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My eyes are red and swollen and burning, dark circles hanging underneath - I didn’t sleep at all last night. I have to take a load of laundry to the riverside today and supervise the slavegirls as they do the washing, but I’m struggling to get out of bed.

I cannot face the world this morning. And more than anyone else, I must not face Cassandra.

It was me who insisted on learning about her past as our friendship grew more and more intimate. I rejoiced whenever she allowed me to sit beside her, close enough for our bodies to touch, or whenever she held my hand and seeked out my embrace. There were tears too, when she told me stories of her imprisonment, her ominous visions, the things that happened to her inside the temple of Athena - tears that we spilled together as I felt her anguish pierce through me. Those nights she would sleep in my arms, repeating how I made her feel safe, and I would run my fingers through her hair and reassure her that no one could hurt her.

I don’t remember ever feeling as complete as I did in those precious moments.

And now they have been tainted forever.

I know this will be difficult to hear , she said, but you have to believe me.

I promised I would never doubt her; she had been treated like a liar and a lunatic for way too long. But when I heard the things she had to say, I almost broke my promise.

Because Cassandra spoke of my father last night. She had never mentioned him before, and I had never asked about their relationship. It hadn’t crossed my mind that he might have hurt her. I’d heard he was a fierce warrior, brutal with his enemies, but in my eyes he always seemed like a hero. And he had never hurt me, or any of my siblings, or my mother. He loved us, took care of us. I thought he might have done the same for Cassandra. I thought he might have loved her too, in a way.

I couldn’t recognize this vile man she described. The man who dragged her around in shackles and locked her in a cage, no better than an animal. The man who choked her until she was barely conscious and raped her every night on the ship deck, with all the sailors watching. Most of her wounds and bruises have faded by now but I remember them. At the time, I didn’t want to see them for what they were. I didn’t want to believe it.

Just like I did with Iphigeneia. I refused to believe that he’d killed her, I waited patiently to hear his explanation, I came up with all sorts of excuses on his behalf. And all these years I’ve hated Iphigeneia for dying, instead of hating my father for sacrificing her. As if it was some nonsensical whim of her own.

Gods, what a fool I’ve been.

“Electra,” my mother’s voice echoes as if through a dream, “why aren’t you at the gate? The carriage is waiting!”

She stands at the half-open door with her usual exasperated look, but her expression quickly changes when she meets my gaze.

“Are you ill?” she asks. “You look terrible.”

Trembling, I muster all my strength and sit up on the bed. “I’m fine.”

She takes a few slow steps towards me. Holding her hand to my forehead, she checks for a fever - her palm is cool and soft, I breathe in her familiar sweet scent and suddenly my heart shatters into a million pieces; I realize for the first time in years how starved of her affection I’ve been. I am a child again, violently awoken from a nightmare, and I need my mother to comfort me.

“You don’t have a fever,” she concludes. “But I’ll send Chrysothemis if you aren’t feeling well.”

“Please,” I mumble, “stay with me.”

Her eyes go wide in surprise and an amused smile twitches at the edges of her mouth. “You really are ill!” she exclaims. “Should I send for a medic?”

I look up at her, my vision blurred by tears I can no longer restrain. “No. Just… Can I ask you a question?”

She crosses her arms, raising one eyebrow. “Let’s hear it.”

“Am I mistaken in the way I remember him?”

Silence reigns over us for a few moments. There is a look of heartbreak on my mother’s face, and then a hint of satisfaction.

“He was always kind to us, wasn’t he?” I continue. “Not too affectionate, but never cruel either.”

“Never cruel? He murdered one of you.”

It’s painful to admit, but she’s right. One of us . It could have been any of us . It could have been me.

“I loved your father very much, Electra. So much that I was able to ignore the warning signs. He had a soft side, of course, and I felt privileged that he reserved it for me. But there was a violent side as well. And I did get a taste of it.”

My eyes go wide. “Did he hurt you?”

“We had… disagreements. Because I wanted to have a say in ruling the kingdom, or because he thought I was disrespecting him, or because he was disappointed that I couldn’t bear him any sons. And I would try to defend myself with arguments, but fists speak louder than words.”

“He hit you?”

“Not regularly, and never in front of you. But there was always an underlying threat of violence. Afterwards, he promised he would never do it again. He took vows upon vows and declared his love for me. I forgave him every time, convincing myself that something else had taken over him, that he wasn’t himself when he did those things. Because, at all other times, he was kind to me. Never cruel - except when I caused him to be.”

She sits at the foot of the bed, not too close but not too far away either. “I understand you, Electra. You, too, are blinded by your love for him. And it’s easier to love an absent parent. They can be whoever you want them to be in your memories.”

“Why didn’t you tell me any of this?”

“You pushed me away. You didn’t want to listen.”

You were supposed to be the grown-up! We mourned Iphigeneia too, and we were only children! Orestes was a baby when you sent him to Phocis!”

“I’ve had to make some difficult choices; perhaps I was mistaken in some of them. But I was here, Electra. With all my flaws, my crimes, my wrongdoings in plain sight.”

“I needed your guidance and you abandoned me. You brought another cruel man into this house to take his place.”

“It was the only way.”

I was expecting her to contradict me when I called Aegisthus cruel. “You know?”

“Know what?”

“That he hurts me. Have you known this whole time?”

“Aegisthus? No, I… I didn’t know.” Her face hardens. “What do you mean, he hurts you ?”

“He spits at me, slaps me, humiliates me when you aren’t looking.”

“I see.” Her jaw is clenched now and she’s quietly fuming. “Aegisthus and I are going to have a talk later, don’t worry. I must ensure that he doesn’t forget his promises.”

She looks into my eyes again and now her expression softens. “When I was pregnant with you, your father was certain you’d be a boy. He had prepared a list of names for you - all related to fame, glory and military victory. But I knew I was carrying a daughter, and when I first held you in my arms, you looked at me with those big amber eyes of yours. And I decided I would call you Electra.”

Reluctantly, she takes my hand in hers. “Over and over again, I failed you. I wasn’t prepared to handle any of this. I know it’s my neglect that truly fuels your hatred.” Wiping the tears off my cheek, she grants me an imperceptible smile. “I’m tired of living like this, Electra. It’s easier to love you.”

Then love me , I want to scream, love me, mother! But after all these years of despising and cursing her, I’m embarrassed to admit that I need it.

Cautiously, she withdraws again - this is all very new for both of us, very fragile, and it could go wrong if we move too fast. She stares at me in thoughtful silence, as if she's focused on choosing her next words wisely.

“How did you get these ideas about your father?” she says eventually.

I bite my lip. “Cassandra told me some things regarding their… relationship.”

My mother's face assumes a knowing smirk. “Of course. She is familiar with his violent side better than anyone, isn’t she?”

I nod and a chill runs down my spine as I remember Cassandra’s stories.

“I knew you two would get along eventually. And I’m beyond grateful to her for opening your eyes.”

She speaks with such certainty that I can’t help but wonder… Was this all part of my mother’s plan?

“I’ll send Chrysothemis to the riverside,” she adds, walking to the door. “You could probably use some rest today. And…"

She lingers for a moment, carefully choosing her words again.

"You and I can never be like we once were," she says. "We've wounded each other too deeply. But there is still inside me a remnant of love for that little girl. I hope you can find some too, for the mother who held you."

I nod and she smiles again with a sweetness I had forgotten. "I'm not asking you to forgive me - but try to understand me. And I promise to do the same."

It took too many years, but the sharp pain in my chest is finally beginning to soften.