“I HEARD YOU WERE HERE.” A clear voice, like ice-melted streams. My head jerked up. I was in a storeroom, my knees against my chest, wedged between jars of thick-pressed olive oil. I had been dreaming myself a fish, silvered by sun as it leapt from the sea. The waves dissolved, became amphorae and grain sacks again.
It was Achilles, standing over me. His face was serious, the green of his eyes steady as he regarded me. I prickled with guilt. I was not supposed to be there and I knew it.
“I have been looking for you,” he said. The words were expressionless; they carried no hint of anything I could read. “You have not been going to morning drills.” My face went red. Behind the guilt, anger rose slow and dull. It was his right to chastise me, but I hated him for it.
“How do you know? You aren’t there.”
“The master noticed, and spoke to my father.”
“And he sent you.” I wanted to make him feel ugly for his tale-bearing.
“No, I came on my own.” Achilles’ voice was cool, but I saw his jaw tighten, just a little. “I overheard them speaking. I have come to see if you are ill.”
I did not answer. He studied me a moment.
“My father is considering punishment,” he said. We knew what this meant. Punishment was corporal, and usually public. A prince would never be whipped, but I was no longer a prince.
“You are not ill,” he said.
“No,” I answered, dully.
“Then that will not serve as your excuse.”
“What?” In my fear I could not follow him.
“Your excuse for where you have been.” His voice was patient. “So you will not be punished. What will you say?”
“I don’t know.”
“You must say something.”
His insistence sparked anger in me. “You are the prince,” I snapped.
That surprised him. He tilted his head a little, like a curious bird. “So?”
“So speak to your father, and say I was with you. He will excuse it.” I said this more confidently than I felt. If I had spoken to my father for another boy, he would have been whipped out of spite. But I was not Achilles.
The slightest crease appeared between his eyes. “I do not like to lie,” he said. It was the sort of innocence other boys taunted out of you; even if you felt it, you did not say it.
“Then take me with you to your lessons,” I said. “So it won’t be a lie.”
His eyebrows lifted, and he regarded me. He was utterly still, the type of quiet that I had thought could not belong to humans, a stilling of everything but breath and pulse—like a deer, listening for the hunter’s bow. I found myself holding my breath.
Then something shifted in his face. A decision.
“Come,” he said.
“Where?” I was wary; perhaps now I would be punished for suggesting deceit.
“To my lyre lesson. So, as you say, it will not be a lie. After, we will speak with my father.”
“Yes. Why not?” He watched me, curious. Why not?
When I stood to follow him, my limbs ached from so long seated on cool stone. My chest trilled with something I could not quite name. Escape, and danger, and hope all at once.
- The Song of Achilles
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