Chapter 1: The orphan, the thief, the runaway
This is the story of my death, and it begins with the darkest details of my life: I was a thief, and it's possible I never knew my father.
I was abandoned by my mother at the age of two, left under care of an orphanage ran by King Peleus of Phtia. What was revealed upon my later questioning of the staff there, is that my morher had appeared to be a well-off, although distressed woman. She had stormed into the orphanage's halls on a cold winter evening, carrying me on one of her arms and a golden-bathed lyre on the other. Such an extravagant possession, in addition to the luxurious silks of her robes, had given her position away: she was of rich origin, graceless daughter of a royal advisor, perhaps, or mistreated wife of a prince. Our territories were not particularly short on spiteful monarchs and ambitious, heartless traders.
Whatever her case, she had found herself in a tight position, and she had seen it fit to be rid of me, leaving a valuable instrument in compensation for her unexpected arrival. The staff would have had no choice but to take me, either way. That was King Peleus' number one rule when it came to running his orphanage: every child, no matter his age, rank or set of observable abilities, was to be allowed in and immediately accommodated. After all, the storerooms of the kingdom were rich with gold and silver and precious stones which could grant their care, but most importantly, the King's ambitious projects were always in need of unwanted children who could grow into indebted men to be put at his service. He intended to provide them with a home, nutritious meals and adequate training, and expected, in return of this, that had they not been adopted out by eighteen years of age, they chose either to join the kingdom's army, sacrificing their lives on the frontlines, or become a personal servant of the royal family, spending the rest of their lives among castle corridors and private offices. These options, naturally, were the only ones available: if an orphan refused to serve the king in any of the two ways presented, they were to be immediately exiled or put to death, depending on the degree of offense the king took after each betrayal.
Thus began my upbringing, solitary, uneventful, and harsh. Nothing remarkable could be said of me once my personality and skills became apparent with age: I was not strong, I could not sing, my introduction never left a lasting impression on hopeful spouses or army recruiters. Not many of my fellow orphans found me a desirable company, and I was not crowded by friends. The best that could be said of me was that I was not sickly, I never complained (or voiced my thoughts otherwise) and I became rather studious by the time I was twelve. That earned me a place among the apprentices. Unlikely adopted or recruited youth, but capable students of medicine, geography, and art, they were offered a more comfortable position within the palace's servitude. My instruction as a medic was provided by a most capable and patient teacher, Master Chiron, who I managed to impress with my persistence, my gifted memory, and a passion for avoiding the quarrelling and scheming inherent to military training. The orphanage's library quickly became my solace, and I rejoiced in every opportunity to spend the day among its cool shadows and worn-down copies.
However, going back in time, it is three years after my arrival to the palace when the most important event of these years took place: a prince was born. His story, to many, could be considered more tragic than mine. It begins like this: King Peleus, in search of a suitable wife who could provide him with a golden heir, had turned to the Gods. He was favoured among them, stories of his victories in battle and unparalleled leadership told both in Olympus and Earth. So clear was their approval of him, that they did not hesitate to honor him with a wife.
Not much except rumours were revealed about the new queen, for she was never presented before the people of Phthia by command of the Gods. Some said she was a deity, too, but others retorted that no, she couldn't be, they never agreed to mingle with mortals. She was surely the most beautiful and fertile woman of a faraway kingdom, kidnapped by the gods in favour of our King, and kept in secret to avoid conflict. Whoever she was, this mysterious woman had reserved different plans for herself than becoming Queen of our land.
The arrival of our prince to the world was announced one year after the marriage of King Peleus had been consummated. I was too young to know this, then, but the wicked tongues of servants, physicians and cooks had spoken of miscarriages, of our mysterious Queen conspiring with forces unknown to rid herself of many a child, which had resulted in the King having her locked away for several months. After a long period of expectation and intrigue, the upcoming birth of a healthy heir was finally announced. Our prince left his mother's womb the following summer, during an afternoon of unexpected storm and furious tides.
The King, elated by the birth of his heir, should have known better than to ignore these omens of misfortune, celebrating and distracting himself with his courtiers instead. In the late hours of the night, carrying our Crown Prince in her arms, our obscure Queen had managed to slip past the palace watch, disappearing into the shadows forever.
