I am busy at work on two projects right now — Book 2 of the Antigone Series, called Fate — but also a more adult oriented novel about Clytemnestra. This is also based on ancient Greek myth — Clytemnestra is the sister of Helen of Troy and is best known for killing her husband, Agamemnon, on his return from the Trojan War. In this book, I explore her story and what brought her to that point. I don’t have a name for this book yet, though it is largely written and I’m working on editing it. I thought I’d share Chapter One with you (please remember: this is not the final version yet). I would love any feedback!
Chapter One of Clytemnestra Novel:
Clytemnestra wrung her hands. Breathing deeply, she walked over to the window and looked out to sea. Boats peppered the horizon, small dots growing bigger, hurrying toward home with the wind. By tonight they would reach the docks. One of them contained her husband returning from war.
The messenger interrupted her moments ago, informing her of the fleet’s return. Her husband. She hadn’t seen him for over eleven years. Thanks to a series of beacons she’d had the foresight to set up, she’d received word a year ago that Troy had fallen and that the Greeks were on their way home. It had taken ten years, but the Greeks had defeated Priam and his sons and delivered her sister Helen back to her husband, Menelaus. Clytemnestra had stationed a guard on twenty four hour duty on the battlements to watch for Agamemnon’s return ever since the beacon’s first announcement, a year ago. She wanted to know the moment of her husband’s return so as not be caught unawares.
Clytemnestra shook her head. Her husband was returning. He’d be back in the palace that night, expecting to pick up where they left off, no doubt. Clytemnestra supposed they would, in a way. She certainly hadn’t forgotten how they had left things. She would never forget Agamemnon’s departure. In fact, she’d been dwelling on it for eleven long years.
“What’s wrong, my dear?” asked Aegisthus, coming up behind Clytemnestra. The younger man stood close to her, his breath on the side of her face. He put his meaty hands on her arms and bent down to kiss her exposed neck. She leaned back into him, savouring his warmth and inhaling his spicy smell.
“By tonight it will be over. You’ll be the King of Mycenae,” she sighed.
“I like the sound of that, my queen,” whispered Aegisthus, brushing a long strand of grey hair off Clytemnestra’s ear and wrapping his arms around her in order to look over her shoulder at the returning ships. Clytemnestra knew that Aegisthus had been anticipating this moment also, though not nearly as much as she was. They’d spent long hours in bed planning how to welcome Clytemnestra’s husband home from the war.
Clytemnestra smiled. She would make Aegisthus her king, the third king of Mycenae that she would be queen to. The first one that she would crown herself.
“We must make sure everything is prepared for Agamemnon’s arrival,” said Clytemnestra.
“It’s been prepared for a year.”
“I’d like to double check the arrangements. I want everything to be perfect.”
“It will be. But, I know you won’t rest until you’ve made sure of that yourself.”
“You know me too well.”
Clytemnestra turned around in Aegisthus’ arms to face him. She took in his sharply angled face, brown eyes and curly dark hair which he wore long, the ends brushing his shoulders. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled herself up to meet his lips. She teased him with a soft kiss. Aegisthus moaned lowly and kissed her again, much more passionately this time and Clytemnestra let herself get carried away by the softness of his lips. She could feel his muscles tense against her.
“Later,” said Clytemnestra, putting her finger on his lips. “I have to go now.”
“You torture me, he won’t be here for hours.”
“I know, but there is so much to do. I won’t settle for any mistakes.”
“I love you,” murmured Aegisthus in Clytemnestra’s ear.
Clytemnestra’s eyes shone and she smiled coyly. “I know you do, my dear. And I love you too. After today, I will be a single woman again.”
“I’d marry you in the morning, you know that.”
Clytemnestra stroked Aegisthus’ face. “I’m not anxious to get married again, that has never worked out for me, but I like having a paramour.” She knew he was smitten with her and would do anything she asked. He, too, had been wronged by the Curse of the House of Atreus that had devastated her life. Their first mutual interest had been revenge.
“Whatever you desire.”
Clytemnestra kissed Aegisthus quickly then turned toward the door. “Until later, my love.”
As she walked down the corridor and descended the stairs to the megaron throne room, Clytemnestra was anxious and excited; however, she expertly concealed her nervousness, taking deep breaths, throwing her shoulders back, and deliberately measuring her stride, after all, she was a master at hiding her feelings and portraying what the world expected from her. Clytemnestra exuded an air of confidence that she didn’t feel. This was the day she had fantasized about for for so long and she could hardly believe it was here. It had to be perfect.
The servants scurried around her when Clytemnestra opened the door to the megaron and swept in. She marched over to her throne and gazed at the pair of intricately carved chairs at the end of the room before seating herself in the right hand one. She wondered if anyone would try to thwart her plans; she had done her best to get rid of Agamemnon’s cronies in his absence.
