فصل 30

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فصل 30

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Chapter Thirty

ACHILLES WATCHED ME APPROACH, RUNNING SO HARD my breaths carried the taste of blood onto my tongue. I wept, my chest shaking, my throat rubbed raw. He would be hated now. No one would remember his glory, or his honesty, or his beauty; all his gold would be turned to ashes and ruin.

“What has happened?” he asked. His brow was drawn deep in concern. Did he truly not know?

“They are dying,” I choked out. “All of them. The Trojans are in the camp; they are burning the ships. Ajax is wounded, there is no one left but you to save them.”

His face had gone cold as I spoke. “If they are dying, it is Agamemnon’s fault. I told him what would happen if he took my honor.”

“Last night he offered—”

He made a noise in his throat. “He offered nothing. Some tripods, some armor. Nothing to make right his insult, or to admit his wrong. I have saved him time and again, his army, his life.” His voice was thick with barely restrained anger. “Odysseus may lick his boots, and Diomedes, and all the rest, but I will not.” “He is a disgrace.” I clutched at him, like a child. “I know it, and all the men know it too. You must forget him. It is as you said; he will doom himself. But do not blame them for his fault. Do not let them die, because of his madness. They have loved you, and honored you.” “Honored me? Not one of them stood with me against Agamemnon. Not one of them spoke for me.” The bitterness in his tone shocked me. “They stood by and let him insult me. As if he were right! I toiled for them for ten years, and their repayment is to discard me.” His eyes had gone dark and distant. “They have made their choice. I shed no tears for them.” From down the beach the crack of a mast falling. The smoke was thicker now. More ships on fire. More men dead. They would be cursing him, damning him to the darkest chains of our underworld.

“They were foolish, yes, but they are still our people!”

“The Myrmidons are our people. The rest can save themselves.” He would have walked away, but I held him to me.

“You are destroying yourself. You will not be loved for this, you will be hated, and cursed. Please, if you—”

“Patroclus.” The word was sharp, as he had never spoken it. His eyes bore down on me, his voice like the judge’s sentence. “I will not do this. Do not ask again.”

I stared at him, straight as a spear stabbing the sky. I could not find the words that would reach him. Perhaps there were none. The gray sand, the gray sky, and my mouth, parched and bare. It felt like the end of all things. He would not fight. The men would die, and his honor with it. No mitigation, no mercy. Yet, still, my mind scrabbled in its corners, desperate, hoping to find the thing that might soften him.

I knelt, and pressed his hands to my face. My cheeks flowed with tears unending, like water over dark rock. “For me then,” I said. “Save them for me. I know what I am asking of you. But I ask it. For me.”

He looked down at me, and I saw the pull my words had on him, the struggle in his eyes. He swallowed.

“Anything else,” he said. “Anything. But not this. I cannot.”

I looked at the stone of his beautiful face, and despaired. “If you love me—”

“No!” His face was stiff with tension. “I cannot! If I yield, Agamemnon can dishonor me whenever he wishes. The kings will not respect me, nor the men!” He was breathless, as though he had run far. “Do you think I wish them all to die? But I cannot. I cannot! I will not let him take this from me!” “Then do something else. Send the Myrmidons at least. Send me in your place. Put me in your armor, and I will lead the Myrmidons. They will think it is you.” The words shocked us both. They seemed to come through me, not from me, as though spoken straight from a god’s mouth. Yet I seized on them, as a drowning man. “Do you see? You will not have to break your oath, yet the Greeks will be saved.” He stared at me. “But you cannot fight,” he said.

“I will not have to! They are so frightened of you, if I show myself, they will run.”

“No,” he said. “It is too dangerous.”

“Please.” I gripped him. “It isn’t. I will be all right. I won’t go near them. Automedon will be with me, and the rest of the Myrmidons. If you cannot fight, you cannot. But save them this way. Let me do this. You said you would grant me anything else.” “But—”

I did not let him answer. “Think! Agamemnon will know you defy him still, but the men will love you. There is no fame greater than this—you will prove to them all that your phantom is more powerful than Agamemnon’s whole army.”

He was listening.

“It will be your mighty name that saves them, not your spear arm. They will laugh at Agamemnon’s weakness, then. Do you see?”

I watched his eyes, saw the reluctance giving way, inch by inch. He was imagining it, the Trojans fleeing from his armor, outflanking Agamemnon. The men, falling at his feet in gratitude.

