The hardy shrubs that littered the coarse coast of Ithaca threw deceptively long, lean shadows upon the dry grass. Afoot and leading the horse on which his wife sat, Achilles noted as she shivered from the chilled air of the approaching night. He stripped the cloak off his shoulders and handed it up to her.
"You must keep warm, Briseis, for yourself and our child," he said when she refused. "We shall reach home shortly before the light of day is vanquished."
Briseis smiled softly down at her husband and put a hand to the bulge on her stomach that she now realized to be her child within. "I feel terrible for leaving mother with the preparation of dinner."
"Mother will be fine. Preparing food is something that shetruly enjoys. She really wanted you to visit Hera's temple and pray for a safe delivery. Mother is eager for grandchildren, although she would refuse to admit it. She's never been one to openly express her feelings."
"You and your mother are so much alike."
Achilles smiled fondly at the thought of his mother. "Mother and I have lived by ourselves since my earliest memory."
"What happened to your father?"
Achilles shrugged. "My father is Peleus, prince, now king of Pythia. Mother doesn't talk of him. His name is forbidden in her presence." A drop of rain fell and splattered onto this face. He wiped it away and looked up into the sky. "We must hurry, the low clouds shows the eve of a storm. I have already felt the rain."
"Yes, I too. We must hurry."
Achilles swung himself up onto the horse behind Briseis and spurred the beast to a light canter, fast enough to arrive home earlier, but slow enough as not to hurt his pregnant wife and the load she bore.
As the rain fell harder, Achilles urged the horse faster. He heard a slight gasp from Briseis.
"Perhaps we should fine shelter and wait for the rain to depart."
"No!" Briseis exclaimed, a raspy, airy quality to her voice. "We must hurry home. I have a premonition that mother is not well."
A scene of devastation greeted the rain-drenched and tired couple. A crimson sun set slowly, casting its bloody light over the charred remains of Thetis's house. Achilles leapt off the horse and ran inside. The rain had extinguished the fire, but a suffocating grey smoke rose still, stinging his eyes and clogging his breath.
"Mother!" Achilles shouted frantically, inspecting the house for traces of her. "Mother!"
"My son…" a feeble voice could be made out fromunder a portion of collapsed wall. Achilles ran to it and found his mother, her face pale under the black-grey ashes. Her body was trapped under the wall.
"I'll save you, mother," Achilles said. He heaved the wall a fraction only to have it crumble into two parts and fall back on Thetis. She screamed in pain, then groaned. His stinging eyes began to water as he lifted the sections of wall off Thetis and carried her out of the ruins of their home. Her mangled legs lay limply as he carried her out, her breathing was shallow and labour. Gently, he set her to the ground.
"Do not speak, mother…"
"Achilles…listen to me…the men who burned our house will return for you…My life is at its end…I can feel…I can feel the Fates fumbling with their scissors upon my thread…"
"Who did this?"
"A man in the garb of a captain in the Ithaca army…A tall, brawny man with…with dark brown hair and hard grey eyes…"
"Agyris," Achilles muttered through clenched teeth.
"Achilles, do not seek revenge…surely, you must now understand how it might feel to be deprived of a father, a husband, a son, a loved one…"
"I have always understood, mother…always."
"Promise me...promise me, as you have promised Briseis...do not seek revenge...live, my son, live a life of peace and tranquillity...choose life...let yourself grow old with your wife and children...if you go into war again...the prophecy...the prophecy will be realized...Go to Pythia and seek your father Peleus...He will protect you and Briseis."
"I do not need my father's protection!"
Thetis smiled up weakly at her son. "If you do not go for your new family's sake, then go for my sake, son...Fulfill an old woman's dying wish…"
"No, mother, do not speak of death…"
"Tell your father that I am sorry for everything," her eyes began to close.
"I'll take you with us! Mother, we will find someone to help you."
A cry from Briseis forced Achilles to turn from his mother. Still on the horse, Briseis slumped over the neck of the beast, an arrow protruding from her chest. Achilles spied the Ithacan legion closing in on them.
Reluctantly, Achilles remounted the horse, held his unconscious wife firmly and galloped away as more arrows began to fly.