I thought everybody knew I was Achilles cousin by now. The old grumpy Trojan that was leading me through an empty field, however, apparently did not.
I absently rubbed my head where the old man had knocked me with his stick. The stick that he still carried in his hands as a threat. That was the only reason that the group of us young greeks were still following him - that and the fact that he threatened to get higher forces involved.
"I'm so sick of you all taking advantage of my land." He growled, clutching the stick tighter with every step. He was using it as a walking stick, but I wouldn't have been surprised if he would spun and knocked one of us again to emphases his point.
We all had a couple bruises from his stick. But most of us, including me, had more cuts, scrapes, and bruises from the chariot racing and the fight that followed when Alec accused me of cheating.
The race had been fun until my horse got spooked, and veered right causing me to flip my small buggy. I, also, now had a nice size gash on my head. The horses who happen to belong to the old man - I guess I could see why he was angry - ran away unharmed. Along with the gash in my head, Alec had hit my buggy causing his to flip.
The small crowd had booed because they had payed to see a race. A race between to known 'enemies'. And now both of the small chariots laid crushed along the ground, and the horses spooked and gone. There will be no more secret races for a while till those are fixed. And I reach up to apply pressure to my bleeding head, I'm secretly glad.
It really didn't matter that I was already in the lead, Alec still accused me of cheating. So he swung and popped me a cheap shot in the eye. My face reddened in angry at him, and myself for allowing him to get so close to me with that shot. How many times in hand to hand combat had Achilles trained me to guard my head.
As soon as I raised my fist up, the crowd that was booing start cheering. A fight was on. Even though we were both already bruised up from the crash, we some how managed to get a couple of rounds in.
Kris, my best friend, and never one to back down from the adventure was soon brawling with Epiktetos.
The old man - I guess I should learn his name, since we use his farm (and horses) all the time - chose that moment to come out. To be old, he was lean and nimble, and has quite the swing with that old stick he carries. His voice hollering so loud and angry that most of the young crowd ran at that moment.
I turned to run, but Alec got another cheap shot in to my ribs. And when I turned to counter, old man had whacked him in the stomach. Alec went tumbling backwards and sat.
I was going to laugh, but before the sound escaped my lips. The man was swinging the stick at me. I managed to sidestep the stomach swing and turned thinking I was free, when he countered with a sharp blow to my head.
I saw stars momentarily. I didn't care that I had now been caught, as long as he didn't hit me with that stick in more, I would do whatever he says. Alec must have felt the same way because he was holding his stomach and not moving.
It took a bit longer for him to get Kris and Epiktetos - who hadn't suffered a chariot crash - to settle down. But they too were finally sitting.
The old man's face was so red that I briefly imagined him falling over dead from stress and anger. He stalked in front of his twirling his stick. "If my horses are hurt...," he let the threat fade.
"They're not." WHACK. Kris, never did know when to hold his tongue.
"Where do you live?" The old man practically spit at venom as us.
We all exchanged a look. It did not take much schooling to understand that this man intended to escort us to our parents.
"I live with Achilles. The home about half a mile from here and on the hill closest to town." Alec announced solemnly. "Let us go there, first."
I blinked confused, then sent a glare towards Alec. I opened my mouth to speak, but the old man sent me a glare. I didn't feel like taking the wrath of the stick again so I held my tongue.
And that is how we ended up walking on the edge of Achilles field towards my home and my guardian.
And when I saw his golden head appear a few hundred yards away, I suddenly wished I would've took my chances with the stick or even the local guards.
Achilles closed the gap quickly once he saw me and Kris in the group.
He slowed only when he took in the sight of all of us bruised from racing, fighting, and now the encounter with the man's wrath. His eyes quickly assessed each of us, and I held my breath when he lingered on me a little longer.
His body was tense, I knew him well enough to know that this meant he was very angry, but was trying to control it.
"Achilles." He greeted that older man introducing himself.
The man stared at Achilles coldly for a moment. Had he been living under a large rock? How could he have not heard of my famous cousin.
"Nestor." The old man finally grunted and squinted at Achilles through his thick eyebrows. I wasn't sure how he could see through him they were so thick.
"In the future you should be aware of your child's whereabouts."
"I plan to."
