Electra: A Delphic Woman Novel #3

Electra: A Delphic Woman Novel #3

In this, the third and final book in Kerry Greenwood’s Delphic Women series, Greenwood takes us into Troy as it struggles to rise from the ashes of the Trojan War. ...

About The Author

Kerry Greenwood

Kerry Greenwood is the author of more than 40 novels and six non-fiction books. Among her many honors, Ms. Greenwood ...

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Chapter One

The Gods were quarrelling, as the Gods often do. Olympus, the abode of Immortals, was crowned with the marble cirque where the Wells of Seeing lay, deep waters wherein the Makers could view the earth. Aphrodite the Stranger, Goddess of Erotic Love, and Apollo Sun-Bright, God of Learning, son of Zeus, had not resolved their wager. Cassandra, daughter of Priam, and Diomenes the Argive, the Healer-Priest of Asclepius, had been their puppets, acting out the play of the Gods through war and the fall of Troy. The city lay in ruin, and enslaved Cassandra was being brought to Mycenae by Agamemnon, the victorious king. Diomenes followed in the wake of the army. Aphrodite had wagered the golden apple on her own power, that of love. Apollo had set against this fate and death, and the outcome was still in the balance.

The golden apple spun in the air, the gage of Aphrodite’s wager with Apollo Sun-God. As he reached out a hand to catch it, a great bell sounded, shivering the drowsy eternal afternoon.

‘Children,’ announced Zeus the Father with solemn majesty. ‘Leave your squabbling over the daughter of Priam, much-tried Cassandra. Troy is dust. My son Apollo, your favorite, Diomenes Chryse the Asclepius-Priest, shall love or not love as he wishes. Your favorite, Lady Demeter, Cassandra, captive of Agamemnon, shall live or die as fate wills. Cut the strings of these minor puppets, children; make peace with each other. There is a greater matter to be considered. Your intervention has woven their threads into a tapestry in which all the Gods are interested.’

‘Lord?’ asked Athena of the glittering helmet. ‘What matters?’ ‘The House of Atreus,’ the great voice intoned.

The golden apple fell to the marble floor unheeded.

Electra

I knew she was going to kill him when she laid out the sacred tapestries.

I stood at the head of the marble stairs and watched them unroll across the floor, blurred by the feet of the children of Atreus. Intricately embroidered, many-figured with holy beasts— bulls and lambs and horses dancing to the altar to die in the wor- ship of the Gods. Black like the splashed blood of the sacrifice. Before dawn the watchers had cried that the signal fires were burning to announce the return of Agamemnon, son of Atreus, from the sack of Troy. I went out, wrapped only in a thin chiton, and sighted the points of greedy light on the surrounding hills.

He had been long away, my father, the King of Mycenae, and many things had happened in his absence.

She had taken a lover. Queen Clytemnestra, my mother, had welcomed into her bed the revenge child Aegisthus, my uncle. He was the son of incest between his father Thyestes, brother to my father, and his own daughter, a priestess of the river. He existed to enact his father’s vengeance on the House of Atreus, for Atreus’ murder of Thyestes’ children. Before he came, I had not known how well I could hate.

I hate very well.

Part of me did not really believe that she could kill him. My tall father, dazzling in his bronze armour, tall as a giant, strong as a bull. When he had gone with the army to harry Troy, ten years before, I had been twelve and a child, believing that the world was a safe place for Laodice, called Electra, Princess of Golden Mycenae. I had given him my bunch of windflowers and he had fastened them on the shoulder of his harness. He had picked me up and hugged me, smelling of leather and wine, and I had snuggled closer to him, begging to be allowed to come, at least as far as Navplion and the beaches where the black ships lay, keel to keel, waiting for the wind.

Later I was glad that he had denied me that sight. We sent my sister Iphigenia, my gentle, beautiful sister, out of the gate of the lions, with rejoicing and the music of bells, for her marriage with the hero Achilles. Instead she had been espoused by Thanatos who is Death, the Dark Angel. She was sacrificed on the altar of Boreas, the north wind, so that my father’s ships could sail to Troy; so that the revenge of the sons of Atreus for the kidnapping of the faithless Elene should fall on that stone city.

The nightmare began the night we heard of her death.