After their disappearance had been noticed, the King in his fury had sent his fiercest bands into the wide expanse of our islands, searching hill to shore and shore to hill again, but to no avail. The Queen and Prince had banished, seamingly leaving the grounds of the kingdom without a trace. Outrage and disappointment shook the cities, crumbling temples and offerings down. The Gods, alarmed by these offenses, met once more with the King and reached an agreement. They exchanged what they knew of the mystery for the restoration of their temples, and the case was closed, at least for the commoners.
Nothing but gossip and confabulations continued the story of our wayward queen and stolen prince. Shrines were placed in his honor across our cities and countryside alike, and they were kept through the years, the neverending grievance of our people in full display. Peace returned to Phthia for a longer era than any neighbouring kingdoms enjoyed, a period long enough for an entire generation to grow oblivious to treachery, tragedies and tribulations inside our walls. King Peleus' administration was stern and effective: our crime rates were low, and rarely did children starve in his lands. Quite a few of his army's soldiers were deployed to distant lands as aid: our kingdom had been free from any serious foreign threats for over two decades.
Our peace was disturbed the day Mycenae and Troy cried war. I was already grown by then: out of the orphanage, and working as a permanent staff member at the palace. I had grown to be quite the respectable physician, having the honor to assist his majesty on more than one occasion, especially after the passing of my tutor, Master Chiron. I was still adapting to his loss when havok broke.
The news of war quickly spread through the corridors of the palace and into the streets, much to his majesty's dismay. He was in a fit of stress those days, wandering in and out meetings and councils and embasseys, welcoming foreign dignitaries into his palace, where dinners and breakfasts had become tense. Such tension came to a climax when Peleus gave a public speech: Helen of Sparta had been kidnapped during a cowardly scheme orchestrated by Paris of Troy, and her husband, Menelaus, brother to Agamemnon of Mycenae, was readying his revenge. The brothers planned to invade Troy and pluck it clean of its riches, setting fire to its dishonorable reign and vasaging its citizens. Any men who joined the fight were promised generous rewards and an eternity of glory, which gave away the truth at least to me: this war would be bloody, and return to the motherland was hardly promised. And still, many of our ships would sail, as brave men from throughout our islands arrived to join the draft, perhap enchanted by the king's tales, perhaps bored of their uneventful lives.
My own life quickly proved to be the opposite of that: I was summoned before the king one grim afternoon, which I made haste for, only to be met with the most bitter of requests.
"You are to join the army, valued Patroclus. Your skills as a medic will serve our troops and save our friend's lives. I have spoken to Master Phoenix already. It is decided. You are expected to leave for battle in a fortnight. I trust you will make us proud, and perform your duty with the highest of commitments."
I was possessed by a grim mood, which left me feeling cold and desperate. I was unable to respond accordingly. I stared at my king, displeasure clear on my face, incapable of forming a coherent answer. A powerful fear gripped me, and I stood frozen under his gaze.
"Let me be clear, young man. This is an order from your King. Were you to refuse to fulfill it, exile is in order."
I was dismissed quickly after accepting his request. I don't remember how I got around to adressing him, whether I thanked him, whether the surprise was too much and I said nothing but "yes, your Majesty". My mind was in a haze, refusing to take in the gravity of my situation, the deep jeopardy of my safety and comfort. I'd always dreaded the battlefield, more than I could put into words. It was the stuff of my nightmares, and I was haunted by stories of gore, violent death and conquest, men that left courageous lionhearts and came back as barren ghosts. I had always been of the utmost certainty that, were I to be sent out to war, I'd be consumed by a total panic and die a miserable and painful death. The promise of a medical tent to harbor me was of no comfort at all.
And so I'd ran to the medical study. I'd drowned myself in tasks, running up and down the palace, willing my foolish heart to steady. It mostly did not, until, returning from a trip to the greenhouse to restock herbs, I ran into them.
Two corpulent soldiers, judging by their garments, were standing shoulder to shoulder inside the treasury, frantically bagging everything they could get their hands on. The door had been torn open, a window was shattered on the ground inside. Three guards laid dead on the ground, the signs of stabbing and violent struggle burning into my memory: in all my years as a physician, never had I bore witness to injuries such as these. The blood was still flowing warm out of their chests and necks, the attack must have happened in the blink of an eye, premeditated to perfection.
Speed and stealth were not presicely my strongest suit: Before I could even map an escape, I had been caught stearing, and the soldiers on the treasury were running towards me, weapons drawn. In a sharp moment of clarity, an idea dawned on me, and I spoke it into existence before I could understand its full meaning myself.
