She was bathing when Paris saw her for the first time.
Through the clear waters of the little forest pool she seemed fashioned of pink marble. Tiny droplets clung to her arms and shoulders, to the heavy mounds of her breasts, and to the slopes of her hips where they ran down into pallid buttocks. She was unaware of his presence on the grassy bank and hummed softly as she ran a damp linen rag from an armpit over a jouncing breast.
Paris stirred and his shadow leaped where it lay across the edge of the pool. Helen saw that blackness quiver and whirled to face him, eyes wide and ripe red mouth a little open. Her hands kept up their task of cleansing her firm bosom. The rag moved back and forth and shook her breasts gently to its rhythm, so that the great dark nipples elongated and stood forth proudly.
He wore his bronze armor, with bronze greaves on his lower legs and the kilt of red leather studded with bronze between his upper thighs and his loins. A long sword hung at his hip. He carried no shield nor any helmet, for the day was warm, it being the summer month of Hekatombaion, and there was moisture on his forehead below his curling yellow hair.
Helen smiled, seeing the awed admiration in his blue eyes.
"If anyone were to find you here, there would be trouble,” she told him softly. "You may not know it, but I am--"
"Aphrodite," he breathed.
Her laughter rang out. Paris liked the way she laughed, so honestly, with her tongue all aquiver in the red bowl of her mouth. It made her breasts jump and shake excitingly, too.
"Oh, heavens! I'm only a human being,” she protested.
"Not you," he smiled, shaking his golden head. "A goddess, yes. A naiad who guards the springs and lakes of the world. Or surely Cytherea---who was born from the sea foam itself!"
"No, no--nothing so glamorous. I'm only ..."
Helen paused, her heart pounding with pleasure. The touch of his fine blue eyes on her dark nipples, the feel of his gaze searching out the dimpled nudity of her hips and belly where the water hid them, made her feel suddenly alive. Her blood quickened, her breath grew short, her loins were oddly molten. It had been a long time since Helen had felt so wanted.
She relished those eyes touching her here and there. Menelaus, her husband, was a king in Sparta, but he was a warrior and a hunter who cared more for the sounds of a deer running in the forests and the sigh of a spear sliding toward its mark then he did for the sight of a nicely turned leg. He had never been a lover, only a husband.
This boy, now. This Paris! He seemed a war god himself, in that bronze armor with his muscular legs so bare between short kilt and greave and covered with fine golden hair. A young man in his bull strength. A youth with eyes that sparkled as they ate her flesh. A human Pan.
Helen lowered the linen washcloth, proud of her big, firm breasts. Let him look, if he wanted. Eros knows, her husband never gave her body any attention. She was surprised to discover that she missed the admiration and attention which was the due of every beautiful woman; she had been so busy being the wife and queen Menelaus expected her to be, she had scant time for anything else.
She ran her fingers through the water, eyeing him from under long blonde lashes, knowing the motion of her arm made her breasts jiggle. La, he could not keep his eyes off them. What would it be like if he caught them in his hands? Helen bit her lower lip. She must not think such thoughts! As a queen, she had a certain dignity to maintain.
"I came for a drink of cool water,” he breathed.
“The water is sweet and cold," she agreed.
He knelt on the grassy bank, still watching her. Helen smiled and made a cup of her white hands, filling them with water and holding them out to his lips. His hands touched them reverently, lifting them up. First he kissed her fingertips, then he sipped the water, and then he held her hands and covered her wet palms with kisses. Helen protested softly, glad that he was understanding enough to ignore what she was saying and do what he wanted with her hands, turning them over, licking them dry with his tongue, drawing them down to his thighs.
There was an earthiness about this Paris which appealed to her. He was direct as Pan playing on his syrinx, as eager as a satyr. She let her fingers close gently on him, holding him.
Faintly flushed, she whispered, “I am queen of Sparta!"
"You are a woman before you are a queen."
"My name is Helen. I am wife to Menelaus.”
"Menelaus is a fool.”
Her eyes blinked. “Why do you say that?"
"If you were mine I would hedge you round with guards so that none but I might see your loveliness."
"You must go. Please, you must! If anyone were to find us here together--and me without anything on —where would your trade agreements be then?"
“I have no heart for huckstering. I am a man. Still I'm flattered that you think enough of me to know my mission here in Argos.”
She chided him, saying, "I know your father Priam who is king in Troy--or Ilion as you call it--would not like to hear that! He sent you here to make alliances with Menelaus and with Agamemnon of Mycenae and Nestor, who is king in Pylos."
