Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Troy belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon and Wolfgang Petersen/David Benioff/Homer.
As a youth, the year before he had attained maturity, Patroclus had once seen Achilles hunt a wolf.
The beast had been laying waste to the countryside for months. The peasants had been wailing of eaten livestock, the occasional stolen children. They had attempted to beat out the animal themselves, but for all their smoke and fire had not managed to find it. Finally, they had turned to their lords for help.
The dogs had refused to go into the wet wood, whining when their masters urged and beat them. The men themselves had not been able to find a trail, and had given up, calling it a waste of a day and going home to try their hand another week.
Patroclus remembered how Achilles had stayed behind. Uncle had told him to come home, to sit by the hearth and give it a rest for the night. Even then, Patroclus had wondered at that, at how Uncle could know his son so little that he would think Achilles the sort of man to give up anything, even for a while.
He had not been permitted to follow Achilles. He had waited, all that night, in the hall, watching the gloom, only to see Eos rising in the east with Achilles yet gone.
For two days, no one saw him. For two days, Peleus grew more and more uneasy, each time the Sun drove his chariot through the sky and his son remained in the wood. Finally, on the morning of the third day, when he had begun to call about him some men to rake the forest for his missing son, through the gate had strode Achilles, his face and eyes as quiet and unconcerned as if he had been gone only an hour.
Beneath his arm had been the rolled, bloody pelt of a black wolf.
When asked what he had done with the carcass, he had replied, “By then I was hungry. So I ate it.”
Nearly ten years later, Patroclus still did not know if the man had been joking.
He had never really understood his cousin. Then again, who really understood Achilles? The son of Peleus the Argonaut was not a man who confided in anyone, or moved others to confide in him. His look was too cutting, his manner too formidable. In his presence, other men could not help but feel somehow lacking, overwhelmed by his natural intensity more than by his heavy reputation. Patroclus himself often felt engulfed by the force of Achilles’s character, as if he swam in the sea with stones hanging from his neck. The only man he had ever seen at ease in Achilles’s company was Odysseus, perhaps the only mortal even more difficult to comprehend than the son of Thetis.
No, no one understood Achilles. Men worshipped him, and women loved him, but no one knew more about him than he wanted them to know, excepting only Odysseus, who could read all men as if they were writings on a wax tablet.
Patroclus himself, whom Achilles was said to love most of all his friends and kin, had never been able to tell Achilles’s most inborn thoughts, or know for certain why he did any of the things he did.
Except for the day, when, having heard of the fall of Trachis, Achilles said to his father, in Peleus’s own house, that he would go and see this Kore for himself.
Then Patroclus had seen, for one, short-lived moment, something in Achilles’s eyes and face that he felt he understood.
Kore. The Maiden. Who was said to be a woman warrior in the manner of the Antianeira, who had personally broken the shield wall that had protected Trachis for many years. Who had herself trained each and every one of her Dogs of War, those red-cloaked spear- and swordsmen who were said to match the Myrmidons themselves.
Kore, who was said to be beautiful, so beautiful that conquered princes swore to be her vassals, if only she would look at them.
Patroclus had asked to go with his cousin. He had not been refused.
Now, as the moorings were being thrown overboard, the strange ship with Trojan sails that they had passed was the farthest thing from his mind.
When they splashed ashore, a Dog of War stood waiting.
He was a tall fellow, perhaps taller than Patroclus himself when bare-headed, towering with his cockscomb set on his head. He carried a body shield, spare and heavy, on his arm, and gripped a heavy spear. On his belt of pleats, he wore a sword, shorter than the typical blade, and no other armor but greaves from knee to ankle.
He had the look of a wolf, lean and hungry, his eyes black in the light.
“In the name of Kore, Triopas, and Thessaly, you are hailed,” he said, his voice the harsh growl of a man used to shouting orders. “Who are you, and what do you want?”
The question was so abrupt and blunt that Patroclus opened his mouth without speaking, taken aback. Behind him, the captain of the Myrmidons stiffened with indignation.
The only one who seemed unaffected was Achilles himself.
“I am Achilles of Phthia,” he said. “Where is Kore?”
The Dog’s mouth was set in a line. Behind him, at the border of stones that marked the boundaries of the city, nine Dogs stood still and silent, as if they were men made of rock.
“Kore has left Trachis,” said the Dog.
They waited, but it seemed he would not say more. Rather he stood in front of his men, their expressions not hostile but stern, relentless, their faces the faces of sentries who would die before they would let pass any man without a phrase, whoever the comer.
Patroclus felt that his cousin seemed pleased by this.
“I come as a guest,” said Achilles, “with few crew and my cousin. I ask hospitality.”
At this, the Dog captain’s demeanor seemed to yield somewhat, and he said, a little more respectfully, “She has gone home to her father.”
Achilles said nothing. Patroclus felt his cousin’s impatience crawling along his own skin, as if a Harpy had alighted on his shoulders and brushed him with her quills.
When Achilles finally spoke again, it was with barely suppressed temper. “Does she quit the battlefield?”