"WAIT! NO! I'LL GO WITH YOU!" I screamed at their face, running forward with just enough leeway to escape into the cold interior of the treasury, jumping over the dead bodies by the entrance. I was, by some miracle, carrying the leather bag I used to transport medicide around the palace. I promptly emptied its contents into the floor, adding to the shattered glass, and began filling it with gold.
"What the fuck you think you're doing, smartass?" One of the soldiers rang, flying towards me once more. The other one simply looked stunned, watching the corridors for signs of movement.
"You must be planning some sort of escape." I said, voice shaking, breathing in disarray. "I don't care where the hell it is you're going, you're taking me with you."
"Or what, dollface, you think you're tough?" He demanded, and his terribly rough voice gave away a sense of frantic stupor. I looked him in the eye, summoning all the courage I could muster.
"Or you'll be dealing with another body in your hands. I'm a doctor, and a damn good one if you ask me. Wherever we go, I can be of service to you both."
They had no time to keep retorting, or making new swings at me. Footsteps, many sets of them, rang throughout the staircases around us, and in a quick procession of movements I was being hauled up the shattered window, climbing over a set of rails, and running for my life across the rooftops of the palace, towards the mountains. In my years inhabiting the place, I'd never known this barren side of the rooftops, and I was frankly surprised to find out it was precisely the area above the treasury that was unwatched. The realization dawned on me hours later: it had, most certainly, been watched. It was them who were assigned the task, the same who had perpetuated its attack. Their escape plan had been meticulously conceived, for they were in possession of horses and provisions for the journey ahead. We briskly stole another horse for me, and so we left the palace unscathed, crossing streets and entering the woodlands at the speed of sound. I was lucky to have known how to ride a horse, or my intentions of joining them would have been futile.
At first, my presence made them tense. They were not sure how to go about having me as a companion, and they did not make efforts to introduce themselves. Neither did I. They did promptly ask my name, and the reason for my escape. I told them it was Patroclus, son of Chiron, the late palace physician, and I refused to join the draft. I asked the same of them. Their names, and the purpose behind their act of treason. Their station seemed well off to me: they were skilled warriors, no doubt, and according to their insights on the workings of the palace, they had been trusted for a very long time. However, they answered with even less honesty or clarity than I did. They gave a pair of smug smiles and said their names were Agammemnon and Menelaus (which was, for obvious reasons, false) and they were ready for greater things in life. Relatives they must have been. Cousins, perhaps, or even half-brothers. The resemblance between them was undeniable. Their true identity was kept a mistery, but that much would be obvious to anyone.
We traveled parallel to the ocean for six days, with little rest. We stopped when the horses demanded it, and even then only one of us slept at a time, the other two stood watch. So far, there were no signs of the royal guard, but that didn't mean they couldn't be nearing us, ready to ambush and arrest. It was during my second time standing watch that I decided to separate from them. The harbour they intended to reach was rearing close, according to their calculations, and I was frankly terrified of stepping foot into civilization once more. We had been avoiding small woodland settlements like the plague, making sure to leave no trace in people's minds.
I was contemplating what I would do once my companions reached their destination, when something off the corner of my eye caught my attention.
It was nighttime, "Menelaus" and the stallions slept in pure darkness, and yet, among the darkness, something glistened. The sparkle was coming from one of the leather bags, the ones reserved for the gold they had stolen. It was tightly attached to one of their horses, as were my own profits to mine, and an opening allowed for its contents to shine under the moonlight.
Curiosity got the best of me, and I peeked in while Agamemnon wandered deeper into the clearing, his back to me. What I found inside stopped me in my tracks, heartbeat spiking.
It was a lyre, but not just an ordinary one, it was finely carved and bathed in gold, a most unique piece of art if I had seen one. It was so spotlessly polished that its surface glistened under my flashlight like the waters of a lake at sunlight, and this added to the instrument a magical quality, the sort I imagined objects crafted by the gods would possess.
I turned it around in my hands, observing each detail and crevice, each strand of its strings, while a story came back to me. It was that of my mother, running into the orphanage's doors, carrying me and a precious lyre in her arms, about to dispose of both. I could not be sure by any logical means that this was the same instrument that had sealed my fate, and still, no doubts were present in my mind. Very few lyres as refined as the one before me would end up in any palace's treasury, so refined indeed that it became almost exotic. I stared, dumbfounded, at this piece of my obscured past, willing it to uncover its secrets to me.
