মুখ্য The Song of Achilles: A Novel
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A story about regrets, fame , and love. Makes the heart crumpled with pain, at the same time, makes your eyes bulge in its twist and turns of events.
15 November 2020 (08:23)
A very enigmatic masterpiece!
22 November 2020 (06:57)
The relationship between Patroclus and Achilles was written in such a way that every chapter you read the more you understand what true loves feels like. They have such a healthy, refreshing relationship. However, this book is not for those who don't like a tear wrenching twist.
18 December 2020 (02:53)
This is the best book known to man, it’s so engaging and it knows just how to pull at your heart strings
25 December 2020 (18:57)
I am devastated the book is over!
Reading into every page of Achilles and patroclus's love story and romance makes you deeply believe in true love and soulmates.
This book never disappoints and the ending will leave you in awe and shattered over the love this remastered legend tells.
Reading into every page of Achilles and patroclus's love story and romance makes you deeply believe in true love and soulmates.
This book never disappoints and the ending will leave you in awe and shattered over the love this remastered legend tells.
10 January 2021 (10:46)
this book is like a dance it sways you and gently swings you around however at the end it spins you and doesn’t stop until you realize what has happened. such a beautiful way of writing about love and tragedy, gave me a new perspective on what love could be. heartbreakingly beautiful honestly. a must read!
17 January 2021 (09:05)
i have read this book thrice in 2021. that's all
29 January 2021 (20:50)
Hello~ lgbtq community. In all seriousness this book is amazing if you want to experience a refreshing heart wrenching relationship.
01 February 2021 (09:55)
This Book Taught Me Love and Pain are not just mutually exclusive.
“We reached for each other and I thought of how many nights I had lain awake in this room loving him in silence”
18 February 2021 (21:50)
life never felt so empty the moment i finished this book.
25 February 2021 (01:55)
well...its a controversial book. but hey its a good book
05 March 2021 (13:57)
This is currently, and I am certain will forever be my favorite novel simply because the feelings were real and the descriptions were beautiful. This entire book made me want to fall in love again and want to be cherished the same way Patroclus cherished Achilles and Achilles cherished Patroclus. I cannot explain the relief I got when the two ended up finally being together in peace. I love, love, LOVE this novel and I will probably never stop recommending it to my friends XD
13 March 2021 (03:33)
controversial book, but good one. The writing is awesome, I especially loved the descriptions and the build up to certain events.
13 March 2021 (15:18)
WINE IS MY BLOOD, BREAD IS MY FLESH
24 March 2021 (19:33)
i absaloutly cannot tell you how much i loved this book. if you're reading comments about it its a sign. this book brok me nd made me feel emty i cannot tell you how many tears i have shed.
26 March 2021 (17:49)
Such a good book! I love how the author takes a character like Achilles (such a Campbell-ish hero!) and turns him into a human. For me, this book is about meeting the expectations of others
03 April 2021 (01:05)
This is a really good book. Totally recommend, the way the author wrote this book is beautiful. This book shattered my heart. Achilles and Patroclus love story is written so beautifully.
04 April 2021 (01:35)
I read this in practically one sitting, i honestly was a wreck by the end. I chose to read it cuz I thought people were exaggerating with their reviews, but honestly the book was such a good read from beginning to end, and truly brings a new perspective to the "heroes" of Greek Mythology, making them a little more human and understandable. And the end I dont even have words to describe how sad but relieving but heartbreaking it was, truly i recommend for anyone to read but esp Greek Mythology nerds like me
06 April 2021 (16:25)
everything you want in a greek myth— love, scandals, tragedy, and a sense of hopefulness. madeline miller is no doubt a very talented author. with a nice poetic undertone and beautifully descriptive scenes, her style of writing takes the reader on an adventure! i did not cry as my friends did but enjoyed the book until the very end.
21 April 2021 (09:45)
this book was insane. it's so amazing, and although heartbreaking, everyone should read it at least once in their life. finished in a day and is one of my all time favorites.
25 April 2021 (16:45)
This was absolutely amazing, if your looking for a heart wrenching book with romance and war this is for you 1000/10 rating
05 May 2021 (08:33)
It became my favourite book, the love they have for each other it's so pure and lovely. the writing it's awesome cause it makes you feel everything like you are there, I recommend it with all my heart.
08 May 2021 (18:29)
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5. HEPATITIS B
7. HUMAN PAPILOMA VIRUS DISEASE(HPV
Contact him Whatsapp +2347051758952
08 May 2021 (22:02)
OH WHY OH WHY DO THEY HAVE TO BREAK MY HEART T~T
I WANT TO SHARE IT TO MY FRIENDS BUT IM AFRAID THEYLL HATE IT CAUSE ITS A BOY X BOY BUT STILL IT BROKE MAH HEART T~T
I WANT TO SHARE IT TO MY FRIENDS BUT IM AFRAID THEYLL HATE IT CAUSE ITS A BOY X BOY BUT STILL IT BROKE MAH HEART T~T
18 May 2021 (10:06)
Amazing read. Beautifully written.
24 May 2021 (20:23)
*cries in corner*
BEAUTIFUL BEAUTIFUL BEAUTIFUL. this book was heartbreakingly perfect, patroclus is the geeky, scrawny, bi cinnamon roll and Achilles is the closeted gay golden boy prince PLEASE READ THIS IF YOU HAVE EMOTIONS. this book will trick you into thinking everything is okay and will crash everything you thought was safe. the patrochilles scenes were beautifully written and everything about this was perfect. ok that's all but please read this.
25 May 2021 (20:29)
Phenomenal. Simply marvelous
26 May 2021 (20:20)
the best my fave book so far ? it never failed to make my eyes bawl I LOVE IT SO MUCH STRAIGHT 6 STARS
28 May 2021 (05:37)
How do you read it I’ve downloaded it but I can’t read it
06 June 2021 (10:54)
please do book request for me. i want this book very badly but i dont have money to buy it... plz help me isbn no 9789390285310
07 June 2021 (08:07)
please do book request for me. i want this book very badly but i dont have money to buy it... plz help me isbn no 9789390285310
07 June 2021 (08:08)
please do book request for me. i want this book very badly but i dont have money to buy it... plz help me isbn no 9789390285310
07 June 2021 (08:08)
07 June 2021 (08:08)
This is definitely one of my favourites.
10 June 2021 (06:47)
THIS BOOK IS MY NEW OBSESSION!!
everyone should read it
everyone should read it
10 June 2021 (22:17)
THE SONG OF ACHILLES Madeline Miller Dedication To my mother, Madeline, and Nathaniel Contents Cover Title Page Dedication Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-One Chapter Twenty-Two Chapter Twenty-Three Chapter Twenty-Four Chapter Twenty-Five Chapter Twenty-Six Chapter Twenty-Seven Chapter Twenty-Eight Chapter Twenty-Nine Chapter Thirty Chapter Thirty-One Chapter Thirty-Two Chapter Thirty-Three Character Glossary Acknowledgments About the Author Credits Copyright About the Publisher Chapter One MY FATHER WAS A KING AND THE SON OF KINGS. HE was a short man, as most of us were, and built like a bull, all shoulders. He married my mother when she was fourteen and sworn by the priestess to be fruitful. It was a good match: she was an only child, and her father’s fortune would go to her husband. He did not find out until the wedding that she was simple. Her father had been scrupulous about keeping her veiled until the ceremony, and my father had humored him. If she was ugly, there were always slave girls and serving boys. When at last they pulled off the veil, they say my mother smiled. That is how they knew she was quite stupid. Brides did not smile. When I was delivered, a boy, he plucked me from her arms and handed me to a nurse. In pity, the midwife gave my mother a pillow to hold instead of me. My mother hugged it. She did not seem to notice a change had been made. Quickly, I became a disappointment: small, slight. I was not fast. I was not strong. I could not sing. The best that could be said of me was that I; was not sickly. The colds and cramps that seized my peers left me untouched. This only made my father suspicious. Was I a changeling, inhuman? He scowled at me, watching. My hand shook, feeling his gaze. And there was my mother, dribbling wine on herself. I AM FIVE when it is my father’s turn to host the games. Men gather from as far as Thessaly and Sparta, and our storehouses grow rich with their gold. A hundred servants work for twenty days beating out the racing track and clearing it of stones. My father is determined to have the finest games of his generation. I remember the runners best, nut-brown bodies slicked with oil, stretching on the track beneath the sun. They mix together, broad-shouldered husbands, beardless youths and boys, their calves all thickly carved with muscle. The bull has been killed, sweating the last of its blood into dust and dark bronze bowls. It went quietly to its death, a good omen for the games to come. The runners are gathered before the dais where my father and I sit, surrounded by prizes we will give to the winners. There are golden mixing bowls for wine, beaten bronze tripods, ash-wood spears tipped with precious iron. But the real prize is in my hands: a wreath of dusty-green leaves, freshly clipped, rubbed to a shine by my thumb. My father has given it to me grudgingly. He reassures himself: all I have to do is hold it. The youngest boys are running first, and they wait, shuffling their feet in the sand for the nod from the priest. They’re in their first flush of growth, bones sharp and spindly, poking against taut skin. My eye catches on a light head among dozens of dark, tousled crowns. I lean forward to see. Hair lit like honey in the sun, and within it, glints of gold—the circlet of a prince. He is shorter than the others, and still plump with childhood in a way they are not. His hair is long and tied back with leather; it burns against the dark, bare skin of his back. His face, when he turns, is serious as a man’s. When the priest strikes the ground, he slips past the thickened bodies of the older boys. He moves easily, his heels flashing pink as licking tongues. He wins. I stare as my father lifts the garland from my lap and crowns him; the leaves seem almost black against the brightness of his hair. His father, Peleus, comes to claim him, smiling and proud. Peleus’ kingdom is smaller than ours, but his wife is rumored to be a goddess, and his people love him. My own father watches with envy. His wife is stupid and his son too slow to race in even the youngest group. He turns to me. “That is what a son should be.” My hands feel empty without the garland. I watch King Peleus embrace his son. I see the boy toss the garland in the air and catch it again. He is laughing, and his face is bright with victory. BEYOND THIS, I remember little more than scattered images from my life then: my father frowning on his throne, a cunning toy horse I loved, my mother on the beach, her eyes turned towards the Aegean. In this last memory, I am skipping stones for her, plink, plink, plink, across the skin of the sea. She seems to like the way the ripples look, dispersing back to glass. Or perhaps it is the sea itself she likes. At her temple a starburst of white gleams like bone, the scar from the time her father hit her with the hilt of a sword. Her toes poke up from the sand where she has buried them, and I am careful not to disturb them as I search for rocks. I choose one and fling it out, glad to be good at this. It is the only memory I have of my mother and so golden that I am almost sure I have made it up. After all, it was unlikely for my father to have allowed us to be alone together, his simple son and simpler wife. And where are we? I do not recognize the beach, the view of coastline. So much has passed since then. Chapter Two I WAS SUMMONED TO THE KING. I REMEMBER HATING THIS, the long walk up the endless throne room. At the front, I knelt on stone. Some kings chose to have rugs there for the knees of messengers who had long news to tell. My father preferred not to. “King Tyndareus’ daughter is finally ready for marriage,” he said. I knew the name. Tyndareus was king of Sparta and held huge tracts of the ripest southern lands, the kind my father coveted. I had heard of his daughter too, rumored to be the fairest woman in our countries. Her mother, Leda, was said to have been ravished by Zeus, the king of the gods himself, disguised as a swan. Nine months later, her womb yielded two sets of twins: Clytemnestra and Castor, children of her mortal husband; Helen and Polydeuces, the shining cygnets of the god. But gods were known to be notoriously poor parents; it was expected that Tyndareus would offer patrimony to all. I did not respond to my father’s news. Such things meant nothing to me. My father cleared his throat, loud in the silent chamber. “We would do well to have her in our family. You will go and put yourself forth as a suitor.” There was no one else in the hall, so my startled huff of breath was for his ears alone. But