فصل 15کتاب: افسانه آکیلیس ( آشیل) / فصل 15
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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? You’ve 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 he’d 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 Agamemnon’s 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 door’s ruin. He stood. “Greetings, Thetis.”
Her gaze went to him as a snake’s 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 maiden—goddess 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 mother’s 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. Don’t 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 cliff’s 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 winter’s 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. “Hector’s death will be first,” she said. “This is all I am given to know.” 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 Greece”—she spat the words—“are 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 dress’s 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 tunic’s 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.”
“And you think that no one but me can kill Hector.”
“Yes,” I said.
“And you think to steal time from the Fates?”
“Ah.” A sly smile spread across his face; he had always loved defiance. “Well, why should I kill him? He’s 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 man’s face, but he met his son-in-law’s gaze. “It is about the child,” he said.
“And what does she wish?” the king asked, wearily.
“She wishes to raise him herself. She—” Achilles faltered before the look on the old man’s 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.
“I’m 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 so—an 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, wouldn’t 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.
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 man’s brains?”
“What?” Achilles’ mouth hung open.
“You don’t know the tale of Mighty Tydeus, king of Argos, eater of brains?”
“I’ve heard of him. But not about the—brains.”
“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. “We’ll need to stop soon for camp.” “I’ll go.” Diomedes stood from where he leaned against the rail. “I’ve heard this one almost as many times as that sickening bed story.” “Your loss,” Odysseus called after him. “Don’t mind him. His wife’s a hellhound bitch, and that would sour anyone’s 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 man’s 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 unloaded—food 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 tent’s enough, I hope? I’ve 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, there’s no need for shame—it’s a common enough thing among boys.” He scratched his jaw, contemplated. “Though you’re not really boys any longer. How old are you?” “It’s 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.”
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 that—he 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 farmer’s 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.” I’d heard the name—he 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.”
“And fifty daughters. He’s known to be pious and much loved by the gods. His sons are famous in their own right—Paris, of course, beloved of the goddess Aphrodite, and much noted for his beauty. Even the youngest, who’s 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.
“Priam’s oldest son and heir, favorite of the god Apollo. Troy’s mightiest defender.”
“What does he look like?”
Odysseus shrugged. “I don’t know. They say he is large, but that is said of most heroes. You’ll meet him before I do, so you’ll have to tell me.” Achilles narrowed his eyes. “Why do you say that?”
Odysseus made a wry face. “As I’m 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. “He’s done nothing to me.”
Odysseus chuckled, as if a joke had been made. “If every soldier killed only those who’d personally offended him, Pelides, we’d have no wars at all.” He lifted an eyebrow. “Though maybe it’s not such a bad idea. In that world, perhaps I’d be Aristos Achaion, instead of you.” Achilles did not answer. He had turned to look over the ship’s 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 you’ve 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.
“I’ve 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 son’s 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 boy’s 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 grandfather’s 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 Agamemnon’s 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 along—we’d 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 abilities”—he 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 Agamemnon’s 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 don’t know.”
“I am glad Diomedes is gone, at least.”
“Me too.” We had let the king off at Euboia’s 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 don’t think I’ve ever told you how I like it.” My scalp prickled where his fingers had been. “You haven’t,” 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?”
“And this? Surely, I would not have forgotten this.” His cat’s 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?
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