I do not know what I was planning to do with myself when, in the near distance, the violent galloping of horses rang.
"IT'S THE ROYAL GUARD!" Screamed Agammemnon, running back to our position, starting our stallions and sleeping comrade awake.
I wasted no time.
I held onto the lyre and ran back to my horse, quickly shoving the instrument into my share of stolen riches. I climbed into my seat in one motion, and ran away without looking back.
"YOU SON OF A BITCH, COME BACK HERE!" Screamed the terrible voices of my abandoned companions, as they scrambled to make their own escape.
But I was already possessed by a new fire, the fates tugged at my strings and pulled me towards something new, and as I galloped the mountainside, a more descifrable yearning seized me.
A life of my own. A life full of being my own master, the sole conductor of my destiny, the creator of a much brighter stage for myself.
The new day dawned as I left the clearing behind, and I bumped into the ocean by midday. There were no signs of human inhabitants yet, this corner of the island too distant yet from any civilization, and not even a passing shit could be seen in the horizon. The midday sun itched something terrible, burning my skin and drenching me in sweat, agitating my stallion as well.
Not to far from where I was, I noticed the threshold of a cave among the stone, curtained by wild ivy. It was wide and tall enough to fit both my horse and me, and I dearly welcomed the shade it would provide. I approached it with delight, only to be stopped in my tracks once i stepped foot inside.
This cave had no more than two walls, instead of the three I expected. It's entrance dissolved into an endless hallway of sorts, at the end of which sunlight beamed.
Deep in confusion, I gripped my horses' rains and wandered in, following the way out. I had been expecting, perhaps, to find a small clearing, a nice, comfortable solace in the rocky mountainside, where surely wildflowers would grow and rodents would roam. What I bumped into, instead, was a splendid valley, gigantic and hidden by tall ladders that caved in.
And standing in the midst of it all, bathed in sunlight, was a tower.
An abbandoned tower.
I ran towards it like a moth to a flame.
Chapter 2: The Tower by the Sea
Please notice: I am not a native english speaker, and although I read and otherwise consume the language plenty, certain things may momentarily escape me, so don't be wary of letting me know of any mistakes or gramatical imperfections you find.
That being said, chapter 2/6 is here!! 🥰 I'm very excited to share it with you all. We're making a dent in this story you guys, I hope you enjoy it so far!
As usual, kudos and comments are greatly appreciated. Thanks for sticking around!!
I had a blade to my throat, and a hand yanking my hair, with force enough to pull my head back and bend the rest of me along.
I had been caught off guard, startled half to death. My tired heart raced inside my chest.
I was bathed in sweat, and my hands were still bleeding from the stones I had climbed, the wounds stinging more from their salt. Directly in front of me were the closed panes of the window I had at last emerged from. At my feet were the daggers I'd used to help me pull myself up along the climb, along with my satchel, which I had dropped after closing the panes. I regretted blocking out the light (as well as my only possibility of escape). I had intended only to rest in the shade, but I was now submerged in darkness, with a stranger at my back who no doubt considered me a threat.
“Hands over your head. Right now.” His feral voice said, barely above a whisper.
As calmly as I could, I obeyed. My pulse was in shambles as I lifted my hands, my voice trembled when I spoke.
“Sir, I am so terribly sorr-”
“SILENCE!” He all but screamed this time, pulling harder at my hair. “You will speak when you’re asked to. Understood?”
Panting, I nodded, and thanked the goods when he let go of my head. But I would not see peace yet. With his free hand he reached out and brought first one arm, then the other back down, placing them behind my back and getting hold of my wrists. Only once he needed to make use of his other hand did he remove the knife from my neck, stashing it in a pocket or another. From a similar place he must have fetched the thin rope he used to tie my arms together.
I almost begged him for mercy. I was too terrified of what he would do if I spoke.
Pushing me forward, he led me up a set of stairs to an adjacent room. It was barren, save for a chair, placed in such a way that the person sitting would face the wall. The only window was blocked by dark curtains, and it kept out the light. After sitting me out on the chair, sliding me between it and the wall, he took his hands off me and went to shut the doors closed. I expected to be swallowed by darkness, but I discovered there was a skylight, a glazed one at that, right above my head, casting a circle of faint white light around me. I could not help but internally laugh at the dramatics of it all, even if the humor was about to be slashed out of me.
