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The Song of Achilles / (by Madeline Miller, 2012) -

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The Song of Achilles /    (by Madeline Miller, 2012) -

The Song of Achilles / (by Madeline Miller, 2012) -

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: 78
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The Song of Achilles / (by Madeline Miller, 2012) -
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2012
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Madeline Miller
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Frazer Douglas
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/ / / / / upper-intermediate
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upper-intermediate
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11:15:04
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

The Song of Achilles / :

.doc (Word) madeline_miller_-_the_song_of_achilles.doc [747 Kb] (c: 4) .
.pdf madeline_miller_-_the_song_of_achilles.pdf [1.53 Mb] (c: 2) .


: The Song of Achilles

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Chapter One MY FATHER WAS A KING AND THE SON OF KINGS. HE was a short man, as most of us were, and built like a bull, all shoulders. He married my mother when she was fourteen and sworn by the priestess to be fruitful. It was a good match: she was an only child, and her fathers fortune would go to her husband. He did not find out until the wedding that she was simple. Her father had been scrupulous about keeping her veiled until the ceremony, and my father had humored him. If she was ugly, there were always slave girls and serving boys. When at last they pulled off the veil, they say my mother smiled. That is how they knew she was quite stupid. Brides did not smile. When I was delivered, a boy, he plucked me from her arms and handed me to a nurse. In pity, the midwife gave my mother a pillow to hold instead of me. My mother hugged it. She did not seem to notice a change had been made. Quickly, I became a disappointment: small, slight. I was not fast. I was not strong. I could not sing. The best that could be said of me was that I was not sickly. The colds and cramps that seized my peers left me untouched. This only made my father suspicious. Was I a changeling, inhuman? He scowled at me, watching. My hand shook, feeling his gaze. And there was my mother, dribbling wine on herself. I AM FIVE when it is my fathers turn to host the games. Men gather from as far as Thessaly and Sparta, and our storehouses grow rich with their gold. A hundred servants work for twenty days beating out the racing track and clearing it of stones. My father is determined to have the finest games of his generation. I remember the runners best, nut-brown bodies slicked with oil, stretching on the track beneath the sun. They mix together, broad-shouldered husbands, beardless youths and boys, their calves all thickly carved with muscle. The bull has been killed, sweating the last of its blood into dust and dark bronze bowls. It went quietly to its death, a good omen for the games to come. The runners are gathered before the dais where my father and I sit, surrounded by prizes we will give to the winners. There are golden mixing bowls for wine, beaten bronze tripods, ash-wood spears tipped with precious iron. But the real prize is in my hands: a wreath of dusty-green leaves, freshly clipped, rubbed to a shine by my thumb. My father has given it to me grudgingly. He reassures himself: all I have to do is hold it. The youngest boys are running first, and they wait, shuffling their feet in the sand for the nod from the priest. Theyre in their first flush of growth, bones sharp and spindly, poking against taut skin. My eye catches on a light head among dozens of dark, tousled crowns. I lean forward to see. Hair lit like honey in the sun, and within it, glints of goldthe circlet of a prince. He is shorter than the others, and still plump with childhood in a way they are not. His hair is long and tied back with leather; it burns against the dark, bare skin of his back. His face, when he turns, is serious as a mans. When the priest strikes the ground, he slips past the thickened bodies of the older boys. He moves easily, his heels flashing pink as licking tongues. He wins. I stare as my father lifts the garland from my lap and crowns him; the leaves seem almost black against the brightness of his hair. His father, Peleus, comes to claim him, smiling and proud. Peleus kingdom is smaller than ours, but his wife is rumored to be a goddess, and his people love him. My own father watches with envy. His wife is stupid and his son too slow to race in even the youngest group. He turns to me. That is what a son should be. My hands feel empty without the garland. I watch King Peleus embrace his son. I see the boy toss the garland in the air and catch it again. He is laughing, and his face is bright with victory. BEYOND THIS, I remember little more than scattered images from my life then: my father frowning on his throne, a cunning toy horse I loved, my mother on the beach, her eyes turned towards the Aegean. In this last memory, I am skipping stones for her, plink, plink, plink, across the skin of the sea. She seems to like the way the ripples look, dispersing back to glass. Or perhaps it is the sea itself she likes. At her temple a starburst of white gleams like bone, the scar from the time her father hit her with the hilt of a sword. Her toes poke up from the sand where she has buried them, and I am careful not to disturb them as I search for rocks. I choose one and fling it out, glad to be good at this. It is the only memory I have of my mother and so golden that I am almost sure I have made it up. After all, it was unlikely for my father to have allowed us to be alone together, his simple son and simpler wife. And where are we? I do not recognize the beach, the view of coastline. So much has passed since then. Chapter Two I WAS SUMMONED TO THE KING. I REMEMBER HATING THIS, the long walk up the endless throne room. At the front, I knelt on stone. Some kings chose to have rugs there for the knees of messengers who had long news to tell. My father preferred not to. King Tyndareus daughter is finally ready for marriage, he said. I knew the name. Tyndareus was king of Sparta and held huge tracts of the ripest southern lands, the kind my father coveted. I had heard of his daughter too, rumored to be the fairest woman in our countries. Her mother, Leda, was said to have been ravished by Zeus, the king of the gods himself, disguised as a swan. Nine months later, her womb yielded two sets of twins: Clytemnestra and Castor, children of her mortal husband; Helen and Polydeuces, the shining cygnets of the god. But gods were known to be notoriously poor parents; it was expected that Tyndareus would offer patrimony to all. I did not respond to my fathers news. Such things meant nothing to me. My father cleared his throat, loud in the silent chamber. We would do well to have her in our family. You will go and put yourself forth as a suitor. There was no one else in the hall, so my startled huff of breath was for his ears alone. But I knew better than to speak my discomfort. My father already knew all that I might say: that I was nine, unsightly, unpromising, uninterested. We left the next morning, our packs heavy with gifts and food for the journey. Soldiers escorted us, in their finest armor. I dont remember much of the tripit was overland, through countryside that left no impression. At the head of the column, my father dictated new orders to secretaries and messengers who rode off in every direction. I looked down at the leather reins, smoothed their nap with my thumb. I did not understand my place here. It was incomprehensible, as so much of what my father did was. My donkey swayed, and I swayed with him, glad for even this distraction. We were not the first suitors to arrive at Tyndareus citadel. The stables were full of horses and mules, busy with servants. My father seemed displeased with the ceremony afforded us: I saw him rub a hand over the stone of the hearth in our rooms, frowning. I had brought a toy from home, a horse whose legs could move. I lifted one hoof, then the other, imagined that I had ridden him instead of the donkey. A soldier took pity on me and lent me his dice. I clattered them against the floor until they showed all sixes in one throw. Finally, a day came in which my father ordered me bathed and brushed. He had me change my tunic, then change again. I obeyed, though I saw no difference between the purple with gold or crimson with gold. Neither hid my knobby knees. My father looked powerful and severe, his black beard slashing across his face. The gift that we were presenting to Tyndareus stood ready, a beaten-gold mixing bowl embossed with the story of the princess Danae. Zeus had wooed her in a shower of golden light, and she had borne him Perseus, Gorgon-slayer, second only to Heracles among our heroes. My father handed it to me. Do not disgrace us, he said. I heard the great hall before I saw it, the sound of hundreds of voices banging against stone walls, the clatter of goblets and armor. The servants had thrown open the windows to try to dampen the sound; they had hung tapestries, wealth indeed, on every wall. I had never seen so many men inside before. Not men, I corrected myself. Kings. We were called forward to council, seated on benches draped with cowhide. Servants faded backwards, to the shadows. My fathers fingers dug into my collar, warning me not to fidget. There was violence in that room, with so many princes and heroes and kings competing for a single prize, but we knew how to ape civilization. One by one they introduced themselves, these young men, showing off shining hair and neat waists and expensively dyed clothing. Many were the sons or grandsons of gods. All had a song or two, or more, written of their deeds. Tyndareus greeted each in turn, accepted their gifts in a pile at the center of the room. Invited each to speak and present his suit. My father was the oldest among them, except for the man who, when his turn came, named himself Philoctetes. A comrade of Heracles, the man beside us whispered, with an awe I understood. Heracles was the greatest of our heroes, and Philoctetes had been the closest of his companions, the only one still living. His hair was gray, and his thick fingers were all tendon, the sinewy dexterity that marked an archer. And indeed, a moment later he held up the largest bow I had ever seen, polished yew wood with a lionskin grip. The bow of Heracles, Philoctetes named it, given to me at his death. In our lands a bow was mocked as the weapon of cowards. But no one could say such a thing about this bow; the strength it would take to draw it humbled us all. The next man, his eyes painted like a womans, spoke his name. Idomeneus, King of Crete. He was lean, and his long hair fell to his waist when he stood. He offered rare iron, a double-headed ax. The symbol of my people. His movements reminded me of the dancers that my mother liked. And then Menelaus, son of Atreus, seated beside his hulking, bearlike brother Agamemnon. Menelaus hair was a startling red, the color of fire-forged bronze. His body was strong, stocky with muscles, vital. The gift he gave was a rich one, beautifully dyed cloth. Though the lady needs no adornment, he added, smiling. This was a pretty bit of speech. I wished I had something as clever to say. I was the only one here under twenty, and I was not descended from a god. Perhaps Peleus blond-haired son would be equal to this, I thought. But his father had kept him at home. Man after man, and their names began to blur in my head. My attention wandered to the dais, where I noticed, for the first time, the three veiled women seated at Tyndareus side. I stared at the white cloth over their faces, as if I might be able to catch some glimpse of the woman behind it. My father wanted one of them for my wife. Three sets of hands, prettily adorned with bracelets, lay quiet in their laps. One of the women was taller than the other two. I thought I saw a stray dark curl peek from beneath the bottom of her veil. Helen is light haired, I remembered. So that one was not Helen. I had ceased to listen to the kings. Welcome, Menoitius. The speaking of my fathers name startled me. Tyndareus was looking at us. I am sorry to hear of the death of your wife. My wife lives, Tyndareus. It is my son who comes today to wed your daughter. There was a silence in which I knelt, dizzied by the spin of faces around me. Your son is not yet a man. Tyndareus voice seemed far away. I could detect nothing in it. He need not be. I am man enough for both of us. It was the sort of jest our people loved, bold and boasting. But no one laughed. I see, said Tyndareus. The stone floor dug into my skin, yet I did not move. I was used to kneeling. I had never before been glad of the practice in my fathers throne room. My father spoke again, in the silence. Others have brought bronze and wine, oil and wool. I bring gold, and it is only a small portion of my stores. I was aware of my hands on the beautiful bowl, touching the storys figures: Zeus appearing from the streaming sunlight, the startled princess, their coupling. My daughter and I are grateful that you have brought us such a worthy gift, though paltry to you. A murmur, from the kings. There was humiliation here that my father did not seem to understand. My face flushed with it. I would make Helen the queen of my palace. For my wife, as you know well, is not fit to rule. My wealth exceeds all of these young men, and my deeds speak for themselves. I thought the suitor was your son. I looked up at the new voice. A man who had not spoken yet. He was the last in line, sitting at ease on the bench, his curling hair gleaming in the light of the fire. He had a jagged scar on one leg, a seam that stitched his dark brown flesh from heel to knee, wrapping around the muscles of the calf and burying itself in the shadow beneath his tunic. It looked like it had been a knife, I thought, or something like it, ripping upwards and leaving behind feathered edges, whose softness belied the violence that must have caused it. My father was angry. Son of Laertes, I do not remember inviting you to speak. The man smiled. I was not invited. I interrupted. But you need not fear my interference. I have no vested interest in the matter. I speak only as an observer. A small movement from the dais drew my eye. One of the veiled figures had stirred. What does he mean? My father was frowning. If he is not here for Helen, then for what? Let him go back to his rocks and his goats. The mans eyebrows lifted, but he said nothing. Tyndareus was also mild. If your son is to be a suitor, as you say, then let him present himself. Even I knew it was my turn to speak. I am Patroclus, son of Menoitius. My voice sounded high, and scratchy with disuse. I am here as a suitor for Helen. My father is a king and the son of kings. I had no more to say. My father had not instructed me; he had not thought that Tyndareus would ask me to speak. I stood and carried the bowl to the pile of gifts, placed it where it would not topple. I turned and walked back to my bench. I had not disgraced myself with trembling or tripping, and my words had not been foolish. Still, my face burned with shame. I knew how I must look to these men. Oblivious, the line of suitors moved on. The man kneeling now was huge, half again as tall as my father, and broad besides. Behind him, two servants braced an enormous shield. It seemed to stand with him as part of his suit, reaching from his heels to his crown; no ordinary man could have carried it. And it was no decoration: scarred and hacked edges bore witness to the battles it had seen. Ajax, son of Telamon, this giant named himself. His speech was blunt and short, claiming his lineage from Zeus and offering his mighty size as proof of his great-grandfathers continuing favor. His gift was a spear, supple wood beautifully cut. The fire-forged point gleamed in the light of the torches. At last it was the man with the scars turn. Well, son of Laertes? Tyndareus shifted in his seat to face him. What does a disinterested observer have to say to these proceedings? The man leaned back. I would like to know how you are going to stop the losers from declaring war on you. Or on Helens lucky new husband. I see half a dozen men here ready to leap at each others throats. You seem amused. The man shrugged. I find the folly of men amusing. The son of Laertes scorns us! This was the large man, Ajax, his clenched fist as big as my head. Son of Telamon, never. Then what, Odysseus? Speak your mind, for once. Tyndareus voice was as sharp as Id heard it. Odysseus shrugged again. This was a dangerous gamble, despite the treasure and renown you have won. Each of these men is worthy, and knows it. They will not be so easily put off. All this you have said to me in private. My father stiffened beside me. Conspiracy. His was not the only angry face in the hall. True. But now I offer you a solution. He held up his hands, empty. I have brought no gift and do not seek to woo Helen. I am a king, as has been said, of rocks and goats. In return for my solution, I seek from you the prize that I have already named. Give me your solution and you shall have it. Again, that slight movement, from the dais. One womans hand had twitched against her companions dress. Then here it is. I believe that we should let Helen choose. Odysseus paused, to allow for the murmurs of disbelief; women did not have a say in such things. No one may fault you, then. But she must choose now, at this very moment, so she will not be said to have taken council or instruction from you. And. He held up a finger. Before she chooses, every man here must swear an oath: to uphold Helens choice, and to defend her husband against all who would take her from him. I felt the unrest in the room. An oath? And over such an unconventional matter as a woman choosing her husband. The men were suspicious. Very well. Tyndareus, his face unreadable, turned to the veiled women. Helen, do you accept this proposal? Her voice was low and lovely, carrying to every corner of the hall. I do. It was all she said, but I felt the shiver go through the men around me. Even as a child I felt it, and I marveled at the power of this woman who, though veiled, could electrify a room. Her skin, we suddenly remembered, was rumored to be gilded, her eyes dark and shining as the slick obsidian that we traded our olives for. At that moment she was worth all the prizes in the center of the hall, and more. She was worth our lives. Tyndareus nodded. Then I decree that it is so. All those who wish to swear will do so, now. I heard muttering, a few half-angry voices. But no man left. Helens voice, and the veil, gently fluttering with her breath, held us all captive. A swiftly summoned priest led a white goat to the altar. Here, inside, it was a more propitious choice than a bull, whose throat might splash unwholesomely upon the stone floor. The animal died easily, and the man mixed its dark blood with the cypress-ash from the fire. The bowl hissed, loud in the silent room. You will be first. Tyndareus pointed to Odysseus. Even a nine-year-old saw how fitting this was. Already Odysseus had shown himself too clever by half. Our ragged alliances prevailed only when no man was allowed to be too much more powerful than another. Around the room, I saw smirks and satisfaction among the kings; he would not be allowed to escape his own noose. Odysseus mouth quirked in a half-smile. Of course. It is my pleasure. But I guessed that it was not so. During the sacrifice I had watched him lean back into the shadows, as if he would be forgotten. He rose now, moved to the altar. Now HelenOdysseus paused, his arm half-extended to the priestremember that I swear only in fellowship, not as a suitor. You would never forgive yourself if you were to choose me. His words were teasing, and drew scattered laughter. We all knew it was not likely that one so luminous as Helen would choose the king of barren Ithaca. One by one the priest summoned us to the hearth, marking our wrists with blood and ash, binding as chains. I chanted the words of the oath back to him, my arm lifted for all to see. When the last man had returned to his place, Tyndareus rose. Choose now, my daughter. Menelaus. She spoke without hesitation, startling us all. We had expected suspense, indecision. I turned to the red-haired man, who stood, a huge grin cracking his face. In outsize joy, he clapped his silent brother on the back. Everywhere else was anger, disappointment, even grief. But no man reached for his sword; the blood had dried thick on our wrists. So be it. Tyndareus stood also. I am glad to welcome a second son of Atreus to my family. You shall have my Helen, even as your worthy brother once claimed my Clytemnestra. He gestured to the tallest woman, as though she might stand. She did not move. Perhaps she had not heard. What about the third girl? This shout from a small man, beside the giant Ajax. Your niece. Can I have her? The men laughed, glad for an easing in the tension. Youre too late, Teucer. Odysseus spoke over the noise. Shes promised to me. I did not have the chance to hear more. My fathers hand seized my shoulder, pulling me angrily off the bench. We are finished here. We left that very night for home, and I climbed back on my donkey, thick with disappointment: I had not even been allowed to glimpse Helens fabled face. My father would never mention the trip again, and once home the events twisted strangely in my memory. The blood and the oath, the room full of kings: they seemed distant and pale, like something a bard had spun, rather than something I lived. Had I really knelt there before them? And what of the oath I had sworn? It seemed absurd even to think of it, foolish and improbable as a dream is by dinner. Chapter Three I STOOD IN THE FIELD. IN MY HANDS WERE TWO PAIRS OF dice, a gift. Not from my father, whod never think of it. Not from my mother, who sometimes did not know me. I could not remember who had given them to me. A visiting king? A favor- currying noble? They were carved from ivory, inset with onyx, smooth under my thumb. It was late summer, and I was panting with my run from the palace. Since the day of the races I had been appointed a man to train me in all our athletic arts: boxing, sword-and-spear, discus. But I had escaped him, and glowed with the giddy lightness of solitude. It was the first time I had been alone in weeks. Then the boy appeared. His name was Clysonymus, and he was the son of a nobleman who was often at the palace. Older, larger, and unpleasantly fleshy. His eyes had caught the flash of the dice in my palm. He leered at me, held out his hand. Let me see them. No. I did not want his fingers on them, grubby and thick. And I was the prince, however small. Did I not even have this right? But these noble sons were used to me doing what they wished. They knew my father would not intervene. I want them. He didnt bother to threaten me, yet. I hated him for it. I should be worth threatening. No. He stepped forward. Let me have them. Theyre mine. I grew teeth. I snapped like the dogs who fight for our table scraps. He reached to take them, and I shoved him backwards. He stumbled, and I was glad. He would not get what was mine. Hey! He was angry. I was so small; I was rumored to be simple. If he backed down now, it would be a dishonor. He advanced on me, face red. Without meaning to, I stepped back. He smirked then. Coward. I am no coward. My voice rose, and my skin went hot. Your father thinks you are. His words were deliberate, as if he were savoring them. I heard him tell my father so. He did not. But I knew he had. The boy stepped closer. He lifted a fist. Are you calling me a liar? I knew that he would hit me now. He was just waiting for an excuse. I could imagine the way my father would have said it. Coward. I planted my hands on his chest and shoved, as hard as I could. Our land was one of grass and wheat. Tumbles should not hurt. I am making excuses. It was also a land of rocks. His head thudded dully against stone, and I saw the surprised pop of his eyes. The ground around him began to bleed. I stared, my throat closing in horror at what I had done. I had not seen the death of a human before. Yes, the bulls, and the goats, even the bloodless gasping of fish. And I had seen it in paintings, tapestries, the black figures burned onto our platters. But I had not seen this: the rattle of it, the choke and scrabble. The smell of the flux. I fled. Sometime later, they found me by the gnarled ankles of an olive tree. I was limp and pale, surrounded by my own vomit. The dice were gone, lost in my flight. My father stared down angrily at me, his lips drawn back to show his yellowing teeth. He gestured, and the servants lifted me and carried me inside. The boys family demanded immediate exile or death. They were powerful, and this was their eldest son. They might permit a king to burn their fields or rape their daughters, as long as payment was made. But you did not touch a mans sons. For this, the nobles would riot. We all knew the rules; we clung to them to avoid the anarchy that was always a hairsbreadth away. Blood feud. The servants made the sign against evil. My father had spent his life scrabbling to keep his kingdom, and would not risk losing it over such a son as me, when heirs and the wombs that bore them were so easy to come by. So he agreed: I would be exiled, and fostered in another mans kingdom. In exchange for my weight in gold, they would rear me to manhood. I would have no parents, no family name, no inheritance. In our day, death was preferable. But my father was a practical man. My weight in gold was less than the expense of the lavish funeral my death would have demanded. This was how I came to be ten, and an orphan. This is how I came to Phthia. TINY, GEMSTONE-SIZED PHTHIA was the smallest of our countries, set in a northern crook of land between the ridges of Mount Othrys and the sea. Its king, Peleus, was one of those men whom the gods love: not divine himself, but clever, brave, handsome, and excelling all his peers in piety. As a reward, our divinities offered him a sea-nymph for a wife. It was considered their highest honor. After all, what mortal would not want to bed a goddess and sire a son from her? Divine blood purified our muddy race, bred heroes from dust and clay. And this goddess brought a greater promise still: the Fates had foretold that her son would far surpass his father. Peleus line would be assured. But, like all the gods gifts, there was an edge to it; the goddess herself was unwilling. Everyone, even I, had heard the story of Thetis ravishment. The gods had led Peleus to the secret place where she liked to sit upon the beach. They had warned him not to waste time with overturesshe would never consent to marriage with a mortal. They warned him too of what would come once he had caught her: for the nymph Thetis was wily, like her father, Proteus, the slippery old man of the sea, and she knew how to make her skin flow into a thousand different shapes of fur and feather and flesh. And though beaks and claws and teeth and coils and stinging tails would flay him, still Peleus must not let her go. Peleus was a pious and obedient man and did all that the gods had instructed him to do. He waited for her to emerge from the slate-colored waves, hair black and long as a horses tail. Then he seized her, holding on despite her violent struggles, squeezing until they were both exhausted, breathless and sand-scraped. The blood from the wounds she had given him mixed with the smears of lost maidenhead on her thighs. Her resistance mattered no longer: a deflowering was as binding as marriage vows. The gods forced her to swear that she would stay with her mortal husband for at least a year, and she served her time on earth as the duty it was, silent, unresponsive, and sullen. Now when he clasped her, she did not bother to writhe and twist in protest. Instead she lay stiff and silent, damp and chilled as an old fish. Her reluctant womb bore only a single child. The hour her sentence was finished, she ran out of the house and dove back into the sea. She would return only to visit the boy, never for any other reason, and never for long. The rest of the time the child was raised by tutors and nurses and overseen by Phoinix, Peleus most trusted counselor. Did Peleus ever regret the gods gift to him? An ordinary wife would have counted herself lucky to find a husband with Peleus mildness, his smile-lined face. But for the sea-nymph Thetis nothing could ever eclipse the stain of his dirty, mortal mediocrity. I WAS LED through the palace by a servant whose name I had not caught. Perhaps he had not said it. The halls were smaller than at home, as if restrained by the modesty of the kingdom they governed. The walls and floors were local marble, whiter than was found in the south. My feet were dark against its pallor. I had nothing with me. My few belongings were being carried to my room, and the gold my father sent was on its way to the treasury. I had felt a strange panic as I was parted from it. It had been my companion for the weeks of travel, a reminder of my worth. I knew its contents by heart now: the five goblets with engraved stems, a heavy knobbed scepter, a beaten-gold necklace, two ornamental statues of birds, and a carved lyre, gilded at its tips. This last, I knew, was cheating. Wood was cheap and plentiful and heavy and took up space that should have been used for gold. Yet the lyre was so beautiful no one could object to it; it had been a piece of my mothers dowry. As we rode, I would reach back into my saddlebags to stroke the polished wood. I guessed that I was being led to the throne room, where I would kneel and pour out my gratitude. But the servant stopped suddenly at a side door. King Peleus was absent, he told me, so I would present myself before his son instead. I was unnerved. This was not what I had prepared myself for, the dutiful words Id practiced on donkeyback. Peleus son. I could still remember the dark wreath against his bright hair, the way his pink soles had flashed along the track. That is what a son should be. He was lying on his back on a wide, pillowed bench, balancing a lyre on his stomach. Idly, he plucked at it. He did not hear me enter, or he did not choose to look. This is how I first began to understand my place here. Until this moment I had been a prince, expected and announced. Now I was negligible. I took another step forward, scuffing my feet, and his head lolled to the side to regard me. In the five years since I had seen him, he had outgrown his babyish roundness. I gaped at the cold shock of his beauty, deep-green eyes, features fine as a girls. It struck from me a sudden, springing dislike. I had not changed so much, nor so well. He yawned, his eyes heavy-lidded. Whats your name? His kingdom was half, a quarter, an eighth the size of my fathers, and I had killed a boy and been exiled and still he did not know me. I ground my jaw shut and would not speak. He asked again, louder: Whats your name? My silence was excusable the first time; perhaps I had not heard him. Now it was not. Patroclus. It was the name my father had given me, hopefully but injudiciously, at my birth, and it tasted of bitterness on my tongue. Honor of the father, it meant. I waited for him to make a joke out of it, some witty jape about my disgrace. He did not. Perhaps, I thought, he is too stupid to. He rolled onto his side to face me. A stray lock of gold fell half into his eyes; he blew it away. My name is Achilles. I jerked my chin up, an inch, in bare acknowledgment. We regarded each other for a moment. Then he blinked and yawned again, his mouth cracked wide as a cats. Welcome to Phthia. I had been raised in a court and knew dismissal when I heard it. I DISCOVERED THAT AFTERNOON that I was not the only foster child of Peleus. The modest king turned out to be rich in cast-off sons. He had once been a runaway himself, it was rumored, and had a reputation for charity towards exiles. My bed was a pallet in a long barracks-style room, filled with other boys tussling and lounging. A servant showed me where my things had been put. A few boys lifted their heads, stared. I am sure one of them spoke to me, asked my name. I am sure I gave it. They returned to their games. No one important. I walked stiff-legged to my pallet and waited for dinner. We were summoned to eat at dusk by a bell, bronze struck from deep in the palaces turnings. The boys dropped their games and tumbled out into the hallway. The complex was built like a rabbit warren, full of twisting corridors and sudden inner rooms. I nearly tripped over the heels of the boy in front of me, fearful of being left behind and lost. The room for meals was a long hall at the front of the palace, its windows opening onto Mount Othrys foothills. It was large enough to feed all of us, many times over; Peleus was a king who liked to host and entertain. We sat on its oakwood benches, at tables that were scratched from years of clattering plates. The