Fall of the Trident @lord22
The Problem of Helen

Chapter Ten: The Problem of Helen

The next day, when things were now well underway, Agamemnon called a meeting of his advisors. Odysseus, of course, could not be there. But Arkantos had spent the previous night looking over one map after another. He'd listened to all the details of the battles fought from several perspectives.

"Our first priority should be to resume our offensive," said Arkantos as they started. "However, we no longer have the forces necessary to encircle the city by land. As such, I believe our course is clear. We must first cut them off from the sea and secure our flanks."

"Arkantos is right," said Agamemnon. "Even as we speak, ships are returning to Troy with stocks of fish for eating, and they eat well."

"Those ships are coming from the Trojan Harbors," said Ajax, pointing to the coasts. "Here, far to the east along the shore, and here, far to the west.

"We seized them when Achilles was still with us, in the first years of the war. But we had to withdraw from them, and many of the people have come back."

"...Has there been any word from Odysseus in the Ionian City-states?" asked Arkantos.

"Actually, yes," said Agamemnon. "I have received word that Odysseus has gained the assistance of a large army of mercenaries. They were hired with much of the booty we claimed in our campaigns.

"But, with the sea contested, it may be difficult for them to land.

"Still, with a proper escort, perhaps-"

"Those harbors are supplying the city," said Arkantos flatly. "We must destroy them!"

"Is something wrong, Arkantos?" asked Ajax.

"We are at a very dangerous point in this war," said Arkantos, looking at the map and reconsidering. "One wrong move, and we'll all be lucky to escape alive.

"No, we can't destroy them. We lack the men to cover that ground. So we will try for alternative tactics."

"What do you have in mind?" asked Agamemnon.

"Ajax, you and I will head to the eastern harbor with your troops and seize it," said Arkantos. "However, once taken, we will not kill or enslave anyone within it. If possible, we'll avoid direct conflict at all. We'll offer them promises of maintaining their homes. They will live unmolested by us in return for food."

"Will the Trojans accept such an offer?" asked Agamemnon.

"They will at swordpoint," said Arkantos. "Once we have the harbor, we'll station the troops brought to us within. With those, we can take the other.

"Once we have the entire land and sea under control, we can seek terms with Hector."

"Terms?" asked Ajax. "What terms?"

"Obviously, the return of Helen of Troy will be among them," said Agamemnon. "We must have her back, for the honor of Greece."

"To whom?" asked Ajax.

"I don't know or care," admitted Arkantos. He felt tired of this war already.

"You don't?" asked Agamemnon.

"I have a son, Agamemnon, and I remain loyal to my wife even if she is dead," said Arkantos. "And even if I was interested in remarrying, Helen has brought nothing but grief to her various husbands.

"The last thing I want is to return home and spend the next ten years fighting an Atlantean War."

"...She may be more trouble than she is worth," conceded Agamemnon. "Perhaps it would be better to kill her at the end of this."

"And make this entire war even more meaningless?" asked Arkantos.

"Helen is the one responsible for this!" said Agamemnon in sudden heat. "She went with Paris of her own accord!"

"Did she?" asked Arkantos, not wanting to kill someone who did nothing. "What if Aphrodite enchanted her? Wasn't there some bargain made where Paris chose her in a beauty pageant or something?"

"I believe there was a beauty contest," said Agamemnon. "All the Goddesses chose to try and bribe Paris. Athena offered him wisdom and skill at war. Hera offered him a great empire, and Aphrodite offered him the most beautiful women in the world."

"And he picked Aphrodite?" asked Ajax.

"Yes, well, no one ever accused Paris of being intelligent," said Agamemnon. "If I were given a choice, I'd have taken Hera's offer. Once you have dominion over the world, it should be simple enough to have the most beautiful women."

"Yeah, but Athena offers great wisdom and power at war," said Ajax. "You can't hold together an Empire without those anyway."

"Which would you choose, Arkantos?" asked Agamemnon.

"None of the above," said Arkantos. "I'd politely and humbly explain that it is beyond my comprehension to judge. And I would suggest that they go ask my worst enemy instead."

"You'd refuse to choose at all?" asked Agamemnon.

"The Gods tend to hold grudges," said Arkantos. "No matter who you picked, the other two would seek your ruination. It's probably why the Gods have allowed this war to continue as long as they have. Athena and Hera want retribution.

"Troy was doomed the moment Paris made a choice.

"Although I admit, Athena would probably be the best choice if one had to pick."

"Isn't that dishonest?" asked Ajax. "In the situation, we should pick the Goddess, who is the most beautiful. That's the point of the contest."

"All three Goddesses are attempting to bribe me, and two of them will probably try to kill me," said Arkantos. "Honesty is a moot at this stage. In any case, Aphrodite struck a bargain. And may have enforced it regardless of what Helen thought."

"You suggest that Helen may have had no choice?" asked Agamemnon.

"I'd prefer not to have killing an innocent woman be our achievement," admitted Arkantos. "If she did betray Menalaos, then, by all means, strangle her. If she was taken by force, however, she should be spared."

"There doesn't seem any reasonable chance of determining it," said Agamemnon.

