3. "The Concubine and the Prince"

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Centering Phoenix,
Lieutenant to Achilles:

My boy has returned
          from Thebe
     not alone,
     not alone,
          but with a war prize on his arm.
     "And why not?"
          he says,
     "And why not?
Agamemnon claimed a prize,
          though he did no killing to get one.
     Don't I deserve something nice
          for all the blood on my hands?"

Something nice,
     to cook and clean for him perhaps,
               but
          she is no Deidamia.
"She is no Deidamia,"
     I say.

The girl,
     who is no Deidamia,
          steps forward and bows.
"You must be Phoenix.
     My Lord Achilles has told me much about you."

"You are no Deidamia,"
     I tell her.

With her head bowed,
     with her eyes hidden,
          all of her expression resides in her voice.
     "I am Briseis."

I put an arm around Achilles
          and steer him
     to a more private space.
"My boy,
     my boy,
   my boy.
     Did I never tell you the story
          of the concubine and the prince?"

"Never, Uncle,"
     says Achilles.

     Never.

          Never?

        Never.

     I had forgotten
          that it was to the boy's father,
                    Peleus,
               that I'd told the tale of my shame,
                    years ago,
          when first I arrived at the Phthian court.
     "Your Majesty,
I have crossed the sea from a land in the far-distant south,"
          I'd said,
     though Peleus was never good at maps,
               and so,
          knowing nothing of Africa,
     he took me for a Thessalian.
"I have crossed the sea from a land in the far-distant south,
     and have fled my homeland,
               cursed by my father
          for borrowing his concubine,
               cursed by my father
          to never have children of my own."

"Then have this one,"
          Peleus had said,
     as he tossed an infant
for me to catch.

Peleus later confided that his son,
          Achilles,
     had a goddess for a mother,
and suffered nothing if he were dropped,
          and might even have broken the floor with his head.
     His parents were an odd mix
          of Heaven and Earth,
          of Sea and Land,
          of Godly and Profane,
               and were no longer speaking with each other.
"She nearly drowned him in an Underworld river,
          and really,
     what kind of parenting is that?"

I remained in Phthia for that boy,
     and Achilles looks to me now,
          all these years later,
          as if he's still tumbling through the air,
     still expecting me to catch him.
"What is the story of the concubine and the prince?"

     A deep breath
          before I can begin.
"When I was about your age,
     my father brought a woman back from a war.
          It was not handled well
     least of all by my mother.
She used me to get her revenge,
          encouraged me to defile her rival,
               and in so doing,
     I lost everything."

"And in your so doing,
          I won an uncle,"
     Achilles laughs.
"So if you were the prince in this story,
          what of the concubine?"

"Dead,"
   I tell him,
       "as soon as my father found us out.
  She did not deserve her fate,
     Nor I mine,
but such is the nature of fate,
and such is the nature of life
          for concubines and princes."

"This is one of your stories that's meant to impart a lesson?"
     he asks with suspicion.

     I shrug.
"Remember what I endured,
     that's the lesson,"
          but
     I can see it's already too late.
          She said her name was Briseis.
"She said her name was Briseis,
     not Deidamia,
     not a substitute,
     not one to be cast away
          when she is no longer of use."

Achilles looks away,
     sheepish,
     Sheepish!
          very much the son of a man,
          not at all like the son of a goddess.
"I value your advice,
     Uncle Phoenix,
        but Briseis,
             but Briseis,
          but Briseis,
     there is something about her."

And I nod.
And they leave.
And I think
     that surely my father once felt the same way
          about his own war bride,
          about his own Briseis.

No man has ever raged like my father,
     when he summoned the vengeful Erinyes,
     when he cursed the blood of his only son,
     when he ended his own royal line,
     when he crumbled his palace into the sand,
          and my father was only a man,
          and my father was only a man,
          and my father was only a man,
and not a spawn of a man and a goddess.

If I can't catch Achilles this time,
          as he tumbles past,
     nothing will withstand the impact of his fall.

Author Commentary:

An author commentary for this installment is available to subscribers of the free Mythoversal Newsletter.

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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