~twenty-five~

"What?" sputtered Patroclus.

"You heard." Achilles put his arms behind his bed and leaned back so that he was resting on the headboard. "If I can't go neither can you. Which is only fair, really."

"Oh no," Patroclus shook his head. "No no, don't you start bringing 'fair' into this. This is not fair. This is so far removed from fair that you can't even see fair anymore. But please, explain to me how in your world this amounts to any kind of sensical justice?"

"You're my hetairoi," answered Achilles. "That means whatever I do you have to do too."

"Really?" Patroclus raised an eyebrow. "I must have missed that part of the vow."

"You're supposed to be with me always," Achilles snapped. "Forever by my side. How can you be forever by my side if you're rutting in the dirt with some lowborn peasant slut?"

Patroclus lifted his other eyebrow as he felt the heat rise in his cheeks. "In that case your wedding night is going to be a very social affair."

Achilles sent him such an evil look a lesser man would have fallen to his knees in supplication and be hard pressed to feel shame. Patroclus however, charged to strength with anger, stood his ground and continued to stare him down. "Look Achilles, I'm sorry about your parents," he began, forcing his voice into a tone of calm and reason. "I think it very wrong of them to keep you from the festival, and more so to argue about it in front of you. You have every right to be angry and upset, no child should have to watch their mother and father hound at each other like two jealous infants. But you have no right to cast out all your frustrations on me. What do you want, when you're miserable I must be too?"

"YES!" Achilles shouted and Patroclus almost jumped backwards in surprise. "For you to be miserable when I am miserable, for you to be happy when I am happy and when I want to die from my sorrow for you to-"

"-You've never wanted to die, you vainglorious prick," Patroclus snapped, all resolutions at empathetic reason evaporating from his head. "You think far too much of yourself. And exactly to which 'sorrow' are you referring? The heart-rending pain of mother and father not letting you go to the party? Oh the brutality of life! The endless suffering of the wealthy adolescent!"

"What do you know about it?" Achilles barked. "You don't live in my head. You don't feel what I feel. You don't wake up every morning cold in the stomach for the fear that you are, finally, at last going mad…." Suddenly he stopped looking fearful, his green eyes wide, as if terrified he had said too much. "Anyway," he said quickly. "It's not about that. The point is I won't have you disgracing me with savage and barbarian behaviour. Father is right, it's not dignified, with someone so high up in the household as you."

Patroclus stared at him, completely dumfounded. Achilles was no longer talking to him but at the ceiling, in that way which meant he was trying to convince himself of what he was saying as much as anyone else. "It's not dignified," he said again. "For the companion of the prince to participate in heathen and pagan practices…rolling about in the mud with Gods know who…I won't have it. Suppose you stick it in some girl and she comes back a few months later swelling with your bastard, begging acknowledgement of the brat and claiming entitlement to some high position..." he swallowed, hard, and took a shaky breath. "No," he shook his head. "I won't have it."

"Well I'm very sorry you feel that way but there's not really much you can do about it," shrugged Patroclus.

"You're not going and that's final."

"It's not final and I am going," Patroclus retaliated brazenly. "Who are you to command me? I'm not one of your slaves to do your bidding! You don't own me!"

Achilles did not answer, only shifted his gaze from the ceiling to fall on Patroclus. In that moment, when their eyes locked, it was as if unspoken words hung in the air between them and a little voice at the back of Patroclus' head said: I think you know that's not true. But Patroclus shook it away impatiently. No, he told himself furiously. He wasn't going to curl up and let Achilles walk all over him. The boy needed to learn. His feelings weren't the only ones which mattered. He wasn't the only one who suffered…

Achilles looked away, fixing his eyes back on the ceiling. When he spoke, his voice was a monotonous deadpan. "I'll tell the guards not to let you out," he said tonelessly. "I'll tie you down if I have to."

Patroclus stared at him. He did not really believe that Achilles would do such a thing but the fact that he'd said it, that he was so ready to exercise his power of authority over him made him angrier than ever. For some reason he found himself waiting for a few seconds, giving him a chance to apologise or at least to grant some kind of word of explanation. When none came he made a noise of disgust and left the room, slamming the door behind him.

