Warrior RisingP. C. Cast
Thetis of the Silver Feet rose from the depths of the hidden cove. Her son was already there, awaiting her arrival. With that odd, almost preternatural sense of calm that had been his to command even as a babe, he stood on the beach staring with quiet intensity at the distant, watery horizon. He had not yet noticed her, so she took the opportunity to study him carefully.
Though he had barely lived sixteen summers he more closely resembled the man and warrior he would become than the child she’d held at her bosom what seemed but a moment ago. He was magnificent—her golden eaglet, her pride, her heart—her Achilles. And today her soul wept for what Zeus’s oracle had revealed to her. Thetis wished she could deny the truth of it or even simply run from the choices the great god had revealed. But she, too, was a deity, born of the water, daughter of Nereus, an ancient sea god, and she knew all too well that the prophecies of the gods could not be avoided—that to run from them left only chaos and heartbreak and ruined lives in the wake of consequences. Fate could not be avoided, so it must be endured.
At least Achilles had been given a choice.
The small splinter of hope that thought gave Thetis was short-lived. It worked itself free of her heart as she continued to gaze at the wondrous man her son was becoming.
Before his conception the oracle had foretold that her son would be greater than his father—thus freeing her of the tiresome courtships of Zeus and Apollo. Neither god would ever have suffered a son to outshine him. She had eventually married Peleus, King of the Myrmidons. A slight smile touched her shapely pink lips. Peleus had desired her so desperately that compared to her smooth, white thighs the oracle’s predictions were inconsequential. Thetis tossed back her silver-blond hair. She hadn’t, of course, been able to settle permanently with a mortal, king or not, but she did think of him fondly and often. Perhaps she would visit him later that night. He always welcomed her joyously into his bed and she would need the distraction of passion after hearing Achilles’ choice. Sadly she knew her son too well; what the oracle at Dodona had prophesied for him would, indeed, come to pass. Thetis drew in a deep breath and readied herself.
“Achilles!” she called to him.
His response was instantaneous. He turned toward her with a dazzling smile and a formal bow so deep and respectful that Hera herself would have been pleased.
“Mother, what news from Dodona and Zeus’s oracle?”
Thetis glided to him, extending her soft hand. “Not even a hello for your mother? Are oracles and prophecies all you care about, my son?”
Achilles’ blue eyes, which were the exact color of the turquoise depths in which his mother had been born, sparkled with mischievous humor. “Forgive me great goddess of the sea!” He took her hand, kissed it fondly, then tucked it around his already well-muscled arm as he led her from the warm Aegean waters. “And how is your health, Mother? Has it changed in the two days since last I saw you?”
She pushed at his shoulder, which felt even more rocklike than it had two days before when they’d taken lunch together in this very cove. “My health is perfect, as you very well know. And I am but a lowly sea goddess, not one of the Divine Twelve, so there’s no need to flatter me as such. As you also know very well. ”
Achilles bent and kissed her quickly on her cheek. “You are my goddess, Mother, and more divine to me than any of the Twelve. ”
Instead of replying with her usual good-natured banter Thetis met her son’s sparkling eyes and said sharply, “Do not jest about the gods. Were I to usurp one of the Twelve Olympians, even just in your mind, it would be a grave insult and my hubris could be punished severely. ”
Achilles frowned. “What has happened, Mother?”
Thetis sighed and unwound herself from her son’s arm. Silently she walked to a chair-sized rock and sat. Then she looked up at her son. Where he was standing, with the sea at his back and the sun caressing his youthful body with its golden rays, he seemed for an instant like a gilded statue of himself, like something a great people—perhaps in the distant future—would erect of him to memorialize the remembered exploits of a warrior whose life had blazed like a comet and then burned out much too soon.
A shiver passed through Thetis’s body.
“Mother?” Achilles repeated. He began to walk toward her, but her upraised hand stayed him.
“This will be easier if you remain there. ” Then she wouldn’t be tempted to clutch him to her as if he were still a babe, and beg him to be wise… to consider… Thetis drew another deep breath. When she finally spoke, her voice was emotionless, as if she were an oracle herself. “Zeus’s oracle presented two choices for you, Achilles. ” She closed her eyes and recited: “One path to the future will lead to a long, prosperous life. The Myrmidons will flourish under your rule. You will have a fruitful wife who will bear you many sons and daughters. You will know peace and tranquility and love. Your long life will be full and rich and you will die quietly in your bed when your beard is white, surrounded by those who love you. You will be deeply mourned, but eventually your name will be forgotten as just a speck in the countless sands of history. ” Thetis drew another deep breath and continued, still not opening her eyes.
“Another path to the future will lead to acclaim that will outshine all other kings and warriors. You will lead the Myrmidons in battle with a red ferocity that will burn everything before you. Your fire will rage hot and high so that your name will be remembered for thousands of years in lands past the edge of the world. But like a fire that burns too hot too quickly, you will be consumed, and never see the close of thirty summers. Rage will destroy your life. You will only glimpse peace and love and tranquility—you will never know them. ” Thetis paused long enough to ready herself for what she knew she would see, and then she opened her eyes.
