Laziness, Tropes, and Fantasy



The Iron Tower Trilogy, one of the quintessential examples of Diet Tolkien

With the work of George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss and the like, fantasy is slowly becoming a respectable genre again. (At least as much a genre can be respected.) It’s even gaining the praise usually reserved for science fiction. Many of these fantasists frequently mention the Diet-Tolkien of the 70s, 80s and 90s. Fantasy needs to move past Elves, Dwarves and Dragons, they say.

But does it?

Laziness can be one of the greatest factors in creating a world, provided your worldbuilding is thorough. I know this may seem like a contradiction, but bear with me here.

I’ll be the first to say that Elves, Dwarves and Dragons are overused. But I think the word people miss from that critique is “Tolkienian”. Any new changes to these races is minimal. They are still distinctly Tolkien’s creations used by a different author. But through effective worldbuilding, these tropes can become something new and exciting.

What do I mean by effective worldbuilding? Look no further than the idea of castles and dragons. Say you live in a world where giant fire breathing reptiles are in abundance. They’re often known to attack cities and towns. Why then, would someone’s first line of strategic defense be to build a tower? Building a castle in a world full of dragons makes all the sense of a man in full armor climbing to the highest peak in the land in the midst of a lightning storm to scream curses at the gods.

Think through your worldbuilding. What are the natural repercussions of such a thing? What does an immortal race do with its time? How many times can they see Men ruin everything before deciding “We’ll take it from here.” But it gets simpler than that. Ask yourselves how these people might deal with the idea of mortality. They’ve just gone outside their own Kingdom, for example, and they see just how often everything else dies. What does that do to an Elf? The outside world is simply so full of mortality, and if all they’ve slain is Orcs for the past couple hundred years, their journey to the outside world would be less than pleasant. And are you telling me creatures that have lived that long haven’t thought of using gunpowder? At least make an excuse as to why they haven’t. Maybe their religion is based on fire and ice, where fire is bad and gunpowder would be the work of Evil.

Which brings me to the next point: religion. Many people will use the trope of single god vs. dieties. Tolkien could get away with this because many creatures interacted with the gods of Middle Earth (The Valar) and so they all knew that this religion was legitimate. But if you’re going to have three races, you can’t give them all one religion. (Or one Kingdom, but that’ll come in later). To use Elves again: things that have been alive for so long may even become godlike in brainpower themselves? (And you’d think at least one of them would have thought to impersonate a deity during early-human ages)  Do they need a god? How many religions have risen and fallen? What does this say about Elves? Also, if they’re so long lived, give them more than swords at least. Be creative, dammit. You’re writing fantasy. You needn’t adhere to historical weapons. Make up your own. Give these things a if they’ve been using swords for two thousand years, I’m sure you can invent a reason why they haven’t progressed in your world. And I bet you can make it interesting and relevant to your plot.

Let’s move on to being lazy with character. I’ll stick with one archetype, like I stuck with Elves above.

Your character is a barbarian? Then use that. Don’t just make him into the same loincloth-wearing Conan ripoff seen everywhere else around the fantasy bookshelf. You’re using someone who’s never been in a civilized society. Do they have a Barbarian’s Guide to Civilized Society? What makes a civilized society? There are so many different things to be explored here. So much social commentary so ripe for the picking. Yet so many make their barbarians into simple brutes who can fight their way out of any situation. What if he keeps asking questions through not understanding, the the point where the antagonists can’t even deal with him anymore.

It would be so easy to make a barbarian character, wandering the world, and learning the ways of civilized people. It’s worldbuilding through the story. You can have him (or her. This blog does not discriminate against your barbarian archetypes. Unless you use chain mail bikinis, because fuck that.) be a gigantic brawler, but explore the implications that would have on your world. Are their countries that admire this person? Surely there are some civilized nations that can make such a man into a human weapon for conquest. What about toxic masculinity? Look no further than George R. R. Martin’s character of Victarion Greyjoy to see an example of the fantasy barbarian portrayed as an example of toxic masculinity.