As soon as the door fell shut Patroclus heard a crash sound from the other side, as if something had smashed against the wood and he felt the impact of the hit through his back. The sound was followed by a strangled sob and for a second Patroclus debated whether he should turn around and go back in. In the end he walked away, realising as he climbed the stone steps that his hands were balled into fists.

oOo

By the time late evening came he was still so furious he had taken to walking outside by himself to clear his head. His anger had taken on a kind of physical form; he could feel it pumping in his veins so that his whole body seemed to tingle with pent-up energy. He wanted to jump, scream, hit something. Or, more specifically, someone.

"Why me?" he muttered apathetically to himself on the seventh turn round the palace stables. "Why me and, Gods, why him?"

He did not arrive at an answer. The wind was picking up; it whisked his hair, blowing dark locks onto his cheeks and stinging his eyes. Leaves and sheaves of wheat were lifted into the air, hovered and settled on the ground and Patroclus could not hold back a scream.

"WHY HIM?" he demanded, turning his head up to the swelling clouds. "OF ALL PEOPLE WHY HIM?"

"Patroclus?" quipped a small, cautious voice from behind him; he spun around in alarm which dissipated as quickly as it had come. Leptine was standing in the shadow of the animal pen, a concerned look on her face.

"Leptine," he breathed thankfully then realised what he must look like, red faced, teary-eyed and screaming at the clouds and felt immediately embarrassed. "Sorry, I was just…I needed to…."

He faltered off dumbly, making an evasive, helpless gesture. Leptine nodded sagely, turning on him with a look of understanding. "It's alright," she said. "Sometimes I come down here too when I need to clear my head. Or you know. Scream at the sky."

Patroclus managed a weak smile then wondered with a pang whether she had heard exactly what he'd been screaming. If she had done she made no notice of it , nor did she act as though he'd behaved oddly in the slightest and Patroclus' pulse slowed with relief.

"So," Leptine smiled crookedly. "What is it this time? Or is it the same thing?"

Patroclus gave a sigh which was more like a groan of internal pain. "Same person," he mumbled. "Different thing."

Leptine cocked her head inquisitively, her soft brown hair falling gently onto one shoulder. Patroclus rubbed his eyes tiredly. "Peleus does not want him to go to Beltane," he explained. "He thinks it improper…and I suppose he fears him fathering a bastard when he remains as yet unmarried. He and Thetis had an argument over it which he won. Consequently I have been forbidden by Achilles from attending the festivities." He ended with a tired, exasperated look. It would take longer than it was worth explaining Achilles' bizarre, premature reasoning.

Leptine looked aghast. "But that's absurd!" she sputtered. "You can't miss Beltane, that would be like missing…well…Beltane!"

"Don't think I don't know that," sighed Patroclus heavily.

Leptine gave him a funny glance, frowning at Patroclus' morose expression and shoulders slumped in dejection. "You aren't seriously considering staying with him, are you?"

He remembered Achilles' assertive, commanding voice, the way he had spoken to him as if he were still a slave or subordinate. His fists tightened. "No," he replied decisively. "He thinks I'm a spaniel to order around, play with when bored, kick at will." The memory of his kiss was still fresh in his mind, he tried urgently to shut it out. "He needs to learn. People aren't just toys…"

He petered out, nervous about hinting too much. It was already evident that something important had happened between them, Patroclus could see in Leptine's eyes that she sensed it. But she looked satisfied and pleased enough with his answer.

"I'm glad," she said and sounded it. "Of course," and here she grinned impishly. "In that case you still need to find yourself a partner."

Patroclus felt his shoulders sag even heavier at her words. With all that was going on he'd completely forgotten the convention, that he was supposed to go as a couple to a festival that was, ultimately, in celebration of fertility and vitality. The thought made Patroclus shiver internally; what in all of Hades was he supposed to do with a girl at a fertility festival?

"I'd completely forgotten," he confessed. "And now I suppose it's too late to find anyone."

"Well you can't go alone," Leptine bristled. "People will think you're undesirable. Or worse. Impotent."

"Great," said Patroclus dully, the last shred of hope he had been clinging on to leaving him. "I suppose I'll just have to stay at home with Achilles and play knucklebones. Here meaning mine connecting with his face."

"Or…" started Leptine, chewing her lip thoughtfully. "You could come with me and Deiomachus."

Patroclus started in surprise. "He asked you then?"

"Yes he did," replied Leptine matter-of-factly and looking pinkish, twirling a strand of hair round her index finger. "But you can come with us, if you want."

