The Golden Lamb

Mask_of_Agamemnon2

Rage—Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end …

“No!” He sat up, the dream chant still echoing behind his eyes. He reached to his side, but did not find her. He wiped his face and dried his hand on the bed.  He swung his legs to the floor, and tried to stand, but could not. Breathing in and out, he pulled the blanket to him and rubbed his chest and back. His feet grew warm, and he tried once more to stand, and was successful.

A full moon shone through a window, and he pulled on his tunic in its spotlight. The light dimmed, and he looked at the window. A shadow stood there, silent and still.

“Who are you, shade?”

“Father, is that you?”

A tree rustled outside, and a lick of cold air snuck in, dispersing the shadow and chilling his legs. The spotlight returned.

King Agamemnon wiped his forehead again and called for his servant. He stepped over to the window and looked out at the stars, counting them as best he could.

Achilles, Hector, Ajax, Paris, Priam,  Astyanax, Cassandra, Polyxena, Clytemnestra… The names moaned in his mind.

“My king?” His servant interrupted, bringing him back from the dream.

“Attendant, fetch my brother. Have him meet me at the shrine.” He pulled his cloak tight about his shoulders and walked off into the darkness.

 

♦ ♦ ♦

“A king is not to be fetched, brother king.” Menelaus yawned as he approached.

“Thank you for coming anyway.” Agamemnon was staring at a lump of misshapen rock in the corner of the shrine.

“Which one is that for?” his brother gestured. The rock bore neither the name nor the likeness of any of the twelve Olympians.

“Nobody we know,” Agamemnon answered softly, and finally turned to face him. “Brother, I am having second thoughts about the morning’s planned festivities.”

All sleep fled from Menelaus, and he squinted at his brother. “Are you mad?  They will kill you if you do not go through with it.”

“I may be wed to madness now. I will die anyway if we do it.”

“What?”

Agamemnon put his hands on his brother’s shoulders, and looked into his eyes. “I have been sent a dream. Whether by Morpheus, Moros, or Phobetor I know not. But I do know what is going to happen if we proceed.”

“But the oath?” You swore it.”

“I know you want your wife back. I want her back too.  You may find me mad, but you will listen to me first.  Assemble the captains and kings in the meeting room. Wake them if you have too.”

Menelaus left, and Agamemnon followed a few moments later.

 

♦ ♦ ♦

“Just what are you up to, laddybuck?” the white bearded man asked.

Agamemnon had stepped into a high ceilinged chamber when he left the shrine. Smoke wafted through the air, and his eyes watered. He looked about the strange room, and saw that there was no exit.

A large, white bearded man sat on a throne before him. Many women sat, stood or lounged about it. It was hard not to look at them, but even harder not to look at the man on the throne.

The god slapped his knee and pointed at him.  “Your father Atreus promised my daughter a golden lamb, and he weaseled out of the bargain.  Artemis has not forgiven the debt.” He gestured to the young woman sitting in the corner, holding a bow a cross her knees. She glared at Agamemnon.

“And now its time to pay?” he responded.

“The sins of the fathers are visited on the sons.” Zeus replied with a grin. “And remember, you all swore the oath about Helen. Bad things happen to those who break their promises,” he wagged his finger at him.

“Bad things?  I already know what will happen, god.  Most of us will die anyway, and the fire we start in Troy will spread around the world and come home to swallow my people.  I want no legacy of ashes.”

Zeus sat back, and raised his hand. The women about him froze. “Listen here, king. I will let you in on a secret that no one else knows.  I’m the one who started this little game.   There are too many people in the world right now. You Greeks, Trojans, Hittites, and Egyptians are all rubbing elbows. You’ve had it too good for too long, and its time to thin the herd.   There is not enough land or food to keep you all alive. War is inevitable.   You have to think about the environment after all.”

“The what?”

Zeus sighed.  “The word has not been invented  yet, wrong century.” He stood up, and stepped down from the dais to approach him. Agamemnon found himself backing up without even willing it.  He was a very tall man, but came only to the god’s shoulders.

A golden apple appeared in Zeus’s hands. He started juggling it, and there were now three apples rapidly rising and falling in front of him. The women began to move again, and whispered and smirked, sharing knowing glances that excluded him from their company.

Zeus started talking again, not even bothering to watch the apples that blurred in front of him.  “I see I have underestimated you. But I am not an unreasonable god.”

“I can make you king of the world. My Athena can teach you what you need to know.  You will not rule forever, but nobody does.  And your name will never die.” One of the apples flew to a grey eyed woman’s hands. She stepped forward, holding it out to Agamemnon.

