Disclaimer: See previous chapters; I hate being redundant.
Notes: See below, please.
It is a thousand moments of blinding emotion eclipsed by the meeting of their eyes. Ten thousand memories and a riot of colour courses through and around her as Briseis' body physically processes the shock of this moment. Her skin feels almost cold and a lightly bitter taste finds its way into the back of her mouth; she doesn't know it, but it's the adrenaline flowing in her veins. Like the demigod so many believe him to be Achilles stands before her not even raised to his full height, he is frozen in mid-movement at the sight of her; and not just of her, but of her battered appearance, of the look in her eye—one the betrays her reaction to him and also hints at the difficult journey she has made. Briseis stares at his face, the handsome lines now as familiar as the memories of yesterday, almost trying to find a means of convincing herself that this man is, in fact, not Achilles—so used to disappointment and treachery is she.
The truth of the matter is that it is he. The feeling in her bones that is so impossible to articulate is really her recognition of the near-unbelievable fact that this is the end of her journey. This is the end that she had dared not hope for. And so when he almost imperceptibly shifts his stance and the light from outside catches golden on his hair, it is as though the light of Apollo, sent from the heavens to her lover's hair to her eyes, is the tonic that gives her strength. Briseis finds it in her to shoot forward, though unsteady on her feet. Without willing to she falls to her knees before him, her arms wrapping around his waist and her forehead falling against the stomach of his armour. It is when Achilles finally regains some sense of himself from within his explosive sense of surprise and his hands softly move to touch her face that Briseis knows, without doubt, that is it him, and she weeps.
A moment passes in complete silence. His hands almost tremble, though he'd never admit it, when Achilles tenderly touches her face and runs his hands—slowly, very slowly, as though she might fall to wisps of vapour beneath his hands—into her hair.
Then he comes back to himself, back to his tent and his location and his men and the beaches of Mycenae, and Achilles realizes that his armour is stained with blood, the woman he loves is kneeling before him, and he would not have it so. Remembering his old and fabled strength despite this moment of uncharacteristic gentility, he hauls Briseis up off her knees to her feet with powerful arms; his left tightly wound around her waist and his right up in the riot of her dark hair, cradling the base of her neck as she cries quietly. Her tears dampen the skin covering his jugular vein—a delicate patch of a man who denies all delicacy in himself…but to her.
His arms tighten around her frame, and Achilles casts a single glance back over his shoulder. Through the slats of his tent and bathed in the blinding Greek sunlight, the blue eyes of Eudorus find his own and an understanding passes through them.
(Eudorus will never admit it to another man so long as he lives, nor when he finally crosses the ebony waters in Charon's boat, but what he saw in his lord's eyes in that moment was the greatest gift Achilles could have bestowed upon him. Never had he felt more a man that in that moment, when Achilles himself looked upon him thinking thank you, and they were men and they were equals to each other like no battlefield could have ever made them.)
They haven't spoken yet.
Achilles' hands are restless. Before any words, without thought his hands—with undeniable intimacy and then again with detached purpose—run over Briseis' smooth skin (yes, how he remembers now that he allows himself to remember) and feels her bones everywhere in search of any injury. Dead, and worse, is the man who might lay harm to her, he thinks.
By touch he finds nothing, but Achilles' fingers come away with half-dried blood after touching her arm. He draws her away from him to look at her, holding her just a bit less than arms length away. He lets go—his hands fall away from her white shoulders—and then finally, finally! They truly see each other. Her tears stop, and softly, very softly, he takes her face in his hands like a priceless thing, and he looks at her in such a way that Briseis feels the gods have split her open so that he might know every facet of her—and she would never be happier. It is a stare more intimate than any kiss.
And then, that something breaks and he bends his head to her level, his brow furrowed, and Achilles says in quiet reverence, "By all the gods…" His eyes close softly.
When they open again, Briseis has calmed, her tears have dried upon the curves of her cheekbones, and her hands have come up to clasp his near her face. He then walks her backward to sit on his pallet; she perches on the edge with her tiny knees stuck together and her entire upper body leaned forward towards him. On his knees he is before her, staring, everything else forgotten.