“I would rather make alliance with his queen than with Menelaus. Is the pool your private property?"
She drew away her hands and said, "You must not dare. As long as I am in it, it is a royal pool and belongs to me alone.”
His hands were busy undoing buckles. He bent and his bronze cuirass fell into his hands. He loosed the straps of his greaves and kicked off his sandals. His heavy cotton tunic, that prevented the bronze armor from chafing his skin, dropped to the ground.
Helen was as one turned to stone. She could not take her eyes away from his lean, powerfully muscled torso, his wide shoulders and the thick solidity of his legs. This was madness! Surely Luna had numbed her senses, had inflicted her with that madness which popular belief said anyone exposed to the baleful influence of the moon was certain to acquire.
If it had been night, she would be positive. But it was mid-afternoon and the sun was hot on her flesh where it was exposed above the pool waters and it shone on this Trojan youth who was sliding down his cotton loincloth so that she could see how much like a wood satyr he really was.
"Oh, no," she whispered.
She must turn and flee. Or scream. It was her duty as a queen. To stand here like this and stare at him as he had stared at her was the act of a harlot. She thought of Thetis who had sought to escape the de sires of Peleus by changing herself into a thousand shapes, and ended by giving birth to a son named Achilles. This Paris might be Pan who never tired of admiring the beauties of fair Omphale, or Hercules who bedded her.
He might be--
Paris dove into the water. He made scarcely a splash as his body cut into it. She turned, following his body through the waters as if he were some great fish. He swam back toward her and, rising to his feet, put his hands on her hips and drew her up against him.
Helen found it difficult to breathe, pressed so firmly into his nakedness. Her hands formed into fists to beat against his shoulders but her fingers would not obey what her mind told them to do. They caressed his arms and slid up onto his shoulders, and when she saw where his eyes were looking, glanced down at her breasts floating in the water, gently nudging their dark tips against the hair on his chest.
“This shall be our secret," he murmured.
"It had better be," she commented drily.
"I love you, Helen of Sparta."
"Oh, don't be silly. We've only just met."
"Aphrodite brought me along the woods path to this pool. It was her wish that we see one another."
Her laughter scratched in her throat. "It's easy to blame a goddess for our mistakes."
What am I doing here in the arms of this golden stranger? Am I truly mad? I have known him for a dozen drippings of a water clock and yet my flesh is on fire and the blood bubbles in my veins!
Again her hands came up to push him away, but her muscles were as nothing against the wave of desire that swept over her. Never had anything like this happened to Helen of Sparta. She had been aware of her beauty and its effect on men all her life, yet no man had ever been so forward, so honestly eager to know the secrets of her flesh, as was this Paris.
Perhaps the goddess is to blame!
Are you, Aphrodite?
She knew she could not fight him if he did more than hold her hips. In her brain she understood this, realized that Paris sensed her woman-need and responded to it. She sought to marshal her thoughts, her resolution, her virtue.
If he delayed, if he gave her a chance to think...
He did not. His fingers tightened on her hips and then his lips were covering her mouth, and Helen almost stopped breathing as she moved forward, crushing her flesh to him, writhing as if demented in the fury of her hunger. Yes, if this meant death to them! Yes, if by this deed they pay its price! Yes, to Aphrodite and to Eros!
His hands went down her back to cup her buttocks, to lift her a little so she knew the extent of his desire. She gasped and nodded, kissing his throat, biting his shoulders, feeling herself manhandled, treated as a market square whore. Her legs came up to grip and hold.
The water rippled all around them.
Her soft cries made echoes in the forest. His harsh breathing was as a paean of tribute to her loveliness, and, as such, it stirred her senses almost as much as the more tangible honor he paid her flesh. The sunlight was on her upturned face and then it went away as he moved and she moved with him, and there was no god but Aphrodite and this madness was her worship.
Her teeth bit his shoulder to muffle a scream. Her fingernails dug deep into his thick upper arms. Paris never felt the pain, only her tongue lapping at the blood that oozed from her tooth-marks and her little moans of compassion. In a little while she was biting him again.
She was laughing and weeping at the same time, moving her breasts back and forth against his chest, crying out his name, vowing her eternal love. He was not Paris, he was Eros himself. Nor was he from Troy, but from Mount Olympus where the gods lived. No mere mortal could convulse her with pleasure like this, of a kind she had never before felt...
