|Posted on August 21, 2009 at 1:20 AM|
Η οργή Αχιλλέα
Achilles swung and hacked his blade in fury; blood burst through flesh, coating the wild face beneath his helm. Screams of torture filled the air, but to him it sounded like music. Achilles moved from foot to foot, his muscular legs darting across the battlefield like a dancer. He moved and swayed; fending off arrows and spears with his shield. A score of Trojans charged at him, their faces wrought with hatred and fear. Achilles let out a barbaric roar and heaved a six foot spike at their leader, plunging it deep into his gut, spilling his intestines into the dust. He swung the spear again, smashing it over the heads of two more soldiers, knocking them unconscious. Two more pounced on him, but with a flick of his wrist Achilles opened the throat of one and then decapitated the other. A snarl of rage echoed behind him, and Achilles turned just in time to see Ajax charging into the fray. Achilles smiled as the Trojan’s were bowled over by his might. Ajax wielded an enormous double-edged axe which he swung as if it were a sword. He screamed with mad delight as men fell all around him.
The Trojan host had greatly depleted. The bloodlust of the Greeks had terrified them, and even those that stayed were quickly felled by Achilles and his loyal Myrmidons. The Greek assault had been quick and merciless; scaring and confusing their enemy and then cutting down their scattered ranks like a scythe through wheat.
“Ajax”, Achilles cried. Ajax looked up, his face smeared with dried blood and tendons. “Gather your men and make your way south-east to the valley. I will meet—” Achilles ducked a swinging sword, sidestepped, and slid his sword swiftly into his aggressor’s ribs, felling him instantly. Fresh files of soldiers were approaching from the southern outpost. Achilles ducked down behind his shield and turned back to Ajax “I will meet you at the eastern outpost. Now! Make haste!”
Ajax jumped up and began to sprint sideways. He shouted orders at his troops while waving his sword in the air. The scores of Greek soldiers behind them were busily chopping at the sea of fallen bodies around them. They stopped what they were doing and immediately started sprinting after Ajax.
“Myrmidons!” Achilles shouted. The most fierce and powerful fighters looked up at their commander. “Follow me!” Achilles started towards the large wooden barracks located some 500 yards ahead of them. The fresh Trojan soldiers drew closer. Achilles leaped into the air, thrusting his shield into their leader’s armor; unsheathing his sword in mid air and stabbed the next soldier in the face. He fell over screaming. A third soldier swung at Achilles, but he fended off the attack with his sword. The soldier swung again and again and again, each time Achilles met it with his own blade. In a final act of fury the soldier swung for Achilles head. Achilles dodged it with ease, swung up and cut of his enemies arm. The Myrmidons promptly arrived and cut down the other three surrounding soldier’s effortlessness.
“Come!” snarled Achilles. The group of 20 Greeks continued on towards the southern barracks; ducking spears and arrows, and attacking any stray soldiers as they went. They had covered considerable ground, Achilles thought. The Trojan’s were not expecting such a strong and decisive attack. If they could just press their advantage now and move into the barracks, they may be able to capture the defensive outposts. The darkness was beginning to lift, Achilles noted. They had to enter the barracks before the first few rays of sunlight. It was the only way to ensure capture before Trojan reinforcements arrived. On the other hand, if they continued to advance, they may become too exhausted, and if they fail to attack before dawn, they could easily be beaten back by the defending forces. Is it worth risking everything they have achieved for something greater, or would it be better to consolidate the land they have already captured, muster their forces, and attack as soon as possible. They were close now. He looked across the field and saw Ajax’s unit storming the eastern barracks already! Achilles considered his strategies, but it was too late, he had already given the order, and besides, he was Achilles – the mighty, the savage, the immortal; the greatest warrior the world has ever seen (or so the legends say). He could not back away from a battle, and nor could he be defeated.
“Form up,” Achilles ordered as he ran to the front of the pack. The Myrmidons obediently got into battle formation. They were 100 yards away and fast approaching. An arrow whizzed past Achilles ear, but he did not flinch. Underneath that bronzed helmet was a visage carved out of stone. Blood stained it like face paint. Achilles arched his back like a lion as he closed in for the attack. His muscles were aching but tight.
“Now is the time my loyal Myrmidon’s. Show these Trojan’s who it is that they are fighting.” The fire in Achilles’ belly began to swell and sizzle. He could feel his fury building. “Let them tremble before our might. Let them beg for mercy from the gods, and let us deny them an ounce of pity. Unsheathe swords!” This was met with a chorus of “Shhhings!” The barracks was upon them.
“NOW my bothers! ATTACK!” Achilles roared. His voice sent fear into the hearts of men. The Myrmidon’s charged like lion’s, quickly consuming the defending soldiers. A choir of screams and smashing steel echoed into the upper floors of the barracks. Achilles ducked and swung his sword—pivoting, dodging, slicing, hacking—he weaved in and out of the brawl; dancing his deadly ballet.
“Shut the gate! Shut the gate! Achilles is upon us!” shouted a voice from deep within. Achilles ran forth alone, sprinting into the barracks and cutting down the three guards in his wake. His heart pounded and acid flowed through his veins. The thrill of the kill had engulfed him. He made for the staircase, killing soldiers as he went, a look of mad delight coating his hidden face. The thunder of his troops boomed behind him.
“To the top of the tower!” he cried out. Achilles barreled up the stairway felling soldier after soldier. He swung his sword from left to right, running with the speed of the gods. The blood of the guards gushed down the stairs. He neared the top of the tower, not waiting for the others to catch up. Suddenly he was ambushed by a group of five soldiers. He ducked the first one and stabbed the second. He rolled over, quickly slitting open the third soldier’s calf, forcing him to the ground. Achilles stood up again, backing away slowly … considering his next move. Then, without warning, he lunged forward stabbing the fourth in the neck, twisted around, swung high, and decapitated the fifth. Without thinking he quickly slashed the other two wounded men. His Myrmidon’s now arrived, out of breath and covered in blood.
“Quickly”, Achilles panted, “we must secure the fort before dawn. Pheonix, you go with Fortron and Remses, and make sure the gate is well locked. The rest of you, comb through the barracks, kill any remaining Trojans and pile the carcasses in the bottom floor. Patroclus, you stay with me.” The Myrmidon’s quickly filed out, leaving Achilles and Patroclus alone in the top floor. A look of annoyance began to creep across Patroclus’ face, but he quickly counseled it. Achilles sensed it but said nothing.
