12. "Errand-Girl"

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Athena:

I grab Achilles by the hair,
     the long-flowing mane of fire
          that streams behind him as he runs,
     and his head jerks back,
     and his legs kick forward,
     and he lands on his butt,
     and the other men of Hellas would have laughed for days,
          had I not first fogged their minds
               to make statues of them,
                    as still and unaware as my own Palladium.

Hera may be using me as an errand-girl,
     but I can still enjoy my work.

Achilles stands tall among men,
          but still,
     he looks up at me.
"By the dancing flames in your eyes,
     I know you to be the daughter of Aegis-bearing Zeus.
          Have you come to watch me end the insolence of Agamemnon?
          Will you join me in spitting on his corpse?"

"Your anger is righteous,"
     I tell him,
"but I come from Hera,
     who treasures you both,
          and will not allow you to harm each other.
                    Not by the sword.
     But steer your anger into words,
          and you will earn gifts and honors
          more splendid than any that are demanded of you. 
Hold back your arm,
          therefore,
     and obey."

     Achilles pushes the silver sword back into its sheath.
"A man who obeys the gods
     will surely have his prayers heard."

     I cock my head.
"For what would you pray?"

Achilles paces the assembly of statues,
     examining the blank faces of his allies,
     waving a hand before the face of Diomedes,
     tweaking the nose of Odysseus,
     smiling to himself
          as he approaches Agamemnon,
          and snatches the scepter of authority from his hand
     before he turns to me.
"I have no quarrel with any man of Troy
     as I have with this man,
          Agamemnon.
He has brought Hellas to war for the honor of his brother,
     but he thinks only to enrich himself.
He seeks to restore the marriage of Menelaus to Helen
     even as he talks of casting his own wife aside for another.
I can no longer serve such a man,
     and would rather return home,
     where I am better appreciated."

     I nod.
"You wish to go home.
     I am not one to grant reprieves from war,
               but
          perhaps there is another to whom you might entreat.
     Go forth now against Agamemnon
          bearing serrated metal,
               not in your hand,
               but in your voice."

     Achilles drops to one knee,
     with the god-forged scepter as a prop.
"I hear and I obey,
     and pray that Goddess of Wisdom and Might
          shall anoint my tongue with truthful barbs."

I nod and swirl my hand
          to dispel the fog
     and turn the statues around us back into men.

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