Helen lay with her back across a flat rock jutting upward from the pool. Paris was beside her, bending to kiss her flesh as she ran her hands through his damp yellow hair. It was sunset, and in the west, beyond the mountains of Arcadia, Helios was a great red ball.
"No man ever made me feel like that,” she told him.
"Your men must be poor lovers."
"Or you—a great one."
The wind came out of the trees, where it was cool and damp, and made the woman shiver. She sat up, permitting his eyes to stroke her where they would, along her somewhat plump thighs or her hips or on the tips of her large breasts. She had no secrets from Paris, nor he from her, from this day on.
"I must go," she said. "It grows late. Menelaus will be returning from the hunt. He will be hungry and I must make certain his food is cooked the way he likes
Helen laughed and leaned to kiss him. His hand touched her thigh, caressing it so that she shivered even more. Into her ear he poured words that she had yearned all her life to hear.
"You are my food and my drink, Helen of Sparta. You are the sun that blinds, the moon that drives me mad. You are my love goddess, my Aphrodite."
Her soft palm silenced him. In that moment, far away, they heard the braying of a hound. It was an intrusion by the world in which they lived and which they had escaped in this idyllic moment out of Time. It chilled their blood as no water and no mere wind could do.
Helen breathed, "Go now. I shall see you tonight at the palace of Menelaus. Be careful. Do not betray me."
By that she meant, let this meeting by the pool be sacred to us. Let not Menelaus or any other suspect that we have served the love goddess, for that would be to cheapen our act in the eyes of men. Paris kissed her hands and watched her as she slipped off the rock and waded through the shallows toward where she had left her clothes.
He stood there transfixed by the sight of her gently shaking buttocks, by her nudity as the sun touched her while she bent to lift the fallen zona and the white chiton. She turned and held them against her nudity, smiling at him. In this moment, as their eyes met and held, Paris understood that her destiny, her moira, was as one with his own.
The hearth fires were burning brightly as Helen ran through the stone doorway of the palace and along the ramp that lifted to the upper quarters where her cosmetic jars would be ready to her hand. She must erase from her skin all marks of her encounter with Paris. None must see the love bites and the dark stains where his hands had gripped and held her while pleasure rioted in their bodies.
The slaves were down below, roasting the lamb and readying the platters of figs and barley cakes, pouring the wine from the big earthenware jars into small pitchers for the serving. She could hear the hum of woman-talk and the deeper tones of the steward as he cursed a boy for breaking a cup of gray Minyan ware.
Helen lifted the leather drape that formed a door into her bedchamber. Her quick eyes searched the wide bed and the heavy chest that rested beside it, which contained her finer garments, the thin linens of Cos and the splendid leathers of Tricce. In the alcove where a statue to Aphrodite stood, a bronze bowl held dead incense. To one side of the tripod was a couch, a kline, where her serving woman, Iphita, had placed the garments she would wear this night.
She laughed below her breath, sliding into the room, unfastening the bronze fibula that held her chi ton at her shoulders. The linen tunic fell and Helen kicked it gaily through the air. Naked except for the zona that supported her breasts and her sandals, she ran to the alcove.
I have a lover! Great mother goddess Aphrodite, my thanks!
She laughed and tears came into her eyes as her hands cupped her face. I am a queen and I am also a shameless wanton! An hetaira! The oestrus in my blood, that itch of womankind that turns her limbs to water, is my heritage from Leda, my mother, who coupled with Zeus in the shape of a swan.
With trembling fingers, she placed grains of incense in the bronze bowl and lighted them. The dark smoke-plumes rose up before the goddess, wreathing her stone nakedness in gray mists. Helen leaned to the goddess and touched her limbs with quivering fingertips.
"Give him to me, Aphrodite! Let Paris be mine!"
Her cheeks flushed but her chin firmed defiantly. No, she was not lost to shame! No, she was no foal of Aphrodite to stand naked in a brothel door! She was a woman who needed love, whose flesh yearned to be kissed and caressed and stroked, as her ears burned to hear once more the soft words of praise and adoration heaped into them this day by Paris.
She caught her breasts in her hands. See how firm they are, great Aphrodite! Even now they hunger for his kisses and--
She cried out, starting, her heart leaping in terror. Menelaus was standing in the doorway, holding up the leather drape, squinting at her. He was a big, gross man, with black hair all over his arms and chest and back. His beard covered the bottom half of his face and all his neck, and tufts of hair protruded from his ears and nostrils.
With relief, she saw there was no suspicion in him.
"There's a visitor coming, a young man from Troy. I want you to be nice to him, understand? His father is King Priam—and Ilion controls the water passes to the Euxine Sea.”
