The sails of the ships fluttered in the distance, a pale sheet shimmering with the waves of the sea. A tent, larger than the rest was perched atop the golden sand; the mightiest kings and their right hands making their way to the open doors. I walked beside Achilles, exhausted from the most recent raid, feet dragging in the sun warmed sand. There were only a handful of people in the tent; Agamemnon, Menelaus, Odysseus, Diomedes, Nestor, Achilles and I surrounded a low table. I wasn’t sure why I was here, I wasn’t useful in battle.
Odysseus had begun speaking, discussing the intricate details of the plan moving forward. In an instant, the tent flapped open, a lonely soldier dripping in the rust of drying blood standing at the entrance, golden light spilling onto his figure. A spear, bloodied from battle, strapped across his back. The sharp cheeks, intelligent eyes seemed so familiar, a reflection of Achilles’ own features. There was a shine in his dark eyes, I could recognize the mischief of it from anywhere.
“I wish to seek the company of King Odysseus of Ithaca.”
Blood rose to Agamemnon’s cheeks, a common soldier interrupting the mighty kings of Greece. “You have no place to be here, soldier, neither do you have the power to command the presence of King Odysseus.”
A smirk graced his sharp features; an almost boyish charm radiated from him. He moved swiftly, leaning against a beam holding the tent high. “I’d rather like to talk to my husband, thank you.”
Odysseus nearly choked.
Agamemnon whipped his head to face Achilles, heat radiating from his head. I could feel all eyes shifting to him, an accusation still in the air.
Achilles raised his hands.”For once, I don’t believe I had a hand in this.”
I glanced around the room, at the men whose eyes had seemed to widen in shock, at Odysseus, who’d managed to cease his choking and composed himself into a somewhat presentable manner. Diomedes turned to Odysseus, muttering, “I cannot believe, after all the times you drawled on about a wife, that this man would claim to be your wife.” Odysseus stuck an elbow between Diomedes’ ribs before sitting straight once more.
Agamemnon cleared his throat before addressing the man again. “I will not bear witness to such slander befalling my most dear comrade. Come forth, soldier, and face the lashings like a man, like a proper Ithacan warrior.”
The soldier kicked off the beam, staring deep into Odysseus’ eyes; something seemed to click within him, a flash of recognition before being smothered by a cold mask. The air was electric for a short moment, none of us willing to make a move. Odysseus finally rose, speaking at last.
“You need not worry, Agamemnon. I think it‘s time I introduced you to my wife, Penelope.” Only a fool wouldn’t have known what that entailed. Gasps could be heard from around the room, mutterings of shock at the sight of a woman fighting in the war rang throughout.
The soldier-Penelope- stood tall upon a dias, short hair ruffling in the wind; a halo formed of light graced her head. “Have I not proven myself while fighting in this war? Have I not drawn blood like the rest of the men here?” She lifted her head high. “I came here for the reason many of you have. To ensure glory for the Greeks, to return Helen to her rightful place beside Prince Menelaus.” She made eye contact with Odysseus for the briefest moment, just short enough to remain unnoticed by the rest of the soldiers.
A wave of familiarity hit me, the scene displayed in front of me achingly similar to the moment in Scyros. Two souls imaging the ragged tear left by the ocean separating them, an unbearable longing left by a war of an indefinite amount. Perhaps it wasn’t too difficult to believe that Penelope would have blended with the rest of the Ithacan men, unable to bear the thought of her husband so far. After all, I did the same for Achilles; I would repeat the same choice without changing a moment between us.
Months passed, then years, the shore of Troy becoming a home for us; battle hardened soldiers milling through streets. I had claimed a war prize a while ago, or rather had told Achilles to do so. His hair had been curling in the salty wind of the shore, the color of spun gold floating in the sea breeze. Achilles had taken to keeping his distance, aware of the pain he’d caused the Anatolian girl.
Briseis, she’d told me, was her name. We grew close through the years, Achilles, Briseis, and I, though it was evident she preferred the company of Penelope. She’d often grace the camp with her presence, still dressed in the clothing of a common man; it had been the only way Agamemnon would allow Penelope to continue fighting. They were close, both equipped with a quick wit that rivaled most men in the camp, sharp minds constantly inventing new weaponry; weaponry far more advanced than neither Trojans nor Greeks had ever seen. Odysseus, Achilles, and I joined them on occasion, hammering together planks of wood and sketching diagrams of a most dangerous weapon.
