فصل 09کتاب: افسانه آکیلیس ( آشیل) / فصل 9
- زمان مطالعه 19 دقیقه
- سطح متوسط
دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»
این فصل را میتوانید به بهترین شکل و با امکانات عالی در اپلیکیشن «زیبوک» بخوانید
متن انگلیسی فصل
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 goat’s 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 Chiron’s 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 other’s 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 monster’s 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 snake’s 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.
“You do not mind that the snake gets all the credit?”
Chiron’s 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 mother’s 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 Pelion’s 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 cave’s 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 night’s 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 animal’s 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 hawk’s 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 ship’s 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.
“I’m 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 I’d dared to.
A noise behind me, and then Chiron’s 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.
Chiron’s 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 cave’s 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. “I’m 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 cave’s 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 it—a 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 Chiron’s furs, and were glad of the cave’s 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 river’s 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.
Chiron’s 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 boy’s 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 welcome—new 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 useful—cloaks stiff with inlaid gold that would give the owner’s 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 father’s gifts, the servants and their gazes, the whispering gossip they would bring back to the palace.
“No,” I said.
“I don’t either,” he said. “I thought I might, but I don’t.”
The days turned, and the months, and two years passed.
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