Achilles was already blazing. She’d known it when the oracle had spoken her son’s choices, but she couldn’t help the small hope she’d nurtured. Now, like a snuffed candle, hope was extinguished.
“You must choose, my son, but take your time. Reason carefully. Remember, once your choice is made, Zeus had decreed your fate and your path will be set. ”
Achilles’ grin was young and untamed. “I already know my choice, Mother!” He lifted his arms to the sky, threw back his head, and shouted his decision to Olympus as a fierce prayer to the gods. “Divine Zeus, I honor you for the choices you have given me. I choose the life of a warrior and eternal fame!” At that instant the heavens above him were split by a deafening crack of thunder and a massive lightning bolt, jagged and glowing, shot from the sky into Achilles’ body, driving the boy to his knees and filling him with a red, raw power that literally changed his visage, hardening the smooth cheeks. It seemed he actually grew, becoming taller and broader, becoming more of what he had once been. His eyes glowed with the rust color of old blood and his lips pulled back from his teeth in a feral snarl as, once again, he shouted his decision in a voice unrecognizable as his own, “I choose the life of a warrior and eternal fame!”
Tears spilled silently down Thetis’s cheeks as she watched her son choose to end his life too soon. He looked like a shining golden godling, her wonderful eaglet. Proud, beautiful, fierce and immortal.
But he wasn’t immortal. He would die in barely a breath of time. And she would watch as he blazed and burned out.
Bowing her head, Thetis sent up her own prayer to Olympus—not shouted with words, but spoken with the power of a mother’s broken heart.
“Hera, Goddess of All Mothers, take pity on me. If it is possible, let my beloved son know love and peace before he dies. Athena, Goddess of War and Wisdom, I ask with my immortal soul that though he has chosen a warrior’s life, you give Achilles the wisdom to outlive his own yout
Thunder clapped through the clear Greek sky and Achilles laughed with fierce joy, not noticing the lovely peacock who suddenly appeared beside his mother. The bird stretched out its royal neck to lay its sapphire head against the sea goddess’s thigh. Then, on the other side of her, a magnificent owl appeared, ethereal in its white feathers. The owl’s wise gaze met hers, and it regally bowed its head to Thetis. Then both divine birds disappeared in a glittering of diamond dust.
THIRTEEN YEARS LATER
“I have to tell you darlings, the Trojan War is making my ass hurt,” Venus said, glancing at Athena with one perfectly raised brow.
“I don’t know why you’re looking at me like that,” Athena bristled.
“Athena, my friend, it could have something to do with the fact that you are Goddess of War,” Hera said.
“Add to that your obsession with Odysseus and his safety, which doesn’t help matters over there in Troy,” Venus said. Then she lifted her empty goblet and called, “I’m out of ambrosia!” Instantly a satyr galloped in with a glistening pitcher of the golden wine of the gods. Venus blew two kisses at the very male, very enthusiastic beast who wriggled appreciatively at the goddess’s attention, bowed low, nuzzled her feet and then trotted reluctantly from the room.
“You spoil those creatures,” Athena said, frowning after the satyr. “And you’re the one who instigated Odysseus’s affection for me, remember?” The gray-eyed goddess tossed her golden hair. “So our relationship is really your fault. ”
“If you weren’t so uptight maybe you would have a relationship instead of decades of sexual frustration and obsession,” Venus mumbled.
“What was that?” Athena asked, narrowing her eyes.
“I’m just saying—”
“That the Trojan War has become entirely too tiresome,” Hera interrupted neatly. “I’m especially disgusted by the new rumors. It was bad enough that Agamemnon and Menelaus blamed poor Helen for starting the war when it was their greed for the riches of Troy and their overblown male pride that was really responsible. ”
Athena gave Venus a considering look. “Didn’t you have something to do with Paris’s infatuation with Helen?”
The Goddess of Love sniffed delicately. “Menelaus didn’t appreciate Helen’s beauty. The man was boorish and inconsiderate. All I did was create a little love spell to make the dolt jealous. I had no idea Paris would be so susceptible and Helen would be so needy. ”
“Whatever the cause,” Hera said, “it is silly that the Greeks are blaming an entire war on one straying wife and the man who stole her away. ”
“Man? Paris is little more than a lust-filled boy, which is exactly why I didn’t think my tiny, inconsequential spell would create such a problem. ”
“As ridiculous as one woman causing an entire war, that rumor is nothing compared to what they’re saying now. Have you heard that the Trojans have proclaimed that the three of us instigated the entire Helen/Paris debacle? And I don’t mean a simple jealousy spell that got out of hand,” Venus said.
“Not that apple thing again? I heard that outlandish story months ago. I can’t believe it’s caught on and is being repeated,” Athena said.
“As if the three of us would actually participate in a beauty contest!” Hera scoffed.
“It’s Discord’s fault, you know. She was angry at not being invited to Peleus and Thetis’s wedding, so she started the rumor,” Venus said. “I know it was her because in all the gossip I’m called Aphrodite. Discord knows I prefer my Roman name. It’s just like her to start rumors about me using the name I like least just to irritate me. I wasn’t even at that silly party!”
