Copyright: Diandra Hollman
Warnings/Keywords: Allusions to slash, original character
Spoilers: Not if you've ever read the Iliad
Disclaimer: Odysseus, Achilles and Paris belong to Homer. Everything else is mine.
Althea spun gracefully across the courtyard, her sword slicing through the air with perfect precision, the sun glinting merrily off of the blade. Her long, dark curls whipped past her face, several strands sticking to her damp neck. The material of her simple dress alternately billowed and twisted about, wrapping itself around her legs and threatening to spill her to the ground. And yet she never faltered. She had always felt frustrated at the custom that required the women of her country to wear such unwieldy clothing. And while she reluctantly complied with the rule, she was far too stubborn to let it hinder her. Maids, teachers and caretakers alike had admonished her for the "unladylike" behavior that left her dresses dirty, torn and rumpled. Her foster father, however, understood her. He had never discouraged her and even taught her most of what she knew about sword fighting. He often commented that she had grown to be a better, more determined fighter than the men he commanded.
Althea heard a sound behind her and whirled, her sword clashing with that of her unexpected visitor's. She smirked triumphantly. "A noble attempt, old man."
Odysseus chuckled and re-sheathed his sword, easing out of his fighting stance. "You are more like your father every day," he mused.
Althea lowered her sword with a sigh. "So you tell me every day."
Her foster father frowned. "Is something wrong?"
"It is just that you speak so much about my father - you tell everyone about the mighty Achilles - but you never speak of my mother," Althea admitted. "Who was she?"
Odysseus took a deep breath and motioned for Althea to sit on a nearby rock. She did so quickly, placing her sword on the ground beneath. He sat beside her and gazed into her dark, expressive eyes as he debated his next words. When Althea had grown old enough, he had revealed to her the true identity of her father, but he had never been able to talk about her "mother" for fear of controversy. Now, he resolved to tell her as much as he could without revealing that the "woman" who had given birth to her was, in fact, the youngest prince of Troy.
"Your mother...was beautiful," Odysseus began. "You look very much like her. You have the strength of her will...her spirit...her stubbornness."
Althea scoffed in amusement. "You always said that was a trait of my father's."
"Aye, they were both stubborn."
Althea laughed. "I have always wondered what she would think if she saw me learning to fight," she admitted.
"She would have been proud of you. As would your father. That is why I encouraged you."
Althea smiled sadly. "I wish I could remember them," she murmured. "How did my mother die?"
Odysseus knew of no way to tell her the story other than to start from the beginning. "She was a Trojan."
Althea inhaled sharply. "She was my father's enemy," she asked in disbelief.
"No. Your father did not consider the Trojans his enemy. They were merely on opposite sides of a battle waged for Agamemnon's greed."
"Prince Paris kidnapped the Queen of Sparta," Althea argued.
"King Agamemnon would have gone to war for less," Odysseus countered. "Prince Paris merely gave him the opportunity." He sighed and continued. "Your mother was captured by the Greek army. She was held prisoner. She was beaten and would likely have been... intimately violated had your father not taken her into his protection."
Althea was silent, her eyes wide with shock. Over the years she had created an image in her mind of her mother. What she looked like, the kind of person she had been. She had even imagined the sound of her mother's voice. She had fantasized about her mother watching her play when she was a child. She could almost see the sparkle in her eye, hear her musical laughter. Discovering that she had been a Trojan prisoner of war did not support that image.
This was why Odysseus had never told her before. And it was part of the reason he could not bring himself to tell her that the woman she had created in her mind, whom she idolized, was in truth Prince Paris, the man she blamed for the death of both of her parents.
"She hated him at first, as she hated all Greeks," Odysseus continued. "She did not trust him. She believed him to be no different from the men who had hurt her. In some ways she was probably right, but he saw something in her. I believe he loved her from the moment he first saw her."
Althea's features softened as Odysseus spoke reverently of her parents' love for each other.
"He showed her kindness and affection and, eventually, she grew to love him in return. Within a year, she gave birth to a little girl whose beauty would rival Aphrodite herself."
"But their happiness did not last. They each lost a loved one to the battle over Troy. Your mother returned home to mourn. She was there when we breached the walls of the city."
Althea closed her eyes for a moment. This part of the story she knew. It was during the great battle within the walls of Troy that her father had been struck with a poisoned arrow. The irony of the mighty Achilles being felled by a single arrow to the heel was not lost on her. The identity of her father's killer was a mystery to her. Most men claimed it was Paris taking his revenge on the man who had killed his beloved brother Hector. But Odysseus had always told her this was not true, and while he had never said how he knew such a thing, Althea had no reason to doubt him.
"Your father was trying to get your mother to safety when he died," Odysseus concluded.
"And my mother," Althea asked softly.
Odysseus remembered all too clearly how her "mother" had died. It had been he who had discovered Achilles' body that night. Paris had been sprawled on the ground beside him, his royal robes stained with blood. There was no doubt that the prince was dying - he had received a deep wound to the abdomen that had surely thrust open his guts. He was beyond the help of even the most skilled healer. But Odysseus had seen men die of such a wound and he knew it to be a long, painful death.
He remembered the way Paris had clung to him, desperately pleading with the Ithican king to save his daughter. "I swear on my life," Odysseus had promised. "I will care for her as if she were my own child."
He remembered the way Paris had gripped Achilles' lifeless hand as he gave Odysseus permission to ease his passing. He would never forget that moment when he had thrust the dagger into the fair prince's heart. A soft cry had escaped Paris' lips along with a rivulet of blood. His lips had formed the words "thank you," but no sound could be heard but for his weakening breaths. Then, with the last of his strength, he had turned his head so he could look upon his love as his life's blood drained from his body. A soft smile had graced his face as he expelled his last breath.
Even in death, Paris had clung to his lover's hand. Odysseus had heard one of the men say his grip had been so firm they had been forced to break his hand in order to separate them and give Achilles a proper burial. Paris' body had been thrown into a pile with the rest of the Trojan's killed in the battle and burned.
"Your mother died," Odysseus finally answered. "Because she refused to leave your father. She loved him so much, she would have followed him in death."
Althea lowered her eyes to the ground, tears beginning to form on her lashes, her mind still reeling. "You were with her when she died," she asked quietly.
"Aye, I was," Odysseus said gently. "Her last thoughts were of you. I promised her that I would take you from Troy and care for you."
Althea nodded in acceptance. The two sat in silence for a long moment.
"I should go," Odysseus finally declared. He leaned in to give Althea a kiss on her forehead. "Do try to take better care of this dress than the last one," he teased with a loving smile.
Althea rolled her eyes. "Yes, father."
Odysseus laughed and patted her shoulder. She truly grew to be more like her parents every day.
"I have one more question," Althea said as Odysseus moved to leave. "What was my mother's name?"
Odysseus smiled. "Alexandra," he said. "Alexandra of Troy."