This man/woman doesn’t know what civilization is. That makes him very easy to use. There are a million different ways you can throw a wrench into a trope just by thinking out the natural repercussions of this trope on the world you’ve created. Trope(x)World= An interesting twist. It’s spectacularly easy, provided you’re willing to think of ways to do this. It’s–dare I say it–lazy. And that’s not a bad thing.

Another more popular way of making a new spin on a character is inverting the tropes. George R.R. Martin did that with the Night’s Watch–criminals who are ugly and wear black are some of the most honorable characters, whereas the beautiful knights in shining armor can be some of the most despicable.

To carry this over to the barbarian: what if he were a coward? How could he be a barbarian? Is his worst fear being found out to be a coward so he’s brave when he’s got a crowd of spectators? Is that what gave him his reputation? Like I said, think of what you can do with this trope, and play it out through your world. What happens if the other barbarians find out he’s a coward? Why doesn’t he want people to know? Is there a place in this world where his cowardice is rewarded? To what extent does it go.

Lastly, we have maps. I’ll use one example on why being lazy can pay off here. You just need to ask yourself a simple question: why? Why do you need to draw a map for your world? Is it because every fantasy novel has one? Because you think you have to? Do you think you can’t show through words where everything is in relation to each other?

Now, to add a personal note: I hate drawing maps. I have only one map at my disposal and that was one I did a twenty minute sketch for and then commissioned a friend to make it look more professional. I’ve reused it a million times in a million stories for the purpose of figuring out where things lie in relation to each other. But I’ve never felt the need to show it.

But before I had that first map, I wanted desperately to avoid that. How could I avoid drawing a map? And then it hit me. Make the land fucking move like a living, breathing thing and put those goddamn mapmakers out of a job.
I would write a story where the land itself changes. Mountains crumbled and rose up in new spots. It’s something that could not be mapped, because a babbling brook in a forest could be a basin in the midst of a desert surrounded by cacti.

I called it In the Caverns of the Rock Lord. One of the first good fantasy stories I wrote.

The Avoidance of Diet Tolkien


This week I’m moving back into college. Considering I’ll be busy with that adjustment, I’ve left some articles to keep my readers busy in the interim.

Today I wanted to delve into the idea of expectations, and how it pertains to writing a good story. Considering I’ve written mostly fantasy in the past four years, I thought I’d write an on-the-spot breaking down of six tropes from the fantasy genre and a suggested inversion. The inversions of these tropes are demonstrations and I have no plans on making them into a story. If you like them, feel free to steal them. The tropes are listed as an exercise in worldbuilding via cliché inversion.

1.The Chosen One—Yeah, we all know this one. A young farm boy with aspirations of greatness is greeted by a wise old mentor who keeps important plot points from him because Terry Brooks can’t think of a better way to make his Wizard –ahem– Druid mysterious. He tells him he’s destined to save the world from the all powerful ruler of nothing-in-particular-but-still wants to conquer the world despite this gigantic setback. The hero goes off, instantly within the timespan of 50 pages he becomes so friggin’ amazing that he’s able to beat characters who have trained for forty years or more. Even Elves who, mathematically, should be better than everyone else on the planet. Enter, The Visitor.. They have no age, gender, ethnicity or anything, because people see the Visitor how they imagine the messiah to look like. Some may see a man, some a woman. They could be rich in one person’s eyes, and poor in another. They see themself as a figure in a faded black cloak, and they can never see their face. They’re called the Visitor because they’re constantly being reborn every time someone wants to destroy the world. This one killed the evil Dark Lord—Lord Vile (because fuck subtlety, am I right?), by sucking his essence into him. The ritual also placed a curse on the land—The Dead Shall Rise as All Light Dies. The Visitor travels the world looking for their former teacher, Thavian Qorik, disputably immortal wizard, to help him. He goes to Eldeglast, Thavian’s home city and the place the Visitor goes to in welcome every time they’re reborn. The Visitor has a problem—they now have Lord Vile living inside them. Lord Vile keeps trying to taint his mind and taunts him in the form of an apparition. The Visitor must either live his days with evil incarnate inside him or let him loose upon the world to end the curse. They’re traumatized. They came from nothing, found out they had powers beyond even Elven imagination, and was forced to fight in a war that they didn’t want to be in. People flocked to them just because they’re the Visitor. And now, because of him, all but a handful of the world is dead. What does that do to a person? Well such ideas will be explored in his short story, to be written in the days to come.

