Homecoming

My mother was Laertes' favorite slave. I was in her womb when she walked into the king's palace in Ithaca. Her pregnancy would have been a death sentence, normally. But Laertes liked her so much that he spared us when she begged. He was a kind man.

Then, one day, he summoned me. I must have been nine or ten. Mother looked worried, while she combed and braided my hair. She said: "This is a very important day for you – and for me. The king wants to see you. The queen spoke about you with him, she has plans. Apparently, you caught her eye. Can you think of how, or when?" I shook my head. "Anyway, he wants to see you. Now, listen carefully: Don't speak unless he asks you something, and when he does, always tell him the truth. Make a good, but not too good impression…" She made me turn around. "Look at me." She gazed at me searching, frowning. I felt uneasy. "Do you know what I am talking about?" I shook my head. "Look: you are a big girl. You will be a young woman, soon. Don't make him wonder how you will be. Be cute, but not too cute. Be nice, but not too nice… oh, you don't understand… Gods, help us…" I took her hand: "Mummy…" – "Never mind", she said briefly, "Don't be afraid. Just make a good impression. We are at the mercy of the Gods."

The king was nice to me. His knotty finger was gentle when he lifted my chin, saying: "Look at me, have no fear." My mother stood by the wall, waiting. He asked me what I had learned, how I spent my days, if I could cook this and that. He made me turn around, walk back and forth, and serve him something to drink. In the end, he gestured mother to come closer. Still looking at me, he said: "I am very pleased. Cute, well educated, good grasp. She is a very good guest gift, indeed." My mother gasped. He turned towards her frowning, but then he spoke gently, almost tenderly: "Good relations are important. The Dardanians…" – "The…" mother's voice broke. The king raised his right hand: "Anchises is a good ruler; the slaves are well treated in his house. I have spared her, have I not? I am sending her to a good house."

The king's son, Odysseus, was practicing archery in the yard. He focused on his aim.  Mother and I scurried by, unnoticed.

I saw him again when the Achaians attacked Troy. I was part of Diomedes' prey, but I got lucky. He lost me by gambling with Calchas, and the augur gave me only light chores: cooking, mending, things like that.

When Odysseus entered Calchas' tent, one night, I was massaging my master's feet. Laertes' son didn't recognize me, of course. He gestured and I withdrew swiftly into a corner. He had dreamed, he said. I wished myself away. I have never heard anything like the sound of his voice. What he said was not scary at all, but his voice turned the tent into a butchery. He said: "I don't need you to interpret my dream for me, old man. Tell me how I can go back to dream it. I've changed my mind. I should dream to the end." I remember that I wrapped my arms around my knees, breathing as quietly as possible, praying he wouldn't notice me. I knew why his slaves had such eyes, now. Never mind Achilles, Troy would burn down to the very ground.

Men are different than women. Calchas didn't flinch, even when Odysseus pressed the sharp edge of his sword against his chest. In fact, he did nothing at all. Nevertheless, Odysseus' looks changed. I couldn't tell exactly in what way; but for some reason the Ithacan became suddenly restless, unsteady.

Perhaps it had something to do with what they were talking about. Because they were talking, that, I remember clearly. It was about some kind of truth, the future, and the augur Tiresias.

I had already heard that name from soldiers, always pronounced with awe. Odysseus seemed to fear Tiresias. Every time Calchas' said his name, he become more restless. When he left eventually, it looked like fleeing.

I followed him. I do not know why. Despite the warning voices in my head, I stumbled after him, followed him to the camp limits then cowered in the shadows, waiting.

When Odysseus returned, his eyes were frightening. Nevertheless, I followed him again. He walked to the shore, sat down and stared at the ships. All the time, he kept on muttering to himself. I crept up towards him in spite of the voices shrieking in my head louder and louder to run, to make for it, to save myself. I sat down beside him. He paid no attention to me, stared at the waves, and mumbled something I did not understand.

We sat there for a long time. At sunrise, he got up, wiped the sand off his sword and called: "Patroclos, my boy! Let's get the job done! No mercy, please, today!"

He left with the other warriors. I stayed put, not knowing why, waiting. When he returned in the evening, a mass grave was a party compared to his eyes. I covered mine with my arm. I heard the thud of his sword on the sand. The voices inside my head screamed louder than ever: run! Run! Run!

But I walked up to him, the Gods know why. I put my hand on his shoulder. I said: "You do not have to do that, if you don't want to." He picked up his sword upon my last word and drove it through my body without even looking at me.

He said: "How dare you speak up to me." His voice was perfectly even. He pulled the sword out and wiped it clean with the brim of my dress. I was still standing, looking at him. He placed his left palm against my chest and pushed slightly. I fell. He walked past me.

I whispered: "You did not have to do this."

He answered over his shoulder: "Neither did you."