Achilles cold voice sliced at my heart. I winced as his electric blue eyes landed on my face again. My head instantly dropped to my chest like I was a young child again.
Kris squeezes my shoulder reassuringly.
"And keep these," he paused as if he couldn't think of a word accurate enough to describe us, "young Greeks off of my land." He spit out each word with distaste and finished the word "land" with a finger hooked in Ach's chest.
At that moment, I think I heard everybody in the small circle audibly gasp. Did this man not know that Achilles could take him in a single swing? And had he really just fearlessly poked the greatest warrior and leader in the chest, barking out commands?
I was use to Achilles given the orders, not receiving them.
Achilles on his part didn't correct the old man, but momentarily looked angry, which quickly gave way to his eyes krinklin in laughter.
I smirked too. It was kinda funny this old man was giving the great Greek warrior instructions.
"If it were only that easy," Achilles chuckled lowly, shaking his head.
The man grunted not understand the humor of the moment. And I got the feeling that if Achilles laughed again a stick would come flying at his face.
"Well, out with it," the man questioned Achilles gripping his stick, but eyed Alec carefully, " which one is yours?"
Maybe he was smarter than I credited. He seemed to have seen through Alec's lie - but it wouldn't have matter anyway. I knew Achilles wasn't letting me out of his sight for a while
The man's bossy tone no longer made me grin. Achilles cool eyes returned to me now and all the humor had faded away.
I inwardly sighed - why do I do the stupidest stuff and get myself into these situations?
"That one," he pointed right at me. "With the light hair and the bruised eye," he supplied in case the man was slow. My heart dropped at the chill of his voice.
Without warning the man shoved me forward. I stumbled caught off guard and would have fell, if Achilles hadn't caught my shoulder steadying me.
"Thought it might be," the man said simply, ignoring the fact that he had almost pushed me to ground.
I stiffened when Achilles brought his hand to my face. He grabbed my chin turning my head examining my cuts briefly. He turned chin towards the right, laying his free hand over my largest gash, again examining the severity of the wound. And then just as quickly his hand was gone.
I stared at him confused wondering what he was thinking. I knew I must have looked pretty beat up because his blue eyes flecked some worry at me.
Wordlessly, he jerked his head behind him and I immediately knew what he wanted, and moved out of the way.
" The others?" Nestor prompted clearly annoyed that Achilles prompted.
"That one can come with me too." Kris's face whittened as Achilles gestured to him. "I'll get him where he needs to be."
Nestor didn't shove Kris which I thought wasn't fair.
Kris avoided Achilles eyes, stepping forward and to the other side of my cousin.
"The others," the main chewed the words dryly, as if Achilles was slow.
And I felt the warriors body tense again. "Listen, Trojan, they're not mine."
I felt it was cheap that Alec and Epiktetos got away without being sent home. They were as guilty as us. And Kris must have thought the same because he added, "their father is the dairy farmer not far from here, ol' farmer."
Achilles shot him a look that said to be quiet, but the old man nodded and started grumbling for the other boys to follow.
I thought Alec might have lunged at Kris if Achilles hadn't been standing so close. All four of us stared at each other for a moment.
"When I talk to you're father tomorrow...," Achilles left the statement unfinished and I knew it was a threat. Alec apparently knew too, because he turned and sprinted after the old man.
Epiktetos grunnted and turned too, favoring his leg that Kris had kicked earlier, and followed after the two slowly.
I knew that Achilles's words made certain that the correct - or at least - most of the correct story would be given to Alec's father.
I smiled, happy that for once, justice was gone to be equally served.
Achilles hand landed on my shoulder causing me to sqwack in surprise. "Do you find humor in this, Cousin?" And I guess that crazy old man had carried all of Achilles's humor and patiences away with him.
"No, Cousin." I answered instantly dropping my smile, and turned to face my guardian.
"Fighting?" He questioned, turning to eye my face again. And I knew my beat up face betrayed me even if I wanted to lie. I didn't though - cause Achilles could always see through my lies.
"Yes, Achilles, but let me explain-,"
"Patroclus, you make me an old man before my time"
My face reddened and I knew that I had been a great cause of worry, pain, and trouble for my cousin over the years.
"Fighting." He frowned at Kris now too. "But why?"
We both stood silent not wanting to tell him about the racing.
