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Clothing Achilles

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His tears formed a widening pool around his prone, god-shaped form; his body burrowed further and further into the primal, dark heat that lay below the surface of the human world, to Hades, where the Aegeans believed the living soul goes when the body dies.

Of all things, no one could stand the weeping. They had all heard Achilles' voice raised on numerous occasions, tried themselves to provoke him with varying measures of success into laughter or anger or desire. His crying tore into their eardrums and made their way into their hearts, settling painfully against the emptiness caused by their own losses. It was difficult to contain a decade of pent-up, long-suppressed agony when it found an outlet in the form of one man, his eyes turned red as fire, voice hoarse and gasping from the howls that broke free of him. (People tried, in those days, to photograph him in the name of art, and then of journalism, but found themselves unsuccessful each time as his grief swallowed up quantities of light, leaving only a dark spot in prints where he should have been.)

It was late in the evening when Thetis met Hephaistos.

"This cannot go on," she bellowed.

Thetis had been born deaf; the only sound in her perfectly-formed ears was a roaring, like that of the ocean. Her other four senses were everything to her. She could smell the smoke and metal, the tortured, rebelling atoms that Hephaistos controlled all around her. It made her ill, but she stood her ground.

"Olympus owes my son something," she said boldly. "I've come to collect it."

Hephaistos struggled to his feet and bowed with exaggerated courtesy to her.

"Far be it from me," he said, his thin lips forming the words roundly so that she could read them, "to refuse my assistance; but I have never heard in all my life that Olympus has owed anyone anything."

"He is fighting this war for Zeus."

"Of course. Does he know the Trojans are doing so as well?"

"Hephaistos," Thetis thundered, "don't argue with fate."

"Chance," he muttered, even as he turned to his forge. "It is always chance until it has passed away."

He worked deftly, pulling out patterns from his dreams to make the armour that will become part of destiny. The metal was made tall for its breadth, the ankle supports extra-tempered for the world's fastest runner. He set the helmet with gold to offset the bright auburn of its wearer's hair. He beat discs of brass and steel into a shield, wide as is possible for a demi-god to carry, drawing scenes in fire on it before it could cool, so that it was criss-crossed with patterns that would take a lifetime to decode, and around the rim he wrought a pattern of fig leaves.

She said nothing when he finished, but took his large, knotted hands in hers and kissed them, before leaving with the armour. No one stopped her as she walked across the lines of command, through wire and trenches and fences of straw to reach Achilles' tent.

"Although he isn't there any longer," an official confessed as he accompanied her. "He's in a – I don't know what you would call it. A dugout, really."

She peered over the rim of earth when she reached her son. It was time to call him out, back into the human world one last time; to wash him and fuss over him as she had when he was born (and hardly any years had passed since then) before reminding him that this was not the grave he had made for himself. And in her siren voice Achilles heard knowledge, and temptation, and he hid himself from other eyes as he strapped his armour about him, secure in the knowledge that life would lead all too soon to wherever Patroklos was.

"At least," murmured Menelaus the perennial optimist, "it isn't like the time with Penthesilea."

It was not, indeed, like the time with Penthesilea. Achilles had always denied it, but no one would convince the sons of Atreus or their scribes that he had not himself slain the beautiful queen of the Amazons and then, gazing upon her defenceless body, fell upon it with a passionate hunger and dishonoured the act of love itself. There was no necrophilia this time around, although the body of Patroklos, cleanly wounded through the heart, dark hair still falling jauntily in a slant over one eye and making him look a little like a sober young pirate, lay not far from where Achilles himself mimicked death, trying to make sense of it, in much the way literature tries to make sense of real life.