My mother Clytemnestra did not scream or cry. No tears fell from eyes that became more and more stony as the days went by. She did not speak or eat for three days, then she arose and stalked the walls. She stared out, towards the sea, towards Tiryns where Dikaios the Just ruled. I did not know what she was looking for. Now, ten years later, I know. The beacons were blazing for the return of the king. My mother’s order, my mother’s fire, whipped on by her will. From Lemnos to Athos, Makistos to Messapion across Euripos, Kithairon to the Gorgon’s Eye, burning Ida to the Black Widow’s mountain, Spider Peak above Mycenae, which always threatens to topple but never falls.

The cloth was laid for the sacrifice; the double axe was in my mother’s hands. I shivered in the chill light of dawn, looking out over the silvery olive groves, my hands on the balustrade thawing the ice-rimmed stone, and listened to the morning noises. A cock crowed kou kou ra kou! I could hear Orestes, my dearest brother, singing the morning song to Eos, who is the dawn. Somewhere a man was whistling on the cold hills; a goatherd was piping calling-tunes to his herd. Running feet, well shod, sounded in the chill courts of Mycenae and I smelled hearth smoke and the scent of baking bread. But there was a misplaced sound among the morning noises, a suave, gritty, sliding sound just behind me.

With mountain-stone and virgin oil, Clytemnestra was whetting the axe.

 

Cassandra

The bearers stopped for breath at the foot of a steep gravel path in the middle of what seemed to be a market. I looked out of the litter, in which I was tethered by a chain about my neck. A captive of Lord Agamemnon must not be allowed to escape. She might be valuable, especially if she is—was—a princess of Troy. The traders cried firewood and skewers of meat and sandals and tripods. I could smell dust and roasted flesh and charcoal fires, unwashed humans, pine trees, wine, and amber oil. Now that the religious hush which greeted the return of the   Great

King had passed, the noise of the crowd hurt my ears.

I looked up to a narrow gate, surmounted with two lionesses carved out of grey granite. For a moment I flinched. The massive walls seemed about to fall and crush me. The road wound past the feet of the Cyclopean walls and curved up the hill. The bronze doors were open.

Above us the city rang with harping and singing, and some enthusiast was hooting through a bronze trumpet. Long strips of delicate weaving, blue and black and crimson, fluttered from the walls and flapped in the chill breeze. Mycenae was evidently pleased that Agamemnon was home in triumph from Troy.

I was part of his triumph. A most unwilling part. I had seen the city—my city—sacked and burned. Agamemnon’s army had slaughtered my brothers and taken my sisters as slaves. He had taken me also, disgraced Priestess of Bright Apollo, torn me from my twin Eleni, who was closer than any lover. Agamemnon was bringing Cassandra, daughter of Priam, home to his queen and his city, to draw water for his horses for the rest of my days. I listened to the sea-sound of wind in the olives, remembering Ocean, and the buzzing of flesh-flies in the pines.

I had almost escaped. The priest of Asclepius, Diomenes called Chryse, and the Trojan ex-slave, Eumides, had fished me out of the water. Agamemnon, however, had not drunk any of the drugged wine with which I had put my ship to sleep. We heard a bull’s roar over the water, ‘Find Cassandra!’ I had slipped back into the ocean, to avoid compromising my friends. Even then I swam quite a way to shore before they caught me.

Chryse and Eumides had sworn, in hurried whispers, that they would follow and rescue me, but I had seen nothing of them on the long road. I did not expect help from them. I trusted their good hearts, but anything might have happened to them—storms at sea had scattered the fleet, several ships had been lost, and we had been repeatedly attacked by bandits on the long road from Navplion.

I recalled the chain of little hot lights, fire speeding across the mountains to announce the return of the Sons of Atreus. Kind Agamemnon had sighted them too, far out on the wrinkled sea, flat as a plate, the seamen grunting at the oars.

‘There goes the message of my victory,’ he said, and grinned. I hated him. Big as a bull, strong, coarse, brutal, cunning king. He had tried to rape me the night of my recapture, but I had called on the black aspect of Gaia the Mother, the Goddess Hecate, Drinker of Dog’s Blood, and the proud phallus had shrunk and fallen under her black regard, the snake-haired one. For disgraced or not, captive or not, exile or at home, I am still Cassandra, daughter of Priam of the Royal House of Troy,

Priestess of Apollo, and I can call on the gods. They owe this to me, who have wounded me almost beyond bearing.