food was simple but plentifulsalted fish, and thick bread served with herbed cheese. There was no flesh here, of goats or bulls. That was only for royalty, or festival days. Across the room I caught the flash of bright hair in lamplight. Achilles. He sat with a group of boys whose mouths were wide with laughter at something hed said or done. That is what a prince should be. I stared down at my bread, its coarse grains that rubbed rough against my fingers. After supper we were allowed to do as we liked. Some boys were gathering in a corner for a game. Do you want to play? one asked. His hair still hung in childhood curls; he was younger than I was. Play? Dice. He opened his hand to show them, carved bone flecked with black dye. I started, stepped backwards. No, I said, too loudly. He blinked in surprise. All right. He shrugged, and was gone. That night I dreamed of the dead boy, his skull cracked like an egg against the ground. He has followed me. The blood spreads, dark as spilled wine. His eyes open, and his mouth begins to move. I clap my hands over my ears. The voices of the dead were said to have the power to make the living mad. I must not hear him speak. I woke in terror, hoping I had not screamed aloud. The pinpricks of stars outside the window were the only light; there was no moon I could see. My breathing was harsh in the silence, and the marsh-reed ticking of the mattress crackled softly beneath me, rubbing its thin fingers against my back. The presence of the other boys did not comfort me; our dead come for their vengeance regardless of witnesses. The stars turned, and somewhere the moon crept across the sky. When my eyes dragged closed again, he was waiting for me still, covered in blood, his face as pale as bone. Of course he was. No soul wished to be sent early to the endless gloom of our underworld. Exile might satisfy the anger of the living, but it did not appease the dead. I woke sandy-eyed, my limbs heavy and dull. The other boys surged around me, dressing for breakfast, eager for the day. Word had spread quickly of my strangeness, and the younger boy did not approach me again, with dice or anything else. At breakfast, my fingers pushed bread between my lips, and my throat swallowed. Milk was poured for me. I drank it. Afterwards we were led into the dusty sun of the practice yards for training in spear and sword. Here is where I tasted the full truth of Peleus kindness: well trained and indebted, we would one day make him a fine army. I was given a spear, and a callused hand corrected my grip, then corrected it again. I threw and grazed the edge of the oak-tree target. The master blew out a breath and passed me a second spear. My eyes traveled over the other boys, searching for Peleus son. He was not there. I sighted once more at the oak, its bark pitted and cracked, oozing sap from punctures. I threw. The sun drove high, then higher still. My throat grew dry and hot, scratched with burning dust. When the masters released us, most of the boys fled to the beach, where small breezes still stirred. There they diced and raced, shouting jokes in the sharp, slanting dialects of the north. My eyes were heavy in my head, and my arm ached from the mornings exertion. I sat beneath the scrubby shade of an olive tree to stare out over the oceans waves. No one spoke to me. I was easy to ignore. It was not so very different from home, really. THE NEXT DAY was the same, a morning of weary exercises, and then long afternoon hours alone. At night, the moon slivered smaller and smaller. I stared until I could see it even when I closed my eyes, the yellow curve bright against the dark of my eyelids. I hoped that it might keep the visions of the boy at bay. Our goddess of the moon is gifted with magic, with power over the dead. She could banish the dreams, if she wished. She did not. The boy came, night after night, with his staring eyes and splintered skull. Sometimes he turned and showed me the hole in his head, where the soft mass of his brain hung loose. Sometimes he reached for me. I would wake, choking on my horror, and stare at the darkness until dawn. Chapter Four MEALS IN THE VAULTED DINING HALL WERE MY ONLY relief. There the walls did not seem to press in on me so much, and the dust from the courtyard did not clog in my throat. The buzz of constant voices eased as mouths were stuffed full. I could sit with my food alone and breathe again. It was the only time I saw Achilles. His days were separate, princely, filled with duties we had no part of. But he took each meal with us, circulating among the tables. In the huge hall, his beauty shone like a flame, vital and bright, drawing my eye against my will. His mouth was a plump bow, his nose an aristocratic arrow. When he was seated, his limbs did not skew as mine did, but arranged themselves with perfect grace, as if for a sculptor. Perhaps most remarkable was his unself-consciousness. He did not preen or pout as other handsome children did. Indeed, he seemed utterly unaware of his effect on the boys around him. Though how he was, I could not imagine: they crowded him like dogs in their eagerness, tongues lolling. I watched all of this from my place at a corner table, bread crumpled in my fist. The keen edge of my envy was like flint, a spark away from fire. On one of these days he sat closer to me than usual; only a table distant. His dusty feet scuffed against the flagstones as he ate. They were not cracked and callused as mine were, but pink and sweetly brown beneath the dirt. Prince, I sneered inside my head. He turned, as if he had heard me. For a second our eyes held, and I felt a shock run through me. I jerked my gaze away, and busied myself with my bread. My cheeks were hot, and my skin prickled as if before a storm. When, at last, I ventured to look up again, he had turned back to his table and was speaking to the other boys. After that, I was craftier with my observation, kept my head down and my eyes ready to leap away. But he was craftier still. At least once a dinner he would turn and catch me before I could feign indifference. Those seconds, half seconds, that the line of our gaze connected, were the only moment in my day that I felt anything at all. The sudden swoop of my stomach, the coursing anger. I was like a fish eyeing the hook. IN THE FOURTH WEEK of my exile, I walked into the dining hall to find him at the table where I always sat. My table, as I had come to think of it, since few others chose to share it with me. Now, because of him, the benches were full of jostling boys. I froze, caught between flight and fury. Anger won. This was mine, and he would not push me from it, no matter how many boys he brought. I sat at the last empty space, my shoulders tensed as if for a fight. Across the table the boys postured and prattled, about a spear and a bird that had died on the beach and the spring races. I did not hear them. His presence was like a stone in my shoe, impossible to ignore. His skin was the color of just-pressed olive oil, and smooth as polished wood, without the scabs and blemishes that covered the rest of us. Dinner finished, and the plates were cleared. A harvest moon, full and orange, hung in the dusk beyond the dining rooms windows. Yet Achilles lingered. Absently, he pushed the hair from his eyes; it had grown longer over the weeks I had been here. He reached for a bowl on the table that held figs and gathered several in his hands. With a toss of his wrist, he flicked the figs into the air, one, two, three, juggling them so lightly that their delicate skins did not bruise. He added a fourth, then a fifth. The boys hooted and clapped. More, more! The fruits flew, colors blurring, so fast they seemed not to touch his hands, to tumble of their own accord. Juggling was a trick of low mummers and beggars, but he made it something else, a living pattern painted on the air, so beautiful even I could not pretend disinterest. His gaze, which had been following the circling fruit, flickered to mine. I did not have time to look away before he said, softly but distinctly, Catch. A fig leapt from the pattern in a graceful arc towards me. It fell into the cup of my palms, soft and slightly warm. I was aware of the boys cheering. One by one, Achilles caught the remaining fruits, returned them to the table with a performers flourish. Except for the last, which he ate, the dark flesh parting to pink seeds under his teeth. The fruit was perfectly ripe, the juice brimming. Without thinking, I brought the one he had thrown me to my lips. Its burst of grainy sweetness filled my mouth; the skin was downy on my tongue. I had loved figs, once. He stood, and the boys chorused their farewells. I thought he might look at me again. But he only turned and vanished back to his room on the other side of the palace. THE NEXT DAY Peleus returned to the palace and I was brought before him in his throne room, smoky and sharp from a yew-wood fire. Duly I knelt, saluted, received his famously charitable smile. Patroclus, I told him, when he asked. I was almost accustomed to it now, the bareness of my name, without my fathers behind it. Peleus nodded. He seemed old to me, bent over, but he was no more than fifty, my fathers age. He did not look like a man who could have conquered a goddess, or produced such a child as Achilles. You are here because you killed a boy. You understand this? This was the cruelty of adults. Do you understand? Yes, I told him. I could have told him more, of the dreams that left me bleary and bloodshot, the almost-screams that scraped my throat as I swallowed them down. The way the stars turned and turned through the night above my unsleeping eyes. You are welcome here. You may still make a good man. He meant it as comfort. LATER THAT DAY, perhaps from him, perhaps from a listening servant, the boys learned at last of the reason for my exile. I should have expected it. I had heard them gossip of others often enough; rumors were the only coin the boys had to trade in. Still, it took me by surprise to see the sudden change in them, the fear and fascination blooming on their faces as I passed. Now even the boldest of them would whisper a prayer if he brushed against me: bad luck could be caught, and the Erinyes, our hissing spirits of vengeance, were not always particular. The boys watched from a safe distance, enthralled. Will they drink his blood, do you think? Their whispers choked me, turned the food in my mouth to ash. I pushed away my plate and sought out corners and spare halls where I might sit undisturbed, except for the occasional passing servant. My narrow world narrowed further: to the cracks in the floor, the carved whorls in the stone walls. They rasped softly as I traced them with my fingertip. I HEARD YOU WERE HERE. A clear voice, like ice-melted streams. My head jerked up. I was in a storeroom, my knees against my chest, wedged between jars of thick-pressed olive oil. I had been dreaming myself a fish, silvered by sun as it leapt from the sea. The waves dissolved, became amphorae and grain sacks again. It was Achilles, standing over me. His face was serious, the green of his eyes steady as he regarded me. I prickled with guilt. I was not supposed to be there and I knew it. I have been looking for you, he said. The words were expressionless; they carried no hint of anything I could read. You have not been going to morning drills. My face went red. Behind the guilt, anger rose slow and dull. It was his right to chastise me, but I hated him for it. How do you know? You arent there. The master noticed, and spoke to my father. And he sent you. I wanted to make him feel ugly for his tale-bearing. No, I came on my own. Achilles voice was cool, but I saw his jaw tighten, just a little. I overheard them speaking. I have come to see if you are ill. I did not answer. He studied me a moment. My father is considering punishment, he said. We knew what this meant. Punishment was corporal, and usually public. A prince would never be whipped, but I was no longer a prince. You are not ill, he said. No, I answered, dully. Then that will not serve as your excuse. What? In my fear I could not follow him. Your excuse for where you have been. His voice was patient. So you will not be punished. What will you say? I dont know. You must say something. His insistence sparked anger in me. You are the prince, I snapped. That surprised him. He tilted his head a little, like a curious bird. So? So speak to your father, and say I was with you. He will excuse it. I said this more confidently than I felt. If I had spoken to my father for another boy, he would have been whipped out of spite. But I was not Achilles. The slightest crease appeared between his eyes. I do not like to lie, he said. It was the sort of innocence other boys taunted out of you; even if you felt it, you did not say it. Then take me with you to your lessons, I said. So it wont be a lie. His eyebrows lifted, and he regarded me. He was utterly still, the type of quiet that I had thought could not belong to humans, a stilling of everything but breath and pulselike a deer, listening for the hunters bow. I found myself holding my breath. Then something shifted in his face. A decision. Come, he said. Where? I was wary; perhaps now I would be punished for suggesting deceit. To my lyre lesson. So, as you say, it will not be a lie. After, we will speak with my father. Now? Yes. Why not? He watched me, curious. Why not? When I stood to follow him, my limbs ached from so long seated on cool stone. My chest trilled with something I could not quite name. Escape, and danger, and hope all at once. WE WALKED IN SILENCE through the winding halls and came at length to a small room, holding only a large chest and stools for sitting. Achilles gestured to one and I went to it, leather pulled taut over a spare wooden frame. A musicians chair. I had seen them only when bards came, infrequently, to play at my fathers fireside. Achilles opened the chest. He pulled a lyre from it and held it out to me. I dont play, I told him. His forehead wrinkled at this. Never? Strangely, I found myself not wishing to disappoint him. My father did not like music. So? Your father is not here. I took the lyre. It was cool to the touch, and smooth. I slid my fingers over the strings, heard the humming almost-note; it was the lyre I had seen him with the first day I came. Achilles bent again into the trunk, pulled out a second instrument, and came to join me. He settled it on his knees. The wood was carved and golden and shone with careful keeping. It was my mothers lyre, the one my father had sent as part of my price. Achilles plucked a string. The note rose warm and resonant, sweetly pure. My mother had always pulled her chair close to the bards when they came, so close my father would scowl and the servants would whisper. I remembered, suddenly, the dark gleam of her eyes in the firelight as she watched the bards hands. The look on her face was like thirst. Achilles plucked another string, and a note rang out, deeper than the other. His hand reached for a peg, turned it. That is my mothers lyre, I almost said. The words were in my mouth, and behind them others crowded close. That is my lyre. But I did not speak. What would he say to such a statement? The lyre was his, now. I swallowed, my throat dry. It is beautiful. My father gave it to me, he said, carelessly. Only the way his fingers held it, so gently, stopped me from rising in rage. He did not notice. You can hold it, if you like. The wood would be smooth and known as my own skin. No, I said, through the ache in my chest. I will not cry in front of him. He started to say something. But at that moment the teacher entered, a man of indeterminate middle age. He had the callused hands of a musician and carried his own lyre, carved of dark walnut. Who is this? he asked. His voice was harsh and loud. A musician, but not a singer. This is Patroclus, Achilles said. He does not play, but he will learn. Not on that instrument. The mans hand swooped down to pluck the lyre from my hands. Instinctively, my fingers tightened on it. It was not as beautiful as my mothers lyre, but it was still a princely instrument. I did not want to give it up. I did not have to. Achilles had caught him by the wrist, midreach. Yes, on that instrument if he likes. The man was angry but said no more. Achilles released him and he sat, stiffly. Begin, he said. Achilles nodded and bent over the lyre. I did not have time to wonder about his intervention. His fingers touched the strings, and all my thoughts were displaced. The sound was pure and sweet as water, bright as lemons. It was like no music I had ever heard before. It had warmth as a fire does, a texture and weight like polished ivory. It buoyed and soothed at once. A few hairs slipped forward to hang over his eyes as he played. They were fine as lyre strings themselves, and shone. He stopped, pushed back his hair, and turned to me. Now you. I shook my head, full to spilling. I could not play now. Not ever, if I could listen to him instead. You play, I said. Achilles returned to his strings, and the music rose again. This time he sang also, weaving his own accompaniment with a clear, rich treble. His head fell back a little, exposing his throat, supple and fawn-skin soft. A small smile lifted the left corner of his mouth. Without meaning to I found myself leaning forward. When at last he ceased, my chest felt strangely hollowed. I watched him rise to replace the lyres, close the trunk. He bid farewell to the teacher, who turned and left. It took me a long moment before I came back to myself, to notice he was waiting for me. We will go see my father now. I did not quite trust myself to speak, so I nodded and followed him out of the room and up the twisting hallways to the king. Chapter Five ACHILLES STOPPED ME JUST INSIDE THE BRONZE-STUDDED doors of Peleus audience chamber. Wait here, he said. Peleus was seated on a high-backed chair at the rooms other end. An older man, one I had seen before with Peleus, stood near as if the two had been in conference. The fire smoked thickly, and the room felt hot and close. The walls were hung with deep-dyed tapestries and old weapons kept gleaming by servants. Achilles walked past them and knelt at his fathers feet. Father, I come to ask your pardon. Oh? Peleus lifted an eyebrow. Speak then. From where I stood his face looked cold and displeased. I was suddenly fearful. We had interrupted; Achilles had not even knocked. I have taken Patroclus from his drills. My name sounded strange on his lips; I almost did not recognize it. The old kings brows drew together. Who? Menoitiades, Achilles said. Menoitius son. Ah. Peleus gaze followed the carpet back to where I stood, trying not to fidget. Yes, the boy the arms-master wants to whip. Yes. But it is not his fault. I forgot to say I wished him for a companion. Therapon was the word he used. A brother-in-arms sworn to a prince by blood oaths and love. In war, these men were his honor guard; in peace, his closest advisers. It was a place of highest esteem, another reason the boys swarmed Peleus son, showing off; they hoped to be chosen. Peleus eyes narrowed. Come here, Patroclus. The carpet was thick beneath my feet. I knelt a little behind Achilles. I could feel the kings gaze on me. For many years now, Achilles, I have urged companions on you and you have turned them away. Why this boy? The question might have been my own. I had nothing to offer such a prince. Why, then, had he made a charity case of me? Peleus and I both waited for his answer. He is surprising. I looked up, frowning. If he thought so, he was the only one. Surprising, Peleus echoed. Yes. Achilles explained no further, though I hoped he would. Peleus rubbed his nose in thought. The boy is an exile with a stain upon him. He will add no luster to your reputation. I do not need him to, Achilles said. Not proudly or boastfully. Honestly. Peleus acknowledged this. Yet other boys will be envious that you have chosen such a one. What will you tell them? I will tell them nothing. The answer came with no hesitation, clear and crisp. It is not for them to say what I will do. I found my pulse beating thickly in my veins, fearing Peleus anger. It did not come. Father and son met each others gaze, and the faintest touch of amusement bloomed at the corner of Peleus mouth. Stand up, both of you. I did so, dizzily. I pronounce your sentence. Achilles, you will give your apology to Amphidamas, and Patroclus will give his as well. Yes, Father. That is all. He turned from us, back to his counselor, in dismissal. OUTSIDE AGAIN ACHILLES was brisk. I will see you at dinner, he said, and turned to go. An hour before I would have said I was glad to be rid of him; now, strangely, I felt stung. Where are you going? He stopped. Drills. Alone? Yes. No one sees me fight. The words came as if he were used to saying them. Why? He looked at me a long moment, as if weighing something. My mother has forbidden it. Because of the prophecy. What prophecy? I had not heard of this. That I will be the best warrior of my generation. It sounded like something a young child would claim, in make-believe. But he said it as simply as if he were giving his name. The question I wanted to ask was, And are you the best? Instead I stuttered out, When was the prophecy given? When I was born. Just before. Eleithyia came and told it to my mother. Eleithyia, goddess of childbirth, rumored to preside in person over the birth of half-gods. Those whose nativities were too important to be left to chance. I had forgotten. His mother is a goddess. Is this known? I was tentative, not wanting to press too far. Some know of it, and some do not. But that is why I go alone. But he didnt go. He watched me. He seemed to be waiting. Then I will see you at dinner, I said at last. He nodded and left. HE WAS ALREADY SEATED when I arrived, wedged at my table amid the usual clatter of boys. I had half-expected him not to be; that I had dreamed the morning. As I sat, I met his eyes, quickly, almost guiltily, then looked away. My face was flushing, I was sure. My hands felt heavy and awkward as they reached for the food. I was aware of every swallow, every expression on my face. The meal was very good that night, roasted fish dressed with lemon and herbs, fresh cheese and bread, and he ate well. The boys were unconcerned by my presence. They had long ago ceased to see me. Patroclus. Achilles did not slur my name, as people often did, running it together as if in a hurry to be rid of it. Instead, he rang each syllable: Pa-tro-clus. Around us dinner was ending, the servants clearing the plates. I looked up, and the boys quieted, watching with interest. He did not usually address us by name. Tonight youre to sleep in my room, he said. I was so shocked that my mouth would have hung open. But the boys were there, and I had been raised with a princes pride. All right, I said. A servant will bring your things. I could hear the thoughts of the staring boys as if they said them. Why him? Peleus had spoken true: he had often encouraged Achilles to choose his companions. But in all those years, Achilles showed no special interest in any of the boys, though he was polite to all, as befitted his upbringing. And now he had bestowed the long-awaited honor upon the most unlikely of us, small and ungrateful and probably cursed. He turned to go and I followed him, trying not to stumble, feeling the eyes of the table on my back. He led me past my old room and the chamber of state with its high-backed throne. Another turn, and we were in a portion of the palace I did not know, a wing that slanted down towards water. The walls were painted with bright patterns that bled to gray as his torch passed them. His room was so close to the sea that the air tasted of salt. There were no wall pictures here, only plain stone and a single soft rug. The furniture was simple but well made, carved from dark-grained wood I recognized as foreign. Off to one side I saw a thick pallet. He gestured to it. That is for you. Oh. Saying thank you did not seem the right response. Are you tired? he asked. No. He nodded, as if I had said something wise. Me neither. I nodded in turn. Each of us, warily polite, bobbing our head like birds. There was a silence. Do you want to help me juggle? I dont know how. You dont have to know. Ill show you. I was regretting saying I was not tired. I did not want to make a fool of myself in front of him. But his face was hopeful, and I felt like a miser to refuse. All right. How many can you hold? I dont know. Show me your hand. I did, palm out. He rested his own palm against it. I tried not to startle. His skin was soft and slightly sticky from dinner. The plump finger pads brushing mine were very warm. About the same. It will be better to start with two, then. Take these. He reached for six leather-covered balls, the type that mummers used. Obediently, I claimed two. When I say, throw one to me. Normally I would chafe at being bossed this way. But somehow the words did not sound like commands in his mouth. He began to juggle the remaining balls. Now, he said. I let the ball fly from my hand towards him, saw it pulled seamlessly into the circling blur. Again, he said. I threw another ball, and it joined the others. You do that well, he said. I looked up, quickly. Was he mocking me? But his face was sincere. Catch. A ball came back to me, just like the fig at dinner. My part took no great skill, but I enjoyed it anyway. We found ourselves smiling at the satisfaction of each smooth catch and throw. After some time he stopped, yawned. Its late, he said. I was surprised to see the moon high outside the window; I had not noticed the minutes passing. I sat on the pallet and watched as he busied himself with the tasks of bed, washing his face with water from a wide-mouthed ewer, untying the bit of leather that bound his hair. The silence brought my uneasiness back. Why was I here? Achilles snuffed out the torch. Good night, he said. Good night. The word felt strange in my mouth, like another language. Time passed. In the moonlight, I could just make out the shape of his face, sculptor-perfect, across the room. His lips were parted slightly, an arm thrown carelessly above his head. He looked different in sleep, beautiful but cold as moonlight. I found myself wishing he would wake so that I might watch the life return. THE NEXT MORNING, after breakfast, I went back to the boys room, expecting to find my things returned. They were not, and I saw that my bed had been stripped of its linens. I checked again after lunch, and after spear practice and then again before bed, but my old place remained empty and unmade. So. Still. Warily, I made my way to his room, half-expecting a servant to stop me. None did. In the doorway of his room, I hesitated. He was within, lounging as I had seen him that first day, one leg dangling. Hello, he said. If he had shown any hesitation or surprise, I would have left, gone back and slept on the bare reeds rather than stay here. But he did not. There was only his easy tone and a sharp attention in his eyes. Hello, I answered, and went to take my place on the cot across the room. SLOWLY, I GREW USED TO IT; I no longer startled when he spoke, no longer waited for rebuke. I stopped expecting to be sent away. After dinner, my feet took me to his room out of habit, and I thought of the pallet where I lay as mine. At night I still dreamed of the dead boy. But when I woke, sweaty and terror-stricken, the moon would be bright on the water outside and I could hear the lick of the waves against the shore. In the dim light I saw his easy breathing, the drowsy tangle of his limbs. In spite of myself, my pulse slowed. There was a vividness to him, even at rest, that made death and spirits seem foolish. After a time, I found I could sleep again. Time after that, the dreams lessened and dropped away. I learned that he was not so dignified as he looked. Beneath his poise and stillness was another face, full of mischief and faceted like a gem, catching the light. He liked to play games against his own skill, catching things with his eyes closed, setting himself impossible leaps over beds and chairs. When he smiled, the skin at the corners of his eyes crinkled like a leaf held to flame. He was like a flame himself. He glittered, drew eyes. There was a glamour to him, even on waking, with his hair tousled and his face still muddled with sleep. Up close, his feet looked almost unearthly: the perfectly formed pads of the toes, the tendons that flickered like lyre strings. The heels were callused white over pink from going everywhere barefoot. His father made him rub them with oils that smelled of sandalwood and pomegranate. He began to tell me the stories of his day before we drifted off to sleep. At first I only listened, but after time my tongue loosened. I began to tell my own stories, first of the palace, and later small bits from before: the skipping stones, the wooden horse I had played with, the lyre from my mothers dowry. I am glad your father sent it with you, he said. Soon our conversations spilled out of the nights confinement. I surprised myself with how much there was to say, about everything, the beach and dinner and one boy or another. I stopped watching for ridicule, the scorpions tail hidden in his words. He said what he meant; he was puzzled if you did not. Some people might have mistaken this for simplicity. But is it not a sort of genius to cut always to the heart? ONE AFTERNOON, as I went to leave him to his private drills he said, Why dont you come with me? His voice was a little strained; if I had not thought it impossible, I might have said he was nervous. The air, which had grown comfortable between us, felt suddenly taut. All right, I said. It was the quiet hours of late afternoon; the palace slept out the heat and left us alone. We took the longest way, through the olive groves twisting path, to the house where the arms were kept. I stood in the doorway as he selected his practice weapons, a spear and a sword, slightly blunted at the tip. I reached for my own, then hesitated. Should I? He shook his head. No. I do not fight with others, he told me. I followed him outside to the packed sand circle. Never? No. Then how do you know that . . . I trailed off as he took up a stance in the center, his spear in his hand, his sword at his waist. That the prophecy is true? I guess I dont. Divine blood flows differently in each god-born child. Orpheus voice made the trees weep, Heracles could kill a man by clapping him on the back. Achilles miracle was his speed. His spear, as he began the first pass, moved faster than my eye could follow. It whirled, flashing forward, reversed, then flashed behind. The shaft seemed to flow in his hands, the dark gray point flickered like a snakes tongue. His feet beat the ground like a dancer, never still. I could not move, watching. I almost did not breathe. His face was calm and blank, not tensed with effort. His movements were so precise I could almost see the men he fought, ten, twenty of them, advancing on all sides. He leapt, scything his spear, even as his other hand snatched the sword from its sheath. He swung out with them both, moving like liquid, like a fish through the waves. He stopped, suddenly. I could hear his breaths, only a little louder than usual, in the still afternoon air. Who trained you? I asked. I did not know what else to say. My father, a little. A little. I felt almost frightened. No one else? No. I stepped forward. Fight me. He made a sound almost like a laugh. No. Of course not. Fight me. I felt in a trance. He had been trained, a little, by his father. The rest waswhat? Divine? This was more of the gods than I had ever seen in my life. He made it look beautiful, this sweating, hacking art of ours. I understood why his father did not let him fight in front of the others. How could any ordinary man take pride in his own skill when there was this in the world? I dont want to. I dare you. You dont have any weapons. Ill get them. He knelt and laid his weapons in the dirt. His eyes met mine. I will not. Do not ask me again. I will ask you again. You cannot forbid me. I stepped forward, defiant. Something burned hot in me now, an impatience, a certainty. I would have this thing. He would give it to me. His face twisted and, almost, I thought I saw anger. This pleased me. I would goad him, if nothing else. He would fight me then. My nerves sang with the danger of it. But instead he walked away, his weapons abandoned in the dust. Come back, I said. Then louder: Come back. Are you afraid? That strange half-laugh again, his back still turned. No, I am not afraid. You should be. I meant it as a joke, an easing, but it did not sound that way in the still air that hung between us. His back stared at me, unmoving, unmovable. I will make him look at me, I thought. My legs swallowed up the five steps between us, and I crashed into his back. He stumbled forward, falling, and I clung to him. We landed, and I heard the quick huff of his breath as it was driven from him. But before I could speak, he was twisting around beneath me, had seized my wrists in his hands. I struggled, not sure what I had meant to do. But here was resistance, and that was something I could