My biggest thanks goes to Litrouke. She was my beta for this story from chapter 5 on until the end, and her comments were always helpful and greatly contributed to Forging of Bonds. Thank you.
Chapter 21: The Three Visitors
Slowly, Paris walked up and down the nursery, bouncing Neoptolemus in his arms to soothe the crying child. He had already fed him, the servants had changed him, and still the child cried. The nursemaid's suspicion that he was teething had been confirmed with a look at the baby's gums. Paris had been surprised that Neoptolemus was teething at such an early age – four months – while Achilles had proudly declared it a sign of strength.
Before Neoptolemus' birth, Paris had not been able to even imagine how much work a small child was. But, as opposed to women of common birth, he had the advantage of servants helping him. He fed his son himself as he believed that if he wasn't meant to feed Neoptolemus himself, he would not be capable of it.
Finally the boy quieted. The door opened and Melva, the nursemaid, entered. She was only a year older than Paris and unmarried, but she was kind and had plenty of experience with younger sisters and brothers she had helped raise. Patroclus tended to stutter when he met her, which amused Paris greatly.
"My lord," she said, "If you like I can take over now. Little Neoptolemus seems to have calmed and will likely go to sleep soon. Besides, it seems that visitors have arrived and there's much excitement; if you would like to have a look, they're in the hall with the king."
Paris smiled at her gratefully. "Thank you, Melva, I think I will."
He laid his son on his cot while Melva sat down in a nearby chair with some sewing to pass the time.
He went into the hall through a smaller side door as not to disturb his husband if he was in an important meeting. But when he caught sight of the man speaking with Achilles, he gasped loudly.
The man turned towards him and revealed that it was indeed the Ithacan king.
"Prince Paris," Odysseus smiled, bowing his head almost formally, if it hadn't been for the smile twitching at the corner of his mouth.
Achilles laughed. "He has been impatient for news about you ever since we prepared for battle with Agamemnon and couldn't find out where you were. Not even the message from Diomedes could reassure him completely."
Paris ignored his husband, rushing to the Ithacan instead and embracing him.
Achilles raised an eyebrow. "One would think he was dearer to you than your own husband."
"Don't be ridiculous!" Paris reprimanded. "You did not go missing for months without anyone knowing where you are." Giving Odysseus an accusing look, he demanded: "Where were you?"
Odysseus chuckled. "Why do I get the feeling that you have changed since I last saw you?"
Paris looked at him in confusion, unsure what he meant. Achilles answered for him: "He's spent a lot of time on the training fields with Patroclus, who is probably revising all of the education he got in Troy." But he was smiling as he said it.
Paris smirked. "The priests would be appalled."
Odysseus laughed loudly. "And here I thought having a child would make you more responsible not less."
The prince frowned a little. "I take my responsibilities as seriously as ever. But I see no reason to limit myself and keep to the house."
"Achilles hinted that a lot has happened. But I'm still dirty from the road, we came on horse this time. So if I may still call myself an old friend of this house, then I would ask for a bath and some refreshments over which we can exchange news."
"A good idea," Achilles agreed. "I'll arrange for some food while Paris shows you to the guest quarters and the baths."
"Come, Odysseus." Paris beckoned the king to follow. Walking through the corridors, the Trojan assured him with a smile: "I'll wait until later to pester you."
"And I appreciate it," Odysseus replied, returning the smile. He studied the prince. "You look happy."
Paris stopped in mid-step. He had not asked himself recently whether he was content and his forehead wrinkled as he thought about it.
"Now you're thinking too much," Odysseus commented. "I've been told that I'm a good listener. I'm sure we will find some time to talk, without Achilles if need be. Just tell me right now, do I need to fight him for your honor after all?"
The Trojan chuckled. "I don't think that will be necessary. In fact, I may even have found ways to tame the lion already."
"That's good to hear."
Paris showed him to a guest room and instructed the servants to fill a bath for the king. After the Ithacan had been washed and groomed to his satisfaction, he was led to the dining hall where Achilles, Patroclus, and Paris were already waiting for him.
"Let me have some wine first before I start telling my story."
Patroclus was the first to grasp the amphora of watered wine and filled Odysseus' cup. The Ithacan king seemed to enjoy the eager looks on his hosts' faces; he drank the first cup slowly with relish, then asked for a refill.
"Now, where do I start?" he wondered aloud.
"When Achilles and I left Messenia!" Paris immediately replied.
Odysseus smiled smugly. Penelope always told him that he was a good storyteller, but that he reveled too much in his audience's impatience.