Agamemnon had attempted violation again the next night, when I was seasick; perhaps he thought that I would have less power if I was retching helplessly. The other women had urged me to co-operate, saying that he would beat me, but I would not. He disgusted me, his matted chest, filthy skin still smeared with Trojan blood, and his grasping, sweaty hands.

And when he shoved me down and knelt again between my thighs to no effect, he did not beat me. He got up clumsily, made the sign against evil—and evil was certainly there in that loot-filled cabin—and pushed me out to sleep with the captives.

Thereafter he did not speak to me. If I looked at him, he avoided my gaze.

Slaves have but small triumphs.

The journey from the port was slow, because Agamemnon’s treasure had to be transported, loaded on every horse and mule in the Argolid. The loot from Apollo’s temple alone burdened ten ox-carts. Oh, Ilium, all that remains of you is golden vessels and the frail flesh of your children, and how long will we last? Gold melts and flesh dies. In a generation all memory of Troy will be gone. No one will speak of it except to say, ‘This was Troy, once a great city, which the Sons of Atreus destroyed because of faithless Argive Elene.’ It was not Elene. We never had her. It was greed that destroyed Troy, all its wisdom and wealth spilled on that blood-soaked plain, because the Argives did not like to pay our tolls for passing the Hellespont. Eight years of piracy and two years of siege, and now the treasuries of Agamemnon brim with our gold.

And Troy is gone, gone utterly.

Oh my twin, my lost Eleni, taken by the son of Achilles. My arms ached for him, my mind sought constantly for the spark of his mind. It was there—a flicker, just a flicker. A desperately miserable and humiliated Eleni lit a small corner of my mind. I hoped that he could not feel my rage, my burning fury. I would not add to his burdens. He was a slave and I was a slave. But we were in good company.

The women of Troy are valuable throughout the world. They call us the well-skilled women. In the baggage train there were almost a hundred of us—spinners, weavers, two jewellery-makers, a dozen house-builders and the best potters in the city. Our skills would not die, provided we were allowed to them to another. For we worked and moved and even breathed now at the behest of our masters, and we had not been slaves before. We talked when we could, to comfort each other. Perhaps half were resigned enough to settle down in their new lives, but three had already been murdered by their Achaean masters for being insufficiently meek.

I did not hold out great hopes for the rest.

The happiest of Ilium are the dead, and there are so many dead. Hector, my brother, tall as a tree, sun-golden, with his great beard. My mother and father, my brothers, all dead, all gone. I could feel Eleni, my twin, by our god-given consciousness. He was just existing, but he was still alive, the last son of Priam.

Eleni was still alive and I was about to die.

By the God’s vision I knew. I was certain. If I went up that hill I was going to share Agamemnon’s death. The woman was waiting for him. She would strike once across the belly and then as the guts spilled and he bowed before her, with a skilled woodsman’s stroke she was going to cut off his head.

And mine. I heard my own dying cry and smelt blood so strongly that I choked. The water of the bath lapped like a red tide. I clutched at my throat, cleared my voice and cried, ‘Stop!’ My bearers, both Achaeans, looked around inquiringly.

Achaeans are infallibly curious. It is their only charming characteristic.

‘Why did you say “Stop!” Lady?’ one asked.

‘If you take me up into the city I will die,’ I said. They were sorry for me, and the left one patted my hand soothingly.

‘Slavery is not good; no one desires it. But in life there is hope,’ he said.

‘I mean, soldier, if I go up into the palace I will be killed,’ I elaborated.

The patted me again and said, ‘Lady, we are ordered to take you up into the city.’

‘Listen, idiots, don’t you understand me? I thought I spoke clear grammatical Achaean!’ They stared at me stupidly. ‘There’s a lake of blood up there. I can smell it so strongly that I can hardly bear the stink. I am a Priestess of Apollo and he gave me clear sight and I tell you, the king must die—will die—I can see the manner of his death now as clearly as I see you. If you take me there she will kill me too, so put the litter down.’