fight. Let me go! I yanked my wrists against his grip. No. In a swift motion, he rolled me beneath him, pinning me, his knees in my belly. I panted, angry but strangely satisfied. I have never seen anyone fight the way you do, I told him. Confession or accusation, or both. You have not seen much. I bridled, despite the mildness of his tone. You know what I mean. His eyes were unreadable. Over us both, the unripe olives rattled gently. Maybe. What do you mean? I twisted, hard, and he let go. We sat up, our tunics dusty and stuck to our backs. I mean I broke off. There was an edge to me now, that familiar keenness of anger and envy, struck to life like flint. But the bitter words died even as I thought them. There is no one like you, I said, at last. He regarded me a moment, in silence. So? Something in the way he spoke it drained the last of my anger from me. I had minded, once. But who was I now, to begrudge such a thing? As if he heard me, he smiled, and his face was like the sun. Chapter Six OUR FRIENDSHIP CAME ALL AT ONCE AFTER THAT, LIKE spring floods from the mountains. Before, the boys and I had imagined that his days were filled with princely instruction, statecraft and spear. But I had long since learned the truth: other than his lyre lessons and his drills, he had no instruction. One day we might go swimming, another we might climb trees. We made up games for ourselves, of racing and tumbling. We would lie on the warm sand and say, Guess what Im thinking about. The falcon we had seen from our window. The boy with the crooked front tooth. Dinner. And as we swam, or played, or talked, a feeling would come. It was almost like fear, in the way it filled me, rising in my chest. It was almost like tears, in how swiftly it came. But it was neither of those, buoyant where they were heavy, bright where they were dull. I had known contentment before, brief snatches of time in which I pursued solitary pleasure: skipping stones or dicing or dreaming. But in truth, it had been less a presence than an absence, a laying aside of dread: my father was not near, nor boys. I was not hungry, or tired, or sick. This feeling was different. I found myself grinning until my cheeks hurt, my scalp prickling till I thought it might lift off my head. My tongue ran away from me, giddy with freedom. This and this and this, I said to him. I did not have to fear that I spoke too much. I did not have to worry that I was too slender or too slow. This and this and this! I taught him how to skip stones, and he taught me how to carve wood. I could feel every nerve in my body, every brush of air against my skin. He played my mothers lyre, and I watched. When it was my turn to play, my fingers tangled in the strings and the teacher despaired of me. I did not care. Play again, I told him. And he played until I could barely see his fingers in the dark. I saw then how I had changed. I did not mind anymore that I lost when we raced and I lost when we swam out to the rocks and I lost when we tossed spears or skipped stones. For who can be ashamed to lose to such beauty? It was enough to watch him win, to see the soles of his feet flashing as they kicked up sand, or the rise and fall of his shoulders as he pulled through the salt. It was enough. IT WAS LATE SUMMER, over a year after my exile had begun, when at last I told him of how I had killed the boy. We were in the branches of the courtyard oak, hidden by the patchwork leaves. It was easier here somehow, off the ground, with the solid trunk at my back. He listened silently, and when I had finished, he asked: Why did you not say that you were defending yourself? It was like him to ask this, the thing I had not thought of before. I dont know. Or you could have lied. Said you found him already dead. I stared at him, stunned by the simplicity of it. I could have lied. And then the revelation that followed: if I had lied, I would still be a prince. It was not murder that had exiled me, it was my lack of cunning. I understood, now, the disgust in my fathers eyes. His moron son, confessing all. I recalled how his jaw had hardened as I spoke. He does not deserve to be a king. You would not have lied, I said. No, he admitted. What would you have done? I asked. Achilles tapped a finger against the branch he sat on. I dont know. I cant imagine it. The way the boy spoke to you. He shrugged. No one has ever tried to take something from me. Never? I could not believe it. A life without such things seemed impossible. Never. He was silent a moment, thinking. I dont know, he repeated, finally. I think I would be angry. He closed his eyes and rested his head back against a branch. The green oak leaves crowded around his hair, like a crown. I SAW KING PELEUS often now; we were called to councils sometimes, and dinners with visiting kings. I was allowed to sit at the table beside Achilles, even to speak if I wished. I did not wish; I was happy to be silent and watch the men around me. Skops, Peleus took to calling me. Owl, for my big eyes. He was good at this sort of affection, general and unbinding. After the men were gone, we would sit with him by the fire to hear the stories of his youth. The old man, now gray and faded, told us that he had once fought beside Heracles. When I said that I had seen Philoctetes, he smiled. Yes, the bearer of Heracles great bow. Back then he was a spearman, and much the bravest of us. This was like him too, these sorts of compliments. I understood, now, how his treasury had come to be so full of the gifts of treaty and alliance. Among our bragging, ranting heroes, Peleus was the exception: a man of modesty. We stayed to listen as the servants added one log, and then another, to the flames. It was halfway to dawn before he would send us back to our beds. THE ONLY PLACE I did not follow was to see his mother. He went late at night, or at dawn before the palace was awake, and returned flushed and smelling of the sea. When I asked about it, he told me freely, his voice strangely toneless. It is always the same. She wants to know what I am doing and if I am well. She speaks to me of my reputation among men. At the end she asks if I will come with her. I was rapt. Where? The caves under the sea. Where the sea-nymphs lived, so deep the sun did not penetrate. Will you go? He shook his head. My father says I should not. He says no mortal who sees them comes back the same. When he turned away, I made the peasant sign against evil. Gods avert. It frightened me a little to hear him speak of a thing so calmly. Gods and mortals never mixed happily in our stories. But she was his mother, I reassured myself, and he was half-god himself. In time his visits with her were just another strangeness about him that I became accustomed to, like the marvel of his feet or the inhuman deftness of his fingers. When I heard him climbing back through the window at dawn, I would mumble from my bed, Is she well? And he would answer. Yes, she is well. And he might add: The fish are thick today or The bay is warm as a bath. And then we would sleep again. ONE MORNING of my second spring, he came back from his visit with his mother later than usual; the sun was almost out of the water and the goatbells were clanging in the hills. Is she well? She is well. She wants to meet you. I felt a surge of fear, but stifled it. Do you think I should? I could not imagine what she would want with me. I knew her reputation for hating mortals. He did not meet my eyes; his fingers turned a stone he had found over and over. There is no harm in it. Tomorrow night, she said. I understood now that it was a command. The gods did not make requests. I knew him well enough to see that he was embarrassed. He was never so stiff with me. Tomorrow? He nodded. I did not want him to see my fear, though normally we kept nothing from each other. Should Ishould I bring a gift? Honeyed wine? We poured it over the altars of the gods on festival days. It was one of our richest offerings. He shook his head. She doesnt like it. The next night, when the household slept, I climbed out of our window. The moon was half full, bright enough for me to pick my way over the rocks without a torch. He had said that I was to stand in the surf and she would come. No, he had reassured me, you do not need to speak. She will know. The waves were warm, and thick with sand. I shifted, watched the small white crabs run through the surf. I was listening, thinking I might hear the splash of her feet as she approached. A breeze blew down the beach and, grateful, I closed my eyes to it. When I opened them again, she was standing before me. She was taller than I was, taller than any woman I had ever seen. Her black hair was loose down her back, and her skin shone luminous and impossibly pale, as if it drank light from the moon. She was so close I could smell her, seawater laced with dark brown honey. I did not breathe. I did not dare. You are Patroclus. I flinched at the sound of her voice, hoarse and rasping. I had expected chimes, not the grinding of rocks in the surf. Yes, lady. Distaste ran over her face. Her eyes were not like a humans; they were black to their center and flecked with gold. I could not bring myself to meet them. He will be a god, she said. I did not know what to say, so I said nothing. She leaned forward, and I half-thought she might touch me. But of course she did not. Do you understand? I could feel her breath on my cheek, not warm at all, but chilled like the depths of the sea. Do you understand? He had told me that she hated to be kept waiting. Yes. She leaned closer still, looming over me. Her mouth was a gash of red, like the torn-open stomach of a sacrifice, bloody and oracular. Behind it her teeth shone sharp and white as bone. Good. Carelessly, as if to herself, she added, You will be dead soon enough. She turned and dove into the sea, leaving no ripples behind her. I DID NOT GO straight back to the palace. I could not. I went to the olive grove instead, to sit among the twisting trunks and fallen fruits. It was far from the sea. I did not wish to smell the salt now. You will be dead soon enough. She had said it coldly, as a fact. She did not wish me for his companion, but I was not worth killing. To a goddess, the few decades of human life were barely even an inconvenience. And she wished him to be a god. She had spoken it so simply, as if it were obvious. A god. I could not imagine him so. Gods were cold and distant, far off as the moon, nothing like his bright eyes, the warm mischief of his smiles. Her desire was ambitious. It was a difficult thing, to make even a half-god immortal. True, it had happened before, to Heracles and Orpheus and Orion. They sat in the sky now, presiding as constellations, feasting with the gods on ambrosia. But these men had been the sons of Zeus, their sinews strong with the purest ichor that flowed. Thetis was a lesser of the lesser gods, a sea-nymph only. In our stories these divinities had to work by wheedling and flattery, by favors won from stronger gods. They could not do much themselves. Except live, forever. WHAT ARE YOU thinking about? It was Achilles, come to find me. His voice was loud in the quiet grove, but I did not startle. I had half-expected him to come. I had wanted him to. Nothing, I said. It was untrue. I guess it always is. He sat down beside me, his feet bare and dusty. Did she tell you that you would die soon? I turned to look at him, startled. Yes, I said. Im sorry, he said. The wind blew the gray leaves above us, and somewhere I heard the soft pat of an olive fall. She wants you to be a god, I told him. I know. His face twisted with embarrassment, and in spite of itself my heart lightened. It was such a boyish response. And so human. Parents, everywhere. But the question still waited to be asked; I could do nothing until I knew the answer. Do you want to be I paused, struggling, though I had promised myself I wouldnt. I had sat in the grove, practicing this very question, as I waited for him to find me. Do you want to be a god? His eyes were dark in the half-light. I could not make out the gold flecks in the green. I dont know, he said at last. I dont know what it means, or how it happens. He looked down at his hands, clasping his knees. I dont want to leave here. When would it happen anyway? Soon? I was at a loss. I knew nothing of how gods were made. I was mortal, only. He was frowning now, his voice louder. And is there really a place like that? Olympus? She doesnt even know how she will do it. She pretends she knows. She thinks if I become famous enough . . . He trailed off. This at least I could follow. Then the gods will take you voluntarily. He nodded. But he had not answered my question. Achilles. He turned to me, his eyes still filled with frustration, with a sort of angry bewilderment. He was barely twelve. Do you want to be a god? It was easier this time. Not yet, he said. A tightness I had not known was there eased a little. I would not lose him yet. He cupped a hand against his chin; his features looked finer than usual, like carved marble. Id like to be a hero, though. I think I could do it. If the prophecy is true. If theres a war. My mother says I am better even than Heracles was. I did not know what to say to this. I did not know if it was motherly bias or fact. I did not care. Not yet. He was silent a moment. Then turned to me, suddenly. Would you want to be a god? There, among the moss and olives, it struck me as funny. I laughed and, a moment later, he did too. I do not think that is likely, I told him. I stood, put down a hand for him. He took it, pulled himself up. Our tunics were dusty, and my feet tingled slightly with drying sea salt. There were figs in the kitchen. I saw them, he said. We were only twelve, too young to brood. I bet I can eat more than you. Race you! I laughed. We ran. Chapter Seven THE NEXT SUMMER WE TURNED THIRTEEN, HIM FIRST, and then me. Our bodies began to stretch, pulling at our joints till they were aching and weak. In Peleus shining bronze mirror, I almost did not recognize myselflanky and gaunt, stork legs and sharpening chin. Achilles was taller still, seeming to tower above me. Eventually we would be of a height, but he came to his maturity sooner, with a startling speed, primed perhaps by the divinity in his blood. The boys, too, were growing older. Regularly now we heard moans behind closed doors and saw shadows returning to their beds before dawn. In our countries, a man often took a wife before his beard was fully fledged. How much earlier, then, did he take a serving girl? It was expected; very few men came to their marriage beds without having done so. Those who did were unlucky indeed: too weak to compel, too ugly to charm, and too poor to pay. It was customary for a palace to have a full complement of nobly born women as servants for the mistress of the house. But Peleus had no wife in the palace, and so the women we saw were mostly slaves. They had been bought or taken in warfare, or bred from those who were. During the day they poured wine and scrubbed floors and kept the kitchen. At night they belonged to soldiers or foster boys, to visiting kings or Peleus himself. The swollen bellies that followed were not a thing of shame; they were profit: more slaves. These unions were not always rape; sometimes there was mutual satisfaction and even affection. At least that is what the men who spoke of them believed. It would have been easy, infinitely easy, for Achilles or me to have bedded one of these girls ourselves. At thirteen we were almost late to do so, especially him, as princes were known for their appetites. Instead, we watched in silence as the foster boys pulled girls onto their laps, or Peleus summoned the prettiest to his room after dinner. Once, I even heard the king offer her to his son. He answered, almost diffidently: I am tired tonight. Later, as we walked back to our room, he avoided my eyes. And I? I was shy and silent with all but Achilles; I could scarcely speak to the other boys, let alone a girl. As a comrade of the prince, I suppose I would not have had to speak; a gesture or a look would have been enough. But such a thing did not occur to me. The feelings that stirred in me at night seemed strangely distant from those serving girls with their lowered eyes and obedience. I watched a boy fumbling at a girls dress, the dull look on her face as she poured his wine. I did not wish for such a thing. ONE NIGHT WE had stayed late in Peleus chamber. Achilles was on the floor, an arm thrown beneath his head for a pillow. I sat more formally, in a chair. It was not just because of Peleus. I did not like the sprawling length of my new limbs. The old kings eyes were half-closed. He was telling us a story. Meleager was the finest warrior of his day, but also the proudest. He expected the best of everything, and because the people loved him, he received it. My eyes drifted to Achilles. His fingers were stirring, just barely, in the air. He often did this when he was composing a new song. The story of Meleager, I guessed, as his father told it. But one day the king of Calydon said, Why must we give so much to Meleager? There are other worthy men in Calydon. Achilles shifted, and his tunic pulled tight across his chest. That day, I had overheard a serving girl whispering to her friend: Do you think the prince looked at me, at dinner? Her tone was one of hope. Meleager heard the words of the king and was enraged. This morning he had leapt onto my bed and pressed his nose against mine. Good morning, hed said. I remembered the heat of him against my skin. He said, I will not fight for you any longer. And he went back to his house and sought comfort in the arms of his wife. I felt a tug on my foot. It was Achilles, grinning at me from the floor. Calydon had fierce enemies, and when they heard that Meleager would no longer fight for Calydon I pushed my foot towards him a little, provokingly. His fingers wrapped around my ankle. They attacked. And the city of Calydon suffered terrible losses. Achilles yanked, and I slid half out of the chair. I clung to the wooden frame so I would not be pulled onto the floor. So the people went to Meleager, to beg him for his help. And Achilles, are you listening? Yes, Father. You are not. You are tormenting our poor Skops. I tried to look tormented. But all I felt was the coolness against my ankle, where his fingers had been, a moment before. It is just as well, perhaps. I am getting tired. We will finish the story another evening. We stood and wished the old man good night. But as we turned, he said, Achilles, you might look for the light-haired girl, from the kitchen. She has been haunting doorways for you, I hear. It was hard to know if it was the firelight that made his face look so changed. Perhaps, Father. I am tired tonight. Peleus chuckled, as if this were a joke. Im sure she could wake you up. He waved us off. I had to trot, a little, to keep up with him as we walked back to our rooms. We washed our faces in silence, but there was an ache in me, like a rotten tooth. I could not let it be. That girldo you like her? Achilles turned to face me from across the room. Why? Do you? No, no. I flushed. That is not what I meant. I had not felt so uncertain with him since the earliest days. I mean, do you want He ran at me, pushed me backwards onto my cot. Leaned over me. Im sick of talking about her, he said. The heat rose up my neck, wrapped fingers over my face. His hair fell around me, and I could smell nothing but him. The grain of his lips seemed to rest a hairsbreadth from mine. Then, just like that morning, he was gone. Up across the room, and pouring a last cup of water. His face was still, and calm. Good night, he said. AT NIGHT, IN BED, images come. They begin as dreams, trailing caresses in my sleep from which I start, trembling. I lie awake, and still they come, the flicker of firelight on a neck, the curve of a hipbone, drawing downwards. Hands, smooth and strong, reaching to touch me. I know those hands. But even here, behind the darkness of my eyelids, I cannot name the thing I hope for. During the days I grow restless, fidgety. But all my pacing, singing, running does not keep them at bay. They come, and will not be stopped. IT IS SUMMER, one of the first fine days. We are on the beach after lunch, our backs to a sloping piece of driftwood. The sun is high, and the air warm around us. Beside me, Achilles shifts, and his foot falls open against mine. It is cool, and chafed pink from the sand, soft from a winter indoors. He hums something, a piece of a song he had played earlier. I turn to look at him. His face is smooth, without the blotches and spots that have begun to afflict the other boys. His features are drawn with a firm hand; nothing awry or sloppy, nothing too largeall precise, cut with the sharpest of knives. And yet the effect itself is not sharp. He turns and finds me looking at him. What? he says. Nothing. I can smell him. The oils that he uses on his feet, pomegranate and sandalwood; the salt of clean sweat; the hyacinths we had walked through, their scent crushed against our ankles. Beneath it all is his own smell, the one I go to sleep with, the one I wake up to. I cannot describe it. It is sweet, but not just. It is strong but not too strong. Something like almond, but that still is not right. Sometimes, after we have wrestled, my own skin smells like it. He puts a hand down, to lean against. The muscles in his arms curve softly, appearing and disappearing as he moves. His eyes are deep green on mine. My pulse jumps, for no reason I can name. He has looked at me a thousand thousand times, but there is something different in this gaze, an intensity I do not know. My mouth is dry, and I can hear the sound of my throat as I swallow. He watches me. It seems that he is waiting. I shift, an infinitesimal movement, towards him. It is like the leap from a waterfall. I do not know, until then, what I am going to do. I lean forward and our lips land clumsily on each other. They are like the fat bodies of bees, soft and round and giddy with pollen. I can taste his mouthhot and sweet with honey from dessert. My stomach trembles, and a warm drop of pleasure spreads beneath my skin. More. The strength of my desire, the speed with which it flowers, shocks me; I flinch and startle back from him. I have a moment, only a moment, to see his face framed in the afternoon light, his lips slightly parted, still half-forming a kiss. His eyes are wide with surprise. I am horrified. What have I done? But I do not have time to apologize. He stands and steps backwards. His face has closed over, impenetrable and distant, freezing the explanations in my mouth. He turns and races, the fastest boy in the world, up the beach and away. My side is cold with his absence. My skin feels tight, and my face, I know, is red and raw as a burn. Dear gods, I think, let him not hate me. I should have known better than to call upon the gods. WHEN I TURNED THE CORNER onto the garden path, she was there, sharp and knife-bright. A blue dress clung to her skin as if damp. Her dark eyes held mine, and her fingers, chill and unearthly pale, reached for me. My feet knocked against each other as she lifted me from the earth. I have seen, she hissed. The sound of waves breaking on stone. I could not speak. She held me by the throat. He is leaving. Her eyes were black now, dark as sea-wet rocks, and as jagged. I should have sent him long ago. Do not try to follow. I could not breathe now. But I did not struggle. That much, at least, I knew. She seemed to pause, and I thought she might speak again. She did not. Only opened her hand and released me, boneless, to the ground. A mothers wishes. In our countries, they were not worth much. But she was a goddess, first and always. When I returned to the room, it was already dark. I found Achilles sitting on his bed, staring at his feet. His head lifted, almost hopefully, as I came to the doorway. I did not speak; his mothers black eyes still burned in front of me, and the sight of his heels, flashing up the beach. Forgive me, it was a mistake. This is what I might have dared to say then, if it had not been for her. I came into the room, sat on my own bed. He shifted, his eyes flicking to mine. He did not resemble her the way that children normally look like a parent, a tilt of chin, the shape of an eye. It was something in his movements, in his luminous skin. Son of a goddess. What had I thought would happen? Even from where I sat I could smell the sea on him. Im supposed to leave tomorrow, he said. It was almost an accusation. Oh, I said. My mouth felt swollen and numb, too thick to form words. Im going to be taught by Chiron. He paused, then added. He taught Heracles. And Perseus. Not yet, he had said to me. But his mother had chosen differently. He stood and pulled off his tunic. It was hot, full summer, and we were accustomed to sleeping naked. The moon shone on his belly, smooth, muscled, downed with light brown hairs that darkened as they ran below his waist. I averted my eyes. The next morning, at dawn, he rose and dressed. I was awake; I had not slept. I watched him through the fringes of my eyelids, feigning sleep. From time to time he glanced at me; in the dim half-light his skin glowed gray and smooth as marble. He slung his bag over his shoulder and paused, a last time, at the door. I remember him there, outlined in the stone frame, his hair falling loose, still untidy from sleep. I closed my eyes, and a moment passed. When I opened them again, I was alone. Chapter Eight BY BREAKFAST, EVERYONE KNEW HE WAS GONE. THEIR glances and whispers followed me to the table, lingered as I reached for food. I chewed and swallowed, though the bread sat like a stone in my stomach. I yearned to be away from the palace; I wanted the air. I walked to the olive grove, the earth dry beneath my feet. I half-wondered if I was expected to join the boys, now that he was gone. I half-wondered if anyone would notice whether I did. I half-hoped they would. Whip me, I thought. I could smell the sea. It was everywhere, in my hair, in my clothes, in the sticky damp of my skin. Even here in the grove, amidst the must of leaves and earth, the unwholesome salty decay still found me. My stomach heaved a moment, and I leaned against the scabbed trunk of a tree. The rough bark pricked my forehead, steadying me. I must get away from this smell, I thought. I walked north, to the palace road, a dusty strip worn smooth by wagon wheels and horses hooves. A little beyond the palace yard it divided. One half ran south and west, through grass and rocks and low hills; that was the way I had come, three years ago. The other half twisted northwards, towards Mount Othrys and then beyond, to Mount Pelion. I traced it with my eyes. It skirted the wooded foothills for some time before disappearing within them. The sun bore down on me, hot and hard in the summer sky, as if it would drive me back to the palace. Yet I lingered. I had heard they were beautiful, our mountainspears and cypress and streams of just-melted ice. It would be cool there and shaded. Far away from the diamond-bright beaches, and the flashing of the sea. I could leave. The thought was sudden, arresting. I had come to the road meaning only to escape the sea. But the path lay before me, and the mountains. And Achilles. My chest rose and fell rapidly, as if trying to keep pace with my thoughts. I had nothing that belonged to me, not a tunic, not a sandal; they were Peleus all. I do not need to pack, even. Only my mothers lyre, kept in the wooden chest within the inner room, stayed me. I hesitated a moment, thinking I might try to go back, to take it with me. But it was already midday. I had only the afternoon to travel, before they would discover my absence so I flattered myselfand send after me. I glanced back at the palace and saw no one. The guards were elsewhere. Now. It must be now. I ran. Away from the palace, down the path towards the woods, feet stinging as they slapped the heat-baked ground. As I ran, I promised myself that if I ever saw him again, I would keep my thoughts behind my eyes. I had learned, now, what it would cost me if I did not. The ache in my legs, the knifing heaves of my chest felt clean and good. I ran. Sweat slicked my skin, fell upon the earth beneath my feet. I grew dirty, then dirtier. Dust and broken bits of leaves clung to my legs. The world around me narrowed to the pounding of my feet and the next dusty yard of road. Finally, after an hour? Two? I could go no farther. I bent over in pain, the bright afternoon sun wavering to black, the rush of blood deafening in my ears. The path was heavily wooded now, on both sides, and Peleus palace was a long way behind me. To my right loomed Othrys, with Pelion just beyond it. I stared at its peak and tried to guess how much farther. Ten thousand paces? Fifteen? I began to walk. Hours passed. My muscles grew wobbly and weak, my feet jumbled together. The sun was well across the zenith now, hanging low in the western sky. I had four, perhaps five, hours until dark, and the peak was as far as ever. Suddenly, I understood: I would not reach Pelion by nightfall. I had no food, nor water, nor hope of shelter. I had nothing but the sandals on my feet and the soaked tunic on my back. I would not catch up to Achilles, I was sure of that now. He had left the road and his horse long ago, was now moving up the slopes on foot. A good tracker would have observed the woods beside the road, could have seen where the bracken was bent or torn, where a boy had made a path. But I was not a good tracker, and the scrub by the road looked all the same to me. My ears buzzed dully with cicadas, with the shrill calls of birds, with the rasp of my own breath. There was an ache in my stomach, like hunger or despair. And then there was something else. The barest sound, just at the limit of hearing. But I caught it, and my skin, even in the heat, went cold. I knew that sound. It was the sound of stealth, of a man attempting silence. It had been just the smallest misstep, the giving way of a single leaf, but it had been enough. I strained to listen, fear jumping in my throat. Where had it come from? My eyes tracked the woods on either side. I dared not move; any sound would echo loudly up the slopes. I had not thought of dangers as I ran, but now my mind tumbled with them: soldiers, sent by Peleus or Thetis herself, white hands cold as sand on my throat. Or bandits. I knew that they waited by roads, and I remembered stories of boys taken and kept until they died of misuse. My fingers pinched themselves white as I tried to still all breath, all movement, to give nothing away. My gaze caught on a thick clutch of blooming yarrow that could hide me. Now. Go. There was movement from the woods at my side, and I jerked my head towards it. Too late. Somethingsomeonestruck me from behind, throwing me forward. I landed heavily, facedown on the ground, with the person already on top of me. I closed my eyes and waited for a knife. There was nothing. Nothing but silence and the knees that pinned my back. A moment passed, and it came to me that the knees were not so very heavy and were placed so that their pressure did not hurt. Patroclus. Pa-tro-clus. I did not move. The knees lifted, and hands reached down to turn me, gently, over. Achilles was looking down at me. I hoped that you would come, he said. My stomach rolled, awash with nerves and relief at once. I drank him in, the bright hair, the soft curve of his lips upwards. My joy was so sharp I did not dare to breathe. I do not know what I might have said then. Im sorry, perhaps. Or perhaps something more. I opened my mouth. Is the boy hurt? A deep voice spoke from behind us both. Achilles head turned. From where I was, beneath him, I could see only the legs of the mans horsechestnut, fetlocks dulled with dust. The voice again, measured and deliberate. I am assuming, Achilles Pelides, that this is why you have not yet joined me on the mountain? My mind groped towards understanding. Achilles had not gone to Chiron. He had waited, here. For me. Greetings, Master Chiron, and my apologies. Yes, it is why I have not come. He was using his princes voice. I see. I wished that Achilles would get up. I felt foolish here, on the ground beneath him. And I was also afraid. The mans voice showed no anger, but it showed no kindness, either. It was clear and grave and dispassionate. Stand up, it said. Slowly, Achilles rose. I would have screamed then, if my throat had not closed over with fear. Instead I made a noise like a half-strangled yelp and scrambled backwards. The horses muscular legs ended in flesh, the equally muscular torso of a man. I staredat that impossible suture of horse and human, where smooth skin became a gleaming brown coat. Beside me Achilles bowed his head. Master Centaur, he said. I am sorry for the delay. I had to wait for my companion. He knelt, his clean tunic in the dusty earth. Please accept my apologies. I have long wished to be your student. The manscentaursface was serious as his voice. He was older, I saw, with a neatly trimmed black beard. He regarded Achilles a moment. You do not need to kneel to me, Pelides. Though I appreciate the courtesy. And who is this companion that has kept us