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I

She gets invited.

The only stipulation though is that she keeps on her best behavior.

"Only one small fight, please," Iris tells her, "that is the only request of the silver-footed bride and her groom, the son of Aeacus."

Eris frowns, but agrees. She already has a wedding gift ready, after all - a golden apple for the bride inscribed "To the fairest." Nobody would dispute a gift to the bride on her wedding day.

She can manage a small disagreement over two lesser goddesses maybe over their robes being too alike, yes, that should do.

 

 

II

Before Eris can shout "To the fairest!" someone has neatly plucked the golden apple from her hand.

"So lovely that you could attend, Eris," Hermes grins, polishing the fruit against his long cape. "And who is this for? Little old me? You shouldn't have!"

Before she can snatch it back, he takes a bite, right into the part where she has inscribed the word she intended to destroy the happy occasion.

The goddess of discord is seething with rage, but it's not like she can procure another golden apple so quickly. She storms out of the celebration right after Hermes drags her to bride and groom so she can grumble some form of congratulations.

Hermes continues to calmly chomp on the apple and even offers a slice to Dionysos, too intoxicated to even know any wiser. Eris catches his eye right as she leaves, but finds his shadowed eyes impossible to read - she never knows if he did it all on purpose.

 

 

III

When the Apple of Discord drops to the ground and the goddess of discord leaves with a harsh laugh, it is the Ruler of Many who picks it up.

It is so rare for him to be out of the Underworld, but it is a great occasion and Thetis and Peleus have honoured him by requesting that he attend their wedding. Still, the (normally) Unseen One is the centre of attention when he reaches down for the golden fruit marked "Fairest."

His eyes move about the room of guests, but he ignores them all until he sees his wife. In a simple gesture, he takes her wrist and places the apple into her hand. She blushes faintly and the other goddesses eye her with great envy.

She is gracious enough to offer the apple to Thetis, who is honoured but politely declines. In return, the Hospitable One offers her a single favour as a wedding gift.

(And in time, Thetis takes that favour - she cannot make her son immortal, but dipping him in the waters of the River Styx will make him invulnerable to all mortal injury.)

But for now, which goddesses would dare to argue against the judgment of the Wealthy One or his dread queen? How he chose his wife without hesitation as the recipient of the title the "Fairest"? It is best to say complimentary things, like how she is fortunate to have such a loving husband who appreciates her beauty.

 

 

IV

Everyone stares as the golden apple flies through the air, the fruit shining bright like a star. Everyone holds their breath as it falls, hitting the ground gently and rolls. There is nary a goddess who would not reach for it, though most shrink away when they see three of the most powerful women in their midst stepping towards it.

Three hands move toward it as it begins to settle. But a delicate hand quietly lifts the fruit from the ground as it touches the hem of her robe. The goddess of the hearth looks up serenely, with a smile as warm as a glowing ember.

"For the fairest," Hestia says, turning the apple against the light of the fire she sits near. "Who should it go to?"

There is a long and silent pause. No one dares to even breathe, much less move. Hera and Athena and Aphrodite cast their fearsome eyes toward Zeus. It takes a moment before he steps towards her and kneels.

"Sweet sister Hestia, the first of the Olympians," he says, "There is no contest here - there is no goddess whose beauty can compare to that which is seen in your humbleness and kind heart! Why, it can go to no one else."

Hestia looks into her brother's eyes and sees something no one else sees. The soft smile does not leave her face as she nods and thanks him.

It's a shrewd move. There is not one immortal who dare to take the gift from the goddess of the hearth. It would be too tasteless, too shameful a thing to do to one so kind and sweet. It can go to no one else, indeed.

 

 

V

Priam knows the story of Oedipus of Thebes. When he learns the son born of Hecuba that day will cause the fall of Troy, he does not order a shepherd to expose the child.

He orders a guard to kill the infant. Smother it, throw him into a fire, make sure the child does not live. The king steels himself and watches the guard finish the deed. The infant is buried in all the honours afforded to a prince of Troy.

Hecuba never forgives him, but Ilium stands strong for when Hector becomes its king.

 

 

VI

Paris has little to do in ways of entertainment, aside from pitting Agelaus's bulls against one another (and bedding Oenone). There is one bull amongst Agelaus's bulls who wins the bouts consistently, so he does what comes naturally: challenge rival herdsmen's prize bulls.

He's more than pleased to see Agelaus's bull defeat them all and doesn't think twice about offering a golden crown to any bull who can beat his champion. But when his bull is overthrown by another, Paris is outraged to see the contender transform into a god.

It does not pay for him to be dishonest - the Lord of War tears Paris to pieces for his impudence. There is not a single suitable judge for the golden apple.

 

 

VII

Paris stares at the three goddesses. To be honest, they were all blindingly beautiful. It was like looking right into the brilliant light of Hyperion's three children at the same time.

But when they start offering bribes, it gets easier. Being a simple shepherd, he can't imagine being married to the most beautiful woman in the world (as pleasurable as that sounded) - besides, Oenone still satisfied him quite well. He did like the sound of wealth and power, though endless victories would be useful as well.

Next to him, Hermes shrugs and gestures again, sweeping his hand from the apple for the "Fairest" that Paris is holding to the goddesses. He takes one last look at the three: golden Aphrodite, white-armed Hera, and grey-eyed Athena.

At last, he decides - no man can hope to win every battle. He presents the apple to the Queen of the Gods. Hera glows with satisfaction.

