Kat thought he would ask more questions about his death, but instead he just nodded briefly and disinterestedly. The only thing he seemed really interested in was her. “Will you tell me your real name?”
“Katrina Marie Campbell. My friends call me Kat.”
“And you are not a princess?”
Kat laughed. “No way. I’m definitely not a princess. I’m a shrink.”
“You make things small?”
“Oh, god no. I’m sorry. Shrink is a slang term for my job. I’m a psychologist. That’s someone who counsels people—helps them to be emotionally healthy. My specialty is couples counseling.”
“And this is the reason you know the spell needed to calm me?”
“Yeah, but it’s not a spell. Actually it’s not magical at all. You can even learn to do it for yourself. It’s called hypnotism. It’s just a way of being able to relax deeply and reach your subconscious mind.”
“Like the dreaming mind? That’s why, at first, I believed I only dreamed that you touched me.”
Kat felt her cheeks get warm. “Yes. Okay, I’m sorry about that. I really didn’t mean to take advantage of you. It’s just that you were so… uh… male, and when I started touching you, you didn’t want me to stop and—”
Achilles laughter was loud and long and uninhibited.
“What?” She frowned at him. Okay, she wanted him to laugh and smile more, but not at her.
He kissed her hand again. “I have not been touched by a woman in a decade and you are apologizing to me for something I think of as a miracle. You are an odd, magical woman, Katrina Marie Campbell.”
“Call me Kat,” she said. “And it really wasn’t ethical what I did. I don’t want you to think that’s how I normally behave.”
His amused expression sobered. “Are you truly sorry about what has passed between us?”
“No, I’m not sorry about what happened. I’m sorry that I didn’t talk with you about it first.”
He smiled. “And I would not have believed you, and quite probably sent you away for your own protection. No, Kat, you have nothing to be sorry for, unless you do not want my devotion and my protection and my love, because I wish to give you those three things, along with so very much more.”
Kat took both of his hands in hers and looked straight into his blue eyes. “I do accept your devotion and protection and love, and I also want something else from you.”
“Name it and if it is in my power to give it to you, I will.”
“I want you to stay out of the fighting until we’re sure you can control the berserker. And I specifically want you to stay away from Hector.”
“The prophecy said that I was destined to die after I killed him.”
Kat squeezed his hands. “Then don’t kill him! How much easier could that be?”
“At this moment I cannot imagine what could provoke me to fight Hector.” His snort was self-mocking. “I hold no grudge against Hector. I know he is an honorable man, well loved by his family and the Trojan people. I don’t enjoy cutting down honorable young men in the prime of their lives when they have done nothing to me.”
“Good. That’s settled. So we stay here together and we work on your self-hypnotism abilities.”
Achilles gave her a horrified look. “I can’t bespell myself!”
“Achilles, how many times do I have to explain to you that it’s not a spell? It’s nothing more than breathing and concentration and relaxation.”
“You really believe I can learn to control the berserker?”
“I don’t know if you can control him,” she said honestly. “What I do believe is that I can teach you how to be sure he doesn’t possess you, so that you won’t have to control him.”
Achilles got up and paced back and forth beside the bed. “If the berserker no longer possesses me…” His words trailed off.
“Then your whole life won’t be about fighting,” Kat finished for him. “Your fate would change. Is that what you want?” Her chest felt tight while she waited for him to answer.
He stopped and looked at her. “I could return to my country, marry, raise children and know love and peace and forever put war and death and hatred behind me.”
“You could,” she said.
“It sounds like a dream. The kind of unbelievable dream I had for two nights with you.”
“But it wasn’t a dream. It was real.”
“Then perhaps the future that I’d thought impossible can be real, too. Yes. It is what I want,” he said firmly.
“All right—let’s make it real.”
Achilles moved back to her bedside. “You say it like it can come true, like my fate can be changed. When you look at me like this, and speak thus, I almost believe you.”
“Believe me, and more importantly, believe in yourself,” Kat said.
Achilles bent and kissed her gently on the lips. She could feel his hesitation and knew that he was afraid to push the line of intimacy between them, which she completely understood. No way did they need a return of the berserker, especially not when Achilles’ belief in himself and his ability to fight the monster off was so shaky.
Thankfully, at that instant, her stomach let out a huge, obvious growl. Kat laughed. “I’m starving.”
“Again,” he said, with his slight smile. “I’ll have the maidservants bring—”
“Ugh, no!” she interrupted, already swinging her legs over the edge of the bed. “I need to get up—walk around—take a bath.” He looked like he was going to argue with her, but she held her hand out to him. “Could you help me with all three of those things?”
“Anything within my power,” Achilles said, taking her hand and wrapping it securely through his arm.
Kat thought she felt surprisingly good for a woman who’d been poisoned, almost eaten and in a coma for four days. By the time she’d reached the bench outside their tent, she was definitely steadier on her feet, even though she sat down and let Achilles call for food and drink. Jacky was over by the campfire with Patroklos (who Kat thought looked utterly love struck), and they both hurried over to her.
“How are you feeling? Having any dizziness? Shortness of breath? Blurred vision? Anything still feel paralyzed or sluggish?”
“Fine. No, no, no and no. Would you just relax? I’m definitely—”
But before she could finish the sentence, Aetnia rushed over to her and threw herself at Kat’s feet, clutching her ankles and sobbing.
“Oh, my lady! Forgive me! Please forgive me! I had no idea I was sending you into danger.”
Kat exchanged shocked looks with Jacky as she tried to extract herself from Aetnia’s fervent and wet embrace. “Aetnia, it wasn’t your fault. You were just trying to help me find Achilles. You couldn’t have known about those sea creature things.”