"Very well," he agreed. "We stayed another two days in Messenia to rest. I visited the new king-" Achilles snorted disparagingly and Odysseus gave him an understanding look. "-who agreed to give us an escort. He didn't particularly care about me as much as what Agamemnon and Menelaus might think of his behavior towards their allies. So our return to Sparta was undisturbed, though I can honestly say that I have never before traveled with a more monosyllabic and hostile group.
"Menelaus had in the meantime returned and was quite eager to have me as his guest. At first, not suspecting anything to be wrong, I accepted, all the while planning to load our ship and sail to Argos in a few days. But the loading did not go without incident – in fact, nothing went without some kind of accident or strange occurrence: our water supply ended up foul, items disappeared, and local folk who initially offered to help us did not show up. Menelaus suddenly seemed to be everywhere, when before he could hardly get off his backside, always telling me that I was welcome to stay another few days, and then another few."
Patroclus and Paris looked at Odysseus in perplexity, shaking their heads at the strange behavior. Achilles had a thoughtful look on his face. Odysseus continued: "I finally noticed that he was trying to make me stay for as long as possible. But for what reason? And then there was the amount of messengers going to and coming from Agamemnon in Mycenae. Obviously they were planning something. Finally I overheard one such messenger Agamemnon had sent to his brother. Imagine my surprise when I heard that Agamemnon wanted to have me observed by spies, and, if necessary, killed if I proved too great a risk for their plans.
"At that point, I still didn't understand the situation. But I knew that I was in a dangerous position, so I ordered my men to take the ship to Ithaca that very night, while I disguised myself and bought horses to ride to Mycenae myself." To Paris, Odysseus said: "Phytheas accompanied me and proved himself quite useful." The Trojan smiled proudly.
"We entered the city where I had to ensure that nobody recognized me and that Agamemnon would never catch sight of me. Phytheas managed to get into the palace, where he gleaned information while I collected news outside of it. Diomedes was also in the city for a few days."
Paris frowned. "Diomedes was here a few months ago and said that he had not seen you, only received a message."
Odysseus laughed. "He didn't recognize me! I felt sure he had, but I spoke to him later and he admitted that actually he hadn't. I have no idea where his head was, for it certainly wasn't on his surroundings! No matter. I was finally able to put the pieces together: Agamemnon had set plans in motion to ensure that you," he nodded to Achilles, "would never be crowned king. When those plans didn't work and war threatened to break out, he feared that I would come to your aid. And he would rather have me murdered than on his enemies' side. That's when I decided that I had to prepare Ithaca for any situation and sent two messengers: one to Diomedes, whom I trusted enough to tell him of my plans, and one to Phthia to tell you that I would fight on your side."
Achilles' eyebrows rose to his hairline. "We never received any message from you!"
Odysseus nodded grimly. "I can't say what happened to the man I sent. Perhaps bandits, or maybe Agamemnon's spies caught him, but obviously he never arrived."
"It wasn't Phytheas, was it?" Paris demanded worriedly.
The Ithacan denied. "No, it wasn't him. In fact, Phytheas is here with me today, taking his meal with the men. I'm sure you'll see him later."
Paris smiled mischievously. "Maybe we will train our sword play together," he teased.
Odysseus rolled his eyes. To Achilles he said: "If they do, you had better keep an eye on them. Now tell me what news you have!"
Achilles told him his side of the events after he had returned to Phthia. Then Paris took over and revealed the origins of his gift, and the gods' numerous interferences.
The king gazed at him with some wonder. "Then you are blessed indeed," he commented.
"I was," Paris replied, his expression suggesting that he did feel the loss of his gift after all. Odysseus decided to speak to him about this later, but noted the thoughtful look Achilles gave his husband.
The opportunity arose that afternoon. Achilles was meeting his counselors, so Odysseus asked Paris to see their son. Had it been any other man, he would most certainly have been met with a lack of understanding, but it was no secret that Odysseus loved his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus. He was also not known to have ever lain with a woman – or man – since his marriage, or to have tried to seduce someone. Paris had kept his silence about Odysseus' drunken attempt to kiss him, and the anger he had felt back then had long since disappeared.
Silently, they entered the nursery, where Melva sat next to the baby's bed and sewed. On their entry, she rose to her feet and bowed to them, though she did throw a bewildered look at Odysseus.
"Do not worry, Melva," Paris reassured her. "This is Odysseus, King of Ithaca. He would merely like to see Neoptolemus, then we will leave you alone."
"Of course, my prince. Though I believe that Neoptolemus is still asleep," she said, taking a quick look at the child.