‘The Lady is distraught,’ said one.

‘Women, even priestesses, are excitable,’ said the other, lifting his end of the litter so that I was flung backwards by the length of my chain.

‘The Priestess is overcome by the horror of her situation,’ said the first, hoisting his end to a muscular shoulder.

We jolted up the steep path to the Lion Gate and I occupied myself in prayer. Not to the new cruel Gods, Apollo or Artemis or Hera, but to the familiar Lords of my destroyed city; Gaia the Earth, Mistress of Animals, and Dionysos the Dancer. I shut off the vision of blood and recalled, instead, sitting on Hector’s shoulders with my twin Eleni, hands clasped across his golden head, while he argued with a ship’s crew about a missing amphora of honey from Kriti. I closed my eyes.

 

Electra

He was coming home, my magnificent father, victorious and bringing captives and treasure, and I wanted to rush out to meet him. He would render justice to me, roast Aegisthus over a slow fire, kill the unrighteous queen.

I dressed in my finest chiton, of delicate rose with a blue mantle, colored my lips and cheeks with cherry juice and outlined my eyes with Egyptian kohl. I brushed my dark hair until it shone. I laced on my best sandals, a present from my father and too small for me, but decorated with little bronze rosettes. My nurse, Neptha, showed me my face in the bronze mirror and told me I was beautiful. I heard the trumpets and the drums. The Great King was returning.

Then my nerve failed. As others had turned from friends to monsters in a moment, might not my father change as well? My trust wavered. I could not just leap into his arms as I had once. I was not his little daughter any more. I was flustered, confused and afraid. My golden eyes were not innocent. I knew things, I held secrets, who had once been as clear as water.

So I crept, not to the main wall, but to the women’s quarters, under the mountain called Spider. I saw the baggage train gleaming with gold, heard horses neighing and men shouting and wooden wheels groaning on the uneven road. I smelt dust and roasted meat and a waft of wine and swallowed tears, tasting salt. The Triumph was filling the flat space before the city and overflowing up the hills on either side, a confusion of animals and people. There was a hush as a bronze-clad man walked proudly and alone up the path. His helmet was plumed with bright feathers, he clanked as he moved, but I could not see his face.

Then my father passed out of sight and the noise came back. Surely she did not really mean to kill him. She was just sharpening the axe for the sacrifice of the bull to welcome the king. Surely she could not manage to kill him, so tall and magnificent, so strong?

I could see all the way across the valley to the mountains beyond. Grey-green with white stones knuckling through thin earth, that is Mycenae. The wind always blows here.

Two young men looked up as I looked down. They were a contrast. One was a sailor, by the look of him. Curly dark hair, dark eyes, gold rings in his ears which glinted as he moved; compact and strong, like an oarsman. The other was taller, slimmer and chryselephantine. Ivory and gold. His skin was pale and smooth and his hair was as bright as the sun, like a statue of a god. He did not smile but looked at me gravely, and I did not retreat. He did not feel threatening.

The dark one was equipped with a long plaited line with a grappling hook on one end, dangling from his hand. They were actually attempting to climb into the women’s quarters.

‘The penalty for what you are intending is death,’ I informed the golden man.

‘The penalty for living is death,’ he replied evenly. ‘It is a common fate.’

‘But not so surely or so soon,’ I told him.

I should have called the guard, but they were all at the Triumph, welcoming my father back into the city.

‘We have to get into Mycenae,’ said the golden man. ‘Why?’ I asked, surprising myself. Ordinarily I never speak to men.

‘It’s a long story and this is an exposed place for tales. Let us in, maiden, and we’ll tell you all about it,’ said the golden man calmly.

I did not know what to do. A memory was trying to surface in my mind. I had seen that golden hair, that cool profile, somewhere before. A long time ago. When?

I had been waiting at the gate of the city with my mother and my sisters when Iphigenia was alive, when I first saw Argive Elene, the most beautiful woman in the world, or so she seemed to me, a little girl. We were handing out coins and bread to those who had survived the plague. There had been a very riotous bard called Arion, and a bearded Master of Epidavros called Glaucus. Prince Odysseus had just left, who had brought me a sea-shell the color of sunset from a shore on the other side of the Pillars of Heracles. Yes. The memory was becoming clear. I do not like memory and try to avoid it if I can. But here it was. A sunny day, and the procession of cured ones are coming, led by a boy no taller than me, a boy with straight golden hair and tired eyes. Diomenes. They called him Chryse, ‘golden’, and he was made a healer priest because of that battle with the plague of Apollo on the hills outside Mycenae.