“By the look of things here, I presume that you have all heard the news,” said Clytemnestra. “For those of you who don’t know yet, Agamemnon’s ships have been spotted on the horizon. He will be home tonight after eleven long years away.”
Alexander, Clytemnestra’s chief advisor, coughed. He was tall and lanky, his robes hanging loosely off his body like a towel on a hook. His short cropped hair was grey, matching his eyes. His skin was pale, indicating that he rarely spent time out of doors, which was true. He could usually be found hunched over a desk in his office in the back of the palace, seeing to one of the countless tedious tasks that he took care of so well. The overall effect was of a man washed out. He had worked at the palace for a long time, long enough to have been employed by Clytemnestra’s first husband.
“Is there a problem, Alexander?” asked Clytemnestra. She looked at him meaningfully, regally, challenging him to say what was on his mind, what was on everyone’s mind. She didn’t want to be questioned right now. She knew full well the gossip that must be raging through the palace like a bull that had got loose. Agamemnon was returning and Clytemnestra had taken up with Aegisthus, she bore his children, and even went so far as to install him as the de facto king.
“Um, no, my lady,” replied Alexander. He approached her carefully and continued in a low voice so that the palace servants couldn’t hear. “But, Queen Clytemnestra, what about the arrangements you have in place for ruling the kingdom? Surely, King Agamemnon will not be pleased.”
“You underestimate me, Alexander. I have the matter under control, as you well know. We have had this conversation before. And do not call him King Agamemnon in my presence ever again. He lost that right eleven years ago, as far as I am concerned.”
“Yes, my lady,” replied Alexander.
“Please send Seth to me at once,” commanded Clytemnestra.
“Of course, my lady,” said Alexander. He turned away with a quick bow of his head.
Clytemnestra let out the breath she was holding. The palace would be full of innuendo and whispers today. By tomorrow, however, she resolved to be rid of anyone who didn’t like the new arrangements, one way or another.
Minutes later, Seth sauntered into the megaron, larger than life. His short chiton cloak showed off his strong legs and brawny arms. His hair was dark and short, his eyes sharp and alert, quickly taking in the entire room. This was a man used to being outside and getting his hands dirty, the polar opposite of Alexander.
Seth stood in front of Clytemnestra and bowed. “My queen,” he said. “You requested my presence.”
“Yes, Seth. Thank you for coming so quickly,” said Clytemnestra. “I have recently received word that Agamemnon and his fleet have been sighted. They will reach Mycenae by tonight. The arrangements we talked about before, they need to be set in place today. Now.”
Seth nodded. “Of course, Your Majesty. Right away.” Seth turned with a flourish of his cloak and left the room.
Clytemnestra sat back in her throne and played with one of the large rings on her fingers absentmindedly. She closed her eyes for a moment and allowed her thoughts to wander as she studied one of her favourite frescoes, the one depicting several young men and women vaulting themselves over bulls in reverence to Poseidon, the powerful earth shaker. The blood coursed through her veins in anticipation of seeing her husband again and she had to breath deliberately to calm herself. Thoughts and feelings flashed through her mind: hatred for her husband, the thrill of what she had planned, the excitement of being free, nervousness about her plan. Clytemnestra reassured herself that she had planned this night for so long, that she was sure she could do what had to be done. In fact, she’d relish it.
“Your Majesty,” Alissa, her head of household interrupted her thoughts. “I hate to disturb you, but I would like to discuss the arrangements for tonight.”
“Yes,” replied Clytemnestra. “What do you need to know?”
“Your husband’s sleeping arrangements, for one,” said Alissa, her eyes darting around the room. “What quarters shall I prepare?”
Clytemnestra allowed herself a small smile. She liked Alissa. She knew how to be discreet. Clytemnestra had hired her only a few years ago. The woman knew how to take charge and keep the others in line. She was a middle aged woman, muscular and tanned, her long hair tied up in a stern knot. Her clothes were simple yet neat, functional for her duties. Practical, just like she was. She didn’t seem to have the need to preen herself the way the younger servants did. “None.”
“None, Your Majesty?”
“No, Agamemnon won’t be staying. Air out his room and ready the bath, as I’ve discussed with you.”
“I see,” replied Alissa, though it was clear that she didn’t.
“Is that all?” asked Clytemnestra.
“No. What about the evening meal? Is there to be a banquet?”
“Hmmm. Yes, I suppose there must be something. I, for one, am sure to be in the mood for a celebration. Prepare a modest feast.”
“A modest feast, Your Majesty?”
“Yes. A hero’s welcome will not be necessary, but we are all sure to be hungry.”
“Will there be a sacrifice?”
“I’m taking care of that myself.”
“As you wish.” Alissa turned and scuttled out of the room.
Clytemnestra got up after she left and swept her way to the door. “I am going to walk in the gardens,” she announced to everyone in the room. She needed time to clear her head and prepare herself for her reunion with her husband. As she closed the door behind her, she could hear the murmuring start.
