The first thing Paris did was remove his brother's gag with his trembling fingers. Fumbling, struggling to undo the tight knots. Without anything preventing him of talking, Hector croaked out, "Paris?" in a weak, cracking voice. Paris had to jump to get to the rope tying Hector to the crossbeam but after a few tries, he grabbed the right end and yanked it hard. Without the bonds, Hector crumpled into Paris' outstretched arms like a marionette that had his strings cut, his weight bringing both of them down. Paris managed to take most of the impact, saving Hector from more pain, cradling Hector's head in his lap.
"Hector, oh my gods. What did they do to you? Shh, you're safe. You're fine. I've got you," Paris babbled, searching for words of comfort to calm himself more than Hector. After crooning to his brother for a while, Paris' tone grew more urgent, his words rushed and breathy, "Hector, are you strong enough to walk now? We must leave. We must leave now or else we risk being captured. Hector!" Paris hated to do it, but he drew his hand back and slapped his brother on the face.
Paris watched as his brother attempted to shake himself alert.
"Can you walk?"
Hector nodded weakly and, leaning heavily on Paris, attempted to stand upright. Seeing his brother's legs shake and his grimace of pain, Paris lost his firm resolve and pushed him back down. Paris was crushed when Hector wasn't able to offer any resistance. Instead he croaked, "Do you have water?" Paris shook his head regretfully. He took a closer look at his brother's split and bleeding lips.
"I'm sorry, Hector. We can get some once we get home," Paris gulped. If we get home. He shuddered at the thought of failure, "There is only one man on watch. He makes rounds every few minutes but mostly stays on the ravine. I was able to sneak past him but I don't know if a man in your condition can do the same. We could follow the shoreline to avoid him but it would lead us into Agamemnon's camp and he might have even more guards out. So I think we should chance the Myrmidon."
"Do you have your bow?"
"No, but I can do it," Paris couldn't stop a trace of childish petulance and resentment from creeping into his voice.
Hector seemed to sense these feelings and reassure Paris that he had never doubted him.
With a small smile, Paris said, "There is a small oasis a little way south from here. It is in the opposite direction of the palace but I have my horse stabled there. If we can get to there, we can go home." He gave a short laugh of relief, barely able to believe that his plan was going exactly how he had wanted it to.
Finally, Paris decided that no more time could be spared and he told Hector that they had to move.
Hector grabbed his brother's shoulder and slowly stood. When they made it outside, Hector reveled in the ocean breeze blowing on his hot, sweaty skin. At the sight of the stars, alive in their sparkle, he felt hope flare up inside of him. The small flame that he had quenched once Achilles had hung him up came back with a vengeance. Silently, he thanked the gods for sparing his life.
He could go home and hold Andromache, kiss his baby boy, watch him grow into a man. Things he had believe that he would never be able to do again.
As they were going by, Hector was suddenly struck by a thought. A theory that he had thought of during his long hours of bondage and had temporarily forgotten at the excitement of a rescue. He commanded, "Paris, look into this tent. What do you see?" While his brother got to his knees to lift the bottom folds of the tent, Hector stood in the darkness, scanning the beach with his keen eyes. Apparently seeing no danger, Paris walked into the tent.
"There are two men," came Paris' muffled whisper, "One looks ill and I believe that both are sleeping." Hector followed his brother inside and what he saw confirmed the suspicion that had been growing since he had tried to escape. The cousin of Achilles lay still, his skin an unhealthy pallor.
Hector's first thoughts were of regret and guilt. He hadn't known that he was fighting a boy. A boy no older than Paris. He should've known the boy was an imposter. The lord of the Myrmidons was famous throughout the world for his swordsmanship. As Hector reflected on the duel, he realized the supposed lord hadn't moved fast enough. There was little fluidity between bouts; each clash had sent the boy staggering backwards. The stances and techniques were textbook perfect; an experienced warrior would have twisted the form to suit himself. He would have improved the basic and made it unique and extraordinary. Many clear signs that the man in armor was not a warrior, let alone the great Achilles.
And now, he was close to death. Wasting away. And Hector would be his murderer. As much as Hector hated Achilles, he would never wish such pain on him. The horrible sense of helplessness and loss, much like the feelings that ran through Hector when he watched Paris fight Menelaus. He had cringed at every cry, every ring of sword against shield. Had to use all of his willpower to keep himself from running forth to help. Such pain should never be inflicted on anyone, Hector mused.
Hector's next thoughts were surprising in a way. Hector had always considered himself to be morally upright and did his best to remain so, even in times of war. So when he decided that they would take the dying boy as a hostage, he was breaking all of his guidelines. Guidelines that he had served and followed his whole life. But the commander and warrior side of him could only think of how to survive. Even at the sacrifice of a boy, a child, a brother, a husband. Especially because Paris is with me.
Paris asked what Hector was looking at and he responded, "Find rope to bind and gag both. Do you think you can carry the boy to your horse?" Hector's gentleman-side squirmed at the incredulous, disbelieving look on Paris' face. Paris nodded uneasily, too shocked to make a sound.