Patroclus started to say yes, then he thought about how excited Deiomachus had looked as he'd bounded away and Leptine's face stowing away the primroses in the kitchen. He shook his head in protest. "Leptine, that's very kind of you but honestly, it's fine. I'd just be the awkward tag-along, you wouldn't want me there-"

"-Oh but it would be no trouble," Leptine interrupted him. "You can come with us to the festival so that you don't look like a loser, then once we get there we can go our separate ways. It'll be fine."

Patroclus nodded slowly, picturing the scenario in his head. "And what will people think when we stroll up, the three of us, together? Two guys…one girl…?"

Leptine looked confused, then, seeing Patroclus' raised eyebrow, looked appalled and yelped. "They won't be thinking that!" she exclaimed in reproachful alarm, slapping him on the arm. "Dirty, dirty boy! Right, do you want to come with us or not because I am perfectly willing to leave you and your muddied mind right here right now-"

"-No no, I want to come," said Patroclus quickly. "I'm sorry. Thank you. Are you sure Deiomachus won't mind?"

"He'll be fine," Leptine shrugged. "It's not like you'll be with us the whole night."

The phrase reminded Patroclus of something he'd said earlier in regard to Achilles' wedding night. Evidently it showed on his face because Leptine smacked him again. "Dirty boy!" she cried. "Come on. If you're coming to Beltane we'd better sort out what you're going to wear."

"What's wrong with this?" Patroclus gestured at his tunic. It was made of good stuff and had an elaborate border worked in embroidered threads of red and green.

Leptine eyed it disdainfully. "Patroclus," she said. "You cannot go to the Beltane festival looking like a prince's companion."

And before he had a chance to ask what she meant she had whisked him away; giving Patroclus the unsettling feeling that he was growing less and less sure on what, exactly, he was getting himself into.

oOo

After a good few hours among Leptine and the other slaves, it occurred to Patroclus that he had severely underestimated the event. Looking at some of the outfits people planned on, it became clear that the festival was much more Bacchic than he'd previously assumed. Apparently Beltane was all about a return to the primitive state of man as all primal instincts and hungers were satisfied in this one night of total abandonment. To represent this and the otherworldly aspect of the festival that cut it off from civilisation, it was customary to dress in animal skins or costumes which reflected man's return to nature. This was why Leptine had scoffed at Patroclus' desire to dress in his expensive courtly tunic; in her words nothing was more likely to ensure celibacy at Beltane than "dressing like an overseer."

However, these words did very little to assuage Patroclus' discomfort as he cast a shocked eye over some of the other costumes, including one delightful piece designed with a very creative slit in the skirt, "To make it easier for him," as it explained by the girl in question.

This was topped only by Loras' outfit which appeared to be little more than a loose and wiry string made entirely from laurel leaves.

"I'm not wearing that," Patroclus stated, staring in horror as Loras walked away.

Leptine giggled. "Don't worry," she assured him. "We'll find something."

This however turned out to be easier said than done. No matter how many outfits he tried on Patroclus could not help but feel like a complete and total idiot in all of them. It certainly didn't help that a gaggle of kitchen girls kept hovering nearby, giggling every time he whipped something off.

"No," he declared, crossing his arms across his chest as the girls stifled their laughter.

He was wearing a costume made from very shiny leather which was uncomfortably and very obviously tight, particularly in certain nether regions. Leptine wrinkled her nose, surveying him from different angles.

"No…that's probably not the image you want to portray," she said, cringing at the places where the leather was straining. "Although it does make you look remarkably well endowed…"

The girls burst into another fit of hysterics as Patroclus wrestled to get the ungodly thing off him. "Right, that's it. I'm not going," he announced.

"Oh don't be such a girl," Leptine rolled her eyes, shooing the harpies out of the room. "Don't you think everybody's going through the exact same thing right now? Here, try this."

She tossed him a shapeless, brown thing which felt slightly furry beneath his fingertips. He pulled it over his head and found it to be a deerskin tunic, not unlike the one they had tricked Achilles with so long ago. It hung off Patroclus' skinny frame like a bedsheet on a washing line, its long sleeves dragging on the floor. Patroclus gave her a look understood by all to mean, "You can't be serious?"