Now there’s a problem with our friend, Thavian.

2.THE WISE OLD WIZARD—Stop me if you’ve heard this one before—he’s a wise old man who has magical powers—the limits of which are quite ambiguous and may or may not change depending on the needs of the plot. He’s got a flowing beard and robes that hide his figure. Maybe he has a pointy hat, a staff and gray robes? Everyone looks to him for guidance? Most of what I just said is Thavian Qorik. Or at least, was. Enter the inversion of expectations: the man who claims to be Thavian Qorik is a fake. He has no magic, no power, but he’s convinced the world he’s a powerful, immortal wizard. This is an elaborate hoax that has been going on for years. In truth, there was once a wise old wizard named Thavian Qorik, who welcomed The Visitor into Eldeglast each time he was reborn. That was thousands of years ago, when the first War of Light and Dark (Because again,fuck subtlety) was fought with makeshift spears and tomahawks. Nobody knows what became of the real Thavian Qorik—some say he was an angel that returned to heaven—others say he died in the final battle. To the current Qorik, it doesn’t matter. This man was chosen from an early age to replace the former Thavian when that one grew too old. The former Thavian would be given a pension and shipped off to an island where no one would believe his story of pretending to be a legendary magician. (Though this secret order has had to kill a few Thavians over the years). This Thavian Qorik has spent years building, meeting, and earning connections all around the world. He’s more of a scientist than he is a wizard. He’s learned in the ways of magic and did teach The Visitor, but he cannot perform magic on his own. During one battle, he had a few of his connections plant fireworks beneath the battlefield. He stood on a hilltop and shouted some hocus pocus he made up on the spot. The fireworks went off and BOOM! FEAR MY POWER! Presently, in this post-apocalyptic fantasy society, he’s taken refuge in Eldeglast. His connections are slowly disappearing, dying off, or he can’t reach them because of the curse, which he has coined the DEAD NIGHT. His job is to keep up the act he’s been putting on for decades—that he’s an all powerful wizard, while his illusions are slowly fading. And it’s getting harder and harder when people are asking him why he doesn’t just conjure up some magical bullshit to keep the dead stay in their graves…

3.THE BADASS WARRIOR CHICK—This chick is the one who picks her teeth with Orc bones—she’s so much more powerful than you pathetic men and she’s not afraid to show it. You can practically hear her calling every man she meets a “Wool headed idiot.” You see her all the time getting in fights with people twice her size. She gets the sexy wounds. She’s spouting out one liners like, “You fight like a girl!” Get it? Cause she’s a girl? She has the sexy, form fitting armor complete with boob holes and nipples on the breastplate. Every attack she does is performed for male titillation. When this resident badass chick gets hurt, she doesn’t cry out in pain, she moans. She moans sexily. (Which is apparently a legitimate adverb). She’s probably had sex with, like, every guy in her platoon/infantry/whatever term it is because apparently that makes her better than women that don’t fight. She’s a strong, independent woman who don’t take no shit from no man–Okay, that part’s true. Especially because despite all the soldiers telling each other this shit about her, she doesn’t give a damn. She just keeps on going because reflecting on it will only lead to failure. Her name is Evangeline Hallow. In this Fellowship, she had disguised herself as a man on several occasions. Joining the Visitor’s Fellowship was the first time she could be a woman openly. Every time she’s been discovered she lost something. It’s implied that she killed her brother in order to serve in her army. She was caught three times before. She’s missing half her hand—thanks to a “benevolent” King who thought it would be a kindness to spare her. The time before that, she lost an eye—a man found out she was a woman and as a result he gouged out her eye. Her captain thought that was punishment enough, given her performance. The first time she lost half her foot—. In this post-world war landscape where the dead arise, she is accompanied by—