He held up his hand. “Swear to me,” he said. “Swear to me that if you go, you will not fight them. You will stay with Automedon in the chariot and let the Myrmidons go in front of you.”

“Yes.” I pressed my hand to his. “Of course. I am not mad. To frighten them, that is all.” I was drenched and giddy. I had found a way through the endless corridors of his pride and fury. I would save the men; I would save him from himself. “You will let me?” He hesitated another moment, his green eyes searching mine. Then, slowly, he nodded.

ACHILLES KNELT, buckling me in, his fingers so swift that I could not follow them, only feel the quick, pulling cinches of tightening belts. Bit by bit, he assembled me: the bronze breastplate and greaves, tight against my skin, the leather underskirt. As he worked, he instructed me in a voice that was low and quick and constant. I must not fight, I must not leave Automedon, nor the other Myrmidons. I was to stay in the chariot and flee at the first sign of danger; I could chase the Trojans back to Troy but not try to fight them there. And most of all, most of all, I must stay away from the walls of the city and the archers that perched there, ready to pick off Greeks who came too close.

“It will not be like before,” he said. “When I am there.”

“I know.” I shifted my shoulders. The armor was stiff and heavy and unyielding. “I feel like Daphne,” I told him, barked up in her new laurel skin. He did not laugh, only handed me two spears, points polished and gleaming. I took them, the blood beginning to rush in my ears. He was speaking again, more advice, but I did not hear it. I was listening to the drumbeat of my own impatient heart. “Hurry,” I remember saying.

Last, the helmet to cover my dark hair. He turned a polished bronze mirror towards me. I stared at myself in armor I knew as well as my own hands, the crest on the helmet, the silvered sword hanging from the waist, the baldric of hammered gold. All of it unmistakable, and instantly recognizable. Only my eyes felt like my own, larger and darker than his. He kissed me, catching me up in a soft, opened warmth that breathed sweetness into my throat. Then he took my hand and we went outside to the Myrmidons.

They were lined up, armored and suddenly fearsome, their layers of metal flashing like the bright wings of cicadas. Achilles led me to the chariot already yoked to its three-horse team—don’t leave the chariot, don’t throw your spears—and I understood that he was afraid that I would give myself away if I actually fought. “I will be all right,” I told him. And turned my back, to fit myself into the chariot, to settle my spears and set my feet.

Behind me, he spoke a moment to the Myrmidons, waving a hand over his shoulder at the smoking decks of ships, the black ash that swarmed upwards to the sky, and the roiling mass of bodies that tussled at their hulls. “Bring him back to me,” he told them. They nodded and clattered their spears on their shields in approval. Automedon stepped in front of me, taking the reins. We all knew why the chariot was necessary. If I ran down the beach, my steps would never be mistaken for his.

The horses snorted and blew, feeling their charioteer behind them. The wheels gave a little lurch, and I staggered, my spears rattling. “Balance them,” he told me. “It will be easier.” Everyone waited as I awkwardly transferred one spear to my left hand, swiping my helmet askew as I did so. I reached up to fix it.

“I will be fine,” I told him. Myself.

“Are you ready?” Automedon asked.

I took a last look at Achilles, standing by the side of the chariot, almost forlorn. I reached for his hand, and he gripped it. “Be careful,” he said.

“I will.”

There was more to say, but for once we did not say it. There would be other times for speaking, tonight and tomorrow and all the days after that. He let go of my hand.

I turned back to Automedon. “I’m ready,” I told him. The chariot began to roll, Automedon guiding it towards the packed sand nearer the surf. I felt when we reached it, the wheels catching, the car smoothing out. We turned towards the ships, picking up speed. I felt the wind snatch at my crest, and I knew that the horsehair was streaming behind me. I lifted my spears.

Automedon crouched down low so that I would be seen first. Sand flew from our churning wheels, and the Myrmidons clattered behind us. My breaths had begun to come in gasps, and I gripped the spear-shafts till my fingers hurt. We flew past the empty tents of Idomeneus and Diomedes, around the beach’s curve. And, finally, the first clumps of men. Their faces blurred by, but I heard their shouts of recognition and sudden joy. “Achilles! It is Achilles!” I felt a fierce and flooding relief. It is working.

