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Achilles

Achilles
   shakes his head,
        crosses his arms,
     entrenches his stubbornness.

Thersites laughs.
     "Even this sad,
         moping,
         weary,
         droopy,
     lyre-strumming Achilles
would be worth a dozen of Odysseus
     if we could catch him in our nets."

Odysseus strikes Thersites
     and sends him sprawling.
          Iphis helps him up.
One ear trickles a stream of red,
          and Iphis tends the wound.

"Diomedes will hear of this,"
     Thersites hisses.

While the others argue,
     Ajax seizes the chance
     to console his cousin.
"You claim this tomb as home
     only because your mother's prophecy
     denies your safe return
          to bring joy to the halls of Peleus,
          to lead a long and happy life,
          to at last meet your son
              who waits on Skyros
              for this war to end.
     But prophecy can mislead.
          Gods can't be trusted.
               Their words hold mysteries
                    veiled
          from mortal eyes."

"My mother withholds no secrets from me,"
     Achilles states.
Angry fingers
     pluck the lyre strings.
Angry eyes
     scan Ajax's pleading face.
          "You wish me to lay down my instrument.
          You wish me to take up my spear.
     But tell me,
was Orpheus ever asked
     to desist from his dirges
          for twice-lost Eurydice
     merely to break some city wall?"

"Nestor knew Orpheus,"
     says Ajax.
"We could ask him,
     and let the walls of Ilion
     collapse on their own
     before the old man completes his tale."

For the first time in ages,
     Achilles smiles,
          and Ajax sees
          and Ajax knows what he must do.

"If this tomb is to be your home,"
     says Ajax,
"I will visit with you a while,
     and pass the time with music and games,
     and thank you for your kind hospitality,
     and take up arms again with you
          when you are ready."

"You are most welcome,"
     Achilles bows.
"When need comes again
     for us to fight,
     we shall do so,
     shoulder to shoulder,
though you must swear to me,
     noble cousin,
          on the spirit of our Grandfather Aeacus,
     that after my last battle has passed, 
          you shall be the one
          to take up my arms and armor."

"I swear on my life,"
     says Ajax.

"And this lyre with them,"
     Achilles continues,

"I will,"
     says Ajax.

"And that you will burn it."

"Burn it?"
     Ajax asks.

"Burn it
     with my bones
     on my funeral pyre
     and scatter the ashes
         here
     so I can again
     take up the tune
     in my eternal home."

THE EPIC CYCLE:

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