“I find I have grown content with my little kingdom. I must decline, my lady,” Agamemnon said and bowed to her.

Zeus spoke again. “A true family man after all? A child can be replaced. Your woman is getting on in years, but Hera can make sure she conceives another.  She can even find you a fresh young concubine so you can start a whole new brood.” The second apple flew to a stern woman, and she thrust it out to him, her eyes daring him to refuse her.

“I love the pearl I already have, and would not trade it for another.” Agamemnon bowed again and backed away, but found his back brushing stone now.

Zeus was gripping the last apple.  “I see. You are jealous of your brother.  You are the elder, after all. Helen should have been yours.  But she has already been awarded to Paris, and even I cannot go back on that deal. After all, nobody would trust us if we broke that arrangement.”

“But I can offer one better.” The last apple flew to Aphrodite, who sauntered forward to stand at Agamemnon’s side. “You mortals all want to lie with a goddess. My daughter can be yours for a season or two,” Zeus leered now. She put her hand on the king’s shoulder.

Agamemnon edged away along the wall, almost tripping over his own feet. “I am most unworthy of that honor. I would not insult your daughter in such a way … I am sure she would find my touch offensive.”

Zeus closed in. “Nonsense, she’ll do what I tell her, everybody does. And I always get my way, especially with women.”

And Zeus’s arm was suddenly on his shoulders, hot, heavy and writhing. The god’s mouth was close to his ear. “You’ve impressed me laddybuck, you are a tough old nut. But I will have a yes from you, one way or another.”  Agamemnon sank to his knees, and the smoke seemed thicker now. He started to cough, and crawled towards the nearest corner.

The heavy footsteps followed him. “You aren’t going anywhere little king. If you don’t agree, I’ll just kill you now and your brother will do the job for me in the morning.”

Agamemnon looked up, and saw the shadowy form in the corner through his watery eyes. “Father?” He gasped for air and held out his hand to the presence.

Zeus saw it too, and stopped his pursuit. “You are too early, stranger! I am not done with my fun and games,” his voice rose, almost shrill. “I am -”

And Agamemnon found himself in the hall, alone now. He sucked cool air into his lungs, and rolled onto his back and closed his eyes.

His attendant found him there some time later, and shook his shoulder. “My King!”

Agamemnon opened his eyes, “Yes?”

“Your brother has assembled the men in the meeting room as you asked. He sent me to find you.”

“Help me up.”

The two men made their way to the meeting. They were not pleased to see him. Some were sleepy, others drunk, and many annoyed at being pulled away from their lover’s arms. Agamemnon began to talk. There was silence at first, then laughter, next angry words, and then stunned silence again. His brother had brought a few guards, and he wasn’t sure if it was their swords that kept the peace, or his voice.

 

 ♦ ♦ ♦

It was a very beautiful morning. The sky was blue, and there were just a few clouds floating in the still air. Agamemnon had not slept at all, but he was not tired. He had a cup of wine with his morning bread, and made his way to the gathering place. A crowd had formed, and it stretched up the path to the altar. He could see Calchas up there at the top.

He saw his two eldest daughters at the foot of the steps and went to them. Iphigenia was beautiful in her spotless white gown. Electra stood beside her in gray, her face ashen. He had roused Electra after last night’s meeting, and explained what was going to happen.

“Where is your mother and the rest?”

Electra spoke, “She would not come. Your son and other daughter are with her.”

There is no more time, Agamemnon thought.  “You will have to explain it to her then. Goodbye,” and he hugged her. She was the middle daughter, but the strongest, and he was not surprised by the strength which hugged him back.

Iphigenia looked at them in confusion. “Father, what is happening?  I am ready for this.”

He now pulled her to him, and gently caressed her head. She pulled back and looked up at him, a question in her eyes.

“Is this the face that stopped a thousand ships?  Dear daughter, give your old father a kiss before he goes.”

Understanding leapt from Iphigenia’s eyes. “No father, we need the wind. You and uncle must fulfill your oaths!”

“The oath will be honored, and I think we will have the wind today. I have done the gods one better I think. Your sister will explain what you need to do after.” He kissed her on the forehead and turned and went to his brother. Someone began to cry behind him, and he willed himself not to look back to see which it was.

Menelaus looked at him. He was armed today.  “Are you ready?”

“I am. Walk me up, brother.”

They started the climb, and there was a murmur from the crowd which seemed to grow with each step. Most of them were expecting something different.

He was about halfway up when a shape broke from the side of the path. He felt a warmth slide between his ribs, and he fell. Someone kicked him in the face, shattering his nose. Blood poured down his face, and he reached for the wound in his side.

