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"The Dream of Achilles"

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Achilles and Thetis

In his dream,
     swift-footed Achilles
          flies across the sea
          without the aid of a ship.

At his side,
     in a chariot of seafoam,
     pulled by a dozen porpoises,
rides Thetis,
     attended by her Nereid sisters.

"Mother,"
     Achilles exhales.
"Is this real?
     Or have I fallen asleep
     by the graveside
     of my fallen companion?"

"Both, my son,"
     Thetis answers.
"I grieve to see you sad
     when celebration attends Skyros
and so wish to share with you
     a source of delight."

"Skyros."

As Achilles names the island,
     it appears through a curtain of mist,
a gem set into the turquoise sea,
     with an emerald blanket of pines in the north,
     with rocky cliffs in the south,
     with the gleaming white mountaintop palace of Lycomedes,
          where Achilles met the beautiful princesses,
          and briefly played at being one of them,
          and where he fell in love with Deidamia.

"Deidamia."

He speaks her name and there she sits,
     exactly where Achilles saw her last
          on a seat
          on the pier
          staring westward
toward Troy.

"She looks older."

Thetis nods.
     "Nine years and more will do that to a mortal.
          Nine years and more of waiting.
          Nine years and more of worrying.
          Nine years and more of sitting in the sun,
               in the rain,
               in the spray.
I myself,
     as your mother,
          also feel nine years and more older,
     thought I am immortal
and eternally young."

"And where,
     in this fog-shrouded vista,"
asks Achilles,
     "am I meant to find delight?"

But as he asks,
     another Achilles
     appears beside Deidamia,
          as fresh
        as clean-shaven
             as ready for war
          as Achilles remembers being
     when Odysseus and Diomedes led him aboard their ship.

"No,"
     says Achilles,
"that can't be me
     because I am me.
Mother, who is that?"

     Thetis puffs up
          like a prideful bird in the gardens of Hera.
"Since Lycomedes retired his crown,
     that fine young man
          is the new King of Skyros."

Achilles frowns.
     Lycomedes has no sons,
          and the sons of his daughters
               are young children yet.
     Even the eldest grandson of Lycomedes,
          the child of Deidamia
          and Achilles.

"Neoptolemus."

There is no doubt,
     when Achilles names his son,
no doubt,
but much wonderment.
     "How is it possible
          that he's grown so fast?"

"He is like his father."

     "Fearless?
     Strong?
     A talented singer?"

"Mortal,"
     states Thetis, sadly.
"He holds those other traits too,
     in the same abundance as your precious self
but oh,
     Zeus gives your kind the lifespan of a gnat!
So I cheat,
     as an indulgent mother to Achilles,
     as an indulgent grandmother the son of Achilles,
          I cheat the Fates as much as I am able.
Neoptolemus retains the span of days allotted by the Morai
     but 
          I've made his years of smallness and weakness
               as few as possible
               to give him more years
          as a man, full-grown and glorious."

"I see,"
says Achilles,
and he remembers.

Achilles was,
     himself,
a mere boy
     when agents of Agamemnon
     came looking for him in Chiron's grove,
a mere boy,
     big for his age,
     strong for any age,
     mature in surprising ways,
a mere boy
     when Thetis hustled him to Skyros
     to play a game of let's pretend.
        Let's pretend to be a girl!
             Let's pretend to be an Amazon!
          Let's pretend your name is Pyrrha!
a mere boy,
     but to the war-bound army,
          a promising recruit,
               the limbs of a mighty oak
               wrapped around greenwood,
          all because of a mother
          who wanted to cheat the Fates
     out of a life that's been erased.

Achilles watches Deidamia,
          her smile,
          the sparks in her eyes,
     as she talks to Neoptolemus.
"She taught me to sing.
   She taught me the lyre.
     She taught me the arts of love.
     And now, here is Neoptolemus."

"This, I had not foreseen,"
     Thetis admits,
"but, I must say, I am pleased
     with the product of your union."

"You stole my childhood!"

     Thetis laughs.
"Achilles, you jest!
     There is no glory in childhood."

"I wouldn't know.
     And here,
     now,
          you have replaced me in your affections
          with a younger version,
               a new generation,
               as I replaced my father."

"Untrue!"
     Thetis protests.
"I never held any affection for Peleus.
     He was a husband forced upon me,
but you,
   my child,
     you were mine from the very start of you!"

"Yours.
     To mold and to form,
          and so you took my childhood
     and now,
          you've stolen my son's childhood as well,
               to suit your own selfish designs."

"Achilles!
     Be reasonable.
     Your son is a king!
          And here you complain
               that I stole his toy crown and scepter
               and gave him ones of gold!
     Would you rather
          he be catching frogs,
          or ruling over men?"

"I know nothing of catching frogs,"
     says Achilles.
"That is entirely the point."

"I have upset you,"
     Thetis notes.
"I meant to bring you joy
     but in this,
          I have failed you,
          as I failed to bring you immortality,
          as I have always failed
               in being the mother 
               of a mortal boy."

"You tried your best,"
     Achilles concedes.
"You have always tried.
     Seeing Neoptolemus
     was a shock,
          but I'm glad to know him as a king,
     safe on Skyros,
and not as a soldier on the Troad plain,
     washing his feet in the blood-soaked Scamander.
That is no life for a father to wish upon his son."

Thetis
     wrings her hands.

"We are done now, Mother,"
     says Achilles.
          "With the dawn,
          I must awake."

"Then I will fight back the dawn
     until I have had my say."

"Mother, please!
     Stop!"

"I do not stop,
I will not stop,
     and you are my son who likewise
          presses on through ventures,
ill-advised or not,
          and so wins glory.
     I will hold back the dawn
               and make whatever time we need
               to mend our rift."

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