both waiting? Achilles turned back to me and reached a hand down. Unsteadily, I took it and pulled myself up. This is Patroclus. There was a silence, and I knew it was my turn to speak. My lord, I said. And bowed. I am not a lord, Patroclus Menoitiades. My head jerked up at the sound of my fathers name. I am a centaur, and a teacher of men. My name is Chiron. I gulped and nodded. I did not dare to ask how he knew my name. His eyes surveyed me. You are overtired, I think. You need water and food, both. It is a long way to my home on Pelion, too long for you to walk. So we must make other arrangements. He turned then, and I tried not to gawk at the way his horse legs moved beneath him. You will ride on my back, the centaur said. I do not usually offer such things on first acquaintance. But exceptions must be made. He paused. You have been taught to ride, I suppose? We nodded, quickly. That is unfortunate. Forget what you learned. I do not like to be squeezed by legs or tugged at. The one in front will hold on to my waist, the one behind will hold on to him. If you feel that you are going to fall, speak up. Achilles and I exchanged a look, quickly. He stepped forward. How should I ? I will kneel. His horse legs folded themselves into the dust. His back was broad and lightly sheened with sweat. Take my arm for balance, the centaur instructed. Achilles did, swinging his leg over and settling himself. It was my turn. At least I would not be in front, so close to that place where skin gave way to chestnut coat. Chiron offered me his arm, and I took it. It was muscled and large, thickly covered with black hair that was nothing like the color of his horse half. I seated myself, my legs stretched across that wide back, almost to discomfort. Chiron said, I will stand now. The motion was smooth, but still I grabbed for Achilles. Chiron was half as high again as a normal horse, and my feet dangled so far above the ground it made me dizzy. Achilles hands rested loosely on Chirons trunk. You will fall, if you hold so lightly, the centaur said. My fingers grew damp with sweat from clutching Achilles chest. I dared not relax them, even for a moment. The centaurs gait was less symmetrical than a horses, and the ground was uneven. I slipped alarmingly upon the sweat-slick horsehair. There was no path I could see, but we were rising swiftly upwards through the trees, carried along by Chirons sure, unslowing steps. I winced every time a jounce caused my heels to kick into the centaurs sides. As we went, Chiron pointed things out to us, in that same steady voice. There is Mount Othrys. The cypress trees are thicker here, on the north side, you can see. This stream feeds the Apidanos River that runs through Phthias lands. Achilles twisted back to look at me, grinning. We climbed higher still, and the centaur swished his great black tail, swatting flies for all of us. CHIRON STOPPED SUDDENLY, and I jerked forward into Achilles back. We were in a small break in the woods, a grove of sorts, half encircled by a rocky outcrop. We were not quite at the peak, but we were close, and the sky was blue and glowing above us. We are here. Chiron knelt, and we stepped off his back, a bit unsteadily. In front of us was a cave. But to call it that is to demean it, for it was not made of dark stone, but pale rose quartz. Come, the centaur said. We followed him through the entrance, high enough so that he did not need to stoop. We blinked, for it was shadowy inside, though lighter than it should have been, because of the crystal walls. At one end was a small spring that seemed to drain away inside the rock. On the walls hung things I did not recognize: strange bronze implements. Above us on the caves ceiling, lines and specks of dye shaped the constellations and the movements of the heavens. On carved shelves were dozens of small ceramic jars covered with slanted markings. Instruments hung in one corner, lyres and flutes, and next to them tools and cooking pots. There was a single human-sized bed, thick and padded with animal skins, made up for Achilles. I did not see where the centaur slept. Perhaps he did not. Sit now, he said. It was pleasantly cool inside, perfect after the sun, and I sank gratefully onto one of the cushions Chiron indicated. He went to the spring and filled cups, which he brought to us. The water was sweet and fresh. I drank as Chiron stood over me. You will be sore and tired tomorrow, he told me. But it will be better if you eat. He ladled out stew, thick with chunks of vegetables and meat, from a pot simmering over a small fire at the back of the cave. There were fruits, too, round red berries that he kept in a hollowed outcropping of rock. I ate quickly, surprised at how hungry I was. My eyes kept returning to Achilles, and I tingled with the giddy buoyancy of relief. I have escaped. With my new boldness, I pointed to some of the bronze tools on the wall. What are those? Chiron sat across from us, his horse-legs folded beneath him. They are for surgery, he told me. Surgery? It was not a word I knew. Healing. I forget the barbarities of the low countries. His voice was neutral and calm, factual. Sometimes a limb must go. Those are for cutting, those for suturing. Often by removing some, we may save the rest. He watched me staring at them, taking in the sharp, saw-toothed edges. Do you wish to learn medicine? I flushed. I dont know anything about it. You answer a different question than the one I asked. Im sorry, Master Chiron. I did not want to anger him. He will send me back. There is no need to be sorry. Simply answer. I stammered a little. Yes. I would like to learn. It seems useful, does it not? It is very useful, Chiron agreed. He turned to Achilles, who had been following the conversation. And you, Pelides? Do you also think medicine is useful? Of course, Achilles said. Please do not call me Pelides. Here I amI am just Achilles. Something passed through Chirons dark eyes. A flicker that was almost amusement. Very well. Do you see anything you wish to know of? Those. Achilles was pointing to the musical instruments, the lyres and flutes and seven-stringed kithara. Do you play? Chirons gaze was steady. I do. So do I, said Achilles. I have heard that you taught Heracles and Jason, thick-fingered though they were. Is it true? It is. I felt a momentary unreality: he knew Heracles and Jason. Had known them as children. I would like you to teach me. Chirons stern face softened. That is why you have been sent here. So that I may teach you what I know. IN THE LATE AFTERNOON LIGHT, Chiron guided us through the ridges near the cave. He showed us where the mountain lions had their dens, and where the river was, slow and sun-warm, for us to swim. You may bathe, if you like. He was looking at me. I had forgotten how grimy I was, sweat-stained and dusty from the road. I ran a hand through my hair and felt the grit. I will too, Achilles said. He pulled off his tunic and, a moment after, I followed. The water was cool in the depths, but not unpleasantly so. From the bank Chiron taught still: Those are loaches, do you see? And perch. That is a vimba, you will not find it farther south. You may know it by the upturned mouth and silver belly. His words mingled with the sound of the river over its rocks, soothing any strangeness there might have been between Achilles and me. There was something in Chirons face, firm and calm and imbued with authority, that made us children again, with no world beyond this moments play and this nights dinner. With him near us, it was hard to remember what might have happened on the day by the beach. Even our bodies felt smaller beside the centaurs bulk. How had we thought we were grown? We emerged from the water sweet and clean, shaking our hair in the last of the sun. I knelt by the bank and used stones to scrub the dirt and sweat from my tunic. I would have to be naked until it dried, but so far did Chirons influence stretch that I thought nothing of it. We followed Chiron back to the cave, our wrung-dry tunics draped over our shoulders. He stopped occasionally, to point out the trails of hare and corncrakes and deer. He told us we would hunt for them, in days to come, and learn to track. We listened, questioning him eagerly. At Peleus palace there had been only the dour lyre-master for a teacher, or Peleus himself, half-drowsing as he spoke. We knew nothing of forestry or the other skills Chiron had spoken of. My mind went back to the implements on the caves wall, the herbs and tools of healing. Surgery was the word he had used. It was almost full dark when we reached the cave again. Chiron gave us easy tasks, gathering wood and kindling the fire in the clearing at the caves mouth. After it caught, we lingered by the flames, grateful for their steady warmth in the cooling air. Our bodies were pleasantly tired, heavy from our exertions, and our legs and feet tangled comfortably as we sat. We talked about where wed go tomorrow, but lazily, our words fat and slow with contentment. Dinner was more stew, and a thin type of bread that Chiron cooked on bronze sheets over the fire. For dessert, berries with mountain-gathered honey. As the fire dwindled, my eyes closed in half-dreaming. I was warm, and the ground beneath me was soft with moss and fallen leaves. I could not believe that only this morning I had woken in Peleus palace. This small clearing, the gleaming walls of the cave within, were more vivid than the pale white palace had ever been. Chirons voice, when it came, startled me. I will tell you that your mother has sent a message, Achilles. I felt the muscles of Achilles arm tense against me. I felt my own throat tighten. Oh? What did she say? His words were careful, neutral. She said that should the exiled son of Menoitius follow you, I was to bar him from your presence. I sat up, all drowsiness gone. Achilles voice swung carelessly in the dark. Did she say why? She did not. I closed my eyes. At least I would not be humiliated before Chiron, the tale of the day at the beach told. But it was bare comfort. Chiron continued, I assume you knew of her feelings on the matter. I do not like to be deceived. My face flushed, and I was glad of the darkness. The centaurs voice sounded harder than it had before. I cleared my throat, rusty and suddenly dry. Im sorry, I heard myself say. It is not Achilles fault. I came on my own. He did not know that I would. I did not think I stopped myself. I hoped she would not notice. That was foolish of you. Chirons face was deep in shadow. Chiron Achilles began, bravely. The centaur held up a hand. As it happens, the message came this morning, before either of you arrived. So despite your foolishness, I was not deceived. You knew? This was Achilles. I would never have spoken so boldly. Then you have decided? You will disregard her message? Chirons voice held a warning of displeasure. She is a goddess, Achilles, and your mother besides. Do you think so little of her wishes? I honor her, Chiron. But she is wrong in this. His hands were balled so tightly I could see the tendons, even in the low light. And why is she wrong, Pelides? I watched him through the darkness, my stomach clenching. I did not know what he might say. She feels that He faltered a moment, and I almost did not breathe. That he is a mortal and not a fit companion. Do you think he is? Chiron asked. His voice gave no hint of the answer. Yes. My cheeks warmed. Achilles, his jaw jutting, had thrown the word back with no hesitation. I see. The centaur turned to me. And you, Patroclus? You are worthy? I swallowed. I do not know if I am worthy. But I wish to stay. I paused, swallowed again. Please. There was silence. Then Chiron said, When I brought you both here, I had not decided yet what I would do. Thetis sees many faults, some that are and some that are not. His voice was unreadable again. Hope and despair flared and died in me by turns. She is also young and has the prejudices of her kind. I am older and flatter myself that I can read a man more clearly. I have no objection to Patroclus as your companion. My body felt hollow in its relief, as if a storm had gone through. She will not be pleased, but I have weathered the anger of gods before. He paused. And now it is late, and time for you to sleep. Thank you, Master Chiron. Achilles voice, earnest and vigorous. We stood, but I hesitated. I just want My fingers twitched towards Chiron. Achilles understood and disappeared into the cave. I turned to face the centaur. I will leave, if there will be trouble. There was a long silence, and I almost thought he had not heard me. At last, he said: Do not let what you gained this day be so easily lost. Then he bade me good night, and I turned to join Achilles in the cave. Chapter Nine THE NEXT MORNING I WOKE TO THE SOFT SOUNDS OF Chiron getting breakfast ready. The pallet was thick beneath me; I had slept well, and deeply. I stretched, startling a little when my limbs bumped against Achilles, still asleep beside me. I watched him a moment, rosy cheeks and steady breaths. Something tugged at me, just beneath my skin, but then Chiron lifted a hand in greeting from across the cave, and I lifted one shyly in return, and it was forgotten. That day, after we ate, we joined Chiron for his chores. It was easy, pleasurable work: collecting berries, catching fish for dinner, setting quail snares. The beginning of our studies, if it is possible to call them that. For Chiron liked to teach, not in set lessons, but in opportunities. When the goats that wandered the ridges took ill, we learned how to mix purgatives for their bad stomachs, and when they were well again, how to make a poultice that repelled their ticks. When I fell down a ravine, fracturing my arm and tearing open my knee, we learned how to set splints, clean wounds, and what herbs to give against infection. On a hunting trip, after we had accidentally flushed a corncrake from its nest, he taught us how to move silently and how to read the scuffles of tracks. And when we had found the animal, the best way to aim a bow or sling so that death was quick. If we were thirsty and had no waterskin, he would teach us about the plants whose roots carried beads of moisture. When a mountain-ash fell, we learned carpentry, splitting off the bark, sanding and shaping the wood that was left. I made an axe handle, and Achilles the shaft of a spear; Chiron said that soon we would learn to forge the blades for such things. Every evening and every morning we helped with meals, churning the thick goats milk for yogurt and cheese, gutting fish. It was work we had never been allowed to do before, as princes, and we fell upon it eagerly. Following Chirons instructions, we watched in amazement as butter formed before our eyes, at the way pheasant eggs sizzled and solidified on fire-warmed rocks. After a month, over breakfast, Chiron asked us what else we wished to learn. Those. I pointed to the instruments on the wall. For surgery, he had said. He took them down for us, one by one. Careful. The blade is very sharp. It is for when there is rot in the flesh that must be cut. Press the skin around the wound, and you will hear a crackle. Then he had us trace the bones in our own bodies, running a hand over the ridging vertebrae of each others backs. He pointed with his fingers, teaching the places beneath the skin where the organs lodged. A wound in any of them will eventually be fatal. But death is quickest here. His finger tapped the slight concavity of Achilles temple. A chill went through me to see it touched, that place where Achilles life was so slenderly protected. I was glad when we spoke of other things. At night we lay on the soft grass in front of the cave, and Chiron showed us the constellations, telling their stories Andromeda, cowering before the sea monsters jaws, and Perseus poised to rescue her; the immortal horse Pegasus, aloft on his wings, born from the severed neck of Medusa. He told us too of Heracles, his labors, and the madness that took him. In its grip he had not recognized his wife and children, and had killed them for enemies. Achilles asked, How could he not recognize his wife? That is the nature of madness, Chiron said. His voice sounded deeper than usual. He had known this man, I remembered. Had known the wife. But why did the madness come? The gods wished to punish him, Chiron answered. Achilles shook his head, impatiently. But this was a greater punishment for her. It was not fair of them. There is no law that gods must be fair, Achilles, Chiron said. And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone. Do you think? Perhaps, Achilles admitted. I listened and did not speak. Achilles eyes were bright in the firelight, his face drawn sharply by the flickering shadows. I would know it in dark or disguise, I told myself. I would know it even in madness. Come, said Chiron. Have I told you the legend of Aesclepius, and how he came to know the secrets of healing? He had, but we wanted to hear it again, the story of how the hero, son of Apollo, had spared a snakes life. The snake had licked his ears clean in gratitude, so that he might hear her whisper the secrets of herbs to him. But you were the one who really taught him healing, Achilles said. I was. You do not mind that the snake gets all the credit? Chirons teeth showed through his dark beard. A smile. No, Achilles, I do not mind. Later Achilles would play the lyre, as Chiron and I listened. My mothers lyre. He had brought it with him. I wish I had known, I said the first day, when he had showed it to me. I almost did not come, because I did not want to leave it. He smiled. Now I know how to make you follow me everywhere. The sun sank below Pelions ridges, and we were happy. TIME PASSED QUICKLY on Mount Pelion, days slipping by in idyll. The mountain air was cold now in the mornings when we woke, and warmed only reluctantly in the thin sunlight that filtered through the dying leaves. Chiron gave us furs to wear, and hung animal skins from the caves entrance to keep the warmth in. During the days we collected wood for winter fires, or salted meat for preserving. The animals had not yet gone to their dens, but they would soon, Chiron said. In the mornings, we marveled at the frost-etched leaves. We knew of snow from bards and stories; we had never seen it. One morning, I woke to find Chiron gone. This was not unusual. He often rose before we did, to milk the goats or pick fruits for breakfast. I left the cave so that Achilles might sleep, and sat to wait for Chiron in the clearing. The ashes of last nights fire were white and cold. I stirred them idly with a stick, listening to the woods around me. A quail muttered in the underbrush, and a mourning dove called. I heard the rustle of groundcover, from the wind or an animals careless weight. In a moment I would get more wood and rekindle the fire. The strangeness began as a prickling of my skin. First the quail went silent, then the dove. The leaves stilled, and the breeze died, and no animals moved in the brush. There was a quality to the silence like a held breath. Like the rabbit beneath the hawks shadow. I could feel my pulse striking my skin. Sometimes, I reminded myself, Chiron did small magics, tricks of divinity, like warming water or calming animals. Chiron? I called. My voice wavered, thinly. Chiron? It is not Chiron. I turned. Thetis stood at the edge of the clearing, her bone-white skin and black hair bright as slashes of lightning. The dress she wore clung close to her body and shimmered like fish-scale. My breath died in my throat. You were not to be here, she said. The scrape of jagged rocks against a ships hull. She stepped forward, and the grass seemed to wilt beneath her feet. She was a sea-nymph, and the things of earth did not love her. Im sorry, I managed, my voice a dried leaf, rattling in my throat. I warned you, she said. The black of her eyes seemed to seep into me, fill my throat to choking. I could not have cried out if Id dared to. A noise behind me, and then Chirons voice, loud in the quiet. Greetings, Thetis. Warmth surged back into my skin, and breath returned. I almost ran to him. But her gaze held me there, unwavering. I did not doubt she could reach me if she wished. You are frightening the boy, Chiron said. He does not belong here, she said. Her lips were red as newly spilled blood. Chirons hand landed firmly on my shoulder. Patroclus, he said. You will return to the cave now. I will speak with you later. I stood, unsteadily, and obeyed. You have lived too long with mortals, Centaur, I heard her say before the animal skins closed behind me. I sagged against the caves wall; my throat tasted brackish and raw. Achilles, I said. His eyes opened, and he was beside me before I could speak again. Are you all right? Your mother is here, I said. I saw the tightening of muscle beneath his skin. She did not hurt you? I shook my head. I did not add that I thought she wanted to. That she might have, if Chiron had not come. I must go, he said. The skins whispered against each other as they parted for him, then slipped shut again. I could not hear what was said in the clearing. Their voices were low, or perhaps they had gone to speak elsewhere. I waited, tracing spirals in the packed earth floor. I did not worry, any longer, for myself. Chiron meant to keep me, and he was older than she was, full grown when the gods still rocked in their cradles, when she had been only an egg in the womb of the sea. But there was something else, less easy to name. A loss, or lessening, that I feared her presence might bring. It was almost midday when they returned. My gaze went to Achilles face first, searching his eyes, the set of his mouth. I saw nothing but perhaps a touch of tiredness. He threw himself onto the pallet beside me. Im hungry, he said. As well you should be, Chiron said. It is much past lunch. He was already preparing food for us, maneuvering in the caves space easily despite his bulk. Achilles turned to me. It is all right, he said. She just wanted to speak to me. To see me. She will come to speak with him again, Chiron said. And as if he knew what I thought, he added, As is proper. She is his mother. She is a goddess first, I thought. Yet as we ate, my fears eased. I had half-worried she might have told Chiron of the day by the beach, but he was no different towards either of us, and Achilles was the same as he always was. I went to bed, if not at peace, at least reassured. She came more often after that day, as Chiron had said she would. I learned to listen for ita silence that dropped like a curtain and knew to stay close to Chiron then, and the cave. The intrusion was not much, and I told myself I did not begrudge her. But I was always glad when she was gone again. WINTER CAME, and the river froze. Achilles and I ventured onto it, feet slipping. Later, we cut circles from it and dropped lines for fishing. It was the only fresh meat we had; the forests were empty of all but mice and the occasional marten. Snows came, as Chiron had promised they would. We lay on the ground and let the flakes cover us, blowing them with our breath till they melted. We had no boots, nor cloaks other than Chirons furs, and were glad of the caves warmth. Even Chiron donned a shaggy overshirt, sewed from what he said was bearskin. We counted the days after the first snowfall, marking them off with lines on a stone. When you reach fifty, Chiron said, the rivers ice will begin to crack. The morning of the fiftieth day we heard it, a strange sound, like a tree falling. A seam had split the frozen surface nearly from bank to bank. Spring will come soon now, Chiron said. It was not long after that the grass began to grow again, and the squirrels emerged lean and whip-thin from their burrows. We followed them, eating our breakfasts in the new-scrubbed spring air. It was on one of these mornings that Achilles asked Chiron if he would teach us to fight. I do not know what made him think of this then. A winter indoors, with not enough exercise perhaps, or the visit from his mother, the week before. Perhaps neither. Will you teach us to fight? There was a pause so brief I almost might have imagined it, before Chiron answered, If you wish it, I will teach you. Later that day, he took us to a clearing, high on a ridge. He had spear-hafts and two practice swords for us, taken from storage in some corner of the cave. He asked us each to perform the drills that we knew. I did, slowly, the blocks and strikes and footwork I had learned in Phthia. To my side, just at the corner of my vision, Achilles limbs blurred and struck. Chiron had brought a bronze-banded staff, and he interposed it occasionally into our passes, probing with it, testing our reactions. It seemed to go on for a long time, and my arms grew sore with lifting and placing the point of the sword. At last Chiron called a stop. We drank deep from waterskins and lay back on the grass. My chest was heaving. Achilles was steady. Chiron was silent, standing in front of us. Well, what do you think? Achilles was eager, and I remembered that Chiron was only the fourth person to have ever seen him fight. I did not know what I expected the centaur to say. But it was not what followed. There is nothing I can teach you. You know all that Heracles knew, and more. You are the greatest warrior of your generation, and all the generations before. A flush stained Achilles cheeks. I could not tell if it was embarrassment or pleasure or both. Men will hear of your skill, and they will wish for you to fight their wars. He paused. What will you answer? I do not know, Achilles said. That is an answer for now. It will not be good enough later, Chiron said. There was a silence then, and I felt the tightness in the air around us. Achilles face, for the first time since we had come, looked pinched and solemn. What about me? I asked. Chirons dark eyes moved to rest on mine. You will never gain fame from your fighting. Is this surprising to you? His tone was matter-of-fact, and somehow that eased the sting of it. No, I said truthfully. Yet it is not beyond you to be a competent soldier. Do you wish to learn this? I thought of the boys dulled eyes, how quickly his blood had soaked the ground. I thought of Achilles, the greatest warrior of his generation. I thought of Thetis who would take him from me, if she could. No, I said. And that was the end of our lessons in soldiery. SPRING PASSED INTO SUMMER, and the woods grew warm and abundant, lush with game and fruit. Achilles turned fourteen, and messengers brought gifts for him from Peleus. It was strange to see them here, in their uniforms and palace colors. I watched their eyes, flickering over me, over Achilles, over Chiron most of all. Gossip was dear in the palace, and these men would be received like kings when they returned. I was glad to see them shoulder their empty trunks and be gone. The gifts were welcomenew lyre strings and fresh tunics, spun from the finest wool. There was a new bow as well, and arrows tipped with iron. We fingered their metal, the keen-edged points that would bring down our dinners in days to come. Some things were less usefulcloaks stiff with inlaid gold that would give the owners presence away at fifty paces, and a jewel-studded belt, too heavy to wear for anything practical. There was a horsecoat as well, thickly embroidered, meant to adorn the mount of a prince. I hope that is not for me, Chiron said, lifting an eyebrow. We tore it up for compresses and bandages and scrub cloths; the rough material was perfect for pulling up crusted dirt and food. That afternoon, we lay on the grass in front of the cave. It has been almost a year since we came, Achilles said. The breeze was cool against our skin. It does not feel so long, I answered. I was half-sleepy, my eyes lost in the tilting blue of the afternoon sky. Do you miss the palace? I thought of his fathers gifts, the servants and their gazes, the whispering gossip they would bring back to the palace. No, I said. I dont either, he said. I thought I might, but I dont. The days turned, and the months, and two years passed. Chapter Ten IT WAS SPRING, AND WE WERE FIFTEEN. THE WINTER ICE HAD lasted longer than usual, and we were glad to be outside once more, beneath the sun. Our tunics were discarded, and our skin prickled in the light breeze. I had not been so naked all winter; it had been too cold to take off our furs and cloaks, beyond quick washes in the hollowed-out rock that served as our bath. Achilles was stretching, rolling limbs that were stiff from too long indoors. We had spent the morning swimming and chasing game through the forest. My muscles felt wearily content, glad to be used again. I watched him. Other than the unsteady surface of the river, there were no mirrors on Mount Pelion, so I could only measure myself by the changes in Achilles. His limbs were still slender, but I could see the muscles in them now, rising and falling beneath his skin as he moved. His face, too, was firmer, and his shoulders broader than they had been. You look older, I said. He stopped, turned to me. I do? Yes. I nodded. Do I? Come over here, he said. I stood, walked to him. He regarded me a moment. Yes, he said. How? I wanted to know. A lot? Your face is different, he said. Where? He touched my jaw with his right hand, drew his fingertips along it. Here. Your face is wider than it once was. I reached up with my own hand, to see if I could feel this difference, but it was all the same to me, bone and skin. He took my hand and brought it down to my collarbone. You are wider here also, he said. And this. His finger touched, gently, the soft bulb that had emerged from my throat. I swallowed, and felt his fingertip ride against the motion. Where else? I asked. He pointed to the trail of fine, dark hair that ran down my chest and over my stomach. He paused, and my face grew warm. Thats enough, I said, more abruptly than I meant to. I sat again on the grass, and he resumed his stretches. I watched the breeze stir his hair; I watched the sun fall on his golden skin. I leaned back and let it fall on me as well. After some time, he stopped and came to sit beside me. We watched the grass, and the trees, and the nubs of new buds, just growing. His voice was remote, almost careless. You would not be displeased, I think. With how you look now. My face grew warm, again. But we spoke no more of it. WE WERE ALMOST SIXTEEN. Soon Peleus messengers would come with gifts; soon the berries would ripen, the fruits would blush and fall into our hands. Sixteen was our last year of childhood, the year before our fathers named us men, and we would begin to wear not just tunics but capes and chitons as well. A marriage would be arranged for Achilles, and I might take a wife, if I wished to. I thought again of the serving girls with their dull eyes. I remembered the snatches of conversation I had overheard from the boys, the talk of breasts and hips and coupling. Shes like cream, shes that soft. Once her thighs are around you, youll forget your own name. The boys voices had been sharp with excitement, their color high. But when I tried to imagine what they spoke of, my mind slid away, like a fish who would not be caught. Other images came in their stead. The curve of a neck bent over a lyre, hair gleaming in firelight, hands with their flickering tendons. We were together all day, and I could not escape: the smell of the oils he used on his feet, the glimpses of skin as he dressed. I would wrench my gaze from him and remember the day on the beach, the coldness in his eyes and how he ran from me. And, always, I remembered his mother. I began to go off by myself, early in the mornings, when Achilles still slept, or in the afternoons, when he would practice his spear thrusts. I brought a flute with me, but rarely played it. Instead I would find a tree to lean against and breathe the sharp drift of cypress-scent, blown from the highest part of the mountain. Slowly, as if to escape my own notice, my hand would move to rest between my thighs. There was shame in this thing that I did, and a greater shame still in the thoughts that came with it. But it would be worse to think them inside the rose-quartz cave, with him beside me. It was difficult sometimes, after, to return to the cave. Where were you? hed ask. Just Id say, and point vaguely. Hed nod. But I knew he saw the flush that colored my cheeks. THE SUMMER GREW HOTTER, and we sought the rivers shade, its water that threw off arcs of light as we splashed and dove. The rocks of the bottom were mossy and cool, rolling beneath my toes as I waded. We shouted, and frightened the fish, who fled to their muddy holes or quieter waters upstream. The rushing ice melt of spring was gone; I lay on my back and let the dozy current carry me. I liked the feel of the sun on my stomach and the cool depths of the river beneath me. Achilles floated beside me or swam against the slow tug of the rivers flow. When we tired of this, we would seize the low-hanging branches of the osiers and hoist ourselves half-out of the water. On this day we kicked at each other, our legs tangling, trying to dislodge the other, or perhaps climb onto their branch. On an impulse, I released my branch and seized him around his hanging torso. He let out an ooph of surprise. We struggled that