"Is th-that important?”
Menelaus said wearily, "Well, of course it's important. We do much of our trading with the Bithynians who dwell on the shores of the Euxine and with the cities of Sinope and Colchis. If it weren't for Troy--"
He broke off, head tilted as if seeing her nakedness for the first time. A little thrill went through Helen. Would he come to her, throw her down on the bed and enjoy her flesh as he had not enjoyed it in a long time? She stood straighter to expose more of herself to him.
Menelaus was saying, "If there were no Troy, if the sea lanes were open for our keels and we never had to pay passage through the straits that Priam controls, Hellas would grow with wealth like a pig fattened for the slaughter."
He squinted again at her. "Dress your best. Something nice. And remember, Paris is important. We're going to talk trade treaties." He yawned and scratched himself under an armpit. "I'm tired. I wish Paris were anywhere but here in Sparta. But Agamemnon housed him in the Lion Palace of Mycenae, so I suppose I've got to do it too. Gods, I'd like to sleep for a week.”
"You hunted too long," she chided him.
Menelaus brightened. “But I got a big buck, one with eleven points on its antlers. It will make good eating." He turned back into the hall. "Maybe I'll take a cold bath. That always wakes me up."
Helen slapped one of the columns that divided the alcove from the bedchamber. Cold bath! A buck with eleven points! Well, she had felled a buck this day also, in a manner of speaking, and she would wager she had more pleasure out of hers than Menelaus out of his. She began to laugh, head back.
Please Paris! Be nice to him! Dress to enthrall him!
She leaned against the stone pillar, tears of mirth running down her cheeks. Aie! She would dress to please the Trojan. If Menelaus wanted Paris happy, Helen would tickle him with the feather of her beauty until he rolled helpless at her feet.
From the roadway that twisted out of the forests of Argos and sloped down through a grassy meadow, Paris could see the great stone citadel that was the palace of King Menelaus. Not as large as the massive structure at Mycenae which housed Agamemnon, king of Achaea, it was still a foreboding structure, crowned on top with a number of great buildings, the walls of which were painted with hunting and war scenes. Their flat roofs were covered with red tiles and made a fine showing in the dying sunlight.
The young Trojan saw it not as a palace but as the dwelling place of the woman he loved, a personal Mount Olympus where his own goddess lived. He was still flushed with a sense of awe, for as his chariot rattled along the forest road, he told himself it had been Aphrodite who had been in his arms in the pool, not a mortal woman. Her beauty and her intense reaction to his own hungers had been those of a Thetis to a Peleus, or a Hebe with Herakles.
The fact that he was about to see her again made the breath come in his throat, it made him drive recklessly so that his matched gray horses of Tricce raised dust as they pounded the roadbed with furious hooves. And it fostered a vision of Helen framed against a background of his own palace, back in Troy.
To have Helen in his bed! To have her sweet flesh as his own, night after night! The thought was so exciting it came close to causing him to loose his grip on the reins.
Helen of Sparta—all his!
Not wife to Menelaus—but wife to Paris, prince of Ilion.
"By Ares! If only I dared!”
It was not to be thought of. He was an ambassador to Hellas in the name of his father, King Priam; his person was sacred to the Greeks. To repay trust and kindness with such a deed was not to be entertained except in those dark recesses of the mind where lurk the base passions of all men.
Paris sighed and yanked back on the black leather reins. From the hill along which his chariot was moving, he could see out across the sea-speckled waters of the river which ran through Laconia and into its gulf. A boat was being run up on the beach, a boat that bore the striped Trojan sails and the horse-head insignia of the city on its figurehead.
He had come overland from Mycenae through the Parnon mountain passes, but his entourage had journeyed here to Sparta by sea, through the Saronic Gulf to the European river-mouth Antenor, his friend, would be on the ship, readying his gear. Paris would want a change of clothes--these he wore were stained and dusty-and fresh linens for his body. He must be at his best, this night.
Flushed and excited, he shook the reins to whip up the grays
I come, Helen!
Antenor was waiting on the bench, holding out a leather cup of wine as Paris leaped from the chariot. A slave came running for the horses, catching the reins as Paris threw them.
"You looked pleased with yourself,” grumbled Antenor.
"I have met with Aphrodite,” Paris laughed, lifting the cup high and glancing toward the great citadel of Sparta. “I bathed with her, I worshiped her, I fell in love!"
Antenor said, "I hope her husband doesn't find out."
