when I first brought Briseis to our hut,
something wonderful and odd.
We became a family.
She and I and him and her,
like four strings of a lyre,
we played a chord that none of us could make alone.
Or no two of us.
Or no three of us.
Achilles and Briseis,
Patroclus and Iphis.
Achilles and Patroclus,
Iphis and Briseis.
Patroclus and Briseis,
Achilles and Iphis.
A new balance in the center of the world,
a new calm
amid the swirling chaos of the war.
'Let's make this arrangement permanent,'
Patroclus had proposed.
'You will marry Briseis,
I will marry Iphis,
and the four of us
will stay together
after the war and always.'
Such a dreamer is Patroclus,
such a weaver of possible futures
that I began to believe
in building the paradise he described.
And now comes Agamemnon to break our family apart.
"Then I would have yours!"
My eyes plead with his.
My tongue scrapes across dry lips.
"Surely you wouldn't want Briseis.
She is smart-mouthed,
and hardly fit for a leader of kings."
"Her mouth is attached to an overactive wit,"
"This was how you described her,
when you presented me with the first pick of prizes,
my rightful choice,
from the raid on Thebe.
But don't think I didn't notice
how quickly you claimed Briseis for yourself
after I'd already taken Chryseis Astynome.
And for all the wit you say she has,
Briseis bears no mark or bruise from your corrective hand."
I pound a fist.
"There will be war brides aplenty
when we sack high-walled Ilion,
a surplus of women to compensate you
three times over,
four times over,
for the loss of Chryses's daughter."
I glance around the assembly for a supportive ally,
but no allies dare to stand by my side
against the will of Agamemnon.
savoring my distress,
swinging that damnable scepter
that makes him the ruler over the rest of us.
"Some man's prize must be surrendered.
Our far-sighted prophet has decreed as much.
One among us must leave this assembly
diminished in the eyes of all Achaeans.
That one of us will be enranged,
set afire by the will of the gods,
with a blaze that feeds on the kindling of injustice
fueled by an anger
that the Muses will sing of for thousands of years.
I have such anger within me.
You have all seen flickers of it.
You'll not want to witness such a blaze go uncontrolled.
So will some other man step forward
to volunteer an acceptable replacement for my loss?"
All eyes fall on me
as the hackles rise on my neck,
as my fingers wrap my sword hilt.
"Then I name Achilles,
the man who called this ill-fated assembly,
the man who prodded Calchas to speak,
the man who pledged his personal protection
to do whatever was required
to shield the seer from my anger.
Let this matter be settled thus:
One of my councilors shall captain a black ship
across the shining sea
to bring Chryseis Astynome home to her father
to sacrifice a herd of cattle
to appease Apollo.
I will surrender my prize,
but I will then receive Briseis
as just compensation
My grip tightens on my sword hilt.
I could cut this man down
like a weed.
I could chop this man in half
like a snake.
He talks of anger?
He has no idea what anger I am capable of
if I allow Ares to guide my sword-arm.
My body is already in motion.
My sword is already leaving its sheath.
Agamemnon is already bleeding from the throat
in my mind's imagination
until . . .
Someone grabs my hair from behind
and pulls me back
with a strength surpassing any mortal man's.