4.THE RESIDENT BADASS—This is the guy who can take three arrows to the chest and still keep fighting. He’s a tank in human form, and he won’t rest until he’s killed every motherfucker he’s laid eyes on. This guy can carry a sword that’s three times his own already-massive size. He’s got women dying for him (in more ways than one). If he’s got angst it’s male angst and manly tears. Don’t you dare think this guy has any capacity to be sensitive. This is the guy who will kill you if you look at him funny. He files his nails with a giant dirk every time he sits down for a keg of ale He’s probably the greatest warrior in his entire kingdom–which means he’ll die later on in the story–probably very soon after it’s established how much of a complete badass he is. You will not be shocked. The only tears you will cry will be out of wasted potential. His death only serves to show the main characters that shit just got real–because this dude is the best warrior on the planet and he will personally travel the world to disembowel anyone who says otherwise….at least that’s his reputation. The guy’s name is Berrik Aggraylia. He was raised in the Mountain City of Barad Yuen. His father was one of his Lord’s chief of knights, and he raised his son to fight. The problem is, his son is more like Fezzik from Princess Bride than Conan the Barbarian. He never wanted to fight—and he still doesn’t. He’s got a few daddy issues because of this. He has broad shoulders and arms the size of tree trunks. He’s bald with skin as black as ink. He carries a broadsword and a wooden shield because he’s just that cool. But he doesn’t want to fight. He’s a pacifist, for the most part, and he plays the generic role of stupid barbarian to throw people off. He’s actually quite clever. He usually uses his/his father’s reputation to force people to back down without a fight. He’s also unusually tall, which he uses to intimidate people. He’s a kind caring teddy bear who will warn anyone against joining their country’s army.

5.      THE ELF ARCHER—Oh, boy, if you hear those words and don’t picture Orlando Bloom, then I’m not sure why you’re reading this. This guy is perfect—he can shoot a bow with the accuracy of a sniper rifle. He can pick off Wargs and Orcs from a distance that defies all laws of physics—pretty much everything he does in a battle defies the laws of physics, for that matter. But who cares? He’s badass! He can surfboard a shield into an Orc’s neck, kill dozens of cannon fodder without breaking a sweat. He’ll climb an elephant and take it down single handedly just because he’s bored. He’ll be a total badass and won’t even ruin his hair in the process. Seriously? Does that guy ever get a scratch on him? He just came out of a week long siege of a fortress and his cheeks are still soft as a baby’s bottom! Yeah. This guy’s perfect at everything. But where’s the fun in that? Please remember, Elves are immortal, they’ve had a long time to think and plan for any eventual outcome. Hell, the Dark Lord should be using these fuckers to take over the land! Okay, I’ve rambled about the cliche enough. Onto my rebuttal-character. He’s an elf archer by the name of Azoc Dulu. The Elvish name their children after how they will train them. Bardag’s name translated to Battle Follower. (Yes, I’ve made up my own Elvish language. Don’t praise me for coming up with it, and don’t get angry with me for “copying Tolkien. Deal with it.) He’s been trained for centuries in using all kinds of bows and crossbows. So much so that without it, he’s pretty much inept. He’s adequate with other weapons, but his father made the mistake of focusing too much effort on one weapon. He put all the eggs in one basket. Azoc thoroughly disfigured from centuries of on and off battle. So much so that he wears an Elvish cloak that is designed to bring shadows close, so no one can see his face. During the Dead Night, he’s trying to get to Eldeglast for protection, like the rest of the Fellowship, they agreed to meet up there should anything go awry. Though he has to make a pit stop along the way–to return the body of his dwarf friend to his family. Azoc, like most Elves, are awkward among other races. He’s accustomed to long periods of silence. He takes his time with everything because of his lifespan. No time is time wasted. He sometimes forgets that humans or dwarves or other races have weaknesses that he doesn’t. The most disturbing thing is probably when he goes for extended periods of time forgetting to blink.

