24. “Tears of Strength and Resilience”

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Centering Briseis,
Enslaved to Achilles:

Numbness.

     An unbearable numbness.

I'm not here by choice,
     living among the black ships,
     walking the Troad plain,
     sleeping in a warrior's bed,
          but
I had grown accustomed to the routine
     of waking beside
          a kicking,
            screaming monster,
       a crying,
          thrashing monster,
     the offspring of a man
          and a goddess
        who had never wanted a son of mortal flesh.

I first viewed this half-divine beast
     as he slew Thebe's defenders like ants,
          and kicked over their city like an anthill,
               but
     worse than the monster who makes ants of other men
          is the man who holds that monster's leash,
          is the man who has no leash of his own,
               is Agamemnon,
               who will remain at war
               while Achilles sails toward peace
                    with Patroclus,
                    with Iphis,
                    with a company of Myrmidons,
                    and without me.

     I rage against my man-monster.
"Stand there.
     Go on, just stand there.
After delivering such news,
     you have the nerve to stand,
        head bowed,
   eyes cast down,
     wordless,
          like a wooden statue with leaking eyes.
This decree of Overlord Agamemnon,
          you say,
     was made in council with his top advisors,
but you were the one who called them to assembly.
     You poked the bear with a stick.
     You provoked a reaction.
     You got everything you wanted
          and made me the price."

     Head bowed,
eyes cast down,
  wordless,
       like a wooden statue with leaking eyes,
Achilles remains in the hut
as Patroclus,
     like a temple attendant after a worship service,
leads me by the arm
     into the open air.

          As always,
     Patroclus speaks the words that Achilles can't.
"I am so sorry."
     As always,
          they complete each other.
               As always,
     being with one of them
          makes me ache to stay with them both.

"Imagine what this life is like for Achilles,"
     says Patroclus,
          who has obviously given this much thought.
"To be Achilles is a torture beyond our comprehension.
     One part of him was meant to live forever,
     the other part needs to cram all of his achievements
               into a single lifetime,
          and these two sides are constantly at war.
     I bring him what comfort I can.
          I soothe his pains,
               a role I fell into when we were children,
                    and
          my affection for him has only deepened with age and time.
     I love him,
          and it kills me
               to think of the hurt he's going through.
     But I've grown to care about you as well.
          We are a family."
     He waivers then,
like a half-hewn tree chopped to the core
          by a woodsman's axe,
     unsure whether to stand or fall.
"If we leave you behind,
     we will be broken,
        he will be broken,
  Iphis will be broken,
     I will be broken."

"And I,"
     I sniffle through my tears.
"I could never cry in front of Achilles.
     Isn't that funny?
I watch him cry nightly,
     but I could never show my weakness to him."

Patroclus wipes my cheek.
     A trembling droplet clings to his finger.
"You have no weakness.
     Yours are tears of strength and resilience,
          and you must be strong now for all of us.
Here come Talthybius and Eurybates,
          attendants to Agamemnon.
     Though visibly intoxicated,
they approach to take you to their master."

"My master now as well."

I could run.
     into the wilderness,
          to place my survival into the hands of the gods
     to the walls of Troy,
          to plead for sanctuary,
     into the sea,
          to end my suffering forever,
but that would only bring Agamemnon's ire down on Achilles.
     Tears of strength and resilience
          choke my throat,
          cause me to heave,
          threaten to overwhelm me,

          until Patroclus sweeps me into an embrace,
     and whispers into my ear,
"Achilles has withdrawn us from the Achaean alliance.
     We will soon ply our black ships back to Phthia
          where our lives will be wonderful
     if you are with us.
So I pledge to you, Briseis,
     if my words have any influence at all:
Not a single Myrmidon will leave these barren shores
          unless you are among us."

     My lower face melts into a smile.
"You are as prone to your daydreams
     as Achilles is to his night terrors.
          He is lucky to have you.
     I still think he's a monster,
               but you make him more human.
     He is the best of the Achaeans,
and you are the best part of him."

EPIC CYCLE ROADMAP:

* The Kypria
* The Iliad
* The Posthomerica
* Tales of Nostos
* The Odyssey
* The Telegony
* The Aeneid
  Rage is the first book of the Iliad. Amazons is the first book of the Posthomerica.
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