However, Leptine it appeared, had a plan. She strode round to Patroclus' side and with the knife she'd used to slice the leather she cut off one of Patroclus' sleeves, doing the same to the other side. The thick wads of material fell to the floor, displaying Patroclus' wiry arms and toned shoulders. She then bent down and set about trimming away the hem until it was chiton-length, falling just halfway down the thigh, persisting when Patroclus cried in protest, "Not my weird knees!"

"Hush," Leptine batted his flailing hands away. "It'll be dark, no one will see them."

When she had finished she stepped away to admire her handiwork. The newly shortened tunic showed off the well-formed muscles in Patroclus' arms and calves and the earthen brownish colour worked well with the tan of his skin. But it still hung loosely off his body, giving Patroclus the impression that he had been transfigured into a bean pole.

"Hold on," ordered Leptine, disappearing from the room. She returned shortly with a belt-like object clutched in her hand which she handed to Patroclus.

Patroclus took it warily. It was a bright golden colour of finely woven thread, however, there was one thing which bothered him. "I've seen you wear this," he accused Leptine. "This is a woman's girdle."

"It doesn't have to be," Leptine argued. "When I wear it, it's a woman's girdle. When you wear it-"

"-It's a man, wearing a woman's girdle," finished Patroclus.

"Just put the thing on," snapped Leptine, wrenching it from his hands and winding it round his waist herself. When she had it secured she nodded approvingly, handing him the mirror. "See? It's fine!"

Patroclus surveyed his reflection with apprehension. True the fine gold belt tightened round his torso did make the outfit, pulling the tunic in at his hips so that it looked like it had a shape and no longer hung down stupidly. But it was without a doubt definitely supposed to be worn by a girl. "I don't know Leptine," he said unconvinced.

"Well what else are you going to do?" she challenged him. "It doesn't work without it. Fashion before comfort, darling."

Patroclus looked down at the girdle, sliding it uncomfortably round his waist. Fashion before comfort, he thought resentfully. Not fashion before dignity. He suffered to think what Achilles would say if he saw him now. But it didn't matter, he reminded himself. Achilles was not going. And Leptine was right, he had nothing else. He looked at himself again in the mirror and tried to look masculine and heroic.

"And yet," he said. "How odd that a woman's girdle should look so good on me, a man."

"There you go," smiled Leptine, clapping him on the shoulder. "Keep right up with that attitude and you'll have a great time."

Luckily, in an environment so buzzing with excitement and anticipation, this was not such a hard task to fulfil. Everywhere he went people were heatedly discussing the promise the next night would bring, as if all their dreams and desires would somehow be magically fulfilled with the coming of the Spring Moon. From costumes to food to music the palace had been transformed into a hotbed of heated conversation, raised to boiling point with the approach of Beltane Eve.

On the way back to his room he overheard several prayers whispered behind doors and into darkened alcoves and he remembered Leptine telling him that Beltane Eve was the night Aphrodite heard all the supplications for her blessing and patronage, asking Patroclus jokingly whether he was planning on trying his luck. He had replied jovially that he did not think one night would alter his luck with the Gods and upon reaching his room he saw he had spoken true. The space was dark except where moonlight spilled through the open window, pooling onto Achilles' bed, a bed that was revealed to be empty.

Patroclus tried not to let himself feel disappointed. He knew it had been foolish to hope that Achilles would have stayed up waiting for him so that he could apologise or at the very least talk things over. But as he crept into his own bed and waited for sleep to come he was surprised to find himself praying into the dark. When morning came, he could not remember what on earth it had been for.

oOo

Much to his expectation, Achilles was not there when he woke up either. Sighing, he dressed quickly, made sure that his Beltane costume was safely stowed away in his chest and came downstairs for breakfast.

In anticipation for the festival the normal timetable had been suspended. Clearly Ampelius had worked out that to get any sort of decent, practical work out of the boys when the night was so quickly approaching was an impossibility, thus the day had been turned into a sort of holiday and everyone was exempt from lessons and training. Instead of engaging in a formal breakfast in the Great Hall, the boys were spending the morning in one of the rooms set aside for their use and Patroclus went to join them now.

When he entered a small group were already reclining on lounges, accompanied by some of the slaves with whom they were friendly with. Unfortunately Leptine was not there as she was busy serving the masters' meals, however this gave Deiomachus the perfect opportunity to talk of her incessantly.

