Achilles shifted restlessly on his bed; he was exhausted and longed for nothing more than to sink into the sweet depths of Hypnos. Yet something prickled uncomfortably at his consciousness and would not rest. He closed his eyes wearily; the day had been extremely tiring and he had not the strength to open his eyes again - so why could he not sleep? Then there came a soft cry from the next room. The muffled cry of a child who does not want to be heard; yet yearns for someone to come bestow comfort.
Of course. Patroclus slept in the room next to Achilles's, and was obviously not sleeping at all, although he was certainly as exhausted as his cousin. All day Achilles had exerted himself to comfort this grieving cousin - all day Patroclus had replied timidly with fear in his eyes. He flinched whenever Achilles spoke directly to him, shied away from his cousin's guiding hand, staring at the ground and refusing to meet his eyes. Achilles had felt a slight annoyance at this - a warrior had to forget his grief and move on, or he would be crippled by that pain and killed in his distraction, and had to bite back harsh words that would no doubt make Patroclus even shyer. But was that truly what annoyed him? Or was it really that he could not stand to see such pain?
Go and comfort him.
The words floated like a breath of wind into his mind; he had not thought them, but the thought was there. A clear message that Achilles knew instinctively not to ignore. He threw off the covers and slipped out of bed, quietly making his way to his cousin's room, and gently pushing open the door to Patroclus's bedroom without a sound.
He stopped dead.
His cousin was but a slight figure hunched over in bed, shivering as if with ague, his chin resting drawn-up knees. Patroclus's fair hair gleamed in the darkness; Achilles could see in the dim moonlight shining from the open window the tear-soaked covers that his cousin had wrapped himself in. The boy was crying, sobbing as though his heart was broken, but all the while pressed his face into his covers so that the sound was muffled, as if he was frightened of being caught weeping. Achilles had never seen a more pitiable sight in his life.
"Patroclus." The word slipped from Achilles's lips before he could stop himself.
Patroclus flinched as though he had been struck. "I am sorry," he whispered. "I am sorry I disturbed you. Please forgive me. Please. I-I did not mean it. Please don't blame me!" Tears ran down his raw cheeks and he shuddered uncontrollably. "Please don't hate me, cousin," he begged softly.
Achilles stared at his cousin - he had never seen anyone so torn up - never. He had never imagined how much pain and grief a boy might go through because of the death of his parents. How could he - blessed as he was by the gods that he had his parents still - imagine anything like that pain? He himself cared only for his parents. No one else. How it must have hurt Patroclus; and then he had been brought to a strange land, been treated like a burden by his cousin. No wonder he had been acting so; Patroclus was like an animal terribly treated and afraid of the hand that meant him no harm. "No, Patroclus. Please. I am sorry that I disturbed you," he replied awkwardly. "I just...I heard...I will go now."
"No!" Patroclus cried wildly. He stumbled and nearly fell out of bed as he grabbed at Achilles's hand. "Please don't leave me alone! I don't want to..." He broke off and lifted eyes shimmering with tears. "I miss my parents so much," he whispered brokenly, crouching on the stone floor. "I miss them...And in the dark," he gulped. "I hear their screams..."
Achilles moved forward. For he realized now that was this boy needed more than anything was not pitying words, nor sympathy or condecension, nor even simple human kindness, but a friend. The knowledge that someone genuinely cares for you and likes you for who you are is like an anchor in a sea of grief. And perhaps his pride not let him admit it to anyone else, but Achilles knew that he also needed a friend.
He gently put his arms around his cousin. At first Patroclus flinched and stiffened, then relaxed slightly as Achilles spoke. "Just cry...cry if you want to...cry all that you can cry if that will lessen the hurt." Pactroclus obeyed, sobs wracking his thin frame, and pressed his face against Achilles's shoulder. Achilles didn't say much, just held his cousin and told him quietly that while he, Achilles, did not understand the immense grief haunting Patroclus, he wanted to help him, to be his friend.
The beautiful goddess of wisdom watched the two with a lovely smile on her lips. Soon she would speak with Achilles about his destiny; soon she would tell him bits and pieces of his future. But now was not the time; the spell woven over Achilles and Patroclus was fragile and easily broken. So Athena merely stood, silent and invisible to mortal eyes, watching as Patroclus's wreching sobs finally ceased and he fell asleep, his fair head leaning against Achilles's shoulder. Athena moved quietly and brushed Achilles's bleary eyes with her fingertips; her touch was as light as a butterfly's wing. She laughed quietly as Achilles's lashes fluttered and he too fell asleep.