“Hand me those flags,” he said quietly. Patroclus obeyed. Achilles took the colored flags over to the lookout. His eyes made out the eastern fort in the distance. He couldn’t see Ajax’s soldiers around it, and feared they may have been beaten back by reinforcements. But then he saw the outline of two flags waving over in the distance. Achilles waved back. The eastern and southern barracks had both been captured.
“The defensive outposts are ours,” Achilles let out a sigh of relief, slouching to the ground, “as long as we can hold them for at least another hour.” The raging bull inside him subsided, and ee looked up at Patroclus – his beloved cousin.
“You fought well today” he said. Patroclus smiled. “Don’t worry, you’re time will come. Some day you will command the strength of thousands. Some day you will shake the earth with your fury, but not yet. You are still young Patroclus.” Patroclus nodded wearily.
“Some day I will be like you.” Achilles’ smile faded. I should hope not, he thought, but said nothing.
The tide lapped rhythmically against the shoreline, and the cool ocean breeze felt good against Achilles’ aching muscles. He stood at the back of the king’s tent, his amour hung loose; patches of pale bronze showing through the layers of dry blood and mud. He cradled his helmet in one arm, gulping the fresh air like a babe at milk.
“Achilles,” bellowed the king. “Come forth.” Achilles said nothing, but walked forward, past the lines of guards and counselors, stopping a few feet before Agamemnon’s golden throne. “What have you to report?”
“Last night, as planned, we launched a minor assault on the Trojan sector of the beach. My Myrmidons and I attacked their camps after dusk, spreading bloodshed and anarchy throughout their ranks. Ajax and his army then moved in from the west, storming the campsites, causing them to retreat and regroup. We advanced on them immediately, pushing them into the valley and over the threshold. We fought hand-to-hand combat for several hours, and then Ajax and I combined what was left of our forces and pushed the Trojan’s back to their barracks. Close to dawn we broke through their ranks, and stormed the outposts. Ajax and I secured the eastern and southern barracks respectively, and sent out messengers for reinforcements. Trojan support units arrived shortly after sunrise, but we held them off until our backup arrived, driving them deep into the valley, and fully capturing the Trojan’s outer defenses.” A chorus of hushed whispers had erupted around the tent. Achilles smiled. Agamemnon remained still. He stroked his silver beard. His wrinkled face sagging below the weight of his faded crown. The king’s expression was ever in a state of fixed contortion, as if it were struggling to breathe. After a short while Agamemnon held up his hand for silence.
“You have … done well … Achilles. This has been a great victory for Greece. You will be well rewarded for your obedience and your ongoing loyalty.”
“Keep your gold Agamemnon” Achilles replied, slightly insulted. “I have no use for it, and as for my ‘obedience’ and ‘loyalty’, consider them non-existent.”
“Why do you speak such words to your king Achilles? What have I done to offend thee in my praises?” Agamemnon chose his words carefully.
“Understand this, I have no king,” Achilles snarled, “and I do not fight for you or for Greece. I fight for my self, for my own glory.”
“Stay your tongue boy, for my patience has its limits. You have contributed a great victory towards this war, but you are still only one soldier in my army. Therefore, you will pay homage to me.”
“My men and I have conquered more land in this past day than your entire army has managed in a year,” Achilles mocked, “you should pay homage to me.”
“Kneel before me and I will forgive you these indiscretions, but continue to test me and you will regret it.”
“Don’t you dare threaten me Agamemnon!” Achilles snapped back, ripping his sword from its sheath and sticking it out in front of him. “I do not kneel before the gods, so what makes you think I will submit to a man? King or slave, any man who menaces me is a corpse.” Three guards had surrounded Achilles and the court guests had backed away. Achilles stood his ground, his eyes transfixed on Agamemnon. The king shifted uncomfortably in his throne.
“Achilles … I will ask you one more time, submit to my rule.”
“Never!” Achilles lunged forward, sword in hand.
“Stop!” cried a voice from the sidelines. “That is enough. No one wants this.” It was Odysseus, king of Ithaca, and the most cunning of all warriors. Achilles turned his head to Odysseus and smirked. “Achilles, lower your sword, it is not worth dying over such a trivial deed.” Odysseus had stepped forward, holding his palm out in an expression of diplomacy.
“Perhaps it seems trivial to you Odysseus, but it is everything to me,” he turned back to Agamemnon. “I will never call you my king, but I will fight your war. Not for Helen of Sparta, not even for victory in Asia Minor. I fight this war for the glory of Achilles. I fight so that when the great cities have fallen and the great king’s have turned to dust, I will still be remembered. The name and deeds of Achilles shall echo in eternity.”
“King’s are remembered,” Agamemnon shouted, standing up off his throne. “King’s are erected as statues, and carved into the walls of cities, and recalled in the tales of old. Not soldiers.” Achilles glared at him.
“You cannot win this war without me Agamemnon, and until you apologize for your arrogance and pay honor to my victory, my Myrmidon’s and I shall withdraw from battle.” Achilles sheathed his sword, turned, and began to walk towards the exit.
“How dare you show your back to me!” Agamemnon boomed. “Come back here this instant boy.” But Achilles had already left the tent and was making his way along the beach. The ocean lay calm by his side. The night sky hung dormant above his head.
* * *
Achilles entered his tent and sat down. I have just defied the King of Mycenae, he thought, should I really be so calm. He placed his helmet on his bedside table, and his sword and shield on the ground next to it. He began wearily to undo his armor when he heard footsteps approaching from the beach. Odysseus entered the tent and was followed closely by his long shadow.
“Your problem,” he said. “Is that you don’t fear anything.”
“I’ve always thought that was a quality valued among heroes,” Achilles replied, sitting down on his mattress. He started to unbuckle his shoes. “Wasn’t Hercules fearless?”
“Yes, and now he is dead. You see Achilles fear is useful sense; it focuses our instincts. The cunning warrior uses fear as an instrument of warfare; he withdraws when his enemy advances, and attacks when he relaxes.”