"Cannot believe she said yes," he informed Patroclus, shaking his head in stunned wonder. "I knew she was pretty but man, you never told me she was so nice! And funny too! You know what she said to me, when I asked her out? It was hilarious, she said-"

"-Pretty?" came a screeching, incredulous voice. "Pretty? That scrawny little wretch?"

Patroclus' blood ran cold at the familiar scathing tone. He turned to see Pamaia stretched out across one of the lounges, looking like a reclining Goddess except that she was snickering. Patroclus hadn't seen her since the unfortunate episode and he had dreaded the eventual encounter, however he was surprised to find all the fear and intimidation she had inspired was gone. All he felt now was a shock of pure dislike. "Sorry, did you have something to say?" he asked her.

"I'm just surprised," she answered casually. "That the girl was planning on going tonight. Not just that, but she's even found herself a partner!" she nodded mockingly at Deiomachus. "Incredible! Miracles happen every day. What did she do, agree to do your laundry for a month if you took her? Or was it a little simpler than that?"

She made her hand into a fist and lifted it to her cheek, moving it back and forth. Some of the other girls squealed delightedly at the gesture and the boys hooted. Patroclus and Deiomachus looked stony.

"Actually Pamaia," began Patroclus pleasantly. "I'm not surprised if this comes as news to you, but some girls manage to attract male attention without having to suck them off first. I advise talking to Leptine. She can show you how it's done."

This was followed by amplified catcalls and applause from everyone in the room; Patroclus sat there smiling amiably in response to Pamaia's seething expression and curling lip. "Look who's suddenly grown himself some claws," she snarled when the clamour had died down. "Of course, you'd know all about male attention. One might even say it was your speciality."

"If you don't have anything pleasant or intelligent to say, I advise you shut up." snapped Deiomachus abruptly.

"Forgive me," said Pamaia airily, raising her hands in surrender. "I only wanted to congratulate you on your gentlemanly behaviour. Taking that poor, ugly girl to the festival just so she'll have a nice time. You're a real hero. I only hope you get something out of it is all. Next thing you'll be telling me this one here has found himself a partner," she gestured derisively at Patroclus who coloured.

"Yeah, well, who are you going with?" he challenged. The moment he did so he regretted it. Already all the boys around him were straightening up, eager to hear who among them had won the ever-so-coveted prize. Pamaia observed them all amusedly, as if they were hungry dogs and she alone held aloft a juicy bone.

"I've set my sights a little higher thanthe common rabble," she replied smugly and evasively as a dozen shoulders drooped in disappointment.

The boys glanced at each other curiously, trying to work out what she meant. Yet something in her face and voice and Patroclus comprehended instantly. "If you're talking about Achilles," he said hotly. "You're out of luck. He's not going."

Pamaia looked shaken but not terribly perturbed. "The thought of you attempting to conquer at Beltane a little too much for him?" she taunted. "I cannot say I blame him. Ah well. There will be other opportunities, I suppose."

"You'd be better of setting your sights a little lower," retorted Patroclus. "He would never want you."

Pamaia raised a perfect black eyebrow, arched like a bow of ebony. "We'll see," was all she said before sweeping brazenly from the room.

After a few seconds of stunned silence in which a few of the boys still looked vaguely confounded in the wake of her presence, conversation began to swell again. Deiomachus resumed his eulogising of Leptine, however Patroclus listened with only half an ear. Pamaia's words had shaken him, and they had also cast is mind back to something she had said that night they had almost slept together: "You are an amusement. A pawn, if you will, in a game much bigger than your delusional, teenage-misfit fantasies." At the time he'd thought she had just intended to hurt him. Now he wondered if there had been another meaning behind the insult.

Apart from that, the day passed without incident. Patroclus spent his free time making final arrangements with Leptine and Deiomachus whom he had agreed to meet by the stairs as soon as it was dark. As the sun made its way from one end of the field to the other, shifting the sky from its original piercing blue to dusky mauve Patroclus found himself counting down the hours and hungering for the time when everyone would slip on their masks and costumes and head down to the woods. He felt a rhythm of excitement pulse through him, like was someone was beating a drum in his chest, an excitement tinged with nerves and a little fear. He couldn't tell how he knew, but something special was going to happen this night. He could feel it.

At long last it was time. Patroclus slipped up to his room, fingertips tingling with a magic that was almost tangible. Pulling his deerskin tunic out of the chest he slipped it over his head, followed by the girdle although his hands were shaking so much he could barely fasten it round his waist. Just then the door flew open and he jumped up with a start. He looked up. He swallowed.