I heard the rustling of brisk movement from behind me, and seconds later my entire torso was being circled by more rope, constraining me fully to the chair. When the job was done, he turned me around, making me face the openness of the room.
I shivered at the realization of just how meticulously his plan was designed. It made the questions inside me multiply. Couldn’t that mean, almost doubtlessly, that he had heard me, perhaps even seen me, climbing up? Why had he not voiced at me to back off and leave? Was he bloodthirsty, a maniac? My fear spiked, reaching unthinkable heights.
Without warning, he stepped out from behind me and walked into the light.
I was, at once, overwhelmed by the sight of him.
He was wearing peculiar robes, which had an improvised air to them. They were something akin to a sleeveless shirt and short pants, tailored from a white linen of sorts. Their edges were frayed, and the material looked rough and thick, giving the impression it would keep the cold away despite its length.
His eyes were a thing of wonder, too. Deep green, which was uncommon enough, and they were accompanied by long and tupid eyelashes. He had an aquiline nose and sharp, tightly held jaws, but his cheeks had a round and rosey look to them. He was, as I had suspected, shorter than me, but his body had a soldierlike build, all muscles and glazed skin. He couldn’t have been older than me, judging by the still round angles on his face, that mirrored some of my own.
But, without question, the most astonishing thing about him was his hair.
It was everywhere.
It cascaded around him all the way down to his knees, and it was white blond, bathing him in the splandor it produced under the skylight.
I was mesmerized.
I was frigthened.
I swallowed, hard, as he came closer, knife still drawn.
"Who are you? And how did you find me?"
I could not move. I could not speak. I could do nothing but stare and gawk and marvel at him.
He put his knife to my throat once more.
"I said who are you, and How. Did. You find me?!" He rang out.
"Patroclus. My name is Patrocous Chironides." I stuttered. "I was in a bit of a… desperate situation, looking out for a place to rest and sleep, when I stumbled into your cave, and then, into your tower. The whole landscape looked desolate to me, and so I took the liberty of climbing up. If you've seen the state of my hands, you’ll notice that was no easy, nor quickly managed or therefore premeditated task. All I used for it were two bulgar knives I peel fruits with, and they wouldn’t cut the air If I tried. I am very, very sorry to have intruded into your home and disturbed your peace, but I promise I’m innocent of attempting any crimes against you, and I will be right on my way just as soon as you let me go."
"Is that so?" He asked, clutching his weapon with so much force I began to feel blood spill down my neck.
"Yes. Yes. It is. I swear."
He considered my answer for a moment. I could see the wheels turning in his head.
"Is anyone else aware of my location, Patroclus Chironides?"
"No. Well, not that I'm aware of."
Up until this point in my life, I’d been an honest man. Somehow, I was certain he could sense that much about me. Along the course of his interrogation, something in the way he observed me had transmuted, softened, or at the very least become less vindictive. Undeniably, my spiel had no holes in it, and he would have needed to be blind .with rage not to see that.
"And if I do let you go, I don't suppose you'll go around telling others what you've seen in here?"
To that, I did not know what to respond. I looked at him helplessly, but he did not give me further clues.
"Seen what, exactly?"
That question, out of everything that had transpired so far, seemed to have thrown him completely out of his rhythm. He scampered off the way we came from, slamming the door open and stomping, not without tossing his knife somewhere, making a racket of iron against rock.
I sat in sacred silence while he was absent, willing my heartbeat to ease.
He must have had deep predicaments to sort out, for he delayed his return long enough for me to wonder whether his plan was to leave me to die there, out of hunger and thirst and fear.
When he showed himself again, he appeared more collected, perhaps at peace with my justifications. He approached me calmly, with a half smile on his lips and I felt ready to burst with gratitude.
I was not expecting, however, to hear the exact words that came out of his mouth.
“Very well, Patroclus Chironides. I have made the decision to trust you. I am prepared to offer you a deal.”
I blinked at him, hopes dissipating.
“Yes, a deal. You see, my mother, who is… traveling, right now, on a very important business, is a very loving, yet overprotective mother. This tower, and the beach below us, are all I’ve ever known in life. I’ve never been to the mainland, seen the kingdom, walked its streets, or experienced its marvels. And recently, you see, my mother has arranged a marriage for me. I am to marry… a young woman from Scryros, and I am expected to move into her island, which is as barren as this very room, if not more. You see, Patroclus, I have started to become restless with the desire to learn more about the world, before I’m prepared to be a husband and father, and I think I have an idea that will make you very useful to me indeed, in compensation for your… trespassing.”