Now, two hundred paces away, rushing towards me, were the ships and the armies, heads turning at the noise of our wheels and the Myrmidon feet beating in unison against the sand. I took a breath and squared my shoulders inside the grip of my—his—armor. And then, head tilted back, spear raised, feet braced against the sides of the chariot, praying that we would not hit a bump that would throw me, I screamed, a wild frenzied sound that shook my whole body. A thousand faces, Trojan and Greek, turned to me in frozen shock and joy. With a crash, we were among them.

I screamed again, his name boiling up out of my throat, and heard an answering cry from the embattled Greeks, an animal howl of hope. The Trojans began to break apart before me, scrambling backwards with gratifying terror. I bared my teeth in triumph, blood flooding my veins, the fierceness of my pleasure as I saw them run. But the Trojans were brave men, and not all of them ran. My hand lifted, hefting my spear in threat.

Perhaps it was the armor, molding me. Perhaps it was the years of watching him. But the position my shoulder found was not the old wobbling awkwardness. It was higher, stronger, a perfect balance. And then, before I could think about what I did, I threw—a long straight spiral into the breast of a Trojan. The torch that he had been waving at Idomeneus’ ship slipped and guttered in the sand as his body pitched backwards. If he bled, if his skull split to show his brain, I did not see it. Dead, I thought.

Automedon’s mouth was moving, his eyes wide. Achilles does not want you to fight, I guessed he was saying. But already my other spear hefted itself into my hand. I can do this. The horses veered again, and men scattered from our path. That feeling again, of pure balance, of the world poised and waiting. My eye caught on a Trojan, and I threw, feeling the swipe of wood against my thumb. He fell, pierced through the thigh in a blow I knew had shattered bone. Two. All around me men screamed Achilles’ name.

I gripped Automedon’s shoulder. “Another spear.” He hesitated a moment, then pulled on the reins, slowing so I could lean over the side of the rattling chariot to claim one stuck in a body. The shaft seemed to leap into my hand. My eyes were already searching for the next face.

The Greeks began to rally—Menelaus killing a man beside me, one of Nestor’s sons banging his spear against my chariot as if for luck before he threw at a Trojan prince’s head. Desperately, the Trojans scrambled for their chariots, in full retreat. Hector ran among them, crying out for order.

He hesitated another moment, his green eyes searching mine. Then, slowly, he nodded.

ACHILLES KNELT, buckling me in, his fingers so swift that I could not follow them, only feel the quick, pulling cinches of tightening belts. Bit by bit, he assembled me: the bronze breastplate and greaves, tight against my skin, the leather underskirt. As he worked, he instructed me in a voice that was low and quick and constant. I must not fight, I must not leave Automedon, nor the other Myrmidons. I was to stay in the chariot and flee at the first sign of danger; I could chase the Trojans back to Troy but not try to fight them there. And most of all, most of all, I must stay away from the walls of the city and the archers that perched there, ready to pick off Greeks who came too close.

“It will not be like before,” he said. “When I am there.”

“I know.” I shifted my shoulders. The armor was stiff and heavy and unyielding. “I feel like Daphne,” I told him, barked up in her new laurel skin. He did not laugh, only handed me two spears, points polished and gleaming. I took them, the blood beginning to rush in my ears. He was speaking again, more advice, but I did not hear it. I was listening to the drumbeat of my own impatient heart. “Hurry,” I remember saying.

Last, the helmet to cover my dark hair. He turned a polished bronze mirror towards me. I stared at myself in armor I knew as well as my own hands, the crest on the helmet, the silvered sword hanging from the waist, the baldric of hammered gold. All of it unmistakable, and instantly recognizable. Only my eyes felt like my own, larger and darker than his. He kissed me, catching me up in a soft, opened warmth that breathed sweetness into my throat. Then he took my hand and we went outside to the Myrmidons.

They were lined up, armored and suddenly fearsome, their layers of metal flashing like the bright wings of cicadas. Achilles led me to the chariot already yoked to its three-horse team—don’t leave the chariot, don’t throw your spears—and I understood that he was afraid that I would give myself away if I actually fought. “I will be all right,” I told him. And turned my back, to fit myself into the chariot, to settle my spears and set my feet.

Behind me, he spoke a moment to the Myrmidons, waving a hand over his shoulder at the smoking decks of ships, the black ash that swarmed upwards to the sky, and the roiling mass of bodies that tussled at their hulls. “Bring him back to me,” he told them. They nodded and clattered their spears on their shields in approval. Automedon stepped in front of me, taking the reins. We all knew why the chariot was necessary. If I ran down the beach, my steps would never be mistaken for his.