“No! It was my fault. I shouldn’t have listened to her. I am so sorry, Princess.” She sobbed brokenly.
Achilles grabbed the maidservant’s arm and lifted her roughly to her feet. “You should not have listened to whom?”
Aetnia shrieked and cringed away from Achilles, holding her hand out pleadingly to Kat. “Princess! Don’t let him kill me.”
“Don’t be silly, Aetnia. He’s not going to kill you.” Ignoring Achilles’ dark look, Kat tugged on his arm so that he let the girl go while she took Aetnia’s hand and guided her to the bench to sit between her and a scowling Jacky.
“I wouldn’t be too free with the no-one’s-killing-her promises until we find out exactly what she had to do with the attack against you,” Jacky said.
Aetnia made a mouselike squeaking sound and scooted closer to Kat. “Don’t let the witch bespell me, Princess!”
Jacky hissed at her. Aetnia screamed. Kat thought she heard Achilles growl.
“Okay! Enough! Everyone just settle down.” Kat clamped a hand on Aetnia’s shoulder to keep her from literally crawling into her lap. She pointed at Jacky. “She is not a witch.” Then at Achilles. “And he is not a monster. Now, you are going to take three deep breaths and then explain, slowly and without hysterical crying, what you’re talking about. Breathe with me.” Even though Kat would much rather shake the ridiculous woman, she led her in taking three cleansing breaths. “You’re fine. Now talk to me.” When the maidservant’s eyes skittered nervously to Achilles and Jacky, Kat did shake her shoulder. “No. Talk to me.”
Aetnia’s gaze snapped back to Kat’s. “It—it was w-when I went to the Greek camp to get your tea.”
Kat nodded encouragement. “Yes, I remember. It was nice of you to get the tea for me.” Kat also remembered that it was shortly after that Aetnia had sent her to the seashore where she was supposed to have found Achilles, but she carefully kept her expression and voice neutral. “What happened when you were in the Greek camp?”
“I saw Briseis. She was talking with a group of war brides at Acalle’s campsite. She—she was talking about you and—” Aetnia hesitated, glancing fearfully at Jacky, who curled her lip at her.
“Briseis was talking about Melia and me,” Kat said, squeezing the girl’s shoulder and forcing her attention away from Jacky. “What was she saying?”
“And why does that have anything to do with the princess being attacked?” Achilles added, in a voice he was obviously trying to keep reasonable.
Kat could feel Aetnia begin to tremble under her hand. “Just talk to me. It’ll be fine,” she said soothingly. “What did Briseis say?”
“She called Melia a witch and said she has bespelled Patroklos and might even be trying to teach you spells, too.”
Kat heard Patroklos snort and Jacky had a minifit of coughing.
“Is that all Briseis said?”
“No. She heard me ask Acalle for some of her special tea for you, and she told me that if I wanted to save you from Melia’s evil that I should be sure you go to the seashore so that Achilles’ mother, the sea goddess Thetis, could gift you with immunity to witchery. That is why I told you Achilles was at the shore. I thought only to save you, my lady! Please believe me!” And she dissolved into sobs again.
“That bitch set you up,” Jacky said. She gave Aetnia a disdainful look. “And I don’t mean this bitch. I mean Briseis.” Then she waggled her brows at Patroklos, who was standing beside Achilles. “And did you know I’ve bewitched you, Blondie Bear?”
Patroklos grinned. “Completely, my beauty.”
Jacky made kissing noises at him.
Kat ignored them, looking instead at Achilles, whose expression had become masklike and unreadable. “Wow. Briseis must really have a thing for you. She wants me out of the way big time.”
“She couldn’t want me. She didn’t. She was as all other women toward me,” Achilles said, then his expression softened for an instant. “All other women except you, Princess.”
“Would you have known it if she wanted you?” Jacky said. “Not to be insulting or anything, Achilles, but you don’t exactly strike me as an expert on what women want.”
“Don’t be mean,” Kat said.
“I’m not! I’m just tellin’ the truth. Briseis might have had a major thing for Achilles and he was clueless about it. Didn’t you say she gave you massively dirty looks in Agamemnon’s tent?”
“She did,” Kat said.
“It’s not Briseis. It’s Agamemnon,” Achilles said.
“Huh?” Kat and Jacky said together.
“Go on. Go back to the campfire and prepare food for the princess,” Achilles told Aetnia before he continued. She shot out of her seat on the bench and ran, stumbling, to the campfire. “Briseis didn’t send you to the seashore and what she believed would be your death because of desire for me. She has no power to summon sea creatures to do her bidding.”
“Agamemnon does. He has before,” Patroklos said.
Achilles nodded. “Briseis is nothing more than Agamemnon’s mouthpiece—the tool he used to get the princess into a vulnerable position.”
“But why? What does he have against me?”
“It isn’t you. It’s me,” Achilles said. “The king and I have long been enemies.”
“It’s more than just that,” Patroklos said. “Agamemnon is trying to force you to return to battle.”
“Why would he think killing me would make Achilles fight?”
“Haven’t you heard? We’ve been bespelled by both of you.” Patroklos’s smile was as boyish and engaging as always, but Kat was surprised by the dark circles she was just now noticing beneath his expressive eyes. And had he lost weight? His high cheekbones certainly looked more visible.
“So you get rid of us witches, and you two will, naturally, jump back in the battle,” Jacky said.
“Because, according to Agamemnon’s reasoning, you have nothing to live for except battle,” Kat said, meeting Achilles’ blue gaze.
“According to most people that is all I have to live for,” Achilles said.
“I’m not most people,” Kat said.
Achilles’ lips lifted at the corners. “And that is something of which I am becoming profoundly grateful.”