Eventually, some of the romantic languor drops from his gaze and Achilles begins to resemble something his soldiers might recognize. His head cocks to the side slightly, and he asks quickly, carefully, "How have you come to be here?"
Briseis' brows come together and she knows her eyes will tear any moment, not because of his question but just because it's him, and she responds in kind, almost brokenly, "How is it that you are alive?" Then she goes further: "If you were to live, why would you send me away with Paris?"
With great softness he takes both her hands, drowning them in his larger one, and presses them fiercely to his mouth, his eyes bright and strong. He says, with a hint of a smile, "Let us say that I owe Odysseus of Ithaca a great many things." Then, seriously: "I should have died, and yet I am here. That is the nature of it."
As he speaks, Briseis' eyes grow brighter, as if energized by him like he was another sun. The feeling in her chest that has plagued her so shifts into something almost giddy. "Athena favours you, you know—"
With a quick laugh Achilles drops his head for a moment, and then meets her expectant eyes again. "I think it has little to do with Athena and more to do with a good healer."
She almost has the heart to look scandalized at his continuing mockery of the gods, as if they had not been separated a day, when all her memories return to her. It shows in her eyes, the sobering remembrance, and Achilles feels it too as he witnesses it washing over her. He asks her again, "How have you come to be here, Briseis?"
Words and memories, friends and enemies wash over her in a great deluge that she cannot verbalize: you—Carthage—luck—Paris—silence…It's a hard tale to tell, with the pain so fresh and cut from the quick. Amidst it all, however, it strikes Briseis that if such a difficult and winding journey might end here, in this tent, in this man's arms, she'd not regret it for a single moment.
No regrets, Hector used to tell her. ("I've killed men," he said to her in great honesty when he'd felt she was old enough to hear it. "I've seen their faces, watched them die, and though it's hard I don't regret it. I come home to you," his brown eyes war upon her with his affection, "and to Paris," his little brother hiding behind a stone pillar, listening to their conversation, and Hector grinning because he is not fooled, "and to my beautiful wife Andromache…" Andromache, who glides towards them in a vision of serenity and smiles and fragile beauty.) No regrets.
A corner of her mouth curves upward, and seeing that warms Achilles, adds sparkle to his eyes while he watches her from under tawny golden hair. She meets his eyes, and then mumbles, "It's a very long story…"
His own smile matches hers, and he says, "One you'll be telling me." His eyes are expectant, lightly prodding.
Briseis smiles, a full and true smile, and says, "Yes." It's a story for you, she thinks, the story begins and ends…with you.
She takes her time telling him, now secure in the safety of his protection. Much to her own surprise, Briseis almost enjoys telling him her story—despite the probing questions he asks of her from time to time, or even the playfully doubtful glint in his eyes at certain unbelievable points (her first meeting with the Carthaginians, for example). It's almost like a very gentle form of making love, this quiet push and pull that her tale creates between them. She sits very close to him, savouring his heat, and her face alight with the memories her stories bring. Achilles watches her very carefully, and so very intensely when she's not watching him, trying to discern if any hurt has befallen her, and he keeps his fingers lightly stroking upon her skin, examining her reaction. But she enjoys it, she enjoys everything…especially telling it all to him.
Briseis feels that this joy she feels will help—that perhaps, if she lets her joy at reunion and her love for this man fill her and her tale that it might transfer over to Paris and Andromache and Aeneas and Astyanax wherever they might be, and save them. That it might wend its way to Hector and Priam and so many others beyond the river Styx and bring them back to life, if only in the form of vivacious words.
When she finishes telling him of her travels and trials with the Carthaginians, Achilles' face hardens briefly into an expression she remembers as well as that soft and tender one which he uses to look upon her. Briseis thinks of both with great love and affection, because now that she understands and has experienced hardship and war and also love and passion, she knows that both sides of this great man that she loves are necessary ones. Achilles would not be Achilles without his strength and power, and Achilles would not be Achilles without the love he shows to her.
"And to think," he says with a bit of an amiable smirk, "that I was going to allow Diomedes to chase after these foolish heathens all by himself." Achilles touches her jaw softly with a roughened hand briefly, and then rises. "Excuse me a moment."
