyes.
Paris had lain sleepless for long hours, that night, and when sleep came at last it brought Aphrodite. "Helen will love you," she had reminded him.
"Menelaus does not!"
But the goddess had leant and stopped his protests with a kiss.
In the morning he had woken with Helen in his arms, and a plan hatching like a snake in his heart.
"He said that you were distressed, last night," she'd said, mouth very soft and small against his neck. "And I ... I do not ..."
"Come away with me, Helen!"
He did not speak of love, not then. He did not speak, either, of being sent away; of a pain unlike any common wound, that does not fade like the ache of sword-cuts or broken bones.
"I have stolen Menelaus' greatest treasure," he had said to Helen, once Sparta had fallen into the sea astern. She had smiled at him wanly, without speaking.
"Why do you weep?" He had kept his voice gentle, though he'd wanted to rage at her for showing what he could not.
"It's only the wind in my eyes," Helen had lied, still smiling, as she turned away.
Because of the tears he had seen, Paris had never hoped, then or later, for Menelaus to follow after them; never wished, where any could overhear, that he were the beauty that Menelaus had come to rescue.
Still, he thought that Helen understood. She knew what it was to be the gods' game-piece, and she did not reproach him. Fate was the monster that held them both chained.
Here in Troy they had come to know one another, as Menelaus -- lured like a fish on a line -- battered all Greece's armies against the walls. Helen's beauty, truly divine, was no mere gilding; her heart was lovely, too. She held Paris as he mourned a lost love, and wept with him, and echoed his grief.
No need for them to speak their lost love's name.