I winced and said, ‘Chryse?’

‘Princess,’ said the golden man. ‘Electra, daughter of Agamemnon, you know me. I am Diomenes, called Chryse the Healer, Priest of Asclepius. This is my friend Eumides, who was once a slave in this very city. We must enter. Help us, or at least do not call the soldiers.’

I stood in thought, rasping my palm over the clean edge of the tiled wall. They stared up at me, the dark man and the golden. I was powerful. I could scream—it was my duty to scream—and even amid the rejoicing the armed men would run to my aid, bronze weapons clattering on marble, and cut the intruders down on my order…

I exclaimed in pain. A sharp edge of tile had cut my hand. A little blood dropped onto the stone. It was an omen.

I did not speak but stepped away from the wall. The grappling hook flicked up, grounded, scraped and held under the weight of two climbing men.

They were over the wall in an instant, the agile Eumides hauling Diomenes up by the arm. They were taller than they had seemed on the ground. They loomed over me and I backed until I came flat against a wall. The usual draperies were gone to furnish the Triumph, and the stone was very cold. The sun had not reached the megaron yet.

‘Princess,’ said Chryse, ‘allow me.’ He took my hand and turned it to examine the palm. There was a thin cut, already closing. His touch did not disgust as much as that of men usually did. His hands were deft, and he bound my wound with a strip of linen from his bag.

‘Maiden,’ begun Eumides hurriedly, ‘we must find the Trojan prisoner Cassandra, daughter of Priam.’

‘The captives will be brought to the Great King’s hall, the audience chamber. Who is this Princess? Has my father taken a concubine?’

‘Not if Princess Cassandra had anything to do with it,’ grinned Eumides. I flinched away from his knowing smile.

Chryse Diomenes noticed this and said gently, ‘She is a Priest- ess and has prophesied the death of Agamemnon your father. She has spoken truly for all of her life and she said in the gateway that a woman would kill both her and the King.’

‘How do you know?’

‘We heard her. We’ve followed the army from Troy, travelling among the traders. Watching all the way, looking for a chance at rescue,’ said Eumides impatiently. ‘We won’t fail now, eh, brother?’ Chryse took the offered hand and held it and I perceived that they were close—very close. Speech came to me in a rush. For some reason I wanted to help them.

‘The King goes to bathe. I will show you the place. There’s a server’s door in a narrow passage, I know how it can be done. They’ll bring the Trojan slave there to be purified if she’s lain with the Kind. There will be no one else there, just my mother, she said she would tend him herself and she’s sent all the slaves away. You can take her, this Trojan Princess. We don’t need Trojan women here; Troy has fallen and is dust.’

They said nothing. The knowledge I had suppressed smashed through the barriers that guard me against feeling. This prophet- ess was telling the truth—they said she always did. My mother was going to murder my father. I froze, trying to find words, then gabbled, ‘Save my father, Healer, you must save him.’ I pleaded with him, even touching his shoulder in the suppliant’s gesture. A line of pain divided his smooth brow. ‘We can try, Princess, but Cassandra prophesies truly, and we may not succeed.’

‘We have to try, come, hurry!’ I said. I turned and ran through the maze of the women’s quarters and they followed me, far too slowly.

The palace of Mycenae may not have a labyrinth, like the fabled Palace of Minos, but it has been added to by successive kings since Perseus, and it is said that no one can find their way through unless they were born here.

The passages are unlit, except by occasional light wells. They dip below ground at unpredictable intervals, have distracting flights of stairs which seem to lead nowhere and odd corridors which conduct the poor lost ones out of their way and them strand them in the wine cellar. Without my help the men pant- ing behind me would have been utterly confounded, but I had been playing in the mazes of the city since I was a child, and knew them like my own hand.

I slid to a halt before the water-carrier’s door. I heard voices, one calm and one cold.

