The boy who stands before his father-king, puffed up and swaggering, most beloved and gentle, has brought war to his kingdom. The girl is indeed exquisitely beautiful, in a vacant way, and looks at his son with something bordering on worship. Children, pleased with their escape and ignorant to the consequences of their foolishness. But what can he do? This poor fool is his son and family is everything. It is the basis for all civilization. If he abandoned his son, his people would never forgive him and the kingship would be lost to him. He must think of his legacy, his elder son who is honorable and just.
“Send her back,” Priam says, though with little hope. The impetuous boy would not have stolen her if he had any common sense.
“What? Why?” he asks, genuine confusion in his dark eyes.
“Why? Why? Can you really not know?” Rage moves the king to pace the elegantly decored room, gesturing vastly to banners of neighboring kingdoms and tapestries of battles. “Can you be such an imbecile, so blind to the slaughter you have brought to our door? All of Greece shall be at the walls, her husband at the fore.” His hoary finger stabs at the girl, who remains unflinching. Priam begins to wonder if her intense beauty has rotted her mind. “Have you no concept of the destruction you cause? We had peace, boy! We had prosperity and trade and honor among our neighbors! Now, we shall suffer privation and shame by you hand! How will I look my neighbor in the eye when my own son has proven himself a sneak-thief!”
“I am no thief!” he exclaims, line-less face turning bright crimson. “She is my reward, a gift from the gods and I will fight any man who calls me thief!”
Looking at that petulant anger, Priam is tempted to slap the boy for his impudence. “Gift from the gods? Know you not that our gods gift roses with poisoned thorns?” His fury is finally exhausted by this exchange and he collapses to his cushioned throne. The boy is mad to think the gods would simply give him with the wife of a powerful king. Unless, the blasphemous thought comes unbidden, as a means of sport, to make the mortals play at war for their divine entertainment. “You must send her back on a ship laden with treasure to alleviate this insult.”
“I will not.” Priam looks up sharply, his grizzled face darkening, but the boy continues. “She is mine, my prize, my wife. We have shared the rites and the gods have smiled on our union. If she goes back, it will be to watch me dispatch her slovenly husband. Send an emissary to the pig-king and demand that he release her from her bonds to him, else he will end upon my blade.”
Thrice-bound fool. Menelaus, drunk and half-dead would be more than a match for the womanly strength of his son, whose only skill lies with the bow and the swiftness of his feet. The boy must know this, else he would have challenged the king directly. A true warrior would not have snuck away with his prize in the night, and never would have dishonored the guest rites in any case, let alone as an emissary from his father-king. “This travesty is my doing,” Priam decides suddenly and with great melancholy. “I indulged you too long. I made you this fool who boasts and brags to impress a simple-minded girl. Fine. You may keep her and we shall defend your dishonor because I am the one who allowed it. The weeping of the widows will hound our sleep, but we shall live on behind our walls, diminished in honor, but alive.” Hector, who has been silent for the entire discussion, shakes his head and departs. The boy, Paris, smiles broadly. “I will not be grinned at in such a way, boy,” the king says venomously. “You will be gone from my sight with your strumpet and I will see you again only as I lay on my pyre. You bring shame on our family and death to our kingdom. If we are very fortunate, you may be given the opportunity to die gloriously in battle.” Paris storms out angrily, the girl dragging behind him, her face still a lovely blank.
That night, he is visited by a dream. The next decade of bloody war stretches out before him, gore-drenched beaches and the death calls echoing off the walls of the city. He sees ten thousand ships sailing for the sake of foolish desire. He sees the gods feasting above while the sons of Troy spend their lives. From the massacred masses arises a man shining with the fury of the gods. Golden armor bears down on his people, crashing upon Hector without mercy or humanity, culling the soldiers as a skilled reaper-man, ash spear skewering his warrior-son like a pig. His son is dragged for days behind a chariot, his body desecrated for that fury. There is further shame coming on Paris for his failures as a warrior and a man. He sees a giant wooden horse and his city in flames, children slaughtered, women enslaved. Hecuba and Andromace and Astyanax, speared and bleeding at his feet. He follows Aeneas to Rome and Rome down the ages of blood and war and death, follows the tale of the great war which is believed to be utter myth because it is so preposterous. He watches the desert bury his city and turn it from history to legend to mere fairy tale. All this passes in his dream, filling his mind with horror and fear, endless screaming from dying soldiers and raped women, all for a vacant-faced beauty and a spoiled little boy.
Priam awakens with cold purpose in his heart. He leaves his wife to her sweet sleeping and dons a robe against the chilly predawn air. Hector is standing outside Paris’ room, his tunic belted with his sword, the echoes of the nightmare in his hard face. He nods to his father and offers the old king a ceremonial dagger, the kind used to sacrifice yearlings in the spring. The handle is cool and worn smooth by years of dedicated use. Silently, the two men enter the bed chamber.
Paris and Helen are entwined on the bed, limbs bare and cotton blankets tangled. They sleep soundly, wrapped together snugly like cats. Priam covers his son’s mouth and in one smooth motion, draws the sharp blade across his lily-white throat. The boy struggles briefly, but Hector holds him so there is no flailing to awaken the girl. In moments, the thrashing stops, the gush of black blood slows and stops. Priam considers taking the knife to the girl, but decides against it. Let the Menelaus have his pretty doll back. Hector drags his brother from the bed, rolls him into a blanket, hefts the bundle over his broad shoulder, and leaves the room as silent as before. Priam gently awakens the girl and explains that Paris wants to go to the beach. Her eyes light up at his name and she makes eager sounds in her throat but says nothing. Priam guides her by the hand down through the palace to the stables where Hector awaits with a handful of loyal soldiers, horses, and a palette bearing the wrapped body and several lengths of sturdy wood. Helen mounts a docile mare and follows the procession out of the stables, a vague smile on her face.
When the Greeks arrive on the beach, they discover a curious tableau. A rapidly decaying naked body has been displayed on cross-beams standing up in the sand with an accompanying army of kites and seabirds. Little remains of the handsome face, no ruddy cheeks, no lover’s eyes to woo the unwary. There is evidence that the cross has been reinforced to ensure that it would be on display for their arrival, however long it might have taken, through winds and rains and great waves. At the foot of the cross is a small shelter, just an assemblage of driftwood and plants enough to offer shade and protection from the rain. Lying in the shelter is a vacant-faced girl, a pretty creature, though dirty and thin. She has a bowl filled with some kind of gruel and a heavy chain on her ankle attached to the cross. On the opposite side of the cross is a long boat filled with treasure. Inscribed in the side of the boat is a message from the king. “Praise to the gods for saving us from great folly. Here is your queen, stolen dishonorably from your king. The thief hangs before you, shorn of heritage, honors, legacy, family. Recompense for you journey is here. A feast shall be prepared for your departure.”
From his window, Priam can just make out the dark, ragged form on the cross and the ships crowding the harbor. “After all, I have other sons.”