I knew better than to speak my discomfort. My father already knew all that I might say: that I was nine, unsightly, unpromising, uninterested. We left the next morning, our packs heavy with gifts and food for the journey. Soldiers escorted us, in their finest armor. I don’t remember much of the trip—it was overland, through countryside that left no impression. At the head of the column, my father dictated new orders to secretaries and messengers who rode off in every direction. I looked down at the leather reins, smoothed their nap with my thumb. I did not understand my place here. It was incomprehensible, as so much of what my father did was. My donkey swayed, and I swayed with him, glad for even this distraction. We were not the first suitors to arrive at Tyndareus’ citadel. The stables were full of horses and mules, busy with servants. My father seemed displeased with the ceremony afforded us: I saw him rub a hand over the stone of the hearth in our rooms, frowning. I had brought a toy from home, a horse whose legs could move. I lifted one hoof, then the other, imagined that I had ridden him instead of the donkey. A soldier took pity on me and lent me his dice. I clattered them against the floor until they showed all sixes in one throw. Finally, a day came in which my father ordered me bathed and brushed. He had me change my tunic, then change again. I obeyed, though I saw no difference between the purple with gold or crimson with gold. Neither hid my knobby knees. My father looked powerful and severe, his black beard slashing across his face. The gift that we were presenting to Tyndareus stood ready, a beaten-gold mixing bowl embossed with the story of the princess Danae. Zeus had wooed her in a shower of golden light, and she had borne him Perseus, Gorgon-slayer, second only to Heracles among our heroes. My father handed it to me. “Do not disgrace us,” he said. I heard the great hall before I saw it, the sound of hundreds of voices banging against stone walls, the clatter of goblets and armor. The servants had thrown open the windows to try to dampen the sound; they had hung tapestries, wealth indeed, on every wall. I had never seen so many men inside before. Not men, I corrected myself. Kings. We were called forward to council, seated on benches draped with cowhide. Servants faded backwards, to the shadows. My father’s fingers dug into my collar, warning me not to fidget. There was violence in that room, with so many princes and heroes and kings competing for a single prize, but we knew how to ape civilization. One by one they introduced themselves, these young men, showing off shining hair and neat waists and expensively dyed clothing. Many were the sons or grandsons of gods. All had a song or two, or more, written of their deeds. Tyndareus greeted each in turn, accepted their gifts in a pile at the center of the room. Invited each to speak and present his suit. My father was the oldest among them, except for the man who, when his turn came, named himself Philoctetes. “A comrade of Heracles,” the man beside us whispered, with an awe I understood. Heracles was the greatest of our heroes, and Philoctetes had been the closest of his companions, the only one still living. His hair was gray, and his thick fingers were all tendon, the sinewy dexterity that marked an archer. And indeed, a moment later he held up the largest bow I had ever seen, polished yew wood with a lionskin grip. “The bow of Heracles,” Philoctetes named it, “given to me at his death.” In our lands a bow was mocked as the weapon of cowards. But no one could say such a thing about this bow; the strength it would take to draw it humbled us all. The next man, his eyes painted like a woman’s, spoke his name. “Idomeneus, King of Crete.” He was lean, and his long hair fell to his waist when he stood. He offered rare iron, a double-headed ax. “The symbol of my people.” His movements reminded me of the dancers that my mother liked. And then Menelaus, son of Atreus, seated beside his hulking, bearlike brother Agamemnon. Menelaus’ hair was a startling red, the color of fire-forged bronze. His body was strong, stocky with muscles, vital. The gift he gave was a rich one, beautifully dyed cloth. “Though the lady needs no adornment,” he added, smiling. This was a pretty bit of speech. I wished I had something as clever to say. I was the only one here under twenty, and I was not descended from a god. Perhaps Peleus’ blond-haired son would be equal to this, I thought. But his father had kept him at home. Man after man, and their names began to blur in my head. My attention wandered to the dais, where I noticed, for the first time, the three veiled women seated at Tyndareus’ side. I stared at the white cloth over their faces, as if I might be able to catch some glimpse of the woman behind it. My father wanted one of them for my wife. Three sets of hands, prettily adorned with bracelets, lay quiet in their laps. One of the women was taller than the other two. I thought I saw a stray dark curl peek from beneath the bottom of her veil. Helen is light haired, I remembered. So that one was not Helen. I had ceased to listen to the kings. “Welcome, Menoitius.” The speaking of my father’s name startled me. Tyndareus was looking at us. “I am sorry to hear of the death of your wife.” “My wife lives, Tyndareus. It is my son who comes today to wed your daughter.” There was a silence in which I knelt, dizzied by the spin of faces around me. “Your son is not yet a man.” Tyndareus’ voice seemed far away. I could detect nothing in it. “He need not be. I am man enough for both of us.” It was the sort of jest our people loved, bold and boasting. But no one laughed. “I see,” said Tyndareus. The stone floor dug into my skin, yet I did not move. I was used to kneeling. I had never before been glad of the practice in my father’s throne room. My father spoke again, in the silence. “Others have brought bronze and wine, oil and wool. I bring gold, and it is only a small portion of my stores.” I was aware of my hands on the beautiful bowl, touching the story’s figures: Zeus appearing from the streaming sunlight, the startled princess, their coupling. “My daughter and I are grateful that you have brought us such a worthy gift, though paltry to you.” A murmur, from the kings. There was humiliation here that my father did not seem to understand. My face flushed with it. “I would make Helen the queen of my palace. For my wife, as you know well, is not fit to rule. My wealth exceeds all of these young men, and my deeds speak for themselves.” “I thought the suitor was your son.” I looked up at the new voice. A man who had not spoken yet. He was the last in line, sitting at ease on the bench, his curling hair gleaming in the light of the fire. He had a jagged scar on one leg, a seam that stitched his dark brown flesh from heel to knee, wrapping around the muscles of the calf and burying itself in the shadow beneath his tunic. It looked like it had been a knife, I thought, or something like it, ripping upwards and leaving behind feathered edges, whose softness belied the violence that must have caused it. My father was angry. “Son of Laertes, I do not remember inviting you to speak.” The man smiled. “I was not invited. I interrupted. But you need not fear my interference. I have no vested interest in the matter. I speak only as an observer.” A small movement from the dais drew my eye. One of the veiled figures had stirred. “What does he mean?” My father was frowning. “If he is not here for Helen, then for what? Let him go back to his rocks and his goats.” The man’s eyebrows lifted, but he said nothing. Tyndareus was also mild. “If your son is to be a suitor, as you say, then let him present himself.” Even I knew it was my turn to speak. “I am Patroclus, son of Menoitius.” My voice sounded high, and scratchy with disuse. “I am here as a suitor for Helen. My father is a king and the son of kings.” I had no more to say. My father had not instructed me; he had not thought that Tyndareus would ask me to speak. I stood and carried the bowl to the pile of gifts, placed it where it would not topple. I turned and walked back to my bench. I had not disgraced myself with trembling or tripping, and my words had not been foolish. Still, my face burned with shame. I knew how I must look to these men. Oblivious, the line of suitors moved on. The man kneeling now was huge, half again as tall as my father, and broad besides. Behind him, two servants braced an enormous shield. It seemed to stand with him as part of his suit, reaching from his heels to his crown; no ordinary man could have carried it. And it was no decoration: scarred and hacked edges bore witness to the battles it had seen. Ajax, son of Telamon, this giant named himself. His speech was blunt and short, claiming his lineage from Zeus and offering his mighty size as proof of his great-grandfather’s continuing favor. His gift was a spear, supple wood beautifully cut. The fire-forged point gleamed in the light of the torches. At last it was the man with the scar’s turn. “Well, son of Laertes?” Tyndareus shifted in his seat to face him. “What does a disinterested observer have to say to these proceedings?” The man leaned back. “I would like to know how you are going to stop the losers from declaring war on you. Or on Helen’s lucky new husband. I see half a dozen men here ready to leap at each other’s throats.” “You seem amused.” The man shrugged. “I find the folly of men amusing.” “The son of Laertes scorns us!” This was the large man, Ajax, his clenched fist as big as my head. “Son of Telamon, never.” “Then what, Odysseus? Speak your mind, for once.” Tyndareus’ voice was as sharp as I’d heard it. Odysseus shrugged again. “This was a dangerous gamble, despite the treasure and renown you have won. Each of these men is worthy, and knows it. They will not be so easily put off.” “All this you have said to me in private.” My father stiffened beside me. Conspiracy. His was not the only angry face in the hall. “True. But now I offer you a solution.” He held up his hands, empty. “I have brought no gift and do not seek to woo Helen. I am a king, as has been said, of rocks and goats. In return for my solution, I seek from you the prize that I have already named.” “Give me your solution and you shall have it.” Again, that slight movement, from the dais. One woman’s hand had twitched against her companion’s dress. “Then here it is. I believe that we should let Helen choose.” Odysseus paused, to allow for the murmurs of disbelief; women did not have a say in such things. “No one may fault you, then. But she must choose now, at this very moment, so she will not be said to have taken council or instruction from you. And.” He held up a finger. “Before she chooses, every man here must swear an oath: to uphold Helen’s choice, and to defend her husband against all who would take her from him.” I felt the unrest in the room. An oath? And over such an unconventional matter as a woman choosing her husband. The men were suspicious. “Very well.” Tyndareus, his face unreadable, turned to the veiled women. “Helen, do you accept this proposal?” Her voice was low and lovely, carrying to every corner of the hall. “I do.” It was all she said, but I felt the shiver go through the men around me. Even as a child I felt it, and I marveled at the power of this woman who, though veiled, could electrify a room. Her skin, we suddenly remembered, was rumored to be gilded, her eyes dark and shining as the slick obsidian that we traded our olives for. At that moment she was worth all the prizes in the center of the hall, and more. She was worth our lives. Tyndareus nodded. “Then I decree that it is so. All those who wish to swear will do so, now.” I heard muttering, a few half-angry voices. But no man left. Helen’s voice, and the veil, gently fluttering with her breath, held us all captive. A swiftly summoned priest led a white goat to the altar. Here, inside, it was a more propitious choice than a bull, whose throat might splash unwholesomely upon the stone floor. The animal died easily, and the man mixed its dark blood with the cypress-ash from the fire. The bowl hissed, loud in the silent room. “You will be first.” Tyndareus pointed to Odysseus. Even a nine-year-old saw how fitting this was. Already Odysseus had shown himself too clever by half. Our ragged alliances prevailed only when no man was allowed to be too much more powerful than another. Around the room, I saw smirks and satisfaction among the kings; he would not be allowed to escape his own noose. Odysseus’ mouth quirked in a half-smile. “Of course. It is my pleasure.” But I guessed that it was not so. During the sacrifice I had watched him lean back into the shadows, as if he would be forgotten. He rose now, moved to the altar. “Now Helen”—Odysseus paused, his arm half-extended to the priest—“remember that I swear only in fellowship, not as a suitor. You would never forgive yourself if you were to choose me.” His words were teasing, and drew scattered laughter. We all knew it was not likely that one so luminous as Helen would choose the king of barren Ithaca. One by one the priest summoned us to the hearth, marking our wrists with blood and ash, binding as chains. I chanted the words of the oath back to him, my arm lifted for all to see. When the last man had returned to his place, Tyndareus rose. “Choose now, my daughter.” “Menelaus.” She spoke without hesitation, startling us