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don't you ever tame your demons

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You already know my name.

 

Everyone does, it seems like. I’m one of the first stories they hear. Once they get past the famous little lovebirds and their oh-so-awful tragedy, they go looking for the rest of the stories. One can never have their fill of tragedy, it seems.

 

And that’s how they meet me.

 

Or, well, not me. They meet my uncle and my father, arguing over whether one little girl’s life is a good price to pay for a war. They meet vicious, bitter Odysseus, willing to drown the whole world in blood if it meant he got to go back to his wife a day earlier. They meet icy Diomedes, willing to sacrifice anything at a goddess’s command. They meet my corpse, bleeding out on the altar while my mother screams.

 

But they don’t meet me.

 

It wasn’t about me, after all. Not really.

 

Artemis would have taken anything from Father if it meant punishing him. I was just the worst thing she could think of.

 

Does it make you feel better to think he didn’t care? Does it make you feel better about yourself to think it was an easy choice, that you could never be that cruel?

 

You wanna know a secret?

 

I’d met Odysseus before. Penelope was my cousin, after all. I’d met her before. She used to braid my hair, and frankly, if you’ve met Penelope, you’ve met Odysseus – they cling to each other like barnacles, it’s so gross. He told me a story once, about how he met the Naiads who live in a cave on Ithaka. He said if I ever visited he’d take me and Telemachus to visit them.

 

I don’t know if he was lying. I don’t think so. I don’t think it matters.

 

You wanna know another secret?

 

Father cried. Father cried so much his eyes ached like they were burning. He hadn’t eaten in days when he did it, too busy begging the goddess for mercy, for anything else he could give up instead. I smelled the smoke. I thought he was burning sacrifices to Aphrodite at first, you know that? For good luck in marriage.

 

Hah.

 

He cried. He cried for me.

 

I didn’t cry. I’d already gotten all my tears out.

 

I didn’t smile, either. You know, I fucking hate when they say I was ready for it? (I never got to swear when I was a princess – it’s honestly kind of fun). No one’s ever ready for anything like that.

 

Honestly, I just remember being angry, and kind of hollow. Some people say it was an eidolon who died. Sometimes, I’m not sure it wasn’t – I felt so empty, filled up with wind and cold.

 

I did walk there on my own though. I walked up to him. Uncle was there – I’m sure it was so he could cut my throat if Father proved unable.

 

He used to carry me -

 

I remember. I remember everything was very bright. You always think of things like that happening at night, you know? At night, deep in the woods. Not bright mid-morning, in front of thousands, where everyone can see the blood hit the cobbles.

 

I remember my mother screaming -

 

I did do the hymn to Artemis thing. It was kind of a spur of the moment decision – I know. I’d already decided to walk on my own. It was just an extra rush of spite, really. I wanted everyone to see me, not them. I saw my uncle and Odysseus and Calchas – do you think they tell the seers that everything they see has to actually happen, or do you think they go through life sleepwalking, waiting to get to the bits they’re interested in in a play they’ve seen a hundred times before? He didn’t even look at me – I saw my father standing there, tears in his eyes, and I felt so angry I could have killed us both, then and there. I thought I could have eaten them raw.

 

I didn’t.

 

I turned around, and began the hymn. They didn’t sing along with me at first. My voice carried on the morning breeze.

 

I don’t remember what I said, but I remember them singing after that.

 

My father, my uncle, Calchas, and Odysseus were silent.

 

It was loud after that. I walked to the altar myself. Father helped me up. His hands were shaking. His hands were shaking.

 

“Be brave, father,” I told him.

 

Was that a mistake? Did they think I was trying to console him? That I wanted to be a brave hero? I wanted to hurt him. If I had to be brave under the knife, so did he. I wasn’t brave. I wanted him to bleed. I was hollow and dried up and so furious it felt like my blood was dripping poison and I wanted to eat them all. I wanted him to bleed and bleed and bleed.

 

He didn’t.

 

I did.

 

But you knew that already.

 

Would you like me to tell you that a deer died instead? Would you like me to tell you I had a touching reunion with Orestes years later? Does that make you feel better?

 

You shouldn’t. This is my story. It happened to me. I don’t care if you want me to be a loving daughter or an innocent victim or go live with Artemis and raise a million dogs or – something. It happened to me. It’s the worst thing that ever happened to me. It’s not my father’s. You can’t give this story to him. He has enough of them already. This is the only one I ever got. It’s mine and you can’t take it away from me.

 

I was wind, after that. I remember. For a moment, before the Keres brought my soul away down, down, I was all starlight and wind.

 

I was judged for Elysium, obviously.

 

What a wonderful consolation prize! The little heroine gets exactly what she wanted. You know, there’s no children in Elysium? Glory’s a prize for adults, you see. Adults, and me.

 

Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t that just wonderful? Doesn’t that make you want to smile? Smile and smile and smile until your mouth splits at the seams?

 

I didn’t stay that long.

 

(Adults are boring.)

 

(Fighting is boringer.)

 

(More boring?)

 

The underworld is huge, and I’m small. There’s a lot of different places to go, and to explore. I’ve gone down farther than anyone else, and I’m not sure it even ends. I’ll tell you what I’ve seen later, the endless oceans, the caverns where the crystals glitter so high above they look like stars, the skeletons of long-dead Titans. Stop by my and Polyxena’s treehouse – but you have to bring snacks.

 

(Yes, we’re friends. As you might imagine, we have a lot in common.)

 

Do you know who I am now? Do you understand what I’ve told you?

 

I’ve heard Father’s in Tartarus. So’s Mother. Heard the siblings are there too, except for Chrysothemis. I get a lot of my adventuring supplies from Chrys – she makes really good cloaks. I have dinner with her sometimes in Asphodel. She braids mine and Polyxena’s hair.

 

I’ve heard my family’s in Tartarus. I’ve never gone.

 

They can cry all they want to. Father can feel sorry for himself all he wants to. I know it wasn’t just his idea alone. I know it was Artemis. I know she ordered it. I know I would have died no matter what. I know.

 

But this is my story.

 

I am Iphigenia.

 

I was the eldest daughter.

 

I used to paint instead of weave, and run out of my lessons to beg stories from Mother.

 

I loved ferrets, even though they smelled terrible.

 

I love my mother, even when everyone else has cast her aside. I won’t visit her, for she doesn’t know me either, only the specter she crafted for her vengeance, but I love her. She was terrible – but she would never have sacrificed me. Can’t I appreciate that?

 

I am of House Atreus.

 

And I do not forgive.