Death and Honor are in league
A Retelling of Homer’s “Iliad”
This is a very loose retelling of myth. Some characters are not even mentioned, and the time-frame has been severely compressed.
“This apple is bad! Gorgythion, give me yours.”
“I’ll split it with you, Paris…” said Gorgythion hesitantly. He had been rubbing at his apple to make it shine.
Paris screeched, his beautiful small face turning red and ugly. “All of it! I’m older than you! And my mother is the queen!” He grabbed the apple from Gorgythion, whose lip trembled.
Hector grabbed the apple before Paris could bite into it.
“That was not honorable, Paris. Give Gorgythion back his apple, and you can have mine.”
He hesitated, then dropped the apple into Gorgythion ’s lap. “Now give me your apple, Hector.”
Ten years later, Paris took something that no one could make him give back.
King Priam, his father, sent him to discus trading with King Menelaus of Sparta. On the day he was to return small beadlike drops of rain fell randomly, sometimes several near each other in a moment, and sometimes a place quite dry.
Hector kissed his wife, who sat spinning wool the color of gold and now and then looking down at their son, curled warm in his basket. “I’m going to the wall, to watch for my brother.”
He wrapped his short cloak about his massive arms as he made his way down the broad street, calling out greetings and replying to those given him. Prince Hector of Troy might not know how many pounds or rolls of trade goods came or went (though he gave myself an aching head many a time trying); nor was he a great reader. But there was not a man or woman in the city who he could not call friend.
“Prince Hector!” Helibarbus, a leather worker, waved his hairy arm, grinning. “A son! A fine son!”
“Fortune has smiled!”
“Would you care to see the lad?”
The baby was a grand one, big and red and screaming like a fury. Hector took it carefully.
“A warrior!” said his father. “With strength like that. It has been my prayer…”
The mother winced.
“He’ll be a good Trojan,” Hector said. “Warrior or no.”
When He reached the wall a sudden gust of wind thrust his cloak out straight behind him. A girl screamed, and he turned in time to catch hold of his sister as she swayed out at the edge of the ladder opening.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes.” Her bare arms chilled his hands. He took off his cloak and wrapped it around her.
“What are you doing up here in the wind, dressed like that?”
“I was looking for you; Andromache said you’d gone to the wall. Hector, I’m afraid.”
She nodded, the thin white linen of her robe blowing around her. From when she had been just learning to talk, Cassandra had had dreams of all manner of evil happenings. A few had happened. Most had not; or not yet. So few had come true, in fact, that no one save herself believed in them.
Which was how it came to be that she told her brother Hector all of them. If he doubted, at least he would not mock.
This one, he thought, must have been worse than usual.
“I dreamed Paris came home, and he brought Athena with him, the goddess of war; and said she was his wife.”
“Was that all?”
“No, I dreamed—I dreamed the city was afire, like a brazier brimming with coals—and smoke, so dark….” A tear ran slowly across her face, crooked its path as the wind pushed it.
He put his arm around her. When she had had a dream that was all that could be done.
They stood there in the wind until dust powdered the distance. Paris.
“Will you come to meet him?”
“No. He’ll see I’ve been crying. You go,” she took a rushing breath, “and I’ll wash my face.”
Hector was not greatly surprised, when he met with his brother, to see a woman a few paces behind him. Her face was veiled.
“Hector.” He smiled, widely, sweetly, guiltily. “I’m home, as you see. And I’ve brought a wife.”
“Helen, my brother Prince Hector of Troy.”
She stepped forward slowly. He pulled her veil back, despite her short soft cry of protest.
Hector saw a fair face, white enough to make him wonder if she were well or no, with long yellow ringlets drooping across it, and lake-like blue eyes that only looked him in the face for a moment. It was not her beauty of which he thought, though she was a woman beautiful indeed; called the fairest by many, though to him Andromache was sweeter to look upon. It was her shame and pleading that he saw.
“Greeting,” she said, very softly and gazing at his sandals. Then she drooped her head farther and silently became limp. Hector caught her as Paris exclaimed in astonishment.
“Is she ill?”
“No. Look, can she rest at your place before going to the palace? I need your help.”
He raised his hands as he said it, and Hector prepared to put Helen in his arms, but they dropped as he turned. So he lifted her up, and followed him.
Andromache took charge of Helen, and Hector took Paris into the other room.
