Disclaimer: I don't own Troy, or any of the characters. I make no money from this. I only do it so I don't have to read about whimpering!Briseis and drama!queen!Achilles.
She is a priestess, serving the Sun God. Apollo's brides, the men of Troy call them, half-jokingly. She has revelled in the name, and in her calling. She finds it ironic, that she should now be trussed up thus like a lamb for the sacrifice. She knows that she was spared when the priests died around her solely for the purpose of—amusing—this Achaean war-lord.
A fate no easier than death, perhaps.
Though only the gods are truly fearless, she will try to meet her end with grace, even as one of the swans Hector names her for. She resolves not to cry out, no matter what happens, nor to speak with the brute of a man who has no fear or honour for gods or men. Men have nothing to say to beasts.
The men tell him that they found a captive woman for him. He mildly disapproves—it is not his way—but done is done, and nothing can change it. They found her in Apollo's temple, they say, wearing the white robes that marked her as belonging to the god. He does not know what he had expected—a frightened girl, perhaps, sobbing and screaming in terror. Instead he finds a woman in his tent, regal even in bonds. She ignores him, as if Thetis's son and Greece's champion were beneath her notice.
Such defiance intrigues him, if only because he so rarely encounters it. He remembers how, as a child, he would sneak away from his mother's coves to swim in stormy seas, battling the waves. The ocean confronted him with thunder. Now she challenges him in her impassiveness. He speaks to her, and she answers, addressing the air beside her. She seems wary of him, but as she looks at his bloodstained face there is the strange pitying disgust that one might display to an animal. He asks her name of her, twice, thrice. She answers, briefly.
Agamemnon is an arrogant man. He knows that there are those who would laugh at the idea of him calling anyone arrogant, but Agamemnon takes a perverse pleasure in taunting him. He refuses to give the satisfaction of a reaction.
He glances at the pile of gifts as Agamemnon speaks of kings, battles, treasure. He wonders if this is what the king seeks. More the fool he. Take what you want, he says. As he sees Agamemnon's triumphant smile, he knows that he has fallen into the trap. Two men enter the tent, dragging a white-clad woman between them.
Briseis! His draws his sword reflexively, and addresses the guards. His way—as ever—is not so much to threaten as to promise death. He would have spilt their blood then and there; but she commands him to stop, and he freezes. He sees her glance in his direction, and though her face is bruised and bleeding from being struck by Agamemnon's men, her anger is for him alone.
If killing is your only talent, then it is your curse, she says. I do not want anyone dying for me.
And he is helpless.
She spends the next day bound and in solitude, hearing the distant noises of the battle, wondering who has fallen. At dusk, the proud boar-like king gives her to his soldiers. She knows what the night will bring, and begs Artemis, the goddess of the night and of maidens, for courage. Strike me down with your silver shafts now, huntress, if you have mercy. She is not answered. She does not expect to be.
The evening passes in a disoriented nightmare for her, passed from man to man, each leering at her and speaking to her with wine-laden breath. Her clothing is torn to ribbons, and she can but hold them together. She sees now what vanity her earlier promise to herself was, for she cries out in terror and helpless rage as she sees the brand they prepared for her, knowing that no matter how she resists, the end will be the same. She shuts her eyes now, willing herself not to scream, steeling herself against the pain that never comes.
Instead there are howls and shouts that do not come from her, and strong arms gather her up. She is spent, and beyond caring which man holds her now.
She is mistrustful of him still. He tries to clean her face—she all but slaps him aside. After that, he keeps his distance. She is shaken, but not wholly broken; the anger still flashes in her when she addresses him. He wonders at that.
They speak of many things—their callings, their lives, the gods. He is faintly amused. Has he come to Troy, to this war that men will speak of for a thousand years, to debate theology with a captive priestess? Well, there are worse things to do.
She speaks of the gods with reverence, he with carelessness. He knows the gods, not as all-powerful deities, but as men and women with strengths and weaknesses. They are free of the peril that men live in, and devoid of the flame that men possess.
The gods envy us, he tells her. They envy us because we're mortal.
She sits in the cold moonlight, the sharp bread knife in her hand.
She knows who he is now, this tawny lion of a man—Achilles, direst enemy and greatest threat to her city, defiler of Apollo's temple. A man she ought to curse as a priestess, and to kill as a daughter of Troy.
It would be easier if he had been a brute who slew without thought, or if he had treated her cruelly. Instead, he is the only man in this sea of soldiers who has shown her any kindness. Her hand trembles as she sets the blade to his throat. Bright eyes meet her own—had he been awake all this time?—and in a soft voice he challenges her to do the deed. Everyone dies, he whispers with a strange reckless intensity, revelling in his own mortality in a way that she has never seen any other man do.
You will kill more men if I do not kill you, she says, feeling absurdly that she ought to give him some explanation.
