Agamemnon paced back and forth across the bedchamber of his voluminous tent while Briseis lounged on his bed, pouting.
“You said we were going to have a party tonight. One with those Greek dancing slaves.” She raised up on her knees, naked except for several strands of exquisite pearls, lifted her arms over her head and swayed her curvy hips back and forth. “You said they would teach me that lovely dance they do.”
Agamemnon glanced at her, his eyes lingering on her young breasts and their pink, succulent nipples. He wanted her again, of course. And he would have her. But right now she was a distraction he did not need.
“I told you, I cannot have a party tonight. Not after today’s losses in battle.”
“It’s him isn’t it? It’s his fault,” Briseis said, her sweet voice turning sharp and her soft, round face twisting into an ugly sneer.
“Are you still upset because of how easily he replaced you, pet? Ah, now, don’t fret. He simply didn’t appreciate your appetites.” Agamemnon moved over to the bed and stroked her long hair with one hand. With the other he tweaked her nipple painfully. Instead of crying out or pulling away, Briseis moaned and arched her back.
“I hate him! He ruins everything,” she said, and then gasped in pleasure as his hand left her hair and slapped her once, hard, across her bare buttocks.
“But it’s not really our dear Achilles who’s to blame for his absence from the battlefield. It’s that distraction he replaced you with.” Agamemnon enjoyed Briseis most when she was like this—when she discarded the mantle of gentle maid and showed the truth of her black little heart and her limitless craving for sensation of all types. What a fool Achilles had been not to have sampled from her sweet banquet.
Briseis’s hand roamed down the king’s body and began rubbing his semiflaccid penis to life. “It’s unnatural that she touches him. No woman touches him.”
Agamemnon pinched her other breast and her hand stroked faster. “Ah, what a shame he didn’t know what he was missing in you, pet.”
Her tongue flicked out to lave his nipple and she spoke against his chest. “The other war brides say she has put a spell on him. And that maid of hers, Melia, has also turned into a sorceress.”
“What do you mean?” Suddenly completely serious, Agamemnon took her chin roughly in his hand. “Tell me what you know.”
“Only that the women from her father’s palace say Polyxena and Melia are not as they used to be. They speak and act more like Sirens or witches than tools of a goddess. Achilles and Patroklos have both been utterly tamed by them.”
Agamemnon let loose her chin and she went back to tonguing his nipples. Neatly forgetting the fact that his actions in taking Briseis had been what had caused Polyxena to be given to Achilles, he continued, “The Trojan witch is the reason he is so willing to stay out of the battle and let his Greek brothers be slaughtered for his pleasure.”
“Get rid of her, and Achilles will have nothing to occupy his time. Believe me, he lives for battle. If the princess hadn’t bespelled him, he couldn’t bear not fighting.”
“My pet, I do believe you make an excellent point.” Agamemnon pushed her back on the bed, but instead of mounting her, as her splayed legs said she obviously expected, he began pulling on his clothes. “Stay here—in that very position. I won’t be long.” Then he paused, changing his mind. “Actually don’t stay in that position. I want you to go spread poison among the war prizes.”
Briseis bounced up, clapping her hands gleefully and looking like an evil kitten. “What shall I say?”
“Encourage the talk of witchery, but focus on the maidservant. When you speak of Polyxena, let it be known that you’ve heard rumors that Achilles’ mother, the sea goddess Thetis, would like to get a look at her son’s lover.”
Briseis sneered. “They can’t be lovers. Achilles is chaste.”
“Perhaps, but if they are lovers, they won’t be for much longer.”
“What are you going to do to Achilles?” Briseis asked happily.
“Now, pet, you know I would never harm that great warrior and hero of my people…” Agamemnon chuckled cruelly as he strode from his bedchamber, calling for Kalchas.
The old man rushed up to him, bowing subserviently.
“Remind me, Kalchas, is it a fat black bull that Poseidon prefers as a sacrifice when summoning his presence?”
“It is, indeed, great King.”
“And remind me, again, was it not Poseidon who Laomedon, Priam’s ancestor, refused to pay after the god aided him in building the impenetrable walls of Troy?”
“Yes, great King. And in doing so Laomedon, as well as all of his children’s children, gained the eternal enmity of the sea god.”
“So, in theory only, mind you, if it were possible for Poseidon to gain access to, say for instance, a daughter of the royal family of Troy, do you believe the sea god would be pleased at the opportunity to exact vengeance on Troy’s king?”
Kalchas’s thin lips twisted into the caricature of a smile. “Yes, I believe he would, great King.”
“In theory, only,” Agamemnon said.
“Of course, my lord.” They walked silently for a few steps and then Kalchas asked, “Shall I cut a fat black bull from the herd, great king?”
“Yes, I do believe you shall.”