Certainly, Paris suffers from a long string of unfortunate love affairs and he never wins any battles, but he is elevated into a prominent prince of Troy who brings the city more plundered gold than any other when he can avoid fighting. Of course, Paris is fated to destroy Troy. Alas, the moment he decides to become King of Ilium, the city is doomed as he is corrupted by his desire for power and wealth.

 

 

VIII

Perhaps to reward him for solving the difficult problem of how Helen's husband isn't going to get killed by other suitors, Tyndareus persuades Helen to choose the young king of Ithaka as her husband. If Odysseus is disappointed, he does not show it.

For Tyndareus, it solves the most immediate problem of getting her married and has the added bonus of keeping her out of sight. Maybe he has the foresight to know that her beauty is going to cause more problems and a crafty man like Odysseus should be able to manage that. Besides, he has other beautiful daughters and nieces to marry off to powerful Achaean kings.

In any case, Aphrodite still plans for her favourite to meet Helen. All it takes is some whispered words to Poseidon and Paris's ship is storm-tossed from Sparta all the way to the rocky shores of Ithaka.

Odysseus is a gracious host, offering fine wine to his guests and men to repair the Trojan ships, as well as all the appropriate treasure one should give as gifts. He does not mind that Paris gives Helen more attention than one should give to another man's wife, a king's wife.

But Paris learns the hard way that Odysseus is no fool. On the night that he tries to steal Helen away, he is shocked to find all his ships aflame and sinking into the wine-dark sea.

Odysseus appeases Priam by returning Paris's body, accompanied by twelve mourning women and a tribute of gold worth the life of a Trojan prince who died in while accepting the hospitality of the King of Ithaka. To ease the pain, Odysseus has even managed to convince Telamon of Salamis to return Hesione to Troy. It takes very little persuasion for them to believe that Paris died bravely helping the king defend his island from most terrible enemies.

Only Helen is impressed that her husband got away with it. But he shrugs and just thanks her for reminding him that he needs to pour libations to his patron and others besides.

It pays to have the favour of Athena after all, and Hera too.

 

 

IX

Helen thinks about her daughter, still a young child. She thinks of Menelaus, perhaps not as golden and powerful as Agamemnon, but still a just ruler and a good husband and father. Then there are her brothers and her sisters, the people of Sparta.

And then there is Paris, who is loading his ships with Spartan treasure and her - the so-called most beautiful woman in the world, his prize for winning the favour of the goddess of love and beauty.

Beauty. She has seen her reflection a thousand times but it means nothing to her. It is nothing but trouble. She remembers how she had been abducted and her brothers, in their fury, had taken her back, with Theseus's mother and sister to become her slaves. She remembers how Clytemnestra, Timandra and Phoebe had to swallow the bitter pill of being her sister, how Philonoe became a priestess of Artemis, how Penelope married far away (perhaps all to avoid Helen forever). She remembers the blood of the horse that her suitors had sworn by to defend her husband's honour.

The husband that her father had let her choose, the only decision she had ever made in her life.

Paris is careless and Helen spies the dagger, clean and polished. He is not a man who has ever fought in his life, she thinks with disgust.

When Paris comes back to claim her, she is already on his bed, and dressed in a flame-coloured robe. He is lovesick and ready to pleasure himself with the most beautiful woman in the world. But when he goes to undress her, he steps back when he finds the robes are dyed with blood, so much blood, gloriously beautiful blood, all from the lifeless Helen, her lovely eyes rolled back and a blade in her beautiful, oh so beautiful, throat.

It was the only other choice she had made in her entire life.

 

 

X

Agamemnon offends the goddess of the wild hunt, so the Achaean ships cannot sail. As soon as the oracles declare the reason for the lack of favourable winds, the great King of Mycanae's face turns to stone.

Of his daughters, the eldest must be sacrificed - the goddess has demanded the most beautiful thing to be born from Mycenae fourteen years ago to be sacrificed. He knows that there can be no war without her death and nothing else will be sufficient to appease Artemis.

But Achilles is outraged that he should be dangled as bait for Iphigenia to be lured to Aulis. He will not let his honour be tainted by the insult but because he cannot kill Agamemnon, it is in that anger that he makes her an unsuitable as a sacrifice.

Troy does not burn all because Iphigenia could not die for one thousand ships to launch.

But rather than take another of his daughters (after all, there is still Laodice and Chrysothemis, Iphianassa and Elektra), Agamemnon gives into the request to his brother to give up, as much as Menelaus's dignity demands this. Instead, Agamemnon bites his tongue and "grants" Achilles the honour of marrying his eldest daughter. He is a man of his word, even if those words belonged to the sly Odysseus, intent on bringing Iphigenia to Aulis, and nothing more.

It helps that the oracles foretell that they will otherwise fight a war because of a monstrous woman who destroys the Age of Heroes. All her former suitors pray for the terrible and unfaithful woman to meet an untimely end.

And crafty Odysseus sends his gratitude - it spares him twenty years away from home, from his faithful and lovely wife and fine young son. Who knows how, but he brings news that Helen has died a terrible and painful death in childbirth, with Paris' bastard son along with her, and all the treasure and more that Sparta lost when Paris abducted Helen besides. Troy will fall all on its own, all because of Paris, outraged at the loss of his lover.

At least Agamemnon remembers to pour libations for Artemis in thanks (more than he knows he should - there is no reason for Clytemnestra to murder him now) and Menelaus finds a more agreeable wife in one of Helen's remaining sisters.

 

 

For Nothing

But everything does happen as it does.

There would be no stories to be told otherwise.