She watches him push pass the slats of his tent to speak with the man Briseis knows as Eudorus. Achilles barks orders with confidence sending emissaries to Diomedes to inform the king of his change of plans, and then he asks for some food. Squinting into the hot sun as he waits, Achilles smiles as he recalls Briseis' fondness for fruit, and less so for meats. He shakes his head.
When a platter arrives, Achilles takes it from his man and walks back into his tent, crouching to the ground before his lady. Briseis smiles, and says with unrestrained fervour, "Oh, thank the gods…I'm starving half to death…"
He laughs as he sits, answering, "No, no, not the gods…these are only rations brought along from Phtia." An interesting shade colours his eyes, and Achilles says, "You'd best get used to asking things from my men."
Briseis very swiftly picks up a large sprig of grapes, and as she eats, she asks playfully, "And why is that?"
"Well…" he says, catching her eyes, "…provided you have no objection—and I know that you so often do…" she throws the rest of her grapes at him and Achilles catches them in one hand easily, "…I would not have my wife be timid and afraid of my soldiers."
Their eyes catch, his deceptively casual and amused, hers very intent. Then, a bit of a smirk quirks upon her lips, and Briseis says, "Indeed, I have no objection, because a great warrior such as yourself having a pathetically boring and timid wife would be very grievous. You should be thankful I'm here to save you from such a fate."
There is a very loving tender moment between them, and Achilles' smile grows. His arms flex impressively as his hand tangles softly in her hair, slowly stroking. His eyes are warm. "There she is." Briseis cocks her head just slightly, and he adds, "There's my girl. I was wondering where you'd gotten off to."
Her own smile grows as she crawls into his lap, and Achilles leans back against the wood support of his tent, looking much like a contented, purring lion. Briseis leans her head on his chest, and she whispers, "Oh, I didn't go very far…it was just a bit complicated finding my way back to you."
Achilles says nothing to this, only strokes his fingers through her hair again and again, savouring her and her jasmine scent and her soft touches…very quietly, he admits his weakness for her aloud: "Yes…I am very thankful you are here." Then, he glances at the platter, and pushes her to eat more.
It is a funny moment, for Briseis, when she looks upon the outlaid food again and finally spies the uncut pomegranate. She nearly is overcome with laughter for a few seconds, and then feels weighted with what has passed since the last time she beheld the fruit. But that is only for a few seconds, and then Briseis feels joy, and happiness, and she looks forward to telling her story to the next person who asks it of her.
Telling stories about these people whom she loves and loved brings them back to life. Briseis has watched soldiers do it, watched members of her family tell stories with an urgency she never understood—but now she does. Talking about these people makes them seem alive, so alive that it might as well be true. Her memories will fade with time, and her stories might become exaggerated, but it doesn't matter. The stories and the words, will keep Hector and Paris and Helen and Andromache and every other name alive.
In life, love and in telling stories, the dead and the gone live.
Eat, he says, and offers her pomegranate. Is it chance, fate, luck, that she should be brought back to this moment? Briseis thinks not.
Pomegranate was originally conceived as a oneshot – i.e.: only the first chapter. However, I haven't yet achieved the talent of writing a whole world into a single instalment, and so this multichapter story was started. I am truly sorry it took me over a year to crank out a mere fifteen chapters. Similarly, I regret that I took so long to post this final chapter, but I wanted to achieve a written end that satisfied me and not only the readers.
Regarding the Iliad: During a few months of this writing, I was taking yet another course involving the Greek myths. This course introduced me to the most amazing professor I've ever encountered – a man who unknowingly both inspired me to continue this story, as well as humbled me for even daring to alter its events. I am still slightly uncomfortable with having changed Achilles' fate…and I gladly take any flaming from strict Homer fans.
Thanks: I can't write out all the names, but please know that I've read every review and I thank you all, especially those who offered advice for improvement. I really hope I haven't disappointed anybody.
Anything else? If you have a question, you can either write it in a review and I'll respond in kind, or send me an e-mail. Otherwise, thanks for all the support…everybody.