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"And who might you be, child?" demanded the Great King. "Most noble son of Atreus, my name is Briseis," I said proudly.
"But whose woman are you?"
"I have the honor to be consort to Prince Achilles, my lord."
"Consort, indeed?" Agamemnon raised his shaggy brows. His followers laughed. "How fortunate you are! And how fortunate he is to have won so glorious a prize."
A chance meeting? Just a casual word spoken after a funeral? Nay, it was the gods themselves who brought about that slight encounter, for it was to bring much sorrow and the deaths of many splendid young men. I knew Agamemnon by sight, of course, as I knew all the leaders of the Greeks; he did not know me. He had seen me once, but he did not recall that first encounter, because it had been so arranged. He was not to forget this one.
Pestilence had struck the army camped before Troy. For days the deadly arrows of Smintheus, whom the Greeks call Apollo, had been striking down both pack beasts and men, noble and commoner alike, causing balefires to blaze day and night. Unlike Trojans, the Greeks would rather bury their dead than burn them, but they refused to lay their comrades in foreign soil, nor could their spades have kept pace with the awful toll. It was as he was returning from lighting a funeral pyre that Agamemnon first knowingly set eyes on me. Surely great Zeus himself decreed that inauspicious meeting.
I had left the camp and was on my way to sacrifice to the Mistress of Winds, whose altar stood on the hill south of the bay. I hadsuggested this to Achilles that morning, explaining that the Lady frequently granted relief from sickness. Although she was not a goddess known in Thessaly, he had agreed that I should go to her, because all gods must be honored and it might be that she was angry at being neglected. He had ransacked his storeroom and found a vial of rare perfumed oil for me to take.
I was not alone, of course. I had an armed escort and a following of fifty or sixty women, all bearing loads of laundry on their heads and many accompanied by children. We wound our way south from the camp, glad of any excuse to leave its confines for a while. I supervised the Myrmidons' women in in their work, and washing clothes in the river was a large part of that work. Truth be told, I had very little to do by day during those months I spent at Troy. At night I was certainly kept busy enough -- most enjoyably so -- but by day I sometimes found the shadows turning slowly. I had no loom or spindle to busy my fingers in the spinning and weaving that had filled my hours at home in Lyrnessos; but I had run the palace there and running Achilles' camp was no harder.
Being the lady of a great sacker of cities had much to commend it, especially in the choice of wardrobe. Chests of booty were stacked to the roof in the porch of Achilles' house, and he had told me often that it could find no better use than to adorn my beauty. In ten years, I could not have exhausted the riches there. When I had thoroughly explored one box, I would ask Patroclus or even Achilles himself to lift down another. They laughed at me for treating them like porters, but they would always oblige, just to demonstrate their strength and win a kiss of thanks.
To honor the goddess I had dressed in the finest garment I could find -- a gown of wool fine as gossamer, woven in red and gold and sea purple, with a wide flounced skirt, short sleeves, and a tight bodice that left my breasts uncovered in courtly style. Old Maera anointed me with oil and scents and arranged my raven hair in trailing ringlets. She helped me into the gown and set gilded shoes of soft calf leather on my feet. Scorning gold and silver as too showy for such an occasion, I looped four strings of rock-crystal beads around my neck and laid a fine veil over my head. Hanging a fleecy cloak upon my shoulders as protection from the inevitable wind, I strode forth with Maera shuffling at my heels.
The women were waiting for me, bantering with grinning spearmen, who at once lost all interest in them and turned to gape at me with flattering amazement. Since coming to the camp, I had never sported such finery outside the privacy of Achilles' lodge. If their reactions were typical, it would be an interesting outing.
Although Patroclus admitted the Trojans were well locked up within their walls, he always insisted on providing an escort, and that day the leader leaning on his spear aloof from the rest was his own charioteer, Alcimus son of Polyctor. Alcimus was the palest person I ever met, with milk-white hair and baby skin, and in consequence he looked like a child. He never smiled, although he sometimes pulled back his lips to display his teeth, and then he looked like a corpse. He was good at killing Trojans; but I never liked him, and the men feared him.
With no more greeting than a cold stare, he led the way southward along the beach where the ships lay, the older children running ahead of us and the youngsters clinging to their mothers. Horses grazed among the tents and huts of the army to our right, while eastward lay the silver-shining bay with the plain beyond and Troy itself, the towered citadel on its hill. The day seemed perfect, yielding no hint of the evil it was to bring.
We took a path that wound between marsh on the right and the bay's mud flats on the left. In places it had been built up with...Daughter of Troy. Copyright © by Sarah Franklin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.