heat of the day was oppressive, and the smoke from the temple fires blew
directly into the little house where Achilles lived with his mother. He fled
the stench of burning blood and entrails to the clearer air on the ridgetop,
the ruin of the older buildings, the structures destroyed in the war of his
great-great grandfather's day.
Stretched prone, like a cat across the warm stones, he dozed.
To a leaf-shaped bronze blade, caressing his jugular, rising to his jawline.
Stroking, stroking, as if ready to shave the hairs of his chin, the tuft of
fluff he'd been proudly sporting for nearly a year.
If you looked in the right light, you could see the blond hairs covering the
tanned cleft there.
"I hate that thing, you know. You should shave it off," the gravel-rough
voice, familiar fixture in Achilles' life, brought him to full waking.
"Why? So you can pretend I am still a boy, Odysseus?" Achilles' voice broke,
partway through the sentence, ruining the effect of his words.
"You are still a boy, fool." The blade withdrew, and Achilles rose,
and adjusted his swordbelt and scabbard.
"Already more of a man than you, though." Achilles smiled, and scratched
vigorously at his crotch, proud of his prodigious equipage.
"Not in any of the ways that truly matter, lad."
Achilles drew with that lightning reflex of his, and lunged at his mentor
and friend. Odysseus parried, only just barely in time, blocking the sword
with the hiltguard of his own. Odysseus laughed in his face, despite the
sting of the shallow slice across his knuckles, brushed by the edge of
Achilles' violence. "Neither a beard nor a blade make you a man, Achilles."
"What, then!" Achilles licked his blade clean of the tiny drops of blood
there, and sheathed his sword. Falling bonelessly to sit on a convenient
boulder, he asked. "What makes a man if not Battle, and Glory?
"Philos." Odysseus replied. "And Agape."
"...and Eros?" begged Achilles, eyes bright.
Odysseus dropped his gaze to the dusty cobble. Blazing sun made the
yellowish pebbles almost too bright to look at. "You are still but a boy..."
"Odysseus. Listen to me." Achilles grazed hand up an arm, a shoulder,
cradled the beloved neck, stroked the strong jaw with a calloused thumb. "I
have been pulling my sword blows from you, in practice, for over two years."
Locking eyes with the man he respected and loved more than any other, save
his long-dead father, Achilles pulled him in, devoured his mouth.
They both shivered in spite of the heat.
Breaking off, Achilles eyed Odysseus with trepidation. A single tear leaked
from the corner of the older man's eye. He sharply turned away, and strode
the few steps to the parapet, the height from which he could view the entire
bay, and the immense horizon beyond it.
Blue sea. White sky. Yellow land.
Achilles appeared at his elbow.
"You cheated." His voice broke with emotion. "You grew up."