"Losing to the urge to sleep. One of the few battles that you will ever lose, Achilles, but fear not: I will always be here."
Grey-eyed Athena - favorite daughter of thunder-striking Zeus and bearer of his Aegis - is truly the goddess of wisdom. She sees all; all that has happened and all that is happening and all that can happen in the murky depths of the future. A goddess who judges all others with clear eyes and knows and accepts her own faults instead of hiding them away. A goddess who has witnessed horrific wars and glorious battles. A goddess who has been both taunted and victorious. A goddess who is proud and loving. A goddess who is softened by the peaceful serenity of two cousins in the first days of an incredible friendship that would last all of their lives. A wise goddess indeed.
"I cannot believe it."
Four words rarely spoken by the woman who catches glimpses of the future and is great friends with the Fates.
But Thetis was stunned. Her incredible eyes widened wtih astonishment; her full lips were parted slightly. "How did they think they could get away with it?"
"Get away with what?"
Thetis and Peleus turned to see Achilles and Patroclus entering the room. Patroclus had been following Achilles around like a shadow for the past few weeks and he rarely spoke; Achilles didn't mind. He had come to value the few things Patroclus did say because they were almost always full of a wisdom rarely seen in a child. And despite the difference in their ages, Achilles had come to see Patroclus as an extremely good friend and a younger brother, while Patroclus too sough Achilles's friendship and worshiped him as a protector.The two of them had rapidly become inseperable.
Peleus smiled distractedly in greeting. "News just came from the city of Sparta. I assume that you have all of heard of Princess Helen."
Achilles smiled wryly. "Of course. Rumored to be the most beautiful girl in the entire world."
"How skeptical you sound, my son," his father remarked. The worry lines on his face relaxed as he smiled. "I know that when I was your age I was very different. When I heard that the loveliest sea goddesses had been sighted on the beaches, I was remarkably quick to dash down there and admire her beauty myself. She was extremely pleasing." He cast a teasing glance at said sea goddess, who smiled archly back at him, her eyes twinkling.
Achilles shrugged. "I have heard others announced as the loveliest of creatures. Beautiful Arethusa who was the young handmaiden of Artemis. Or perhaps the stunning Medea who wed Jason of the Argonauts. And then there is the ravishing Princess Ariadne who became wife to the great god of wine Dionysus! How quickly one beautiful woman is succeeded by another!"
"Ah, but men's memories fade as rapidly as the dew from the grass, Achilles," Thetis pointed out. "This one was lovelier today and the next lovelier tomorrow. Time passes and men forget, yet there is always some captivating beauty who enchants the hearts of men, and earns, for a brief time, the glory of being called the most attractive of all mortal woman." Her full lips quirked. "And then they grow old."
"So is this one worth the title?"
"That is the galling thing," Thetis replied laughingly. "She truly is probably the most exquisite mortal creature in the world. All the young men have fallen madly in love with her at first sight and send gifts that cost magnificent fortunes just for the chance to behold her face once more. Quite a pleasure for her stepfather the King of Sparta to receive. Princess Helen is incredibly captivating and charismatic. The epitome of perfection." She smiled impishly at her son.
"Physically," Achilles disagreed. He knew perfectly well what his mother was implying. "By all accounts Helen of Sparta is a sweet girl but lacking sharp wits or depth. What use is loveliness if there is no fire in her nature?" Beauty was all very well, but girls who were docile and obedient repelled him, and he felt no affection for any of them. It was amusing sometimes to observe them staring at him shamelessly, but more often it annoyed him. How superficial!
"Then you would prefer her cousin Lady Penelope," Peleus answered. "Now there is perfection in a princess! The classic Greek princess; she is classically beautiful, steady, loyal, and intensely intelligent, and witty. His smile was mischievous. "They say she runs the Spartan palace more efficiently than any Queen has ever done and has been doing so since she was seven. Quite an accomplishment. And when I heard about her little plot!" He whistled appreciatively.
"Rogue!" Thetis smacked her husband playfully with her fan. "I was born a goddess and never taught accounts!"