“Discord does know how to annoy,” Hera said.
“No wonder she doesn’t get invited to many parties,” Venus said.
“The rumor is that Venus, or rather Aphrodite”—Hera paused and smiled apologetically at Venus—“gave Helen to Paris as reward for his choosing you as the fairest of the three of us,” Hera said.
“I’ve heard that nonsense, too. Which is the main reason the war is making my ass hurt. I’m so done with the Greeks and Trojans blaming everything on women—goddesses in particular. Darlings, we really must do something to encourage this little war to end. Now. ”
“It’s been almost ten years. As far as I’m concerned that is nine years too long,” Hera said.
“Exactly,” Venus said.
“Agreed,” Athena said.
“So what do we do about it?” Venus sighed. “They blame it on the women, but it’s the damnable men of the ancient world with their archaic attitudes that actually keep everything stirred up. ”
“You know it’s really not Odysseus’s fault. ” Athena spoke up quickly, as always, defending her favorite.
“I believe you’re right, Athena,” Hera said, nodding slowly. “Achilles and his rage is at the heart of the war. ”
“Yes,” Athena said. “He’s definitely the problem. Take him and his Myrmidons out of the equation and the Greeks would probably lose heart and not be able to keep up the siege on Troy. ” Clearly annoyed, the goddess tapped one slim finger against the glass of her wine goblet. “We should have known he would come to no good all those years ago when Thetis evoked our aid. Had we acted then it would have saved us a lot of irritation. ”
Hera sighed. “We didn’t act then because of the problems it would have caused between Zeus and me. Again. ”
“Would you please explain what you two are talking about?” Venus said.
“You know Thetis went to Zeus’s oracle at Dodona asking about her son’s future, don’t you?” Hera asked the Goddess of Love.
“Vaguely. Wasn’t it something about Achilles having a choice between fame and a long life?”
“Yes, the impetuous boy chose fame, of course,” Athena said. “And when he did, Thetis begged our aid. We heard her, and I know I for one meant to act. ” The goddess shrugged her lovely rounded shoulders. “It just never seemed the right time. And I will admit that it simply slipped my mind. ”
“I, too, meant to act. I suppose I allowed the trouble it would cause with Zeus to dissuade me. And then there is that terrible berserker rage Zeus gifted Achilles with. The moment his emotions are overly aroused—be they good or bad—it possesses him and then there is no reasoning with him. ” Hera lowered her voice conspiratorially. “I hear that women are so terrified of him that he hasn’t even taken a lover in years. ”
Venus snorted again. “Achilles needs a good dose of a strong, independent woman from the modern world. That would fix him right up and cure him of that berserker nonsense. Then he could be reasoned with. I’m sure now that he’s not a ridiculous adolescent he has some kind of sense and doesn’t particularly want to die before his hair even begins to gray. ” She paused to sip her ambrosia and noticed that Hera and Athena were staring at her. “What?”
“I do believe the Goddess of Love may just have our solution,” Athena said.
“Yes, and if she brings the modern woman to Troy, Zeus certainly won’t hold me responsible for anything that happens because of it,” Hera said.
“So glad to help with your marital issues,” Venus said sarcastically.
“Will you do it or not?” Athena asked, being her usual blunt self.
“Of course I’ll help. I’m as sick as you two of the whole Trojan War issue—rumors and all. ” Venus brushed back her hair and sipped her ambrosia as she considered her next move. “I am very familiar with the city of Tulsa in the modern world. It would be a simple thing for me to point my oracle in that direction. Perhaps through some judicious eavesdropping I can discover the perfect woman for Achilles. ” She smiled and shrugged nonchalantly. “Once I find her I could simply zap her here. We can have a little chat with her about helping us reason with Achilles before I send her to the Greek camp. I suppose…” Venus paused and sippe
d her wine while the other two goddesses waited impatiently for her to continue.
“You suppose?” Hera prompted.
“I suppose we should offer the woman a lovely reward or whatnot for her services. ”
“Reward? Should it not be reward enough that she was chosen by a goddess?” Athena said, frowning.
Venus rolled her eyes. “Athena, darling, you need to get out more. Modern mortals, especially modern mortal women, don’t bow down and simper and worship us like sycophants. It’s actually very refreshing to walk amongst them. ” Venus smiled, remembering her adventures in Tulsa and the eternal love she had won. “Just trust me on this one. ”
“A reward for the mortal sounds fine to me,” Hera said while Athena glowered at Venus. “Why not grant her one boon? A favor from the Goddess of Love should satisfy any mortal, modern or otherwise. ”
“Excellent idea, Hera. ” Venus smiled impishly at Athena.
“I think it sounds like a good plan,” Hera said.
“Yes, we are all in agreement,” Athena said, although a little reluctantly.
Hera raised her glass. “To the modernizing of Achilles and the end of the wretched Trojan War. ”
“And,” Venus added with a smile, “to modern women. ”