6. DOUR DWARF–This guy has been in everything. You know the guy I’m talking about. He might as well go through the lands of Generica wearing a T Shirt that reads SHORT AND PROUD OF IT! You’ll never see him without his axe–and sometimes one or five trusty extras. Don’t be confused by his size, though. This guy’s a tough fighter. He’s a brawler. And he hates Elves. As a matter of fact, his whole race hates Elves. Why? who knows? Probably because of some dispute that happened three thousand years ago that nobody seems to be able to get over or find peace–they won’t break into all out war, though. No, they’re too civilized for that. He’s also kinda funny. He’s the comic relief. He tells the puns. He keeps everyone’s spirits up.Next to the Chosen One, he’s tied with the wise old wizard for most overused. And nobody will shut up about this shit in front of him–and that really fucking pisses him off. His name was Averon Bael. He doesn’t carry an axe, but he’s the best dwarf to ever wield a spear. His race split half a century ago between stone masons and hunters. He’s a hunter.. They’re nearly the world monopoly on meat. Because of this, they live in the forest and since they’re not built for stealth, rely on mass attacks. Averon was a master planner, though you don’t always have much time to make plans when the dead close in around you every night. Azoc had been distracted with his own dead to keep at bay that he didn’t have time to save Averon. Currently deceased, Azoc is presently taking him to his people to give him a proper burial. As Averon was a close friend of Azoc, this is his first real encounter with mortality. Sure he saw people die all the wars of this-and-that over the years, but never a friend. And any of the other friends that have died in wars he’s probably long since forgotten over the centuries. So now, as a reminder, he’s carrying his friend’s body across the countryside to deliver it back to the Dwarves.

Crow Fodder


Crow Fodder

The girl watched the man in black, who was kneeling in a small clearing choked with dead leaves. He had been urging her to move for days now. He did not seem to concern himself with how her legs were sore and her feet hurt. She had wished nothing more than to rest. And the man had given her that, but on his terms.

He opened his mouth, and a raven crawed in the distance.

The girl sat down and rubbed her feet. She wanted to go back to her mother. But she recalled her urging that she follow the man in black. There had been fire and smoke and…no. She couldn’t let herself think about that. The man had said not to worry over a maybe.

The raven’s craw came closer now, and then there were two, and then three. The gathering of ravens settled on the man’s shoulders, forming a cloak about him, with the occasional flutter of wings.

The man stood, longsword rattling against his thigh. “Imogen,” he barked. The girl’s heart leapt. “Stand up. We need to keep moving.”

She did as he bid her. “Cormag?”


“What did you see?”

He was silent for a moment as Imogen squinted at him. “The conqueror comes, bringing men shelled in steel.”

“Are they going to kill us?”

Cormag stiffened, and then plucked up Imogen’s hand and led her along. It was scratchy, and when she tried to pull free he only tightened his grip. “All will be well,” he whispered.


The man was three days dying when they found him. He was slumped against the bottom of a hill, his cuirass bloodied and one arm swollen and disjointed.

“Do you see him too?” Imogen pointed to the dying man.

“Yes,” Cormag said. One hand on his longsword, he waded off the path toward him.

Imogen shadowed Cormag through the tall grass. As she drew closer, she glimpsed a long cut from shoulder to collarbone. Every breath wept blood.

“That’s not going to get better,” Cormag said.

“I know,” the man answered. “Damn conquerors in their craven’s clothes. Damn them twice-over!” He grunted. “I don’t suppose you know how to use that blade?”

Cormag nodded yes.

He motioned with his head to the girl “Is she yours?”

“No,” the man said. “Just a girl.”