"What happened?" Patroclus asked softly. "With Princess Helen?"
Peleus laughed and slipped an arm around Thetis's slender waist. "Forgive us, Patroclus, I completely forgot the initial question. Well, young Helen's beauty is incredible - one might even say immortal."
Achilles understood immediately. "Lord Zeus of the Universe?"
"Devoted to women," Thetis quipped. "I should know. Yes, Helen is the daughter of Zeus, one might say the loveliest mortal he ever fathered. A key factor in the events that have occurred. You see, Theseus of Athens, slayer of the Minotaur and a great Greek hero, has been restless for a long while." Her face grew serious. "Some say that he has grown madly reckless, ever since the Amazoness Hippolyta - another girl cited as a great beauty and indeed she was stunning - died of a poisoned arrow meant for him. I believe it. And he has indeed become almost inclined to suicide. He has made a pledge with a fool of an Athenian named Pirithous: both vowed to have a daughter of Zeus as their own."
"And Theseus chose Helen of Sparta?"
Peleus nodded. "He landed with his pirate fleet at Sparta and sent the entire palace into pandemonium. His men sacked the palace but killed no one: Theseus was too eager to find Helen. He was sidetracked and nearly distracted by the witty Penelope, who danced over his strengths and played on all his weaknesses, and almost succededed in delaying him until her father and uncle returned home. But Theseus realized that he had been played the fool and brushed her aside to find Helen; she was cowering under the bed of her old nursemaid. Anyway, he made off with her on his ship, along with half of her dowry, and was heard to remark that it was a pity he couldn't have taken the Lady Penelope along as well."
"And naturally everyone was in an outrage," Achilles predicted wryly.
"An understatement. They were apopletic. The King of Sparta has bidden all brave and goodhearted princes to come to his aid and rescue Helen from that evil man. With a highly incentive prize for the man who plays a heavy role in returning her safely to Sparta." His mouth twitched with supressed laughter.
"The prize being Helen herself?"
"Precisely. Do either of you fancy being wed to the most beautiful woman in the world?"
"Hardly," Achilles retorted dryly. "I have no interest in a sweet-natured and obedient little beauty who cares for nothing but her own looks; a docile girl without any spunk or fire. Without fire in one's soul one is hardly alive. To be vibrant and fiery is to be truly alive, to live each moment to the fullest. Helen is just a remarkably beautiful little creature without any intelligence or vibrance."
"Do you have no interest in love?"
"Love weakens a warrior," Achilles answered dismissively. "I have no use for such a paltry emotion."
Peleus glanced significantly at his wife; she pressed her lips tightly together. Both of them knew that Achilles was wrong in this; very wrong. Love does not weaken; it strengthens and uplifts beyond belief. Love is a quality that gives men strength to stand up and drive armies away from their homes. Love bestows upon sweet girls the power to rouse entire cities to fight for just causes. Love is dangerous and maddening yes; but undeniably powerful.
'What of the glory that awaits the hero of this adventure?" Peleus pointed out. Thetis shot him a sharp look and he smiled blandly in return. "The glory awaiting the young man who returns a sweet and innocent girl who is incidentally the most beautiful in the world to her adoring family after rescuing her from the evil clutches of a bloodthirsty and tyrannical old pirate?"
Achilles snorted. "Hardly. Everybody knows that King Theseus is first and foremost a just man. He killed no one if he could help it and is famed for being kindhearted. I believe that he only took up and honored his part of this bargain because he wished for an end to his life after the Amazoness Hippolyta died. Another reason love weakens warriors and drives them to perform foolish acts, but I digress. He is hardly dangerous to Helen - in any way. He is honorable and no doubt only wishes for a princess's ransom before returning the girl, unharmed, to her family. The King of Sparta only stirred up this great scandal because he wished his daughter to be famous for the girl many noble kings and princes fought for, and no doubt so that those foolhardy young men would fall in love with Helen, and send her more gifts that would be happily received into the Spartan treasury."
"So you have no interest in the glory in this matter?"
"The glory waiting for a hero in such an adventure is paltry and degrading. This whole affair is ridiculous and to participate in the this playacting would be foolish. I will not risk my life and fight for such a cause like this one when a good amount of gold and jewelry could return Helen safely to her home."
But it seemed that many other young men were willing - passionately eager - to do just that.