“I am familiar with the arts of war,” Achilles snapped back, placing his boots neatly by his sword. “Did you come to lecture me on my throne-side manner, or do you actually have something useful to tell me?”
“Do you think,” Odysseus continued. “I have survived this war for so long because I go around threatening kings at the slightest insult to my pride? You know I don’t give a damn about Agamemnon, but I do care about my family and country. I fear what will happen if I make enemies with the most powerful and aggressive man in Greece. The difference with you is that you have nothing to lose,” he chuckled.
“Go away Odysseus, I’ve had a long day—conquering the Trojan defense outposts and making enemies with the king of Mycenae— and I’m very tired … so if you don’t mind …” Achilles waved the back of his hand casually towards the tent’s exit.
“Achilles, are you really going to withdraw your Myrmidon’s?” Odysseus said with a serious tone. Achilles sat up.
“Yes,” he said after a while. “I will not submit to that beast. He risks the lives of 50, 000 men for the sake of retrieving one cheating harpy.”
“Now we both know that wasn’t the reason we marched to war. Agamemnon has been trying to find an excuse to challenge Troy for years. He has most of Greek under his control and it was only a matter of time before he moved to conquer the east. Troy is all that stands between him and Asia Minor.”
“So we die for his glory.” Achilles said bitterly. “A man must forge his own destiny,” he whispered to himself.
“Hmm,” Odysseus said thoughtfully. “Well I’m sure my wife would feel safer with you by my side, but I think I understand your motives. Still, you must know Agamemnon will never apologize; he is far too proud … just like you. I bid you goodnight.”
“Goodnight Odysseus” said Achilles, as the armored figure diminished into the night. At last he was alone.
Achilles drew in a deep breath, releasing it slowly. A wave of exhaustion swept over him, and he suddenly realized that he hadn’t slept in three days. He keeled over onto his mattress, falling asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. Achilles’ weapons, boots and armor lay on the floor next to him. The tent door flapped open in the night breeze, and his body curled the blanket over him, snuggling itself up into a ball.
The dry, black soil scratched the soles of Achilles’ naked feet. He felt icy cold, and could hear lapping water in the darkness ahead. He feared to approach its basin, but the shadows of the deep were now pawing at his arms; their freezing grip tightening if he should ever linger. He strode forward, choosing to face the unknown evils that lay waiting before him, than to stay and be smothered by the evils that lay already around him.
“Achilles,” whispered the spirits of the dead. “We are … waiting, come to us … Achilles.” A breath of frosty air escaped his lips. Floating blue candles were now visible in the distance.
And then it emerged from the shadows, sprawled out before him from behind the creeping thorns. A great, silver lake cutting through the dark; a thick layer of mist hung loosely above its surface. Achilles began to shiver uncontrollably.
“The River Styx,” he breathed.
“Come to us … Achilles … soldier of the DAMNED.”
Achilles woke up with a shock, grabbed the figure by his bed, and drew a knife to his throat.
“My lord,” the young boy choked. “I have a message from Ajax.” Achilles shoved the boy onto the floor. He reached for his face and found cold sweat pouring down his face. “What was that about?” he thought to himself.
“My lord,” the boy repeated, interrupting Achilles’ train of thought.
“What!” Achilles growled, climbing out of bed and reaching for his boots.
“It’s about the defense outposts. Ajax has sent me to tell you that the Trojan’s are marshalling an attack on the eastern barracks, and it is rumored that Prince Hector himself is leading the assault.
“‘Prince Hector’,” Achilles repeated mockingly, “‘the greatest warrior in Troy’. What I would give to meet him.”
“It may happen sooner than you think, my lord. Ajax and the other Myrmidons believe that the Trojan’s are launching a counterstrike to take back the outer defenses. He has requested that you gather the rest of your Myrmidons and come to the southern barracks. He has also requested from the king 200 fresh men to reinforce the wall.”
“You tell Ajax,” Achilles said, making his way outside. “That because of actions carried out by the king, I have withdrawn from fighting, and when you return to the barracks give my Myrmidons the order that they are also to withdraw from fighting and return to the beach.”
“But my lord,” the boy cried. “The Trojan’s are preparing a major offensive.”
“Are you defying me?!” Achilles growled.
“No my lord,” the boy replied quickly. “I will deliver the message.” He bowed low and exited the tent.
Achilles reached for a blanket, wrapping it around himself, and strolled out onto the beach. It was a clear morning and the water gave off a beautiful blue glow. A sea of tents stood on either side of him, with Greek soldiers running around frantically; jogging in groups up to the plateau; practicing with wooden swords; commanders shouting orders over the dull roar of voices. Many men sat on chairs outside their tent, fastening their armor, eating their breakfast of oats and berries, or writing casually on scraps of paper. Some just sat there, looking longingly into the west. It was hard to believe these were the same bloodthirsty soldiers who had conquered the beach of Troy or sacked the Temple of Apollo. They looked so calm, even happy.
Achilles began to walk towards the lapping tide. As he did, men stared at him in awe; some nodded, some bowed; but no-one spoke. He heard them begin talking again once he had passed them by.
The Mediterranean Sea glistened in the morning sun; its surface sparkled like a host of waving spears; its deep blue color echoing the vastness of its depth and memory. Far beyond its might laid the ferocious Greek Empire. The tide rolled in, wetting Achilles’ toes, and then receding once more. Further south of the coast stood a massive armada of Greek vessels; at least 500 wooden ships lodged into sand, or anchored out in the bay. Achilles turned and began to tread north along the shoreline. Gulls squawked and landed up ahead. They gathered around the outer tents, scavenging greedily for food scraps.
My Myrmidon’s will not be happy with me, Achilles thought, to withdraw them from combat at such a critical point in the campaign. Nevertheless, they will obey my orders without question. The Myrmidons were the elite fighting force of the Trojan War. Though there was only 50 of them, they were comprised of the most skilled, disciplined and fiercest warriors in Agamemnon’s entire army. However, the Myrmidons were not loyal to the king; they were only loyal to Achilles – their commander and teacher. And Achilles trusted them with his life.
Achilles continued along the beach, a blue blanket draped over his broad shoulders; his matted, blonde hair waving in the cool eastern breeze. Gouts of dry blood and mud still stuck to his skin in mounds. Achilles smelt himself and recoiled in disgust.
