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Against a Shield

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It is after battle and Achilles rests his noble head upon a shield that has served him well. Lip-close he is blind to all the scenes that strong Hephaestus wrought, what matter they to him now, when Patroclus lies, cold to the touch, beyond the reach of Gods or men? Has he soul to delight in the smooth contours of a shield unresponsive to his caress, can he rejoice in the tender works of skill and pleasure when the only man who could share his thoughts has fallen into darkness, would not the world cry betrayal and rightly?


It is well and fine, comely and yet he longs as he had not in battle, for the worn leather grips, the sturdy heft of a shield carried with him ten long years, not for this alien splendour that does not belong, that is not work of his hands, that has not known the subtle pleasures and subtler woes of what he has shared with the dead.


If he was pressed back upon this shield under sky and cloud, his flesh would imprint not only with the simple banalities of war, the indented lines of long forgotten lust, but with a story that he has no part in. His line is barren, empty, gone, the choice he has made will echo down the years, renown a thousand years he has claimed for himself and yet like grains of sand he’ll wash away. He will not set his hand to the plough, nor watch the grape pickers at their dance, the slaughter of the cattle will not be under his gaze, and he will never cross the sea again.


Yet in his time, when with laughing kiss Patroclus had claimed what was his own, the bone deep ache of embossed metal on his back had marked only the path he had known was his from the moment his father’s sword was placed in his hand, and wise Odysseus had shown the way. He remembers now, the warmth of metal on his skin, as Patroclus threw their cloaks around them as though to guard them from the empty sky, and had sunk down upon his eager thighs, and with a gentle hand had touched his brow as though in wonderment at the joys of love. Eager seconds snatched alone, a sword to hand, a shield at their backs, strong hands around stronger hips, pressed deep as Patroclus claimed him for his own in the only way Achilles could spare, the rest of him offered to war, burnt upon the altar of a king in exchange for a undying name.


He will never set his back to shield again nor will he have it by his side.