The last thing he remembered was Helen. Not as he had known her for the last two years, her hair dyed raven-black and her eyes painted with kohl, but as she had appeared the night of their first meeting, her golden hair braided into a shining crown upon her head, accented with white flowers, their delicate scent mixing with the perfumed oils on her skin, tempting him closer. He remembered the emerald of her eyes, flashing with laughter in the lamplight, and the brightness of her smile turned upon him, powerful enough to lift the mood of the entire megaron, and leaving him empty and aching when it was gone.
“Theseus?” He recognized the voice, though he could not name the speaker. “Theseus, we have not the time. You must wake!”
Strong hands pulled at his arms, hard muscle digging into his stomach, and flesh parted from bone, burning white hot. Theseus tried to scream but all that came was a moan, weak and pitiful. His mouth was desert dry, his lips cracked and stinging.
“Forgive me, cousin,” the man said, hoisting Theseus over his shoulder as though he weighed nothing. “It is the only way.”
Helen, glowing golden as the sun, she smiled up at him, accepting the orange he offered, her fingers brushing his. The touch of her skin, even so slight, eased the pain in his leg. But her gaze shifted, and her radiance dimmed, silvering to moonlight. The smile slipped from her lips and she turned her face away.
“Not much farther, now,” the man said.
Fetid water splashed against his hand, hanging limp behind the man’s back. Sulfur and death filled his lungs, overwhelming the flowers of his memory. Theseus gagged, his stomach heaving, but he had not even acid or bile to lose, nor could he lift his head from where it thumped against the man’s spine. His leg burned, the rest of his body shivering, and he groaned.
“Peace, Theseus.” Heracles. It was Heracles who spoke. “There is sunlight ahead.”
Helen was his sunlight, shining bright, even in her sorrow. Even as her eyes slid away from his, and Menelaus rose, his fingers closing about the hilt of a table knife, white knuckled. But Menelaus would never touch her again. Theseus had seen to that. He had promised her his protection.
Heracles dumped him onto soft earth, and Theseus swore as fire flared up his thigh.
Heracles laughed. “Awake, are you?”
Theseus grunted, squinting against the sun. He had been trapped beneath the earth for so long, his eyes ached from the light. “How long?”
“Months,” Heracles answered, his wide shoulders silhouetted against the sky. “And I do not know that you will thank me for bringing you back. The chair tore the flesh from your thigh to the bone and you will be a long time healing, if you ever do.”
“Helen,” Theseus croaked. “What of Helen?”
Heracles crouched before him and Theseus made out the grim line of his mouth. “The Spartan Princess?”
Theseus grasped him by the arm. “Tell me, Heracles.”
“No.” The pain in his leg was nothing to that which stabbed through his heart. Helen! It could not be – he had taken her from Sparta, hidden her in Athens. He had left her safe!
Heracles sighed, looking away. “She is married to the Prince of Mycenae, to Menelaus, half-mad though he is, and that is not the least of it.”
Helen. Theseus closed his eyes to the sun and lay back in the grass, remembering her as she had been in Athens. Hair as black as night and milk-white skin dusted with umber until her body looked as brown as any Egyptian’s. Helen, forgive me. I should never have left you.
“Come, Theseus.” Heracles pulled him up. “We must get you to Apollo’s temple. The priests will know if you can be healed.”
He grunted, the pain in his leg crippling. He must heal. He must be whole or he would never succeed in stealing Helen back. And he had promised her, before he left on this thrice-damned journey to Hades. No matter where she was in the world, he would find her.
He had given his word, and one-legged or not, he meant to keep it.
Those of you who follow the blog know how much I love Theseus and the intersection of Helen's mythology with Theseus', which is what spawned my novel, HELEN OF SPARTA.
This prompt was brought to you by Agent Courtney Miller-Callihan, who is running a competition on her blog. Winner gets a query critique.