“I need a wash,” he thought out loud. Achilles let the blanket fall to the sand and began to wade into the water.
* * *
After his wash Achilles returned to his tent for breakfast. He ate two slices of honey loaf, some grapes, a bowl of dry oats, and drank a mug of fresh milk. At noon he jogged up to the plateau and practiced his fencing for an hour or so, before retiring to the beach for a swim. Achilles noted how quiet and desolate the campsite looked compared to the frenzy of the morning. Upon finishing his afternoon swim, Achilles found his Myrmidons awaiting his return.
“Enjoying your day off,” Patroclus shouted from outside his tent.
“Very much, cousin,” Achilles replied, toweling his hair. “At ease,” he said casually to the other soldiers. Patroclus looked stunned by his calmness.
“You do realize Prince Hector is leading an assault on the wall?”
“Yes,” Achilles replied. “I was informed.”
“Then why!—” Achilles looked up with a jolt, and Patroclus quickly composed himself. “Then why, my lord, did you order us to return to the beach?”
“Because Agamemnon demands that we submit to his rule,” Achilles said more seriously. “And until he apologizes for his arrogance, and pays tribute to our victory over the Trojan defenses, we will not fight for him. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, my lord,” the Myrmidons said in unison.
“Good,” Achilles said, entering his tent.
“But, my lord,” Patroclus said, following him inside. What are your orders until we recommence fighting?” Achilles sat down on the bed and sighed.
“Continue to train; practice your sword skills amongst one another, and exercise regularly. But use this time to rest your muscles. Get plenty of sleep, eat well and by the time the enemy is upon us, you will be ready and willing to meet him in battle.” Patroclus started to say something but stopped himself. He looked around the inside of Achilles tent. Grey clothe lined the interior. In the far corner lay a stout feather mattress, upon which Achilles sat. Swords, shields, and parts of armor lay scattered across the dirt floor, or propped up against furniture. A small table stood next to the bed, with a bowl of purple grapes, which Achilles kept picking at.
“How long do you think we will remain neutral Achilles,” Patroclus spoke.
“I couldn’t tell you, dear cousin,” Achilles voice became soft and gentle. The air fell silent once more. Achilles had raised his younger cousin from a very tender age, and so he had always loved him as a brother, and felt an immense need to protect him from harm (a fact which Patroclus long lamented). Patroclus idolized Achilles, and did everything possible to please him. The two had fought many wars together, and were rarely separated. And though Achilles loved all of his Myrmidon, he trusted no-one more than Patroclus.
“Go now, Patroclus, get some rest. I’ll see you in the morning.” Patroclus bowed low and exited the tent.
* * *
“Come to us,” the spirits howled, even louder than before. The blue lanterns floated forward from across the silver lake. Achilles trod forward, stopping some feet before the shore.
The shore was empty, but for a lone wooden boat sitting in the water, tied to the root of a charcoal tree. It had enough room for two travelers. Suddenly Achilles was aware of a figure behind him. He spun around, grappling for his sword. But the chill in the air had stuck the blade to the inside of his sheath. The cloaked figure emerged from the darkness. Its face and limbs were covered by a torn black coat. It approached the terrified Achilles with an outward arm. A feeling of overwhelming dread consumed him. The air around him seemed to freeze, and a shrill, deathly voice echoed through the embankment.
“To cross the river,” it whispered. “You must pay the toll.” The black figure extended its cloaked arm, and a white boney hand opened before a shaking Achilles. “Pay the TOLL!”
Achilles woke up with a fright, cold sweat pouring off his face. He looked around to assure himself that it was just a dream. The night breeze shook the tent and Achilles unclenched his fist. Thunder boomed above his head.
“A storm is coming,” he breathed.
Days past, and Achilles and his men continued their defiance of the king. The Trojan assault had not yet been launched, so Ajax and Agamemnon continued to reinforce the outer defenses, but since fighting had broken out in the valley, their men and supplies was stretched out over two fronts. Also, since Achilles had withdrawn from fighting, the morale of the Greeks had greatly decreased. His fury and passion for victory was what spurred them on, not Agamemnon’s orders. Ajax was a mighty warrior, but he lacked Achilles’ ability to strategize. The Myrmidons continued to train vigorously, giving the soldiers stationed on the beach courage to go on.
Achilles, however, continued to be tormented by images of death during the night. The peace he had felt after returning from the frontline was beginning to lift. He could feel his lust for blood building up inside him; that unbearable rage which slaughtered men by the hundreds was grasping at his soul. He needed to fight; to spill blood; to silence screams. It was all he’d ever known. It was all that could keep the nightmares at bay.
One morning Odysseus sprinted into Achilles’ tent; out of breath and drenched in sweat. Achilles woke up in shock.
“The Trojan’s have attacked!” he cried. Achilles wiped his forehead and sat up.
“The Trojan’s have attacked the defense outposts. They launched a full-scale assault—at least 10,000 men—,” he panted. “During the night Prince Hector charged legion after legion of soldiers into the eastern barracks. We had no idea—we were transferring troops to the valley … and then … he broke through in less than an hour and quickly took over—”
“Where was Ajax?” Achilles cried out in disbelief.
“Ajax was in the southern barracks. Once the Trojans had captured the eastern barracks, they signaled a second onslaught from the hills. They held the barracks under siege for most of the night. We kept killing them, but more arrived. Hector then lead a third attack from the north. They broke through around dawn and stormed the keep. A fierce duel erupted between Ajax and Hector at the gate. Ajax was mad with rage, but Hector was too quick … he managed to stab Ajax in the ribs, and then cut off his arm. But still Ajax fought like a beast of Hades. He swung his axe, hacking his own men to pieces in his anger. Hector ended it with his blade – he decapitated Ajax.” Achilles could not believe his ears. The Trojans had infiltrated the defense outposts, and Prince Hector had killed the mighty King Ajax … in less than a night.
“What … what happened?”
“Reinforcements managed to arrive before Ajax had fallen, and we were able to beat the Trojan’s out of the southern barracks, but it is only a matter of time before they push in once more. Also, the Trojan’s have broken through the valley, and fighting has erupted just west of the plateau. The eastern barracks remains in Trojan hands and they are using it as a base to unleash wave after wave of soldiers. Achilles, you must gather you Myrmidons and come to our aid!” There was silence. Yells and clangs of swords echoed in the distance. “Forget Agamemnon’s pride, if the Trojan’s make it to the beach it will all have been for nothing. Think of Greece!”