There was a cacophony of shouting, and he sensed a crowd of bodies surging about him. Someone tripped and fell on Agamemnon’s back, knocking the wind from his lungs.

The noise receded, and he felt himself being rolled over, and pulled into a sitting position. He opened his eyes, wiped away the blood, and saw his brother, his sword out and face red.

“You too, Menelaus?”

“Not me, stupid, it was big Ajax,” he inclined his head to the left.

The big warrior was down on ground. Achilles knelt over him, and held a knife to Ajax’s throat.

“There is to be no killing. Tell Achilles to let him go after it is over.”

“As you wish, my king,” his voice cracked.  “Can you stand?”

“Help me up,” Agamemnon asked, and Menelaus did. Agamemnon had always been stronger, but he could not have gotten up without his brother’s help just now. As they walked up he remembered them as children, chopping the wildflowers with their little wooden swords while they were in exile.

At last they reached the top. Calchas stood there, shaking like a leaf, his lips set in a tight line. He spoke,”King Agamemnon, this is not the sacrifice that was called for.”

He was too weary to reply, and sat on the altar. Menelaus spoke for him, “You will do it, you old buzzard, or else you may find yourself stretched out.”

He lay back on the stone and looked up at the sky. There was a solitary white cloud high above him, not moving at all. A shadow blocked out the sun then, and he felt a momentary chill at his neck.  The cloud began to move, and rushed towards him as his hair was ruffled by a sudden breeze.  It is a far better thing I do … he thought as he faded away.

♦ ♦ ♦

The lone ship sailed east, pulled along by a strong wind. The embassy was gathered in the covered stern, and they watched Aulis recede in the distance. The oarsmen were hard at work, but were oddly light hearted and traded jokes as they pulled.

In addition to the oarsmen, it was decided that the embassy to the Trojans would be composed of twelve people. It seemed appropriate, given the twelve Olympians they were defying.  The odds would be even. It had fallen to Iphigenia to choose them. In addition to herself, she had selected Electra, Menelaus, Odysseus, Nestor, Diomedes, Idomeneus, Big Ajax, Little Ajax, Philoctetes, Achilles, and Calchas.

Nestor smiled and turned away from the view, “They will write a great song about this. Twelve Against Troy, perhaps?

Calchas fiddled with the hem of his robe. He had not wanted to come, and had been carried aboard by Big Ajax like a sack of grain. “Princess, how can we hope to prevail against the gods?  The wind sign is impressive, but what the gods give with one hand, they often take away with the other.”

Iphigenia sighed, “There are more wonders in heaven and earth than dreamt of in your philosophies, Calchas. My father was given this knowledge before his end. We have a friend we do not know.”  Iphigenia, though only sixteen, seemed as if she had aged ten years overnight. They had accidentally addressed her as “Queen” a few times already today.

She looked down to the other end of the ship, where Big Ajax kept a lookout. His bruised face was grim, and he had avoided her eyes since the day. She would need to have a long talk with him soon.

“Spring came early this year,” Electra interrupted. The formerly stoic daughter of Agamemnon had been given to fits of laughing and crying in the last few days. She was calm now, and stared out across the sea at Aulis.

A box was at her feet, and Odysseus was carefully packing an urn inside. He stuffed straw around it to protect it from breaking.

She had already told them what it contained. “It is my dowry for King Priam. My father’s ashes are inside, and they have purchased the life of Priam’s children. No father could refuse such a gift.”

Menelaus spoke then. “Princess, if you were not my niece I would marry you myself.  But what of Paris, he is a shallow fellow. How are you going to pry him away from Helen? Priam may listen, but what of his son?”

“I have a song for him, and I think it will open his heart, if not his ears. The words have come to me from above.  I think you need to hear it too, uncle. You must forgive her after all. She will be coming back with us.”

Menelaus looked away over the sea when she said that.

“Are you ready, scribe?”

Achilles sat next to Iphigenia, holding a wax tablet, stylus in hand. “I am,” he replied.  When she told them they would take no weapons on this voyage, the son of Peleus had gaped at her, and then laughed. But what greater glory than taking a city unarmed he thought.

And as the ship sailed out of sight of land, she began to speak:

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine;
your anointing oils are fragrant;
your name is oil poured out;
 therefore virgins love you.
Draw me after you; let us run.
The king has brought me into his chambers …

 

P.S. What if they gave a war, and nobody came?

And for any real writers out there who may be reading this, if you ever want to try a mash up novel, just remember that you can write about things other than zombies and the children of the night. What sweet music you might make…

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