The door to the catwalk burst open. Kat had positioned herself between the bodies of the two sleeping warriors. At the first sight of the men, she drew a tremendous breath and let loose the most ear-shattering girl scream she could conjure. Then she rolled her eyeballs up in her head and fell down in a faint worthy of Scarlett O’Hara.
She continued to play possum as a warrior lifted her and carried her from the room amid much discussion of what could have possibly happened—the general consensus of which was that there must be divine mischief afoot. Kat slitted her eyes and peeked over the warrior’s shoulder to see the other men milling impotently around the broken gears.
Halfway to her chamber Kat roused. “What has happened?” she asked faintly. Then she gasped and began to struggle. “Put me down! Where are you taking me?”
The warrior put her down as if she’d caught on fire. “Princess, you were found in the gate room. You and the warriors were unconscious.”
“The gate room?” Kat looked hysterically around, letting her eyes fill with tears. “What are you talking about?” Noise from the battle that was raging in the city drifted up to them. Kat clutched at her throat, looking like she was going to faint again. “What is that sound?”
“Princess, the gate was opened. The city has been breeched.”
Kat let out a shriek and swayed dramatically.
“Princess, let me take you—”
“No! You have to go help them keep the Greeks from the palace! Go! I’ll find my father.” When he hesitated she added, “Hurry!” turned and whirled away down the hall. Thankfully he didn’t follow her.
Kat’s heart hurt as she made her way, playing the hysterical princess, from the palace. It was easier than she imagined it would be. Chaos ruled. There was mass panic. Women screamed, darting hysterically into and then out of the streets when they glimpsed Greek warriors. The women needn’t have worried, at least not at that moment. The Greeks were too busy engaging in bloody pockets of fighting with desperate Trojans to bother with the raping part of raping and pillaging. The stones of the city streets were slick with blood. Fire colored the dawn, turning the world scarlet.
The great front gates were wide open, belching Greek warriors. Kat pressed herself against the wall of the city, searching desperately for a familiar face. Finally she noticed a knot of Myrmidons fighting not far from her and she pushed herself through the seething mass of warriors, swallowing down debilitating fear as she dodged bloody swords and dismembered bodies.
“Myrmidons! Help me!” she cried as she struggled to get closer to them.
First one helmeted head lifted, and then another. She saw eyes widened as they recognized her.
“It’s Achilles’ princess!” Diomedes shouted. As one, the Myrmidons moved to her and surrounded her in a protective circle.
“Get me to Achilles. I have to try to reach him again.”
Diomedes’ incredulous look was mirrored in the other men. “Princess, Achilles is gone. No one has been able to reach him.”
“I can,” she said firmly. Kat grabbed the young warrior’s bloody forearm. “You have to let me try, and we have to hurry.”
“Princess, let us get you safely from this place. You can return to Phthia with us, and be honored there for the love our lord had for you.”
“Diomedes! Don’t give up on him!”
“Take her to Achilles,” said one of the warriors whose name Kat couldn’t remember.
Automedon stepped forward, nodding briefly to her. “I say take her to Achilles, too.”
“Aye,” said another man.
“Aye,” chorused several others.
“Very well,” Diomedes said. “Let’s get her to Achilles. Form up!”
Moving inside the phalanx of men was an eerily familiar sensation. With the Myrmidons surrounding her, Kat pushed easily through the gates, glad that the broad shoulders and protective shields of the men shielded her view of the mayhem. Caused by me, her mind berated her. But I’m ending the war! she shouted back at herself. At what cost? her guilt whispered.
The berserker’s roar shattered her internal struggle.
Kat pushed on Automedon’s shoulder. “Let me though—let me see him.”
The men parted enough for Kat to see that Achilles was still dragging Hector’s deteriorating body behind his chariot, but he was also engaging in the battle by picking off any unfortunate Trojan who had managed to fight his way through the city gates.
“You have to force him out of the chariot.”
“How—” Automedon began.
“Encircle the chariot. The princess and I will do the rest.” Kat looked up to see Odysseus had joined the Myrmidons. “Now. Spread out around him. I’ll protect her while you’re getting into place.”
The Myrmidons obeyed Odysseus, leaving her alone with the warrior.
“I know how you can reach him,” Odysseus said.
“Tell me,” Kat said.
“It has to be through love. Don’t think about calming him—it’s gone beyond that. Don’t try to reason with him and explain about Patroklos—he won’t listen. Just make him know that, no matter what else has happened and will happen in your lives, he can count on your love. He has to believe that you value him above everything else. That you see him as truly worthy of you will be what reaches him.”
Kat looked into the famous warrior’s eyes and knew that he was speaking from his heart, soul and experience. She smiled. “She loves you.”
In the midst of chaos, Odysseus’s eyes sparkled as if he was a worry-free boy again. “She does, indeed.”
“Princess!” Diomedes called.
Kat and Odysseus glanced up. The Myrmidons had Achilles circled. He’d stopped insanely driving the horses. Now he stood in the chariot, growling at his men.
Odysseus held out one hand to her. “Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.” Kat took his hand, gripping it hard as if Odysseus’s strength could be transferred into her body through their palms.
Odysseus led her through the circle of warriors. He stopped just inside the line of men.
“Achilles!” he shouted. “I have something that belongs to you!”
Snarling, Achilles whirled to face them. His blazing red eyes narrowed as he caught sight of Katrina. With terrible speed he stalked forward.