“No Odysseus. Not this time.” Patroclus entered the tent in a hurry.
“What’s happening?” he cried.
“The Trojan’s have broken through the outer defenses. Ajax is dead.” Achilles replied grimly.
“What?! We must help them cousin.”
“We have withdrawn from fighting Patroclus, until Agamemnon himself begs for forgiveness, we will not fight.”
“But Greeks are dying,” cried Patroclus.
“Greeks are always dying! I have ordered the Myrmidons to remain neutral, and until I order anything different, that is how they shall remain. Do not ever defy me! I am your commander first and your cousin second.” A look of anger coated Patroclus’ face, but he left without saying a word. Achilles turned back to Odysseus, who looked slightly uncomfortable.
“That is my answer.” Odysseus nodded disappointedly, and turned to leave. “And Odysseus, I’m sorry.” Odysseus nodded again and then exited the tent. Achilles sat back down on his mattress. The sounds of battle sounded in the distance. Yells and screams; smashing steal and shattering shields; war cries and cried for mercy. Achilles longed to enter the fray, but he could not submit to the king. And besides, if the Greeks were defeated, it would only reaffirm how much Agamemnon needed him.
So, Hector, it seems that I have underestimated you, Achilles thought. It takes more than a prince to storm a keep … it takes a warrior. Still, as fierce as Ajax was, he lacked any true sword skills. In a one-on-one duel, any fighter agile enough to dodge his axe strokes and skilled enough to stab his open flesh, could gradually take him down. Still, Ajax was strong, and would fare well against any one of my Myrmidon, accept myself of course. We will meet, soon enough, Achilles promised the darkness.
Achilles remained seated on his bed; too scared to sleep again, should the battle spill out onto the beach; but to afraid to exit the tent, should his desire to fight overcome him. So he sat there till morning … daydreaming of a silver lake.
* * *
By dawn, the fighting had died down. A boy entered Achilles tent, and saw a grim figure sitting on the end of a bed.
“My lord,” he spoke. “You have been summoned to the king’s throne.”
“Thank you,” replied the figure.
Achilles made his way across the beach to the king’s tent. The Greek campsite was a mess; tents were broken and scattered over the sand, and soldiers ran frantically up to the plateau.
“Achilles,” bellowed Agamemnon.
“Yes,” replied Achilles approaching the golden throne.
“You look terrible … er … anyway; I have summoned you here to ask if you are ready to recommence fighting.”
“You know what I want,” he replied.
“Achilles,” Agamemnon said gently, shifting in his throne. “The defense outposts have been captured. The fighting in the valley and the plateau has been stabilized, but the Trojans have gained strategic advantage. Everything you fought for has been lost. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
“I fight for myself, and I still stand. That’s all that matters. Now unless you have brought me here to forgive you, I’ll bid you farewell.”
“Me? Apologize to you?” Agamemnon burst out. “I am your king, you must obey me! Come back here you fool!” But Achilles had already left. The tent door flapped close and Agamemnon sat back down with a sigh.
“I cannot control him,” he thought out loud. “He is too dangerous to keep alive.”
“Perhaps, my lord,” spoke one of Agamemnon’s counselors. “We don’t need to control him. Perhaps we need only unleash him on the Trojan’s.”
“But how, Paleus, the man doesn’t want to fight.” Paleus leant in, so that only the king could hear him.
“Achilles seems to have a loving relationship with the young Myrmidon—
Patroclus is it—they are cousins you see. If young Patroclus were to be persuaded to, say, lead the Myrmidons into battle, he may be killed without Achilles’ protection. A tragedy like this would enrage Achilles beyond belief, and he may rejoin the fight … arrogance or not.”
“Hmm … yes Paleus, have the Trojan’s themselves provoke their own destruction,” Agamemnon whispered. “But it will take some convincing for the boy to disobey his commander.”
“Perhaps, but I have heard that several of the Myrmidon’s are less than happy with Achilles’ order to withdraw, especially now that we have suffered such a grand defeat, and Patroclus has ever wanted to prove himself in the eyes of his kin and his cousin.”
“Very well,” spoke Agamemnon. “Bring forth the boy.”
The river Styx glistened like a pool of silver glass. The deathly boatman waited, his boney hand out held. Achilles stood, frozen with fear. The blue lanterns floated just beyond the water edge, their ghostly voices echoed out from across the brink; shrill and horrible.
“Come to us … Achilles, we’ve been waiting … brother.”
“You must pay the toll,” demanded the boatmen, edging forward. Achilles tried again to draw his sword, but again it was stuck to its case.
Then, from across the water he saw them – the faces of the dead. He saw limping corpses; rotting skin clinging lifelessly to their dull, grey bones. Their yellow eyes sunken deep into their cracked skulls. There were hundreds of them; thousands. They moaned and screamed, and they each held out ancient lanterns in their hands; each concealing a blue flame. They called for him to join them. They were the men he had killed in his life—in battle, in wrath—and they called for him as brothers do.
“Achilles!” Phoenix called, shaking Achilles awake. “Achilles, my lord, the Trojans are upon us. Their forces have broken through to the beach! Hector is leading them.” Achilles sat up.
“What? This can’t be!” Achilles said in shock. “We … we must gather the Myrmidon and make for the hills. It is our only chance—”
“The remaining Myrmidon are assembled outside, but—”
“‘Remaining Myrmidon’,” Achilles interupted.
“We thought the ceasefire was over. We thought you were leading us into battle.” A horrible thought suddenly occurred to Achilles.
“Pheonix,” Achilles said with calm intensity, grabbing him by the shoulders and looking him in the eyes. “Where … is … Patroclus?” Phoenix looked afraid.
“We thought he was you. He bore your armor and summoned us into battle. He even fought like you.”
“Where is he?!” Achilles roared, drawing a knife to Phoenix’s throat.
“Patroclus is dead. He was killed by Hector.”
“NOOO!!!” Achilles screamed, slitting Phoenix’s throat. He grabbed the closest sword he could find, and darted out of the tent. “My chariot! Where is my chariot?!” No less than 40 Myrmidon stood waiting outside for him.
