فصل 07

کتاب: افسانه آکیلیس ( آشیل) / فصل 7

فصل 07

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  • زمان مطالعه 15 دقیقه
  • سطح خیلی سخت

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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 myself—lanky 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 girl’s 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 king’s 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,” he’d 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. “I’m 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 girl—do 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. “I’m 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 large—all 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.


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 mouth—hot 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 mother’s 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 mother’s 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.

“I’m 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.

“I’m 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.

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