Kat gave herself no time to think—no time to hesitate—no time to reconsider. She squeezed Odysseus’s hand, then dropped it and stepped forward to meet the beast. She saw the flash of surprise in those blood-colored eyes, and then the surprise was replaced by satisfaction. He reached her quickly, grabbing her shoulders.
“Now, woman, I will taste you.”
Kat gazed up into his ravaged face. It had gotten worse over the past twenty-four hours. The berserker’s possession had become even more physically pronounced. His skin was stretched tight, his lips were permanently curled to expose teeth that were more fang-like than human. His head appeared bulbous, as if it were literally trying to change shape. And covering this nightmare visage was gore and filth and the putrid odor of death.
She stepped into his arms, sliding her hands up and around his grotesquely misshapen shoulders. “There is no reason for this rage, Achilles. There is no battle here.” The monster hesitated. She could feel the tremor that quaked through his body. Kat focused all the love and desire and need she had for the complex soul who was still within the tormented body—her Achilles, the man who believed he had never been good enough and only thought of himself as almost a leader… almost a husband… almost a hero… and not ever truly worthy of love. She smiled. “I love you, Achilles. It isn’t a dream. Come back to me.” Then she pulled his ravaged face down to hers and kissed him.
That Agamemnon had pronounced Patroklos’s death and had been the mouthpiece that had sealed his fate had, by that time, been but an irony and irritant to Achilles. He’d known he couldn’t escape his destiny. Yes, for Katrina’s sake he’d pretended to believe in the dream, but it had been only that, just a waking dream he’d been allowed to visit temporarily. Like all dreams, by its very nature, it must end.
He let his despair at losing Katrina couple with the pain his cousin’s death caused, breeding rage, and then Achilles gave himself over to it. For the first time he didn’t hold on to his humanity. Instead he welcomed the glowing scarlet fire of the berserker, letting the creature fill him and burn away his agony. Achilles became rage, embracing the fate that had haunted him for more than a decade. The man retreated to the farthest reaches of his soul where he waited for inevitable death to free him.
The light of consciousness had nudged him once and the man had stirred, but then rage exploded, searing humanity and blinding him again.
When the light returned it came not simply in the form of a brightness that shined through the darkness of the berserker’s red rage. This time it was Katrina’s voice, a shimmering beacon of cool water that extinguished the berserker’s fire, washing a path of love from the external to Achilles’ spirit, the man within the man.
Achilles’ vision returned to him in a shocking rush. Katrina was standing within his arms.
Completely disorientated, Achilles could feel the wrongness in his body and the hideous changes the berserker had wrought. He wanted to fling her away from him and then find a place deep within the seas where he could hide himself forever.
And then Katrina smiled. “I love you, Achilles. It isn’t a dream. Come back to me.”
When she pulled his face down to hers and kissed him, Katrina kicked away the crutches of rage that had sustained him, leaving Achilles with only his humanity and her love as his support. He wrapped his arms around her and returned the kiss.
She leaned back enough to look into his eyes. He knew what she would see. Though his consciousness had returned, his body had been ravaged, permanently changed by the complete possession of rage. He braced for her rejection, promising himself that he would fight off the berserker until he got Katrina to safety.
She smiled again, this time followed by a beautiful, joyous laugh. “I knew you would come back to me!” Kat threw herself into his arms, hugging him hard. “Achilles, Patroklos isn’t dead. I give you my word—he’s alive and well and with Jacky.”
Elated, Achilles held her fiercely. Patroklos was alive and Katrina loved him despite everything!
Then his brain processed what his eyes were seeing and he pulled gently away from her, looking disbelievingly at a world utterly changed. The Trojan gates were open wide and the city was afire. And he remembered none of it. Always before when he’d returned to himself Achilles had remembered everything the berserker had done, as if it had been a play he’d been observing. This time, there was nothing, only a charred spot burned out of his memory.
Dazed, Achilles realized he and Katrina were standing in the center of a circle of his warriors. Behind him was his chariot and tied to the rear of it was a bloody body that—
“Achilles! My friend!” Odysseus was suddenly there, grasping his forearm. “It’s true. He’s returned!” He shouted to the ring of Myrmidons, who broke ranks and approached him more hesitantly.
“What has happened?” Achilles asked.
“The princess opened the gates. Troy has fallen,” Odysseus said.
“You did this?”
“Well, I had a little help from the goddesses, but basically, yes,” Kat said. Achilles thought she looked extremely uncomfortable and wondered about the full story, hoping he would have years, decades, to ask her about it.
Then his eyes were drawn to the desecrated body. There was something about the dead warrior…
“Who is that?”
Odysseus hesitated. Kat looked obviously upset. And he knew.
“Hector. I killed him.” Achilles felt a sweep of horror. “And then I desecrated his body.”
“You didn’t,” Kat said firmly. “It wasn’t you.”
“Ah, gods! Why was I allowed to do this?” Achilles walked slowly over to Hector’s body. He bowed his head, warring with his feelings, refusing to allow the berserker another opportunity to spread more destruction. He spoke to the body. “You were a valiant warrior and honorable prince. I give you my oath that I will make this right. I will build a funeral pyre to you so great that even Mount Olympus will feel its heat.”
The stabbing, terrible pain in his leg shocked a cry from Achilles. He tried to turn around, to crouch defensively, but the spear had skewered him through the ankle, pinning him to the ground. Clutching uselessly at the deeply imbedded spear, he twisted his body and saw the young, slender man, eyes wide with hatred and madness, draw the bow and let fly a flaming arrow covered in tar.
“Die, monster!” Paris screamed.