all. We had expected suspense, indecision. I turned to the red-haired man, who stood, a huge grin cracking his face. In outsize joy, he clapped his silent brother on the back. Everywhere else was anger, disappointment, even grief. But no man reached for his sword; the blood had dried thick on our wrists. “So be it.” Tyndareus stood also. ”I am glad to welcome a second son of Atreus to my family. You shall have my Helen, even as your worthy brother once claimed my Clytemnestra.” He gestured to the tallest woman, as though she might stand. She did not move. Perhaps she had not heard. “What about the third girl?” This shout from a small man, beside the giant Ajax. “Your niece. Can I have her?” The men laughed, glad for an easing in the tension. “You’re too late, Teucer.” Odysseus spoke over the noise. “She’s promised to me.” I did not have the chance to hear more. My father’s hand seized my shoulder, pulling me angrily off the bench. “We are finished here.” We left that very night for home, and I climbed back on my donkey, thick with disappointment: I had not even been allowed to glimpse Helen’s fabled face. My father would never mention the trip again, and once home the events twisted strangely in my memory. The blood and the oath, the room full of kings: they seemed distant and pale, like something a bard had spun, rather than something I lived. Had I really knelt there before them? And what of the oath I had sworn? It seemed absurd even to think of it, foolish and improbable as a dream is by dinner. Chapter Three I STOOD IN THE FIELD. IN MY HANDS WERE TWO PAIRS OF dice, a gift. Not from my father, who’d never think of it. Not from my mother, who sometimes did not know me. I could not remember who had given them to me. A visiting king? A favor- currying noble? They were carved from ivory, inset with onyx, smooth under my thumb. It was late summer, and I was panting with my run from the palace. Since the day of the races I had been appointed a man to train me in all our athletic arts: boxing, sword-and-spear, discus. But I had escaped him, and glowed with the giddy lightness of solitude. It was the first time I had been alone in weeks. Then the boy appeared. His name was Clysonymus, and he was the son of a nobleman who was often at the palace. Older, larger, and unpleasantly fleshy. His eyes had caught the flash of the dice in my palm. He leered at me, held out his hand. “Let me see them.” “No.” I did not want his fingers on them, grubby and thick. And I was the prince, however small. Did I not even have this right? But these noble sons were used to me doing what they wished. They knew my father would not intervene. “I want them.” He didn’t bother to threaten me, yet. I hated him for it. I should be worth threatening. “No.” He stepped forward. “Let me have them.” “They’re mine.” I grew teeth. I snapped like the dogs who fight for our table scraps. He reached to take them, and I shoved him backwards. He stumbled, and I was glad. He would not get what was mine. “Hey!” He was angry. I was so small; I was rumored to be simple. If he backed down now, it would be a dishonor. He advanced on me, face red. Without meaning to, I stepped back. He smirked then. “Coward.” “I am no coward.” My voice rose, and my skin went hot. “Your father thinks you are.” His words were deliberate, as if he were savoring them. “I heard him tell my father so.” “He did not.” But I knew he had. The boy stepped closer. He lifted a fist. “Are you calling me a liar?” I knew that he would hit me now. He was just waiting for an excuse. I could imagine the way my father would have said it. Coward. I planted my hands on his chest and shoved, as hard as I could. Our land was one of grass and wheat. Tumbles should not hurt. I am making excuses. It was also a land of rocks. His head thudded dully against stone, and I saw the surprised pop of his eyes. The ground around him began to bleed. I stared, my throat closing in horror at what I had done. I had not seen the death of a human before. Yes, the bulls, and the goats, even the bloodless gasping of fish. And I had seen it in paintings, tapestries, the black figures burned onto our platters. But I had not seen this: the rattle of it, the choke and scrabble. The smell of the flux. I fled. Sometime later, they found me by the gnarled ankles of an olive tree. I was limp and pale, surrounded by my own vomit. The dice were gone, lost in my flight. My father stared down angrily at me, his lips drawn back to show his yellowing teeth. He gestured, and the servants lifted me and carried me inside. The boy’s family demanded immediate exile or death. They were powerful, and this was their eldest son. They might permit a king to burn their fields or rape their daughters, as long as payment was made. But you did not touch a man’s sons. For this, the nobles would riot. We all knew the rules; we clung to them to avoid the anarchy that was always a hairsbreadth away. Blood feud. The servants made the sign against evil. My father had spent his life scrabbling to keep his kingdom, and would not risk losing it over such a son as me, when heirs and the wombs that bore them were so easy to come by. So he agreed: I would be exiled, and fostered in another man’s kingdom. In exchange for my weight in gold, they would rear me to manhood. I would have no parents, no family name, no inheritance. In our day, death was preferable. But my father was a practical man. My weight in gold was less than the expense of the lavish funeral my death would have demanded. This was how I came to be ten, and an orphan. This is how I came to Phthia. TINY, GEMSTONE-SIZED PHTHIA was the smallest of our countries, set in a northern crook of land between the ridges of Mount Othrys and the sea. Its king, Peleus, was one of those men whom the gods love: not divine himself, but clever, brave, handsome, and excelling all his peers in piety. As a reward, our divinities offered him a sea-nymph for a wife. It was considered their highest honor. After all, what mortal would not want to bed a goddess and sire a son from her? Divine blood purified our muddy race, bred heroes from dust and clay. And this goddess brought a greater promise still: the Fates had foretold that her son would far surpass his father. Peleus’ line would be assured. But, like all the gods’ gifts, there was an edge to it; the goddess herself was unwilling. Everyone, even I, had heard the story of Thetis’ ravishment. The gods had led Peleus to the secret place where she liked to sit upon the beach. They had warned him not to waste time with overtures—she would never consent to marriage with a mortal. They warned him too of what would come once he had caught her: for the nymph Thetis was wily, like her father, Proteus, the slippery old man of the sea, and she knew how to make her skin flow into a thousand different shapes of fur and feather and flesh. And though beaks and claws and teeth and coils and stinging tails would flay him, still Peleus must not let her go. Peleus was a pious and obedient man and did all that the gods had instructed him to do. He waited for her to emerge from the slate-colored waves, hair black and long as a horse’s tail. Then he seized her, holding on despite her violent struggles, squeezing until they were both exhausted, breathless and sand-scraped. The blood from the wounds she had given him mixed with the smears of lost maidenhead on her thighs. Her resistance mattered no longer: a deflowering was as binding as marriage vows. The gods forced her to swear that she would stay with her mortal husband for at least a year, and she served her time on earth as the duty it was, silent, unresponsive, and sullen. Now when he clasped her, she did not bother to writhe and twist in protest. Instead she lay stiff and silent, damp and chilled as an old fish. Her reluctant womb bore only a single child. The hour her sentence was finished, she ran out of the house and dove back into the sea. She would return only to visit the boy, never for any other reason, and never for long. The rest of the time the child was raised by tutors and nurses and overseen by Phoinix, Peleus’ most trusted counselor. Did Peleus ever regret the gods’ gift to him? An ordinary wife would have counted herself lucky to find a husband with Peleus’ mildness, his smile-lined face. But for the sea-nymph Thetis nothing could ever eclipse the stain of his dirty, mortal mediocrity. I WAS LED through the palace by a servant whose name I had not caught. Perhaps he had not said it. The halls were smaller than at home, as if restrained by the modesty of the kingdom they governed. The walls and floors were local marble, whiter than was found in the south. My feet were dark against its pallor. I had nothing with me. My few belongings were being carried to my room, and the gold my father sent was on its way to the treasury. I had felt a strange panic as I was parted from it. It had been my companion for the weeks of travel, a reminder of my worth. I knew its contents by heart now: the five goblets with engraved stems, a heavy knobbed scepter, a beaten-gold necklace, two ornamental statues of birds, and a carved lyre, gilded at its tips. This last, I knew, was cheating. Wood was cheap and plentiful and heavy and took up space that should have been used for gold. Yet the lyre was so beautiful no one could object to it; it had been a piece of my mother’s dowry. As we rode, I would reach back into my saddlebags to stroke the polished wood. I guessed that I was being led to the throne room, where I would kneel and pour out my gratitude. But the servant stopped suddenly at a side door. King Peleus was absent, he told me, so I would present myself before his son instead. I was unnerved. This was not what I had prepared myself for, the dutiful words I’d practiced on donkeyback. Peleus’ son. I could still remember the dark wreath against his bright hair, the way his pink soles had flashed along the track. That is what a son should be. He was lying on his back on a wide, pillowed bench, balancing a lyre on his stomach. Idly, he plucked at it. He did not hear me enter, or he did not choose to look. This is how I first began to understand my place here. Until this moment I had been a prince, expected and announced. Now I was negligible. I took another step forward, scuffing my feet, and his head lolled to the side to regard me. In the five years since I had seen him, he had outgrown his babyish roundness. I gaped at the cold shock of his beauty, deep-green eyes, features fine as a girl’s. It struck from me a sudden, springing dislike. I had not changed so much, nor so well. He yawned, his eyes heavy-lidded. “What’s your name?” His kingdom was half, a quarter, an eighth the size of my father’s, and I had killed a boy and been exiled and still he did not know me. I ground my jaw shut and would not speak. He asked again, louder: “What’s your name?” My silence was excusable the first time; perhaps I had not heard him. Now it was not. “Patroclus.” It was the name my father had given me, hopefully but injudiciously, at my birth, and it tasted of bitterness on my tongue. “Honor of the father,” it meant. I waited for him to make a joke out of it, some witty jape about my disgrace. He did not. Perhaps, I thought, he is too stupid to. He rolled onto his side to face me. A stray lock of gold fell half into his eyes; he blew it away. “My name is Achilles.” I jerked my chin up, an inch, in bare acknowledgment. We regarded each other for a moment. Then he blinked and yawned again, his mouth cracked wide as a cat’s. “Welcome to Phthia.” I had been raised in a court and knew dismissal when I heard it. I DISCOVERED THAT AFTERNOON that I was not the only foster child of Peleus. The modest king turned out to be rich in cast-off sons. He had once been a runaway himself, it was rumored, and had a reputation for charity towards exiles. My bed was a pallet in a long barracks-style room, filled with other boys tussling and lounging. A servant showed me where my things had been put. A few boys lifted their heads, stared. I am sure one of them spoke to me, asked my name. I am sure I gave it. They returned to their games. No one important. I walked stiff-legged to my pallet and waited for dinner. We were summoned to eat at dusk by a bell, bronze struck from deep in the palace’s turnings. The boys dropped their games and tumbled out into the hallway. The complex was built like a rabbit warren, full of twisting corridors and sudden inner rooms. I nearly tripped over the heels of the boy in front of me, fearful of being left behind and lost. The room for meals was a long hall at the front of the palace, its windows opening onto Mount Othrys’ foothills. It was large enough to feed all of us, many times over; Peleus was a king who liked to host and entertain. We sat on its oakwood benches, at tables that were scratched from years of clattering plates. The food was simple but plentiful—salted fish, and thick bread served with herbed cheese. There was no flesh here, of goats or bulls. That was only for royalty, or festival days. Across the room I caught the flash of bright hair in lamplight. Achilles. He sat with a group of boys whose mouths were wide with laughter at something he’d said or done. That is what a prince should be. I stared down at my bread, its coarse grains that rubbed rough against my fingers. After supper we were allowed to do as we liked. Some boys were gathering in a corner for a game. “Do you want to