The horses snorted and blew, feeling their charioteer behind them. The wheels gave a little lurch, and I staggered, my spears rattling. “Balance them,” he told me. “It will be easier.” Everyone waited as I awkwardly transferred one spear to my left hand, swiping my helmet askew as I did so. I reached up to fix it.

“I will be fine,” I told him. Myself.

“Are you ready?” Automedon asked.

I took a last look at Achilles, standing by the side of the chariot, almost forlorn. I reached for his hand, and he gripped it. “Be careful,” he said.

“I will.”

There was more to say, but for once we did not say it. There would be other times for speaking, tonight and tomorrow and all the days after that. He let go of my hand.

I turned back to Automedon. “I’m ready,” I told him. The chariot began to roll, Automedon guiding it towards the packed sand nearer the surf. I felt when we reached it, the wheels catching, the car smoothing out. We turned towards the ships, picking up speed. I felt the wind snatch at my crest, and I knew that the horsehair was streaming behind me. I lifted my spears.

Automedon crouched down low so that I would be seen first. Sand flew from our churning wheels, and the Myrmidons clattered behind us. My breaths had begun to come in gasps, and I gripped the spear-shafts till my fingers hurt. We flew past the empty tents of Idomeneus and Diomedes, around the beach’s curve. And, finally, the first clumps of men. Their faces blurred by, but I heard their shouts of recognition and sudden joy. “Achilles! It is Achilles!” I felt a fierce and flooding relief. It is working.

Now, two hundred paces away, rushing towards me, were the ships and the armies, heads turning at the noise of our wheels and the Myrmidon feet beating in unison against the sand. I took a breath and squared my shoulders inside the grip of my—his—armor. And then, head tilted back, spear raised, feet braced against the sides of the chariot, praying that we would not hit a bump that would throw me, I screamed, a wild frenzied sound that shook my whole body. A thousand faces, Trojan and Greek, turned to me in frozen shock and joy. With a crash, we were among them.

I screamed again, his name boiling up out of my throat, and heard an answering cry from the embattled Greeks, an animal howl of hope. The Trojans began to break apart before me, scrambling backwards with gratifying terror. I bared my teeth in triumph, blood flooding my veins, the fierceness of my pleasure as I saw them run. But the Trojans were brave men, and not all of them ran. My hand lifted, hefting my spear in threat.

Perhaps it was the armor, molding me. Perhaps it was the years of watching him. But the position my shoulder found was not the old wobbling awkwardness. It was higher, stronger, a perfect balance. And then, before I could think about what I did, I threw—a long straight spiral into the breast of a Trojan. The torch that he had been waving at Idomeneus’ ship slipped and guttered in the sand as his body pitched backwards. If he bled, if his skull split to show his brain, I did not see it. Dead, I thought.

Automedon’s mouth was moving, his eyes wide. Achilles does not want you to fight, I guessed he was saying. But already my other spear hefted itself into my hand. I can do this. The horses veered again, and men scattered from our path. That feeling again, of pure balance, of the world poised and waiting. My eye caught on a Trojan, and I threw, feeling the swipe of wood against my thumb. He fell, pierced through the thigh in a blow I knew had shattered bone. Two. All around me men screamed Achilles’ name.

I gripped Automedon’s shoulder. “Another spear.” He hesitated a moment, then pulled on the reins, slowing so I could lean over the side of the rattling chariot to claim one stuck in a body. The shaft seemed to leap into my hand. My eyes were already searching for the next face.

The Greeks began to rally—Menelaus killing a man beside me, one of Nestor’s sons banging his spear against my chariot as if for luck before he threw at a Trojan prince’s head. Desperately, the Trojans scrambled for their chariots, in full retreat. Hector ran among them, crying out for order. He gained his chariot, began to lead the men to the gate, and then over the narrow causeway that bridged the trench, and onto the plain beyond.

“Go! Follow them!”

Automedon’s face was full of reluctance, but he obeyed, turning the horses in pursuit. I grabbed more spears from bodies— half-dragging a few corpses behind me before I could jerk the points free—and chased the Trojan chariots now choking the door. I saw their drivers looking back fearfully, frantically, at Achilles reborn phoenix-like from his sulking rage.