“But you’re looking after her?”

Ravens wings bristled on his cloak. “Aye, that’s what I’m doing.”

“Do it well,” the man said. “And strike true.”

Cormag stood erect to give himself space to draw his longsword. Imogen couldn’t see beyond his implacable back. But she heard a grunt and a wet noise like a bucket falling into a well.

Cormag turned and stomped back onto the path. “Follow me, Imogen.”

She did. “Who was that?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Cormag said. And then: “I’m sorry.”


“Because you’re stuck in the midst of war. With me.”

Imogen wrinkled her nose. It was how she used to tell her mother she was upset, but Cormag didn’t seem to notice. Crestfallen, she said, “What’s wrong with you? I don’t understand.”

Ravens wings fidgeted on Cormag’s back. “We should keep moving,” he said.

On Trojan Beaches


We had gained Troy’s beaches relatively unopposed. After a small skirmish, we had set up our camps. Come nightfall, Diomedes was making music for me and the other two.

He played his lyre for the three of us. His fingers wove about the strings, making them do twirls as they sang out their notes.

He had taken the women Iphis and Deidamia from his time on Skyros. He had requested they share our tent in Troy. His reasoning had been that he didn’t wish the other Kings to discover our secret. With the arrangement Diomedes had made, the Achaeans would not be like to discover the truth.

Iphis and Deidamia held each other on a bed of wood covered in animal hides. Fingers of moonlight filtered through the tent, but they were mostly hidden beneath a deerskin, and they were half-listening to Diomedes’ music. The rest of their attention was focused on the touch and smell and taste of the other.


I laid my hands behind my head and listened to his playing. Diomedes had a talent for making music breathe, talk, and tell a tale. For a time I thought that there must be a fifth member of our company.

The last echoes of his music faded, and we sat in silence. It felt as if something were missing from the world, now that Achilles had stopped playing. Even when Deidamia spoke, there seemed an emptiness that stayed with us.

“What news from the council of Kings?”

Achilles looked away. He poured himself into the simple task of wrapping his lyre in white linen and returning it to its red-brown trunk. “The raids begin tomorrow,” he said. “Menelaus wishes to see which soldiers should prove best. He wants to know who to keep close beside his own guard when he turns his sights to the city to retrieve his wife.”

“And attacking farmers is the best way to do this?” I asked.

“Demoralizing Troy is the best way to do it,” Deidamia said from her own bed.

“That is so.”

“Will I have to come with you?”

“Do you want to?”


“Then you don’t.”

Iphis glared at me from across the room. “What is a soldier who doesn’t fight?”

I looked away, all too aware of the heat on my face. I wished to answer, but words have never come easily to me, even when I know what it is I want to say.

“Don’t be too harsh with Patroclus,” Achilles said. The look he gave her was there and gone and I wondered if I imagined it when I had blinked. But I turned to Iphis and, seeing the fear on her face, realized my lover’s anger to be true.

“Don’t be so hasty to bring your wrath down upon this girl!” I clutched a fistful of his tunic and shoved him back onto our bed, and then swung my leg up and over his hips. “Save that for the farmers you’ll meet in the morning.” I spoke the words against his lips and put mine to his neck. The smell of him—the taste of him felt familiar, yet distant. He was detached from me and all else, and so these senses came back muted. “Achilles?” I said, “What’s wrong?”

“He doesn’t want to kill farmers,” Deidamia observed.

Achilles arced his neck to look at her. A cord there drew taut. “If you are to speak, Deidamia, speak plainly.”

“Iphis, too, has spoken plainly,” she observed. She kissed her. “And yet after threatening her for this you ask me to do the same?”

“What is it you would say?” Achilles asked.

“Only that your character is made of sterner stuff than farmer-killing.”

“Odysseus called it a strong tactic. A good idea for any siege,” Achilles said.

I sifted his hair through my hands. “You do not have to like it. You aren’t required to take joy in the songs of slaying.”