play?” one asked. His hair still hung in childhood curls; he was younger than I was. “Play?” “Dice.” He opened his hand to show them, carved bone flecked with black dye. I started, stepped backwards. “No,” I said, too loudly. He blinked in surprise. “All right.” He shrugged, and was gone. That night I dreamed of the dead boy, his skull cracked like an egg against the ground. He has followed me. The blood spreads, dark as spilled wine. His eyes open, and his mouth begins to move. I clap my hands over my ears. The voices of the dead were said to have the power to make the living mad. I must not hear him speak. I woke in terror, hoping I had not screamed aloud. The pinpricks of stars outside the window were the only light; there was no moon I could see. My breathing was harsh in the silence, and the marsh-reed ticking of the mattress crackled softly beneath me, rubbing its thin fingers against my back. The presence of the other boys did not comfort me; our dead come for their vengeance regardless of witnesses. The stars turned, and somewhere the moon crept across the sky. When my eyes dragged closed again, he was waiting for me still, covered in blood, his face as pale as bone. Of course he was. No soul wished to be sent early to the endless gloom of our underworld. Exile might satisfy the anger of the living, but it did not appease the dead. I woke sandy-eyed, my limbs heavy and dull. The other boys surged around me, dressing for breakfast, eager for the day. Word had spread quickly of my strangeness, and the younger boy did not approach me again, with dice or anything else. At breakfast, my fingers pushed bread between my lips, and my throat swallowed. Milk was poured for me. I drank it. Afterwards we were led into the dusty sun of the practice yards for training in spear and sword. Here is where I tasted the full truth of Peleus’ kindness: well trained and indebted, we would one day make him a fine army. I was given a spear, and a callused hand corrected my grip, then corrected it again. I threw and grazed the edge of the oak-tree target. The master blew out a breath and passed me a second spear. My eyes traveled over the other boys, searching for Peleus’ son. He was not there. I sighted once more at the oak, its bark pitted and cracked, oozing sap from punctures. I threw. The sun drove high, then higher still. My throat grew dry and hot, scratched with burning dust. When the masters released us, most of the boys fled to the beach, where small breezes still stirred. There they diced and raced, shouting jokes in the sharp, slanting dialects of the north. My eyes were heavy in my head, and my arm ached from the morning’s exertion. I sat beneath the scrubby shade of an olive tree to stare out over the ocean’s waves. No one spoke to me. I was easy to ignore. It was not so very different from home, really. THE NEXT DAY was the same, a morning of weary exercises, and then long afternoon hours alone. At night, the moon slivered smaller and smaller. I stared until I could see it even when I closed my eyes, the yellow curve bright against the dark of my eyelids. I hoped that it might keep the visions of the boy at bay. Our goddess of the moon is gifted with magic, with power over the dead. She could banish the dreams, if she wished. She did not. The boy came, night after night, with his staring eyes and splintered skull. Sometimes he turned and showed me the hole in his head, where the soft mass of his brain hung loose. Sometimes he reached for me. I would wake, choking on my horror, and stare at the darkness until dawn. Chapter Four MEALS IN THE VAULTED DINING HALL WERE MY ONLY relief. There the walls did not seem to press in on me so much, and the dust from the courtyard did not clog in my throat. The buzz of constant voices eased as mouths were stuffed full. I could sit with my food alone and breathe again. It was the only time I saw Achilles. His days were separate, princely, filled with duties we had no part of. But he took each meal with us, circulating among the tables. In the huge hall, his beauty shone like a flame, vital and bright, drawing my eye against my will. His mouth was a plump bow, his nose an aristocratic arrow. When he was seated, his limbs did not skew as mine did, but arranged themselves with perfect grace, as if for a sculptor. Perhaps most remarkable was his unself-consciousness. He did not preen or pout as other handsome children did. Indeed, he seemed utterly unaware of his effect on the boys around him. Though how he was, I could not imagine: they crowded him like dogs in their eagerness, tongues lolling. I watched all of this from my place at a corner table, bread crumpled in my fist. The keen edge of my envy was like flint, a spark away from fire. On one of these days he sat closer to me than usual; only a table distant. His dusty feet scuffed against the flagstones as he ate. They were not cracked and callused as mine were, but pink and sweetly brown beneath the dirt. Prince, I sneered inside my head. He turned, as if he had heard me. For a second our eyes held, and I felt a shock run through me. I jerked my gaze away, and busied myself with my bread. My cheeks were hot, and my skin prickled as if before a storm. When, at last, I ventured to look up again, he had turned back to his table and was speaking to the other boys. After that, I was craftier with my observation, kept my head down and my eyes ready to leap away. But he was craftier still. At least once a dinner he would turn and catch me before I could feign indifference. Those seconds, half seconds, that the line of our gaze connected, were the only moment in my day that I felt anything at all. The sudden swoop of my stomach, the coursing anger. I was like a fish eyeing the hook. IN THE FOURTH WEEK of my exile, I walked into the dining hall to find him at the table where I always sat. My table, as I had come to think of it, since few others chose to share it with me. Now, because of him, the benches were full of jostling boys. I froze, caught between flight and fury. Anger won. This was mine, and he would not push me from it, no matter how many boys he brought. I sat at the last empty space, my shoulders tensed as if for a fight. Across the table the boys postured and prattled, about a spear and a bird that had died on the beach and the spring races. I did not hear them. His presence was like a stone in my shoe, impossible to ignore. His skin was the color of just-pressed olive oil, and smooth as polished wood, without the scabs and blemishes that covered the rest of us. Dinner finished, and the plates were cleared. A harvest moon, full and orange, hung in the dusk beyond the dining room’s windows. Yet Achilles lingered. Absently, he pushed the hair from his eyes; it had grown longer over the weeks I had been here. He reached for a bowl on the table that held figs and gathered several in his hands. With a toss of his wrist, he flicked the figs into the air, one, two, three, juggling them so lightly that their delicate skins did not bruise. He added a fourth, then a fifth. The boys hooted and clapped. More, more! The fruits flew, colors blurring, so fast they seemed not to touch his hands, to tumble of their own accord. Juggling was a trick of low mummers and beggars, but he made it something else, a living pattern painted on the air, so beautiful even I could not pretend disinterest. His gaze, which had been following the circling fruit, flickered to mine. I did not have time to look away before he said, softly but distinctly, “Catch.” A fig leapt from the pattern in a graceful arc towards me. It fell into the cup of my palms, soft and slightly warm. I was aware of the boys cheering. One by one, Achilles caught the remaining fruits, returned them to the table with a performer’s flourish. Except for the last, which he ate, the dark flesh parting to pink seeds under his teeth. The fruit was perfectly ripe, the juice brimming. Without thinking, I brought the one he had thrown me to my lips. Its burst of grainy sweetness filled my mouth; the skin was downy on my tongue. I had loved figs, once. He stood, and the boys chorused their farewells. I thought he might look at me again. But he only turned and vanished back to his room on the other side of the palace. THE NEXT DAY Peleus returned to the palace and I was brought before him in his throne room, smoky and sharp from a yew-wood fire. Duly I knelt, saluted, received his famously charitable smile. “Patroclus,” I told him, when he asked. I was almost accustomed to it now, the bareness of my name, without my father’s behind it. Peleus nodded. He seemed old to me, bent over, but he was no more than fifty, my father’s age. He did not look like a man who could have conquered a goddess, or produced such a child as Achilles. “You are here because you killed a boy. You understand this?” This was the cruelty of adults. Do you understand? “Yes,” I told him. I could have told him more, of the dreams that left me bleary and bloodshot, the almost-screams that scraped my throat as I swallowed them down. The way the stars turned and turned through the night above my unsleeping eyes. “You are welcome here. You may still make a good man.” He meant it as comfort. LATER THAT DAY, perhaps from him, perhaps from a listening servant, the boys learned at last of the reason for my exile. I should have expected it. I had heard them gossip of others often enough; rumors were the only coin the boys had to trade in. Still, it took me by surprise to see the sudden change in them, the fear and fascination blooming on their faces as I passed. Now even the boldest of them would whisper a prayer if he brushed against me: bad luck could be caught, and the Erinyes, our hissing spirits of vengeance, were not always particular. The boys watched from a safe distance, enthralled. Will they drink his blood, do you think? Their whispers choked me, turned the food in my mouth to ash. I pushed away my plate and sought out corners and spare halls where I might sit undisturbed, except for the occasional passing servant. My narrow world narrowed further: to the cracks in the floor, the carved whorls in the stone walls. They rasped softly as I traced them with my fingertip. “I HEARD YOU WERE HERE.” A clear voice, like ice-melted streams. My head jerked up. I was in a storeroom, my knees against my chest, wedged between jars of thick-pressed olive oil. I had been dreaming myself a fish, silvered by sun as it leapt from the sea. The waves dissolved, became amphorae and grain sacks again. It was Achilles, standing over me. His face was serious, the green of his eyes steady as he regarded me. I prickled with guilt. I was not supposed to be there and I knew it. “I have been looking for you,” he said. The words were expressionless; they carried no hint of anything I could read. “You have not been going to morning drills.” My face went red. Behind the guilt, anger rose slow and dull. It was his right to chastise me, but I hated him for it. “How do you know? You aren’t there.” “The master noticed, and spoke to my father.” “And he sent you.” I wanted to make him feel ugly for his tale-bearing. “No, I came on my own.” Achilles’ voice was cool, but I saw his jaw tighten, just a little. “I overheard them speaking. I have come to see if you are ill.” I did not answer. He studied me a moment. “My father is considering punishment,” he said. We knew what this meant. Punishment was corporal, and usually public. A prince would never be whipped, but I was no longer a prince. “You are not ill,” he said. “No,” I answered, dully. “Then that will not serve as your excuse.” “What?” In my fear I could not follow him. “Your excuse for where you have been.” His voice was patient. “So you will not be punished. What will you say?” “I don’t know.” “You must say something.” His insistence sparked anger in me. “You are the prince,” I snapped. That surprised him. He tilted his head a little, like a curious bird. “So?” “So speak to your father, and say I was with you. He will excuse it.” I said this more confidently than I felt. If I had spoken to my father for another boy, he would have been whipped out of spite. But I was not Achilles. The slightest crease appeared between his eyes. “I do not like to lie,” he said. It was the sort of innocence other boys taunted out of you; even if you felt it, you did not say it. “Then take me with you to your lessons,” I said. “So it won’t be a lie.” His eyebrows lifted, and he regarded me. He was utterly still, the type of quiet that I had thought could not belong to humans, a stilling of everything but breath and pulse—like a deer, listening for the hunter’s bow. I found myself holding my breath. Then something shifted in his face. A decision. “Come,” he said. “Where?” I was wary; perhaps now I would be punished for suggesting deceit. “To my lyre lesson. So, as you say, it will not be a lie. After, we will speak with my father.” “Now?” “Yes. Why not?” He watched me, curious. Why not? When I stood to follow him, my limbs ached from so long seated on cool stone. My chest trilled with something I could not quite name. Escape, and danger, and hope all at once. WE WALKED IN SILENCE through the winding halls and came at length to a small room, holding only a large chest and stools for sitting. Achilles gestured to one and I went to it, leather pulled taut over a spare wooden frame. A musician’s chair. I had seen them only when bards came, infrequently, to play at my father’s fireside. Achilles