The ravages of Apollo's plagues
turn waters murky with miasma,
turn the springs sour with curdles,
upriver we trek,
into the Troad plain
along Scamander's banks,
as a parade of the enslaved
with skins and buckets yoked over our shoulders,
there and back
for as many trips as it takes
to fill a boiling tripod.
The labor is exhausting,
even with Iphis to share the burden.
We have little energy for talking,
she can tell when I'm troubled,
and prompts me until I open up:
"I worry about Achilles."
"Have there been symptoms?
They say headaches come first,
lack of motivation,
loss of appetite,
chills and nausea,
and the rash. . .
Has he got the rash?"
I shake my head.
"None of those,
and lack of motivation least of all.
The opposite in fact.
He left the hut
as a man possessed of a singular purpose.
as he does on a day of battle,
the Trojans didn't take the field today.
Who does Achilles war against,
if not the army of Priam?"
We reach a bow in the river
where some of the camp women are
dunking their bodies,
bleaching linens for the dead.
Some women fill their skins and buckets here.
Iphis and I continue our trek upstream.
"Patroclus confided in me
that he worries for Achilles as well,"
"He's spent these past ten days
brooding through the camp,
visiting each funeral pyre,
scowling at Agamemnon's tent."
"An Overlord has a thousand ears."
"Among the women?
Out in this wilderness?"
"Two of his ears approach,
on the riverside trail,
walks toward us
with a heavy load
and a heavy belly.
"May we help with your burdens?"
"I have no burdens,
just labors of love
for my king."
she puffs out her pregnant bulge
and topples backward,
Her waterskins spill onto thirsty soil.
I look to Iphis.
"Let us refill those for you."
Chryseis Astynome recoils
from our helpful intent.
"Don't touch me,
you filthy concubines of common soldiers!"
"What are you talking about?"
"Your situation is no better than ours."
"Worse than ours,"
"I can't believe Agamemnon would have you working
when you are so far along with a child."
I stroke her bruised cheek,
her twice-broken nose,
the puffy swelling that surrounds her left eye,
though she flinches,
her haughty glare remains.
"The Troad plain is my proving grounds,
my badges of honor,
and this growing child,
my ultimate snare
to capture a king
and win my place at his side."
"What fresh madness is this?"
"Agamemnon already has a queen,
twin sister to lovely Helen.
An heir of their marriage bed resides in Mycenae.
Your child will inherit
only a life of servitude."
A scowl darkens her bruises.
"You know nothing,
You haven't heard Agamemnon's complaints,
his bone-deep hatred for Clytemnestra,
he calls her,
'a stain on the Mycenaen throne,'
'a darkness to Helen's light.'
It is best that my king be rid of Clytemnestra,
I have decided,
I have worked my irresistible wiles,
Agamemnon loves only me,
and is loyal only to me,
You saw him turn my father's ransom aside?
That was at my request!
And even so will he evict his homefront bitch
upon our triumphant return to the lands of Hellas,
and with Clytemnestra gone,
I shall be Queen of the Realm!"
Chryseis glows with arrogant pride,
pregnant with delusions,
burning to bend the Achaeans to her will.
I can almost feel sorry for her.
We retrieve our water in silence,
and while we retrace our steps back to camp,
I consider the promises of Patroclus
to marry Iphis after the war,
to convince Achilles to marry me,
that we all might live together in Phthia,
as if in a perpetual dream.
But if Chryseis is deluded and absurd,
what then am I then to think
What is the curse upon this Troad plain
that it drives reasonable souls
to such madness?
Back among the beached blackships,
choked by the ash of burning corpses,
we collect stares and whispers
as we pass the hive of activity
that accompanies a new expedition.
I think again
girding himself for a battle.
since I've seen him last,
someone has set a new plan into motion.
Eurybates and Talthybius,
before she reaches the Overlord's hut.
Eurybates takes the water.
Talthybius takes Chryseis.
"Where are we going?"
"You are going home."
"Has Clytemnestra been deposed already?"
"You are going home
to the Island of Chryse,"
"You are returning to your father!
To your life of pampering and privilege!
To be the envy of all of us who remain behind!"
Chryseis Astynome struggles
against the herald's grip.
"Unhand me at once!
My king would not discard me thus,
not while I carry his heir.
As your future queen,
as the Hellenic Overlady to be,
I demand you let me go!"
Struggling against her fate,
Struggling against her luck,
Struggling against her own good fortune,
is carried away by Talthybius,
to be taken aboard the Ithacan flagship,
and I watch
with a growing sense of dread,
with a growing certainty
that something awful is about to happen.