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"The Embassy at the Tomb"

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Achilles

Achilles
     waits for the embassy to dissolve,
     waits for Agamemnon's lackeys
          to acknowledge the futility of their efforts.
The others remain
     and wait for him.
          But how could they do otherwise?
          Nine years camped on the Troad plain
               have counseled them on patience.

Achilles sighs.
     "How fares the war?"

"There is no war,"
     Ajax starts,
          to an almost immediate interruption.

"And this is why we've come."
     Like warriors marching
     through difficult terrain
     on a tentative approach
     to some distant battlefield,
Odysseus's words
          shove Ajax aside,
     search for an opening,
     and crawl
          into Achilles's ears,
"Consider the Trojans without Hector.
     They lack soul.
     They lack spirit.
          They foray into the field
               half-heartedly
          only to defend their walls.
     They are as cattle,
          trembling at the edge of a field,
          fearing the approach of a fierce lion.
But
     the Achaeans are equally uninspired
          without you.
Only Achilles,
     astride a rushing chariot,
     resplendent in peerless armor,
     bearing a gleaming god-made shield,
can inspire our host
     to victory.
You would rout our demoralized foes!
You would take the city's riches
     and return in glory to your home."

"I am home,"
     Achilles states.
"This tomb shall be my home,
     soon enough,
     and I will know no other."

Podarces slaps Odysseus on the shoulder
     and pushes him aside.
"These others can not understand your melancholy,
     Achilles,
          as I do.
We are men,
     you and I,
     who have suffered great loss.
Patroclus was a brother to you,
     your father's adopted son,
     your constant companion
          during a too-brief childhood,
     who sat with you in the Phthian halls,
     who was tutored by Phoenix at your side,
     who joined this war,
          only reluctantly,
               to drive your chariot.
But did you forget,
     I also had a brother,
         Protesilaus,  
     first to die
on the Troad's foamy shore
     when we were, all of us,
         nine years and more younger
         nine years and more keener for glory
         than today."

A somber moment.
     Achilles's fingers come to rest
          on the lyre strings.
     Odysseus bows his head.
     The woman,
          Iphis,
          attendant to the hero's tomb,
     brings a jar of wine,
     and so Ajax
          pours out a libation.
But Thersites
     doubles over,
          laughing.
"Protesilaus?
     Protesilaus?!
No, my friends,
     Thersites remembers differently.
          It was Philoctetes
               who became our first casualty,
               left for dead
               on the island of Lemnos,
                    abandoned
          by his comrades
               because they couldn't stand his smelly feet!"

Podarces clenches his fingers
     but restrains his fist,
          remembering that Thersites,
               though not a friend,
          is still an ally
     and kin to honorable Diomedes.

"Protesilaus,
     on the day he died,"
Achilles prods,
     bringing Podarces back to the moment.

Podarces stares into the sea
     and hears,
          audible from the hero's tomb,
     the sound of crashing waves.
"I wanted to join my brother.
     That day,
     I wanted to die,
          but I knew
          it was not yet my time.
     With every day,
     with every new battle,
          I still think of Protesilaus,
          and sometimes I still wish to die,
          and someday I surely will.
But each time the battle horn blows,
     I strap on grieves and breastplate.
     I don the plumed helmet.
     I charge into battle.
          I do my duty
               because he would want me to,
               because he no longer can."

"Protesilaus was your brother,"
     Achilles muses,
          with a hard strum
          followed by a pause.
"When his sandals touched Troy's sandy shore,
     and his body soon followed,
          what did you give up?
Your brotherhood,
     but not your life?
Your life,
     but not your brotherhood?"

"I lost both on that day,"
     Podarces states.
"I have nothing left in my heart
          except
     duty to his memory,
     duty to my country,
     duty to my oaths.
Surely this also is how you feel?"

"No,"
     Achilles says sadly.
"I lost neither my brother nor my life.
     What I lost
          was having them together."

THE EPIC CYCLE:

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15 Jul, 2020 20:10

HI Greg,   I'm here! Hanna

Sage gfishbone
Greg R. Fishbone
16 Jul, 2020 00:30

Yay!

Greg R. Fishbone, Author in Residence at Mythoversal.