opened the chest. He pulled a lyre from it and held it out to me. “I don’t play,” I told him. His forehead wrinkled at this. “Never?” Strangely, I found myself not wishing to disappoint him. “My father did not like music.” “So? Your father is not here.” I took the lyre. It was cool to the touch, and smooth. I slid my fingers over the strings, heard the humming almost-note; it was the lyre I had seen him with the first day I came. Achilles bent again into the trunk, pulled out a second instrument, and came to join me. He settled it on his knees. The wood was carved and golden and shone with careful keeping. It was my mother’s lyre, the one my father had sent as part of my price. Achilles plucked a string. The note rose warm and resonant, sweetly pure. My mother had always pulled her chair close to the bards when they came, so close my father would scowl and the servants would whisper. I remembered, suddenly, the dark gleam of her eyes in the firelight as she watched the bard’s hands. The look on her face was like thirst. Achilles plucked another string, and a note rang out, deeper than the other. His hand reached for a peg, turned it. That is my mother’s lyre, I almost said. The words were in my mouth, and behind them others crowded close. That is my lyre. But I did not speak. What would he say to such a statement? The lyre was his, now. I swallowed, my throat dry. “It is beautiful.” “My father gave it to me,” he said, carelessly. Only the way his fingers held it, so gently, stopped me from rising in rage. He did not notice. “You can hold it, if you like.” The wood would be smooth and known as my own skin. “No,” I said, through the ache in my chest. I will not cry in front of him. He started to say something. But at that moment the teacher entered, a man of indeterminate middle age. He had the callused hands of a musician and carried his own lyre, carved of dark walnut. “Who is this?” he asked. His voice was harsh and loud. A musician, but not a singer. “This is Patroclus,” Achilles said. “He does not play, but he will learn.” “Not on that instrument.” The man’s hand swooped down to pluck the lyre from my hands. Instinctively, my fingers tightened on it. It was not as beautiful as my mother’s lyre, but it was still a princely instrument. I did not want to give it up. I did not have to. Achilles had caught him by the wrist, midreach. “Yes, on that instrument if he likes.” The man was angry but said no more. Achilles released him and he sat, stiffly. “Begin,” he said. Achilles nodded and bent over the lyre. I did not have time to wonder about his intervention. His fingers touched the strings, and all my thoughts were displaced. The sound was pure and sweet as water, bright as lemons. It was like no music I had ever heard before. It had warmth as a fire does, a texture and weight like polished ivory. It buoyed and soothed at once. A few hairs slipped forward to hang over his eyes as he played. They were fine as lyre strings themselves, and shone. He stopped, pushed back his hair, and turned to me. “Now you.” I shook my head, full to spilling. I could not play now. Not ever, if I could listen to him instead. “You play,” I said. Achilles returned to his strings, and the music rose again. This time he sang also, weaving his own accompaniment with a clear, rich treble. His head fell back a little, exposing his throat, supple and fawn-skin soft. A small smile lifted the left corner of his mouth. Without meaning to I found myself leaning forward. When at last he ceased, my chest felt strangely hollowed. I watched him rise to replace the lyres, close the trunk. He bid farewell to the teacher, who turned and left. It took me a long moment before I came back to myself, to notice he was waiting for me. “We will go see my father now.” I did not quite trust myself to speak, so I nodded and followed him out of the room and up the twisting hallways to the king. Chapter Five ACHILLES STOPPED ME JUST INSIDE THE BRONZE-STUDDED doors of Peleus’ audience chamber. “Wait here,” he said. Peleus was seated on a high-backed chair at the room’s other end. An older man, one I had seen before with Peleus, stood near as if the two had been in conference. The fire smoked thickly, and the room felt hot and close. The walls were hung with deep-dyed tapestries and old weapons kept gleaming by servants. Achilles walked past them and knelt at his father’s feet. “Father, I come to ask your pardon.” “Oh?” Peleus lifted an eyebrow. “Speak then.” From where I stood his face looked cold and displeased. I was suddenly fearful. We had interrupted; Achilles had not even knocked. “I have taken Patroclus from his drills.” My name sounded strange on his lips; I almost did not recognize it. The old king’s brows drew together. “Who?” “Menoitiades,” Achilles said. Menoitius’ son. “Ah.” Peleus’ gaze followed the carpet back to where I stood, trying not to fidget. “Yes, the boy the arms-master wants to whip.” “Yes. But it is not his fault. I forgot to say I wished him for a companion.” Therapon was the word he used. A brother-in-arms sworn to a prince by blood oaths and love. In war, these men were his honor guard; in peace, his closest advisers. It was a place of highest esteem, another reason the boys swarmed Peleus’ son, showing off; they hoped to be chosen. Peleus’ eyes narrowed. “Come here, Patroclus.” The carpet was thick beneath my feet. I knelt a little behind Achilles. I could feel the king’s gaze on me. “For many years now, Achilles, I have urged companions on you and you have turned them away. Why this boy?” The question might have been my own. I had nothing to offer such a prince. Why, then, had he made a charity case of me? Peleus and I both waited for his answer. “He is surprising.” I looked up, frowning. If he thought so, he was the only one. “Surprising,” Peleus echoed. “Yes.” Achilles explained no further, though I hoped he would. Peleus rubbed his nose in thought. “The boy is an exile with a stain upon him. He will add no luster to your reputation.” “I do not need him to,” Achilles said. Not proudly or boastfully. Honestly. Peleus acknowledged this. “Yet other boys will be envious that you have chosen such a one. What will you tell them?” “I will tell them nothing.” The answer came with no hesitation, clear and crisp. “It is not for them to say what I will do.” I found my pulse beating thickly in my veins, fearing Peleus’ anger. It did not come. Father and son met each other’s gaze, and the faintest touch of amusement bloomed at the corner of Peleus’ mouth. “Stand up, both of you.” I did so, dizzily. “I pronounce your sentence. Achilles, you will give your apology to Amphidamas, and Patroclus will give his as well.” “Yes, Father.” “That is all.” He turned from us, back to his counselor, in dismissal. OUTSIDE AGAIN ACHILLES was brisk. “I will see you at dinner,” he said, and turned to go. An hour before I would have said I was glad to be rid of him; now, strangely, I felt stung. “Where are you going?” He stopped. “Drills.” “Alone?” “Yes. No one sees me fight.” The words came as if he were used to saying them. “Why?” He looked at me a long moment, as if weighing something. “My mother has forbidden it. Because of the prophecy.” “What prophecy?” I had not heard of this. “That I will be the best warrior of my generation.” It sounded like something a young child would claim, in make-believe. But he said it as simply as if he were giving his name. The question I wanted to ask was, And are you the best? Instead I stuttered out, “When was the prophecy given?” “When I was born. Just before. Eleithyia came and told it to my mother.” Eleithyia, goddess of childbirth, rumored to preside in person over the birth of half-gods. Those whose nativities were too important to be left to chance. I had forgotten. His mother is a goddess. “Is this known?” I was tentative, not wanting to press too far. “Some know of it, and some do not. But that is why I go alone.” But he didn’t go. He watched me. He seemed to be waiting. “Then I will see you at dinner,” I said at last. He nodded and left. HE WAS ALREADY SEATED when I arrived, wedged at my table amid the usual clatter of boys. I had half-expected him not to be; that I had dreamed the morning. As I sat, I met his eyes, quickly, almost guiltily, then looked away. My face was flushing, I was sure. My hands felt heavy and awkward as they reached for the food. I was aware of every swallow, every expression on my face. The meal was very good that night, roasted fish dressed with lemon and herbs, fresh cheese and bread, and he ate well. The boys were unconcerned by my presence. They had long ago ceased to see me. “Patroclus.” Achilles did not slur my name, as people often did, running it together as if in a hurry to be rid of it. Instead, he rang each syllable: Pa-tro-clus. Around us dinner was ending, the servants clearing the plates. I looked up, and the boys quieted, watching with interest. He did not usually address us by name. “Tonight you’re to sleep in my room,” he said. I was so shocked that my mouth would have hung open. But the boys were there, and I had been raised with a prince’s pride. “All right,” I said. “A servant will bring your things.” I could hear the thoughts of the staring boys as if they said them. Why him? Peleus had spoken true: he had often encouraged Achilles to choose his companions. But in all those years, Achilles showed no special interest in any of the boys, though he was polite to all, as befitted his upbringing. And now he had bestowed the long-awaited honor upon the most unlikely of us, small and ungrateful and probably cursed. He turned to go and I followed him, trying not to stumble, feeling the eyes of the table on my back. He led me past my old room and the chamber of state with its high-backed throne. Another turn, and we were in a portion of the palace I did not know, a wing that slanted down towards water. The walls were painted with bright patterns that bled to gray as his torch passed them. His room was so close to the sea that the air tasted of salt. There were no wall pictures here, only plain stone and a single soft rug. The furniture was simple but well made, carved from dark-grained wood I recognized as foreign. Off to one side I saw a thick pallet. He gestured to it. “That is for you.” “Oh.” Saying thank you did not seem the right response. “Are you tired?” he asked. “No.” He nodded, as if I had said something wise. “Me neither.” I nodded in turn. Each of us, warily polite, bobbing our head like birds. There was a silence. “Do you want to help me juggle?” “I don’t know how.” “You don’t have to know. I’ll show you.” I was regretting saying I was not tired. I did not want to make a fool of myself in front of him. But his face was hopeful, and I felt like a miser to refuse. “All right.” “How many can you hold?” “I don’t know.” “Show me your hand.” I did, palm out. He rested his own palm against it. I tried not to startle. His skin was soft and slightly sticky from dinner. The plump finger pads brushing mine were very warm. “About the same. It will be better to start with two, then. Take these.” He reached for six leather-covered balls, the type that mummers used. Obediently, I claimed two. “When I say, throw one to me.” Normally I would chafe at being bossed this way. But somehow the words did not sound like commands in his mouth. He began to juggle the remaining balls. “Now,” he said. I let the ball fly from my hand towards him, saw it pulled seamlessly into the circling blur. “Again,” he said. I threw another ball, and it joined the others. “You do that well,” he said. I looked up, quickly. Was he mocking me? But his face was sincere. “Catch.” A ball came back to me, just like the fig at dinner. My part took no great skill, but I enjoyed it anyway. We found ourselves smiling at the satisfaction of each smooth catch and throw. After some time he stopped, yawned. “It’s late,” he said. I was surprised to see the moon high outside the window; I had not noticed the minutes passing. I sat on the pallet and watched as he busied himself with the tasks of bed, washing his face with water from a wide-mouthed ewer, untying the bit of leather that bound his hair. The silence brought my uneasiness back. Why was I here? Achilles snuffed out the torch. “Good night,” he said. “Good night.” The word felt strange in my mouth, like another language. Time passed. In the moonlight, I could just make out the shape of his face, sculptor-perfect, across the room. His lips were parted slightly, an arm thrown carelessly above his head. He looked different in sleep, beautiful but cold as moonlight. I found myself wishing he would wake so that I might watch the life return. THE NEXT MORNING, after breakfast, I went back to the boys’ room, expecting to find my things returned. They were not, and I saw that my bed had been stripped of its linens. I checked again after lunch, and after spear practice and then again before bed, but my old place remained empty and unmade. So. Still. Warily, I made my way to his room, half-expecting a servant to stop me. None did. In the doorway of his room, I hesitated. He was within, lounging as I had seen him that first day, one leg dangling. “Hello,” he said. If he had shown any hesitation or surprise, I would have left, gone back and slept on the bare reeds rather than stay here. But he did not. There was only his easy tone and a sharp attention in his eyes. “Hello,” I answered, and went to take my place on the cot across the