“What have you done this time, brother?” he asked, sure by this time that something was not as it ought to be.
“I have taken a wife! You did the same.”
“Did she wish to be taken?” he asked sharply.
He took up a black olive from a bowl on the table and ate it. “She said she did not,” he said. “I did not believe her.”
Hector stared at him, bewilderment and disapproval both on his tanned face as Paris slowly ate another olive.
“I am ashamed,” Hector said, repressing his anger. “You have brought shame to Troy.”
“Must you take everything with such earnestness?”
“You will return her to Sparta, take her back to her family. I will see that our father makes you do this.” He spoke resolutely, taking a lengthy step to stand looking down at Paris. “It is the only reparation you can make.”
“I can’t go to Sparta; Menelaus would kill me.”
The faintest knowing entered the older man’s heart. “Don’t be an idiot.” The back of his neck and his ears warmed, and his shoulders grew tight.
“No, you don’t understand.” He paused, blinking his girlish black lashes. “I took his wife.”
“You—We’ll have Menelaus and all his allies upon us. Upon our city! Why?”
“I love her,” he said, picking at his immaculate nails.
“No!” Hector shouted, and Paris shrunk back, frowning as if he had seen something misshapen. “You have dishonored her, stolen her. Don’t tell me you love her! You’ve brought our ruin, Paris, and for what? Your lust! I am ashamed to be one blood with you!”
“Hector!” Andromache put her hand on her husband’s arm, a small hand and uncommonly cold. “Hector.” He looked down at her. “You’re frightening Helen, and she is not well.”
He put his hand over hers and tried to smile, because of her hand being cold and her eyes wide. “I’ll be quieter.” She nodded and walked out. Scamandrious began to whimper.
Hector drew back from Paris, the sort of anger that makes noise gone. This pretty, selfish creature was Paris, who he had scolded and humored and watched over. A spoiled child’s soul is ugly in a man’s body.
“I need your help,” he said anxiously. “Ask Father to forgive. Father always listens to you; you never ask for aught.”
“Except for you. No.”
“You’ve always helped me before.”
“This is different! Dancing drunk for the envoys, shooting holes in the tapestries, sneaking into the sanctuary during the most solemn rites—“ his voice had grown loud again, and he paused, continuing softly ”—all of those are small next to stealing a wedded woman. I will not help you.”
Paris blinked slowly and his great eyes grew wet. Never before had his brother denied him help.
Paris left Hector resolved to give him time to explain; and then go to King Priam. He would need him.
“I know not how this can be solved, but I’ll do what I can,” he said to the Queen of Sparta, crying loudly on his couch.
Paris was not punished. He never had been. But King Priam did grow somewhat cold to him.
Fine boats came one morning, but not enough to be an attack.
They gave the Trojans to know that they were peaceable, and wanted speech with King Priam. Hector went out to them with a few warriors.
“We had thought the King of Troy to be of a greater age,” said Menelaus. His hair was a shining orange color, such as was very uncommon among Trojans. Small brown dots specked his arched nose.
“I am his heir, Hector. He is not well at this time; he bids me say that he will speak with you in the palace, if such is your desire.”
The other man, very strong of build with braided pale hair, looked at the plainly dressed man distrustfully. “How can we know we shall leave again?”
“You are welcome to stay, if you wish,” Hector said, with the same courtesy if with less friendliness. “We never refuse guests, nor do we force them to take hospitality.”
They spoke courteously to King Priam. “We recognize that you are not to be blamed for your son’s action,” said Odysseus of Ithaca, the pale-haired man. “King Menelaus desires his wife restored, and that Prince Paris shall own that he has done wrong before all the people. If he is granted this—“
“There will be no more said,” said Menelaus. “Although it would not be unreasonable for me to demand—“
“Pray consider our words, King Priam,” Odysseus concluded.
Hector walked out of the room with them, taking them to the rooms offered as lodging.
“I hope the king will comply,” said Odysseus. “This is not intended as a threat, or course, but I believe there will be war if Helen is not restored.”
It was intended as a threat, or at least a warning. “Our answer will depend on the will of the people,” Hector said. Odysseus looked politely confused.
“The king has little authority here,” Menelaus cut in.
“Not so, sir. Surely the people have a right to choose their fate. It is not as if they are our belongings.”