Many, he agrees. He grasps her shoulders and kisses her, heedless of the knife, and she knows that she has lost.
She asks him if she is still his captive. He tells her that she is his guest, and feels her smile.
But that was yesterday. Yesterday, Patroclus lived. Now, Achilles does not know what to think. His mind is a void, and his heart an aching pit of grief for his kinsman, cut down before ever he grew to manhood. Now there is only one desire in him. Vengeance.
She cries at him to cease his violence. He turns and sees not the woman he cares for, but a Trojan, akin to that same man that killed his cousin. She is a woman of peace, he a man of war; she is a child of Troy, he a son of Greece. They are enemies. He takes her by the throat and casts her aside.
The sound of her weeping haunts him as he leaves.
She begs him not to fight Hector. She knows that if they meet, one of them will die. He ignores her. She remembers the fury in him the day before when she stood in way of his rage, and wonders how one man can be capable of such gentleness and violence.
She sits now in the tent, waiting. She will have no need to ask tidings. If Achilles returns, it will mean the death of her dear kinsman. She begins to pray, and then stops, for she finds that she is incapable of entreating for Hector's victory either.
The men outside are chanting. Achilles! Achilles! Achilles! Surely even a god would envy such devoted madness as he commands. She finds that she has learned hubris; but who better to teach it than a goddess's child? These past days, with their terror and joy and grief, have burned themselves into her mind; she can recall them more clearly than all her time in the temple. She wonders if the gods live thus, even as she knows the answer: that this fire belongs only to mortals. Phoebus, she whispers, I am no longer yours.
Then the tent flap opens, and Achilles strides in, grim and bloodstained. She begins to sob, but even so there is a small shameful part of her that trembles in relief.
She runs to Priam's arms, and Achilles freezes. His impulse is to hold her back—he fears to lose her, the one woman besides his mother that he has ever loved—but he knows that it would be cruel to her. What bird would not desire to fly? He is her captor, though he does not admit it.
She steps away from Priam, towards him, hesitation and a strange trepidation plain in her gaze. You are free, he says, looking away. She takes another step towards him. He takes a deep breath. If I have hurt you, he begins, and the words are among the hardest he has ever said; not because of his pride, as some would have it, but rather because to acknowledge even the possibility of harming her pains him, it is not what I wanted.
She stares up at him, and moved by an impulse that he cannot name, he presses into her hand the seashell necklace that his mother made for him, many years ago and a world away. He says nothing more for a long moment, and neither does she. Somehow, words are not needed.
On the way back to the city, she tells Priam, quite calmly, that she can no longer be one of Apollo's priestesses. She sees the sympathy in his eyes. She has been in the Achaean camp for three days now; she supposes that it takes no great leap of the imagination for him to know what happened.
If there is any fault with her kinsmen in Troy, it is that they have too little imagination. She doubts that any of them can guess the full tale. She sees their speculating gazes, their whispers and gestures of pity. Paris, who has no doubt heard of where Priam found her, swears that he will kill Achilles. She ignores him. Paris is a man of many words and few deeds. Andromache finds time in her own grief to comfort Briseis. We are victims of the same man, weeps Andromache, gaunt and pale in her mourning robes, and Briseis says nothing.
She wonders what they would say if she tells them the truth—that she loves Achilles.
He will die here. He knows that his mother's foresight is never false. He wishes that he need not—glory has ceased to be the primary goal of his life. He would like nothing better than to live a life of peace in Larissa; but still he is here, in this wooden horse that Odysseus built. He distances himself from the other warriors. Their mission is to kill; his, to save a life.
He rushes through the streets of Troy, calling her name. At the last he finds her, struggling in Agamemnon's grip. Even as he rushes towards her, he knows that he will be too late. But her hand comes around, and a dagger plunges into Agamemnon's throat. He feels a bizarre burst of pride and a strong sense of destiny. His time is not far now. He must get her away from this.
Come with me.
She sees his face convulse as the arrows tear through him, mercilessly, one after another. Paris, no! she cries again and again, but Paris seems not to hear, deafened by his hatred. Achilles sinks to the flagstones, and she knows that his injury is fatal.
She runs to him, her tears streaming freely down her face, wondering why she cannot be as Helen is; or even Andromache, who needs only to mourn for Hector and hate the man who killed him. She must love both vanquisher and vanquished, and grieve for all.
He is lucid, and his eyes are fever-bright. You gave me peace in a lifetime of war. She sobs at that. Go, he says, and she shakes her head. It would be so much easier to die here tonight in Troy, here with him. Troy is falling. Go. She hears what he leaves unspoken then: that she is the reason for his presence here.
Go, he entreats her again, and she rises slowly. There are many—Hector, Priam, Paris, Andromache—for whom she would gladly die.
For him, she will live.