room. SLOWLY, I GREW USED TO IT; I no longer startled when he spoke, no longer waited for rebuke. I stopped expecting to be sent away. After dinner, my feet took me to his room out of habit, and I thought of the pallet where I lay as mine. At night I still dreamed of the dead boy. But when I woke, sweaty and terror-stricken, the moon would be bright on the water outside and I could hear the lick of the waves against the shore. In the dim light I saw his easy breathing, the drowsy tangle of his limbs. In spite of myself, my pulse slowed. There was a vividness to him, even at rest, that made death and spirits seem foolish. After a time, I found I could sleep again. Time after that, the dreams lessened and dropped away. I learned that he was not so dignified as he looked. Beneath his poise and stillness was another face, full of mischief and faceted like a gem, catching the light. He liked to play games against his own skill, catching things with his eyes closed, setting himself impossible leaps over beds and chairs. When he smiled, the skin at the corners of his eyes crinkled like a leaf held to flame. He was like a flame himself. He glittered, drew eyes. There was a glamour to him, even on waking, with his hair tousled and his face still muddled with sleep. Up close, his feet looked almost unearthly: the perfectly formed pads of the toes, the tendons that flickered like lyre strings. The heels were callused white over pink from going everywhere barefoot. His father made him rub them with oils that smelled of sandalwood and pomegranate. He began to tell me the stories of his day before we drifted off to sleep. At first I only listened, but after time my tongue loosened. I began to tell my own stories, first of the palace, and later small bits from before: the skipping stones, the wooden horse I had played with, the lyre from my mother’s dowry. “I am glad your father sent it with you,” he said. Soon our conversations spilled out of the night’s confinement. I surprised myself with how much there was to say, about everything, the beach and dinner and one boy or another. I stopped watching for ridicule, the scorpion’s tail hidden in his words. He said what he meant; he was puzzled if you did not. Some people might have mistaken this for simplicity. But is it not a sort of genius to cut always to the heart? ONE AFTERNOON, as I went to leave him to his private drills he said, “Why don’t you come with me?” His voice was a little strained; if I had not thought it impossible, I might have said he was nervous. The air, which had grown comfortable between us, felt suddenly taut. “All right,” I said. It was the quiet hours of late afternoon; the palace slept out the heat and left us alone. We took the longest way, through the olive grove’s twisting path, to the house where the arms were kept. I stood in the doorway as he selected his practice weapons, a spear and a sword, slightly blunted at the tip. I reached for my own, then hesitated. “Should I—?” He shook his head. No. “I do not fight with others,” he told me. I followed him outside to the packed sand circle. “Never?” “No.” “Then how do you know that . . .” I trailed off as he took up a stance in the center, his spear in his hand, his sword at his waist. “That the prophecy is true? I guess I don’t.” Divine blood flows differently in each god-born child. Orpheus’ voice made the trees weep, Heracles could kill a man by clapping him on the back. Achilles’ miracle was his speed. His spear, as he began the first pass, moved faster than my eye could follow. It whirled, flashing forward, reversed, then flashed behind. The shaft seemed to flow in his hands, the dark gray point flickered like a snake’s tongue. His feet beat the ground like a dancer, never still. I could not move, watching. I almost did not breathe. His face was calm and blank, not tensed with effort. His movements were so precise I could almost see the men he fought, ten, twenty of them, advancing on all sides. He leapt, scything his spear, even as his other hand snatched the sword from its sheath. He swung out with them both, moving like liquid, like a fish through the waves. He stopped, suddenly. I could hear his breaths, only a little louder than usual, in the still afternoon air. “Who trained you?” I asked. I did not know what else to say. “My father, a little.” A little. I felt almost frightened. “No one else?” “No.” I stepped forward. “Fight me.” He made a sound almost like a laugh. “No. Of course not.” “Fight me.” I felt in a trance. He had been trained, a little, by his father. The rest was—what? Divine? This was more of the gods than I had ever seen in my life. He made it look beautiful, this sweating, hacking art of ours. I understood why his father did not let him fight in front of the others. How could any ordinary man take pride in his own skill when there was this in the world? “I don’t want to.” “I dare you.” “You don’t have any weapons.” “I’ll get them.” He knelt and laid his weapons in the dirt. His eyes met mine. “I will not. Do not ask me again.” “I will ask you again. You cannot forbid me.” I stepped forward, defiant. Something burned hot in me now, an impatience, a certainty. I would have this thing. He would give it to me. His face twisted and, almost, I thought I saw anger. This pleased me. I would goad him, if nothing else. He would fight me then. My nerves sang with the danger of it. But instead he walked away, his weapons abandoned in the dust. “Come back,” I said. Then louder: “Come back. Are you afraid?” That strange half-laugh again, his back still turned. “No, I am not afraid.” “You should be.” I meant it as a joke, an easing, but it did not sound that way in the still air that hung between us. His back stared at me, unmoving, unmovable. I will make him look at me, I thought. My legs swallowed up the five steps between us, and I crashed into his back. He stumbled forward, falling, and I clung to him. We landed, and I heard the quick huff of his breath as it was driven from him. But before I could speak, he was twisting around beneath me, had seized my wrists in his hands. I struggled, not sure what I had meant to do. But here was resistance, and that was something I could fight. “Let me go!” I yanked my wrists against his grip. “No.” In a swift motion, he rolled me beneath him, pinning me, his knees in my belly. I panted, angry but strangely satisfied. “I have never seen anyone fight the way you do,” I told him. Confession or accusation, or both. “You have not seen much.” I bridled, despite the mildness of his tone. “You know what I mean.” His eyes were unreadable. Over us both, the unripe olives rattled gently. “Maybe. What do you mean?” I twisted, hard, and he let go. We sat up, our tunics dusty and stuck to our backs. “I mean—” I broke off. There was an edge to me now, that familiar keenness of anger and envy, struck to life like flint. But the bitter words died even as I thought them. “There is no one like you,” I said, at last. He regarded me a moment, in silence. “So?” Something in the way he spoke it drained the last of my anger from me. I had minded, once. But who was I now, to begrudge such a thing? As if he heard me, he smiled, and his face was like the sun. Chapter Six OUR FRIENDSHIP CAME ALL AT ONCE AFTER THAT, LIKE spring floods from the mountains. Before, the boys and I had imagined that his days were filled with princely instruction, statecraft and spear. But I had long since learned the truth: other than his lyre lessons and his drills, he had no instruction. One day we might go swimming, another we might climb trees. We made up games for ourselves, of racing and tumbling. We would lie on the warm sand and say, “Guess what I’m thinking about.” The falcon we had seen from our window. The boy with the crooked front tooth. Dinner. And as we swam, or played, or talked, a feeling would come. It was almost like fear, in the way it filled me, rising in my chest. It was almost like tears, in how swiftly it came. But it was neither of those, buoyant where they were heavy, bright where they were dull. I had known contentment before, brief snatches of time in which I pursued solitary pleasure: skipping stones or dicing or dreaming. But in truth, it had been less a presence than an absence, a laying aside of dread: my father was not near, nor boys. I was not hungry, or tired, or sick. This feeling was different. I found myself grinning until my cheeks hurt, my scalp prickling till I thought it might lift off my head. My tongue ran away from me, giddy with freedom. This and this and this, I said to him. I did not have to fear that I spoke too much. I did not have to worry that I was too slender or too slow. This and this and this! I taught him how to skip stones, and he taught me how to carve wood. I could feel every nerve in my body, every brush of air against my skin. He played my mother’s lyre, and I watched. When it was my turn to play, my fingers tangled in the strings and the teacher despaired of me. I did not care. “Play again,” I told him. And he played until I could barely see his fingers in the dark. I saw then how I had changed. I did not mind anymore that I lost when we raced and I lost when we swam out to the rocks and I lost when we tossed spears or skipped stones. For who can be ashamed to lose to such beauty? It was enough to watch him win, to see the soles of his feet flashing as they kicked up sand, or the rise and fall of his shoulders as he pulled through the salt. It was enough. IT WAS LATE SUMMER, over a year after my exile had begun, when at last I told him of how I had killed the boy. We were in the branches of the courtyard oak, hidden by the patchwork leaves. It was easier here somehow, off the ground, with the solid trunk at my back. He listened silently, and when I had finished, he asked: “Why did you not say that you were defending yourself?” It was like him to ask this, the thing I had not thought of before. “I don’t know.” “Or you could have lied. Said you found him already dead.” I stared at him, stunned by the simplicity of it. I could have lied. And then the revelation that followed: if I had lied, I would still be a prince. It was not murder that had exiled me, it was my lack of cunning. I understood, now, the disgust in my father’s eyes. His moron son, confessing all. I recalled how his jaw had hardened as I spoke. He does not deserve to be a king. “You would not have lied,” I said. “No,” he admitted. “What would you have done?” I asked. Achilles tapped a finger against the branch he sat on. “I don’t know. I can’t imagine it. The way the boy spoke to you.” He shrugged. “No one has ever tried to take something from me.” “Never?” I could not believe it. A life without such things seemed impossible. “Never.” He was silent a moment, thinking. “I don’t know,” he repeated, finally. “I think I would be angry.” He closed his eyes and rested his head back against a branch. The green oak leaves crowded around his hair, like a crown. I SAW KING PELEUS often now; we were called to councils sometimes, and dinners with visiting kings. I was allowed to sit at the table beside Achilles, even to speak if I wished. I did not wish; I was happy to be silent and watch the men around me. Skops, Peleus took to calling me. Owl, for my big eyes. He was good at this sort of affection, general and unbinding. After the men were gone, we would sit with him by the fire to hear the stories of his youth. The old man, now gray and faded, told us that he had once fought beside Heracles. When I said that I had seen Philoctetes, he smiled. “Yes, the bearer of Heracles’ great bow. Back then he was a spearman, and much the bravest of us.” This was like him too, these sorts of compliments. I understood, now, how his treasury had come to be so full of the gifts of treaty and alliance. Among our bragging, ranting heroes, Peleus was the exception: a man of modesty. We stayed to listen as the servants added one log, and then another, to the flames. It was halfway to dawn before he would send us back to our beds. THE ONLY PLACE I did not follow was to see his mother. He went late at night, or at dawn before the palace was awake, and returned flushed and smelling of the sea. When I asked about it, he told me freely, his voice strangely toneless. “It is always the same. She wants to know what I am doing and if I am well. She speaks to me of my reputation among men. At the end she asks if I will come with her.” I was rapt. “Where?” “The caves under the sea.” Where the sea-nymphs lived, so deep the sun did not penetrate. “Will you go?” He shook his head. “My father says I should not. He says no mortal who sees them comes back the same.” When he turned away, I made the peasant sign against evil. Gods avert. It frightened me a little to hear him speak of a thing so calmly. Gods and mortals never mixed happily in our stories. But she was his mother, I reassured myself, and he was half-god himself. In time his visits with her were just another strangeness about him that I became accustomed to, like the marvel of his feet or the inhuman deftness of his fingers. When I heard him climbing back through the window at dawn, I would mumble from my bed, “Is she well?” And he would answer. “Yes, she is well.” And he might add: “The fish are thick today” or “The bay is warm as a bath.” And then we would sleep again. ONE MORNING of my second spring, he came back from his visit with his mother later than usual; the sun was almost out of the water and the goatbells