Not all the horses were as nimble as Hector’s, and many panicked chariots skidded off the causeway to founder in the trench, leaving their drivers to flee on foot. We followed, Achilles’ godlike horses racing with their legs outflung into the palm of the air. I might have stopped then, with the Trojans scattering back to their city. But there was a line of rallied Greeks behind me screaming my name. His name. I did not stop.

I pointed, and Automedon swept the horses out in an arc, lashing them onward. We passed the fleeing Trojans and curved around to meet them as they ran. My spears aimed, and aimed again, splitting open bellies and throats, lungs and hearts. I am relentless, unerring, skirting buckles and bronze to tear flesh that spills red like the jagged puncture of a wineskin. From my days in the white tent I know every frailty they have. It is so easy.

From the roiling melee bursts a chariot. The driver is huge, his long hair flying behind as he lashes his horses to foam and froth. His dark eyes are fixed on me, his mouth twisted in rage. His armor fits him like the skin fits the seal. It is Sarpedon.

His arm lifts, to aim his spear at my heart. Automedon screams something, yanks at the reins. There is a breath of wind over my shoulder. The spear’s sharp point buries itself in the ground behind me.

Sarpedon shouts, curse or challenge I do not know. I heft my spear, as if in a dream. This is the man who has killed so many Greeks. It was his hands that tore open the gate.

“No!” Automedon catches at my arm. With his other hand he lashes the horses, and we tear up the field. Sarpedon turns his chariot, angling it away, and for a moment I think he has given up. Then he angles in again and lifts his spear.

The world explodes. The chariot bucks into the air, and the horses scream. I am thrown onto the grass, and my head smacks the ground. My helmet falls forward into my eyes, and I shove it back. I see our horses, tangled in each other; one has fallen, pierced with a spear. I do not see Automedon.

From afar Sarpedon comes, his chariot driving relentlessly towards me. There is no time to flee; I stand to meet him. I lift my spear, gripping it as though it is a snake I will strangle. I imagine how Achilles would do it, feet planted to earth, back muscles twisting. He would see a gap in that impenetrable armor, or he would make one. But I am not Achilles. What I see is something else, my only chance. They are almost upon me. I cast the spear.

It hits his belly, where the armor plate is thick. But the ground is uneven, and I have thrown it with all of my strength. It does not pierce him, but it knocks him back a single step. It is enough. His weight tilts the chariot, and he tumbles from it. The horses plunge past me and leave him behind, motionless on the ground. I clutch my sword-hilt, terrified that he will rise and kill me; then I see the unnatural, broken angle of his neck.

I have killed a son of Zeus, but it is not enough. They must think it is Achilles who has done it. The dust has already settled on Sarpedon’s long hair, like pollen on the underside of a bee. I retrieve my spear and stab it down with all my strength into his chest. The blood spurts, but weakly. There is no heartbeat to push it forward. When I pull the spear out, it dislodges slowly, like a bulb from cracking earth. That is what they will think has killed him.

I hear the shouts, men swarming towards me, in chariots and on foot. Lycians, who see the blood of their king on my spear. Automedon’s hand seizes my shoulder, and he drags me onto the chariot. He has cut the dead horse free, righted the wheels. He is gasping, white with fear. “We must go.” Automedon gives the eager horses their head, and we race across the fields from the pursuing Lycians. There is a wild, iron taste in my mouth. I do not even notice how close I have come to death. My head buzzes with a red savagery, blooming like the blood from Sarpedon’s chest.

In our escape, Automedon has driven us close to Troy. The walls loom up at me, huge cut stones, supposedly settled by the hands of gods, and the gates, giant and black with old bronze. Achilles had warned me to beware of archers on the towers, but the charge and rout has happened so quickly, no one has returned yet. Troy is utterly unguarded. A child could take it now.

The thought of Troy’s fall pierces me with vicious pleasure. They deserve to lose their city. It is their fault, all of it. We have lost ten years, and so many men, and Achilles will die, because of them. No more.

I leap from the chariot and run to the walls. My fingers find slight hollows in the stone, like blind eye-sockets. Climb. My feet seek infinitesimal chips in the god-cut rocks. I am not graceful, but scrabbling, my hands clawing against the stone before they cling. Yet I am climbing. I will crack their uncrackable city, and capture Helen, the precious gold yolk within. I imagine dragging her out under my arm, dumping her before Menelaus. Done. No more men will have to die for her vanity.