First, Paris searched the small room for a bow which he eventually found under a set of furs. He stepped outside after Hector took the proffered ropes. He stood over the man asleep on the floor. A young, handsome man. Only following orders. Hector couldn't bring himself to kill a blameless soldier.
Blameless? Was any man in this war blameless? All had killed. All had destroyed families and lives. So was anyone blameless? The king ordered his generals. The tacticians and commanders sent their soldiers into war. The soldiers killed to live. There was no way to escape blame.
Hector drew his fist back and struck down.
The bow sung to him. The curved wood gleamed in the moonlight, the string taut. Paris balanced the weapon on his palm and quickly tested it for flexibility, strength, power. One touch told him so much. He knew exactly how to shoot the bow as if it was written down for him. It was a fine bow, he marveled. He reached into the plain quiver, beautiful in its simplicity, and drew out an arrow.
Feathered at the end, metal at the tip, the arrow was an artisan's weapon. It took more than brute strength to wield. Taking the shaft into his hands almost reverently, he nocked the arrow. Inhaling deeply, he drew the string back in one fluid motion. His arms, trained to combat the rigidity of the bow, did not tremble. Staring down the slim length, one eye squeezed shut, Paris pushed the air from his lungs. And he let go.
What seemed like minutes later - but could only have been less than a second - he saw the silhouette of a man in the distance fall down, one hand grabbing at the slender shadow protruding from its head. With a surge of satisfaction, Paris grinned. A feral snarl of a smile graced his lips. It felt so right. The tension seemed to fly from his body, following the arrow. Tracing the wooden fibers, he felt strong, so powerful.
When he saw Hector, he nodded curtly, proudly noting the look of respect on his older brother's face. And it was not undeserved. Shooting with that level of accuracy at night and from over 300 meters away was not an easy feat. It had taken years to perfect his skills and instincts. Throughout his childhood, while people fawned over Hector's swordsmanship and ability with horses, Paris had become the best archer in the kingdom.
He hurried back inside, only sparing a glance for the fallen body on the ground. He slung the bow on his back, leaving both hands free to scoop up the young boy bridal-style, which he did without much trouble, surprised at how light and frail he was. Hector grabbed two swords and looked to Paris for direction. Paris surveyed the land and jut his chin to the direction from which he came. Hector led the way, Paris following behind, able to keep up with Hector even though he was carrying what he estimated to be about 200 minas of deadweight.
They kept to the dark side of the dune, moving as quickly as they dared. After only a few minutes, Paris was beginning to regret his decision to take the boy. His surprise at the boy's weight must have confused him because he had honestly believed that he could carry the boy all the way to his horse. His horse was about a league away. There was no way that he could do this.
But he had to. He couldn't back down now. He had said that he could do this. If he failed now... Paris didn't even want to think about it. He focused his eyes on the back of Hector's legs, trying to concentrate on each imprint of his brother's feet on the sand. Concentrate. Of course, forcing himself to concentrate on it did the exact opposite. His mind wandered.
Wandered back to that night. It was a happy night. His birthday. Apollo's day.
He was turning twelve. Father had invited many nobles as he did every year. It honored the sun god, he said. Without a large celebration, Apollo would be offended. All the gods needed gifts to appease them. Without presents, they would obliterate the world in their rage. The gods are not kind, Priam would say. They are not merciful or loving. We are only here to serve. To please.
Paris had hidden his disappointment. He had hoped to celebrate with his family. He hated being with the nobles because all they did was grovel and pretend to be his best friend. They were not his friends. He didn't want another special day to be ruined by them, turned into a public spectacle. He pretended that he was fine, put on a smile. But he wasn't fine. He didn't want to go to his birthday feast. Not even his. Apollo's. And no matter what his father said, Paris did not believe that the Gods were merciless. He did not believe that Apollo did not care about his subjects. But that was besides the point.
Hector must have seen. He had always been able to read Paris. Paris didn't know what happened afterwards. All he knew was that, come evening, Paris was having a quiet family dinner. Just him, his beloved brother and his father. Yes, Priam had grumbled at the beginning but after some reprimanding glances from Hector, he quieted and began to enjoy himself.
It was the best birthday Paris could remember. They stayed in the small room even after they finished their meal. Priam regaled them with stories from his childhood. Dramatic stories of childhood loves, warfare and politics that Paris was sure his father had exaggerated. But he hadn't said anything, basking in the warmth of his father's attention and care. Then Hector started. Daring, exciting, and sometimes funny tales of training and fighting.
Paris could remember every story. He spent all the night, staring at the ceiling, repeating the narrations to the darkness. Over and over again until he was sure that he would never forget them. His best birthday. If only things could only be as good as they were then.
I am so sorry about how late I left this, guys. It's been what, a month? If I said that I had finals, would anyone forgive me? Anyways, it's summer now so I will be spending a lot of time writing. Trust me. And thank you for the favorites, follows and reviews. They meant a lot to me. Love and kisses!