‘Come, Princess,’ said the cold voice, ‘Will you not walk on the cloths? My Lord does so. Is it for his slave to disobey?’

‘I will not walk on the sacred tapestries,’ said the other voice. I heard in it exhaustion and determination. This was a woman who knew she was going to die, had accepted it, and would not be further compromised. If she said she would not do something, then she would not do it. Eumides and Diomenes leaned forward, listening. On both faces was an identical eagerness and joy, so that for the first time they looked alike. They loved her, this Trojan slave who was my Royal Father’s concubine. I shivered and tasted metal in my mouth. The corridor was musty and damp and stank of mould.

‘My Lord, will you not order your slave to tread in your footsteps?’ insinuated Clytemnestra the Queen, my mother. I could imagine the flush of malice on her cheek, my beautiful mother with the long ringlets of ebony hair, the pale, skilled, pink-tipped fingers. There was a time when I thought her more beautiful than Elene, wife of Menelaus of Sparta.

I found the catch and allowed the door to open a little way. Eumides and Diomenes pressed against me, and I had no room to recoil from their warmth.

Three figures were standing on the steps leading up to the great bath. There was my mother and there was my father, armour removed, clad in a stained tunic.

He was not a giant as I remembered. He was an ordinary man, man-sized, an old man sagging at the belly. His black beard and hair were streaked with grey. I could not see his face.

‘Enough, woman, let the slave do as she likes,’ he grunted. Then I knew it was indeed my father. Just so had he grumbled if his wine was too hot, or his favorite horse had been badly groomed. I think I almost smiled at the memory.

He was standing on the sacred tapestries, brought out only on festivals, which only the priests were allowed to handle. She had tempted him into blasphemy. The gods would never forgive her. Neither would I.

If I could have reached her, I would have killed her then. The slave stepped back, allowing the King and then the Queen to pass up the stair to the bath. She was a tall woman of no particular beauty. Her hair hung loose like a maiden’s and her face was as still and white as a marble statue before the painter has applied the tincts of nature. She looked like a Kore, Persephone the Maiden, in a green chiton, loaded with gold jewellery, chiming with bangles.

I heard Eumides and Chryse draw in a breath when they saw her.

Then she raised her head and cried out in an unknown tongue.

Eumides shoved the door open and plunged onto the stair.

I followed and Diomenes came behind.

At that moment Clytemnestra turned her head and saw us. The King was plodding up, oblivious. Her black eyes raked us, cataloguing each person; golden man, dark man, Trojan prisoner, her own daughter, with equal calculation. I could almost hear what she was thinking. She had not expected witnesses to her dreadful act. However, if she stepped down to kill us, she would lose her main prey, my father. Like a hawk who lets four mice escape in favor of a hare for which it has whetted its beak, she held us all for a long moment and then released us, turning back to the King.

Eumides, one arm across his face to fend off those Gorgon’s eyes, seized Cassandra by the shoulder and she came to him. She seemed to be tranced, for she said no word as they pulled her through the doorway, pushing me before them.

‘Father!’ I screamed, struggling past them and gaining the stair. ‘Help! Help!’

There was a thud and a great cry, then another thud.

Diomenes lifted me, flung me through the water-carrier’s door, shoved it shut and leaned on it.

‘Let me go!’ I struggled frantically, ripping at his face with my fingernails. He trapped my arms by my sides in a wrestler’s grip and clapped a hand over my mouth.

Cassandra the slave came close, so close I could smell perfume and wine on her, and said, ‘He is dead, Electra.’

Her eyes were unfocused, as if she was dreaming, or saw things other than with sight. She stilled me. I was not resigned or calm, I was boiling with fury and loss, but I could think again. All my thoughts were of revenge for blood.

‘We must leave,’ said Diomenes shakily. ‘Now, before the murder is known and the gates are shut.’

‘Good counsel,’ agreed the sailor, one arm around Cassandra and one around his friend. He seemed to be dizzy.

Cassandra began retracing my journey, which was fortunate for I had lost my way. I did not recognize any landmarks. I groped along in an ocean of darkness. I heard the unsteady steps of Eumides and the steady pace of Diomenes, burdened with his friend. After a while he recovered and walked on his own. I watched while he recovered and walked on his own. I watched the sure feet of the Trojan slave, moving like a dancer.