“A goddess loves when and where she will. Marriage ties are only for men. Have you no romance in your soul?”
"In my soul, yes. Not in my brain, nor in my body. Who is she, this goddess of yours? Some shepherd wench--or a lady in a high place?”
Paris laughed and shook his head, swallowing the wine and tossing the cup into the air to bat it with a fist as it came down. "You are a brute, Antenor. A dumb, unfeeling brute. I commune with the love goddess and you speak of shepherd wenches. Is my gear ready? I shall want to look my best this night.”
Antenor glanced at the stone citadel on the heights above them. "Oh? Then she is a highborn one, if you're going to see her later. Paris, remember you're here to sign trade agreements. The Greeks want to use the Hellespont so as to trade in the Euxine Sea. Your father is willing to allow them to do that, provided they pay us a goodly percentage of their profits. You understand?"
"I understand only that the color of her hair is a divine yellow. Her flesh is the tint of milk newly given by the goat. The red of her lips is the hue of blood newly spilled in sacrifice.”
Antenor grumbled, "The color of your brains is mud.”
Paris laughed and clapped his friend on his shoulder and ran down to the edge of the river where his oak chests, bound with bronze, were being swung ashore. He would stay with Menelaus one week, as he had with Agamemnon in Mycenae, then move on to Pylos where Nestor ruled. At least, this was the plan. And until this afternoon at the forest pool, Paris had every intention of observing it.
Now he was not so sure.
He could not tear himself away from divine Helen. She was more to him than food, than drink, than the very air he breathed. He shivered when he thought of her and trembled, knowing his hand would touch her fingers this night in greeting. A part of him mocked at his emotions, another part counseled that this was the way of madness; he listened to neither.
"Come help me, Antenor! I must be as Apollo when he went before the Muses to teach them the use of the lyre."
Antenor grumbled, but he did what his prince asked.
When Paris stood on the fore-deck of the ship at dusk, he wore a short chiton of Coan linen striped at its hems with broad crimson bands. A belt of golden plates held a ceremonial dagger and his feet were en cased in sandals of red leather. On his thick and curly golden hair nestled a wreath of myrtle leaves. Not even Tithonos had looked so noble, he thought as he surveyed his reflection in a large, polished silver mirror, when he inspired love in the heart of the goddess Aurora.
He hoped that Helen would find him as appealing as Aurora had found Tithonos. His heart was banging as thunder rolled sometimes over Mount Ida beyond the Trojan plain, in short little bursts and with an ominous flavor to its sound. Its rolling drumbeat cautioned him that danger lay before him, this night in Sparta.
Helen could hear the horses running even before she saw the great chariot that held the prince of Troy. She stood beside her husband, wearing a white woolen himation over a thin purple chiton, head bent a little so that all she could see were the tips of her white sandals peeping out from under her chiton hem.
"You understand, my dear?” Menelaus whispered.
"It will never work. Paris is not a fool!"
Menelaus showed his blackened teeth in a grin. "He's an idiot where a pretty woman is concerned. In Mycenae he made eyes at Clytemnestra, I understand. And actually bedded a couple of the prettier slave women."
"Now you want an excuse to quarrel with him?"
"Do you know how much his father demands to permit us passage through the Hellespont? A third share in all our ventures!”
"Hssst! Keep your voice down!"
Menelaus rumbled. “Dis take my voice! I tell you facts. A rider from Agamemnon found me while I was out hunting this afternoon. Agamemnon has come up with a plan. He says if Paris offends me sufficiently, it will give us all an excuse to go to war against his father."
Helen lifted her head and stared at him. "To war?”
"It would be cheaper to fight Priam than to pay him the third he asks as passage money for our trading ships. A third! The man's insane.”
Menelaus grinned. “Mycenae, Sparta, Tiryns, Pylos, Ithaca, Phthia! All the city states of Hellas formed together under the protection of divine Athene to wrest control of the Hellespont from Troy. It's a clever scheme, isn't it?”
Helen could see the chariot now as it rounded the bend in the road and bore down upon the opened gate of the citadel. Paris was a splendid figure in white and red chiton, with his white wool himation--decorated with the Trojan horse-head--flying out behind his shoulders. She remembered the strength of his man hood from the afternoon meeting in the pool and shivered.
Menelaus mistook her emotion. "No need to concern yourself with what I'll think, if you let him cause an incident. I won't be jealous. I won't have any re criminations for you. I'll understand you're doing it to please me."
"I'd feel like a whore," she murmured.