way for a moment, laughing, my arms wrapped around him. Then there was a sharp cracking sound, and his branch gave way, plunging us into the river. The cool water closed over us, and still we wrestled, hands against slippery skin. When we surfaced, we were panting and eager. He leapt for me, bearing me down through the clear water. We grappled, emerged to gasp air, then sank again. At length, our lungs burning, our faces red from too long underwater, we dragged ourselves to the bank and lay there amidst the sedge-grass and marshy weeds. Our feet sank into the cool mud of the waters edge. Water still streamed from his hair, and I watched it bead, tracing across his arms and the lines of his chest. ON THE MORNING of his sixteenth birthday I woke early. Chiron had showed me a tree on Pelions far slope that had figs just ripening, the first of the season. Achilles did not know of it, the centaur assured me. I watched them for days, their hard green knots swelling and darkening, growing gravid with seed. And now I would pick them for his breakfast. It wasnt my only gift. I had found a seasoned piece of ash and began to fashion it secretly, carving off its soft layers. Over nearly two months a shape had emergeda boy playing the lyre, head raised to the sky, mouth open, as if he were singing. I had it with me now, as I walked. The figs hung rich and heavy on the tree, their curved flesh pliant to my touchtwo days later and they would be too ripe. I gathered them in a carved-wood bowl and bore them carefully back to the cave. Achilles was sitting in the clearing with Chiron, a new box from Peleus resting unopened at his feet. I saw the quick widening of his eyes as he took in the figs. He was on his feet, eagerly reaching into the bowl before I could even set it down beside him. We ate until we were stuffed, our fingers and chins sticky with sweetness. The box from Peleus held more tunics and lyre strings, and this time, for his sixteenth birthday, a cloak dyed with the expensive purple from the murexs shell. It was the cape of a prince, of a future king, and I saw that it pleased him. It would look good on him, I knew, the purple seeming richer still beside the gold of his hair. Chiron, too, gave presentsa staff for hiking, and a new belt-knife. And last, I passed him the statue. He examined it, his fingertips moving over the small marks my knife had left behind. Its you, I said, grinning foolishly. He looked up, and there was bright pleasure in his eyes. I know, he said. ONE EVENING, not long after, we stayed late beside the fires embers. Achilles had been gone for much of the afternoonThetis had come and kept him longer even than usual. Now he was playing my mothers lyre. The music was quiet and bright as the stars over our heads. Next to me, I heard Chiron yawn, settle more deeply onto his folded legs. A moment later the lyre ceased, and Achilles voice came loud in the darkness. Are you weary, Chiron? I am. Then we will leave you to your rest. He was not usually so quick to go, nor to speak for me, but I was tired myself and did not object. He rose and bade Chiron good night, turning for the cave. I stretched, soaked up a few more moments of firelight, and followed. Inside the cave, Achilles was already in bed, his face damp from a wash at the spring. I washed too, the water cool across my forehead. He said, You didnt ask me about my mothers visit yet. I said, How is she? She is well. This was the answer he always gave. It was why I sometimes did not ask him. Good. I lifted a handful of water, to rinse the soap off my face. We made it from the oil of olives, and it still smelled faintly of them, rich and buttery. Achilles spoke again. She says she cannot see us here. I had not been expecting him to say more. Hmmm? She cannot see us here. On Pelion. There was something in his voice, a strain. I turned to him. What do you mean? His eyes studied the ceiling. She saysI asked her if she watches us here. His voice was high. She says, she does not. There was silence in the cave. Silence, but for the sound of the slowly draining water. Oh, I said. I wished to tell you. Because He paused. I thought you would wish to know. She He hesitated again. She was not pleased that I asked her. She was not pleased, I repeated. I felt dizzy, my mind turning and turning through his words. She cannot see us. I realized that I was standing half-frozen by the water basin, the towel still raised to my chin. I forced myself to put down the cloth, to move to the bed. There was a wildness in me, of hope and terror. I pulled back the covers and lay down on bedding already warm from his skin. His eyes were still fixed on the ceiling. Are youpleased with her answer? I said, finally. Yes, he said. We lay there a moment, in that strained and living silence. Usually at night we would tell each other jokes or stories. The ceiling above us was painted with the stars, and if we grew tired of talking, we would point to them. Orion, I would say, following his finger. The Pleiades. But tonight there was nothing. I closed my eyes and waited, long minutes, until I guessed he was asleep. Then I turned to look at him. He was on his side, watching me. I had not heard him turn. I never hear him. He was utterly motionless, that stillness that was his alone. I breathed, and was aware of the bare stretch of dark pillow between us. He leaned forward. Our mouths opened under each other, and the warmth of his sweetened throat poured into mine. I could not think, could not do anything but drink him in, each breath as it came, the soft movements of his lips. It was a miracle. I was trembling, afraid to put him to flight. I did not know what to do, what he would like. I kissed his neck, the span of his chest, and tasted the salt. He seemed to swell beneath my touch, to ripen. He smelled like almonds and earth. He pressed against me, crushing my lips to wine. He went still as I took him in my hand, soft as the delicate velvet of petals. I knew Achilles golden skin and the curve of his neck, the crooks of his elbows. I knew how pleasure looked on him. Our bodies cupped each other like hands. The blankets had twisted around me. He shucked them from us both. The air over my skin was a shock, and I shivered. He was outlined against the painted stars; Polaris sat on his shoulder. His hand slipped over the quickened rise and fall of my bellys breathing. He stroked me gently, as though smoothing finest cloth, and my hips lifted to his touch. I pulled him to me, and trembled and trembled. He was trembling, too. He sounded as though he had been running far and fast. I said his name, I think. It blew through me; I was hollow as a reed hung up for the wind to sound. There was no time that passed but our breaths. I found his hair between my fingers. There was a gathering inside me, a beat of blood against the movement of his hand. His face was pressed against me, but I tried to clutch him closer still. Do not stop, I said. He did not stop. The feeling gathered and gathered till a hoarse cry leapt from my throat, and the sharp flowering drove me, arching, against him. It was not enough. My hand reached, found the place of his pleasure. His eyes closed. There was a rhythm he liked, I could feel it, the catch of his breath, the yearning. My fingers were ceaseless, following each quickening gasp. His eyelids were the color of the dawn sky; he smelled like earth after rain. His mouth opened in an inarticulate cry, and we were pressed so close that I felt the spurt of his warmth against me. He shuddered, and we lay still. Slowly, like dusk-fall, I became aware of my sweat, the dampness of the covers, and the wetness that slid between our bellies. We separated, peeling away from each other, our faces puffy and half-bruised from kisses. The cave smelled hot and sweet, like fruit beneath the sun. Our eyes met, and we did not speak. Fear rose in me, sudden and sharp. This was the moment of truest peril, and I tensed, fearing his regret. He said, I did not think And stopped. There was nothing in the world I wanted more than to hear what he had not said. What? I asked him. If it is bad, let it be over quickly. I did not think that we would ever He was hesitating over every word, and I could not blame him. I did not think so either, I said. Are you sorry? The words were quickly out of him, a single breath. I am not, I said. I am not either. There was silence then, and I did not care about the damp pallet or how sweaty I was. His eyes were unwavering, green flecked with gold. A surety rose in me, lodged in my throat. I will never leave him. It will be this, always, for as long as he will let me. If I had had words to speak such a thing, I would have. But there were none that seemed big enough for it, to hold that swelling truth. As if he had heard me, he reached for my hand. I did not need to look; his fingers were etched into my memory, slender and petal-veined, strong and quick and never wrong. Patroclus, he said. He was always better with words than I. THE NEXT MORNING I awoke light-headed, my body woozy with warmth and ease. After the tenderness had come more passion; we had been slower then, and lingering, a dreamy night that stretched on and on. Now, watching him stir beside me, his hand resting on my stomach, damp and curled as a flower at dawn, I was nervous again. I remembered in a rush the things I had said and done, the noises I had made. I feared that the spell was broken, that the light that crept through the caves entrance would turn it all to stone. But then he was awake, his lips forming a half-sleepy greeting, and his hand was already reaching for mine. We lay there, like that, until the cave was bright with morning, and Chiron called. We ate, then ran to the river to wash. I savored the miracle of being able to watch him openly, to enjoy the play of dappled light on his limbs, the curving of his back as he dove beneath the water. Later, we lay on the riverbank, learning the lines of each others bodies anew. This, and this and this. We were like gods at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other. IF CHIRON NOTICED a change, he did not speak of it. But I could not help worrying. Do you think he will be angry? We were by the olive grove on the north side of the mountain. The breezes were sweetest here, cool and clean as springwater. I dont think he will. He reached for my collarbone, the line he liked to draw his finger down. But he might. Surely he must know by now. Should we say something? It was not the first time I had wondered this. We had discussed it often, eager with conspiracy. If you like. That is what he had said before. You dont think he will be angry? He paused now, considering. I loved this about him. No matter how many times I had asked, he answered me as if it were the first time. I dont know. His eyes met mine. Does it matter? I would not stop. His voice was warm with desire. I felt an answering flush across my skin. But he could tell your father. He might be angry. I said it almost desperately. Soon my skin would grow too warm, and I would no longer be able to think. So what if he is? The first time he had said something like this, I had been shocked. That his father might be angry and Achilles would still do as he wishedit was something I did not understand, could barely imagine. It was like a drug to hear him say it. I never tired of it. What about your mother? This was the trinity of my fearsChiron, Peleus, and Thetis. He shrugged. What could she do? Kidnap me? She could kill me, I thought. But I did not say this. The breeze was too sweet, and the sun too warm for a thought like that to be spoken. He studied me a moment. Do you care if they are angry? Yes. I would be horrified to find Chiron upset with me. Disapproval had always burrowed deep in me; I could not shake it off as Achilles did. But I would not let it separate us, if it came to that. No, I told him. Good, he said. I reached down to stroke the wisps of hair at his temple. He closed his eyes. I watched his face, tipped up to meet the sun. There was a delicacy to his features that sometimes made him look younger than he was. His lips were flushed and full. His eyes opened. Name one hero who was happy. I considered. Heracles went mad and killed his family; Theseus lost his bride and father; Jasons children and new wife were murdered by his old; Bellerophon killed the Chimera but was crippled by the fall from Pegasus back. You cant. He was sitting up now, leaning forward. I cant. I know. They never let you be famous and happy. He lifted an eyebrow. Ill tell you a secret. Tell me. I loved it when he was like this. Im going to be the first. He took my palm and held it to his. Swear it. Why me? Because youre the reason. Swear it. I swear it, I said, lost in the high color of his cheeks, the flame in his eyes. I swear it, he echoed. We sat like that a moment, hands touching. He grinned. I feel like I could eat the world raw. A trumpet blew, somewhere on the slopes beneath us. It was abrupt and ragged, as if sounded in warning. Before I could speak or move, he was on his feet, his dagger out, slapped up from the sheath on his thigh. It was only a hunting knife, but in his hands it would be enough. He stood poised, utterly still, listening with all of his half-god senses. I had a knife, too. Quietly, I reached for it and stood. He had placed himself between me and the sound. I did not know if I should go to him, stand beside him with my own weapon lifted. In the end, I did not. It had been a soldiers trumpet, and battle, as Chiron had so bluntly said, was his gift, not mine. The trumpet sounded again. We heard the swish of underbrush, tangled by a pair of feet. One man. Perhaps he was lost, perhaps in danger. Achilles took a step towards the sound. As if in answer, the trumpet came again. Then a voice bawled up the mountain, Prince Achilles! We froze. Achilles! I am here for Prince Achilles! Birds burst from the trees, fleeing the clamor. From your father, I whispered. Only a royal herald would have known where to call for us. Achilles nodded, but seemed strangely reluctant to answer. I imagined how hard his pulse would be beating; he had been prepared to kill a moment ago. We are here! I shouted into the cupped palms of my hand. The noise stopped for a moment. Where? Can you follow my voice? He could, though poorly. It was some time before he stepped forward into the clearing. His face was scratched, and he had sweated through his palace tunic. He knelt with ill grace, resentfully. Achilles had lowered the knife, though I saw how tightly he still held it. Yes? His voice was cool. Your father summons you. There is urgent business at home. I felt myself go still, as still as Achilles had been a moment before. If I stayed still enough, perhaps we would not have to go. What sort of business? Achilles asked. The man had recovered himself, somewhat. He remembered he was speaking to a prince. My lord, your pardon, I do not know all of it. Messengers came to Peleus from Mycenae with news. Your father plans to speak tonight to the people, and wishes you to be there. I have horses for you below. There was a moment of silence. Almost, I thought Achilles would decline. But at last he said, Patroclus and I will need to pack our things. On the way back to the cave and Chiron, Achilles and I speculated about the news. Mycenae was far to our south, and its king was Agamemnon, who liked to call himself a lord of men. He was said to have the greatest army of all our kingdoms. Whatever it is, well only be gone for a night or two, Achilles told me. I nodded, grateful to hear him say it. Just a few days. Chiron was waiting for us. I heard the shouts, the centaur said. Achilles and I, knowing him well, recognized the disapproval in his voice. He did not like the peace of his mountain disturbed. My father has summoned me home, Achilles said, just for tonight. I expect I will be back soon. I see, Chiron said. He seemed larger than usual, standing there, hooves dull against the bright grass, his chestnut-colored flanks lit by the sun. I wondered if he would be lonely without us. I had never seen him with another centaur. We asked him about them once, and his face had gone stiff. Barbarians, hed said. We gathered our things. I had almost nothing to bring with me, some tunics, a flute. Achilles had only a few possessions more, his clothes, and some spearheads he had made, and the statue I had carved for him. We placed them in leather bags and went to say our farewells to Chiron. Achilles, always bolder, embraced the centaur, his arms encircling the place where the horse flank gave way to flesh. The messenger, waiting behind me, shifted. Achilles, Chiron said, do you remember when I asked you what you would do when men wanted you to fight? Yes, said Achilles. You should consider your answer, Chiron said. A chill went through me, but I did not have time to think on it. Chiron was turning to me. Patroclus, he said, a summons. I walked forward, and he placed his hand, large and warm as the sun, on my head. I breathed in the scent that was his alone, horse and sweat and herbs and forest. His voice was quiet. You do not give things up so easily now as you once did, he said. I did not know what to say to this, so I said, Thank you. A trace of smile. Be well. Then his hand was gone, leaving my head chilled in its absence. We will be back soon, Achilles said, again. Chirons eyes were dark in the slanting afternoon light. I will look for you, he said. We shouldered our bags and left the caves clearing. The sun was already past the meridian, and the messenger was impatient. We moved quickly down the hill and climbed on the horses that waited for us. A saddle felt strange after so many years on foot, and the horses unnerved me. I half-expected them to speak, but of course they could not. I twisted in my seat to look back at Pelion. I hoped that I might be able to see the rose-quartz cave, or maybe Chiron himself. But we were too far. I turned to face the road and allowed myself to be led to Phthia. Chapter Eleven THE LAST BIT OF SUN WAS FLARING ON THE WESTERN horizon as we passed the boundary stone that marked the palace grounds. We heard the cry go up from the guards, and an answering trumpet. We crested the hill, and the palace lay before us; behind it brooded the sea. And there on the houses threshold, sudden as lightning-strike, stood Thetis. Her hair shone black against the white marble of the palace. Her dress was dark, the color of an uneasy ocean, bruising purples mixed with churning grays. Somewhere beside her there were guards, and Peleus, too, but I did not look at them. I saw only her, and the curved knifes blade of her jaw. Your mother, I whispered to Achilles. I could have sworn her eyes flashed over me as if she had heard. I swallowed and forced myself onward. She will not hurt me; Chiron has said she will not. It was strange to see her among mortals; she made all of them, guards and Peleus alike, look bleached and wan, though it was her skin that was pale as bone. She stood well away from them, spearing the sky with her unnatural height. The guards lowered their eyes in fear and deference. Achilles swung down from his horse, and I followed. Thetis drew him into an embrace, and I saw the guards shifting their feet. They were wondering what her skin felt like; they were glad they did not know. Son of my womb, flesh of my flesh, Achilles, she said. The words were not spoken loudly but they carried through the courtyard. Be welcome home. Thank you, Mother, Achilles said. He understood that she was claiming him. We all did. It was proper for a son to greet his father first; mothers came second, if at all. But she was a goddess. Peleus mouth had tightened, but he said nothing. When she released him, he went to his father. Be welcome, son, Peleus said. His voice sounded weak after his goddess-wifes, and he looked older than he had been. Three years we had been away. And be welcome also, Patroclus. Everyone turned to me, and I managed a bow. I was aware of Thetis gaze, raking over me. It left my skin stinging, as if I had gone from the briar patch to the ocean. I was glad when Achilles spoke. What is the news, Father? Peleus eyed the guards. Speculation and rumor must be racing down every corridor. I have not announced it, and I do not mean to until everyone is gathered. We were waiting on you. Come and let us begin. We followed him into the palace. I wanted to speak to Achilles but did not dare to; Thetis walked right behind us. Servants skittered from her, huffing in surprise. The goddess. Her feet made no sound as they moved over the stone floors. THE GREAT DINING HALL was crammed full of tables and benches. Servants hurried by with platters of food or lugged mixing bowls brimming with wine. At the front of the room was a dais, raised. This is where Peleus would sit, beside his son and wife. Three places. My cheeks went red. What had I expected? Even amidst the noise of the preparations Achilles voice seemed loud. Father, I do not see a place for Patroclus. My blush went even deeper. Achilles, I began in a whisper. It does not matter, I wanted to say. I will sit with the men; it is all right. But he ignored me. Patroclus is my sworn companion. His place is beside me. Thetis eyes flickered. I could feel the heat in them. I saw the refusal on her lips. Very well, Peleus said. He gestured to a servant and a place was added for me, thankfully at the opposite side of the table from Thetis. Making myself as small as I could, I followed Achilles to our seats. Shell hate me now, I said. She already hates you, he answered, with a flash of smile. This did not reassure me. Why has she come? I whispered. Only something truly important would have drawn her here from her caves in the sea. Her loathing for me was nothing to what I saw on her face when she looked at Peleus. He shook his head. I do not know. It is strange. I have not seen them together since I was a boy. I remembered Chirons parting words to Achilles: you should consider your answer. Chiron thinks the news will be war. Achilles frowned. But there is always war in Mycenae. I do not see why we should have been called. Peleus sat, and a herald blew three short blasts upon his trumpet. The signal for the meal to begin. Normally it took several minutes for the men to gather, dawdling on the practice fields, drawing out the last bit of whatever they were doing. But this time they came like a flood after the breaking of the winters ice. Quickly, the room was swollen with them, jostling for seats and gossiping. I heard the edge in their voices, a rising excitement. No one bothered to snap at a servant or kick aside a begging dog. There was nothing on their minds but the man from Mycenae and the news he had brought. Thetis was seated also. There was no plate for her, no knife: the gods lived on ambrosia and nectar, on the savor of our burnt offerings, and the wine we poured over their altars. Strangely, she was not so visible here, so blazing as she had been outside. The bulky, ordinary furniture seemed to diminish her, somehow. Peleus stood. The room quieted, out to the farthest benches. He lifted his cup. I have received word from Mycenae, from the sons of Atreus, Agamemnon and Menelaus. The final stirrings and murmurs ceased, utterly. Even the servants stopped. I did not breathe. Beneath the table, Achilles pressed his leg to mine. There has been a crime. He paused again, as if he were weighing what he would say. The wife of Menelaus, Queen Helen, has been abducted from the palace in Sparta. Helen! The hushed whisper of men to their neighbors. Since her marriage the tales of her beauty had grown still greater. Menelaus had built around her palace walls thick with double-layered rock; he had trained his soldiers for a decade to defend it. But, for all his care, she had been stolen. Who had done it? Menelaus welcomed an embassy sent from King Priam of Troy. At its head was Priams son, the prince Paris, and it is he who is responsible. He stole the queen of Sparta from her bedchamber while the king slept. A rumble of outrage. Only an Easterner would so dishonor the kindness of his host. Everyone knew how they dripped with perfume, were corrupt from soft living. A real hero would have taken her outright, with the strength of his sword. Agamemnon and Mycenae appeal to the men of Hellas to sail to the kingdom of Priam for her rescue. Troy is rich and will be easily taken, they say. All who fight will come home wealthy and renowned. This was well worded. Wealth and reputation were the things our people had always killed for. They have asked me to send a delegation of men from Phthia, and I have agreed. He waited for the murmuring to settle before adding, Though I will not take any man who does not wish to go. And I will not lead the army myself. Who will lead it? someone shouted. That is not yet determined, Peleus said. But I saw his eyes flicker to his son. No, I thought. My hand tightened on the edge of the chair. Not yet. Across from me Thetis face was cool and still, her eyes distant. She knew this was coming, I realized. She wants him to go. Chiron and the rose cave seemed impossibly far away; a childish idyll. I understood, suddenly, the weight of Chirons words: war was what the world would say Achilles was born for. That his hands and swift feet were fashioned for this alonethe cracking of Troys mighty walls. They would throw him among thousands of Trojan spears and watch with triumph as he stained his fair hands red. Peleus gestured to Phoinix, his oldest friend, at one of the first tables. Lord Phoinix will note the names of all who wish to fight. There was a movement at the benches, as men started to rise. But Peleus held up his hand. There is more. He lifted a piece of linen, dark with dense markings. Before Helens betrothal to King Menelaus, she had many suitors. It seems these suitors swore an oath to protect her, whosoever might win her hand. Agamemnon and Menelaus now charge these men to fulfill their oath and bring her back to her rightful husband. He handed the linen sheet to the herald. I stared. An oath. In my mind, the sudden image of a brazier, and the spill of blood from a white goat. A rich hall, filled with towering men. The herald lifted the list. The room seemed to tilt, and my eyes would not focus. He began to read. Antenor. Eurypylus. Machaon. I recognized many of the names; we all did. They were the heroes and kings of our time. But they were more to me than that. I had seen them, in a stone chamber heavy with fire-smoke. Agamemnon. A memory of a thick black beard; a brooding man with narrowed, watchful eyes. Odysseus. The scar that wrapped his calf, pink as gums. Ajax. Twice as large as any man in the room, with his huge shield behind him. Philoctetes, the bowman. Menoitiades. The herald paused a moment, and I heard the murmur: who? My father had not distinguished himself in the years since my exile. His fame had diminished; his name was forgotten. And those who did know him had never heard of a son. I sat frozen, afraid to move lest I give myself away. I am bound to this war. The herald cleared his throat. Idomeneus. Diomedes. Is that you? You were there? Achilles had turned back to face me. His voice was low, barely audible, but still I feared that someone might hear it. I nodded. My throat was too dry for words. I had thought only of Achilles danger, of how I would try to keep him here, if I could. I had not even considered myself. Listen. It is not your name anymore. Say nothing. We will think what to do. We will ask Chiron. Achilles never spoke like that, each word cutting off the next in haste. His urgency brought me back to myself, a little, and I took heart from his eyes on mine. I nodded again. The names kept coming, and memories came with them. Three women on a dais, and one of them Helen. A pile of treasure, and my fathers frown. The stone beneath my knees. I had thought I dreamt it. I had not. When the herald had finished, Peleus dismissed the men. They stood as one, benches scraping, eager to get to Phoinix to enlist. Peleus turned to us. Come. I would speak further with you both. I looked to Thetis, to see if she would come too, but she was gone. WE SAT BY PELEUS FIRESIDE; he had offered us wine, barely watered. Achilles refused it. I took a cup, but did not drink. The king was in his old chair, the one closest to the fire, with its cushions and high back. His eyes rested on Achilles. I have called you home with the thought that you might wish to lead this army. It was spoken. The fire popped; its wood was green. Achilles met his fathers gaze. I have not finished yet with Chiron. You have stayed on Pelion longer than I did, than any hero before. That does not mean I must run to help the sons of Atreus every time they lose their wives. I thought Peleus might smile at that, but he did not. I do not doubt that Menelaus rages at the loss of his wife, but the messenger came from Agamemnon. He has watched Troy grow rich and ripe for years, and now thinks to pluck her. The taking of Troy is a feat worthy of our greatest heroes. There may be much honor to be won from sailing with him. Achilles mouth tightened. There will be other wars. Peleus did not nod, exactly. But I saw him register the truth of it. What of Patroclus, then? He is called to serve. He is no longer the son of Menoitius. He is not bound by the oath. Pious Peleus raised an eyebrow. There is some shuffling there. I do not think so. Achilles lifted his chin. The oath was undone when his father disowned him. I do not wish to go, I said, softly. Peleus regarded us both for a moment. Then he said, Such a thing is not for me to decide. I will leave it to you. I felt the tension slide from me a little. He would not expose me. Achilles, men are coming here to speak with you, kings sent by Agamemnon. Outside the window, I heard the oceans steady whisper against the sand. I could smell the salt. They will ask me to fight, Achilles said. It was not a question. They will. You wish me to give them audience. I do. There was quiet again. Then Achilles said, I will not dishonor them, or you. I will hear their reasons. But I say to you that I do not think they will convince me. I saw that Peleus was surprised, a little, by his sons certainty, but not displeased. That is also not for me to decide, he said mildly. The fire popped again, spitting out its sap. Achilles knelt, and Peleus placed one hand on his head. I was used to seeing Chiron do this, and Peleus hand looked withered by comparison, threaded with trembling veins. It was hard to remember, sometimes, that he had been a warrior, that he had walked with gods. ACHILLES ROOM was as we had left it, except for the cot, which had been removed in our absence. I was glad; it was an easy excuse, in case anyone asked why we shared a bed. We reached for each other, and I thought of how many nights I had lain awake in this room loving him in silence. Later, Achilles pressed close for a final, drowsy whisper. If you have to go, you know I will go with you. We slept. Chapter Twelve I WOKE TO THE RED OF MY EYELIDS STRAINING OUT THE SUN. I was cold, my right shoulder exposed to the breezes of the window, the one that faced the sea. The space beside me on the bed was empty, but the pillow still held the shape of him, and the sheets smelled of us both. I had spent so many mornings alone in this room, as he visited his mother, I did not think it was strange to find him gone. My eyes closed, and I sank again into the trailing thoughts of dreams. Time passed, and the sun came hot over the windowsill. The birds were up, and the servants, and even the men. I heard their voices from the beach and the practice hall, the rattle and bang of chores. I sat up. His sandals were overturned beside the bed, forgotten. It was not unusual; he went barefoot most places. He had gone to breakfast, I guessed. He was letting me sleep. Half of me wanted to stay in the room until his return, but that was cowardice. I had a right to a place by his side now, and I would not let the eyes of the servants drive me away. I pulled on my tunic and left to find him. HE WAS NOT IN the great hall, busy with servants removing the same platters and bowls there had always been. He was not in Peleus council chamber, hung with purple tapestry and the weapons of former Phthian kings. And he was not in the room where we used to play the lyre. The trunk that had once kept our instruments sat forlorn in the rooms center. He was not outside, either, in the trees he and I had climbed. Or by the sea, on the jutting rocks where he waited for his mother. Nor on the practice field where men sweated through drills, clacking their wooden swords. I do not need to say that my panic swelled, that it became a live thing, slippery and deaf to reason. My steps grew hurried; the kitchen, the basement, the storerooms with their amphorae of oil and wine. And still I did not find him. It was midday when I sought out Peleus room. It was a sign of the size of my unease that I went at all: I had never spoken to the old man alone before. The guards outside stopped me when I tried to enter. The king was at rest, they said. He was alone and would see no one. But is Achilles I gulped, trying not to make a spectacle of myself, to feed the curiosity I saw in their