“My lord,” Fortron cried. “Your chariot is here, but what are your orders?” Achilles boarded his wooden chariot, placed his double-edged sword by his thigh and grabbed the reigns of his two black stallions. He looked out across his fully armored, fully equipped soldiers, all ready and willing for battle. “We fight!” he cried, and was met with a choir of cheers and applause, not just from his own troops, but from the surrounding soldiers as well.
“But my lord!” Fortron called over the noise. “You have no armor or shield. You’re not even wearing boots.”
“All I need is a sword. YAH!” he cried, pulling the reigns. His chariot accelerated forward, and his Myrmidon quickly assembled themselves around it.
A burst of passion and rage had surged through Achilles’ blood. All he could think of were those last horrible words, “Patroclus is dead. Hector killed him.” His grief for his beloved cousin’s passing had almost instantly transferred into anger towards his murderer.
“Hector,” Achilles whispered bitterly. “By the power of the gods, if it’s the last thing I ever do it will be to kill you. I will make you suffer more than any man ever has.”
Achilles moved west across the sand. Around him Trojans and Greeks fought in huddled groups. Most of the tents had been knocked down and set aflame. It was mid-morning, but the sun had been blocked out by a great host of storm clouds.
Achilles and his Myrmidon galloped over the plateau and into the frantic battle. Soldiers were everywhere; fighting, killing and dying in the thousands. It was hard to distinguish one side from the other, in the moving, breathing ocean of metal and flesh. The Myrmidons ran ahead to clear the way. They swung and slashed and hacked like mad things; like warrior-gods they fought.
“Achilles has returned!” cried the Greeks in triumph. And they fought harder than ever, pushing the Trojan tide backwards. Achilles’ chariot galloped forward, he picked up his sword in one hand; holding his reigns in the other and charged. He knelt down, dipped his swords into the battle and swung; killing and killing and killing.
Heads flew and blood exploded around his chariot. His Myrmidons soared on, killing any soldier that escaped Achilles’ blade. The other Greeks gathered around him, and spearheaded through the Trojan ranks. Terror ran through the Trojan lines and the fear of death overcame them. Some hesitated and were killed; others fled to the hills or the valley; and those brave enough to fight were cut down by the advancing Greeks.
Achilles and his men continued on through the mayhem. They killed men in scores, and drenched themselves in their blood. They roared with anger and laughed with mad delight. But through it all Achilles never stopped searching the battlefield for his true enemy – Hector.
“Where are you?” He spoke to the advancing hoards. “Where are you HECTOR!” he roared, splitting a random Trojans head down the centre. Then he saw him …
In the distance sat Hector upon his kingly horse, shouting orders to his frantic soldiers. Achilles forgot about the battle and veered his chariot off into the right. He whipped his horses and galloped onwards.
“HECTOR!” he called out. “I’m coming for you.” Achilles summoned all of his strength and hurtled forward. The great storm clouds churned and galloped across the sky; choking what little sunlight there was left, and blackening the earth.
“Myrmidons!” he called back, “to me!” His men sprinted to their commander, quickly surrounding his chariot and advancing through more Trojans. The enemy was all around them now, yet the Trojans were so scared that they might have been ten lions among a thousand sheep. Lightening struck and thunder roared, but it was nothing compared to the storm rolling within Achilles belly.
“YAH! YAH!” he bellowed, and his horses galloped faster, as did his Myrmidons; now struggling to keep up. Achilles kept his eyes fixated on Hector, who had now become aware of his advancing foe.
“Reform the lines! Reform the lines!” Hector ordered his men. But most of the Trojans were hysterical with fear by the sudden change in battle, and those willing to fight were unprotected by their fellows and could not form a proper defense structure. Achilles, the Myrmidons, and the rest of the Greek soldiers had now gathered so much ground and momentum that they simply sliced through the Trojan ranks. Achilles approached his enemy alone; his Myrmidons had been left far behind.
“Face me Hector!” he roared. Hector raised his head in fright, and saw the legendary warrior barreling towards him with the fire of Hades in his eyes. He looked around at his scattered men, most of them delirious with fear, and then back at the host of mighty Greeks, galloping towards him with god-speed. Hector tugged at his horse’s reigns, turning back towards the west.
“YAH!” he cried, and galloped away from the battle.
“Come back here Hector! Face me like a man! COWARD!” called Achilles. He ignored the other Trojan’s and charged his chariot through the final rank of cowering soldiers.
“Prince Hector has fled!” chanted the Greeks. “He flees before the might of Achilles. He flees because we are victorious. Hail Achilles! Hail Greece!” But Achilles heard nothing, save the pounding of his own heart, and saw nothing, save the retreating Hector – his enemy; his prey.
The sounds of battle diminished behind him, as Achilles rode west towards the outposts. The clanging of swords and shields was replaced by the hacking of flesh and meat. The battle had become a massacre. The Greeks had won for sure, but this meant nothing to Achilles.
The fleeing Hector had passed the defense outposts, some hundred yards ahead, and kept riding. He called to the archers to bring Achilles down. The twang and whistle of a hundred arrows filled the air, all hurtling towards Achilles. But he was too far away, and they stuck vainly in the mud.
It had begun to bucket down rain, and the deathly black storm clouds were rumbling with the anger of the gods. Zeus sent down lightening bolt after lightening bolt exploding against the earth. Another wave of arrows blotted the sky, but Achilles was moving too fast for them to catch him.
He had now past the Trojan defense threshold, and was galloping over the no-man’s-land between the barracks and the city of Troy itself. Achilles was now touching earth that no Greek soldier had ever touched in a hundred years. Another wave of arrows shot out from behind him, he swerved to avoid them, but two stuck in his back. He felt nothing though, and was now out of their range. Hector was already halfway across no-man’s-land.
He is faster than me, Achilles thought. Even with only one horse he is faster than me. If he makes it to the gates of Troy, I will never catch him, and the Trojan archers will surely nail me to the dust.
“This will be my only chance I’ll have to confront him,” Achilles spoke aloud. “Faster! FASTER!” he demanded his horse, whipping their reigns. “YAH! YAH!” Achilles shortened the gap between the two riders, but he still couldn’t reach Hector. The great golden walls of Troy emerged in the far distance. This is my only chance, Achilles thought. He released one of the reigns and reached for his sword. He picked it up by the blade and raised it above his head.