"Zeus! I didn't say you were to bed him!”
Helen smiled in the shadow of her upraised arm where she lifted a corner of her himation to shield her eyes from the blaze of the uplifted torches in the hands of the slaves. Could Menelaus know what had already taken place between Paris and his wife, he would not need to hint that Helen give him an excuse to take offense What he desired was already an accomplished fact.
She felt her pulse flutter, happy that she had selected this chiton to wear to the feasting, for it showed her body beneath it. Also she had touched the tips of her breasts and the shadow of her groin with the jar of Cretan perfume which had been a gift from young Achilles of Phthia upon his last visit to Sparta. Her lover would not only see the body he worshiped, but would breathe it in as well. .
If any fear had been in her, it was gone now. Proudly her head lifted and her moist red mouth smiled. The torch-lights were picking up the golden tints of her heavy hair and the silver bells that adorned the combs with which it was set. Let her look her most beautiful for Paris! Let her be, in fact, the goddess he fantasied her to be in his mind.
She moved forward a little ahead of her husband, as the chariot braked to a halt and Paris leaped from it, laughing breathlessly, having eyes for nothing but herself as she extended a hand and let her white himation fall open so as to expose her thin purple chiton and the manner in which it revealed her striding legs as she walked to meet him.
Paris caught her hand in trembling fingers. "Highness," he breathed. “Queen of women! Glory of the world!"
He kissed her hand. Menelaus came up then, eyebrows arched a little as he met his wife's eyes. Helen could read his face as clearly as if it were a papyrus scroll out of Egypt. The fool is in my hands already! It won't even be a contest, he was thinking.
Helen tilted her chin defiantly. No! Paris loved her and he should not suffer because of that love! Somehow--in a manner as yet unknown to her—she would find a way to please Paris and thwart Menelaus at the same time.
Helen walked sedately between her husband and her lover toward the great megaron, the vast hall with its circular hearth fire and the huge wine jars, the pithoi, set against the painted walls. Heavy drapes hung between the stone columns of the portico where it opened into the megaron, for Paris and his friend Antenor would sleep here the night, as guests of the Spar tan king.
Helen touched her eyes to the bed that would hold her lover. It was a low framework of wood bound with taut ropes to form a mattress on which thick quiltings had been laid, with covers over them against night dampness. It would be simple enough to send Iphita to Paris before he was asleep, to invite him to join her in her bedchamber, to have Menelaus break in upon them at some signal.
Her red lips twitched. As if she could betray Aphrodite in such a manner! The love embraces were sacred to the goddess. It would be a form of sacrilege were she to attempt any such subterfuge. Menelaus, being a man, did not understand such mysteries. By the same token, he would never suspect her of feminine intrigue, of wanting to bed with Paris and doing it, because his male pride could not conceive that she might prefer another man to him.
It would take thought, and planning.
For she meant to have Paris again as a lover.
Her face was bland as she took her place on the cushioned kline placed between the chair where Paris would sit and the high-backed throne which was the king-seat at a feast. She draped her cloak over the couch on the side nearest to Menelaus so that nothing of her body under the sheer purple chiton would be lost on Paris.
Under that Ionic garment, she was naked, with only the zona to be seen as it lifted up her breasts. Through the purple linen, her flesh was shadowy, mysterious. It would make a nice contrast with the bared skins of the little slavegirls as they ran this way and that with the serving platters piled with roast lamb and slices of steaming beef, with grapes and figs and barley cakes smeared with honey.
Helen caught Paris staring at her with his heart throbbing in his eyes for all the world to see. Menelaus would have his war on the evidence of those burning eyes alone! Helen sighed. Menelaus was blind to any such subtle evidence, however. He would have to catch them in the throes of passion before he would believe.
Two flute-girls scampered onto the floor, piping sensuously, swaying their nude bodies like snakes, back and forth bonelessly. They kicked high with their shapely white legs and did handstands with their instruments held between their teeth and piping weakly, letting their legs fall open-always before Paris, she noticed-while executing a few somersaults. It was a good performance, not too sensual but exciting enough.
The flute-girls ran off, and now drums began to throb.
Helen felt her blood run hot in her veins. She glanced at her husband carelessly as she reached for her wine goblet. She had seen the hill woman named Glynda dance and knew how she could rouse the lusts of men. So, then! Menelaus was leaving nothing to chance. The flute-girls and the hill woman would inflame Paris until he gave no thought to anything but his own desire.
