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this is a torch song

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They say it starts with an apple.

A wedding, half-mortal, half-divine. The slighted goddess and her golden apple. A pageant and the shepherd judge. And she the reward.

No, that’s not it.

It starts much earlier, with a garden and a queen and a swan.

 

She remembers it sometimes, the warmth of the eggs that served as the womb that nurtured her and her siblings for nine months, her limbs entwined with her sister’s. (Or was it her brother’s?) The eggshells she and her sister gathered the day they blossomed into womanhood, crafting them into twin diadems.

She remembers, too, the sad wistfulness of their mother the queen’s face. How for all the years she has lived in their kingdom their mother has lived in shame for being defiled by a god and the fear of misplacing that same god’s progeny, let alone four of them.

Her sister, who shared her own face and yet was the opposite of her in every other way. Brash, temperamental Klytemnestra with her hair and eyes dark as a ripe olive. She, the perfect meek Akhaian wife with her features light as the sand on the beaches of Lakonia. In the years that followed her captivity, she wonders if her sister damned her for being the cause behind her niece being sacrificed at the altar of the huntress.

Her brothers, as close as twins should be. Closer, even. She envied them, sometimes, for being born with a prick and as heirs to a kingdom. How they’ll never be subject to the whims of others. As she sits on the battlements of the palace on the day the black–sailed ships docked, she thinks they must hate her, too. For why else would they not be here to rescue her?

The king she remembers most of all. Her father in all but blood, for his is the iron blood shared by all mortals, while hers is the golden ichor of the gods. Her father who let his daughters sit equal to their brothers as he held his court, certain as he was that they shall rule as queens in their own right.

 

Klytemnestra left first, wed to Tantalus in distant Lydia, famed for their axes. She thinks it fitting, for there is no wit as sharp and as renowned in Sparta as her sister’s. Her brothers soon followed, hungry for fame and glory that was their due. Alone in their palace, hounded by a thousand suitors, she yearns for her freedom, for the wings of her swan father that would allow her to soar far away from here.

The day Troy’s mean princeling came, she had been wedded and bedded for near a decade, a mother and a queen both. When she sees the trick of the Cyprian in his eyes, she recognizes it as the escape it was. Her wings, at long last.

She takes his hand, not daring to look back.

She was wrong. She regrets it now, exchanging one gilded cage for another. If only she realized it sooner. Gods were not wont to give a gift without consequences, not even for those of their blood.

The women of this house do not talk to her, nor even dare to look her in the eyes. They hate her for the doom she brings, and she finds that she cannot blame them for it. The men are no better, looking at her as if she was a fine horse being bartered off in the agora, sizing up her worth. Only Hektor, whose fate is tied to the city, treats her with pity. She wonders if she truly deserves it.

The ramparts entice her every single day, and only the thought of her daughter stops her. Who takes care of little Hermione, while her mother is captive and her father makes war? She is the cause of this bloodshed, but they will not let her stop it. The one time she tries, to run back to the warships, to beg her husband to take her back, she of the sea foams remind her of her place. So she returns, cursing this man for the audacity of ploughing into her without spilling a drop of his own blood in battle, vows that his seed shall never take root inside her belly as she brews pennyroyal under the moonlight.


Ilium falls, just as her stalwart champion did many moons ago. The moment the wooden horse enters the walls, she knows it to be the work of wily Odysseus. She runs that night, wearing a tattered old cloak and her plainest robes. All she does is run.

She stops in front of the horse, imitating the voices of her sister and cousins, consolation prices to the men who did not win her hand, calling out to them who she knows to be lying in wait inside the contraption, hoping she could entice them to reveal their secret and save the city.

It doesn’t work.

Mortals cannot unravel the thread the Moirai have weaved, after all.

 

Her husband sees her once the siege begins, and she, in turn, sees the rage burning in his eyes. He runs towards her, his sword unsheathed in his hand. She closes her eyes, waiting for him to plunge it in her heart. She longs for it, too. When he drags her back to the ships instead, she rages.

The gods will never give her what she desires.