Kalchas hesitated. “My lord, forgive me, but I must remind you that Zeus has made it clear he favors Priam. Would you not be risking his wrath to, in theory only, instigate his daughter’s death?”
Agamemnon smiled slyly. “One would believe so, except that I happen to be under the protection of Hera herself. And even Zeus does not like to evoke the anger of the Queen of Olympus.”
“Excellent, my lord. I know just the bull…”
Kat woke slowly. She felt fabulous. She stretched languorously, thinking that it must be Saturday, which meant she didn’t have to be in the office at all. Mimosas sounded good. She’d call Jacky and they could meet at the Stonehorse Café for the bottomless Saturday mimosa special—to hell with that stupid diet idea. She would love her thighs as they were, and a size ten just wasn’t that big.
Then she rolled over, opened her eyes and glanced down at said size ten thighs, which were, at that instant, very bare, very young and very size two to fourish and reality crashed back.
She gave the pillow beside her what she hoped was a nonchalant look while she held her breath. His side of the bed was empty, and she breathed again. Then she blinked and squinted. No, his side of the bed wasn’t empty. There was something on his pillow. Kat sat up. It was a long, thin lotus blossom the color of moonlight. Smiling, she picked it up and inhaled its delicate scent.
Achilles, the famous warrior who had been written about for thousands of years, had given her a flower. It made her ridiculously, romantically happy.
“Yes, indeedy, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”
Humming softly to herself Kat got up and washed. Then, naked except for Venus’s golden heart pendant, that I hadn’t needed, she thought smugly, Kat searched around the bed, trying to find her discarded clothes. She was just starting to worry and consider wrapping the sheet around herself and going in search of Jacky when she noticed layers of new silken robes draped across the back of a chair. The undertunic was a buttery yellow, and the over-robe was the same heart-stopping blue as Achilles’ eyes. The outfit was diaphanous and gorgeous and probably worth a small fortune.
Clearly it was good to be Achilles’ girlfriend.
Her tuneless humming changed to the chorus of “I Feel Pretty” as she got dressed and combed her hair, thoroughly appreciating Polyxena’s long, thick locks. Then she ducked out of the tent, pausing to blink and adjust her eyes to the sunlight.
As the day before, there was food ready at the campfire. Stretching and thinking about how sex always made her hungry, Kat headed to the table—in time to see Jacky coming from the direction of the Myrmidon tents. She was stretching, too, and looking sweetly rumpled. The two friends met beside the campfire.
Jacky looked Kat over from head to toe.
“Well, shit. Now I’m worried,” Jacky said.
“About what?” Kat said around a piece of excellent goat cheese she’d snagged from a laden tray on the table and popped in her mouth.
“Jacky, what are you talking about?”
“What do you figure are the odds of both of us gettin’ laid on the same night?”
Kat grinned. “Today, I’d say pretty good.”
“Which is definitely abbey-normal. So I’m just sayin’ it makes me worry about lightning strikes and tsunamis and such.”
“Don’t be such a cynic. Everything is going to be just fine. Actually everything is going to be great.”
“Lord, I’d forgotten how nauseatingly optimistic sex makes you.”
“It is a beautiful day, isn’t it?” Kat said.
Jacky shook her head in disgust. “You seriously have it bad.”
Kat bumped Jacky with her shoulder. “So Patroklos wasn’t any good in bed?”
“I did not say that.”
“You’re kinda grumpy.”
“I’m not grumpy. I’m—” Jacky paused for effect. “Sore. This little white girl body needs some breakin’ in.”
“Oooh!” Kat laughed. “No, what you are is stank. Okay, I want all the details.”
“You first. Clearly you fornicated with your boy. You’re still in one piece so I’m assumin’ he didn’t turn into a monster. Details, please…”
Kat broke off a piece of bread and dipped it in a dish of spiced olive oil. “No, he didn’t turn into a monster. Yes, we fornicated. And, yes. It was soooo good.”
“He stayed under your diabolical slut sex spell the entire time?”
“I am not diabolical. And, yes, mostly. There was a moment of concern at the end, but everything turned out fine.”
“In other words, your magical va-jay-jay saved him.”
“That’s certainly how I like to think of it.” Kat hesitated, then added. “Jacqueline, I like him.”
“Okay, so where is this going?”
“I mean, it’s perfectly acceptable that you like him, nice even. But what’s the next step? Are we completing our mission?”
“Venus seems pleased and Achilles definitely isn’t fighting. So I guess we are.”
“You saw Venus?”
Kat swallowed another piece of cheese. “Yep. She gave me this.” She lifted the heart locket and let Jacky inspect it. “It’s a panic button.”
“No shit? How does it work?”
“Supposedly I open it, call for her and she turns into the cavalry. I don’t think literally, though. But what do I know? I barely remember the humanities class that dealt with mythology.” Kat dropped the locket back down beneath her robes. “I’m just hoping it keeps Venus from constantly Peeping Tom-ing. Do you know she watches?”
