Tell me, oh muse, of the decision of Aegisthus, who learned the truth of his heritage: son and grandson both of the monster Thyestes, who sired him by force on Pelopia’s womb. Tell me of Aegisthus, who stood with sword in hand in the cold wet cell where Thyestes sat enchained, and chose, not to kill, but to strike free the monster’s chains. I must turn to you, oh muse, for this decision is not one I can encompass; but still he made it; and so have countless others through the years; down the line from one to another, to the monster Jenna and Liril knew.
It is 1212 years before the common era. The sun in the clouds is the color of a flame. A young boy named Aegisthus stands upon a hill. He holds a sword. He cuts his hand with it and smears its edge with blood. Then he thrusts it into the ground. The world cracks open. He calls out, “Tiresias! Tiresias! Prophet and oracle!” A ghost suspires from the ground and sips the blood from the edge of the sword.
“Oracle,” Aegisthus says. “I am Aegisthus, son of Atreus, and one day I shall be King. Yet I wish to be more. My ambition does not end with such paltry measures. I must command the gods themselves. Speak me an oracle. Give me an answer to my dream.”
Tiresias turns blind, dead eyes on Aegisthus. “Many in the world have desires. Why should yours take precedence?”
Tiresias sighs. “What you ask is impossible. If you must attempt it, then go to the spring of the nymph Cyane and wake her with your blood.”
The earth takes breath, and pulls Tiresias away. Aegisthus withdraws his sword and the world grinds closed.
The next morning, four people leave Mycenae. Aegisthus goes to Sicily, where the spring of Cyane is found. His half-brothers Agamemnon and Menelaus travel to the Oracle, searching for the King’s hated brother Thyestes. These three leave with fanfare and with wealth, for Atreus King loves them well; but Atreus’ youngest wife, Pelopia, hearing certain rumors regarding Leda’s daughter Helen, walks away in silence, and few mark her departure.
Aegisthus takes a boat, and then a road, and finds himself in Sicily next to an ancient spring. He stirs the water with his finger. It forms an image. Aegisthus sees the chariot of Hades, charging across the world, with captive Persephone in Hades’ arms. Then the nymph Cyane rises from the stream. She spreads her arms to bar Hades’ way.
“‘No,'” Aegisthus says, watching the image of her mouth. “‘No,’ she says, and ‘Go no further! This maiden must be asked, not taken.'”
Then Hades smites the spring, and the world cracks open, and his chariot gallops down into the Underworld, and the waters of the spring seal over. Cyane weeps, and as she cries, she loses substance, until the spring and nymph alike are nothing but her tears.
The water goes still. The vision ends. Aegithus frowns. He cuts his hand. He smears his sword with blood. He dips it through the water to touch the stone Hades’ sceptre broke.
“Ew.” Cyane rises from the pool. “Ew. Don’t do that. Ick. Ew.”
Aegisthus, uncertainly, withdraws his sword.
“Memories. Symbolism. Mind in the gutter.” Cyane looks at him. She shudders. “What do you want?”
“Can you do impossible things?”
“I’ve tried. I failed. I wish I could.”
“I am Aegisthus,” he says, “son of Atreus. I wish to sit at Olympus on the high god’s throne; or, if I cannot, that my heirs should do so. I spoke of this to the dead prophet Tiresias, and he sent me to you.”
She sits on a rock and thinks.
“So I’d rather like you to tell me what to do,” he says. “Or give me some kind of magic to achieve my ends.”
She thinks more.
Cyane looks at him. Her expression is calm. “Go home,” she says. “Call for me again when everything you know is true proves false.”
“It’s a long walk,” he says.
“You’ve got sandals,” she answers. So he leaves.
Cyane sits upon a stone. She thinks. Then she turns to the water, and an image of Persephone forms. Persephone looks up.
“Cyane!” she says. Her voice is glad and bright. Cyane smiles crookedly.
“I’d thought you might be angry,” Cyane says.
Persephone thinks about that for a moment. Then she reaches up a finger to touch the surface of the water; and Cyane sets her hand upon it; and for a time, the two of them are still.
“I have anger, hate, and rage enough,” Persephone says, “to fill the world, and slosh against each person in it. But none for you.”
“Can I free you?”
“No,” Persephone says. “It’s impossible, even for a nymph.”
“But you’d like me to.”
Persephone sighs. “There’s that in all of us that wants the impossible. The real can hurt so much.”
“I’ll free you,” Cyane says. She closes her eyes. “I promise.”
Persephone’s eyes narrow. “Cyane—”
The sun passes above the spring, and the glare of the sun on the water turns blinding, and Persephone can see the nymph no more.
In Laconia, near Mount Taygetus, Atreus’ wife Pelopia looks up at the sun. “So bright,” she says.
She trudges down the road. Her feet are bloody. It’s a long way from Mycenae, and she’s lost her sandals along the way. She comes to a clearing.
Helen sits against a tree. Her hair runs down the bark. She’s not yet the most beautiful woman in the world. She’s very young.
Helen opens her eyes.
“I wondered if you’d come,” Helen says.
Pelopia hesitates. “I want things to be different,” she says.
“Not all of us can be the children of gods and swans,” Pelopia says. “My father was Thyestes, now an exile. I went into Athena’s service, and on the night of a ceremony, a masked stranger caught and forced me and got a child on me. I took his sword as he lay sated, but found myself unable to kill—not him and not myself. So I fled. My uncle Atreus, who would kill me if he knew my parentage, thought me the daughter of another King, and took me to wife. When I bore the stranger’s child, he imagined it as his own. I had hoped to make some small brightness from this, but my son Aegisthus is as empty as the sky. His eyes are hollow. He cuts his own flesh with the sword I stole and gave to him. There is nothing I may do to save him. This is the world I live in. I want it to be different.”