Later that day Hector came upon Odysseus walking about, examining the houses and streets and speaking with the people.
“Of a surety we’ll get Helen back,” he said, with an urbane, explanatory smile. “I do not think you would dare refuse her. I hear the people of Troy are but ill warriors.”
“You heard wrongly,” said the merchant he spoke to. “We fear you not!” He turned and went.
“Sir,” Hector said to Odysseus,” you mar your chances by making us angry. For very pride they may choose foolishly.”
“I do not comprehend you,” he said. He looked up at a statue. “Magnificent silverwork.”
The people chose foolishly. They would not have the Prince Paris humiliated; they would not give up the lady Helen because foreign kings demanded it; they defied all persuasion, growing bolder and louder as the talk went on. At last Priam the king sat down, old and pale, and slumped a little. He had ever sat straight as a statue of an ancient warrior.
“You speak to them, Hector,” Gorgythion whispered. “You can make them see.”
Hector shook his head. It was not his role, unless his father desired him to fill it. But then Priam nodded at him. When Hector stood up the Trojans grew a little quieter.
“You are not thinking clearly, friends,” he said. “The lady is Menelaus’s wife. It was not right for my brother to force her to come with him. The King of Sparta has every right to demand her of us.”
“We will seem cowards!” Paris cried out from the back of the hall.
“I do not fear to seem one, so long as I know it false! Let us do justice, and all will be well.”
Paris came to the forefront, wearing a thin flying blue cloak and a much-embroidered tunic. Hector smelled the lily scent of his perfumed hair-oil.
“Is it justice,” Paris said to the people, "to force a woman to return to shame and death? Is it fitting for Trojans to act so, from fear of a few small kings?”
“Menelaus said nothing about shame for her, only for you,” his brother said. “Doubtless he knows you only are guilty.”
He turned away. “If the woman I love is to be thus shamed,” he breathed, “I will go with her, die with her!” Tears ran down his face, prettier than the faces of many girls. He dropped to his knees. “I appeal to your loving hearts!”
Justice and reason had the chance of a fly in a fish-filled lake after that.
Priam was too ill to give answer to the kings, so it fell to an unobtrusively fuming Prince Hector.. Odysseus almost smiled, but said he was very sorry.
“I am sorry indeed,” said Menelaus. “For it will be war, and I will destroy this place.”
“You will not do so easily,” Hector said.
Troy waited, storing all manner of food, mending armor, and calling upon allies. The king grew better and even a little excited by all the armor and glinting swords, for in his youth he had been a warrior.
Hector listened carefully to his father’s breathful voice explaining tactic. He would have to lead all; and though good with swords, with lances, though stronger than most men, yet had he never been in battle. He had never killed a man. He did not want to slay, or be slain.
More than all he did not want Troy to burn. No end must there be to children playing in the paved streets, to women singing as they cooked, to washed garments hanging limp from lines, to the laughing of babies, to the making of beautiful things not needed, to the wispy incense-smoke of the temples.
Hector went home one day, wet and streaked from practicing, to find Scamandrious walking. Andromache dropped the gold-colored wool she was winding to laugh at his surprise. He had thought of the lad as a babe, and here he was on his bulgy short legs, a boy walking where he chose. These things must never end.
To Troy came many ships, evil-looking, long-rammed, gaudy leering eyes painted on them.
“I think every Achaean king or chief has rallied against us!” said Prince Deiphobus. He laughed shortly. “All the more praise to be won.”
“You will win praise, and scorn as well,” said Prince Helenus, in the deep voice in which he would very rarely speak of something unknown as fact. He was born with Cassandra, whose dreams Hector began to think more than nightmares. Gorgythion said nothing, but looked at Hector with the confident half-smile of a lad looking at his invincible hero. His trust was terrifying.
Thus began the days of war.
They surrounded Troy like a tight steel belt, a horde; yet were those Troy saw not all of them. Often and often news came in of some ally destroyed, some friendly king conquered.
The Trojans did fight. They were too few. But they fought.
The first was on the day they came in their glaring ships. As they came onto Trojan sand Hector gathered together everyone who had been training to fight. He sent most of the archers, Paris among them, to the walls to help the retreat if this went ill.
Hector’s heart threw itself around like a clumsy gymnast. He looked for his brothers. Deiphobus was like a child waiting to do something he had always wanted to do. Helenus was quiet and calm; Gorgythion pale and making unsuccessful efforts to stand quite still. He was only seventeen. Hector caught his eyes and he turned rosy, pulling himself up straighter than there was any need for.
