Excerpt from Helen: The Wine Dark Sea

 
Sparta, The Bronze Age, 1200 BC
The Palace of King Tyndareus
     Leda pulled an ivory comb through the tangled ends of Helen's long curly hair. "Be still child. You cannot ride with your brothers looking like a wild creature from the woods."
     Helen giggled. "I am a wild creature!"
     "No, you are a lovely princess who must learn to behave as one. Today, you may ride with Castor and Pollux, but afterwards you must bathe and dress in finer clothes. You must be a fine lady tonight when we dine together."
     Helen skipped away the instant Leda laid her comb aside. "Yes, Mother."
     Leda went to the window and waited for her youngest daughter to ride by with her brothers. Helen sat a horse better than either of the boys, and when she was old enough to race, she was sure to beat them. Leda hated to put any limits on her high-spirited daughter and waved as Helen and her brothers rode by heading toward the open fields surrounding the palace. They were such handsome boys, but Helen possessed an awe-inspiring beauty. When she became of an age to wed, suitors would come from near and far to vie for her, but not today while she was still a carefree child.       
     Helen's roan pony trotted along behind her brothers' showy white mounts, but she soon tired of their dust and took a trail angling toward the almond grove. The trees were filled with fragrant pink blossoms and offered welcoming shade. The boys were supposed to look after her, but they never did, and she did not care a whit. She loved making up adventures as she rode along, pretending to be a goddess riding to her shrine, or the queen she would one day be returning home to palace splendor.
     When she saw someone ahead, she pulled back on the reins, but her pony trotted on toward him. He was quite the most beautiful man she had ever seen. He was tall and well muscled with golden hair and eyes of the same unusual bright green as her own. His fine clothing and refined bearing made it impossible for her to mistake him for a field hand.
     "Who are you and what are you doing in my father's grove?" she called to him.
     Zeus caught her pony's bridle. "I came to see you." He handed her a red, ripe pomegranate. "Do you use the seeds for dye?"
     He was friendly and his tone too reassuring to cause Helen any fear, and she accepted the fruit and weighed it between her hands. "Thank you. I would rather eat them, but I do love their deep red for cloth. Now why have you come to see me?"
     He smiled and scratched her pony's neck. "I'm a dear friend of your mother's, but you mustn't tell her we've met, or she'll be insulted I didn't tarry to see her. Are you good at keeping secrets?"
     A bright twinkle lit his gaze and made her laugh. "Maybe, maybe not. How did you come here, have you no horse or chariot?"
     "I have them, but today felt like a walk. You're a very smart little girl, are you not?"
     "My father fears I'm too smart. Do you know him too?"
     "Tyndareus? I know who he is, and he knows me. You must not tell him you have seen me either."
     "How can I tell him? You've not given me your name?" She turned in her saddle. "I hear my brothers calling. They seldom notice when I've gone astray. Do you wish to speak to them too?"
     Zeus moved close and brushed her cheek with a tender kiss. "I came to see you, dear child. Now go before they reach us and remember not to tell."
     She lifted her hand to shade her eyes and raised up to gauge how far away the boys were. When she turned back, the fine-looking stranger had vanished. She pressed the pomegranate to her breast and vowed never to ever tell a single soul they'd met.
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