"Boys," Achilles wasn't yelling, but his voice was low and held warning. He walked over to us comparing us and the difference in the severity of our wounds. And, it was then, that I knew we had been caught.
"RACING?" His voice raised a whole octave higher than normal, his face turning bright red.
I have heard my cousin yell orders my whole life, but only rarely have I heard him take such an angry tone with me.
My face reddened, stepping backwards from my now pacing guardian.
He blew hard through his lips as if he was trying to calm himself done. He ran a hand through his locks, before staring back at me. "DO YOU-," his voice was still angry and loud. He stopped himself, pacing few more times.
Breathing deeply, he faced me again. "Do you know how dangerous that is?"
He wasn't yelling anymore, but his words were laced with anger.
I wanted to point to my head and tell him that I had figured it out, but figure he wouldn't appreciate my smart ass remark. Instead, I decided to be silent.
"I kinda thought it was brave," Kris offered, never knowing when to hold his tongue.
Achilles whirled on him. "Or stupid and reckless."
His words hung in the air and Kris' face turned red.
I stepped in for my friend. "Cousin, we didn't know..."
His anger was back on me. "What? You didn't know that old farm was the racing ground?"
My ears reddened this time. Everyone knew that among my friends and apparently so did Achilles. "You know that?"
"Of course, Patrolcus, it has been that way for years. It was there that I first...," he voice trailed off.
It took me a moment to understand what he was saying "You've raced there too!"
He glared at me. "This isn't about me."
"But it was your first - like race or fight or something -wasn't it?" Kris added in.
Achilles rolled his shoulders back and towered even taller over us. "THIS ISN'T ABOUT ME!"
Kris and I both took a step backwards in total fear.
Achilles bit his lip in frustration and sighed seeing our fear. His shoulder relaxed and he shook his head. "Yes, I've raced there."
He reached both hands out placing one on my shoulder and one on Kris's - his way of apologizing and offering a peace offering.
"Come boys, let's get your cuts cleaned up."
"How can you be angry at me at something you've done?" I was feeing brave. We followed him towards the house.
I saw his shoulder tense and then release again. "I've seen men die in chariot races."
The words hung in the air as we followed him into the main room. Kris and I both were quiet as Achilles hunted supplies. Returning, he handed Kris a clean cloth instructing him to clean his cuts.
"Let's look at that head." It almost scared me that all of Achilles anger seemed to have disappeared, especially since he was so mad
I sat down and let Achilles exam it again. He nodded a few times, "No sewing needed. Only needs to be cleaned well."
He gave me cloth to chew on as he poured what could've only been alcohol on my cut. It stung deeply and I groaned. Achilles then proceeded to search me over for any other injuries. I would have been embarrassed if he hadn't turned and done the same to Kris.
Kris doesn't have much of a home life. His dad probably wouldn't even have cared that he was racing - just as long as he wasn't in the way. Because of this Kris had took to spending a lot of time with us.
Stepping back with a nod of approval, I knew that Achilles had decided that we would indeed live.
"You...," his voice broke off and he stared at me. I kept his gaze but shifted uncomfortably. "You could have been seriously injured or hurt today, Patroclus."
"No, Kris, you need to hear this too."
I glanced at my best friend awkwardly.
"I don't always get to be the older, wiser cousin who teaches you to fight. Or who shows you how to hold a sword."
Recently, he had started teaching Kris how to fight too.
"I wish I was. I wish I could be the older cousin that you come to when you're angry at your father. The one you can complain about his punishment too." The word punishment hung in the air.
"Sometimes, I have to be your guardian." He stepped forward and I kept myself from flinching. "And you're not going to like." His voice wasn't mad anymore, but gently as if he was afraid he'd spook me.
"You cannot put yourself into dangerous situations like that." He breathed deeply through his nose again. " You're not going to like this, but I have to do this, because I cannot lose you."
I felt tears creep into my eyes and I rapidly blinked them back.
He touched my scalp tenderly. "Today it just a minor cut, but it could've been a lot worse."
"You both understand that, right?"
I managed to nod, but didn't look at Kris to see if he had done the same.
"You're both not allowed at the Myrmidons fighting camp for a month."
"A month?" We both groan in unity.
"That's not fair!" I began feeling my own anger start to rise.
"Two months then, Patroclus." Achilles mumbled.