What is going to happen?
Agamemnon won’t stand for this.
What a state of affairs.
This can only end badly.
Clytemnestra left them and their speculation behind. She knew what had to be done and she would do it.
On her way out of the palace, Clytemnestra stopped by the nursery to check on her young children. Clytemnestra and Aegisthus had three children together: a son named Aletes, aged seven, and two younger daughters named Erigone, aged five and Helen aged three.
“Hello darlings,” beamed Clytemnestra as she entered the room where her children were playing.
“Mommy, mommy,” the girls screamed and ran over to their mother, hugging her legs and jumping up and down. Aletes stood back and tried to appear more grown up than he was. He was muscular and handsome, just like his father.
Clytemnestra bent over and kissed each one on the head. “Now, that’s enough of that. Is that how young princes and princesses act?”
“No Mommy,” said Erigone.
Maia, the children’s nurse stood up and smoothed her robes with her fine hands. She was in her late twenties, and was slender with delicate features, but had worked for Clytemnestra since Aletes was born. Having just lost her own child, she was able to be his wet nurse. Maia loved the children and stayed on to care for them long after her wet nursing duties had ended. It was clear from how she stood, with her head bowed, that she admired and feared Clytemnestra at the same time.
“And what are you all going to do today?” asked Clytemnestra looking directly at Maia.
“It’s a beautiful day,” responded Maia. “I thought we might take our lessons out into the garden.”
“I’d rather you didn’t,” said Clytemnestra crisply. “Agamemnon’s fleet has been spotted and he will arrive later today. I would like the children to remain out of sight.”
Clearly, her words were charged with a meaning that Maia immediately picked up on. She had feared for this day ever since she started to care for the children.
“Of course, Your Majesty,” replied Maia. “I understand perfectly. Perhaps we will practice our music in here. What do you think of that, children?”
“But we wanted to play in the garden,” pouted Erigone.
“I know, dear,” said Clytemnestra, stroking her eldest daughter’s hair. “But today will be busy and it is important to keep out of the way of everyone who will be working. I’ll tell you what? Why don’t I send up some of the cakes that Cook is baking for the feast tonight? That will be a special treat for you, for helping me by staying in your rooms today.”
“Yeah!” exclaimed Erigone and Helen together, jumping around and clasping their chubby hands together. “Cakes, we love cakes!”
Clytemnestra smiled and looked over to Aletes where he stood still, not sharing his sisters’ enthusiasm for the cakes. “Is something wrong, Aletes?” asked Clytemnestra.
Aletes stubbornly shook his head, his dark locks swaying around his face.
Clytemnestra came closer and knelt in front of him, catching his round, brown eyes.
“I hope you are telling me the truth,” she said. “I don’t want you to be upset.”
“I don’t want to stay in our rooms all day with,” he sputtered, “with these babies.”
“Oh,” said Clytemnestra. “And what would you rather be doing?”
“Learning to rule the kingdom with my father,” he announced, chest puffed out. “Or at the very least, learning to wield a sword with the soldiers. It will be my responsibility to rule Mycenae one day and I want to learn everything I can.”
Clytemnestra tried her best to keep her face serious, biting the inside of her cheek to stifle a grin and a laugh. “Well, Aletes, I dare say that you are right. Perhaps it is time to have you learn some of those things. I promise you, I will speak with your father about it.”
Aletes’ face brightened. “Do you mean it?”
“Yes, my dear. You are growing up to be a fine young man. However, today everyone is occupied with the arrival of the fleet of soldiers from the Trojan War. Why don’t we start when everything has settled down?”
Aletes nodded vigorously. “Soldiers from the Trojan War! They are coming here? I can’t believe it. Will Achilles be with them?”
Clytemnestra felt her heart sink. Achilles’ name always brought back memories of that horrible day. She stood up and shook her head. “No, my dear, Achilles will have gone home to his family.”
“But there will be others? Who fought in the war? Can I see them and talk to them?” Aletes was positively giddy now.
“Perhaps, but not today. Today they will be tired and in need of rest,” said Clytemnestra. “So, can I trust you to be a co-operative young man and do what Maia says and help to take care of your sisters?”
Aletes flung his arms around his mother. “Yes, of course. Thank you, Mother.”
“There’s a good boy.” She hugged her son, relishing the feel of his strong, skinny arms squeezing her. “But now, I have a busy day of work ahead of me. You three, do your lessons. I expect to hear some music from you next week.”
“Yes, Mother,” said Aletes.
“And you won’t forget about the cakes?” asked Erigone.
“No, I’ll go right now to the kitchens on my way out,” promised Clytemnestra.
“Thank you,” Clytemnestra’s eyes sought Maia’s as a ripple of understanding flowed between them.
“Of course, Your Majesty,” replied Maia. “I will serve however I can.”
“I know you will,” said Clytemnestra. And with that, she turned and left her children in the care of their nurse.