It was simple, truly. The Trojans rode in their chariots or walked out of the gate, and went to where the Achaeans were. And then everyone began trying to kill each other.
It was easier than Hector had thought. He stabbed with his spear, as he had done many times practicing, leaning over the hard metal rim of the chariot. Shock he saw on a round face, and slow blood running from an open mouth. As he pulled the spear back the man whose name he would never hear fell backwards and somersaulted, landing on his face in the dust. He made no sound that Hector could hear; the prince was away by then, into the battle, and there was great noise all about.
Hector killed many more men that day, and was sorry that he was not sorry. But there was no time to regret, only to fight, and see his friends die, and look for his brothers in short glances between blows.
Then a glad cry leaped through the roaring, a cry like a man might give upon bringing down game, and a young man in glittering armor lifted something rounded by a long braid of dark hair and flung it at Hector, smiling. The prince could not help a short cry of horror.
The glittering warrior’s charioteer shouted to his horses, and Hector’s drew aside just before the other’s wheel would have caught in his. Shining, a light lance vaulted from the enemy’s hand. Hector’s shield trembled as the bronze struck it.
A pair of frightened moon-silver horses plunged between them, jerking along an empty chariot missing a wheel. Both turned to other foes.
The fight was going nowhere. Men on both sides were dying, and that was all. Only the Trojans were not fighting as well as at first. Hector called for the retreat, shouting out until the back of his throat felt as if rubbed dry with a rough bit of sacking. .
The gates slammed, massive, behind them. Filthy and bloody they walked, pale or flushed, and many helped a wounded man or carried a dead one. To be buried honorably by one’s own people mattered much to the men of Troy.
Hector said something appropriate, which a few minutes later he could not remember, so guilty was he feeling.
Helibarbus smiled reassuringly at him, although his face was bleeding.
“You fought well, Prince Hector.”
But there must be something more he could have done….
He was to find what he was missing; but had he had choice in the matter, it would have gone forever unfound.
Retreating from a little fight one gray evening, just a small sally on foot so the Achaeans would not begin to rest happily, Hector heard the soft plucked sound of a bow. At the same time Gorgythion jumped in front of him, and fell down.
He fell roughly on his back, and a long green-feathered arrow stood straight up from his neck, just above where his breastplate began.
Hector screamed his name as he dropped down beside him. Gorgythion’s wide eyes looked at his brother, terrified. He lifted his hand and tugged lightly on the arrow, crying out silently as his hand dropped helpless.
Hector lifted him a little, carefully. Another arrow whipped past his eyes. Hector had seen many wounds now. He knew that it would make no difference if the arrow were out or not. But Gorgythion wanted it out; it was frightening, to have it sticking out of him. Hector took hold of it and pulled quickly, tears making a thin, wet veil for his eyes. He held on to the trembling boy as if he could make him stay. An arrow tapped brightly on Hector’s back plate.
“My lord Hector, you have to go.”
He shook his head. “You go. Go back to the city.”
Gorgythion’s freckled hand tightened on his brother’s wrist, barely. “I’m with you.” Hector said, trying to jam back the swollen rising in his throat, to play the man. “I love you, brother….”
The ends of the boy’s mouth rose slightly into a pained smile.
“I love you...” Another arrow sliced shallowly into Hector’s ear.
Gorgythion’s mouth relaxed, falling open, and his trustful eyes fixed on his hero’s face as death ended his pain and his trust. Hector lifted him easily, and walked towards Troy. He caught up with those he had sent on ahead. Silence took them, all of them, and the people of Troy as Hector came into the town, on his way to the palace. He was weeping.
Paris heard what had happened and walked the streets far away from the palace, not wanting to hear the mourning. He did not go to his house. Being in the same room as Helen as pleasurable as being in the same room with an angry golden cat. He was sorry that the boy was dead; that was very young to die, and he had been alive and well— it might have been himself; a good reason not to venture outside the walls…. Lucky that he was only good with a bow.
It was bothering him more than he wished. He could not help thinking what Gorgythion would look like, dead. Even if he was only the product of one of Priam’s friendships. Even if he had always been Hector’s favorite.
