To everyone else, my mother was a nobody, another commoner. Her name was shrouded in insignificance. It was the reason my father, Menoetius, never married her although it was expected of him. He would never dare sink so low. It is the reason I am now standing in front of the servants entrance to the royal palace. I am no longer just a servant but an orphan too.
I can remember my father’s look of contempt when I was dropped on his doorstep, my face wet with silent tears. My mother had just died, but I couldn't be an inconvenience to him, so I wiped my tears away. In some ways, it wasn’t his fault. He had never meant to get a gypsy woman pregnant; he was not prepared to deal with the consequences of his moment of bliss.
“Don’t bother unpacking your things,” he had demanded as if talking to a servant and not his son.
His eyes narrowed at my tan skin, lips pursed in disgust at the ragged clothing that hung off my slim frame. I was my mother’s son, in my looks and demeanor but as Menoetius stared me down, I realized I had his eyes. My mother had always praised my green eyes; she called them shining jewels that peeked out of my bronze face. But now I hated my eyes. I hated that I had any part of my father when he clearly wanted no part of me.
Menoetius was right when he told me not to unpack my small leather satchel because the next morning he had already made arrangements to send me away. I walked down the beautiful staircase of Menoetius’ home, so different from the shacks my mother and I had lived in.
“Patroclus, you must know I cannot take care of you,” Menoetius had said his tone slightly regretful. He was much taller than me and was standing in front of a long wooden table filled with food.
“I am married Patroclus. To a wife I love very much and who is with child. My wife can not have someone else’s child living in her house. I’m sure you understand, if not maybe you will someday,” he said patting my shoulder. I wanted to scream at him that I wasn’t someone else’s child I was his child, but instead, I nodded and bit my lip.
“But not to worry, I have a great place for you to stay,” Menoetius reassured me with a smile.
“I have a good relationship with the King and the royal family is in need of servants. They will be taking you in as a servant; you will live there with the other essential household staff. You will have a room of your own, and you will never go hungry again.”
I pulled back in surprise. I knew Menoetius was wealthy and well-respected all over the small country of Greece but to be connected to the royal family was a privilege few had. Now, I understood why he didn't want people to know I was his son. How could someone with so much wealth and status have a gypsy bastard for a son? I felt so inadequate my skin itched with it.
“You are sending me to the royal palace? Why..why, there?” I stuttered my voice full of apprehension.
“Yes, would you rather an orphanage? The King is being especially kind, taking in a stranger with no prior experience,” Menoetius responded, reminding me of my place. I nodded my head, feeling sick at the thought of living with strangers. Strangers I would need to serve and watch my every move around.
“Then, come eat before one of the royal guards comes to pick you up,” Menoetius said looking very satisfied as if he had solved all of his problems.
With a sudden bang, I am brought back to the present, reminded that I must knock on the door. Even the servant's entrance to the palace is clean and exudes luxury. I knock firmly on the door and anxiously await an answer. I hear people stumbling and indecipherable mutters until the door finally flings open. In front of me stands a teenage boy with light brown hair and chocolate eyes, he analyzes me, and I stand up a bit straighter.
“My name is Patroclus. My father Menoetius sent me I am the new servant,” I say clearly, and the boy raises an eyebrow.
“So you're the bastard son of Menoetius. I wasn’t sure if it was true but how I do love gossip,” the boy jokes. My face burns with embarrassment and anger, it was the truth but did the boy need to be so blunt?
“I’m Odysseus, the prince of Ithaca. You know, the pathetic excuse for an island. Barren and useless my island is. I can show you inside the servants here love me here” Odysseus introduces himself, his voice dripping with mirth.
For someone who barely owns anything, I cannot believe how Odysseus scorned the country he would one day rule. Nevertheless, I nod at his words and bow a little; I don’t know how to act in front of a prince.
Odysseus laughs “No need to bow in front of me! I'm only sixteen, save the bowing for King Peleus.”