"WHAT?" It was time for my voice to rise.
"Want to push for three?" His voice was low and I knew that he meant business.
"Cousin, please reconsider this."
"I've to keep you safe."
"You're not my dad." It was a weak argument because for the past fourteen years he has been.
"I know, but I am your guardian."
I have to practice if I am to go with him on his next battle. I cannot be left at home again. I have to be ready to sail with him and fight with him. And that means practice.
"I need the practice, just give me one month."
"Patroclus," his voice was thin, "three months."
"This isn't fair!" Taking this time away from him and from practicing, hurt worse than the gash in my head and worse than the old man's stick.
"No," Achilles voice rises slightly, "what isn't fair is that you could've died to day - trying to impress your friends. Doing something foolish and reckless."
"I hate you." I knew I hadn't meant the words as soon as they left my mouth, but I wanted to hurt him anyway. Take away something important from him as he did from me.
"You don't mean that, Patroclus." Kris cut in.
"I do." My head was pounding near my cut and my heart had sped up. "He can't take this from me."
Achilles face momentarily goes blank and then I see the hurt flecked in his eyes. "I'm sorry, Patroclus. But this is how it has to be. Sometimes lessons hurt and take a while to sink in."
"I hate you." I repeat the words, turning on my heels and leaving before they could see the hot tears that were about to spill down my face.
Achilles caught my elbow though. "Cousin," his voice was soft and I bit my lip to keep the tears from spilling down my face.
I turned slowly, trying to put as much anger in my eyes as possible. "You are mad at me for something you've probably done a hundred time."
His eyes flash, but his voice was calm. "Cause I care. I care what happens to you." He paused and moved his hand to my shoulder with a gentle squeeze.
"Maybe you shouldn't."
"He didn't mean that!" Kris spoke up again coming to stand beside me. "You did not mean that, Patroclus." He hissed, elbowing me in the stomach.
Kris knew how much I worshipped my cousin, but then he must've had known how much this particular punishment gutted me.
"My father didn't care." Achilles voice rose a little, but his blue eyes showed pain instead of anger. "He didn't care what I did as long as I was out of his way." His hand was on my shoulder now. "Until, he saw my fighting skills.." His voice faded out.
I hung my head in shame. Achilles did not talk about his father. I knew the man was also a talented warrior, but one that didn't care for Achilles. And Kris's father does not care what he is doing unless Kris is in the way - and then he has a shiny bruise to prove it. I do not remember a lot about my parents, but I do remember that I was loved.
Achilles squeezed my shoulder again. "I care though. Do you get that? I want the best for you, Patroclus. I care if you are putting yourself in needless danger. I can't lose you."
A tear slipped slowly down my face. "You put yourself in needless danger all the time." One last try at getting him to see my point.
Achilles grabbed me then, pulling me into a tight hug. "Fighting isn't everything, Patroclus. Be a kid for a little while."
I rested my head against his shoulder. "I don't really hate you," I whispered.
"I know," he returned, before stepping back.
"It stands though."
"And Kris," I turned to see my best friend pale under Achilles's stare.
"Don't make me go home -,"
Achilles held up his hand.
"You're a good friend. Loyal."
Kris nodded slowly, confused.
"You're always welcomed around here. Always."
I think we both sighed in relief that this punishment didn't include the two of us being separated. And Kris didn't have to spend three months with his father.
Achilles turned to leave, stopping only to point at each of us. "You - three months." I felt my heart plummet again. " And you -," he pointed at Kris, "two."
He paused to let that sink in, "No, fighting. I mean it. And if I ever catch you racing again...," his voice fade out leaving the threat unspoken. "That goes for both of you."
And with that he turned and left.
"This is awful," I groaned.
"At least, he cares." Kris reminded me again and I felt my face flush. I knew Kris was thinking about his own father and how he would've reacted.
"You know I wont go to camp to train, till you can."
Achilles was right, Kris was a loyal friend.
"What are we going to do, then?" It was about time for our usual training session with Achilles.
"Let's go to the beach. I hear the best waves are this time a day."
I nodded, "Alright, and on the way, we can stop and see if you Alec got in trouble"
"Yeah, maybe they couldn't find his dad, and that old man is still leading him around town." I laughed.
Achilles was right, maybe being a kid wasn't so bad.