eyes. Is the prince with him? He is alone, one of them repeated. I went to Phoinix next, the old counselor who had looked after Achilles when he was a boy. I was almost choking with fear as I walked to his stateroom, a modest square chamber at the palaces heart. He had clay tablets in front of him, and on them the mens marks from the night before, angular and crisscrossing, pledging their arms to the war against Troy. The prince Achilles I said. I spoke haltingly, my voice thick with panic. I cannot find him. He looked up with some surprise. He had not heard me come in the room; his hearing was poor, and his eyes when they met mine were rheumy and opaque with cataract. Peleus did not tell you then. His voice was soft. No. My tongue was like a stone in my mouth, so big I could barely speak around it. Im sorry, he said kindly. His mother has him. She took him last night as he was sleeping. They are gone, no one knows where. Later I would see the red marks where my nails had dug through my palms. No one knows where. To Olympus perhaps, where I could never follow. To Africa, or India. To some village where I would not think to look. Phoinixs gentle hands guided me back to my room. My mind twisted desperately from thought to thought. I would return to Chiron and seek counsel. I would walk the countryside, calling his name. She must have drugged him, or tricked him. He would not have gone willingly. As I huddled in our empty room, I imagined it: the goddess leaning over us, cold and white beside the warmth of our sleeping bodies. Her fingernails prick into his skin as she lifts him, her neck is silvery in the windows moonlight. His body lolls on her shoulder, sleeping or spelled. She carries him from me as a soldier might carry a corpse. She is strong; it takes only one of her hands to keep him from falling. I did not wonder why she had taken him. I knew. She had wanted to separate us, the first chance she had, as soon as we were out of the mountains. I was angry at how foolish we had been. Of course she would do this; why had I thought we would be safe? That Chirons protection would extend here, where it never had before. She would take him to the caves of the sea and teach him contempt for mortals. She would feed him with the food of the gods and burn his human blood from his veins. She would shape him into a figure meant to be painted on vases, to be sung of in songs, to fight against Troy. I imagined him in black armor, a dark helmet that left him nothing but eyes, bronze greaves that covered his feet. He stands with a spear in each hand and does not know me. Time folded in on itself, closed over me, buried me. Outside my window, the moon moved through her shapes and came up full again. I slept little and ate less; grief pinned me to the bed like an anchor. It was only my pricking memory of Chiron that finally drove me forth. You do not give up so easily as you once did. I went to Peleus. I knelt before him on a wool rug, woven bright with purple. He started to speak, but I was too quick for him. One of my hands went to clasp his knees, the other reached upwards, to seize his chin with my hand. The pose of supplication. It was a gesture I had seen many times, but had never made myself. I was under his protection now; he was bound to treat me fairly, by the law of the gods. Tell me where he is, I said. He did not move. I could hear the muffled batter of his heart against his chest. I had not realized how intimate supplication was, how closely we would be pressed. His ribs were sharp beneath my cheek; the skin of his legs was soft and thin with age. I do not know, he said, and the words echoed down the chamber, stirring the guards. I felt their eyes on my back. Suppliants were rare in Phthia; Peleus was too good a king for such desperate measures. I pulled at his chin, tugging his face to mine. He did not resist. I do not believe you, I said. A moment passed. Leave us, he said. The words were for the guards. They shuffled their feet, but obeyed. We were alone. He leaned forward, down to my ear. He whispered, Scyros. A place, an island. Achilles. When I stood, my knees ached, as if I had been kneeling a long time. Perhaps I had. I do not know how many moments passed between us in that long hall of Phthian kings. Our eyes were level now, but he would not meet my gaze. He had answered me because he was a pious man, because I had asked him as a suppliant, because the gods demanded it. He would not have otherwise. There was a dullness in the air between us, and something heavy, like anger. I will need money, I told him. I do not know where these words came from. I had never spoken so before, to anyone. But I had nothing left to lose. Speak to Phoinix. He will give it to you. I nodded my head, barely. I should have done much more. I should have knelt again and thanked him, rubbed my forehead on his expensive rug. I didnt. Peleus moved to stare out the open window; the sea was hidden by the houses curve, but we could both hear it, the distant hiss of waves against sand. You may go, he told me. He meant it to be cold, I think, and dismissive; a displeased king to his subject. But all I heard was his weariness. I nodded once more and left. THE GOLD THAT Phoinix gave me would have carried me to Scyros and back twice over. The ships captain stared when I handed it to him. I saw his eyes flicking over it, weighing its worth, counting what it could buy him. You will take me? My eagerness displeased him. He did not like to see desperation in those who sought passage; haste and a free hand spoke of hidden crimes. But the gold was too much for him to object. He made a noise, grudging, of acceptance, and sent me to my berth. I had never been at sea before and was surprised at how slow it was. The boat was a big-bellied trader, making its lazy rounds of the islands, sharing the fleece, oil, and carved furniture of the mainland with the more isolated kingdoms. Every night we put in at a different port to refill our water pots and unload our stores. During the days I stood at the ships prow, watching the waves fall away from our black-tarred hull, waiting for the sight of land. At another time I would have been enchanted with it all: the names of the ships parts, halyard, mast, stern; the color of the water; the scrubbed-clean smell of the winds. But I barely noticed these things. I thought only of the small island flung out somewhere in front of me, and the fair-haired boy I hoped I would find there. THE BAY OF SCYROS was so small that I did not see it until we had swung around the rocky islands southern rim and were almost upon it. Our ship narrowly squeezed between its extending arms, and the sailors leaned over the sides to watch the rocks slide by, holding their breath. Once we were inside, the water was utterly calm, and the men had to row us the rest of the way. The confines were difficult to maneuver; I did not envy the captains voyage out. We are here, he told me, sullenly. I was already walking for the gangway. The cliff face rose sharply in front of me. There was a path of steps carved into the rock, coiling up to the palace, and I took them. At their top were scrubby trees and goats, and the palace, modest and dull, made half from stone and half from wood. If it had not been the only building in sight, I might not have known it for the kings home. I went to the door and entered. The hall was narrow and dim, the air dingy with the smell of old dinners. At the far end two thrones sat empty. A few guards idled at tables, dicing. They looked up. Well? one asked me. I am here to see King Lycomedes, I said. I lifted my chin, so they would know I was a man of some importance. I had worn the finest tunic I could findone of Achilles. Ill go, another one said to his fellows. He dropped his dice with a clatter and slumped out of the hall. Peleus would never have allowed such disaffection; he kept his men well and expected much from them in return. Everything about the room seemed threadbare and gray. The man reappeared. Come, he said. I followed him, and my heart picked up. I had thought long about what I would say. I was ready. In here. He gestured to an open door, then turned to go back to his dice. I stepped through the doorway. Inside, seated before the wispy remains of a fire, sat a young woman. I am the princess Deidameia, she announced. Her voice was bright and almost childishly loud, startling after the dullness of the hall. She had a tipped-up nose and a sharp face, like a fox. She was pretty, and she knew it. I summoned my manners and bowed. I am a stranger, come for a kindness from your father. Why not a kindness from me? She smiled, tilting her head. She was surprisingly small; I guessed she would barely be up to my chest if she stood. My father is old and ill. You may address your petition to me, and I will answer it. She affected a regal pose, carefully positioned so the window lit her from behind. I am looking for my friend. Oh? Her eyebrow lifted. And who is your friend? A young man, I said, carefully. I see. We do have some of those here. Her tone was playful, full of itself. Her dark hair fell down her back in thick curls. She tossed her head a little, making it swing, and smiled at me again. Perhaps youd like to start with telling me your name? Chironides, I said. Son of Chiron. She wrinkled her nose at the names strangeness. Chironides. And? I am seeking a friend of mine, who would have arrived here perhaps a month ago. He is from Phthia. Something flashed in her eyes, or maybe I imagined it did. And why do you seek him? she asked. I thought that her tone was not so light as it had been. I have a message for him. I wished very much that I had been led to the old and ill king, rather than her. Her face was like quicksilver, always racing to something new. She unsettled me. Hmmm. A message. She smiled coyly, tapped her chin with a painted fingertip. A message for a friend. And why should I tell you if I know this young man or not? Because you are a powerful princess, and I am your humble suitor. I knelt. This pleased her. Well, perhaps I do know such a man, and perhaps I do not. I will have to think on it. You will stay for dinner and await my decision. If you are lucky, I may even dance for you, with my women. She cocked her head, suddenly. You have heard of Deidameias women? I am sorry to say that I have not. She made a moue of displeasure. All the kings send their daughters here for fostering. Everyone knows that but you. I bowed my head, sorrowfully. I have spent my time in the mountains and have not seen much of the world. She frowned a little. Then flicked her hand at the door. Till dinner, Chironides. I spent the afternoon in the dusty courtyard grounds. The palace sat on the islands highest point, held up against the blue of the sky, and the view was pretty, despite the shabbiness. As I sat, I tried to remember all that I had heard of Lycomedes. He was known to be kind enough, but a weak king, of limited resources. Euboia to the west and Ionia to the east had long eyed his lands; soon enough one of them would bring war, despite the inhospitable shoreline. If they heard a woman ruled here, it would be all the sooner. When the sun had set, I returned to the hall. Torches had been lit, but they only seemed to increase the gloom. Deidameia, a gold circlet gleaming in her hair, led an old man into the room. He was hunched over, and so draped with furs that I could not tell where his body began. She settled him on a throne and gestured grandly to a servant. I stood back, among the guards and a few other men whose function was not immediately apparent. Counselors? Cousins? They had the same worn appearance as everything else in the room. Only Deidameia seemed to escape it, with her blooming cheeks and glossy hair. A servant motioned to the cracked benches and tables, and I sat. The king and the princess did not join us; they remained on their thrones at the halls other end. Food arrived, hearty enough, but my eyes kept returning to the front of the room. I could not tell if I should make myself known. Had she forgotten me? But then she stood and turned her face towards our tables. Stranger from Pelion, she called, you will never again be able to say that you have not heard of Deidameias women. Another gesture, with a braceleted hand. A group of women entered, perhaps two dozen, speaking softly to each other, their hair covered and bound back in cloth. They stood in the empty central area that I saw now was a dancing circle. A few men took out flutes and drums, one a lyre. Deidameia did not seem to expect a response from me, or even to care if I had heard. She stepped down from the thrones dais and went to the women, claiming one of the taller ones as a partner. The music began. The steps were intricate, and the girls moved through them featly. In spite of myself, I was impressed. Their dresses swirled, and jewelry swung around their wrists and ankles as they spun. They tossed their heads as they whirled, like high-spirited horses. Deidameia was the most beautiful, of course. With her golden crown and unbound hair, she drew the eye, flashing her wrists prettily in the air. Her face was flushed with pleasure, and as I watched her, I saw her brightness grow brighter still. She was beaming at her partner, almost flirting. Now she would duck her eyes at the woman, now step close as if to tease with her touch. Curious, I craned my head to see the woman she danced with, but the crowd of white dresses obscured her. The music trilled to an end, and the dancers finished. Deidameia led them forward in a line to receive our praise. Her partner stood beside her, head bowed. She curtsied with the rest and looked up. I made some sort of sound, the breath jumping in my throat. It was quiet, but it was enough. The girls eyes flickered to me. Several things happened at once then. Achillesfor it was Achillesdropped Deidameias hand and flung himself joyously at me, knocking me backwards with the force of his embrace. Deidameia screamed Pyrrha! and burst into tears. Lycomedes, who was not so far sunk into dotage as his daughter had led me to believe, stood. Pyrrha, what is the meaning of this? I barely heard. Achilles and I clutched each other, almost incoherent with relief. My mother, he whispered, my mother, she Pyrrha! Lycomedes voice carried the length of the hall, rising over his daughters noisy sobs. He was talking to Achilles, I realized. Pyrrha. Fire-hair. Achilles ignored him; Deidameia wailed louder. The king, showing a judiciousness that surprised me, threw his eye upon the rest of his court, women and men both. Out, he ordered. They obeyed reluctantly, trailing their glances behind them. Now. Lycomedes came forward, and I saw his face for the first time. His skin was yellowed, and his graying beard looked like dirty fleece; yet his eyes were sharp enough. Who is this man, Pyrrha? No one! Deidameia had seized Achilles arm, was tugging at it. At the same time, Achilles answered coolly, My husband. I closed my mouth quickly, so I did not gape like a fish. He is not! Thats not true! Deidameias voice rose high, startling the birds roosting in the rafters. A few feathers wafted down to the floor. She might have said more, but she was crying too hard to speak clearly. Lycomedes turned to me as if for refuge, man to man. Sir, is this true? Achilles was squeezing my fingers. Yes, I said. No! the princess shrieked. Achilles ignored her pulling at him, and gracefully inclined his head at Lycomedes. My husband has come for me, and now I may leave your court. Thank you for your hospitality. Achilles curtsied. I noted with an idle, dazed part of my mind that he did it remarkably well. Lycomedes held up a hand to prevent us. We should consult your mother first. It was she who gave you to me to foster. Does she know of this husband? No! Deidameia said again. Daughter! This was Lycomedes, frowning in a way that was not unlike his daughters habit. Stop this scene. Release Pyrrha. Her face was blotchy and swollen with tears, her chest heaving. No! She turned to Achilles. You are lying! You have betrayed me! Monster! Apathes! Heartless. Lycomedes froze. Achilles fingers tightened on mine. In our language, words come in different genders. She had used the masculine form. What was that? said Lycomedes, slowly. Deidameias face had gone pale, but she lifted her chin in defiance, and her voice did not waver. He is a man, she said. And then, We are married. What! Lycomedes clutched his throat. I could not speak. Achilles hand was the only thing that kept me to earth. Do not do this, Achilles said to her. Please. It seemed to enrage her. I will do it! She turned to her father. You are a fool! Im the only one who knew! I knew! She struck her chest in emphasis. And now Ill tell everyone. Achilles! She screamed as if she would force his name through the stout stone walls, up to the gods themselves. Achilles! Achilles! Ill tell everyone! You will not. The words were cold and knife-sharp; they parted the princesss shouts easily. I know that voice. I turned. Thetis stood in the doorway. Her face glowed, the white-blue of the flames center. Her eyes were black, gashed into her skin, and she stood taller than I had ever seen her. Her hair was as sleek as it always was, and her dress as beautiful, but there was something about her that seemed wild, as if an invisible wind whipped around her. She looked like a Fury, the demons that come for mens blood. I felt my scalp trying to climb off my head; even Deidameia dropped into silence. We stood there a moment, facing her. Then Achilles reached up and tore the veil from his hair. He seized the neckline of his dress and ripped it down the front, exposing his chest beneath. The firelight played over his skin, warming it to gold. No more, Mother, he said. Something rippled beneath her features, a spasm of sorts. I was half afraid she would strike him down. But she only watched him with those restless black eyes. Achilles turned then, to Lycomedes. My mother and I have deceived you, for which I offer my apologies. I am the prince Achilles, son of Peleus. She did not wish me to go to war and hid me here, as one of your foster daughters. Lycomedes swallowed and did not speak. We will leave now, Achilles said gently. The words shook Deidameia from her trance. No, she said, voice rising again. You cannot. Your mother said the words over us, and we are married. You are my husband. Lycomedes breath rasped loudly in the chamber; his eyes were for Thetis alone. Is this true? he asked. It is, the goddess answered. Something fell from a long height in my chest. Achilles turned to me, as if he would speak. But his mother was faster. You are bound to us now, King Lycomedes. You will continue to shelter Achilles here. You will say nothing of who he is. In return, your daughter will one day be able to claim a famous husband. Her eyes went to a point above Deidameias head, then back. She added, It is better than she would have done. Lycomedes rubbed at his neck, as if he would smooth its wrinkles. I have no choice, he said. As you know. What if I will not be silent? Deidameias color was high. You have ruined me, you and your son. I have lain with him, as you told me to, and my honor is gone. I will claim him now, before the court, as recompense. I have lain with him. You are a foolish girl, Thetis said. Each word fell like an axe blade, sharp and severing. Poor and ordinary, an expedient only. You do not deserve my son. You will keep your peace or I will keep it for you. Deidameia stepped backwards, her eyes wide, her lips gone white. Her hands were trembling. She lifted one to her stomach and clutched the fabric of her dress there, as if to steady herself. Outside the palace, beyond the cliffs, we could hear huge waves breaking on the rocks, dashing the shoreline to pieces. I am pregnant, the princess whispered. I was watching Achilles when she said it, and I saw the horror on his face. Lycomedes made a noise of pain. My chest felt hollowed, and egg-shell thin. Enough. Perhaps I said it, perhaps I only thought it. I let go of Achilles hand and strode to the door. Thetis must have moved aside for me; I would have run into her if she had not. Alone, I stepped into the darkness. WAIT! ACHILLES SHOUTED. It took him longer to reach me than it should have, I noted with detachment. The dress must be tangling his legs. He caught up to me, seized my arm. Let go, I said. Please, wait. Please, let me explain. I did not want to do it. My mother He was breathless, almost panting. I had never seen him so upset. She led the girl to my room. She made me. I did not want to. My mother saidshe said He was stumbling over his words. She said that if I did as she said, she would tell you where I was. What had Deidameia thought would happen, I wondered, when she had her women dance for me? Had she really thought I would not know him? I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world. Patroclus. He cupped my cheek with his hand. Do you hear me? Please, say something. I could not stop imagining her skin beside his, her swelling breasts and curving hips. I remembered the long days I grieved for him, my hands empty and idle, plucking the air like birds peck at dry earth. Patroclus? You did it for nothing. He flinched at the emptiness of my voice. But how else was I to sound? What do you mean? Your mother did not tell me where you were. It was Peleus. His face had gone pale, bled dry. She did not tell you? No. Did you truly expect she would? My voice cut harder than I meant it to. Yes, he whispered. There were a thousand things I might have said, to reproach him for his na?vet?. He had always trusted too easily; he had had so little in his life to fear or suspect. In the days before our friendship, I had almost hated him for this, and some old spark of that flared in me, trying to relight. Anyone else would have known that Thetis acted for her own purposes only. How could he be so foolish? The angry words pricked in my mouth. But when I tried to speak them, I found I could not. His cheeks were flushed with shame, and the skin beneath his eyes was weary. His trust was a part of him, as much as his hands or his miraculous feet. And despite my hurt, I would not wish to see it gone, to see him as uneasy and fearful as the rest of us, for any price. He was watching me closely, reading my face over and over, like a priest searching the auguries for an answer. I could see the slight line in his forehead that meant utmost concentration. Something shifted in me then, like the frozen surface of the Apidanos in spring. I had seen the way he looked at Deidameia; or rather the way he did not. It was the same way he had looked at the boys in Phthia, blank and unseeing. He had never, not once, looked at me that way. Forgive me, he said again. I did not want it. It was not you. I did notI did not like it. Hearing it soothed the last of the jagged grief that had begun when Deidameia shouted his name. My throat was thick with the beginning of tears. There is nothing to forgive, I said. LATER THAT EVENING we returned to the palace. The great hall was dark, its fire burned to embers. Achilles had repaired his dress as best he could, but it still gaped to the waist; he held it closed in case we met a lingering guard. The voice came from the shadows, startling us. You have returned. The moonlight did not quite reach the thrones, but we saw the outline of a man there, thick with furs. His voice seemed deeper than it had before, heavier. We have, Achilles said. I could hear the slight hesitation before he answered. He had not expected to face the king again so soon. Your mother is gone, I do not know where. The king paused, as if awaiting a response. Achilles said nothing. My daughter, your wife, is in her room crying. She hopes you will come to her. I felt the flinch of Achilles guilt. His words came out stiffly; it was not a feeling he was used to. It is unfortunate that she hopes for this. It is indeed, Lycomedes said. We stood in silence a moment. Then Lycomedes drew a weary breath. I suppose that you want a room for your friend? If you do not mind, Achilles said, carefully. Lycomedes let out a soft laugh. No, Prince Achilles, I do not mind. There was another silence. I heard the king lift a goblet, drink, replace it on the table. The child must have your name. You understand this? This is what he had waited in the dark to say, beneath his furs, by the dying fire. I understand it, Achilles said quietly. And you swear it? There was a hairsbreadth of a pause. I pitied the old king. I was glad when Achilles said, I swear it. The old man made a sound like a sigh. But his words, when they came, were formal; he was a king again. Good night to you both. We bowed and left him. In the bowels of the palace, Achilles found a guard to show us to the guest quarters. The voice he used was high and fluting, his girls voice. I saw the guards eyes flicker over him, lingering on the torn edges of the dress, his disheveled hair. He grinned at me with all his teeth. Right away, mistress, he said. IN THE STORIES, the gods have the power to delay the moons course if they wish, to spin a single night the length of many. Such was this night, a bounty of hours that never ran dry. We drank deeply, thirsty for all that we had missed in the weeks we were separated. It was not until the sky began to blanch at last to gray that I remembered what he had said to Lycomedes in the hall. It had been forgotten amidst Deidameias pregnancy, his marriage, our reunion. Your mother was trying to hide you from the war? He nodded. She does not want me to go to Troy. Why? I had always thought she wanted him to fight. I dont know. She says Im too young. Not yet, she says. And it was her idea? I gestured at the remnants of the dress. Of course. I wouldnt have done it myself. He made a face and yanked at his hair, hanging still in its womanly curls. An irritant, but not a crippling shame, as it would have been to another boy. He did not fear ridicule; he had never known it. Anyway, it is only until the army leaves. My mind struggled with this. So, truly, it was not because of me? That she took you? Deidameia was because of you, I think. He stared at his hands a moment. But the rest was the war. Chapter Thirteen THE NEXT DAYS PASSED QUIETLY. WE TOOK MEALS IN our room and spent long hours away from the palace, exploring the island, seeking what shade there was beneath the scruffy trees. We had to be careful; Achilles could not be seen moving too quickly, climbing too skillfully, holding a spear. But we were not followed, and there were many places where he could safely let his disguise drop. On the far side of the island there was a deserted stretch of beach, rock-filled but twice the size of our running tracks. Achilles made a sound of delight when he saw it, and tore off his dress. I watched him race across it, as swiftly as if the beach had been flat. Count for me, he shouted, over his shoulder. I did, tapping against the sand to keep the time. How many? he called, from the beachs end. Thirteen, I called back. Im just warming up, he said. The next time it was eleven. The last time it was nine. He sat down next to me, barely winded, his cheeks flushed with joy. He had told me of his days as a woman, the long hours of enforced tedium, with only the dances for relief. Free now, he stretched his muscles like one of Pelions mountain cats, luxuriant in his own strength. In the evenings, though, we had to return to the great hall. Reluctant, Achilles would put on his dress and smooth back his hair. Often he bound it up in cloth, as he had that first night; golden hair was uncommon enough to be remarked upon by the sailors and merchants who passed through our harbor. If their tales found the ears of someone clever enoughI did not like to think of it. A table was set for us at the front of the hall near the thrones. We ate there, the four of us, Lycomedes, Deidameia, Achilles, and I. Sometimes we were joined by a counselor or two, sometimes not. These dinners were mostly silent; they were for form, to quell gossip and maintain the fiction of Achilles as my wife and the kings ward. Deidameias eyes darted eagerly towards him, hoping he would look at her. But he never did. Good evening, he would say, in his proper girls voice, as we sat, but nothing more. His indifference was a palpable thing, and I saw her pretty face flinch through emotions of shame and hurt and anger. She kept looking to her father, as if she hoped he might intervene. But Lycomedes put bite after bite in his mouth and said nothing. Sometimes she saw me watching her; her face would grow hard then, and her eyes would narrow. She put a hand on her belly, possessively, as if to ward off some spell I might cast. Perhaps she thought I was mocking her, flourishing my triumph. Perhaps she thought I hated her. She did not know that I almost asked him, a hundred times, to be a little kinder to her. You do not have to humiliate her so thoroughly, I thought. But it was not kindness he lacked; it was interest. His gaze passed over her as if she were not there. Once she tried to speak to him, her voice trembling with hope. Are you well, Pyrrha? He continued eating, in his elegant swift bites. He and I had planned to take spears to the far side of the island after dinner and catch fish by moonlight. He was eager to be gone. I had to nudge him, beneath the table. What is it? he asked me. The princess wants to know if you are well. Oh. He glanced at her briefly, then back to me. I am well, he said. AS THE DAYS WORE ON, Achilles took to waking early, so that he might practice with spears before the sun rose high. We had hidden weapons in a distant grove, and he would exercise there before returning to womanhood in the palace. Sometimes he might visit his mother afterwards, sitting on one of Scyros jagged rocks, dangling his feet into the sea. It was one of these mornings, when Achilles was gone, that there was a loud rap on my door. Yes? I called. But the guards were already stepping inside. They were more formal than I had ever seen them, carrying spears and standing at attention. It was strange to see them without their dice. Youre to come with us, one of them said. Why? I was barely out of bed and still bleary with sleep. The princess ordered it. A guard took each of my arms and towed me to the door. When I stuttered a protest, the first guard leaned towards me, his eyes on mine. It will be better if you go quietly. He drew his thumb over his spearpoint in theatrical menace. I did not really think they would hurt me, but neither did I want to be dragged through the halls of the palace. All right, I said. THE NARROW CORRIDORS where they led me I had never visited before. They were the womens quarters, twisting off from the main rooms, a beehive of narrow cells where Deidameias foster sisters slept and lived. I heard laughter from behind the doors, and the endless shush-shush of the shuttle. Achilles said that the sun did not come through the windows here, and there was no breeze. He had spent nearly two months in them; I could not imagine it. At last we came to a large door, cut from finer wood than the rest. The guard knocked on it, opened it, and pushed me through. I heard it close firmly behind me. Inside, Deidameia was seated primly on a leather-covered chair, regarding me. There was a table beside her, and a small stool at her feet; otherwise the room was empty. She must have planned this, I realized. She knew that Achilles was away. There was no place for me to sit, so I stood. The floor was cold stone, and my feet were bare. There was a second, smaller door; it led to her bedroom, I guessed. She watched me looking, her eyes bright as a birds. There was nothing clever to say, so I said something foolish. You wanted to speak with me. She sniffed a little, with contempt. Yes, Patroclus. I wanted to speak with you. I waited, but she said nothing more, only studied me, a finger tapping the arm of her chair. Her dress was looser than usual; she did not have it tied across the waist as she often did, to show her figure. Her hair was unbound and held back at the temples with carved ivory combs. She tilted her head and smiled at me. You are not even handsome, that is the funny thing. You are quite ordinary. She had her fathers way of pausing as if she expected a reply. I felt myself flushing. I must say something. I cleared my throat. She glared at me. I have not given you leave to speak. She held my gaze a moment, as if to make sure that I would not disobey, then continued. I think its funny. Look at you. She rose, and her quick steps ate up the space between us. Your neck is short. Your chest is thin as a boys. She gestured at me with disdainful fingers. And your face. She grimaced. Hideous. My women quite agree. Even my father agrees. Her pretty red lips parted to show her white teeth. It was the closest I had ever been to her. I could smell something sweet, like acanthus flower; close up, I could see that her hair was not just black, but shot through with shifting colors of rich brown. Well? What do you say? Her hands were on her hips. You have not given me leave to speak, I said. Anger flashed over her face. Dont be an idiot, she spat at me. I wasnt She slapped me. Her hand was small but carried surprising