He sat up and our lips met, and he fell back upon the bed. “I don’t,” he said, “Yet I am to be the best of the Achaeans. I cannot do this if I refuse to take action in the simplest of siege maneuvers. It is a battle that is not a battle.”

“A massacre?” I suggested. He twisted his hips and I fell off him, and he rolled onto his side to embrace me.

“Yes,” he said, “But if I cannot prove myself best at even that, I will never achieve greatness. The other Kings will begin to doubt me.”

“They already do,” Deidamia said from across the room. She put a hand over Iphis’ mouth to put a temporary halt to their activities. “I would not put it past the other Kings to do the same. They are Kings after all, and you are merely Prince of Phthia.”

Achilles opened his mouth to reply, but I steered his head toward me. “Pay her no heed,” I said, “She seeks to irritate you. Nothing more.”

Three heartbeats passed, wordlessly. Achilles’ hold on me grew tighter. And, after a time, he asked, “Why don’t you join me in the raids? Don’t you think I’ll protect you?”

“Would that you could,” I replied, “But my fear is that you will be too swept up in battle to do anything. I shall be left to some chance arrow, and what will become of me then?”

“I would kill whoever it was who hurt you,” he said. He held me by either side of my face. My sight tunneled towards him, and the only feeling in the world was his callused hands. I felt blisters shaped like long small olives rough against my cheeks. He pulled me forward so that his nose touched mine. “I would desecrate them, that not a soul among their kin might recognize them, and your killer would look so horrid, even Charon would shrink back at his presence, so he would never enter Hades nor walk amidst the Fields of Asphodel.”

I felt the moisture of his forehead, and his hands felt like kelp. If I were to close my eyes I would have imagined his mother Thetis had taken hold of me.

“Eros has struck this one,” I heard Deidamia from across the tent, but the moonlight no longer touched it, so I could not see her.

“This is true,” Iphis added. I could feel their gaze on us. “Madness has taken hold of him.”

“He’s not mad—” I muttered. The words bobbed and floated amidst my throat, and only their semblance managed to pass my lips. “He’s not mad. Just—just passionate.” I grappled for words, and settled on “Go.”

Both drew a breath in unison.

“There are other tents, and other beds to share. Try Phoenix’s tent. Or Ajax’s.”

“And if there are no tents to be found?” Iphis’s eyebrows went taut as bowstrings.

“I am sure you can find other ways to warm each other.” She seemed to catch my wink, because she grinned like a crescent moon. The two rose and left the tent.

Achilles arms were pincers on my sides when he wrung one hand over his wrist. He traced his fingers along me and nodded to himself. “We should sleep,” he said. “We have a long day ahead of us.”

I’m not sure if he knew the turmoil I would be facing. Despite my leave of battle, he was not wrong.

I awoke to blades of sunlight piercing the tent, and then Achilles’ silhouette granted me a brief shade. The sun splayed out behind him in golden arrows so that for a moment I feared he had wrought Apollo’s wrath.

I threw myself upon him. His welcome was that of sun-warmed bronze and a smell of sweat and leather. Achilles bowed his head. “I did not mean to wake you,” he murmured. “There are a few final things I need to gather.”

He only had to look at me and I knew what he needed. I scrambled across the tent and snatched his helmet, bristling with horse hairs. As I retrieved it, he sheathed his kopis. He left his xiphos behind. He would be riding by chariot, and he needed a longer blade.

He hefted his spear as I came over and placed his helmet over his head. He leaned forward for a goodbye kiss, and when he did this he did not smell like Achilles. This hero was alien to me.

Yet when I closed my eyes and heard him whisper, “I will return,” it seemed that all his armor had melted away, and he was Achilles again.

But I had to open my eyes.

I saw him in gleaming armor before he turned, silhouetted against the sun. His purple cloak licked the air as a sudden wind came up. I decided to take it as a sign of Poseidon’s favor at the least. With the wind came the cheers.

