Sixteen women and girls in a cargo hold,
in a stink of salt and sweat,
canvas and pitch.
We don't talk.
We don't commiserate.
We are all still in shock.
The city fell so quickly!
And like her.
at the way she stands.
In the creaking,
she has planted herself
like a sturdy tree
on solid ground,
at all the other girls,
as we roll with the waves,
as we retch in our sickness.
But she reserves a special haughtiness
"The slavers raided Thebe during the festival,"
mostly to fill the empty space with words.
"They must have known
we would be assembled there,
girls from across the realm,
paying tribute to Artemis,
our last wild fling
before settling down as women.
A city died
so that we could be taken!"
Astynome crosses her arms.
"Not my city,
not my concern.
My father has the ear of Apollo.
My father has a large treasury.
My father will pay a hefty ransom,
and I will go free,
back home to my golden island,
back home to Chryse,
like waking from a dream."
"These chains would argue against that,"
I tell her.
bound for an unknown land,
would argue against that.
And what of these slavers
and their further intentions?
Are they to be your willing ferrymen
from destruction to safety?"
"I'm more valuable to them unharmed,"
I expect to be
returned to my father,
to a new island
where my prince awaits.
We will be wed as planned,
and my life will continue,
unchanged by this incident,
changed for the better I now think,
as my prince will comfort me,
and tell me how brave I was,
and provide extra protections
for the rest of my fortunate life."
I slump against the wooden planks
and join the others in their tears.
"How nice for you,
to be the daughter of Chryses.
My own father,
is in no such condition
to contribute anything toward my redemption."
A door opens.
The man who enters seems young for a warrior,
but I remember him from the Agora.
So efficient at dealing death!
Other veterans of war followed him.
He gave no orders,
just to be close enough
to watch his murderous hands at work.
"Agamemnon will claim the fairest of this lot,"
the young warrior says
as if considering the furnishings at an auction.
He ignores how the women moan and wail at the name,
King of Mycenae,
Overlord of Hellas,
who leads a ruthless war against the Kingdom of Troy,
who holds the leash of a monster,
so the rumor-mongers say,
a wrecker of armies,
a smasher of city walls,
half sea-creature on its mother's side,
its name whispered by trembling mortals,
These are not professional slavers then,
Not the roving pirates who seize for ransom or for profit.
These are the Achaeans.
These are warriors on a long campaign
away from their wives.
They seize only what they intend to use.
"You and you, step forward."
The young warrior points to Astynome
The daughter of Chryses huffs and chafes at the idea of competition,
not used to having any competition
in any contest,
even one with such stakes as these.
"My father is Chryses,
Priest-King of Island Chryse.
You shall dispatch a message to him,
and he shall come,
bearing as much ransom as you demand."
The warrior's backhand swings so fast,
all I can see
is Astynome stagger backward,
beneath a splatter of blood.
"I gave you no leave to speak.
and we'll find out how much your father will pay
for the return of just your detached tongue,"
he tells her,
before he turns to me.
"Agamemnon will choose the less blemished prize,
for the moment,
are without your friend's scarred cheek and blackened eye,
unless you cause me to do you worse."
My heart pounds in my ears.
Is this then to be my choice?
To say nothing,
and become Agamemnon's unwilling concubine,
or to speak an insult,
and be made too disfigured for any man to want.
Astynome looks up at me
from her crumpled position on the deck.
Her glare drips with hatred,
not for the young warrior who struck her,
but for me.
For defeating her in a contest
to become the plaything of a despot?
The warrior awaits my most calculated answer.
I cast a risky die.
I would counsel caution for you in choosing between us,"
The warrior raises an eyebrow.
"And why is that?"
"Because judging a beauty contest can have deadly effects.
Wars have started over such things,
as the Trojans have learned well."
The die lands in my favor,
and earns me the warrior's hearty laugh.
"You have wit,"
"Agamemnon despises wit.
And since Agamemnon despises wit
worse than anything I could do to your friend's face,
he will make a prize of this daughter of Chryses,
with a bloody smile of broken teeth.
And what of me?
"And what of yourself?"
I ask the warrior,
having reviewed his known qualities:
Laughs at my jokes.
but so far only to Astynome.
Far from the village boy I had in mind,
but a war prize can't be choosy.
"Do you also despise a woman with wits?"
He takes a step back.
who killed so many
retreats from my advance,
and I swear I see him blush.
"I pledged not to claim a war bride,
and to remain true to my Deidamia."
He shuffles his feet.
"From now on,
I will call you Deidamia."
The name unsettles my stomach.
"My father is a man of humble holdings,"
I tell the warrior.
"I don't expect that I will see him again.
Your army has taken away my family.
Your army has taken away my freedom.
But you won't take away my name.
You will call me Briseis."
He pulls me close.
"And you can call me Achilles."
The monster on Agamemnon's leash.
And just like that,
to avoid the Master's bed,
I become the property of his attack dog.
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