force. It turned my head to the side roughly. The skin stung, and my lip throbbed sharply where she had caught it with a ring. I had not been struck like this since I was a child. Boys were not usually slapped, but a father might do it to show contempt. Mine had. It shocked me; I could not have spoken even if I had known what to say. She bared her teeth at me, as if daring me to strike her in return. When she saw I would not, her face twisted with triumph. Coward. As craven as you are ugly. And half-moron besides, I hear. I do not understand it! It makes no sense that he should She stopped abruptly, and the corner of her mouth tugged down, as if caught by a fishermans hook. She turned her back to me and was silent. A moment passed. I could hear the sound of her breaths, drawn slowly, so I would not guess she was crying. I knew the trick. I had done it myself. I hate you, she said, but her voice was thick and there was no force in it. A sort of pity rose in me, cooling the heat of my cheeks. I remembered how hard a thing indifference was to bear. I heard her swallow, and her hand moved swiftly to her face, as if to wipe away tears. Im leaving tomorrow, she said. That should make you happy. My father wants me to begin my confinement early. He says it would bring shame upon me for the pregnancy to be seen, before it was known I was married. Confinement. I heard the bitterness in her voice when she said it. Some small house, at the edge of Lycomedes land. She would not be able to dance or speak with companions there. She would be alone, with a servant and her growing belly. Im sorry, I said. She did not answer. I watched the soft heaving of her back beneath the white gown. I took a step towards her, then stopped. I had thought to touch her, to smooth her hair in comfort. But it would not be comfort, from me. My hand fell back to my side. We stood there like that for some time, the sound of our breaths filling the chamber. When she turned, her face was ruddy from crying. Achilles does not regard me. Her voice trembled a little. Even though I bear his child and am his wife. Do youknow why this is so? It was a childs question, like why the rain falls or why the seas motion never ceases. I felt older than her, though I was not. I do not know, I said softly. Her face twisted. Thats a lie. Youre the reason. You will sail with him, and I will be left here. I knew something of what it was to be alone. Of how anothers good fortune pricked like a goad. But there was nothing I could do. I should go, I said, as gently as I could. No! She moved quickly to block my way. Her words tumbled out. You cannot. I will call the guards if you try. I willI will say you attacked me. Sorrow for her dragged at me, bearing me down. Even if she called them, even if they believed her, they could not help her. I was the companion of Achilles and invulnerable. My feelings must have shown on my face; she recoiled from me as if stung, and the heat sparked in her again. You were angry that he married me, that he lay with me. You were jealous. You should be. Her chin lifted, as it used to. It was not just once. It was twice. Achilles had told me. She thought that she had power to drive a wedge between us, but she had nothing. Im sorry, I said again. I had nothing better to say. He did not love her; he never would. As if she heard my thought, her face crumpled. Her tears fell on the floor, turning the gray stone black, drop by drop. Let me get your father, I said. Or one of your women. She looked up at me. Please she whispered. Please do not leave. She was shivering, like something just born. Always before, her hurts had been small, and there had been someone to offer her comfort. Now there was only this room, the bare walls and single chair, the closet of her grief. Almost unwillingly, I stepped towards her. She gave a small sigh, like a sleepy child, and drooped gratefully into the circle of my arms. Her tears bled through my tunic; I held the curves of her waist, felt the warm, soft skin of her arms. He had held her just like this, perhaps. But Achilles seemed a long way off; his brightness had no place in this dull, weary room. Her face, hot as if with fever, pressed against my chest. All I could see of her was the top of her head, the whorl and tangle of her shining dark hair, the pale scalp beneath. After a time, her sobs subsided, and she drew me closer. I felt her hands stroking my back, the length of her body pressing to mine. At first I did not understand. Then I did. You do not want this, I said. I made to step back, but she held me too tightly. I do. Her eyes had an intensity to them that almost frightened me. Deidameia. I tried to summon the voice I had used to make Peleus yield. The guards are outside. You must not But she was calm now, and sure. They will not disturb us. I swallowed, my throat dry with panic. Achilles will be looking for me. She smiled sadly. He will not look here. She took my hand. Come, she said. And drew me through her bedrooms door. Achilles had told me about their nights together when I asked. It had not been awkward for him to do sonothing was forbidden between us. Her body, he said, was soft and small as a childs. She had come to his cell at night with his mother and lain beside him on the bed. He had feared he would hurt her; it had been swift, and neither spoke. He floundered as he tried to describe the heavy, thick smell, the wetness between her legs. Greasy, he said, like oil. When I pressed him further, he shook his head. I cannot remember, really. It was dark, and I could not see. I wanted it to be over. He stroked my cheek. I missed you. The door closed behind us, and we were alone in a modest room. The walls were hung with tapestries, and the floor was thick with sheepskin rugs. There was a bed, pushed against the window, to catch the hint of breeze. She pulled her dress over her head, and dropped it on the floor. Do you think I am beautiful? she asked me. I was grateful for a simple answer. Yes, I said. Her body was small and delicately made, with just the barest rise of belly where the child grew. My eyes were drawn down to what I had never seen before, a small furred area, the dark hairs spreading lightly upwards. She saw me looking. Reaching for my hand she guided me to that place, which radiated heat like the embers of a fire. The skin that slipped against my fingers was warm and delicate, so fragile I was almost afraid I would tear it with my touch. My other hand reached up to stroke her cheek, to trace the softness beneath her eyes. The look in them was terrible to see: there was no hope or pleasure, only determination. Almost, I fled. But I could not bear to see her face broken open with more sorrow, more disappointmentanother boy who could not give her what she wanted. So I allowed her hands, fumbling a little, to draw me to the bed, to guide me between her thighs, where tender skin parted, weeping slow warm drops. I felt resistance and would have drawn back, but she shook her head sharply. Her small face was tight with concentration, her jaw set as if against pain. It was a relief for us both when at last the skin eased, gave way. When I slipped into that sheathing warmth within her. I will not say I was not aroused. A slow climbing tension moved through me. It was a strange, drowsy feeling, so different from my sharp, sure desires for Achilles. She seemed hurt by this, my heavy-lidded repose. More indifference. And so I let myself move, made sounds of pleasure, pressed my chest against hers as if in passion, flattening her soft, small breasts beneath me. She was pleased then, suddenly fierce, pulling and pushing me harder and faster, her eyes lighting in triumph at the changes in my breath. And then, at the slow rising of tide inside me, her legs, light but firm, wrapped around my back, bucking me into her, drawing out the spasm of my pleasure. Afterwards we lay breathless, side by side but not touching. Her face was shadowed and distant, her posture strangely stiff. My mind was still muddied from climax, but I reached to hold her. I could offer her this, at least. But she drew away from me and stood, her eyes wary; the skin beneath them was dark as bruises. She turned to dress, and her round heart-shaped buttocks stared at me like a reproach. I did not understand what she had wanted; I only knew I had not given it. I stood and pulled on my tunic. I would have touched her, stroked her face, but her eyes warned me away, sharp and full. She held open the door. Hopelessly, I stepped over the threshold. Wait. Her voice sounded raw. I turned. Tell him good-bye, she said. And then closed the door, dark and thick between us. WHEN I FOUND ACHILLES again, I pressed myself to him in relief at the joy between us, at being released from her sadness and hurt. Later, I almost convinced myself it had not happened, that it had been a vivid dream, drawn from his descriptions and too much imagination. But that is not the truth. Chapter Fourteen DEIDAMEIA LEFT THE NEXT MORNING, AS SHE HAD SAID she would. She is visiting an aunt, Lycomedes told the court at breakfast, his voice flat. If there were questions, no one dared to ask them. She would be gone until the child was born, and Achilles could be named as father. The weeks that passed now felt curiously suspended. Achilles and I spent as much time as possible away from the palace, and our joy, so explosive at our reunion, had been replaced with impatience. We wanted to leave, to return to our lives on Pelion, or in Phthia. We felt furtive and guilty with the princess gone; the courts eyes on us had sharpened, grown uncomfortable. Lycomedes frowned whenever he saw us. And then there was the war. Even here, in far-off, forgotten Scyros, news came of it. Helens former suitors had honored their vow, and Agamemnons army was rich with princely blood. It was said that he had done what no man before him could: united our fractious kingdoms with common cause. I remembered hima grim-faced shadow, shaggy as a bear. To my nine-year-old self, his brother Menelaus had been much the more memorable of the two, with his red hair and merry voice. But Agamemnon was older, and his armies the larger; he would lead the expedition to Troy. It was morning, and late winter, though it did not seem it. So far south, the leaves did not fall and no frost pinched the morning air. We lingered in a rock cleft that looked over the span of horizon, watching idly for ships or the gray flash of dolphin back. We hurled pebbles from the cliff, leaning over to watch them skitter down the rock-face. We were high enough that we could not hear the sound of them breaking on the rocks below. I wish I had your mothers lyre, he said. Me too. But it was in Phthia, left behind with everything else. We were silent a moment, remembering the sweetness of its strings. He leaned forward. What is that? I squinted. The sun sat differently on the horizon now that it was winter, seeming to slant into my eyes from every angle. I cannot tell. I stared at the haze where the sea vanished into the sky. There was a distant smudge that might have been a ship, or a trick of the sun on the water. If its a ship, there will be news, I said, with a familiar clutch in my stomach. Each time I feared word would come of a search for the last of Helens suitors, the oath-breaker. I was young then; it did not occur to me that no leader would wish it known that some had not obeyed his summons. It is a ship, for certain, Achilles said. The smudge was closer now; the ship must be moving very quickly. The bright colors of the sail resolved themselves moment by moment out of the seas blue-gray. Not a trader, Achilles commented. Trading ships used white sails only, practical and cheap; a man needed to be rich indeed to waste his dye on sailcloth. Agamemnons messengers had crimson and purple sails, symbols stolen from eastern royalty. This ships sails were yellow, whorled with patterns of black. Do you know the design? I asked. Achilles shook his head. We watched the ship skirt the narrow mouth of Scyros bay and beach itself on the sandy shore. A rough-cut stone anchor was heaved overboard, the gangway lowered. We were too far to see much of the men on its deck, beyond dark heads. We had stayed longer than we should have. Achilles stood and tucked his wind-loosened hair back beneath its kerchief. My hands busied themselves with the folds of his dress, settling them more gracefully across his shoulders, fastening the belts and laces; it was barely strange anymore to see him in it. When we were finished, Achilles bent towards me for a kiss. His lips on mine were soft, and stirred me. He caught the expression in my eyes and smiled. Later, he promised me, then turned and went back down the path to the palace. He would go to the womens quarters and wait there, amidst the looms and the dresses, until the messenger was gone. The hairline cracks of a headache were beginning behind my eyes; I went to my bedroom, cool and dark, its shutters barring the midday sun, and slept. A knock woke me. A servant perhaps, or Lycomedes. My eyes still closed, I called, Come in. Its rather too late for that, a voice answered. The tone was amused, dry as driftwood. I opened my eyes and sat up. A man stood inside the open door. He was sturdy and muscular, with a close-cropped philosophers beard, dark brown tinged with faintest red. He smiled at me, and I saw the lines where other smiles had been. It was an easy motion for him, swift and practiced. Something about it tugged at my memory. Im sorry if I disturbed you. His voice was pleasant, well modulated. Its all right, I said, carefully. I was hoping I might have a word with you. Do you mind if I sit? He gestured towards a chair with a wide palm. The request was politely made; despite my unease, I could find no reason to refuse him. I nodded, and he drew the chair to him. His hands were callused and rough; they would not have looked out of place holding a plow, yet his manner bespoke nobility. To stall I stood and opened the shutters, hoping my brain would shake off its sleepy fog. I could think of no reason that any man would want a moment of my time. Unless he had come to claim me for my oath. I turned to face him. Who are you? I asked. The man laughed. A good question. Ive been terribly rude, barging into your room like this. I am one of the great king Agamemnons captains. I travel the islands and speak to promising young men, such as yourselfhe inclined his head towards meabout joining our army against Troy. Have you heard of the war? I have heard of it, I said. Good. He smiled and stretched his feet in front of him. The fading light fell on his legs, revealing a pink scar that seamed the brown flesh of his right calf from ankle to knee. A pink scar. My stomach dropped as if I leaned over Scyros highest cliff, with nothing beneath me but the long fall to the sea. He was older now, and larger, come into the full flush of his strength. Odysseus. He said something, but I did not hear it. I was back in Tyndareus hall, remembering his clever dark eyes that missed nothing. Did he know me? I stared at his face, but saw only a slightly puzzled expectation. He is waiting for an answer. I forced down my fear. Im sorry, I said. I did not hear you. What? Are you interested? In joining us to fight? I dont think youd want me. Im not a very good soldier. His mouth twisted wryly. Its funnyno one seems to be, when I come calling. His tone was light; it was a shared joke, not a reproach. Whats your name? I tried to sound as casual as he. Chironides. Chironides, he repeated. I watched him for disbelief, but saw none. The tension in my muscles ebbed a little. Of course he did not recognize me. I had changed much since I was nine. Well, Chironides, Agamemnon promises gold and honor for all who fight for him. The campaign looks to be short; we will have you back home by next fall. I will be here for a few days, and I hope you will consider it. He dropped his hands to his knees with finality, and stood. Thats it? I had expected persuasion and pressure, a long evening of it. He laughed, almost affectionately. Yes, thats it. I assume I will see you at dinner? I nodded. He made as if to go, then stopped. You know, its funny; I keep thinking Ive seen you before. I doubt it, I said quickly. I dont recognize you. He studied me a moment, then shrugged, giving up. I must be confusing you with another young man. You know what they say. The older you get, the less you remember. He scratched his beard thoughtfully. Whos your father? Perhaps its him I know. I am an exile. He made a sympathetic face. Im sorry to hear it. Where were you from? The coast. North or south? South. He shook his head ruefully. I would have sworn you were from the north. Somewhere near Thessaly, say. Or Phthia. You have the same roundness to your vowels that they do. I swallowed. In Phthia, the consonants were harder than elsewhere, and the vowels wider. It had sounded ugly to me, until I heard Achilles speak. I had not realized how much of it I had adopted. Idid not know that, I mumbled. My heart was beating very fast. If only he would leave. Useless information is my curse, Im afraid. He was amused again, that slight smile. Now dont forget to come find me if you decide you want to join us. Or if you happen to know of any other likely young men I should speak to. The door snicked shut behind him. THE DINNER BELL had rung and the corridors were busy with servants carrying platters and chairs. When I stepped into the hall, my visitor was already there, standing with Lycomedes and another man. Chironides, Lycomedes acknowledged my arrival. This is Odysseus, ruler of Ithaca. Thank goodness for hosts, Odysseus said. I realized after I left that I never told you my name. And I did not ask because I knew. It had been a mistake but was not irreparable. I widened my eyes. Youre a king? I dropped to a knee, in my best startled obeisance. Actually, hes only a prince, a voice drawled. Im the one whos a king. I looked up to meet the third mans eyes; they were a brown so light it was almost yellow, and keen. His beard was short and black, and it emphasized the slanting planes of his face. This is Lord Diomedes, King of Argos, Lycomedes said. A comrade of Odysseus. And another suitor of Helens, though I remembered no more than his name. Lord. I bowed to him. I did not have time to fear recognitionhe had already turned away. Well. Lycomedes gestured to the table. Shall we eat? For dinner we were joined by several of Lycomedes counselors, and I was glad to vanish among them. Odysseus and Diomedes largely ignored us, absorbed in talk with the king. And how is Ithaca? Lycomedes asked politely. Ithaca is well, thank you, Odysseus answered. I left my wife and son there, both in good health. Ask him about his wife, Diomedes said. He loves to talk about her. Have you heard how he met her? Its his favorite story. There was a goading edge to his voice, barely sheathed. The men around me stopped eating, to watch. Lycomedes looked between the two men, then ventured, And how did you meet your wife, Prince of Ithaca? If Odysseus felt the tension, he did not show it. You are kind to ask. When Tyndareus sought a husband for Helen, suitors came from every kingdom. Im sure you remember. I was married already, Lycomedes said. I did not go. Of course. And these were too young, Im afraid. He tossed a smile at me, then turned back to the king. Of all these men, I was fortunate to arrive first. The king invited me to dine with the family: Helen; her sister, Clytemnestra; and their cousin Penelope. Invited, Diomedes scoffed. Is that what they call crawling through the bracken to spy upon them? Im sure the prince of Ithaca would not do such a thing. Lycomedes frowned. Unfortunately I did just that, though I appreciate your faith in me. He offered Lycomedes a genial smile. It was Penelope who caught me, actually. Said she had been watching me for over an hour and thought she should step in before I hit the thornbush. Naturally, there was some awkwardness about it, but Tyndareus eventually came around and asked me to stay. In the course of dinner, I came to see that Penelope was twice as clever as her cousins and just as beautiful. So As beautiful as Helen? Diomedes interrupted. Is that why she was twenty and unmarried? Odysseus voice was mild. Im sure you would not ask a man to compare his wife unfavorably to another woman, he said. Diomedes rolled his eyes and settled back to pick his teeth with the point of his knife. Odysseus returned to Lycomedes. So, in the course of our conversation, when it became clear that the Lady Penelope favored me Not for your looks, certainly, Diomedes commented. Certainly not, Odysseus agreed. She asked me what wedding present I would make to my bride. A wedding bed, I said, rather gallantly, of finest holm-oak. But this answer did not please her. A wedding bed should not be made of dead, dry wood, but something green and living, she told me. And what if I can make such a bed? I said. Will you have me? And she said The king of Argos made a noise of disgust. Im sick to death of this tale about your marriage bed. Then perhaps you shouldnt have suggested I tell it. And perhaps you should get some new stories, so I dont fucking kill myself of boredom. Lycomedes looked shocked; obscenity was for back rooms and practice fields, not state dinners. But Odysseus only shook his head sadly. Truly, the men of Argos get more and more barbaric with each passing year. Lycomedes, let us show the king of Argos a bit of civilization. I was hoping for a glimpse of the famous dancers of your isle. Lycomedes swallowed. Yes, he said. I had not thought He stopped himself, then began again, with the most kingly voice he could summon. If you wish. We do. This was Diomedes. Well. Lycomedes eyes darted between the two men. Thetis had ordered him to keep the women away from visitors, but to refuse would be suspicious. He cleared his throat, decided. Well, let us call them, then. He gestured sharply at a servant, who turned and ran from the hall. I kept my eyes on my plate, so they would not see the fear in my face. The women had been surprised by the summons and were still making small adjustments of clothes and hair as they entered the hall. Achilles was among them, his head carefully covered, his gaze modestly down. My eyes went anxiously to Odysseus and Diomedes, but neither even glanced at him. The girls took their places, and the music was struck. We watched as they began the complicated series of steps. It was beautiful, though lessened by Deidameias absence; she had been the best of them. Which one is your daughter? Diomedes asked. She is not here, King of Argos. She is visiting family. Too bad, Diomedes said. I hoped it was that one. He pointed to a girl on the end, small and dark; she did look something like Deidameia, and her ankles were particularly lovely, flashing beneath the whirling hem of her dress. Lycomedes cleared his throat. Are you married, my lord? Diomedes half-smiled. For now. His eyes never left the women. When the dance had finished, Odysseus stood, his voice raised for all to hear. We are truly honored by your performance; not everyone can say that they have seen the dancers of Scyros. As tokens of our admiration we have brought gifts for you and your king. A murmur of excitement. Luxuries did not come often to Scyros; no one here had the money to buy them. You are too kind. Lycomedes face was flushed with genuine pleasure; he had not expected this generosity. The servants brought trunks forth at Odysseus signal and began unloading them on the long tables. I saw the glitter of silver, the shine of glass and gems. All of us, men and women both, leaned towards them, eager to see. Please, take what you would like, Odysseus said. The girls moved swiftly to the tables, and I watched them fingering the bright trinkets: perfumes in delicate glass bottles stoppered with a bit of wax; mirrors with carved ivory for handles; bracelets of twisted gold; ribbons dyed deep in purples and reds. Among these were a few things I assumed were meant for Lycomedes and his counselors: leather-bound shields, carved spear hafts, and silvered swords with supple kidskin sheaths. Lycomedes eyes had caught on one of these, like a fish snagged by a line. Odysseus stood near, presiding benevolently. Achilles kept to the back, drifting slowly along the tables. He paused to dab some perfume on his slender wrists, stroke the smooth handle of a mirror. He lingered a moment over a pair of earrings, blue stones set in silver wire. A movement at the far end of the hall caught my eye. Diomedes had crossed the chamber and was speaking with one of his servants, who nodded and left through the large double doors. Whatever it was could not be important; Diomedes seemed half-asleep, his eyes heavy-lidded and bored. I looked back to Achilles. He was holding the earrings up to his ears now, turning them this way and that, pursing his lips, playing at girlishness. It amused him, and the corner of his mouth curved up. His eyes flicked around the hall, catching for a moment on my face. I could not help myself. I smiled. A trumpet blew, loud and panicked. It came from outside, a sustained note, followed by three short blasts: our signal for utmost, impending disaster. Lycomedes lurched to his feet, the guards heads jerked towards the door. Girls screamed and clung to each other, dropping their treasures to the ground in tinkles of breaking glass. All the girls but one. Before the final blast was finished, Achilles had swept up one of the silvered swords and flung off its kidskin sheath. The table blocked his path to the door; he leapt it in a blur, his other hand grabbing a spear from it as he passed. He landed, and the weapons were already lifted, held with a deadly poise that was like no girl, nor no man either. The greatest warrior of his generation. I yanked my gaze to Odysseus and Diomedes and was horrified to see them smiling. Greetings, Prince Achilles, Odysseus said. Weve been looking for you. I stood helpless as the faces of Lycomedes court registered Odysseus words, turned towards Achilles, stared. For a moment Achilles did not move. Then, slowly, he lowered the weapons. Lord Odysseus, he said. His voice was remarkably calm. Lord Diomedes. He inclined his head politely, one prince to another. I am honored to be the subject of so much effort. It was a good answer, full of dignity and the slightest twist of mockery. It would be harder for them to humiliate him now. I assume you wish to speak with me? Just a moment, and I will join you. He placed the sword and spear carefully on the table. With steady fingers he untied the kerchief, drew it off. His hair, revealed, gleamed like polished bronze. The men and women of Lycomedes court whispered to one another in muted scandal; their eyes clung to his figure. Perhaps this will help? Odysseus had claimed a tunic from some bag or box. He tossed it to Achilles, who caught it. Thank you, Achilles said. The court watched, hypnotized, as he unfolded it, stripped to the waist, and drew it over himself. Odysseus turned to the front of the room. Lycomedes, may we borrow a room of state, please? We have much to discuss with the prince of Phthia. Lycomedes face was a frozen mask. I knew he was thinking of Thetis, and punishment. He did not answer. Lycomedes. Diomedes voice was sharp, cracking like a blow. Yes, Lycomedes croaked. I pitied him. I pitied all of us. Yes. Just through there. He pointed. Odysseus nodded. Thank you. He moved towards the door, confidently, as if never doubting but that Achilles would follow. After you, Diomedes smirked. Achilles hesitated, and his eyes went to me, just the barest glance. Oh yes, Odysseus called over his shoulder. Youre welcome to bring Patroclus along, if you like. We have business with him, as well. Chapter Fifteen THE ROOM HAD A FEW THREADBARE TAPESTRIES AND four chairs. I forced myself to sit straight against the stiff wood back, as a prince should. Achilles face was tight with emotion, and his neck flushed. It was a trick, he accused. Odysseus was unperturbed. You were clever in hiding yourself; we had to be cleverer still in finding you. Achilles lifted an eyebrow in princely hauteur. Well? Youve found me. What do you want? We want you to come to Troy, Odysseus said. And if I do not want to come? Then we make this known. Diomedes lifted Achilles discarded dress. Achilles flushed as if hed been struck. It was one thing to wear a dress out of necessity, another thing for the world to know of it. Our people reserved their ugliest names for men who acted like women; lives were lost over such insults. Odysseus held up a restraining hand. We are all noble men here and it should not have to come to such measures. I hope we can offer you happier reasons to agree. Fame, for instance. You will win much of it, if you fight for us. There will be other wars. Not like this one, said Diomedes. This will be the greatest war of our people, remembered in legend and song for generations. You are a fool not to see it. I see nothing but a cuckolded husband and Agamemnons greed. Then you are blind. What is more heroic than to fight for the honor of the most beautiful woman in the world, against the mightiest city of the East? Perseus cannot say he did so much, nor Jason. Heracles would kill his wife again for a chance to come along. We will master Anatolia all the way to Araby. We will carve ourselves into stories for ages to come. I thought you said it would be an easy campaign, home by next fall, I managed. I had to do something to stop the relentless roll of their words. I lied. Odysseus shrugged. I have no idea how long it will be. Faster if we have you. He looked at Achilles. His dark eyes pulled like the tide, however you swam against it. The sons of Troy are known for their skill in battle, and their deaths will lift your name to the stars. If you miss it, you will miss your chance at immortality. You will stay behind, unknown. You will grow old, and older in obscurity. Achilles frowned. You cannot know that. Actually, I can. He leaned back in his chair. I am fortunate to have some knowledge of the gods. He smiled as if at a memory of some divine mischief. And the gods have seen fit to share with me a prophecy about you. I should have known that Odysseus would not come with tawdry blackmail as his only coin. The stories named him polutropos, the man of many turnings. Fear stirred in me like ash. What prophecy? Achilles asked, slowly. That if you do not come to Troy, your godhead will wither in you, unused. Your strength will diminish. At best, you will be like Lycomedes here, moldering on a forgotten island with only daughters to succeed him. Scyros will be conquered soon by a nearby state; you know this as well as I. They will not kill him; why should they? He can live out his years in some corner eating the bread they soften for him, senile and alone. When he dies, people will say, who? The words filled the room, thinning the air until we could not breathe. Such a life was a horror. But Odysseus voice was relentless. He is known now only because of how his story touches yours. If you go to Troy, your fame will be so great that a man will be written into eternal legend just for having passed a cup to you. You will be The doors blew open in a fury of flying splinters. Thetis stood in the doorway, hot as living flame. Her divinity swept over us all, singeing our eyes, blackening the broken edges of the door. I could feel it pulling at my bones, sucking at the blood in my veins as if it would drink me. I cowered, as men were made to do. Odysseus dark beard was dusted with fine debris from the doors ruin. He stood. Greetings, Thetis. Her gaze went to him as a snakes to her prey, and her skin glowed. The air around Odysseus seemed to tremble slightly, as if with heat or a breeze. Diomedes, on the ground, edged away. I closed my eyes, so I would not have to see the explosion. A silence, into which at last I opened my eyes. Odysseus stood unharmed. Thetis fists were strangling themselves white. It no longer burned to look at her. The gray-eyed maiden has ever been kind to me, Odysseus said, almost apologetically. She knows why I am here; she blesses and guards my purpose. It was as if I had missed a step of their conversation. I struggled now to follow. The gray-eyed maidengoddess of war and its arts. She was said to prize cleverness above all. Athena has no child to lose. The words grated from Thetis throat, hung in the air. Odysseus did not try to answer, only turned to Achilles. Ask her, he said. Ask your mother what she knows. Achilles swallowed, loud in the silent chamber. He met his mothers black eyes. Is it true, what he says? The last of her fire was gone; only marble remained. It is true. But there is more, and worse that he has not said. The words came tonelessly, as a statue would speak them. If you go to Troy, you will never return. You will die a young man there. Achilles face went pale. It is certain? This is what all mortals ask first, in disbelief, shock, fear. Is there no exception for me? It is certain. If he had looked at me then, I would have broken. I would have begun to weep and never stopped. But his eyes were fixed on his mother. What should I do? he whispered. The slightest tremor, over