The Dog’s eyes narrowed. “Trachis is ours,” he said. “Alope has been captured. Peleus the Argonaut has not taken up arms or brought the Myrmidons out into the field. There was nothing left to do, so she went home. The city has been put into the hands of her third.”
Patroclus had never heard anyone speak so freely to his cousin, except for perhaps the Ithacan king. This, from only a captain, bordered on impudence.
Achilles did not seem to notice, or be offended. Rather he looked up at the city, a line in his brow. He seemed not to see the Dogs drawn up in ranks before him, and to put out of his mind entirely his cousin and the Myrmidons behind him. Folding his arms, he took three, slow steps, directionless, his version of a man pacing with his thoughts. His feet sank deep in the wet sand.
Patroclus watched him, conscious to the tension being pulled as taut as a bowstring. Everyone watched him, Myrmidon or Dog, waiting to see what the lion would do.
“Then I have no choice,” said Achilles at last, and turned to look at Patroclus. His eyes were wide and clear, a blue as pure and sharp as the water of a sea lagoon. “We go to Phylace.”
Patroclus gaped. Behind him, he heard the Myrmidons’ quiet exclamations, their oaths. “Phylace?”
“The season for war is over,” said Achilles. “Kore has gone home to her father to lie asleep until the next battle.” He smiled, a striking baring of his white teeth. “I’ll go to wake her.”
The captain of the Dogs of War shifted his weight, for the first time uneasy. “My lord, if you would send a message to the king, then surely the chief magistrate could—”
Achilles’s head, turning, was bright and golden.
“I don’t want the king, or the magistrate,” said Achilles. “I want Kore.”
I want Kore.
Patroclus felt the hairs rising on the back of his neck. A chill gripped his heart, as if a serpent had slithered over his breast.
The captain’s face was strained. Behind him, the other War Dogs had turned their heads, were staring at the son of Peleus. The Myrmidons were as still as sacred statues.
“We will go on foot,” Achilles was saying, to his own captain. “Leave ten to man the ship. The rest, go into the city and make provisions. We leave in the morning.”
The captain of the Myrmidons was not slow to act, and then the Phthians were scattering to their orders. The Dogs watched them, expressions severe, but the captain did not undertake to stop them, and so they did nothing.
Achilles had turned his back, was looking out into the bay. His eyes rested on a ship struck aground farther down the shore.
Patroclus followed his gaze.
“A Mycenaean ship,” he said then, voice as composed as he could make it. “Agamemnon’s sails.”
Achilles turned his fathomless eyes on the captain of Dogs. “Who has come?”
Only a few men could withstand that look. The captain of Dogs managed it for several long moments, meeting cold blue with his own expressionless black. That single deed impressed Patroclus more than any heroics on the battlefield.
“Nestor, chief councilor of Agamemnon of Mycenae,” said the man, stiffly, but not grudgingly, “and Odysseus, king of Ithaca.”
Now Achilles smiled. Patroclus himself was relieved to the hear the name; no one could goad Achilles out of one of his moods as Odysseus could.
“Odysseus,” said Achilles. “I’ll go and see him then, until I leave tomorrow.”
The captain’s face did not change. “My lord, he is with Kore.”
Achilles looked at him. His smile had disappeared.
“With Kore,” he said, softly, as if a question.
“He accompanied her,” said the captain, “when she departed for Phylace.”
Patroclus looked at his cousin.
Achilles had turned away. He stood looking out over the water, at the ship bearing Agamemnon’s sails.
From up the hill, toward the temple, came a shout. Patroclus looked, though Achilles did not, and he saw a man, old and bearded, wearing good cloth of Attic cut, raising his arm at them.
“Myrmidons,” shouted Achilles then, abruptly, and his voice carried over the cries of gulls and the breaking of waves. “To me!”
They came, fleetly and silently, without hesitation, to stand before him, though not in ranks.
“We go now!” Achilles faced the Dog of War, and his look was like a bared blade. “Give me a man! I don’t want to have to answer questions or fight all the way to Phylace.”
The Dog captain’s expression then was of cynical resignation, as if he saw before him something he recognized but did not like. Yet the man knew what position he was in, and acted as a man who saw that he could be unwise or he could be foolish, but he had to be one.
“I’ll go myself, my lord,” he said. “You’ll need at least a captain to get you through the borders.”
He went, then, to give his orders and organize his leave-taking, and Patroclus was left standing in the sand with Achilles as the Myrmidons assembled.
“Alone, into Thessalian territory, with not more then twenty Myrmidons,” said Patroclus. “Achilles, what are you doing?”
Achilles smiled again, but tightly, this time, his pale eyes on the horizon, on the middle distance in which, to the north, lay Thessaly, and Phylace.
“I am hunting a wolf,” he said.
And Patroclus seemed to see again, as if he lived the moment anew, a tall, bright youth, golden hair and god-blue eyes, his face even then implacable, pitiless. He held in one hand a bloodied spear, and in the other a thick length of skin, gory and torn, the fur as black as Nyx’s hair.