She was Helen of Sparta. fifteen years old, beautiful, flawless, a perfect god-child. Cool and collected, flashing inviting smiles at the suitors who fought over her. On the outside at least. Helen had long ago learned never to let her true feelings show. So she smiled and acted like she was absolutely delighted and proud to have dozens of men fighting over her like a pack of starving wolves. On the inside, she just wanted to run away, to curl into a ball and hide. She wanted to flee from her sister's jealous anger, her father's insistence that she must pick one of the suitors soon, and most of all from the suitors themselves. How could she pick one of them, when each was as unknown and terrifying as the next? But she kept her face composed. She was Helen of Sparta, daughter of Zeus, composed of ice and marble. The children of gods did not show fear.
In the end, it was his red hair that caught her eye. Red like flames, she thought. It drew her to him, perhaps because she felt so very cold inside.
And so she was married. Menelaus was kind, gentle. He tried to draw her out of the walls she had built around herself, the shell she shielded herself with. A part of her longed for this, but she was afraid. So very afraid. If she didn't let herself feel, then no one could hurt her. So as time went on Helen of Sparta's walls only got thicker. She grew hard and cold, as much on the inside as she had trained herself to be on the outside. Eventually her husband gave up. She could see it happen. He was still kind, but it was as if they were two strangers who happened to live together. The tiny part of her, locked away inside, that still felt emotions ached at this, but she ignored it.
They had children together. Four of them. Each of them managed to slip past her defenses and into her heart. But even then, she did not show it. She was as distant from them as from anyone else.
When her husband came back from Troy with a young girl claiming to be the princess of Siphnos, Helen hated her immediately. She was a liar. Helen could sense it. But that wasn't why she hated her. Helen was jealous, though she would never admit it, not even to herself. She was jealous of the flaming haired child who seemed surrounded by the affection of all who knew her. True affection, not the awed adoration that most showed toward Helen. Jealous of the way her own husband and children were prepared to accept her into their family.
And then Sparta received another visitor. Prince Paris of Troy. The instant she met his eyes, Helen was entranced, pierced to the core. For the first time in years Helen felt. Here was a man who was beautiful and flawless, as perfect as she herself. Surely the gods had brought them together for a reason. She didn't hesitate to invite him in, to give him everything. When he asked her to return to Troy with him she felt no moment of remorse. Paris was her destiny. She had never felt something like this before. Besides, she told herself, Menelaus would probably scarcely notice she was gone. That was how little she and her husband paid attention to each other.
Of course, he did notice. And soon after Helen came to Troy, war followed her. She didn't care. Only Paris mattered. When her baby son disappeared, stolen away out of Troy back to his father in the night, it gave her a brief moment of grief, but then her thoughts were once more consumed with Paris. Let Menelaus have his children. She would give Paris sons, already she carried his child.
But the child was a daughter. And after that there were no more children. She could feel Paris' frustration and annoyance that she had failed to give him a son. But, it was alright, she told herself, Paris loved her and that was all that mattered. There were moments, occasionally, when she missed her other children. And other moments when she wondered, remembering the accusations the girl Anaxandra had made about Paris trying to kill Pleisthenes. But these feelings were quickly stifled. Paris would never do such a thing. And as long as she had him then her life was perfect.
And then Paris died. And her perfect world came crashing down. Almost before she had time to process Paris' death Helen was married off to his brother Deiphobus. Deiphobus was different. Not like Paris, and certainly nothing like Menelaus. He had been Paris' favorite brother and while Paris was alive had always treated Helen like a favorite sister. That changed the moment they were married.
Maybe he hated her, blamed her for Paris' death. Maybe he just liked causing pain. The reason didn't really matter. Scarcely a day went by that Helen wasn't hit or beaten. Because she made him angry or for no apparent reason at all. She had thought she was made of stone, unbreakable, invulnerable. Nothing is invulnerable. The walls she had built up for years weren't gone, they were destroyed, shattered into rubble, and so was she.
She tried as much as she could to shelter her daughter from her husband's wrath, and was mostly successful, as long as he had Helen to target Deiphobus left Calantha alone.
When the war was seemingly over and the gift of the Greeks was brought into Troy, Deiphobus was suspicious. He ordered Helen to walk around the outside of the horse, calling out to the Greek men he suspected were inside in the voices of their wives. She obeyed, hoping for at least one night she wouldn't be beaten. There was no response and Deiphobus decided the horse was safe.
That night the horse opened and the Greek army poured into Troy. Helen huddled in Calantha's bedroom with her daughter trying to shield the child from the sounds of war and death outside. She heard when someone entered the house. Heard Deiphobus yell and a fight begin. She closed her eyes, wondering if she would die soon, wondering if that would be better than the life she lived every day. Hoping that if Deiphobus was killed whoever was fighting with him would spare Calantha. Silence outside the room. The fight was over. The door to the bedroom opened. Calantha let out a small squeak and burrowed herself closer to her mother. Helen opened her eyes.
It wasn't Deiphobus standing there. It was Menelaus. His face was hard, angry, but his expression slowly changed as he took her in, saw the bruises on her body, the haunted look in her eyes, the terrified child clinging to her. The anger faded, replaced by pity, sorrow, maybe even love. He walked toward them slowly, kneeling by the bed and reaching out towards them. Helen flinched back, pulling her daughter with her, but Menelaus only put his hand over hers. He spoke.
"Helen" Just one word. Just her name. But that one word contained volumes. The anger and betrayal he had felt for ten years. Pity. Compassion. Forgiveness. And Helen began to weep. Not silently, but sobbing like a little girl. And then he was sitting beside her, holding her, stroking her hair as she wept into his shoulder, the tears releasing every emotion she had ever tried to keep locked up, the fears of a young Spartan princess, the grief of a Trojan widow, the terror of an abused wife. Calantha sat very still, frightened by her mother's sobs and by the strange man beside her. Slowly Helen's tears stopped. She felt different, somehow. Empty, but at the same time almost at peace, though war still raged just outside the walls of the house. She lifted her head and pulled Calantha closer to her, then looked up at Menelaus.
"This-this is Calantha. My daughter." Menelaus looked down at the little girl. Then he smiled at her, and after a moment Calantha smiled back. Somehow at that moment Helen knew everything was going to be okay. Their would be difficult times ahead. The war, the war she had caused, had broken so much. So many were dead, so many others might be wishing they were. Her own children might never forgive her. But looking at her daughter's smile Helen felt something she had scarcely in her life allowed herself to feel. Hope.