were clanging in the hills. “Is she well?” “She is well. She wants to meet you.” I felt a surge of fear, but stifled it. “Do you think I should?” I could not imagine what she would want with me. I knew her reputation for hating mortals. He did not meet my eyes; his fingers turned a stone he had found over and over. “There is no harm in it. Tomorrow night, she said.” I understood now that it was a command. The gods did not make requests. I knew him well enough to see that he was embarrassed. He was never so stiff with me. “Tomorrow?” He nodded. I did not want him to see my fear, though normally we kept nothing from each other. “Should I—should I bring a gift? Honeyed wine?” We poured it over the altars of the gods on festival days. It was one of our richest offerings. He shook his head. “She doesn’t like it.” The next night, when the household slept, I climbed out of our window. The moon was half full, bright enough for me to pick my way over the rocks without a torch. He had said that I was to stand in the surf and she would come. No, he had reassured me, you do not need to speak. She will know. The waves were warm, and thick with sand. I shifted, watched the small white crabs run through the surf. I was listening, thinking I might hear the splash of her feet as she approached. A breeze blew down the beach and, grateful, I closed my eyes to it. When I opened them again, she was standing before me. She was taller than I was, taller than any woman I had ever seen. Her black hair was loose down her back, and her skin shone luminous and impossibly pale, as if it drank light from the moon. She was so close I could smell her, seawater laced with dark brown honey. I did not breathe. I did not dare. “You are Patroclus.” I flinched at the sound of her voice, hoarse and rasping. I had expected chimes, not the grinding of rocks in the surf. “Yes, lady.” Distaste ran over her face. Her eyes were not like a human’s; they were black to their center and flecked with gold. I could not bring myself to meet them. “He will be a god,” she said. I did not know what to say, so I said nothing. She leaned forward, and I half-thought she might touch me. But of course she did not. “Do you understand?” I could feel her breath on my cheek, not warm at all, but chilled like the depths of the sea. Do you understand? He had told me that she hated to be kept waiting. “Yes.” She leaned closer still, looming over me. Her mouth was a gash of red, like the torn-open stomach of a sacrifice, bloody and oracular. Behind it her teeth shone sharp and white as bone. “Good.” Carelessly, as if to herself, she added, “You will be dead soon enough.” She turned and dove into the sea, leaving no ripples behind her. I DID NOT GO straight back to the palace. I could not. I went to the olive grove instead, to sit among the twisting trunks and fallen fruits. It was far from the sea. I did not wish to smell the salt now. You will be dead soon enough. She had said it coldly, as a fact. She did not wish me for his companion, but I was not worth killing. To a goddess, the few decades of human life were barely even an inconvenience. And she wished him to be a god. She had spoken it so simply, as if it were obvious. A god. I could not imagine him so. Gods were cold and distant, far off as the moon, nothing like his bright eyes, the warm mischief of his smiles. Her desire was ambitious. It was a difficult thing, to make even a half-god immortal. True, it had happened before, to Heracles and Orpheus and Orion. They sat in the sky now, presiding as constellations, feasting with the gods on ambrosia. But these men had been the sons of Zeus, their sinews strong with the purest ichor that flowed. Thetis was a lesser of the lesser gods, a sea-nymph only. In our stories these divinities had to work by wheedling and flattery, by favors won from stronger gods. They could not do much themselves. Except live, forever. “WHAT ARE YOU thinking about?” It was Achilles, come to find me. His voice was loud in the quiet grove, but I did not startle. I had half-expected him to come. I had wanted him to. “Nothing,” I said. It was untrue. I guess it always is. He sat down beside me, his feet bare and dusty. “Did she tell you that you would die soon?” I turned to look at him, startled. “Yes,” I said. “I’m sorry,” he said. The wind blew the gray leaves above us, and somewhere I heard the soft pat of an olive fall. “She wants you to be a god,” I told him. “I know.” His face twisted with embarrassment, and in spite of itself my heart lightened. It was such a boyish response. And so human. Parents, everywhere. But the question still waited to be asked; I could do nothing until I knew the answer. “Do you want to be—” I paused, struggling, though I had promised myself I wouldn’t. I had sat in the grove, practicing this very question, as I waited for him to find me. “Do you want to be a god?” His eyes were dark in the half-light. I could not make out the gold flecks in the green. “I don’t know,” he said at last. “I don’t know what it means, or how it happens.” He looked down at his hands, clasping his knees. “I don’t want to leave here. When would it happen anyway? Soon?” I was at a loss. I knew nothing of how gods were made. I was mortal, only. He was frowning now, his voice louder. “And is there really a place like that? Olympus? She doesn’t even know how she will do it. She pretends she knows. She thinks if I become famous enough . . .” He trailed off. This at least I could follow. “Then the gods will take you voluntarily.” He nodded. But he had not answered my question. “Achilles.” He turned to me, his eyes still filled with frustration, with a sort of angry bewilderment. He was barely twelve. “Do you want to be a god?” It was easier this time. “Not yet,” he said. A tightness I had not known was there eased a little. I would not lose him yet. He cupped a hand against his chin; his features looked finer than usual, like carved marble. “I’d like to be a hero, though. I think I could do it. If the prophecy is true. If there’s a war. My mother says I am better even than Heracles was.” I did not know what to say to this. I did not know if it was motherly bias or fact. I did not care. Not yet. He was silent a moment. Then turned to me, suddenly. “Would you want to be a god?” There, among the moss and olives, it struck me as funny. I laughed and, a moment later, he did too. “I do not think that is likely,” I told him. I stood, put down a hand for him. He took it, pulled himself up. Our tunics were dusty, and my feet tingled slightly with drying sea salt. “There were figs in the kitchen. I saw them,” he said. We were only twelve, too young to brood. “I bet I can eat more than you.” “Race you!” I laughed. We ran. Chapter Seven THE NEXT SUMMER WE TURNED THIRTEEN, HIM FIRST, and then me. Our bodies began to stretch, pulling at our joints till they were aching and weak. In Peleus’ shining bronze mirror, I almost did not recognize myself—lanky and gaunt, stork legs and sharpening chin. Achilles was taller still, seeming to tower above me. Eventually we would be of a height, but he came to his maturity sooner, with a startling speed, primed perhaps by the divinity in his blood. The boys, too, were growing older. Regularly now we heard moans behind closed doors and saw shadows returning to their beds before dawn. In our countries, a man often took a wife before his beard was fully fledged. How much earlier, then, did he take a serving girl? It was expected; very few men came to their marriage beds without having done so. Those who did were unlucky indeed: too weak to compel, too ugly to charm, and too poor to pay. It was customary for a palace to have a full complement of nobly born women as servants for the mistress of the house. But Peleus had no wife in the palace, and so the women we saw were mostly slaves. They had been bought or taken in warfare, or bred from those who were. During the day they poured wine and scrubbed floors and kept the kitchen. At night they belonged to soldiers or foster boys, to visiting kings or Peleus himself. The swollen bellies that followed were not a thing of shame; they were profit: more slaves. These unions were not always rape; sometimes there was mutual satisfaction and even affection. At least that is what the men who spoke of them believed. It would have been easy, infinitely easy, for Achilles or me to have bedded one of these girls ourselves. At thirteen we were almost late to do so, especially him, as princes were known for their appetites. Instead, we watched in silence as the foster boys pulled girls onto their laps, or Peleus summoned the prettiest to his room after dinner. Once, I even heard the king offer her to his son. He answered, almost diffidently: I am tired tonight. Later, as we walked back to our room, he avoided my eyes. And I? I was shy and silent with all but Achilles; I could scarcely speak to the other boys, let alone a girl. As a comrade of the prince, I suppose I would not have had to speak; a gesture or a look would have been enough. But such a thing did not occur to me. The feelings that stirred in me at night seemed strangely distant from those serving girls with their lowered eyes and obedience. I watched a boy fumbling at a girl’s dress, the dull look on her face as she poured his wine. I did not wish for such a thing. ONE NIGHT WE had stayed late in Peleus’ chamber. Achilles was on the floor, an arm thrown beneath his head for a pillow. I sat more formally, in a chair. It was not just because of Peleus. I did not like the sprawling length of my new limbs. The old king’s eyes were half-closed. He was telling us a story. “Meleager was the finest warrior of his day, but also the proudest. He expected the best of everything, and because the people loved him, he received it.” My eyes drifted to Achilles. His fingers were stirring, just barely, in the air. He often did this when he was composing a new song. The story of Meleager, I guessed, as his father told it. “But one day the king of Calydon said, ‘Why must we give so much to Meleager? There are other worthy men in Calydon.’ ” Achilles shifted, and his tunic pulled tight across his chest. That day, I had overheard a serving girl whispering to her friend: “Do you think the prince looked at me, at dinner?” Her tone was one of hope. “Meleager heard the words of the king and was enraged.” This morning he had leapt onto my bed and pressed his nose against mine. “Good morning,” he’d said. I remembered the heat of him against my skin. “He said, ‘I will not fight for you any longer.’ And he went back to his house and sought comfort in the arms of his wife.” I felt a tug on my foot. It was Achilles, grinning at me from the floor. “Calydon had fierce enemies, and when they heard that Meleager would no longer fight for Calydon—” I pushed my foot towards him a little, provokingly. His fingers wrapped around my ankle. “They attacked. And the city of Calydon suffered terrible losses.” Achilles yanked, and I slid half out of the chair. I clung to the wooden frame so I would not be pulled onto the floor. “So the people went to Meleager, to beg him for his help. And— Achilles, are you listening?” “Yes, Father.” “You are not. You are tormenting our poor Skops.” I tried to look tormented. But all I felt was the coolness against my ankle, where his fingers had been, a moment before. “It is just as well, perhaps. I am getting tired. We will finish the story another evening.” We stood and wished the old man good night. But as we turned, he said, “Achilles, you might look for the light-haired girl, from the kitchen. She has been haunting doorways for you, I hear.” It was hard to know if it was the firelight that made his face look so changed. “Perhaps, Father. I am tired tonight.” Peleus chuckled, as if this were a joke. “I’m sure she could wake you up.” He waved us off. I had to trot, a little, to keep up with him as we walked back to our rooms. We washed our faces in silence, but there was an ache in me, like a rotten tooth. I could not let it be. “That girl—do you like her?” Achilles turned to face me from across the room. “Why? Do you?” “No, no.” I flushed. “That is not what I meant.” I had not felt so uncertain with him since the earliest days. “I mean, do you want—” He ran at me, pushed me backwards onto my cot. Leaned over me. “I’m sick of talking about her,” he said. The heat rose up my neck, wrapped fingers over my face. His hair fell around me, and I could smell nothing but him. The grain of his lips seemed to rest a hairsbreadth from mine. Then, just like that morning, he was gone. Up across the room, and pouring a last cup of water. His face was still, and calm. “Good night,” he said. AT NIGHT, IN BED, images come. They begin as dreams, trailing caresses in my sleep from which I start, trembling. I lie awake, and still they come, the flicker of firelight on a neck, the curve of a hipbone, drawing downwards. Hands, smooth and strong, reaching to touch me. I know those hands. But even here, behind the darkness of my eyelids, I cannot name the thing I hope for. During the days I grow restless, fidgety. But all my pacing, singing, running does not keep them at bay. They come, and will not be stopped. IT IS SUMMER, one of the first fine days. We are on the beach after lunch, our backs to a sloping piece of driftwood. The sun is high, and the air warm around us. Beside me, Achilles shifts, and his foot falls open against mine. It is cool, and chafed pink from the