the still water of her face. Do not ask me to choose, she said. And vanished. I CANNOT REMEMBER what we said to the two men, how we left them, or how we came to our room. I remember his face, skin drawn tightly over his cheeks, the dulled pallor of his brow. His shoulders, usually so straight and fine, seemed fallen. Grief swelled inside me, choking me. His death. I felt as if I was dying just to think of it, plummeting through a blind, black sky. You must not go. I almost said it, a thousand times. Instead I held his hands fast between mine; they were cold, and very still. I do not think I could bear it, he said, at last. His eyes were closed, as if against horrors. I knew he spoke not of his death, but of the nightmare Odysseus had spun, the loss of his brilliance, the withering of his grace. I had seen the joy he took in his own skill, the roaring vitality that was always just beneath the surface. Who was he if not miraculous and radiant? Who was he if not destined for fame? I would not care, I said. The words scrabbled from my mouth. Whatever you became. It would not matter to me. We would be together. I know, he said quietly, but did not look at me. He knew, but it was not enough. The sorrow was so large it threatened to tear through my skin. When he died, all things swift and beautiful and bright would be buried with him. I opened my mouth, but it was too late. I will go, he said. I will go to Troy. The rosy gleam of his lip, the fevered green of his eyes. There was not a line anywhere on his face, nothing creased or graying; all crisp. He was spring, golden and bright. Envious Death would drink his blood, and grow young again. He was watching me, his eyes as deep as earth. Will you come with me? he asked. The never-ending ache of love and sorrow. Perhaps in some other life I could have refused, could have torn my hair and screamed, and made him face his choice alone. But not in this one. He would sail to Troy and I would follow, even into death. Yes, I whispered. Yes. Relief broke in his face, and he reached for me. I let him hold me, let him press us length to length so close that nothing might fit between us. Tears came, and fell. Above us, the constellations spun and the moon paced her weary course. We lay stricken and sleepless as the hours passed. WHEN DAWN CAME, he rose stiffly. I must go tell my mother, he said. He was pale, and his eyes were shadowed. He looked older already. Panic rose in me. Dont go, I wanted to say. But he drew on a tunic and was gone. I lay back and tried not to think of the minutes passing. Just yesterday we had had a wealth of them. Now each was a drop of heartsblood lost. The room turned gray, then white. The bed felt cold without him, and too large. I heard no sounds, and the stillness frightened me. It is like a tomb. I rose and rubbed my limbs, slapped them awake, trying to ward off a rising hysteria. This is what it will be, every day, without him. I felt a wild-eyed tightness in my chest, like a scream. Every day, without him. I left the palace, desperate to shut out thought. I came to the cliffs, Scyros great rocks that beetled over the sea, and began to climb. The winds tugged at me, and the stones were slimy with spray, but the strain and danger steadied me. I arrowed upwards, towards the most treacherous peak, where before I would have been too fearful to go. My hands were cut almost to blood by jagged shards of rock. My feet left stains where they stepped. The pain was welcome, ordinary and clean. So easy to bear it was laughable. I reached the summit, a careless heap of boulders at the cliffs edge, and stood. An idea had come to me as I climbed, fierce and reckless as I felt. Thetis! I screamed it into the snatching wind, my face towards the sea. Thetis! The sun was high now; their meeting had ended long ago. I drew a third breath. Do not speak my name again. I whirled to face her and lost my balance. The rocks jumbled under my feet, and the wind tore at me. I grabbed at an outcrop, steadied myself. I looked up. Her skin was paler even than usual, the first winters ice. Her lips were drawn back, to show her teeth. You are a fool, she said. Get down. Your halfwit death will not save him. I was not so fearless as I thought; I flinched from the malice in her face. But I forced myself to speak, to ask the thing I had to know of her. How much longer will he live? She made a noise in her throat, like the bark of a seal. It took me a moment to understand that it was laughter. Why? Would you prepare yourself for it? Try to stop it? Contempt spilled across her face. Yes, I answered. If I can. The sound again. Please. I knelt. Please tell me. Perhaps it was because I knelt. The sound ceased, and she considered me a moment. Hectors death will be first, she said. This is all I am given to know. Hector. Thank you, I said. Her eyes narrowed, and her voice hissed like water poured on coals. Do not presume to thank me. I have come for another reason. I waited. Her face was white as splintered bone. It will not be so easy as he thinks. The Fates promise fame, but how much? He will need to guard his honor carefully. He is too trusting. The men of Greeceshe spat the wordsare dogs over a bone. They will not simply give up preeminence to another. I will do what I can. And you. Her eyes flickered over my long arms and skinny knees. You will not disgrace him. Do you understand? Do you understand? Yes, I said. And I did. His fame must be worth the life he paid for it. The faintest breath of air touched her dresss hem, and I knew she was about to leave, to vanish back to the caves of the sea. Something made me bold. Is Hector a skilled soldier? He is the best, she answered. But for my son. Her gaze flickered to the right, where the cliff dropped away. He is coming, she said. ACHILLES CRESTED THE RISE and came to where I sat. He looked at my face and my bloodied skin. I heard you talking, he said. It was your mother, I said. He knelt and took my foot in his lap. Gently, he picked the fragments of rock from the wounds, brushing off dirt and chalky dust. He tore a strip from his tunics hem and pressed it tight to stanch the blood. My hand closed over his. You must not kill Hector, I said. He looked up, his beautiful face framed by the gold of his hair. My mother told you the rest of the prophecy. She did. And you think that no one but me can kill Hector. Yes, I said. And you think to steal time from the Fates? Yes. Ah. A sly smile spread across his face; he had always loved defiance. Well, why should I kill him? Hes done nothing to me. For the first time then, I felt a kind of hope. WE LEFT THAT AFTERNOON; there was no reason to linger. Ever dutiful to custom, Lycomedes came to bid us farewell. The three of us stood together stiffly; Odysseus and Diomedes had gone ahead to the ship. They would escort us back to Phthia, where Achilles would muster his own troops. There was one more thing to be done here, and I knew Achilles did not wish to do it. Lycomedes, my mother has asked me to convey her desires to you. The faintest tremor crossed the old mans face, but he met his son-in-laws gaze. It is about the child, he said. It is. And what does she wish? the king asked, wearily. She wishes to raise him herself. She Achilles faltered before the look on the old mans face. The child will be a boy, she says. When he is weaned, she will claim him. Silence. Then Lycomedes closed his eyes. I knew he was thinking of his daughter, arms empty of both husband and child. I wish you had never come, he said. Im sorry, Achilles said. Leave me, the old king whispered. We obeyed. THE SHIP WE SAILED ON was yare, tightly made and well manned. The crew moved with a competent fleetness, the ropes gleamed with new fibers, and the masts seemed fresh as living trees. The prow piece was a beauty, the finest I had ever seen: a woman, tall, with dark hair and eyes, her hands clasped in front of her as if in contemplation. She was beautiful, but quietly soan elegant jaw, and upswept hair showing a slender neck. She had been lovingly painted, each darkness or lightness perfectly rendered. You are admiring my wife, I see. Odysseus joined us at the railing, leaning on muscular forearms. She refused at first, wouldnt let the artist near her. I had to have him follow her in secret. I think it turned out rather well, actually. A marriage for love, rare as cedars from the East. It almost made me want to like him. But I had seen his smiles too often now. Politely, Achilles asked, What is her name? Penelope, he said. Is the ship new? I asked. If he wanted to speak of his wife, I wanted to speak of something else. Very. Every last timber of it, from the best wood that Ithaca has. He slapped the railing with his large palm, as one might the flank of a horse. Bragging about your new ship again? Diomedes had joined us. His hair was lashed back with a strip of leather, and it made his face look sharper even than usual. I am. Diomedes spat into the water. The king of Argos is unusually eloquent today, Odysseus commented. Achilles had not seen their game before, as I had. His eyes went back and forth between the two men. A small smile curled at the corner of his mouth. Tell me, Odysseus continued. Do you think such quick wit comes from your father having eaten that mans brains? What? Achilles mouth hung open. You dont know the tale of Mighty Tydeus, king of Argos, eater of brains? Ive heard of him. But not about thebrains. I was thinking of having the scene painted on our plates, Diomedes said. In the hall, I had taken Diomedes for Odysseus dog. But there was a keenness that hummed between the two men, a pleasure in their sparring that could come only from equals. I remembered that Diomedes was rumored to be a favorite of Athena as well. Odysseus made a face. Remind me not to dine in Argos any time soon. Diomedes laughed. It was not a pleasant sound. The kings were inclined to talk and lingered by the rail with us. They passed stories back and forth: of other sea voyages, of wars, of contests won in games long past. Achilles was an eager audience, with question after question. Where did you get this? He was pointing to the scar on Odysseus leg. Ah, Odysseus rubbed his hands together. That is a tale worth telling. Though I should speak to the captain first. He gestured to the sun, hanging ripe and low over the horizon. Well need to stop soon for camp. Ill go. Diomedes stood from where he leaned against the rail. Ive heard this one almost as many times as that sickening bed story. Your loss, Odysseus called after him. Dont mind him. His wifes a hellhound bitch, and that would sour anyones temper. Now, my wife I swear. Diomedes voice carried back up the length of the ship. If you finish that sentence, I will throw you over the side and you can swim to Troy. See? Odysseus shook his head. Sour. Achilles laughed, delighted by them both. He seemed to have forgiven their part in his unmasking, and all that came after. Now what was I saying? The scar, Achilles said, eagerly. Yes, the scar. When I was thirteen I watched him hang on the other mans words. He is too trusting. But I would not be the raven on his shoulder all the time, predicting gloom. The sun slid lower in the sky, and we drew close to the dark shadow of land where we would make camp. The ship found the harbor, and the sailors drew her up on the shore for the night. Supplies were unloadedfood and bedding and tents for the princes. We stood by the campsite that had been laid for us, a small fire and pavilion. Is all well here? Odysseus had come to stand with us. Very well, Achilles said. He smiled, his easy smile, his honest one. Thank you. Odysseus smiled in return, teeth white against his dark beard. Excellent. One tents enough, I hope? Ive heard that you prefer to share. Rooms and bedrolls both, they say. Heat and shock rushed through my face. Beside me, I heard Achilles breath stop. Come now, theres no need for shameits a common enough thing among boys. He scratched his jaw, contemplated. Though youre not really boys any longer. How old are you? Its not true, I said. The blood in my face fired my voice. It rang loudly down the beach. Odysseus raised an eyebrow. True is what men believe, and they believe this of you. But perhaps they are mistaken. If the rumor concerns you, then leave it behind when you sail to war. Achilles voice was tight and angry. It is no business of yours, Prince of Ithaca. Odysseus held up his hands. My apologies if I have offended. I merely came to wish you both good night and ensure that all was satisfactory. Prince Achilles. Patroclus. He inclined his head and turned back to his own tent. Inside the tent there was quietness between us. I had wondered when this would come. As Odysseus said, many boys took each other for lovers. But such things were given up as they grew older, unless it was with slaves or hired boys. Our men liked conquest; they did not trust a man who was conquered himself. Do not disgrace him, the goddess had said. And this is some of what she had meant. Perhaps he is right, I said. Achilles head came up, frowning. You do not think that. I do not mean I twisted my fingers. I would still be with you. But I could sleep outside, so it would not be so obvious. I do not need to attend your councils. I No. The Phthians will not care. And the others can talk all they like. I will still be Aristos Achaion. Best of the Greeks. Your honor could be darkened by it. Then it is darkened. His jaw shot forward, stubborn. They are fools if they let my glory rise or fall on this. But Odysseus His eyes, green as spring leaves, met mine. Patroclus. I have given enough to them. I will not give them this. After that, there was nothing more to say. THE NEXT DAY, with the southern wind caught in our sail, we found Odysseus by the prow. Prince of Ithaca, Achilles said. His voice was formal; there were none of the boyish smiles from the day before. I wish to hear you speak of Agamemnon and the other kings. I would know the men I am to join, and the princes I am to fight. Very wise, Prince Achilles. If Odysseus noticed a change, he did not comment on it. He led us to the benches at the base of the mast, below the big-bellied sail. Now, where to begin? Almost absently, he rubbed the scar on his leg. It was starker in daylight, hairless and puckered. There is Menelaus, whose wife we go to retrieve. After Helen picked him for her husband Patroclus can tell you about thathe became king of Sparta. He is known as a good man, fearless in battle and well liked in the world. Many kings have rallied to his cause, and not just those who are bound to their oaths. Such as? Achilles asked. Odysseus counted them off on his large farmers hands. Meriones, Idomeneus, Philoctetes, Ajax. Both Ajaxes, larger and lesser. One was the man I remembered from Tyndareus hall, a huge man with a shield; the other I did not know. Old King Nestor of Pylos will be there as well. Id heard the namehe had sailed with Jason in his youth, to find the Golden Fleece. He was long past his fighting days now, but brought his sons to war, and his counsel, too. Achilles face was intent, his eyes dark. And the Trojans? Priam, of course. King of Troy. The man is said to have fifty sons, all raised with a sword in their hands. Fifty sons? And fifty daughters. Hes known to be pious and much loved by the gods. His sons are famous in their own rightParis, of course, beloved of the goddess Aphrodite, and much noted for his beauty. Even the youngest, whos barely ten, is supposed to be ferocious. Troilus, I think. They have a god-born cousin who fights for them, too. Aeneas, his name is, a child of Aphrodite herself. What about Hector? Achilles eyes never left Odysseus. Priams oldest son and heir, favorite of the god Apollo. Troys mightiest defender. What does he look like? Odysseus shrugged. I dont know. They say he is large, but that is said of most heroes. Youll meet him before I do, so youll have to tell me. Achilles narrowed his eyes. Why do you say that? Odysseus made a wry face. As Im sure Diomedes will agree, I am a competent soldier but no more; my talents lie elsewhere. If I were to meet Hector in battle, I would not be bringing back news of him. You, of course, are a different matter. You will win the greatest fame from his death. My skin went cold. Perhaps I would, but I see no reason to kill him. Achilles answered coolly. Hes done nothing to me. Odysseus chuckled, as if a joke had been made. If every soldier killed only those whod personally offended him, Pelides, wed have no wars at all. He lifted an eyebrow. Though maybe its not such a bad idea. In that world, perhaps Id be Aristos Achaion, instead of you. Achilles did not answer. He had turned to look over the ships side at the waves beyond. The light fell upon his cheek, lit it to glowing. You have told me nothing of Agamemnon, he said. Yes, our mighty king of Mycenae. Odysseus leaned back again. Proud scion of the house of Atreus. His great-grandfather Tantalus was a son of Zeus. Surely youve heard his story. All knew of Tantalus eternal torment. To punish his contempt for their powers, the gods had thrown him into the deepest pit of the underworld. There they afflicted the king with perpetual thirst and hunger, while food and drink sat just out of his reach. Ive heard of him. But I never knew what his crime was, Achilles said. Well. In the days of King Tantalus, all our kingdoms were the same size, and the kings were at peace. But Tantalus grew dissatisfied with his portion, and began to take his neighbors lands by force. His holdings doubled, then doubled again, but still Tantalus was not satisfied. His success had made him proud, and having bested all men who came before him, he sought next to best the gods themselves. Not with weapons, for no man may match the gods in battle. But in trickery. He wished to prove that the gods do not know all, as they say they do. So he called his son to him, Pelops, and asked him if he wanted to help his father. Of course, Pelops said. His father smiled and drew his sword. With a single blow he slit his sons throat clean across. He carved the body into careful pieces and spitted them over the fire. My stomach heaved at the thought of the iron skewer through the boys dead flesh. When the boy was cooked, Tantalus called to his father Zeus on Olympus. Father! he said. I have prepared a feast to honor you and all your kin. Hurry, for the meat is tender still, and fresh. The gods love such feasting and came quickly to Tantalus hall. But when they arrived, the smell of the cooking meat, normally so dear, seemed to choke them. At once Zeus knew what had been done. He seized Tantalus by the legs and threw him into Tartarus, to suffer his eternal punishment. The sky was bright, and the wind brisk, but in the spell of Odysseus story I felt that we were by a fireside, with night pressing all around. Zeus then drew the pieces of the boy back together and breathed a second life into him. Pelops, though only a boy, became king of Mycenae. He was a good king, distinguished in piety and wisdom, yet many miseries afflicted his reign. Some said that the gods had cursed Tantalus line, condemning them all to violence and disaster. Pelops sons, Atreus and Thyestes, were born with their grandfathers ambition, and their crimes were dark and bloody, as his had been. A daughter raped by her father, a son cooked and eaten, all in their bitter rivalry for the throne. It is only now, by the virtue of Agamemnon and Menelaus, that their family fortune has begun to change. The days of civil war are gone, and Mycenae prospers under Agamemnons upright rule. He has won just renown for his skill with a spear and the firmness of his leadership. We are fortunate to have him as our general. I had thought Achilles was no longer listening. But he turned now, frowning. We are each generals. Of course, Odysseus agreed. But we are all going to fight the same enemy, are we not? Two dozen generals on one battlefield will be chaos and defeat. He offered a grin. You know how well we all get alongwed probably end up killing each other instead of the Trojans. Success in such a war as this comes only through men sewn to a single purpose, funneled to a single spear thrust rather than a thousand needle-pricks. You lead the Phthians, and I the Ithacans, but there must be someone who uses us each to our abilitieshe tipped a gracious hand towards Achilles however great they may be. Achilles ignored the compliment. The setting sun cut shadows into his face; his eyes were flat and hard. I come of my free will, Prince of Ithaca. I will take Agamemnons counsel, but not his orders. I would have you understand this. Odysseus shook his head. Gods save us from ourselves. Not even in battle yet, and already worrying over honors. I am not Odysseus waved a hand. Believe me, Agamemnon understands your great worth to his cause. It was he who first wished you to come. You will be welcomed to our army with all the pomp you could desire. It was not what Achilles had meant, exactly, but it was close enough. I was glad when the lookout shouted landfall up ahead. THAT EVENING, when we had set aside our dinners, Achilles lay back on the bed. What do you think of these men we will meet? I dont know. I am glad Diomedes is gone, at least. Me too. We had let the king off at Euboias northern tip, to wait for his army from Argos. I do not trust them. I suppose we will know soon enough what they are like, he said. We were silent a moment, thinking of that. Outside, we could hear the beginnings of rain, soft, barely sounding on the tent roof. Odysseus said it would storm tonight. An Aegean storm, quickly here and quickly gone. Our boat was safely beached, and tomorrow would be clear again. Achilles was looking at me. Your hair never quite lies flat here. He touched my head, just behind my ear. I dont think Ive ever told you how I like it. My scalp prickled where his fingers had been. You havent, I said. I should have. His hand drifted down to the vee at the base of my throat, drew softly across the pulse. What about this? Have I told you what I think of this, just here? No, I said. This surely, then. His hand moved across the muscles of my chest; my skin warmed beneath it. Have I told you of this? That you have told me. My breath caught a little as I spoke. And what of this? His hand lingered over my hips, drew down the line of my thigh. Have I spoken of it? You have. And this? Surely, I would not have forgotten this. His cats smile. Tell me I did not. You did not. There is this, too. His hand was ceaseless now. I know I have told you of this. I closed my eyes. Tell me again, I said. LATER, ACHILLES SLEEPS next to me. Odysseus storm has come, and the coarse fabric of the tent wall trembles with its force. I hear the stinging slap, over and over, of waves reproaching the shore. He stirs and the air stirs with him, bearing the musk-sweet smell of his body. I think: This is what I will miss. I think: I will kill myself rather than miss it. I think: How long do we have? Chapter Sixteen WE ARRIVED IN PHTHIA THE NEXT DAY. THE SUN WAS just over the meridian, and Achilles and I stood looking at the rail. Do you see that? What? As always, his eyes were sharper than mine. The shore. It looks strange. As we drew closer we saw why. It was thick with people, jostling impatiently, craning their necks towards us. And the sound: at first it seemed to come from the waves, or the ship as it cut them, a rushing roar. But it grew louder with each stroke of our oars, until we understood that it was voices, then words. Over and over, it came. Prince Achilles! Aristos Achaion! As our ship touched the beach, hundreds of hands threw themselves into the air, and hundreds of throats opened in a cheer. All other noises, the wood of the gangplank banging down on rock, the sailors commands, were lost to it. We stared, in shock. It was that moment, perhaps, that our lives changed. Not before in Scyros, nor before that still, on Pelion. But here, as we began to understand the grandness, now and always, that would follow him wherever he went. He had chosen to become a legend, and this was the beginning. He hesitated, and I touched my hand to his, where the crowd could not see it. Go, I urged him. They are waiting for you. Achilles stepped forward onto the gangplank, his arm lifted in greeting, and the crowd screamed itself hoarse. I half-feared they would swarm onto the ship, but soldiers pushed forward and lined the gangway, making a path straight through the crush. Achilles turned back to me, said something. I could not hear it, but I understood. Come with me. I nodded, and we began to walk. On either side of us, the crowd surged against the soldiers barrier. At the aisles end was Peleus, waiting for us. His face was wet, and he made no attempt to wipe aside the tears. He drew Achilles to him, held him long before he let him go. Our prince has returned! His voice was deeper than I remembered, resonant and carrying far, over the noise of the crowd. They quieted, to hear the words of their king. Before you all I offer welcome to my most beloved son, sole heir to my kingdom. He will lead you to Troy in glory; he will return home in triumph. Even there beneath the bright sun, I felt my skin go cold. He will not come home at all. But Peleus did not know this, yet. He is a man grown, and god born. Aristos Achaion! There was no time to think of it now. The soldiers were beating on their shields with their spears; the women screamed; the men howled. I caught sight of Achilles face; the look on it was stunned, but not displeased. He was standing differently, I noticed, shoulders back and legs braced. He looked older, somehow, taller even. He leaned over to say something in his fathers ear, but I could not hear what he said. A chariot was waiting; we stepped into it and watched the crowd stream behind us up the beach. Inside the palace, attendants and servants buzzed around us. We were given a moment to eat and drink what was pressed into our hands. Then we were led to the palace courtyard, where twenty-five hundred men waited for us. At our approach they lifted their square shields, shining like carapace, in salute to their new general. This, out of all of it, was perhaps the strangest: that he was their commander now. He would be expected to know them all, their names and armor and stories. He no longer belongs to me alone. If he was nervous, even I could not tell. I watched as he greeted them, spoke ringing words that made them stand up straighter. They grinned, loving every inch of their miraculous prince: his gleaming hair, his deadly hands, his nimble feet. They leaned towards him, like flowers to the sun, drinking in his luster. It was as Odysseus had said: he had light enough to make heroes of them all. WE WERE NEVER ALONE. Achilles was always needed for something his eye on draft sheets and figures, his advice on food supplies and levy lists. Phoinix, his fathers old counselor, would be accompanying us, but there were still a thousand questions for Achilles to answerhow many? how much? who will be your captains? He did what he could, then announced, I defer all the rest of such matters to the experience of Phoinix. I heard a servant girl sigh behind me. Handsome and gracious, both. He knew that I had little to do here. His face, when he turned to me, was increasingly apologetic. He was always sure to place the tablets where I could see them too, to ask my opinion. But I did not make it easy for him, standing in the back, listless and silent. Even there, I could not escape. Through every window came the constant clatter of soldiers, bragging and drilling and sharpening their spears. The Myrmidons, they had begun calling themselves, ant-men, an old nickname of honor. Another thing Achilles had had to explain to me: the legend of Zeus creating the first Phthians from ants. I watched them marching, rank on cheerful rank. I saw them dreaming of the plunder they would bring home, and the triumph. There was no such dream for us. I began to slip away. I would find a reason to linger behind as the attendants ushered him forward: an itch, or a loose strap of my shoe. Oblivious, they hurried on, turned a corner, and left me suddenly, blessedly, alone. I took the twisting corridors I had learned so many years ago and came gratefully to our empty room. There I lay on the cool stone of the floor and closed my eyes. I could not stop imagining how it would endspear-tip or swordpoint, or smashed by a chariot. The rushing, unending blood of his heart. One night in the second week, as we lay half-drowsing, I asked him: How will you tell your father? About the prophecy? The words were loud in the silence of midnight. For a moment he was still. Then he said, I do not think I will. Never? He shook his head, just the barest shadow. There is nothing he can do. It would only bring him grief. What about your mother? Wont she tell him? No, he said. It was one of the things I asked her to promise me, that last day on Scyros. I frowned. He had not told me this before. What were the other things? I saw him hesitate. But we did not lie to each other; we never had. I asked her to protect you, he said. After. I stared at him, dry-mouthed. What did she say? Another silence. Then, so quietly I could imagine the dull red shame of his cheeks, he answered, She said no. Later, when he slept, and I lay wakeful and watching under the stars, I thought of this. Knowing that he had asked warmed meit chased away some of the coldness of the days here in the palace, when he was wanted every moment and I was not. As for the goddesss answer, I did not care. I would have no need of her. I did not plan to live after he was gone. SIX WEEKS PASSEDthe six weeks that it took to organize soldiers, to equip a fleet, to pack up food and clothing to last the length of the wara year perhaps, or two. Sieges were always long. Peleus insisted that Achilles take only the best. He paid for a small fortune in armor, more than six men would need. There were hammered-bronze breastplates, graven with lions and a rising phoenix, stiff leather greaves with gold bands, horsehair plumed helms, a silver-forged sword, dozens of spearheads, and two light-wheeled chariots. With this came a four-horse team, including the pair given to Peleus by the gods at his wedding. Xanthos and Balios, they were called: Golden and Dapple, and their eyes rolled white with impatience whenever they were not free to run. He gave us also a charioteer, a boy younger than we were, but sturdily built and said to be skilled with headstrong horses. Automedon, his name was. Finally, last of all: a long spear, ash sapling peeled of bark and polished until it glowed like gray flame. From Chiron, Peleus said, handing it to his son. We bent over it, our fingers trailing its surface as if to catch the centaurs lingering presence. Such a fine gift would have taken weeks of Chirons deft shaping; he must have begun it almost the day that we left. Did he know, or only guess at Achilles destiny? As he lay alone in his rose-colored cave, had some glimmer of prophecy come to him? Perhaps he simply assumed: a bitterness of habit, of boy after boy trained for music and medicine, and unleashed for murder. Yet this beautiful spear had been fashioned not in bitterness, but love. Its shape would fit no ones hand but Achilles, and its heft could suit no ones strength but his. And though the point was keen and deadly, the wood itself slipped under our fingers like the slender oiled strut of a lyre. AT LAST THE DAY for our departure came. Our ship was a beauty, finer even than Odysseussleek and slim as a knifepoint, meant to cut the sea. It rode low in the water, heavy with stores of food and supplies. And that was only the flagship. Beside it, forty-nine others, a city of wood, rolled gently in the waters of Phthias harbor. Their bright prow-pieces were a bestiary of animals and nymphs and creatures half in between, and their masts stood as tall as the trees they had been. At the front of each of these ships, one of our new-minted captains stood at attention, saluting as we walked up the ramp to our vessel. Achilles went first, his purple cloak stirring in the breeze from the sea, then Phoinix, and me with a new cloak of my own, holding the old mans arm to steady his steps. The people cheered for us and for our soldiers, filing onto their own ships. All around us final promises were shouted: of glory, of the gold that would be stripped and brought home from Priams rich city. Peleus stood at the shores edge, one hand raised in farewell. True to his word, Achilles had not told him of the prophecy, merely hugged him tightly, as if to soak the old man into his skin. I had embraced him too, those thin, wiry limbs. I thought, This is what Achilles will feel like when he is old. And then I remembered: he will never be old. The ships boards were still sticky with new resin. We leaned over the railing to wave our last farewell, the sun-warm wood pressed against our bellies. The sailors heaved up the anchor, square and chalky with barnacles, and loosened the sails. Then they took their seats at the oars that fringed the boat like eyelashes, waiting for the count. The drums began to beat, and the oars lifted and fell, taking us to Troy.

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