Helen told herself that Menelaus would find an excuse to leave Paris alone with her, in a little while. It was his male way of being clever. Helen hid a smile behind her fingertips. She would teach her husband what it meant to play such games!
But for now, let Paris enjoy the hill woman. It would bring him to their little rendezvous with his blood whipped to a fine froth. Helen settled herself comfortably amid the cushions of her kline.
The drums rolled like thunder and with their steady pounding, the woman came springing, leaping high on bare feet and coming down crouched, long black tresses swaying as her head moved. Men said she had been a slave in Memphis before her husband abducted her and brought her here to Argos to earn good bronze ingots or lengths of cloth by dancing before his king.
Her body was plumply fleshed and soft. As she wriggled, her heavy breasts shook and leaped, to be joined by her round bowl of belly shuddering and convulsing between her pelvic bones. Her loins were furred in darkness and heaved and thrust whenever she moved her legs.
Helen ventured a glance at Paris.
Her lover sat with lips open, eyes wide. Never had he seen such an elemental female. She was oestrus personified, that itch of all females to be loved, to be taken, to be enjoyed. Her dance was not so much a performance as it was an invitation to be raped. As her flesh jiggled and bounced it called to every man who saw it.
Glynda had served the goddess Isis as a temple prostitute, men gossiped. Also, she had killed three husbands with the furor of her embraces. This last tidbit Helen believed had been invented because men found that Glynda, for all the suggestiveness of her dancing, was faithful to her husband. She enjoyed flaunting her body before all men but its more intimate favors she reserved for the man who called her wife.
Helen bowed her head to hide a smile. Not only Paris but his friend Antenor, and Menelaus as well, were gawking in undisguised desire at the naked body of the hill woman. Glynda sensed their interest and smiled, lifting her arms high and writhing her flesh before them.
It would be ironic if Menelaus became so aroused he came to her chamber himself this night, unable to wait out a visit from Paris. I would welcome him, Helen told herself honestly. Not as much as she would greet Paris, perhaps, for the Trojan prince is younger and handsomer and thinks more of the needs of the woman than does her husband. But she was used to Menelaus and in her own fashion, she loved him.
Glynda bowed to the floor, her thick hair tumbling over her soft shoulders. She rippled faintly as though in the throes of ecstasy, then was still. A little shame facedly, Paris applauded and cast a handful of tiny silver nuggets on the floor. Menelaus banged his wine cup on the table and signaled his steward to be as generous.
Helen hid a smile behind an upraised sleeve of her chiton. It was time for Menelaus to act, now. Yes, see him rising, big and bluff, his face red with wine and embarrassment. He would make his apologies first to his guest, as was proper, then to his wife.
In her ear as he bent to kiss her, Menelaus growled, "Remember what I told you! Some indiscretion-not too serious a one, mind!-at which I may take offense."
"I shall walk with you a little way, my husband," she said, rising gracefully, gathering her himation about her shoulders against the night chill. She put a hand on Paris. "I shall return, prince. Wait for me."
When they were walking close together, she pro tested, "I like it not. The Trojan is a guest. This smacks of treachery.”
"Of course it smacks of treachery. We break the guest oath, but it's worth it, can't you see? It gives us the excuse we need."
“Why didn't Clytemnestra offer herself to Paris, if an excuse were needed? Is Agamemnon's wife more sacred that I, her own sister? Is her honor more precious?”
Menelaus fumed. "Certainly not! It's just that we didn't think of it until recently. Paris had already said his farewells to my brother-and to his wife." He gloomed at a frowning Helen in the dark passageway which led from the megaron into the courtyard. “We could pass him on to old Nestor in Pylos, but his wife is dead and all his daughters are married.”
Helen looked at her wrist where a bracelet of rare blue kyanos glass gleamed in the light of an oil-boat hanging on chains from the ceiling. Idly she turned the bracelet around and around. “Where would you like to catch me with him?"
Menelaus growled, “By Demeter! You make it sound so dirty!"
"Isn't it?" she asked, raising her green eyes. "You break the obligation of hospitality to a guest. You arrange to have your own wife play the part of whore. You intend to wage war on a man who is innocent of any wrongdoing. And you ask me not to call it dirty!"
He was sweating, she saw. His eyes touched the painted corridor wall and the row of jars, then went on to the wooden rack that held his hunting spears. His eyes were tormented with doubt and guilt. Menelaus was not a subtle man; Agamemnon would have thought up the scheme and talked her husband into it, presenting it as a deed worthy of the gods because it would benefit all Hellas. Or, perhaps it was Ulysses of Ithaca who dreamed it up; he was a sly one, always parading his learning to anyone who would listen.
