فصل 06

کتاب: افسانه آکیلیس ( آشیل) / فصل 6

فصل 06

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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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 I’m 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 mother’s 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 don’t 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 father’s 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 don’t know. I can’t 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 don’t 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 I—should 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 doesn’t 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 human’s; 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.

“I’m 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 wouldn’t. 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 don’t know,” he said at last. “I don’t know what it means, or how it happens.” He looked down at his hands, clasping his knees. “I don’t 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 doesn’t 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. “I’d like to be a hero, though. I think I could do it. If the prophecy is true. If there’s 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.

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