I half-hoped he would be joking, making up stories to preface the real deal. His monologue had been beyond entertaining, and he was charming, sympathetic, even. But he was also quite the jester, he moved around the space as he spoke, filling the empty room with his voice and his antics. He was visibly the type of young man that could have moved crowds to their feet, a compelling storyteller, an entertainer, and more. He had a beauty to him that was commanding, and an air of innocence that was unmistakable, nailing his tales down. Still, I was his prey, and I could not forget the way he had pounced on me like a beast, stealthy, precise, and brutal. I did not know what to make of him. I did not know what to do with myself.
“That’s very clear and well, my Lord.” I said, “What I fail to make out, is in what way I could be of assistance to you.”
Straight to the point, and with eyes tearing into mine as sharp as his knife, he said:
"You will take me to town and give me a grand tour of the world, of everything I've been kept away from and will continue to miss out on. You'll show me everything, the food, the music, you'll make sure I experience every last bit of it. After the course of a week you'll return me here, and then, only then, will I return your satchel, the one that’s full of gold downstairs, to you. Do you understand?"
I understood. I understood that he was trying to be commanding, to maintain the ferociousness and control he had displayed, but in my eyes, somewhat of a mask had fallen off his face. His eyes were a desperate thing as he spoke, blown wide and watery, and I knew, had he not had the current circumstances on his side, he would have been begging me.
Still, there was the gold to be accounted for, and the fact that there was, as recent examples had suggested, no possible scenario in which I could outsmart this wild creature of a man.
We were silent for a heartbeat, staring at each other. I sat dead still, contemplating his plans, and by the absurd expression of smugness that his face evolved into, he seemed to believe he had the upper hand. That is, until I spoke.
"Well, there's one gross misunderstanding you're making there, my Lord..."
His brow arched nervously.
"And what would that be?"
"That I can't possibly give you a grand tour of the world , bathe you in luxuries and spoil you like a child, without a single single cent in my pocket."
He continued to stare at me, as if he didn't understand my meaning, and so I carried on.
"Well, I presume it was my riches you were planning to make use of in order to fund your little… escapade. Are there perhaps savings of your own you intend to spend instead? Believe me, food and wine are not cheap, and if you're counting on entertainment or a roof over your head, the numbers go way up. I can do absolutely nothing for you if you insist on depriving me of my bloody satchel."
The next second, he was gone, returning at the blink of an eye with my satchel in hand. For someone so assertive and terrorizing, he was surely impressionable. He sat on the ground in front of me, icy hair spreading like snowfall around him, and he began to fish contents out of my satchel, making a pile at his feet, and turning to watch me after every item made his grasp. Gold and silver coins did not amuse them, he dug them out of the way like a hound paws at dirt, enthusiastically and without paying it any mind. Next came the jewels, five shiny strings of pearls, seven golden bracelets, a pocket sized clock in engraved bronze. There was a pendant, attached to a fine golden chain, that seemed to catch his eye. It was in the shape of an arrow, sharp yet delicate, and he ran it over with his fingertips before setting it aside.
When the clutter engulfing it was gone, my mother’s lyre was exposed in full view.
My face must have given something away, some type of anxiety he had not seen before, for, after taking it out, he stopped in his tracks and addressed me, all grins, exceedingly pleased with himself.
"Do you mind if I take this along to play, or would you prefer I don't touch it?"
I stared at the treasure in his hands. I didn't think I felt deep attachment towards the object, and yet, I was bitter about the way he'd manage to take it from me, as if the fates were determined to part me from it. But it had been my mother's, once, and it was all I had in the world. This much, he had figured out on his own, and was brilliantly using against me.
"I have no use for something like that. I was simply planning to sell it away."
"Sell it away, then." He replied, to my amusement. What kind of game was he playing? "As long as you're willing to share some of your profits with me. I wanna have it all, even if just for a week.”
We reached one further agreement, one that kept us both fairly content: We’d only bring the lyre, and a generous amount of golden and silver coins along the journey. The rest of the treasure would stay, my return. From the pile at his feet, he retrieved the pendant that had caught his eye, and hung it around his neck. I did not ask whether he planned to return that. I cannot say I cared. He then went to fetch a vase, and inside it placed every item that didn’t make our cut.