Odysseus smiled gently. "Don't worry, we won't wake him up. I'll be here for a few more days, so there will be plenty of opportunities at a later time."
The Ithacan studied the child and commented: "He seems to have inherited some of Achilles' features. It will become clearer as he ages."
"He has my eyes though," Paris replied absent-mindedly, trying to see his son more objectively without success.
"Let's go outside," Odysseus suggested, having looked his fill. Paris agreed, nodded to the nursemaid, and led the king to the garden. They sat down next to each other in the shade of an orange tree. There was no breeze, and in the sun it would quickly become unbearable.
"Tell me what's on your mind," the older man said.
"I'm not sure what it is exactly," Paris hedged.
"Do you miss your gift?"
"I'm not used to not having it. Sometimes I think I should miss it, but there are times when I'm glad that I'm finally 'normal'. Of course I'm still treated differently. But when I train with Patroclus, I can almost pretend that I'm as much of a man as he is."
"The way I see it, you feel guilty for being glad to be rid of the gift. One could argue that you have done your duty: you gave Achilles an heir. And to be frank, I cannot imagine Achilles with a whole brood of children. Though you have never been at ease with your ability, it is only natural that you would miss it now that it's gone. Have you spoken to Achilles about any of this?"
"What are you afraid of? That Achilles might not think you good enough anymore?"
Thoughtfully, Paris' fingers ripped at blades of grass. His head moved slowly from side to side as if to deny, then gave a minute nod. "Maybe," he whispered.
Odysseus leant back against the tree with an unconcerned expression and gave a small shrug.
"That could only benefit you. After all, what would happen if Achilles decided that he didn't want you anymore? You could pack your things on your horse and take a ship to Mykonos, where Thales would be glad to welcome you with open arms. What more could you want?"
Paris' head jerked up, disbelief at the Ithacan's callousness written all over his face. "What more could I want?" he burst out in anger. "How can you say that! What I want is for Achilles to acknowledge me as his lover, as his husband, not an object of pleasure or a soulless womb! He can't just throw me away now that he has everything!"
Odysseus leant forward. "Did he throw you away?"
"Well…no, not yet. But he has never told me that he loves me either."
"Have you ever heard him say to anyone that he loves them?"
Paris thought quickly. "No," he answered.
"Then how can you tell that he doesn't love you? I suggest you talk to him before you jump to conclusions." Odysseus raised a challenging eyebrow. And only then did Paris realize that the Ithacan had set him up by rising him to anger.
"Odysseus," Paris declared, "you are the most cunning, the most devious man I know. And I'm glad to have you as my friend and ally."
Solemnly, the older man held out his hand. "And no matter how this ends, you will always be able to call me that."
Paris clasped the offered hand, then, on second thought, pressed a quick, chaste kiss on the Ithacan's bearded cheek.
"Thank you. I think I'll go look for Achilles now. His counselors will just have to make time for me."
Odysseus, though surprised by the kiss, smiled and shooed him off. Satisfied that he had done what he could, he lay back against the tree and watched Paris leave before deciding to settle down for a nap. He certainly deserved it.
Achilles stood alone in his council room, his gaze directed out of the window to the palace garden. The chamber was small enough that the sunlight it received through the window was sufficient. The only furniture in the room was a table with benches on three of its sides, leaving the fourth side open. A knock on the door made the Myrmidon turn.
"Come in," he called.
As he had almost expected, Paris entered.
"Your meeting didn't last long," the Trojan commented.
"We finished early," Achilles replied.
Paris raised an eyebrow. "Did you? I met Spiridon on my way here; he asked me to tell you that he didn't mind meeting with you tomorrow instead of today."
Achilles bowed his head in defeat with a small smile. Avoiding Achilles' proximity, Paris went to the window and threw a look outside to confirm that the room did indeed have a view of the orange tree where Odysseus had dozed off.
"I'm going to ask you a question now," Paris announced as he turned to Achilles, "and I want an answer from you." He paused until Achilles gave a nod. "What am I to you?"
Achilles did not seem surprised at the question. His eyes wandered thoughtfully over his husband. Paris waited, though not patiently and with an apprehensive feeling in his stomach, but he waited.
"My husband. The prince-consort of the Myrmidons," Achilles finally said.
"Am I permitted to stay here, to remain your consort and lover, despite the fact that I lost my gift?"
"Tell me why I should stay."
Again Achilles hesitated. Their eyes met, each searching for something in the other.
"Because I love you," the warrior king answered. "Is that enough for you?"