Now, Achilles thought, I’ve only got one chance at this, so I have to make it. He pulled the sword back behind his shoulder and twisted the reigns around his wrist for balance. He aimed for Hector’s back. The galloping hooves sounded out through the baron landscape. The mud sloshed beneath two riders. Not yet, thought Achilles. Not yet … hold it … hold it … hold it … The thunder roared above them:
“NOW!” Achilles hurled the sword at his enemy; he hurled it with all of his strength and skill and fury. Hector heard Achilles’ war cry and swerved to avoid the attack, but it was too late. The sword lodged itself deep into his horse’s rear. The horse bucked, naying in pain, and tumbled over itself into the thick mud.
Achilles slowed his chariot, breaking it just a few yards from the wreckage. He jumped off and strode forward. He reached down and slid his sword out of the twitching horse. He considered putting it out of its misery, but his mind was focused only on the moaning figure, crawling through the mud some yards ahead.
“I said face me, you coward!” Achilles called out. Hector was rubbing his head in agony. Had the ground not been so soft with mud, the fall would probably have killed him. Even now, wounded on the ground, he struggled towards the city, some half a league in the distance. Achilles walked forward and kicked him hard in the ribs, forcing him onto his back. He drew his sword to Hector’s throat and said, “Beg me for mercy, Prince of Troy. Offer me all the jewels and women in Asia Minor and beyond. Kneel before me like a god and kiss me feet.” Hector struggled to his knees and Achilles kicked him in the face and spat on him. He fell backwards into the mud and groaned. “How did anyone as pathetic as you kill the mighty Ajax … or my Patroclus!” He plunged his foot into Hectors face, splitting his nose open. “Answer me!” All of a sudden Hector tore his sword from its sheath and swung it at Achilles’ gut. Achilles dodged it just in time, and stabbed forth his sword, but Hector had rolled over, and so he hit nothing but mud. Hector was on his feet and backing away slowly. The rain started to pelt down even harder.
Hector stood tall and ready; his wide, muscular frame heaving hard. He grasped his fallen shield in one arm, and raised his sword, held firmly in the other. He was clad in solid silver armour from head to toe. Only his head was exposed. His thick, brown hair hung wet over his bloodied olive skin. Hector reached up and wiped the blood from his broken nose. Achilles at last saw a warrior standing before him.
“They died because they underestimated me.” He spoke in low growl. Achilles’ expression of shock was replaced once again with seething anger. “I fled because I was afraid. I saw my own soldiers crumbling around me, and I saw the Greeks consuming the battlefield. I saw the bloodlust in your eyes and I was afraid. But now that you have caught me, I must redeem myself in combat.” There was silence now and neither man made a move. Mist rose out of the falling rain and blotted out their surroundings. All they could see now was each other.
“How very noble of you, Prince Hector. Your father would be proud.”
“My father would be ashamed of me for fleeing the battle. This is the only way I can atone myself in the eyes of King Priam and in the eyes of almighty Apollo.”
“Indeed,” Achilles mocked. “Redemption or not young prince, you shall die this hour. You shall die, begging at my feet. And it will not be quick, or pretty. You will pay for what you did to my beloved cousin.”
“If I killed your cousin, then I am sorry for your loss, but I’m sure he had the same idea in store for me. The greater fighter won out.”
“Curse you arrogant swine!” cried Achilles.
“Ask yourself, Achilles, how many cousins have you slain in your battles? How many brothers? How many fathers and sons and husbands has your sword bled out? No man is innocent. When this war is over we will all toil in deepest fires of the Underworld … slave and king; side by side for all eternity.”
“Maybe,” Achilles replied. “But when the boatman asks you for the toll, he will recoil in disgust at what he sees. You, my dear Hector, shall walk the Underworld blind, deaf and dumb; a rotting carcass of a man. And as you pass, your fellow spirits will whisper, ‘there goes Hector … the fool who challenged the mighty Achilles’.”
At this he made his attack – he leapt forward and swung his sword high, but Hector was ready; battering off the attack with his broad shield. The two fighters began to circle each other like wolves. Hector pounced, stabbing forward; Achilles dodged and swung midway, but Hector met it with his blade. Achilles heaved left, splintering Hectors shield, forcing it into the mud. Achilles pressed his advantage with a flurry of short cuts, but Hector sidestepped and he hit nothing but air.
“Give up prince,” Achilles provoked. “Lay down your arms and I’ll make it quick.” But Hector remained silent, continually circling his foe. Achilles made a sudden lunge, and Hector kicked a mound of mud into his face, dodged his attack, and slashed Achilles’ ribs. Achilles bent over, roaring in pain, and Hector kicked him sideways onto the ground. Achilles stumbled to his feet and wiped the mud from his eyes. His face was carved with loathing.
The two wounded warriors limped towards one another, each of them wielding naught but a sword. They dived at one another, each blade meeting head on. Lightening cracked and splintered all around the dueling soldiers. They stabbed and swung, and dodged and pivoted. Each attempt to draw blood was blocked or evaded. They clashed and clanged for ages.
After what seemed like hours they each recoiled from one another and began to circle in silence. They both panted heavily, but tried to hide their exhaustion. Achilles could not believe what was happened. Never in all of his campaigns had he met such a skilled and determined opponent as Hector. And nor had Hector fought one as ferocious and fearless as Achilles. Both fighters had sought different things from this war. For Achilles it was eternal glory, and for Hector it was the will to protect his country, but now they only wanted to survive. Blood drenched both of these warriors and every muscle in their bodies ached, but still they fought.
Achilles darted on, sword low, and thrust it at his enemy. Anger that his enemy still stood overcame him, and his swordplay became careless. Weaknesses had emerged in his technique, and Hector exploited them. He ducked the attack and slashed up, cutting a deep wound through Achilles’ tricep. Achilles backed off and quickly realized the flaws in his movement. He was drawing too much from his rage, and not adequately defending himself. He was making the same mistake that Ajax made. He needed to think.