Paris leaned his forehead against the chilly stone of the shaded rear of the temple. He turned abruptly at the sound of heavy quick steps, his face returning to its usual uninterested beauty.
Disgust writhed through Hector at the sight of Paris’s bland face. He walked on. But Paris spoke.
“He was brave.”
“I am sorry.”
Hector could not bear it.
“It should have been you!”
“You began this, and brought it to happening, and Gorgythion is dead, because of you. It should have been you! I wish—“ Hector stopped speaking abruptly, and hurried on, stumbling slightly as he turned.
Paris stared at his wall-like back, with the expression of a spanked, rebellious child. “I wish you were dead too,” he whispered. “I do; I’d be glad of it…” His brows almost met, and his shaking lip grew tense as a tear dripped from his eyelashes.
The Achaeans sat about their fires, for it was dusk, and they did not anticipate another attack that day.
“We shall assuredly win,” said King Menelaus. “Especially since good King Agamemnon aids me.”
“I should say probably, my lord,” said the young man in the glittering armor.
“I have marked a certain man in the fight as being somewhat of a warrior and a leader. I should guess him to be a prince of Troy.”
“Howbeit, he lacks ruthlessness and fury alike.” Achilles smiled. He knew he lacked neither.
“He may gain them,” said Patroclus.
Achilles glanced tolerantly as his younger friend. “They are born in a hero. Not a matter of training.”
“Someone I judge dear to him fell today. I saw it.”
“Your imagination is colorful.” Achilles chuckled, as one might at the weird thought of a child. Patroclus had grown up with him; he was essentially a brother, and the only man for whom Achilles would trouble to have patience. “Where do you find the time to invent past lives for all the enemy?”
A sudden shouting roared up.
“My lords! The Trojans are coming!”
Achilles walked, not over fast, around the tent blocking his view. His brows rose. “Marriage of Zeus! He’s gone mad!”
The Trojan chariots jolted over the earth, the horses stretching out their legs wide and fast. At the head of them all, spear in hand and held high over the high crest of his helmet, roaring out deep words—Hector.
Patroclus did not bother to say that he had been right. Neither did Achilles admit it. Instead he blazed a fierce grin at his friend. “I think we might have someone worth fighting this time, brother.”
Hector and Achilles met in battle, as all knew they would. The first warriors they were of each of their armies. As they met the fight elsewhere stopped, although this was neither ordered nor discussed. The Achaeans and Trojans drew back, curved walls opposing. Between them Achilles deflected a heavy blow.
“Hold, a moment!” he said.
Hector drew back, slightly. “What do you want?” His voice was rough, lacking the courtesy that he had always diffused.
“I want to know your name.”
“Hector of Troy. Son of King Priam.”
“Achilles, son of King Peleus.”
“I came to fight,” said Hector briefly.
“As I,” returned Achilles exultantly. Hector was of rank as he; and most powerful looking. He had surveyed him carefully.
They brought their swords clashing into each other. As the two armies watched, sharply following every glint of bronze and twisting of muscle, breathing unconsciously almost as one, in their hearts they wondered if there would be a winner. The two men were well matched. If Hector was a shade stronger, Achilles was quicker. Hector struck hard, hard as if this one man were all his foes put into one. Achilles smiled, laughing once as he slipped out of the way and then lunged. The tip of his sword sliced a small line into Hector’s wrist.
There would be no winner. Surely not. The thunder of Zeus was sounding. Surely even he was giving heed to such a fight.
Suddenly, shields shoved together, Hector found himself staring into ice-clear gray eyes a few inches away. They blinked once, thread-fine wrinkles at the outside corners. Whatever smirked out of there was on the edge of blazing into song, and he did not understand it at all. A feeling came to his back like a child’s snowy cold finger following the length of his spine. They drew apart, making ready to strike again. He was tired, and now more sad than angry. The darkness grew mighty.
White spider legs of light plunged from the black clouds, and near thunder drove into ears.
Achilles stepped back, smiling, and half panting. “It seems to be the will of Zeus we cease for now,” he said.
Hector nodded. He could not keep his people out here in a lightening storm; it would be foolishness, what with all the metal they were wearing. And it was dark now.
“I want to discuss a matter with you, Price of Troy,” said Achilles. “Concerning peace for your city. Not now. In the middle ground, tomorrow. Dawn. No weapons, one person with you.”
