11. "The City Burns!"

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Centering Priam,
King of Troy:

At the outside base of the wall,
     all around the city of Ilion,
my aged eyes
     trace the scar across the earth,
     the circular trail around the wall,
     where Achilles's chariot,
     dragged the body of my beloved son,
               Hector,
          who'd owned the proudest,
     strongest,
       truest-beating heart
         in all of Troy.

"The city burns!"

I look around,
     startled.

Cassandra stares up at the Acropolis,
     seeing disasters that don't exist.
"Flames! Smoke! Carnage!
     Sacrilege upon Athena's altar! 
Ilion is taken!
     Troy's hope for the future
          falls limp and lifeless
          from the highest tower!
Death for the lucky,
     enslavement for the rest!"

"Foolish daughter,"
     I say,
       though not unkindly,
  because a king must indulge even the mad.
"The last rays of the sun
     glow red,
     as the flames of Helios's chariot
     burn to embers.
They catch the Acropolis,
     wash over the courtyard altar of Zeus,
     wash over the monument to Ganymede,
          beloved cup-bearer of the gods,
     wash over the Pergamon of Apollo,
     wash over Athena's temple,
          turn the walls red
          around her sacred Palladium,
     and this is what you see."

"An omen!"
     Cassandra insists.

"An illusion,"
     I correct her,
          but in my heart
          I wonder . . .

         The city burns!

     How much longer will the gods
          defend Ilion?
Either Troy
     is destined to fall
Or the invading fleet
     is destined to burn.
Without Hector as its defender,
     Troy relies
     only on the gods for protection.

As Laomedon ransomed Hesione
     from the Ketos of Poseidon,
as Hesione ransomed me 
     from mighty Heracles,
as I ransomed Hector's body
     from swift-footed Achilles,
will Zeus ransom Ilion 
     from the wrathful Achaeans?

No, I decide.
     Not while Achilles,
          son of Thetis,
     still lives,
          and breathes,
     and fights.

I shudder.
     Of all Trojans,
          none has gotten closer to Achilles
               than I have
                    without being slain,
          none has spoken longer to Achilles
               than I have,
          none else realizes
               how much of this war
                 is being waged
            within the soul of Achilles.

In my battle against the heart of Achilles,
     I won a small victory,
          but the rage of war continues.

"Have the gods preserved me so long
     just to bear witness to the end of all?
Why not throw the gates open now?
     Why not surrender to the inevitable end?
Why prolong this bone-weary sadness?"

Cassandra points downward from the wall,
     and out across the plain.
          "Behold!"

And then,
     driven by desperate need,
          on a horse
               driven to exhaustion,
          sword held
               point down,
               presenting the hilt,
          across once-bloodied streams,
     across battle-broken fields,
          onto the corpse-worn,
     city-circling track, 
a rider comes.

"Evil Fates pursue that one,"
     Cassandra whispers.

I strain to see . . .
     nothing behind the rider

          except,
               in the far distance,
               an outpaced company of companions.

And then, the rider shouts.

     "Open the gate!"

     A strong voice.
         A commanding voice.
     A woman's voice?

"Best not,"
     Cassandra warns.
"Father, I beg.
     Many will die,
     and the city,
          yet again,
     will bleed."

"Nonsense, child.
     I cannot turn away
     the willing offer of a sword
          in Troy's hour of need."

"Woe! Oh, woe!
     No good will come of this."

"Open the Dardanian Gate!"
     I shout to the tower guard.
"And let the gods determine
     whether we admit our savior
     or our destroyer."

EPIC CYCLE ROADMAP:

* The Kypria
* The Iliad
* The Posthomerica
* Tales of Nostos
* The Odyssey
* The Telegony
* The Aeneid
  Rage is the first book of the Iliad. Amazons is the first book of the Posthomerica.

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