How can I beat him? Hector is agile, and yet powerful enough to block almost any sword attack. Other than my sword I have no other instruments or weapons at my disposal. The battlefield is soft and wet, so sure footing may be compromised if I make another lunge. So how can I beat him? Then it occurred to him. Achilles darted forward, raising his sword above his head; he brought it down hard on Hector’s horizontal blade, forcing him backwards. He clashed again and again, each strike harder than the last, forcing Hector to back step through the mud. When the timing was right Achilles struck again, hooked his opponents blade, drawing it to his right, and slashed sidewards cross his left bicep. Hector reacted in pain, pivoting left out of Achilles reach … and then tripped suddenly and sharply over the leg of his own dead horse. Hector quickly struggled to recover his feet, but Achilles pounced, grasping the hilt of his sword, and stabbed Prince Hector straight through heart. Hector gasped in shock, and choked out a mouthful of blood.
“Forgive me… father,” he whispered. His eyes glazed over and he was gone. Dead. The rainfall seemed to lighten and Achilles let out a moan of exhaustion…
He had finally slain the great Hector, Prince of Troy, and yet no-one but he had been there to see him fall. Achilles wrenched out his sword and propped it on the seat of his chariot. He then undid the reigns of Hectors dead horse and tied one end around Hectors ankles.
“They will see how you fell. They will all see. Let every soldier know the cost of challenging Achilles. My victory shall be carved in stone. My glory shall be sung throughout the chasms of time.” He dragged Achilles body over to the back of his chariot, and tied the other end of the reigns there. Once Hector was secured to the chariot, Achilles boarded it and turned the horses so that they were facing west.
“YAH!” he cried. Achilles rode on, back to where the battle was still raging. He passed the Trojan defense threshold, where the all but abandoned barracks’ still stood. He galloped on past the valley, where he saw a sea of Trojan soldiers fleeing into the north. They were being chased by a Greek cavalry charge. Then when his lone figure emerged from the fog in the east, an enormous cheer went up from the Greek army. They held up their spears in triumph and banged their swords against there shields. Piles of Trojan corpses lay strewn at their feet. They had conquered much faster than Achilles had predicted. He galloped closer, and once they’d seen Hector’s carcass strung out behind him, they began to chant.
“Achilles! Achilles! Achilles!” The mob parted to let him through. Some of the Trojans were still alive, and so the Greeks held up their heads to witness there prince’s dead body being dragged though the mud. Tears of grief ran down their faces, and the Greeks laughed as they slit their throats. “Achilles! Achilles! Achilles!” they chanted into the night.
Agamemnon achieved utter victory that day. The Greeks went on to recapture the defense outposts, and to consolidate their land in the plateau, the valley, and north of the hills. No Trojan soldier was left alive. Their battered corpses were dragged into no-mans-land and set alight. The Greeks danced and sung with glee around the flaming mound of carcasses. Black smoke billowed up into the heavens, blotting out the sunlight. The citizens of Troy saw this and wept. They wept for their children, and their husbands, and their fathers. But most of all they wept for their brave prince. Campsites and barriers were erected in no-man’s-land, and with no-one to oppose them, the Greeks gained more ground than ever before. Agamemnon declared himself king of Troy, but the only name the soldiers chanted was “Achilles! Achilles! Achilles!” All glory and honor was his.
Funeral games were held in tribute to those who had fallen on the battlefield. Their bodies were cleaned and dressed in splendid robes, and raised onto high pyres. A coin was placed on each of their eyes, and a fire was set in their flesh. But no pyre was raised higher than that Patroclus or Pheonix, who, along with Achilles and the other Myrmidons were declared hero’s of Greece. A grand feast was held for all, and the Greeks drank and ate, and danced and sung with joy. Their spirits had been restored at last. They felt fearless and invincible!
Yet through it all, Achilles sat in his tent alone… staring at the mangled body of Prince Hector. He drew a knife from his belt, and licked Hectors cheek with its blade. Blood seeped out, coating his hand. He then sliced open the other cheek.
“This is for Patroclus,” he whispered to the corpse. He cupped the knifes handle, and began to cut upwards, slicing off Hector’s nose. Tears of sorrow dripped down Achilles’ face, as he twisted the corpses’ head, going to work on his left ear. “Like I said before, Hector, you’ll walk the caverns of the Underworld blind, deaf and dumb.” Hector’s ear fell to the dirt, and Achilles twisted his head to the other side. Blood sprayed out as he worked the knife. Blood mixed with his own tears. Achilles cupped the nape of Hector’s neck like a lover would, and than stabbed out each of his eyes. Grey jelly burst from the retina. He then scooped out Hectors tongue, slicing it from the back of his throat. Achilles continued to mutilate Hectors lifeless body; draining all of his blood from the face down. Yet still he wept.
The grief didn’t diminish. The rage had subsided after Hectors defeat, but still the grief lingered, clawing at Achilles heart. After a while Achilles gave up and heaved the disfigured body onto the ground.
“My lord Achilles!” cried an excited boy, entering the tent. He quickly turned away in disgust. “Oh… I…”
“What do you want?” growled Achilles.
“I … they are calling for you. They—the soldiers—want to celebrate your great victory today.”
“Tell then … tell them I am not feeling well. I shall see them tomorrow,” Achilles replied, his back still turned.
“Yes my lord. Of course, you must be exhausted.” There was silence, and Achilles wasn’t sure if the boy had left or not. Then he spoke, “my lord, I just want to say … what you did today … it was amazing. When I grow up I want to be just like you.” Achilles nodded and the boy took his leave.
“I want to be just like you,” echoed the boy’s words. Patroclus had said something similar less than a fortnight ago … and now he is dead. Achilles looked down at Hector and suddenly felt ashamed.
“I should hope not,” he wept out loud, tears of guilt and regret and sorrow pouring down his bloody face. The air in the tent was as cold as death. “You were right Hector, no man is innocent. This war will never end. No matter what we do in life, we will all end up in the deepest fires of the Underworld, toiling in misery forever.” Hector split eyeballs seemed to agree. “I have traded honor for glory and now I am nothing more than an empty shell.”
“We men are wretched things,” breathed the corpse. Achilles nodded, drew his arms behind Hector’s back and hugged him tight.
“Forgive me brother,” Achilles said gently and honestly, but the corpse had no ears to hear his plea.