"Why not just ask Aphrodite then?" asked Ajax.

"Hmm?" asked Agamemnon.

"We have a shrine to Aphrodite here," said Ajax. "Ask her if Helen went with Paris of her own will, or was enchanted to do so. If she did, we cut her throat and be done with it. If not...

"Hand her over to the strongest warrior."

"You mean you?" asked Arkantos, raising an eyebrow. That was an unusually clever ploy by Ajax.

"Well, I..." Ajax shifted. "We could let the army decide who ought to get her."

"Well, I'm not interested in taking Helen for my own," said Agamemnon. "Our men have suffered enough women for me to contest the issue. And Arkantos, you have no interest in taking her?"

A mental picture ran through his head of Atlantis burning to ashes. Of her people slaughtered in the streets to claim Helen of Troy. "Not for the entire wide world."

"Who does that leave, then?" asked Agamemnon.

"Odysseus, but he won't want her," said Ajax.

"Are you certain?" asked Arkantos.

"Odysseus married her sister," said Ajax. "Penelope, and he's always been faithful to her. Hasn't even taken a mistress this whole time. He often tells me how much he wants to get back to her.

"We should leave it to the army."

"This conversation can wait until later," said Arkantos. "I must walk to the shrine of Aphrodite. Someone is going to have to communicate with them."

The meeting was adjourned, and Arkantos made his way to the shrine. It had been set up in the shadows of many strange trees of a kind he did not recognize. It was built from marble and looked worn. It must have been a leftover from ten years ago.

Coming before the statue, he saw it was clothed in silk.

Kneeling, Arkantos set his statue down at his knees. "Queen Aphrodite, I am Arkantos, Admiral of Atlantis. I wish to parley with you on behalf of the Greek Armies."

For a moment, nothing happened.

Eventually, however, Aphrodite was made known to him. She came alive within the statue and looked down on him. "...That is a rather unique way of calling upon a beautiful Goddess for Guidance."

"This is a war of gods," said Arkantos. "I did not think it is fitting to use the ordinary forms. Or would you prefer some other means of address?"

Privately, Arkantos had always resented Aphrodite but kept it to himself.

"No, no, I suppose not," said Aphrodite. "Very well then, Arkantos, I'll play along. Why do you wish to parley with me?"

"First, I would like to know this," began Arkantos. "Did Helen willingly go to Paris? Or was she forced?"

"No one put a sword to her throat if that's what you are asking," said Aphrodite, sounding amused.

"Forgive me, but it is not what I was asking," said Arkantos. "Did she fall in love with Paris of her own will?"

"All love was made by my power; it is my choice on whom it is bestowed," said Aphrodite.

"I see," said Arkantos. "Could she have chosen to resist him?"

"Why does it matter?" asked Aphrodite, sounding annoyed.

"It is being decided whether or not we will kill Helen, should the Gods grant us Troy," said Arkantos. "Paris is the enemy of all Greeks and will certainly die, should we be granted victory.

"However, I wish to know if Helen may be saved." Arkantos wanted to be far more aggressive in his speech. But it was not wise to speak harshly to gods, even if they deserved it.

"...You realize, Arkantos, that I could make all men despise you and the ground you walk upon," said Aphrodite.

Arkantos nodded. "You could indeed. I am not disputing your authority, merely seeking to do that which is right."

Aphrodite seemed to fume. "You really are in earnest, aren't you?

"You truly won't be satisfied until you've killed every ounce of fun I have in the world, will you, Arkantos? You've never forgiven me for making your relationship with your wife a cold one. And what's worse, both of you were so loyal to one another despite hating eachother.

"Hera has been smug about it for years."

"Did you force Helen to go with Paris of Troy?" asked Arkantos, barely keeping his tone level. The anger he felt was not his; he had command of himself.

"Yes!" snapped Aphrodite at last. "Yes, I did! She was supposed to be his reward, his blushing bride to be! He was to come in and sweep her off her feet. He'd solve the problem of those competing for her hand!

"But no, Odysseus had to go and be clever about it.

"And when they finally met, she was married to Menelaus, a complete bore. And she actually wanted to stay faithful to him, kept fighting the urges I gave her. Eventually, I had to put such a spell on her that all she could think about was Paris.

"Even now, the ungrateful little minx has to be threatened into doing her job. I actually had to threaten to make everyone hate her."

"I see," said Arkantos. "I think you for your aid, Queen Aphrodite. I will see to it that she is spared."

"Just go," said Aphrodite.

Arkantos raised his spear, turned, and walked away. Arkantos was only too glad to leave them behind. He made a mental note to arrange sacrifices to be made to the shrine later.

Ajax was waiting for him when he arrived. "What did you find?"

"Paris is our primary nemesis," said Arkantos. "Helen is a victim as surely as we are. For now, we all have work to do. We must make preparations for our assault."

At that moment, a messenger approached. "Admiral?"

"Yes, what is it?" asked Arkantos.

"Hector of Troy is nearing the fortifications," said the man. "He has brought an army with him."

"Well, we'd have to meet him eventually," said Arkantos. "Prepare for battle. We'll stand ready to meet Troy in battle."

Things were about to become difficult.

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