sand, soft from a winter indoors. He hums something, a piece of a song he had played earlier. I turn to look at him. His face is smooth, without the blotches and spots that have begun to afflict the other boys. His features are drawn with a firm hand; nothing awry or sloppy, nothing too large—all precise, cut with the sharpest of knives. And yet the effect itself is not sharp. He turns and finds me looking at him. “What?” he says. “Nothing.” I can smell him. The oils that he uses on his feet, pomegranate and sandalwood; the salt of clean sweat; the hyacinths we had walked through, their scent crushed against our ankles. Beneath it all is his own smell, the one I go to sleep with, the one I wake up to. I cannot describe it. It is sweet, but not just. It is strong but not too strong. Something like almond, but that still is not right. Sometimes, after we have wrestled, my own skin smells like it. He puts a hand down, to lean against. The muscles in his arms curve softly, appearing and disappearing as he moves. His eyes are deep green on mine. My pulse jumps, for no reason I can name. He has looked at me a thousand thousand times, but there is something different in this gaze, an intensity I do not know. My mouth is dry, and I can hear the sound of my throat as I swallow. He watches me. It seems that he is waiting. I shift, an infinitesimal movement, towards him. It is like the leap from a waterfall. I do not know, until then, what I am going to do. I lean forward and our lips land clumsily on each other. They are like the fat bodies of bees, soft and round and giddy with pollen. I can taste his mouth—hot and sweet with honey from dessert. My stomach trembles, and a warm drop of pleasure spreads beneath my skin. More. The strength of my desire, the speed with which it flowers, shocks me; I flinch and startle back from him. I have a moment, only a moment, to see his face framed in the afternoon light, his lips slightly parted, still half-forming a kiss. His eyes are wide with surprise. I am horrified. What have I done? But I do not have time to apologize. He stands and steps backwards. His face has closed over, impenetrable and distant, freezing the explanations in my mouth. He turns and races, the fastest boy in the world, up the beach and away. My side is cold with his absence. My skin feels tight, and my face, I know, is red and raw as a burn. Dear gods, I think, let him not hate me. I should have known better than to call upon the gods. WHEN I TURNED THE CORNER onto the garden path, she was there, sharp and knife-bright. A blue dress clung to her skin as if damp. Her dark eyes held mine, and her fingers, chill and unearthly pale, reached for me. My feet knocked against each other as she lifted me from the earth. “I have seen,” she hissed. The sound of waves breaking on stone. I could not speak. She held me by the throat. “He is leaving.” Her eyes were black now, dark as sea-wet rocks, and as jagged. “I should have sent him long ago. Do not try to follow.” I could not breathe now. But I did not struggle. That much, at least, I knew. She seemed to pause, and I thought she might speak again. She did not. Only opened her hand and released me, boneless, to the ground. A mother’s wishes. In our countries, they were not worth much. But she was a goddess, first and always. When I returned to the room, it was already dark. I found Achilles sitting on his bed, staring at his feet. His head lifted, almost hopefully, as I came to the doorway. I did not speak; his mother’s black eyes still burned in front of me, and the sight of his heels, flashing up the beach. Forgive me, it was a mistake. This is what I might have dared to say then, if it had not been for her. I came into the room, sat on my own bed. He shifted, his eyes flicking to mine. He did not resemble her the way that children normally look like a parent, a tilt of chin, the shape of an eye. It was something in his movements, in his luminous skin. Son of a goddess. What had I thought would happen? Even from where I sat I could smell the sea on him. “I’m supposed to leave tomorrow,” he said. It was almost an accusation. “Oh,” I said. My mouth felt swollen and numb, too thick to form words. “I’m going to be taught by Chiron.” He paused, then added. “He taught Heracles. And Perseus.” Not yet, he had said to me. But his mother had chosen differently. He stood and pulled off his tunic. It was hot, full summer, and we were accustomed to sleeping naked. The moon shone on his belly, smooth, muscled, downed with light brown hairs that darkened as they ran below his waist. I averted my eyes. The next morning, at dawn, he rose and dressed. I was awake; I had not slept. I watched him through the fringes of my eyelids, feigning sleep. From time to time he glanced at me; in the dim half-light his skin glowed gray and smooth as marble. He slung his bag over his shoulder and paused, a last time, at the door. I remember him there, outlined in the stone frame, his hair falling loose, still untidy from sleep. I closed my eyes, and a moment passed. When I opened them again, I was alone. Chapter Eight BY BREAKFAST, EVERYONE KNEW HE WAS GONE. THEIR glances and whispers followed me to the table, lingered as I reached for food. I chewed and swallowed, though the bread sat like a stone in my stomach. I yearned to be away from the palace; I wanted the air. I walked to the olive grove, the earth dry beneath my feet. I half-wondered if I was expected to join the boys, now that he was gone. I half-wondered if anyone would notice whether I did. I half-hoped they would. Whip me, I thought. I could smell the sea. It was everywhere, in my hair, in my clothes, in the sticky damp of my skin. Even here in the grove, amidst the must of leaves and earth, the unwholesome salty decay still found me. My stomach heaved a moment, and I leaned against the scabbed trunk of a tree. The rough bark pricked my forehead, steadying me. I must get away from this smell, I thought. I walked north, to the palace road, a dusty strip worn smooth by wagon wheels and horses’ hooves. A little beyond the palace yard it divided. One half ran south and west, through grass and rocks and low hills; that was the way I had come, three years ago. The other half twisted northwards, towards Mount Othrys and then beyond, to Mount Pelion. I traced it with my eyes. It skirted the wooded foothills for some time before disappearing within them. The sun bore down on me, hot and hard in the summer sky, as if it would drive me back to the palace. Yet I lingered. I had heard they were beautiful, our mountains—pears and cypress and streams of just-melted ice. It would be cool there and shaded. Far away from the diamond-bright beaches, and the flashing of the sea. I could leave. The thought was sudden, arresting. I had come to the road meaning only to escape the sea. But the path lay before me, and the mountains. And Achilles. My chest rose and fell rapidly, as if trying to keep pace with my thoughts. I had nothing that belonged to me, not a tunic, not a sandal; they were Peleus’ all. I do not need to pack, even. Only my mother’s lyre, kept in the wooden chest within the inner room, stayed me. I hesitated a moment, thinking I might try to go back, to take it with me. But it was already midday. I had only the afternoon to travel, before they would discover my absence— so I flattered myself—and send after me. I glanced back at the palace and saw no one. The guards were elsewhere. Now. It must be now. I ran. Away from the palace, down the path towards the woods, feet stinging as they slapped the heat-baked ground. As I ran, I promised myself that if I ever saw him again, I would keep my thoughts behind my eyes. I had learned, now, what it would cost me if I did not. The ache in my legs, the knifing heaves of my chest felt clean and good. I ran. Sweat slicked my skin, fell upon the earth beneath my feet. I grew dirty, then dirtier. Dust and broken bits of leaves clung to my legs. The world around me narrowed to the pounding of my feet and the next dusty yard of road. Finally, after an hour? Two? I could go no farther. I bent over in pain, the bright afternoon sun wavering to black, the rush of blood deafening in my ears. The path was heavily wooded now, on both sides, and Peleus’ palace was a long way behind me. To my right loomed Othrys, with Pelion just beyond it. I stared at its peak and tried to guess how much farther. Ten thousand paces? Fifteen? I began to walk. Hours passed. My muscles grew wobbly and weak, my feet jumbled together. The sun was well across the zenith now, hanging low in the western sky. I had four, perhaps five, hours until dark, and the peak was as far as ever. Suddenly, I understood: I would not reach Pelion by nightfall. I had no food, nor water, nor hope of shelter. I had nothing but the sandals on my feet and the soaked tunic on my back. I would not catch up to Achilles, I was sure of that now. He had left the road and his horse long ago, was now moving up the slopes on foot. A good tracker would have observed the woods beside the road, could have seen where the bracken was bent or torn, where a boy had made a path. But I was not a good tracker, and the scrub by the road looked all the same to me. My ears buzzed dully— with cicadas, with the shrill calls of birds, with the rasp of my own breath. There was an ache in my stomach, like hunger or despair. And then there was something else. The barest sound, just at the limit of hearing. But I caught it, and my skin, even in the heat, went cold. I knew that sound. It was the sound of stealth, of a man attempting silence. It had been just the smallest misstep, the giving way of a single leaf, but it had been enough. I strained to listen, fear jumping in my throat. Where had it come from? My eyes tracked the woods on either side. I dared not move; any sound would echo loudly up the slopes. I had not thought of dangers as I ran, but now my mind tumbled with them: soldiers, sent by Peleus or Thetis herself, white hands cold as sand on my throat. Or bandits. I knew that they waited by roads, and I remembered stories of boys taken and kept until they died of misuse. My fingers pinched themselves white as I tried to still all breath, all movement, to give nothing away. My gaze caught on a thick clutch of blooming yarrow that could hide me. Now. Go. There was movement from the woods at my side, and I jerked my head towards it. Too late. Something—someone—struck me from behind, throwing me forward. I landed heavily, facedown on the ground, with the person already on top of me. I closed my eyes and waited for a knife. There was nothing. Nothing but silence and the knees that pinned my back. A moment passed, and it came to me that the knees were not so very heavy and were placed so that their pressure did not hurt. “Patroclus.” Pa-tro-clus. I did not move. The knees lifted, and hands reached down to turn me, gently, over. Achilles was looking down at me. “I hoped that you would come,” he said. My stomach rolled, awash with nerves and relief at once. I drank him in, the bright hair, the soft curve of his lips upwards. My joy was so sharp I did not dare to breathe. I do not know what I might have said then. I’m sorry, perhaps. Or perhaps something more. I opened my mouth. “Is the boy hurt?” A deep voice spoke from behind us both. Achilles’ head turned. From where I was, beneath him, I could see only the legs of the man’s horse—chestnut, fetlocks dulled with dust. The voice again, measured and deliberate. “I am assuming, Achilles Pelides, that this is why you have not yet joined me on the mountain?” My mind groped towards understanding. Achilles had not gone to Chiron. He had waited, here. For me. “Greetings, Master Chiron, and my apologies. Yes, it is why I have not come.” He was using his prince’s voice. “I see.” I wished that Achilles would get up. I felt foolish here, on the ground beneath him. And I was also afraid. The man’s voice showed no anger, but it showed no kindness, either. It was clear and grave and dispassionate. “Stand up,” it said. Slowly, Achilles rose. I would have screamed then, if my throat had not closed over with fear. Instead I made a noise like a half-strangled yelp and scrambled backwards. The horse’s muscular legs ended in flesh, the equally muscular torso of a man. I stared—at that impossible suture of horse and human, where smooth skin became a gleaming brown coat. Beside me Achilles bowed his head. “Master Centaur,” he said. “I am sorry for the delay. I had to wait for my companion.” He knelt, his clean tunic in the dusty earth. “Please accept my apologies. I have long wished to be your student.” The man’s—centaur’s—face was serious as his voice. He was older, I saw, with a neatly trimmed black beard. He regarded Achilles a moment. “You do not need to kneel to me, Pelides. Though I appreciate the courtesy. And who is this companion that has kept us both waiting?” Achilles turned back to me and reached a hand down. Unsteadily, I took it and pulled myself up. “This is Patroclus.” There was a silence, and I knew it was my turn to speak. “My lord,” I said. And bowed. “I am not a lord, Patroclus Menoitiades.” My head jerked up at the sound of my father’s name. “I am a centaur, and a teacher of men. My name is Chiron.” I gulped and nodded. I did not dare to ask how he knew my name. His eyes surveyed me. “You are overtired, I think. You need water and food, both. It is a long way to my home on Pelion, too long for you to wa