The men loved their hero. Their Achilles, who was not mine. I did not follow him out of the tent. I could not hear him over the roar of the crowd. Soon enough, in a rattle of spokes and wheels and a rumble of hooves I knew he was gone.

I fell back onto my bed, and an instant later sleep took me.

I awoke, expecting Achilles but found that it was only mid-afternoon. Cobwebs cluttered my brain as I climbed out of bed, and I shook them free when I exited the tent.

The cook fires were still smouldering outside, though they were more smoke than heat. I collected bits of driftwood for a new fire upon Achilles return.

The tent flaps stirred in the wind–all except one, closed as tight as the gates of Troy. I started to approach, but I heard Deidamia and Iphis on the other side, and left them to each other.

But as I turned to leave, I heard Iphis call, “Patroclus!”

I dashed inside the tent. The two were dressing in the soldiers’ tunics that were much too large for them. They looked like children playing dress up. I managed to gather my thoughts enough to say, “You called?”

“You’re concerned about Achilles,” she said, “Why is that?”

“What does it matter to you?”

She shrugged. “Can I not be curious?”

“It’s been prophesied that Achilles will not die while Hector yet lives,” Deidamia added. “That should bring you at least some reprieve.”

“No.” I denied them all further response. I’d let them make of it what they would. I turned to leave the tent, but they followed.

“You can’t just leave us with that alone! Come, there are only the three of us here for the day. Join us in conversation, if nothing else!”

They followed me into Achilles’ tent, where I turned heel and addressed them, “What if Hector turns up at one of these raids, hm? What if there was a mistake in the prophecy? What if the Hector that must live to ensure his survival is not the Hector? What then? Well? What then?

“Eros has struck you both,” Iphis’ teeth clamped down on her grin.

“No wonder you chose to stay behind,” Deidamia observed, “You think too much, such that the raid would be over the moment you hefted your spear.”

“Away with you! Both of you!” The heat in my face flared, and I forced the shout back down my throat. “You seek only to agitate me.”

“Come, Patroclus, do not take our jests to heart. We’ve been deprived of entertainment since we left Skyros. Let us have our fun.”

“You’ve had it.” So saying, I rushed forward and reached for the tent flap, that it would fall before them and bar them from me, but before I had even a chance to crowd them out of the tent, Deidamia spoke.

“Do you know why Achilles took us?”

I froze. “He’s told me it was to hide–to hide us.

“There’s hardly a need for it. It’s the worst kept secret among you Achaeans. And I doubt folk like Odysseus and Diomedes would reproach the idea of joining you in such activities.”

“Then why would he bring you?”

“I bear his son.” The words were ice in my stomach. “He will be named Neoptolemus. He will be raised amidst war, for this one can only end when my son takes up spear and sword upon the field.”

Iphis, too, seemed shocked by this. We both shrank away from her, while she stood with such straight backed pride that if she were to speak of the gods they would doubtlessly bring their wrath toward her.

“You’re lying.”

“There is no comfort in lies.” This was her only response.

“Is this true?” Iphis asked.

“Ask Achilles, should you think me false.”

As if her words were prophecy, there came an unmistakable sound of a creaking wagon and the drumbeat of horse hooves, and moments later, Achilles threw aside the tent flap and entered.

Deidamia was clutching at him, her hand coming away bloody. She bid this strange hero to tell me about his son. His cuirass was painted red and his golden hair was dark with sweat and blood. He had lost his helmet but kept his spear. A flap of something I didn’t want to think about danced on its end.

For my part, I tried to tell him of Deidamia and Iphis stirring up trouble, I begged him to return them to Skyros. But he did not seem to hear any of us. And I realized my mistake. I was caught up in my own fears and perils. I had forgotten his.

“You killed them.”

“I did.” He said nothing more, but opened his red-brown chest and took out his lyre. The white linen fell off of it like a sinking wave. I scrambled over to him. To be by his side. But he spoke not a word to me.

Instead, he played the most beautiful song I’d ever heard.

___ ___ ___


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