When you were ten, you had killed. He had not. His hands were soft, touched by the lyre as much as the sword and the spear, yours were murderous, treacherous, exiled hands. No skill in them other than shoving, pushing away.
You didn’t tell him for years, for fear that he would look at you and see only the cloven head of another boy.
Fifteen years later and he has killed more times that you ever could have imagined. He might be the greatest warrior in all of Greece, but you were a suitor of Helen; your father’s hands pushing you to kneel in front of her, because he couldn’t take another wife whilst your mother still lived.
He has told you, time and time again, what his mother has prophesied, what all the Gods prophesise: He will be a great fighter, his name will be remembered forever as the best of the Greeks, but for this he will die young and have much sorrow before his passing. You have never replied to this, you doubt you ever shall, what could you say to turn him from his destiny.
Now you turn to him, a hand on his knee, the other to his cheek (you never beg, except with him) and tell him what you did, so many winters ago. He laughs, in turn. He knows, he has always known. You wonder then, how he could not have known; his father took in many exiled boys, for far lesser crimes than yours. Perhaps he knew you first as the murdering prince of Opus, then the dark haired boy with desperate eyes.
He asks you, as he fucks you, if you would kill for him, die for him.
You do not answer, he does not need you to. This is another thing he already knows, so certain of this power.
But you know he does not ask anyone else this, not the girls, not the other boys.
His men follow him because he is their leader, you follow because you know his heart and you are as stubborn in your devotion as he is in his pursuit of Kleos.
He has brought a lyre with him. You did not, thinking war could not last until the years end, thinking of saving space on the ship. Not that you were ever gifted. You are content that he might play, you are proud for him, you have been since you were a young boy. Your father would probably be furious, but you would not know. It has been almost fourteen years since you last saw him, and seven since you last heard mention of his name. You forget him sometimes. Achilles make you forget everything sometimes. Even the war.
The war seems everlasting, yet fleeting. So engrossed in the fighting, it has been 3 years since you last heard him play the lyre.
The Trojan women watch the battle from the walls. You go to look at them, when he bades you not to fight. You know Andromache by sight now, better than her husband Hector. He is constantly at the front of the action and not held back by any request of hers. You look to see Helen, every day. She does not stand at the wall, or if she does you do not see her. To you she is a veiled girl, sat with her sisters whilst men clamour for her. If at one time you had seen her face, you do not remember.
Achilles looks at you, before he goes to fight, when he returns, and during the battle (if the red haze lifts and he sees friend from foe.) Just stares. You don’t know if he even sees you, he just stares. Like he wants to ask a question, knows the answer, but doesn’t dare anyway. It isn’t a face you like.
You drag off your armour, aching to your bones. The blood which spilled so freely as the Trojan warrior toppled, like a tree relieved of it’s roots, has dried dark brown, spread like snail trails across you.
You shiver, half in disgust, half in excitement. He crosses over to you, kisses the bitter blood taste from your lips.
A sword has dragged itself across his cheek. Another scar. You are growing older with every cut, your life blood draining out before your time.
You have been outside the gates of Troy for nine years. Agamemnon insists, at every council, that the Gods still favour Greece, that you will soon be victorious. Kleos, he insists, will be your reward. The days are shorter, and darker, as if winter is holding on with a desperate grip, and even Achilles is loosing faith. He makes ever more frequent trips to his mother, comes back smelling of salt and seaweed, as though she will tell him something more than the prophecy she always offers. He will live, old and forgotten, or die, young and full of glory.
No one has offered you this choice.
In the middle of a skirmish a Trojan warrior catches you on the arm with his sword. You turn to kill him, but Achilles sees blood bubbling over your arm and sees red. This is not your first wound in battle, and neither is it the worst, but you have been here five years longer than you wanted to be and now each day, each fight, is just another chance to die.
When you return to the camp you pour water, tear a bandage and calmly clean the blood away. Achilles watches you like a hawk, insists upon tying the bandage (although it is you who visits the injured and helps fix their wounds).
Achilles sends you there, most days, as if the Gods will forget you and not seek out your death the next time you return to battle.
It snows. You didn’t expect snow, having sailed all this way, across the wine dark sea.
It makes everything seem a lot more ordinary, and you have more faith than ever that next winter you will have returned to Phthia, full of honour and glory. Victory is never far from sight, for the best of the Greeks and you know in your heart that Achilles is that man. For you are men now, all of you, who but a few seasons past were boys; waging war with wooden swords and hidden amongst the women.
You beg Achilles, on your knees, to return to the fighting. You have never asked anything of him like this.
He refuses and you haven’t hated him more than in this moment. But Nestor’s words echo round your head and so you ask him one more favour.
Your hands shake as he buckle up your armour, his armour. You clench your fists because he would not want to see your fear.
You do not hear his words, the buzzing in your ears is too loud, like a whole swarm of bees has invaded, but you know in your heart what they are.
He does not say Kleos.