They had killed his brother. Now they would make peace? Go home to their families? “I will be there.” Achilles held out his hand. Hector let his barely contact it.
Inside the city Paris’s body relaxed as he saw Hector enter alive. He moved out of sight, trying to scowl.
Andromache’s sandals tapped loudly on the hard floor, then softly on the rug. She turned before meeting the wall. Soft on the rug, hard on the floor—the thunder was crashing; no one would fight in a thunderstorm—soft on the rug—“Scamandrious, no.” She pulled his hands away from the golden yarn stretched taut as lyre strings across her loom, ready to begin weaving. Hard on the floor—
Splatting trickles of rain fell from him, making shiny spots on the stone. She put her arms about him, and said nothing of her worry.
“My brother is dead,” he said. “He is dead, and so many more today. I have killed more than I can remember.”
“It is war, Hector. You have done no wrong. You—”
“Today I wanted to kill. For the first time.”
Before the sun rose the rain ceased, leaving an opaque dome of clouds. Hector, standing before the palace after telling his father of what he was doing, pondered whom he should bring with him. Deiphobus was too hot spoken; Helenus, maybe…Gorgythion would have wanted to go badly.
“Hector, I wish to come,” said Cassandra.
“What would you do?” He smiled a little at her.
“I must be there; my dreams say so.”
There was not to be fighting; and she was quiet and trustworthy.
“I am to be there,” she insisted.
Achilles, unarmed as he had said, waited.
“Is that a girl with him?” Patroclus exclaimed.
Hector asked his question plainly.
“Why do you want speech with me?”
Achilles began speaking, watching Hector. Patroclus smiled at Cassandra. She stared at him. He tried again.
Achilles went through the various facts, all of which were familiar enough to Hector. “And you would not give her back.”
“The people willed otherwise. What is your proposal, Prince Achilles?
“You are the first of your Trojan warriors. Of the Achaeans, I am mightiest. We fight each other; if you win, we leave. If I win, we take Troy.”
“If you win, you take back the lady Helen, with treasure equal to a dowry,” countered Hector.
“Menelaus might accept that. Agamemnon, Odysseus—not they.”
“I am sorry for that. Your suggestion might have spared many of my people. I can agree to nothing that imperils Troy so greatly.” Hector nodded courteously, turning to go.
“Is that really why you fight, Hector of Troy?” Achilles demanded with unexpected intensity.
“To protect my people and the city of Troy? Yes.” He paused. “And now, also because my brother died, and he would not have, had you not brought war.”
“I like your reasons!” said Achilles unexpectedly. “Compared to mine they are rather like earthenware beside colored glass; but they are good reasons. If I were not so eager to kill you, I think I might like you.”
“I cannot say the same,” said Hector.
Cassandra chose that awkward second to become bloodless and point a thin finger at Patroclus.
“Death and Honor are in league, Patroclus,” she cried out in a loud, steady voice. “Both yearn for you; both shall have you!”
Patroclus jerked, as one will if startled. “How did you know my name?”
Achilles did not fight the next day, nor did his men. Achilles had picked a quarrel with Agamemnon, and was hating every Achaean but Patroclus.
Hector felt uncertainty among the Achaeans, and stuck from two sides. For the first time the Achaeans doubted their victory. They pushed back; they held till darkness; but they dreaded the sun.
Patroclus stared at his friend with sad eyes. “You are our strength, Achilles—“
“Let Agamemnon be humble, then. Let him beg. I should be glad of the sight.”
“Will you let your people be defeated, over this?”
“Yes, Patroclus, I will.”
The morning came with eye-burning sunlight on Troy, and the shade of clouds over the Achaean camp and the evil-eyed ships.
Hector consulted early with his father and the other nobles of Troy, notably not including Paris, and went in all his armor to his house before setting out that day. Andromache had half filled her loom with fine gold cloth. She slid the shuttle in silence.
When she spoke her voice was very low. “I would that today you did not have to fight.”
Scamandrious teetered around the corner, and saw a shiny man with a shiny thing on his head and a bristly black thing sticking up from it. He bawled.
“I think your helmet,” said Andromache more merrily. The helmet’s crest brushed at the ceiling as Hector took it off. He laid it on the table beside the brown bread, and lifted Scamandrious, whose amazement as seeing that the strange man was his father had moderated his cries.
“It’s but a helmet, lad,” Hector said.
