The Song of Achilles
Chapter Four Scene (Achilles POV)
- The Boy in the Storeroom -
- I -
They told me that I am the son of goddess and king. That I will be aristos achaion. Best of the Greeks. It is written in prophecy as told to me by my mother in the beginning, then by my father, and finally by those around me. She does not tell me how this will come about, I do not think she knows herself but I am not afraid and I do not doubt it. I have been told this my entire life, my memories are made of what I will become. Is it so difficult to believe in something that you are born for?
My mother wants me to become a god. I realize that too, soon enough. To join her in the caves where sun could not reach, live in leisure with the sea nymphs, and fill my stomach with the rich gold nectar reserved for gods and goddesses. I will spend my life with them until I become a god myself and every day of the world after, she had told me. I thought about this as I climbed out my window with the dawn breaking before me. The previous night, I had asked my father of this for he would tell me honestly and it was too big of a decision to make alone at ten.
It was a peaceful night and I had come to his room to hear his stories before being sent to bed. Him, seated on a thickly cushioned seat and me, sprawled out on the floor with an arm rested under my head so to act as a pillow. I loosened the leather bits tying back my hair, the leather had pulled tightly against my scalp. As the tie fell loose, I felt the locks settle into the curve of my neck. I had interrupted him in the middle of his story - the words escaping my mouth in a desperate way to lessen the burden from my shoulders. I remember the lines on his face draw tightly as he looked at me before answering. He did not ask me why I brought this up.
“You could, Achilles.” He said. I frowned, as this was not an answer. He had always been a kind father. One that valued my opinion as his son more than he needed to. The lines tightened on his face and after some thought, he spoke again. “But you should not. No man who goes there ever returns the same.”
I studied his face, the light from the fire creating cutting shadows from the fine lines. My father had answered me selflessly and I know that if I had wanted to, he would let me go. My father has always been a kind man. I would tell myself later that I could not leave him in his palace alone, empty already of a wife. I realized years later it was because I was not so certain myself why my father had used the word when he could have said mortal instead. I was the son of goddess and king and perhaps he regarded me as both. To my boyish innocence, I thought he considered me a man when I was barely ten. I felt proud then and I buried my head into my arm, hiding the flush of my cheeks.
This, I recalled as I walked myself to the beach. I did not yet feel like a man, did not yet look like one. I brought a hand to my face and noted the roundness of my cheek, the soft beardless skin that was not like a man’s at all. I was not a man yet. I was not aristos achaion yet either. I sat down in the sand, the ends of my tunic had grown wet from the sea and I waited. Today, I will see my mother. Today, I will tell her I do not wish to become a god just yet.
After our meeting, I climbed through the window and pulled my tunic off over my head, then returned to my bed to rest. The sun had barely risen over the horizon and when I woke, it’s rays were striking just over the ledge of my window. A cold, dark, sunless life would not suit me, I decided. I would eat breakfast with my father then compose a song before my lyre lesson. My tunic lay resting on the back of the chair and I pulled it on again to wear for the day. The ends had already dried from my time in the water.
Amphidamas greeted me as I came through the door, I greeted my father first then him and they continued on with a conversation that had begun prior to my arrival. I seated myself opposite of my father, helping myself to the warm bread and soft cheese in front of me. My mind wandered to the song already forming as I ate, my hand drummed softly on my thigh mimicking the soft plucking of fingers on the lyre. I ate swiftly hoping to get the day started. My father often said I ate quickly but I did not agree, I would one day be immortal and had no reason to rush. I watched him from across the table and matched the movements of my jaw to his as he chewed his bread and cheese. He did not notice me and I grew bored of this quickly, his attention was elsewhere; to the master telling him of a boy who had been skipping morning drills.
This boy I remembered. He watched me often during dinner when I was with the other boys. He was slow, never quick enough to avert his gaze before I caught him staring - eyes wider than mine and coloured a deep brown with lashes that feathered around them as if protecting a jewel. Maybe he was ill, I thought. He was not big, not strong, and they told me he did not have the competitive nature of the other boys that lived here with us. He was weak and perhaps would fall ill often. My father’s conversation with the master continued on about the boy, they had moved on to discussing punishment for when he was found. He would not have run, the master had said and my father agreed. They said that he was an exile.
I excused myself after eating, heading towards the door that led to the center of the palace. There were guards and slaves and servants going about their daily work and duties in every corner. One of them must have seen where he had run off to. They had. A servant told me of a boy sneaking his way to the storeroom earlier this morning. I thanked her before heading there, my feet carrying me quickly. During dinners, just the quickest glance from me had his eyes darting away. I would not let him get away this time.
When I found him, he was curled up in the storeroom as the servant had said, wedged between jars of thick-pressed olive oil. Patroclus. His head was down. His head was always looking down except for the times he looked at me.
“I heard you were here.” I said. His head jerked up, wide eyes meeting mine. I kept my eyes steadily on his, waiting for him to speak. He did not so I spoke again. “I have been looking for you. You have not been going to morning drills.” Again, he said nothing but I saw the flush bloom on his face so that I knew he was guilty. I waited again for him to speak.
“How do you know? You aren’t there.” He said. His face was controlled and tight when he spoke. His eyes narrowed slightly.
“The master noticed, and spoke to my father.” I recalled the scene from this morning’s breakfast when I had first heard their conversation.
“And he sent you.” He answered bitingly. There was venom in his words. The response had taken me aback. They said he was a prince before becoming an exile. I pushed my tongue to the roof of my mouth as I tossed between replies in my head.
“No, I came on my own.” I told him truthfully. “I overheard them speaking. I have come to see if you are ill.” There was no response from him again, my eyes silently scanned over his face as I waited. “My father is considering punishment.” I said finally. I thought this would scare him but there was no change in his expression. The muscles in his shoulders remained tight, the fingers he laced together remained white, and his knees drew close to his body as if he were guarding himself against me. The faint flush from earlier remained on his cheeks. “You are not ill.” I said to him.
“Then that will not serve as your excuse.” I looked at him with my brows slightly raised.
A faint line formed on his forehead, he did not understand the meaning of my words. They had told me he was simple. “Your excuse for where you have been. So you will not be punished.” I explained. “What will you say?”
“I don’t know.”
Try, I thought. I don’t know will not save you from being whipped. “You must say something.”
His features changed after I had said this, I thought perhaps he was frustrated at himself for not understanding. He looked at me now, eyes flashing in anger. “You are the prince.” he snapped.
I was not expecting this either, they had told me he was quiet and distant. What does me being the prince have to do with him missing his morning drills? I tilted my head to the side.
“So,” he began, “speak with your father and say I was with you. He will excuse it.”
He said this confidently but we both knew this was untrue. I did not like to lie and told him so.
“Then take me with you to your lessons,” he said. “So it won’t be a lie.”
I had not expected him to say this and my eyebrows lifted, unable to hide my surprise. I gazed at him then. He was nothing special, no divine blood in his veins. In another life, he would have been a king. I studied the curve of his shoulders, the deep brown eyes he gazed back at me with and the bronzed skin of his thin limbs. There was a slight wetness at his temples, he had been sweating. As I thought, my eyes returned to his, their deep brown so different from my green. He gazed at me with the same ferocity as the mouth he used to speak with me and my eyes drew themselves there. The other boys had not told me of this about him. And this. He did not look at me like them, with an admiration in their eyes as if they saw me painted in gold. This and this and this. My eyes left his mouth and drew themselves back to his eyes. I was only ten then, unable to comprehend what they did to me. I would understand that later, in years to come as I would press my nose to his, waiting for him to wake so that I might see their brown again.
“Come.” I said.