We skirted guards, avoided pitfalls, doubled back and went on after the fluttering green chiton and the faultless pace. She did not pause until we were back in the megaron. Then she stopped suddenly and fell. Diomenes caught her as she crumpled in a jingle of gold.

‘Cassandra,’ he said, and shook her almost roughly, so that the jewellery rang like bells. ‘This is not time for a prophetic swoon! Wake, Lady, we are in deadly danger.’

‘Princess,’ said Eumides gently, ‘Wake and smile, Lady, on your suppliants.’

‘Oh, my dears,’ she said, sliding an arm around each neck and drawing their faces down to hers. ‘Oh, my golden ones. My most faithful. I had given up hope. Did you follow the army all the way from Troy?’

‘Every weary step, though we did some trading on the road.

Come, can you stand?’ Eumides encouraged.

‘I don’t know.’ They lifted her and she shook her draperies into place with one brisk, cat-like movement.

‘Princess Electra,’ she said. ‘Come with us.’

‘Why?’ I hung back from her warmth, stubborn and shocked. ‘Because your mother may find your presence inconvenient,’ said Eumides grimly. ‘She kills people who inconvenience her.

The boy, too—the son of Agamemnon—what is his name?’ ‘Orestes,’ I said numbly.

‘Do you think he will survive the death of his father?’ ‘The death of his father?’ I repeated stupidly.

‘Come or stay, Princess. We are leaving,’ said Eumides, unwinding the plaited line from his waist and balancing the grappling hook.

‘Where are you going?’ I asked, forcing the words past stony lips.

‘Delphi. If you are coming, fetch the boy and bring some provisions for a journey, and change your sandals, they aren’t fitted for the road. And hurry!’ he shouted after me as I ran from the room.

I found Orestes, gathered his clothes into a bundle and thrust him before me into my room, all without a word. I clawed three chitons from my chest, rolled them in a blanket, and stuffed a handful of gold inside. At the last moment, I took my doll Pallas and laid her in the bundle as well as the sandals my father had given me.

I left all my remaining possessions on my bed for Neptha. Small things, but precious to me, hard to leave. Neptha would understand. I dressed for a journey and took Orestes’ hand.

We climbed down the wall, unnoticed, and picked our way across the rocky slopes. It was getting dark. A child wind struck and numbed all exposed skin. With held breath we drifted through the market traders and the ox-carts and continued through the undergrowth. I saw that Cassandra was unveiled, wrapped in Eumides’ cloak and openly holding his hand like a whore. I heard the noise of running water, the stream beside the road.

I was leaving Mycenae and my father was dead.

Reviews of

Electra: A Delphic Woman Novel #3

Greenwood fans will welcome her thoughtful second reinterpretation of a well-known Greek myth (after Medea). Among Greenwood’s other talents, she displays a gift for writing songs of the period.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Troy is in ruins, but the gods are not done playing games with men and women.~~~The last in Greenwood’s Delphic Women series (Cassandra, 2013, etc.) again presents exciting, cleverly detailed ancient stories from a feminist viewpoint that seems just as likely to be accurate as the versions that came before.

Kirkus Reviews

The middle book of Greenwood’s Delphic Women trilogy (originally published 1995–97) is the last to appear in the U.S. It is also the strongest, a sort of revisionist look at the aftermath of the fall of Troy. King Agamemnon returns, heroic, to Mycenae, only to fall victim to the murderous plot of his queen, Clytemnestra. Electra, the royal couple’s daughter, is swept out of the city by Cassandra, the Trojan slave (and the focus of an earlier book in this series), hoping to get her safely to Delphi. Ancient Greek mythology is usually told from the point of view of the male characters, but Greenwood’s three-book series focuses on the female players. This allows her to examine previously underexplored characters, motivations, and events. Known for the strong female protagonists, Phryne Fisher and Corinna Chapman, in her two mystery series, Greenwood does an excellent job here of giving the ancient Greek story a modern flavor, using lean, unadorned prose and dialogue to make it seem as though the story could be taking place today.

Booklist

Regarding Medea: “This is a book I didn’t want to end. I dreamed about the characters for days afterward.”

Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author of Last to Die

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