“Must you go, today?” she said again. “I fear for you every day, and every night; but today I fear more than I can say.”
“I cannot leave my people to fight leaderless,” he said. “I would live always in peace beside you, dearest, if I had the choosing. That’s what I fight for, that all of us can live in honor and love. So our son can have a good life.” He looked at her solemn face and managed a teasing smile. “And so he needs not to be a soldier. It would never do, the way he fears a helmet!”
The door banged, and Helen walked in, balanced, graceful, sobbing dramatically. Her sobs were not pretended; but they were flamboyant. She stopped walking, seeing Hector, than rushed past them, vanishing into the other room.
“She will have quarreled with Paris again,” whispered Andromache.
Her sobs came to Hector’ ears even after he had taken a gentle leave of Andromache and closed the door behind him.
“We burn them,” Hector proclaimed. “Every ship.” The Trojans stomped and cheered, punching empty air—or by mischance, air less empty. Now the gods held Troy in favor. Achilles was gone.
Stout Trojan farmers death angels were that day, and fishmongers found themselves furies. Hector led them all.
He found himself on the splintery deck of an Achaean ship. “Bring the fire!” He did not care who burned the ship, so long as it was burned. It would not be he, for he was busy fighting off panicked men who saw their leaving threatened.
A sudden louder clamor made Hector look swiftly up. From the high deck of the ship he saw a familiar team of the finest warhorses speeding towards the battle, pulling a chariot. In the chariot stood a warrior in bright armor.
Achilles was back. The timing could not have been worse. Just when they might have burnt the boats. There was not a Trojan without some fear of Achilles. Many believed Hector did not fear him. Hector knew this to be false. At the sight of the bright armor breathing needed more effort, and his stomach seemed to twist slightly. He leapt down to the ground, landing a little off balance.
The man in the bright armor saw the leap, and ordered his horse-driver on. Hector was coming to meet him, leaving the fight on the ships. They would meet alone. He was very near Hector now. Hector’s arm went back, and a bright bit of metal was first far away and then too near. Pain sliced at his chest as he wavered and slumped out of the chariot, landing roughly on the sea-moistened bloody sand. The horses whinnied and galloped away, the driver’s protests bootless.
Hector pulled out the spear, difficultly because it had gone through thick metal. The man screamed; not in Achilles voice. Quickly Hector bent and pulled off the helmet, noticing that it was not the one Achilles had worn before; this one covered most of the face. Then he saw the reason for the change of headgear.
“You’re not Achilles.”
Patroclus gasped, pressing his hand to the oozing hole piercing the breastplate. “He would not fight…I had to do…something….” He closed his eyes. “I did what I could,” he said. Perhaps he wanted it known so badly that it did not matter that he protested to an enemy.
He looked painfully as Gorgythion had, lying there. Hector did not strike again; there was no need. “Death and honor wait for you, too….” Patroclus said, and gagged harshly. He grew quiet, and was dead.
Hector’s face softened, for a space of time long enough to draw a breath or to face a fate. He raised his hand, splattered with clotting blood, and drew his brows together, questioning.
He turned back into the fight; It was a strange thing, killing, to end killing; war, to bring peace; death, to allow life. Gorgythion; he had fought for all these things; and he was dead; he had gained nothing, and lost his life. But there were things more valuable, which he had not lost.
How he missed that lad! He had not had even an hour to mourn alone, unhampered by needed sleep or necessary planning. Now was not the time to spend any thought on him. Yet the wound in the chest, the fear; it had been too much alike. Gorgythion, I lead you to your death, and now I lead these men to theirs, and none of this had to be. It all came of a beauty, and a fool.
The Achaeans had pushed the Trojans from their ship, and held them off now resolutely, as men fighting for their return home battle. They had been on the point of success. He should not have gone to fight Patroclus. But had he been Achilles, he must have done so. Perhaps it was all fate.
For as long as bread bakes they battled, two largely steady lines, fixed in their places. Then Achilles, maddened, screaming aloud, lethally came to the attack with his own Myrmidons.
In the space of a few minutes, despite all Hector could do, every Trojan was fleeing for Troy. Hector was last; but he fled too, retching at heart at the darkness of it all, and acknowledging that he was filled with fear. Still he fought back as he retreated, trying to defend the indefensible and end what could not now be stopped. Achilles was not like other men. He seemed a god, for he believed he was like one, invincible and exalted.