Helen bites her lip. Then she reaches out a hand. She touches Pelopia’s elbow. “You’re like the sea,” she says.
“I went to the sea once,” Pelopia says. “I washed the blood off. And the dirt. And the tears. And all the foulness of mankind. And the sea stayed clean. But I’m not like that.”
Helen makes a sad face. “Okay.”
“When your father dies, go and stand before his grave and call to me. I’ll make you an immortal.”
At the Oracle of Delphi, Agamemnon and Menelaus, sons of Atreus, meet their uncle Thyestes. They catch him and bind him and return home; and on one weary evening, Agamemnon, Meneleaus, Aegisthus, and Pelopia reach their home together. Atreus consults the entrails of a goat. He turns to Aegisthus and Pelopia. He says, “As Thyestes was Agamemnon’s and Menelaus’ to capture, he is yours to kill.”
“Ours?” Pelopia asks.
“Come, mother,” Aegisthus says, and leads her down into the dark. There, he opens the door of Thyestes’ cell, and goes in. Thyestes slouches languidly against the wall, bound in irons. There’s a touch of fear in his face as Aegisthus enters; but it fades as he sees Pelopia, and dissolves entirely when Aegisthus draws his sword.
“I know that sword,” Thyestes says. He smiles lazily. “But how did you come by it?”
Aegisthus hesitates. Thyestes’ expression and his choice of topics confuses the boy. The execution has turned unexpectedly uncomfortable. “My mother,” he says. “She gave it to me.”
“Then,” says Thyestes, “this is the sword my daughter took from me, after I lay with her to conceive you; and you are my son, my grandson, and my destined instrument of vengeance, raised in my enemy’s house as his very own son. You will kill him for me,” continues Thyestes. “You will kill him for me, and set me on the throne, for this is the revenge promised me by the Oracle, and now I see you shall fulfill it.”
There is a silence. Pelopia’s face grows paler. Aegisthus’ eyes are blank and white.
“I should kill you,” Aegisthus says. “I should kill you thrice over. For Atreus, and Pelopia, and myself.”
“You’re my son,” Thyestes says.
The corner of Aegisthus’ mouth twitches. The sword wavers in his hands. Then he turns, and strikes the wall. The blade splits the stone, and water pours into the room like blood. Aegisthus beats his head upon the wall. “Cyane!” he cries. “Cyane!”
A woman rises from the water. She shivers at the cold air. She draws the water up from the ground. She wraps it around her. It’s like a long jacket. There are lumps under the back, like budding wings.
“You’re different,” he says.
“I made a promise that I couldn’t fulfill,” she says. “So I changed.”
“Someone who could do anything,” she says. “Sometimes.” She smiles at him. “Thank you,” she adds. “I thought about it, when I watched Hades take her off, but I didn’t dare. Not until you came along, impertinently bringing me to life to fill your own emptiness and then asking the impossible.”
“Make it not true,” Aegisthus says. “Make him not my father.”
Cyane looks at Thyestes. She makes a helpful gesture. Then she smiles wryly at Aegisthus. “It didn’t work this time.”
“Monster!” Pelopia shouts. She pulls the sword from the wall and lunges towards Thyestes, but Aegisthus grabs her arm, and pulls her back, and casts her against the wall, where she sits.
“Monster,” she says again, and stares at the sword. She runs it along the edges of her wrists.
Thyestes grins at her. Then he looks up at Aegisthus. “If she keeps bleeding on it like that, you can take it to Atreus and say it’s my blood. Then kill him with it later, by surprise! It’s like a family reunion, all that blood on one sword.”
“Why would I do that?” Aegisthus asks.
Cyane tilts her head to one side. “Because he can tell you the secret of the gods,” she says.
“What?” Aegisthus’ voice is hoarse.
“You asked me to give you power to command the gods,” Cyane says. “I can’t. But he can.”
Cyane kneels by Pelopia. “I had to tell him,” she says, apologetically. “I belong to him. Kind of. Because I was dead, and then he put his blood in the spring, and called me forth. But I can try to save your life. If you want me to.”
Aegisthus claims the sword, and walks to Thyestes, and strikes down the chains.
“Monster,” Pelopia mutters.
Aegisthus leaves the room, and Thyestes too, and they close and lock the door behind them.
“He tried to change,” Cyane says, clinically. “Thyestes tried a hundred plans. He tried a hundred ways not to do what he did to you. But all of them were too hard, so he gave up.”
“Save my life,” Pelopia says.
Cyane wraps her jacket around Pelopia’s wounds; and slowly, the bleeding stops.
“I’m going to stand at his grave one day,” Pelopia says. “And I’m going to call to Helen, and become a god.”
“What kind of god?”
“I’ll be like a nymph,” Pelopia says. “They’ll come. People will come, and try to catch me. Because if they catch me, their plans will succeed. If they can catch me, they can change their fate, and break the cycle of the world.”
“And will they catch you?”
“No,” Pelopia says. “I won’t let them. I can’t let them. Not again. I’ll be as evasive as the wind.”
Cyane leans back against the wall.
“That’s what drives them, you know,” Cyane says.
“People like your son. They make gods. They have such emptiness in them, and can make such emptiness in others, that gods come to them in swarms. But they can’t ever be one. It’s what makes them monsters.”
“I’m not sorry for him,” Pelopia says.
“No,” Cyane admits. “Neither am I.”
“It’s his own decision,” Pelopia says. “As ours are ours. But I wish he hadn’t locked the door.”