We walk inside, and several servants are bustling around carrying sheets, clothing, or food. They shout across the rooms, yelling instructions to one another. A door opens into the largest kitchen I’ve ever seen, with the newest ovens and culinary supplies. The women in the kitchen are all wearing black uniforms with aprons around their waists. I can smell moussaka in the air; they are preparing for dinner. The servants quarters are pristine but cluttered with white walls and wooden tables. A middle-aged woman comes bustling down the hallway next to the kitchen but stops abruptly, her brown eyes narrowing at Odysseus and I.
“And what are you doing down here again? This is not the place for a prince,” the woman admonishes pointing her finger at Odysseus. But Odysseus does not seem as sorry as I would have been but instead smiles as if everything is a game.
“But how could I stay away from you, my love? Our separation is too much to bear,” Odysseus says dramatically throwing himself at the woman’s feet, holding a hand to his heart. The woman rolls her eyes but seems to be fighting off a smile. I try not to but let out a chuckle at Odysseus’ display. The woman’s eyes turn to me.
“And who might you be?” she askes not unkindly, but I see her moving protectively towards Odysseus. The teenager may act as if he is one of the servants but he is still a prince they must protect.
“I am Patroclus, the son of Menoetius. I am the new servant, they said I would be living here,” I stuttered suddenly worried she would turn me out into the street, unwanted again.
“Patroclus! Why didn’t you say so, the king has been awaiting your arrival. You must have had a long journey, my dear,” the woman fusses, now looking into my face fully. Her face is open and kind like my mothers.
“Now, would you like to tell me how old are you, dear?” she says.
“I’m 11 years old, but I turn 12 in 3 months,” I boast trying to seem older than I am. The woman chuckles and grabs my hand.
“You are practically a man already. My name is Mrs. Kalogeras, but you may call me Alcestis in private. I am in charge of all the servants after Mr. Kalogeras, my husband. Let me take you to your room, and then I will tell the King of your arrival,” Alcestis says letting go of my head and leading me down a hallway. Odysseus appears to have grown bored and with a farewell walks upstairs.
I walk into my room it is small, no bigger than a shoebox but it has a bed, a closet, and a nightstand. There is also a mirror on of the walls, facing Alcestis and I. The reflection shows a bronze boy on the cusp of adolescence and a tall woman in a black and white servant dress.
“I will leave you here to unpack and get ready to meet the King. Let me know if you need anything, Patroclus,” Alcestis says with a close-lipped smile.
Once she leaves, I fling myself on the bed enjoying the plush mattress. Yes, these are definitely the servant quarters of a royal palace. I sift through my satchel looking for clothing worthy of meeting royalty in. I don't find anything but a white satin shirt, a black vest, and black dress pants. As I wait for Alcestis to return, I jump on my bed a few times like a child, giggling at how buoyant the mattress is. Then I practice saying my name aloud, the way I would to a king. I stood up straight and practiced bowing, nerves running through my body. If the King hates me, he could turn me out at any minute. I am no one’s responsibility. I belong to nobody.
“King Peleus will see you now,” Alcestis says motioning me to follow her. She leads me through winding marble staircases, glittering gold covered areas, and beautiful architecture I can not help but fawn over. Never had I lived in the lap of luxury, everything seems so new. We finally stop in front of two tall doors, the entrance to the King’s throne room.
“Now Patroclus remember to let the King speak first and to bow before you greet him. Do not worry though the King is a kind man,” Alcestis reassures me, then pushes open the doors.
I see King Peleus sitting on his throne, slightly above us all to remind us of his status. But he has a smile on his face as I approach him. He is dressed in traditional Greek royal robes as if no one has told him the 20th century has finally arrived. I bow before him my heart racing.
“Welcome to the palace, Patroclus. I am good friends with your father, whose business advice has saved this economy more times than I care to count,” Peleus said with a teasing lilt to his voice. “I’m sure you will prove just as useful. How was your journey? I know Pithia is a long train ride away.”
“It was a long but pleasant drive. Thank you, your Majesty,” I reply making sure to stand up straight and speak as I did in front of the mirror.
“I’m glad to hear it, Patroclus. Aside from meeting my newest resident I had other matters to discuss with you,” says Peleus his tone still kind but firmer this time. I feel trepidation rise within me, what will he have me do? I was in no place to refuse. I had nowhere else to go.
“You are ten years old, are you not?” asks Peleus furrowing his brow.