"All right, all right, if you feel so strongly about it. Don't do it. We will find some other way, I suppose."
Helen said slowly, "I am your wife. Always, I have been obedient. Command me, Menelaus."
She lifted a linen square and blotted the sweatbands staining his forehead. Up this close, he grew aware of her womanliness and the Cretan perfume with which she had touched her flesh. His eyes widened, then narrowed.
"I command you, Helen. Be gracious to Paris--in such a manner that I may take offense at an indiscretion—without there really being one."
"At an hour past midnight you will discover us."
"Yes, in--in the gardens to the west of the palaestra."
"Near the statue of Demeter?”
He nodded, fidgeting. By leaving, he thought he could disassociate himself from everything which would occur until he stumbled upon them near the statue of the earth goddess. It was so like a man! Give the orders. Close his eyes. Then be indignant when he found himself obeyed. Helen did not feel like smiling; she was not amused.
"Oh, go--go!" she cried, stamping a foot.
Menelaus nodded and fled into the darkness. A moment she stood there, watching him mount into the chariot and shake the reins. He would run the big bays to exhaustion in the hills, giving vent to the shame and anger in his blood. He was a blunt, honest man, was Menelaus, not nearly as well-fitted as Agamemnon to carry out this plan. Well, she supposed Clytemnestra would have nothing to do with it. She, Helen, was the fool.
Or was she?
Her husband had left her with an attractive young man, as good as ordering her to make love to him—in a discreet way, naturally--while he went galloping around the countryside. She drew a deep breath, feeling her breasts stand up firmly. Perhaps Menelaus was the fool, not she!
Very thoughtfully, she walked back into the megaron.
Paris was sitting on her couch, running his hand over the cushions that bore the imprint of her body. Most of the others were swilling from the wine-skins and fondling the girl slaves who were not averse to a bit of love-play behind the backs of the master and the mistress.
In the shadows, Helen waited. As if he felt her eyes on him, Paris lifted his head. She wriggled her fingers and smiled. He glanced at his friend Antenor where he was pouring red Ismarian wine into his cup and conversing with young Kytheros, who was brother to Menelaus, and looked enough like him to be Menelaus as he had been ten years ago.
Helen slipped aside into the darker shadows, moving silently on her white leather sandals. He was following her; she did not need to turn her head to observe him moving swiftly between the couches, away from the others and into the darkness beyond the lighted oil-boats
He caught her where the big oil jars made bulky black ovals against a painted wall. His arms came out of nowhere and closed about her and drew her back against him.
Helen had let her cloak slip from her shoulders moments before so that it trailed over an arm. Paris pressed close to her, his front against her back, his hands touching her breasts. His lips caressed her soft white throat.
“You are my world, Helen of Argos," he whispered.
"I'm a married woman. There's no chance of your mistaking me for Aphrodite now."
"More than ever! What husband would leave a beautiful wife to go riding through the night? But no husband can command a goddess, who does as she wills in every matter."
She made a wry face, unseen by him since he was kissing her shoulder where it lay bared by the slittings in her chiton. Helen felt herself responding to those lips on her flesh, to those hands touching her swollen breasts. Be indiscreet, indeed! Menelaus did not know to what fires he gave her flesh with such an order.
She caught the hands that held her bosom as if to still the movements of his fingers. It was on her tongue to tell him to fly—to go back to his ship and raise anchor for Pylos where Nestor reigned—but he mistook her gesture.
He thought she wanted more daring caresses, that she was putting her hands on his to guide him. His forefingers and thumbs caught her nipples, fondled them.
A sob burst from her throat. Aphrodite, help me! I cannot turn away from him! His kisses are too sweet, his caresses far too heady for me to accept without passion on my own part!
“Yes, oh--yes," she breathed and twisted back against him, discovering his male strength, in his hunger for her flesh.
"You torture me," he told her.
"If I torture, I can also comfort—but not here!"
Her hand caught his and guided him through the darkness along the corridor which led into the family rooms, to her own bedchamber and beyond it into the bedchamber of the king himself. Paris came at her heels, light of foot and laughing softly, touching a hand to her trembling buttocks as she ran, in anticipation and in promise.
I am a weak vessel, she thought. I cannot resist this youth from Troy. I obey my husband because I must--but I shall obey him in my own fashion. The midnight hour is not for some time yet.
And we have an hour after that to pacify sweet Aphrodite.