It was an improvement of the Katapeltēs . Down hurl. Named for its excessive speed and fiery reach, a godly status amongst weaponry. Briseis and Penelope had approached it with keen eyes, examining the methods used to launch hard rock into the unsuspecting heads of warriors.
Penelope recounted tales of flaming barrels of honeyed wine, how the flames would lick the sides of the wood, consuming all. The destruction of such a combination, of katapeltēs and fires, would be unimaginable, revolutionary. And so, we built; each day, battle ridden, Odysseus and Achilles would come back to assist Briseis, Penelope, and I, perfecting the weapon until no one, Greek or Trojan, would not quiver before the powerful beauty of it.
That night, Achilles came back to our tent an hour late, smelling of the sea. I knew he was talking to his mom as he always did, facing her cold divinity. I felt him settle beside me. I turned to face him, staring into the deep green eyes and golden hair I’d fallen in love with in our youth.
“What did your mom tell you?” I asked; the question as steady as the waves crashing against the shore even after all this time.
Achilles shifted, a troubled expression crossed his face. At last, his eyes settled on mine, shaken. “The gods are stirring,” he said, simply. “My mother seemed confused, puzzled at the events that had occurred since the start of the war. ‘This isn’t how it was meant to be,’ she’d said. The battle was meant to be far from over, and yet, she feels like there’s been a shift in prophecy.”
A shift in prophecy . The thought rang in my head, all consuming. Perhaps this could mean hope for us, for Achilles; if the prophecies were shifting, perhaps Achilles would survive this war. I enjoyed the thought, rolling it between my mind, soaking in the light airiness surrounding it. Perhaps Achilles could live after all.
I slept more soundly than I had in years that night, clutching onto the new hope that presented itself.
The final battle approached soon after that, Trojans and Greeks meeting on an open field near the walls of the grand city of Troy. Flaming rocks flew from the newly perfected katapeltēs, mixing the brown-green grass with the melting flesh of its victims. Briseis and Penelope and the rest of the Anatolian farm-girls manned the deadly mass of wood and metal, dousing flammable liquid onto large rocks to create a fiery death for any unfortunate enough to be hit by one.
The screams of pain drifted into the background, a grounding lull, almost like a song. Blood and bones and flesh colored the ground a terrifyingly beautiful image. Perhaps in another life, I would have been one of them; my blood pooling on the same grass where others lay dead. But this was not that life.
I watched in horror, delight, I wasn’t quite sure what I felt any more, maybe a mix of both.
The battle lasted for hours on end, the blood orange of the setting sun lighting the gruesome battleground of corpses and blood and fire. And then it was over. I tended the wounded the best I could, recollecting everything Chiron had told me on Pelion. It seemed so distant now, Pelion, after 6 years of never ending battle. I glanced around at the soldiers I’d grown to know over the years, the brave men and women who’d risked their lives to be here, today, and I could not imagine how impossibly lucky we were to be alive at the war’s end.
A week passed before the Greeks sailed, the dead buried in their respective tombs, and the town we’d called home dismantled in the matter of mere days. I watched as the evidence of the camp washed away, living only in our memories. Achilles and I boarded Odysseus’ ship, a sign of camaraderie after years of animosity. Briseis and Penelope joined us, of course, leaning into the wooded edge of the ship.
“I cannot wait to see Telemachus once more,” Penelope was saying, hair gleaming in the sun. “Imagine how much he must have grown during the war!”
Odysseus nodded in agreement. “It has been far too long, I’m rather envious of the servants you left him with.”
Penelope shoved him, though there was a smile on both their faces.
I turned to Achilles, a similar smile on my own face. “What do you say Achilles, Briseis? Shall we rescue young Nepotolemus from his watery prison and raise him as mortal? After all, there likely will not be another war anytime soon.” I’m not sure why I said it, but I did not feel regret either, only a giddy feeling, a lightness in my chest.
Achilles swung an arm around me, a smile as bright as the sun at dawn spreading on his face.
Briseis smiled, placing an elbow on the bow of the ship. “Here’s to hoping we reach Greece quickly, first.”
I couldn’t help but remember how impossibly lucky we all were, how the stars had aligned in a way in which we were happy, together.
Perhaps in another life, Penelope and Briseis wouldn’t have met, wouldn’t have invented such a powerful weapon to end this horrid war. Perhaps Penelope would have been dragged from the camp by Agamemnon, unwilling to accept her among the men, or missed the boat departing from Ithaca a mere second too late. Perhaps Hector would have died on the battlefield that day, Achilles soon behind him and me following, even to death. But that didn’t seem to matter now, none of it did. Because the gods were wrong and we were sailing to Greece as victors.