“I am, your majesty.” Peleus smiles satisfactorily and taps the arm of his chair.
“You see Patroclus, I needed a new young servant anyway, but I also need a companion. So when your father called me, it seemed like fate,” Peleus smiles, but I furrow my eyebrows.
“I am to be your companion, your majesty?” I ask but Peleus lets out a great laugh.
“No, not for me, boy! I meant a companion for my son, Achilles. He is in the palace most of the time, and there are no other children his age here. A young boy needs camaraderie with others to shape his character,” says Peleus and my head is spinning. I have not been taken in to be a servant, not really, but hired to be the prince’s friend.
“I’m sure this is agreeable to you, Patroclus,” Peleus ascertains, his voice daring me to disagree. I nod my head quickly. There are certainly worse things. I just hope the prince isn't cruel or a spoiled brat.
“Excellent! Now, I told Achilles and the queen to see me. They should be here any moment to meet you.”
As if on cue one of the guards announces the arrival of the prince and queen. I hear footsteps behind me, and soon I hear them in front of me. I bow before lifting my head and falling straight into emerald eyes.
When my mother and I lived with other Greeks, I would hear whispers that the prince must be a God. Tales of his skills in combat, horse riding, and even medicine were retold with excitement. But I must say they everyone was wrong. Achilles must be a God because I have never seen such a beautiful creature before, no human being looks like this.
Achilles’ blonde hair is messily styled unlike his father or Odysseus’. It is a golden halo framing his tan face. He is slightly taller than me, and his shoulders are already broad, but his small smile holds a boyish charm. Achilles' eyes are analyzing me, trying to figure out who I am. I feel suddenly self-conscious of my appearance and a little angry that Achilles had both wealth and looks. Mad at being a mere mortal.
“Patroclus, meet my son Achilles, Prince of Pithia and my wife Thetis, Queen of Pithia,” Peleus says, and I turn my gaze from Achilles to Thetis. If Achilles’ beauty made me feel warm, Thetis freezes me on the spot. She looks nothing like her son; she has pale skin and black hair.
Thetis is the true royal, her affair with Peleus had gotten her pregnant. The former king and queen forced Thetis to marry Peleus, and it is said Thetis never forgave Peleus for trapping her in a marriage
Now, she gives me a wicked smile and says: “He seems much more ordinary than you let on, Peleus.”
My cheeks burn with an embarrassment. Achilles rips his gaze away from me to look at his mother.
“I disagree, mother,” Achilles says, the challenge evident in his voice. They seem to have a conversation with looks alone. Then both turn to me; I know it is my turn to speak.
“Hello, your majesty and your highness. My name is Patroclus.” I say breathless and stuttering. I had spoken so clearly with Peleus, why was taking so difficult now? Thetis scrunches up her nose and Achilles shakes his head.
“No, call me Achilles. Never, your highness, I hate it,” Achilles says placing a hand on my shoulder. I feel my shoulder burn where his skin meets mine, feelings rising within me that I have never felt before.
“Achilles,” I say savoring his name on my tongue. However, irritation itches at the back of my mind. I am still being hired to be this boy’s companion, expected to give my friendship because he is a prince. Are my affections just for sale? Achilles is captivating but had my father given me to Peleus to be his slave?
“I have dinner soon, but I’ll see you tomorrow, hopefully, ” Achilles says his face settling into an unsure smile. He hesitates and then leans forward to give me a farewell hug. His arms are around me when I feel his warm breath on my ear.
"I hope you are as interesting as you appear to be, Patroclus," Achilles whispers.
I stand there gaping like a fish, was that a threat or a tease? Is he merely mocking his mother’s words, making fun of me? No one had ever called me interesting before. My stomach flushed with both pleasure and anger. When he steps away from me, I feel cold again. Thetis looks angry, and Peleus seems surprised, it is not normal for princes to hug servants. But I already know Achilles’ is no ordinary prince.
Peleus allows me to leave, and I am escorted back to my rooms.
That night I try to beat thoughts of Achilles out of my head. The thoughts I am having about the prince are not ones men have about other men.
But when nightmares try to overtake me I find myself thinking of golden hair and green eyes until my breathing evens and I am lulled back to sleep.