Paris smiled blindingly. "More than enough." Until now almost the entire room had separated them. Closing the distance, he threw himself at Achilles, wildly pressing their lips together. His warrior caught him easily, steady on his feet as always, and returned the kiss a lot more calmly than Paris.
With tears in his eyes, the Trojan broke the kiss and begged him: "Promise me that this will not be the only time that you tell me that you love me."
"I promise. I'll tell you as often as you like," the Myrmidon vowed, sealing the promise with a small kiss.
Again Paris broke it. "And I want more training. From you."
"You only had to ask." They kissed again.
"I think Odysseus went to sleep. And Melva is watching Neoptolemus," Paris commented, nose brushing Achilles'. His hands stroked over the warrior's collar bones, then down to rub his thumbs over Achilles' nipples through the cloth of his chiton.
"I think we should move this to our bed," Achilles replied, picking up on his husband's mood.
"Why?" Paris smirked playfully. "We could do it here." He moved backwards to the wooden table, pulling the king with him, and lifted himself to sit on top of it with Achilles standing between his legs.
"Remember our first night?" The Myrmidon inquired instead.
"I want to go slow this time. And the council's table is no place for that."
Months later, Paris travelled to Troy on a black-sailed ship. He wore Myrmidon clothes, with a sword girded around his waist and a golden circlet resting on his brow, and was accompanied by Patroclus, who captained a group of Myrmidon warriors.
The prince-consort's chin never lowered in the face of his family, and his expression remained impassive as he greeted his father, his eyes ignoring the priests he knew from so long ago. Solely his brother Hector, and his wife and children, received Paris' affection, and he lovingly cuddled his niece Phaedra who had been born almost three years ago.
Before he left the city to return to Phthia, Hector stood with him on the impenetrable walls and said:
"You seem happy."
And Paris replied: "I am."
It was to be his last visit to Troy. And only after his return to Phthia did he learn that he had missed a visitor from Mykonos.
Proud of his work, the Persian painter stood aside as the young emperor and his most favored general inspected the commissioned painting. The blue-eyed man who stood at the emperor's side had long ago been accepted as the man's closest companion. What he said might as well have come from the king's own lips.
As they studied the painting, they occasionally exchanged a few words, attracting the other's attention to one point or another.
The artist's mastery of the Greek language was passable at best. Most of the requests had only reached his ears through an interpreter. The subject was not completely unknown to him: even in Babylon the legend had been told, the legend of the one man who gave birth. Like any other myth, the tale had its firm believers and critics.
The Persian was neither. He accepted the task, eager to display his skills. The emperor had complimented his work, with a single sentence only, his companion agreeing in broken Persian. Then they had returned to their native tongue and the painter could only just grasp the meaning of what they spoke.
"I'm not sure I agree with their pose," the emperor remarked.
"Why? What would you have liked different?" His companion inquired.
"He's kneeling. I cannot imagine a warrior like Achilles kneeling."
"I suppose it is to convey the wonder Achilles feels at his husband feeding their son. It's not every day that happens."
The emperor shrugged, not completely convinced. "Perhaps."
"I think the painter captured their features well. Especially Achilles'. They look reminiscent of yours."
The other man noted it with pride. It was only right after all.
"It's truly a shame Troy burnt down. I would very much liked to have seen it," his companion continued. "And it would be interesting if we knew what exactly happened to them all."
"We know Neoptolemus moved west to Epirus, which is how Achilles' blood was introduced into my line."
Finally the emperor handed over the painter's reward. The artist left, throwing a last look over his shoulder at the painting: a young man lay nude on a couch with a sarong beneath his hips, untied to display his male sex. His chest was swollen to milk-filled breasts and a baby sucked at one nipple while Achilles knelt beside the couch with his gaze directed upwards to watch the scene.
Whether Achilles had ever knelt for his husband or not – who could say?
The emperor is Alexander the Great, his companion, his friend and lover Hephaistion. Alexander claimed to be a descendant of Achilles through Neoptolemus on his mother's side, who came from Epirus. As for who burned Troy - I'll leave that to your imagination.
Personal Author's note: I'd like to thank everyone who stayed with me for such a long time as 2008, and everybody who came later and took the time to get as far as the end.
The appendices will be posted on my lifejournal (link in my profile). As it involves a lot of graphics and links, this site isn't the place for it. NEW: If you'd like Forging of Bonds as pdf, the link is in my profile.
Again, thank you to everyone who read Forging of Bonds, everyone who commented, and everyone who encouraged me to complete this story. Thank you for (so far) 170 comments and over 90 favs. I hope I'll see some of you around. Now it's your turn to give me your thoughts on this :)