Patroclus. A voice like music, above me. I look up to see a man leaning on the walls as if sunning, dark hair to his shoulders, a quiver and bow slung casually around his torso. Startled, I slip a little, my knees scraping the rock. He is piercingly beautiful, smooth skin and a finely cut face that glows with something more than human. Black eyes. Apollo.

He smiles, as if this was all he had wanted, my recognition. Then he reaches down, his arm impossibly spanning the long distance between my clinging form and his feet. I close my eyes and feel only this: a finger, hooking the back of my armor, plucking me off and dropping me below.

I land heavily, my armor clattering. My mind blurs a little from the impact, from the frustration of finding the ground so suddenly beneath me. I thought I was climbing. But there is the wall before me, stubbornly unclimbed. I set my jaw and begin again; I will not let it defeat me. I am delirious, fevered with my dream of Helen captive in my arms. The stones are like dark waters that flow ceaselessly over something I have dropped, that I want back. I forget about the god, why I have fallen, why my feet stick in the same crevices I have already climbed. Perhaps this is all I do, I think, demented—climb walls and fall from them. And this time when I look up, the god is not smiling. Fingers scoop the fabric of my tunic and hold me, dangling. Then let me fall.

MY HEAD CRACKS the ground again, leaving me stunned and breathless. Around me a blurring crowd of faces gathers. Have they come to help me? And then I feel: the prickling chill of air against my sweat-dampened forehead, the loosening of my dark hair, freed at last. My helmet. I see it beside me, overturned like an empty snail shell. My armor, too, has been shaken loose, all those straps that Achilles had tied, undone by the god. It falls from me, scattering the earth, the remnants of my split, spilt shell.

The frozen silence is broken by the hoarse, angry screams of Trojans. My mind startles to life: I am unarmed and alone, and they know I am only Patroclus.

Run. I lunge to my feet. A spear flashes out, just a breath too slow. It grazes the skin of my calf, marks it with a line of red. I twist away from a reaching hand, panic loose and banging in my chest. Through the haze of terror I see a man leveling a spear at my face. Somehow I am quick enough, and it passes over me, ruffling my hair like a lover’s breath. A spear stabs towards my knees, meant to trip me. I leap it, shocked I am not dead already. I have never been so fast in all my life.

The spear that I do not see comes from behind. It pierces the skin of my back, breaks again to air beneath my ribs. I stumble, driven forward by the blow’s force, by the shock of tearing pain and the burning numbness in my belly. I feel a tug, and the spear point is gone. The blood gushes hot on my chilled skin. I think I scream.

The Trojan faces waver, and I fall. My blood runs through my fingers and onto the grass. The crowd parts, and I see a man walking towards me. He seems to come from a great distance, to descend, somehow, as if I lay in the bottom of a deep ravine. I know him. Hip bones like the cornice of a temple, his brow furrowed and stern. He does not look at the men who surround him; he walks as if he were alone on the battlefield. He is coming to kill me. Hector.

My breaths are shallow gasps that feel like new wounds tearing. Remembrance drums in me, like the pulse-beat of blood in my ears. He cannot kill me. He must not. Achilles will not let him live if he does. And Hector must live, always; he must never die, not even when he is old, not even when he is so withered that his bones slide beneath his skin like loose rocks in a stream. He must live, because his life, I think as I scrape backwards over the grass, is the final dam before Achilles’ own blood will flow.

Desperately, I turn to the men around me and scrabble at their knees. Please, I croak. Please.

But they will not look; they are watching their prince, Priam’s eldest son, and his inexorable steps towards me. My head jerks back, and I see that he is close now, his spear raised. The only sound I hear is my own heaving lungs, air pumped into my chest and pushed from it. Hector’s spear lifts over me, tipping like a pitcher. And then it falls, a spill of bright silver, towards me.

No. My hands flurry in the air like startled birds, trying to halt the spear’s relentless movement towards my belly. But I am weak as a baby against Hector’s strength, and my palms give way, unspooling in ribbons of red. The spearhead submerges in a sear of pain so great that my breath stops, a boil of agony that bursts over my whole stomach. My head drops back against the ground, and the last image I see is of Hector, leaning seriously over me, twisting his spear inside me as if he is stirring a pot. The last thing I think is: Achilles.

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