The Achaeans pursued, killing many, dying less often. Panic had stolen the men of Troy, and their sweating hands dropped weapons to lie dangerously sharp on the earth and be bent by escaping feet. When the Trojans at last were within the gates Hector glanced through the doors as they swung closed and saw his armies way marked by the shining bronze and steel and the destroyed bodies of horses and men.
Even now they were wild, scattering about the city. Helenus limped through the mob. “Are you hurt?” Hector asked, although that was obvious.
“Not too badly.”
“Deiphobus, take Helenus out of here.” Deiphobus grunted sourly and obeyed, shoving his way through the crowd. They grew louder, and women began to scream, everyone moving towards the king’s palace. Hector stood still, looking bewildered. At last his brows leveled, and he pushed his dark hair back from his face, and took a few running steps to stand facing the crowd at the top of the steps.
“This is not the end,” he shouted out, and many of them looked at him, less trustfully than before, but not without respect. “Achilles is our great opponent. I will fight him, and kill him if I can. If so fate brings about.”
“No, Hector,” said a proud dwindled voice. King Priam walked slowly, out of the palace. “Gorgythion is dead. Helenus lies bleeding. You must live.”
“Achilles is the one man that we have cause to fear, Father,” Hector said. “If I can fight him, and win, I believe we will have victory in this war.”
“My son, no.”
Hector took his father’s age-warped hands and spoke gently, softly enough that the people watching could not hear.
Cassandra was running, horrified so that she hardly saw. She ran into a man and fell hard in the street, pulling herself up and running again before he could even speak. Her white robe was dusty now, and the people about her she saw through a translucent layer of dream, which she could not altogether make depart from her seeing.
A shout rose outside. “Come and fight me, coward!” Hector sighed, walked swiftly towards the wall, and climbed to the tower so that he looked down at Achilles’s tilted scarlet face.
“There you are,” Achilles said. “I am surprised—you’re not hiding. You know what I want.”
“It is fated that we fight,” said Hector quietly. “I am coming.”
Cassandra met him, running up the stairs as he went down. “I hear crying, Hector; I see death; I am awake and asleep, and there is no sleeping or waking. Don’t fight him!”
“If I do not fight him, if he does not die, we will be defeated, and Troy will burn.”
“Troy will burn,” she repeated, reciting a fact. “There is nothing you can do. I know.“
“Except my duty,” he said. He smiled at her. “I have never prophesied ere now, but I know something, and that is that we will both be remembered for as long as the earth bears harvest. Troy will be remembered, and greater in the memory than ever we saw it. And my son, and the other children of Troy, will know that their fathers loved honor. If we cannot give them peace, we can give them that.”
He kissed her cheek, wishing there were time to see Andromache again. But he had said he was coming; and another goodbye would be hard for her. No; it was better she not fear more than she already must be.
His hand grasped the bar of the gate.
“Wait!” Paris had come up behind him, lily scented as usual. “I—I am the one who should do this. I began it.” He sped his words.
“It’s my duty, by birth.”
“No.” Paris looked at him honestly. “You said I should have been dead, and I said I wished you were. I lied.”
“I’m not letting you go out there,” said Hector. “I want you safe, brother.”
Achilles took angry strides. The man was not coming. He jerked to face the gate as it opened, and laughed, not quite as most good mortals do.
“A man of honor, after all,” he said. “I would have regretted your not being so.”
Hector’s sword was drawn, and his shield, engraved by countless strikes into illegible runes, gleaming on his left arm.
They clashed. The Trojans watched from the walls. The Achaeans watched from their camp. And two vultures floating on whirling air watched too.
Strike, raise the shield, move, strike, move, duck, back, advance. Quickly. Slowly. Warm light now from the sun was good; even the trampled grass looked blither. Achilles’s eyes gleamed, and the bronze glinted momentarily, not where Hector expected it. He drew back, warm blood rushing over his arm. Strike. Duck. Circle. His sword nicked Achilles’s cheek.. Then he was falling, and could not move. He had expected it to be painful. He was numb, instead. Achilles smiled.
The sun was dying too. Or at least it was lapsing into night. But there were the walls of Troy, guarding the beloved. Andromache…. The walls were still there. Not burning yet.
Copyright©2014 by Abigail Leskey
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