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Not Her Story

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There were many stories about Achilles and Patroclus. Briseis knew none of them when she was captured.

All she knew was that this war had nothing to do with her, yet it had cost her her husband, her city and her freedom. When Achilles had come to her for the first time, she'd still been frozen inside, her arms still remembering the last time she'd held Mynes, her nostrils still full with the stench of the sacking of Lyrnessus. Her mind fled somewhere else as he took her, the sudden fall from the king's daughter-in-law to slave too much for her to understand.

When one of the older slaves in Achilles' tent had shown her her new duties the next day, she'd said in a kindly voice, meant to be comforting, "At least he's young and handsome. And he's not violent in bed. You could have done worse, child."

It hadn't felt like it at the time, but as time passed Briseis realised that she'd been right. The camp of the Greeks was filled with warriors far from their homes, from their wives, years of war making bloodlust second-nature to most of them. It didn't lessen the ache Briseis still felt whenever she remembered her former life, but she came to appreciate the strict discipline her new master enforced among his Myrmidons. No one except for him ever laid a hand on her, and when he did he behaved almost courteously. Closing her eyes, she could sometimes imagine he was her husband, back when Mynes had been the stranger she'd been given to in marriage. Hers had not been a love match.

It took longer for her to realise that Achilles' behaviour was not due to any particular gentleness in his character.

On the contrary, after the first real battle, not just a skirmish, Briseis shrank back at the sight of him. She'd heard of Achilles' unmatched might, yet she understood only now that fighting was his purpose, that he'd honed himself into a weapon everyone was right to fear. He certainly scared Briseis, and although she knew that it was her duty to look after her master, she hesitated to go to him, afraid of the uncontrolled violence that was still radiating from him.

As she lingered at the entrance to the tent, she realised Achilles wasn't alone. She'd seen Patroclus before of course, never far from his commander's side, the one person around whom Achilles' laugh seemed to come easily. This was especially apparent when they practised their sword play or wrestling, circling each other with wide grins on their faces. Achilles always won in the end, but even Briseis could see that their fighting resembled nothing more than a well-practised dance, their bodies recognising each other joyfully. She realised only now, gauging whether it was safe to enter, how far that recognition went.

Briseis knew about the love between men and youths, of course, yet because Achilles and Patroclus were both grown men it had never occurred to her that they might still play bed games, the way she'd been told was normal among many younger men. If it had, she would likely have assumed Achilles to be the erastes - after all, despite his boyish looks, he was higher in rank, stronger, the son of an immortal.

Instead the two men seemed just as perfectly matched in this as they were in their fight practice. They collided with each other with a force that sent shivers down Briseis' spine, violence turned into hard kisses and firm grasps. It was nothing that Briseis would want for herself, but between these two it seemed perfect.

Quietly, she moved back, leaving them to their love. Because that was what it was, she grew more and more certain as she watched them more closely from that day on. Achilles might be gentle with her, yet it was still rape, not love. What he shared with Patroclus, however, was like a force of nature, as if neither man was quite himself unless they were together.

Patroclus only spoke to her one time. He was as much a warrior as his liege, but without the dark current that seethed under Achilles' invulnerable skin. When he promised, "He'll make you his bride once this is over," Briseis believed him and took it as the consolation it was meant to be. At least as the wife of Achilles she'd be inviolate, untouchable.

Already Achilles' reputation protected her during the days trapped in Agamemnon's tent, sparing her the Mycenean king's attentions, because despite all his posturing even he knew to be afraid of the Myrmidon hero's wrath. Briseis wasn't, not anymore, not as long as Patroclus was there, at Achilles' side, in his heart.

Therefore her blood ran cold when she heard he had fallen, and her eyes itched with unbidden tears. What would become of her, now that Achilles had lost his anchor, his other half? Would Achilles' violence spill over when he came to her, without Patroclus to reign him in?

She never found out.

Although supposedly all of this had been caused by a quarrel over her, when she was returned like a consolation price, Achilles had no taste for anything except grief and revenge. She was not surprised when he died at the end, in the midst of victory for the Greeks. Truthfully, he'd been half-dead already. Preparing her master for the afterlife, the tears she cried were for the kinder fate Patroclus' death had robbed her of as well as for Achilles, whose ashes would soon be mixed with those of his lover. Just like Briseis herself, he had turned out to be nothing but another victim of this war, although one that was unlikely to be forgotten.

Growing old, a slave in some Myrmidon's house, many asked Briseis about her time in the Trojan War. Briseis answered willingly, telling them of the famed Achilles, and of Patroclus, his companion. What was she but a footnote in their story, after all?