trigger warning: rape
It had not been an ordinary swan. Its wings seemed to fill the sky, in the moment she had looked up and it had been coming down on her. It’s weight was like a man, not like a bird, but she hadn’t gotten to look at it. It’s beak clamped on the nape of her neck, threatening to twist and break bone, and pinned her face to the ground.
Lede had not given birth. She had laid eggs- twin eggs. She had wondered, shame burning her face, if the children would turn out to be birds. They weren’t. When the time came, the eggs hatched, and the feet and hands of human children poked out, breaking the shells.
There were two children in each egg- a boy and a girl in each. She named them Clytemnestra and Castor, and Helen and Polydeuces. As the children grew, people started calling Polydeuces ‘Pollux’ for short.
Clytemnestra and Castor were ordinary children. They even took after her husband, Tyndareus, in their looks.
It soon became clear that the children from the other egg, Helen and Pollux, took after their Sire, the Swan- and that the Swan must have been a god.
The golden light she had not been able to see in the eyes of the Swan, as she choked on mud and struggled for breath, burned in the childrens’ eyes. Music seemed to be hovering in the air around them, just out of the reach of hearing. And nothing could hurt them. They ran and laughed through life, untouched by suffering.
When they were old enough, Tyndareus gave the girls to a high ranking pair of brothers from another city- a matching set.
Helen found a man whose company she better enjoyed. She ran off with him- apparently heedless of the thousands of lives that would be destroyed in the international chaos and collapse this desertion triggered.
Clytemnestra remained at the side of the man to whom she had been given, fulfilling her duties. She produced a male heir for him. He then publicly killed the daughter who had been born along the way. The killing had been part of an obscure ritual, intended to help the war effort. She was left to keep his estate in order and profitable while he was gone at the war. Long years later, when he returned, he brought a girl-slave with him. The slave was youngish and beautiful and intelligent, and without family to speak on her behalf. Spoils of a fallen city. Something he could entertain himself with in his old age.
Clytemnestra had her husband assassinated.
Her husband’s heir, the son she had given birth to, killed her in punishment for her crime.
The boys, Castor and Pollux, had not been sent away from home like the girls had. Their father was alive and was the ruler of the city and the land around it. One day, they would rule, but until then, they had few responsibilities. The boys took to cattle raiding and quarreling with their paternal cousins. Polydeuces’ breezy confidence ran them in and out of trouble again, and they would laugh as they rode off. They wore round skullcaps, and joked that these were pieces of eggshell. What did they have to fear? They were children of a god. Perhaps even the god!
Staying with their sister Helen, they had been out on a raid the day she ran off.
One night, their luck turned against them in a dark and tangled forest. They were separated, and Pollux found himself alone pursued by both cousins. The younger and smaller cousin caught him and they wrestled. Lynceus was named for the Lynx that hunts and kills, solitary in the dark, but when their bodies parted, it was Lynceus who fell bleeding to the earth. Pollux stared at the fallen body. It didn’t move. He began to be afraid, although he didn’t know why.
At that moment, Idas crashed into the clearing. His dead brother was laying on the ground between them and before Pollux knew what was happening, Idas’ hands had closed around his throat. Idas was, perhaps, named after a mountain- the mountain where the god had once died and had also been born. Pollux was choking, squirming against the ground and fighting for air. Idas sneered and bore down on him harder- bringing all his great weight and power to bear.
A strange thing began to happen. Pollux’s eyes, that had always shone, began to burn. They burned brighter and brighter.
There was a flare that lit the clearing. Trees stood stark in front of their shadows- and then disappeared into sudden darkness.
Pollux pushed Idas’ body off of him. The corpse reeked of burned flesh. And burned hair. And burned bone. He lay for a moment, panting, then scrambled to his feet. He ran through the woods, terrified of something he knew was happening and did not understand.
When he found Castor, Castor was lying in a pool of blood. Idas’ spear was pinning him to the ground. He grinned up at his brother, and tried to laugh.
Pollux dropped to his knees, then threw himself to the ground, holding his brother.
The two were never seen again after that night. As years went by, between the shifting words of oracles and the murmur of the sea at night, a story slowly formed. Pollux had called on the god, his father, as only a child of the gods is able to do. The god had appeared, and offered to take him away, to the distant and eternal home of the gods. There, he would live forever, in splendor.
But Pollux hadn’t called on his father to ask to live in splendor forever. He explained impatiently what he wanted.
Very well, the god answered. There is a way that you can stay with him and not be parted.
For the rest of that age of the world, in memory of the Twins, the people of Leda’s city performed two different rituals. In one ritual, they would make a holocaust, honoring the Twins as they did the gods of the stars themselves: by burning a sacrificial victim. In the other ritual, the people would pour out the blood of grapes, offering the Twins a libation as they did for the human dead, whose spirits sink through the earth to the netherworld.
The Twins had joined their lives into one.
They had become stars. Because stars are sometimes are plunged into the darkness of the horizon, disappearing like the dead. At other times, they shine in the heavens, where, it is said, the gods live. They suffer both fates and are alive with both kinds of life.