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Warrior’s Prize: Part 3 – Chapter 48

“…look out and see

my ships on Hellê’s waters in the offing,

oarsmen in line making the sea-foam scud!”

Iliad, Book IX

(Fitzgerald’s translation)


When Achilleus sacked Lyrnessos and made me his captive all those months ago, it took one afternoon and most of a night for his ships to sail up the coast to the Achaean camp. The return journey on foot though the hills would be rugged and difficult. And so it was. Five days later, footsore and weary unto death, I came to what was left of my home. Only a few people remained, old folks and children, who lived off stores of grain the Achaeans had missed and livestock that had escaped the raid. There was wild game in the mountains and fish in the sea. A young boy and his grandmother, who lived in the hills above the town, took me in to live with them. The boy, Dymas, hunted and foraged for food while I did household chores and cared for his ailing grandmother. Eventually we buried her, but I continued to share a home with Dymas.

One day Dymas and I saw a great migration of people—all ages of men and women, as well as children. Some moved into the empty houses of Lyrnessos. Some built a camp on the shore. The men began dragging timbers from the forests and set to work with hammers and axes.

“What could they be building?” I asked.

“Ships,” Dymas guessed.

We learned they were Dardanians, led by Prince Aeneas, who had escaped from Troy. The war had been lost. The Achaeans had gone home. The gods had told Aeneas to construct a fleet and sail away, to found a new empire across the sea. Dymas decided that, when they sailed, he would go with them.

Dymas was with me in the house when my birth pains started. He ran to fetch an old woman who lived on the edge of the town. She sat by my side while pain battered me. Hours passed, and then a day, and the baby did not come. Putting her hands on my belly, she said. “Your body is not opening.” She shook her head. “Only the goddess Hera can save you and the baby. I will go to her temple to offer sacrifice.” And she left.

I lay alone, sinking into a sea of pain. I could endure no more. I saw the dark river, the old ferryman reaching his hand to me, and I welcomed him. Achilleus, I will soon be with you.

Then I heard his voice again. Look after my child.

Dymas came into the room. “I’m going to the Dardanians,” he said. “They may have a midwife who can help.” He left, returning much later with a woman who touched my brow, looked into my eyes and knelt at the foot of the bed. She reached a hand inside me. I bucked with agony. “Now!” she urged. “Push it out!” Pain tore me apart. Then I heard a loud, lusty cry. The woman said, “A little girl!”

A tiny, perfectly formed body, taut with indignation, squirmed against the hands that held her. My eyes flooded with tears.

Later, when I was resting, holding my daughter in my arms, a man came into the hut. His face, tender and concerned, leaned over mine. He had warm brown eyes, curly black hair and a beard. “Do you know me, Briseis?”

“Akamas,” I said in wonder.

I had forgotten that he was a Dardanian, one of Aeneas’s men. He told me he’d been wounded in the shoulder and left for dead on the battlefield the day of Patroklos’s death, but he had recovered. When Dymas came seeking help, Akamas heard my name and followed him here.

I called my baby girl Thalassa—the sea.

It took the Dardanians many months, but bit by bit a fleet emerged. Akamas brought Dymas and me to live in the encampment on the shore. At the hearth, at night, he told us of the tragic last days of the war. The Achaeans had left a huge wooden horse outside the city, supposedly a gift, but secretly filled with warriors. The fleet pretended to sail away. The Trojans brought the structure into the city and celebrated. In the dead of night, the warriors climbed out of the horse and opened the gates for the invading army. The people of Troy were slaughtered as they slept. Hektor’s father was killed, and even his baby son Astyanax was not spared. Andromache, Kassandra, and Hektor’s mother were all taken captive. I wept for them. Achilleus, I thought, would have opposed such a dishonorable victory.

All the things I had done—all the machinations to save Hektor, to save Achilleus, had been in vain. The gods had decreed their fate and willed their deaths. Kassandra, that sad Trojan princess, had foreseen it all. I heard her voice in my mind. You cannot go against the will of the gods, and you cannot change fate.

When the fleet was almost ready, Akamas said to me, “Come with us to seek a new homeland.” Softly he added, “I owe you my life, and more. You are very brave, very fair. I want you for my wife, Briseis.”

I agreed to go with him. Lyrnessos was a dying city. I needed a real home for Thalassa—for myself. But I was not ready to wed. There was still turmoil in my heart. Akamas had fought with the Trojans, who had killed my beloved. “One day, maybe,” I told him, “when I have had time to heal. If such a thing is possible.”

Akamas told me he would wait as long as it took.

The day came when the ships were finished, loaded and provisioned. With my daughter in my arms, I climbed the steep plank of Akamas’s ship. As the fleet sailed out of the Adramyttenos Gulf, I stared at the retreating shore until my eyes ached. All my life, my past, was fading in the mist. Then I looked down at Thalassa and found her gazing over my shoulder with her father’s eyes at the far horizons of the sea, and I felt that his spirit was with us.

There followed a long journey into the unknown. Eventually we came to a fair land far to the west, a land of fertile plains, woodlands, and rolling green hills. Aeneas and his men fought a series of bloody battles against the inhabitants to establish a kingdom there. But Akamas and I, along with Dymas and some others, sick of war, broke off from them and became wanderers, seeking neighbors with whom we could live in peace.

Though I was content with Akamas and our growing family, Achilleus remained in my heart. Sometimes I fancied I could hear his quick laugh, feel his hand on my cheek. I saw him in his daughter’s smile, the small furrow that creased her brow in serious moments. And even, at times, in her tempestuous temper, which always passed as quickly as a summer squall.


Now, many years have gone by. Thalassa stands before me, adorned in bridal finery. The sight of her fills me with pride. She is tall—taller even than her stepfather Akamas, who watches us, our sons at his side. I glance at him and smile at the love in his eyes.

Thalassa is marrying the son of the King of Etruria, a wedding that will unite our people with those who dwell here and make this land truly our home. When the king persecuted us and threatened to cast us out, Thalassa, bold and fearless, went to his court to offer herself in marriage to his son, pointing out that our people united would form a stronger nation. When the king learned that she was the daughter of the legendary hero Achilleus, he accepted the alliance eagerly.

It will be a marriage of love, for when Thalassa had met the young prince she’d known at once that he was the one. And from the way he looked at her, I could tell he felt the same.

As I lift a crown of flowers onto her head and caress the golden brown hair that cascades down her back, she smiles at me. Her eyes are blue-green, startling against the pale gold of her skin. In those eyes, in the high cheekbones, the straight dark brows, the proud lift of her chin, I see how like him she is.

She knows the story of all his deeds. Once, when she was young and angry, she asked me, “With all that happened to you in the beginning, how were you able to forgive him?”

Even after the passage of time, my eyes had filled with tears as I remembered all the sorrows and joys that had finally brought me to a place of peace in his arms. I said, “When there is love, we can learn to forgive, no matter what bitterness has gone before. That is how I came to be healed.”

Now as the tambourines and flutes begin their melodic clamor, she leads the wedding procession in her lithe, long-legged walk, not girlish at all but graceful as a panther. My heart overflows. Oh, Achilleus, if only you could see her!




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