Afterwards, he untied me, and allowed me to stand. With the terror half gone, I concerned myself with my wounds.
The scratch on my neck had dried, but it still stinged to the touch. The redness on my wrists would pass in time. He had not been cruel, only methodical, and at no point had I seen benefit in struggling. In my state, he could have bound me to the very air, and I would have been none the wiser. Perhaps I should have been ashamed of this admision, but I was not. Acting recklessly and foolishly may have worked in my favor to that point in time, but I had known better than to continue testing my luck.
The worst of the damage was on my palms. They were gashed, burned and covered in dried blood, and just by the look of them I suspected I would not be able to demand too much of them for the next couple of days.
I asked him for fresh water, clean cloth, herbs and honey to dress the wounds. As he departed the room to fetch me those, he stalled, frozen at the door frame with a question in his eyes.
“What is it?’ I asked.
He did not answer, only swayed once more, and then left me, and this time I could hear his heels plunge on the staircase.
I laid on the floor while I waited, overridden by exhaustion. He returned quicker than I expected, arms full, carrying a vase full of water, a piece of clothing that looked much like the ones he was wearing, except it was longer and torn at one seam, and, to my surprise, a set of clean clothes for me. It consisted of a noble, thick shirt, a pair of dark pants, a leather belt, and boots that proved to be too small for me. The items, I knew, had to be expensive, and I wondered why, if he had access to them, choose to spend his days in rags. On the other arm, he carried a basket, and tucked inside it were branches of one too many different ingredients (rosemary, oregano, lavender, thyme, common sage, peppermint, chamomile, basil, three garlic cloves, a whole lemon, an onion, six blueberries, a few rose petals) along with a jar of honey, a functional knife (which seriously surprised me) and, what’s this! A few sticks of cinnamon, the trophy of champions in the flesh.
I stared, incredulous, up at him.
“I did not know what you would need, so I brought everything that rang a bell.” He admitted, and I had expected him to be regretful, or even greedy, but he was not. He left again, to let me change and work in peace, and closed the door behind him without saying another word.
I undressed, washed the days of sweat and grime off my skin, and tended to my wounds. He returned soon after I had finished changing into my new clothes, knocking on the door.
He led me, down the stairs, to another room. It was smaller, a library of sorts, and in one corner was a couch, accompanied by a pillow and what appeared to be a finely woven blanket. On a table right beside, sat a plate of bread, a hard boiled egg, an apple, and three slices of cheese.
“You will need to eat and rest.” He stated. “We will leave in the morning. I’ll make sure everything is set.”
I wondered for a moment if this boy would have the slightest idea of what would be necessary to bring along, but I decided not to meddle. The room we were in had no doors, so I simply watched him dissolve into the corridors of the tower, and I was alone once more.
I wish I could say I slept with an eye open, that the presence of this feral stranger tormented my peace, that I was aware of every little sound and movement going on around me in the lion's den. But that would be a grotesque lie, for after eating, I had only to lie for a minute before sleep took me.
He came to me at dawn and woke me up, with a few shakes. He looked like a different individual than the one I had met, and that deepened my initial state of confusion. For one, he had changed out of the rag-like, androgynous garments he'd been wearing, and was now in a very decent shirt and pants that looked perhaps a little tight. They clung to his muscles and brought out the fierceness of him, the indisputable manliness I had seen. His long, white hair was tightly pulled back, and it dissolved at the back of his head into a tall tail. He wore a dark belt at his hips, and the sheath of a knife hung from it.
Once I rose, we barely spoke. I followed him blindly into the kitchen, where he served me breakfast, and then onto the main room at the bottom of the stairs. At the foot of the window I had emerged from were a packed bag, presumably with spare clothes, the same basket from the day before, overflowing with fruit and bread, two canteens and my satchel.
To my great relief, that godforsaken window was not the only way in and out his tower. Right in the middle of that very room a set of tiles lifted, revealing a staircase underneath. We walked into its pit with our things on our backs, and after he shut the tile back into place we were left in darkness. I followed scrupulously after him, terrified of slipping a step and landing on my face, and sooner rather than later we had reached the bottom and encountered a wooden doorway. He pushed it open, and we exited the tower for good. We were now on its backyard, there were crops, and wildflowers, and fruit trees, and the fresh morning air hit my temples and made me chill.