“Doesn’t surprise me in the least. She is Goddess of Love—that job has to come with a certain degree of nastiness.” Jacky frowned at the plate of olives. “And I still don’t like olives. Pass me some of that bread, would ya?”
“All right, your turn,” Kat said, passing the bread. “Give me all the gory details.”
“He’s young and very energetic. It was good.”
“That’s it? Young—energetic—good? You’ve got to be kidding.”
“All right, fine. It was very good.” Jacky fidgeted and nibbled at a piece of dried meat.
Kat gasped. “You like him!”
“So? You like Achilles.”
“Patroklos is so damn white.” Kat giggled.
Jacky narrowed her eyes. “Katrina Marie, you’ve been tellin’ me for a decade that I need to expand my dating pool and go out with more white boys.”
“Yep, and may I just say a great big—” Kat hesitated dramatically.
“Go on ahead. Get it over with.” Jacky sighed.
“I told you so!” Kat sang.
“Delighted.” She popped one of the olives Jacky was ignoring into her mouth. “I really wish I had some tea or something to drink. I don’t think they have coffee yet. Do they?”
“I dunno,” Jacky mumbled around bread and cheese. “I may just do like the natives and go straight for breakfast wine.”
“Princess? Did you say you would like some tea?”
Kat looked across the campfire to see Aetnia, who was curtseying nervously to her. “Yes, that would be great,” Kat said.
“Acalle always has tea brewing at her campfire. She is Ajax’s war bride. It takes an entire campfire of his own to keep him fed, so he’s on the outskirts of the Greek camp, not at all far from here. It will take just a moment to get you some tea.”
She hurried off and Kat found herself calling, “Thanks,” to her back.
“Wonder how long she’d been sittin’ there listening in?” Jacky said.
“We really need to pay better attention to stuff like that.”
“I say whatever,” Jacky shrugged. “She’s just a servant.”
“Jacky, they used to do really nasty things to people they thought were different, a.k.a., witchy. Like burn them. Or impale them. Or crucify them. None of those things are pleasant.”
“They didn’t do unpleasant things to people they thought were oracles of the gods.” Jacky pointed a piece of bread at Kat. “You are an oracle. Remember?”
“Yeah, but you aren’t.”
“Point taken.” They chewed for a while in silence. “Do you think we’ll ever get back?” Jacky finally whispered.
“I don’t know,” Kat said slowly.
“You do still want to go back, don’t you?”
“I do, of course,” she said quickly. “But I…”
“You want to fix him first.”
“Not exactly.” Kat sighed. “I want to save him.” She met Jacky’s eyes, finding the friend within the unfamiliar shape and color. “I don’t want him to die.”
Jacky opened her mouth to respond when Aetnia hurried up to them, a large kettle in one hand and a pottery mug in the other.
“Here you are, my lady. Rose hips and chamomile with a hint of lavender, sweetened with honey.”
“Oh, thank you, Aetnia.” Kat took the offered mug while the girl poured the aromatic mixture.
“No problem. I didn’t want some,” Jacky said with some asperity.
“Don’t worry, I’ll share,” Kat said.
“Oh, nevermind. I should go check on the injured men. Then Patroklos and I are going for a swim. Without swimwear,” she said with a wink.
“Where are Patroklos and Achilles?” Kat asked.
“My man said something about going to the Greek camp to sharpen weapons. I don’t have a clue where yours is.”
“Oh, so he’s a man now?” Kat kidded under her breath, conscious of Aetnia’s listening presence across the campfire.
“Freshness,” Jacky mouthed back. “Anyway,” she raised her voice. “Gotta go check on the men. No rest for the wicked, ya know.” With a flip of her blond tresses, Jacky sauntered off.
“My lady? I know where you can find Achilles,” Aetnia said, moving closer to her now that Jacky had gone.
“Oh, good. Where?” Kat asked, not caring that she sounded like an eager schoolgirl.
“I heard that he was training down by the seashore.” Aetnia pointed in the direction of the sea, but well down the beach away from both camps.
“Thank you!” Kat grinned at her, grabbed a piece of bread and cheese to go, and then called over her shoulder, “Oh, and the tea is great.”
“Anything for you, my lady,” Aetnia said.
Kat could feel Aetnia’s eyes on her as she walked toward the beach, which actually made her a little uncomfortable. Aetnia seemed nice enough, but she was definitely obsessed with the princess/devotion thing. Not to mention she seemed to be giving off a weirdly nervous vibe. But then again, what did Kat know? She’d never been a princess before. She was probably misjudging Aetnia because she was using modern standards. Promising herself to be nicer to the young woman, Kat headed down the beach, looking for her lover.
“My lover…” she whispered, and then laughed at herself. Yes, she did have it bad.