"Hi," he said, forcing speech past the lump already forming in his throat.

Achilles was leaning against the door, his thumbs tucked idly into the belt around his hips. "Hey," he greeted him. He brushed away the hair that was forever falling into his eyes and gave him a scrutinising look. "Is that what you're wearing?"

Patroclus looked down at himself, instantly self-conscious. "Um…yeah," he mumbled.

Achilles strode into the room. Even with small steps he seemed to fill up the place, the room looked smaller with him in it. He stopped in front of Patroclus and glanced him up and down, just as he had done when they'd met for the first time. Time seemed to go by very slowly in that moment as Patroclus stood like a statue, awaiting Achilles' judgement. Finally he gave a small approving nod. "Looks good," he stated. Then, suddenly, he frowned. "Why are you wearing a woman's girdle?"

Humiliation, red and searing rode like a battalion into Patroclus' stomach; he tried not to let it show in his voice as he squealed, "It's…it's unisex."

"It is not, it's got flowers on it," Achilles pointed.

Patroclus wrenched off the thing and examined it in detail. Sure enough, tiny flowers had been embroidered into the design with what looked like birds and other small creatures. I am going to murder Leptine. "Perfect," he muttered under his breath. "What the fuck am I going to do now?"

"Well you can't go in that," Achilles raised an eyebrow and gestured at the shameful object still clutched in Patroclus' hand. "Wait a moment."

He crossed over to his side of the room and rummaged around in the chest at the bottom of his bed. Eventually he stood up, holding in his hands a strong, sturdy looking belt also made of deerskin. He approached Patroclus cautiously with it, looking somewhat sheepish.

"The clasp is a little tricky," he told him. "Here, I'll do it for you."

Patroclus nodded dumbly and raised his arms so that Achilles could snake the belt around his waist, holding his breath as he worked the clasp a hair's breadth below his navel. "There," Achilles whispered when he had the belt fastened. "You look like a true King Stag."

"Thank you," murmured Patroclus through barely parted lips. He did not trust himself to move, let alone speak. And he was very conscious of the fact that Achilles' hands were still on his hips.

"Apart from the antlers," continued Achilles and Patroclus allowed himself to release the breath he'd been holding as Achilles' hands moved to touch his hair. His fingers combed the brown locks, brushing and plucking them into a style that was elegantly dishevelled, as if he were an elf or fairy that had just rolled out of bed. Every time his fingertips grazed the skin of his ears or forehead he felt an involuntary shiver rush through him; he wished desperately that Achilles would take him now into his arms and brand him with that kiss which was like fire and water.

Achilles was looking at him now, his bright green eyes with their gold-flecked irises boring into him with that magnetising intensity which made Patroclus want to look away and at the same time held him completely captivated. Patroclus held his gaze, desperately wanting to say something but having no idea what. Then suddenly Achilles' hands had slipped from his hair and were back on his waist and Achilles was pulling him close, pulling him in against his chest and his arms circled his back.

"Patroclus," he whispered against his shoulder.

He wanted to say sorry. Patroclus knew from the moment he walked in that he regretted everything that had passed between them that morning, the words he'd hurled and the ones which had been hurled back in return. He wanted to say sorry but he couldn't because he was Achilles. And that was okay. Because Patroclus had already forgiven him.

"It's alright," he said and meant it. His hand reached up to touch Achilles' neck, curled into the thick, heavy strands that ran like a river of gold through his fingers.

Achilles made a sound like a sigh and drew him closer. Patroclus nestled his chin in the crook between Achilles' neck and shoulder. There were tears stinging his eyes and he fought to hold them back. For how long they stood like that he didn't know, it was as if time no longer existed for them. After what could have been minutes, hours, or several sunlit days Patroclus remembered where he needed to be. They broke apart and took a step away from each other, both looking a little embarrassed. Achilles, as always, was the first to break the silence.

"Have fun tonight," he said.

"I will," replied Patroclus.

Achilles made a funny motion, as if he'd made to touch Patroclus' face and thought better of it, bringing it instead to scratch the back of his neck. For his part, Patroclus thanked him for the belt and left the room, climbed the narrow stairs and emerged from the dark where he found Leptine and Deiomachus waiting for him.