We entered the hut.
I don't remember entering the hut,
but we must have,
because we are in the hut now.
We'd been drinking with the Myrmidons.
This I remember.
We'd had a mission to accomplish,
as Talthybius kept reminding me
And now here we are in the hut,
as if taken there
by an act of the gods.
Achilles sits in front of us,
the swift-footed slayer of many men.
Our mission is to take something from him,
as Talthybius kept reminding me
Something of value,
Some bauble of gold?
A pretty gemstone?
Something that lives and breathes,
I'm pretty sure.
Does Achilles keep exotic animals?
"Why are we here?"
I whisper to Talthybius.
"You're here for me,"
a girl answers,
which is not how the herald process is supposed to work.
People always get that wrong.
Agamemnon is like Zeus on high.
He speaks to me
like Zeus speaks to the Aether.
And what is the Aether?
The Aether is for the gods
as air is for mortals.
The gods on Olympus need it to speak,
like Agamemnon needs me.
Don't worry too much about the Aether
or its nature.
Just know that mortals can't see or hear the Aether.
Most mortals can't.
and those with divine blood,
and those who are about to die.
And sometimes the Olympians bypass the Aether
and take on mortal guise.
When a message is spoken on high into the Aether,
that message must be transferred from Aether to air
by a herald:
Iris, who leaves rainbows in her wake,
Hermes the Traveller,
the Lord of Dreams,
or some other messenger,
and from the air
the message travels
through mortal ears
into the mortal skull.
In just that manner,
Agamemnon entrusted a message to me,
I speak the message only to Talthybius,
and Talthybius brings the message
to its mortal recipients.
I attempt to explain
to the girl.
"Are you a seer?
Or do you claim immortal blood?"
Her confusion at my voice,
her mystified expression,
prove why the Aether needs the air.
"Or maybe you're about to die,"
having omitted that possibility.
Then Achilles is on me,
carried by his swift feet,
with his man-slaying hand to my throat
as Phoenix and Patroclus fight to hold him back.
The air does nothing to defend the Aether.
The air is too busy throwing up wine.
shouts the girl,
and the swift-footed slayer of many men
into a sobbing, heaving ball,
and I wonder
at the power this woman has.
Perhaps she's a goddess in mortal guise.
That would explain why she talks back to the Aether.
That would explain why our mission
is to return with her to Agamemnon on high.
I tap Talthybius on the shoulder.
"Tell the goddess to come with us,
but try not to anger Achilles."
"You try not to anger Achilles,"
"I am the Aether,"
I remind him.
"I never get to be the Aether,"
On breeze-shaken feet,
in a breathy voice,
Talthybius relays the message
something holy and immortal
completes is passage
from Agamemnon on high
to his Aether
to the air of mortals
to the ears of Achilles
and into his skull.
from his balled-up position
on the floor.
Patroclus kisses the girl goodbye.
"From Achilles as well,"
I hear him say
as they embrace.
Phoenix grunts in her direction,
Then Briseis comes willingly.
Her shoulder is a steadying influence
as I guide her over the undulating floor
through the spinning room
to the shifting doorway.
Before we exit,
Achilles sits up
with a fresh blaze in his eyes.
know that my quarrel is not with you,
but with the one who sent you.
Bear witness to your master,
thus I swear upon the gods,
that when Agamemnon again needs my aid
to ward off the destruction of his army,
he'll call for me in vain."
"He says he's quit,"
as the Aether,
have a new message to relay
back to Agamemnon.
It's a rough day to be the Aether.