To tell the truth of it, I’d started to tremble, for reasons very different than just the wind, and before I could make my mind up about it, I spoke to him.
“I must tell you something, we leave” I said. Something I think you may want to know.”
He stared at me somberly. He was the one carrying my sachet, I was carrying provisions, and when I stared at the load on his shoulders I knew I would not be able to keep my secrets to myself. I went on.
“All that gold you’re carrying now, it’s not mine. I stole it all, and I’m on the run because of it. I cannot return to the mainland, they’ll be most likely searching for me. Speaking plainly, I could still take you to a neighboring island and give you the tour you desire, but that would mean for you to become the accomplice to a man on the run. I believe you at the very least deserve to be aware of that. You do not have to agree with what I’ve done, but believe me, I was only doing what I could to survive.”
For what seemed like an age, he did not speak, only stared intensely at me, and although his eyes were blown wide, the rest of his face was frozen still, and I could not deduct how he felt, what he was thinking, what his opinion of me had become. Judging by how fiercely he had protected his home, I doubted he’d be delighted to join a criminal on the run, no matter what he’d earn in return.
But then, he spoke, and I was, once more, not expecting what came out of him.
“Do you think I know nothing of the world at all, Patroclus? No one who owns this much gold looks or acts like you.”
I was stunned, and he was smiling, and then he turned and walked away.
I followed, dumbfounded.
“I do appreciate your honesty, though, valiant Patroclus.” He added, giggling to himself. What was funny to him, I could not tell. I did not try. “Speaks highly of you. I was not expecting you to voice it so humbly.”
I considered what he was implying.
“I… was under the impression you’d never seen anyone aside from your mother?’ I asked.
“That’s not quite what I said. That would be outrageous.” He repplied, scoffing. “What I’ve said is that she’s overprotective, and tries to keep the visits short and far apart, and only allows them when she believes they’re necessary.”
“So you do not mind, then?” I asked.
“Which part? That you’re a thief, that we cannot tour the mainland, that I’ll become a fugitive by proxy, or that my mother has alienated me from civilization since I was a babe?”
“Either.” I said, frankly.”
“No.” He stated. “I do not mind.” And he went on.
Upon leaving the backyards behind, we encountered my horse. He’d helped himself to water from a pond and grass to eat, and he was still tied to a large rock, just the way I’d left him.
“I don’t think we should bring him along.” He said. “He’ll draw in too much attention, make potential escape plans more dificult. Better stay low, move around on foot. He’ll be fine here, his rope is long. Plenty to eat and drink.”
I agreed. We moved forward, and reached the cave that lead to the beach.
We were halfway through, when another question appeared on my mind.
“Wait!” I called out.
He turned to look at me, eyebrows raised.
“It is just…” I hesitated. “You have not told me your name.”
"My name is Achilles." He winked at me. "Pleasure."
Meaning , Pain.
Who would curse their child with such a name as that? I wondered. The type of mother who would alienate their child from the rest of civilization, perhaps, my mind provided.
But then my own name came to mind, and I could not help but laugh inside.
There was one thing we had in common, atl least. A ridiculous, ill-fitting name.
This boy, for as long as I’d known him, fit the exact epitome of joy. He was lighthearted, and playful, and his easy smiles shone like the sun.
And I had no father who would count me as a reason for pride, no father at all, to impress or disappoint.
That last part, given my recent choices, came more than ever as a cause for relief instead of sorrow.
I followed after Achilles, taking in the sight of the beach that had led me his way. The waters and sand were sparkling under the afternoon sun, and in the sky above, not a cloud could be seen. As I watched Achilles wander the beach, some of the tension I'd been harboring left me, and I stepped steadily into the sand.
I did not doubt he was hiding things from me, I could all but see the secrets looming over his head. But I did not think he was lying to me. The way he conducted himself at times was humorous, almost laughable. He had the body of a grown man, but the antics of a child. Where my footsteps were controlled and grounded, he skipped and hopped when he walked, dallying about the place with the lightness of a cat. I was anxious, as I’d been for many a day now, but he was peachy, taking in the ocean and the breeze and kicking sand around.
We moved north for about an hour, searching for a breech in the mountainside, and open expanse of forest, and once we entered the woodlands, him before me, I could not help but feel my freshly found tranquility falter.
What had I, truly, gotten myself into? Why was I so easily agreeing to it?
But most importantly:
Which one of us was being more impulsive, me, or him?