23. “How the Evergreen Lost Its Leaves”

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Centering Clever Eurybates,
Chief Herald to Agamamnon:

"I dislike this next chore,"
     I confide to Talthybius.
"I disagree with this whole affair.
     Gifts are to be given,
     prizes are to be earned,
     honors are to be bestowed,
          not seized under threat of arms.
     Tribute from a vassal
is more honorably claimed
          than a war prize,
               taken back
          from one deserving of it."
               
     Talthybius darts his eyes from side to side
          as we stroll through the camp.
"Ours not to question orders."
          Talthybius is young yet,
                    evergreen,
               despite being a veteran of this war.
     He sees Agamemnon as a living god,
          and the Overlord,
                    for his part,
               loves his most pious worshipers best.

"Does my head still attach to my body?"
     I ask Talthybius.

He looks at me,
     goggle-eyed,
     a fish on a spear.
"By your neck?
     Oh, aye.
The other fellows are always saying,
     there goes Eurybates,
          who certainly has a neck."

"Then as my neck can attest,
          no officer has yet had cause
     to mount my head on a spear
          for defying a direct order.
     But come now,
friend Talthybius,
          even you must admit that our orders leave room
               for creativity,
               for flexibility--"

               "For danger,"
          he finishes,
     with hands clapped over his ears,
and a bland obedient heart.

"Friend Talthybius,
     let me clasp an arm around your shoulders.
You and I may not be warriors
          but
     all these great kings of Hellas
     would fall to chaos
          without heralds and attendants like us.
     We are important.
We matter.
     And we need to start acting like it.
     We are a long way from home
          on the grand adventure of our lives!
Will you tell your children
          only
     that you spent nine years on the Troad plain
               with your head stuck up your bung?"

     He sighs.
I expect him to tell me he has no children,
          the literal-minded fool,
     or that men like us don't get to leave a legacy,
          but Talthybius surprises me.
"What do you have in mind?"
     He's guarded,
     ever guarded,
          but like a flower first opening to the sky,
          he's seeing new possibilities.
And it's only taken nine damn years.

"Delay,"
     I say.

"Delay?"
     The flower folds back into a fish.

"We should give Achilles time to bid goodbye to his prize.
     Surely you've seen the way he looks to her,
          more like a husband than a master.
Would that I had a master who looked upon me with such eyes!
     He'll soon enough be sending her off to Agamemnon
          like a newlywed bride sends her man off to distant war,
               and so
     we should delay to give them proper time."

     The eyes now nearly pop from Talthybius's head.
"Are you mad?
     Agamemnon awaits our return with the girl,
          a balm to soothe his smoldering brow,
     and you,
     and you,
     and you--"

"I'd rather he cool his brows in a chamberpot.
     Oh, don't look so outraged.
          Odysseus has Agamemnon convinced
               that the pox of Apollo
               can be fended off
          by a daily mask of night soils.
I presume that Machaon has offered him the same."

"You presume much."

"And on the matter of our delay?"

"You presume far too much."
     Talthybius now shakes
          with fear?
          with anger?
          with amusement?

     No. I recognize these shakes.

"Friend Talthybius,
     I've heard it said
that within the heart of every man lies a battlefield
          of the gods
     where Olympians and Titans rage for control.
Right now,
     caged within your ribs,
          an epic war puts this Trojan mess to shame.
And here I stand on the homefront,
     far across the waves,
     eagerly awaiting your herald.
          What's the good word, sir?"

I worry for a moment
     that metaphors are wasted on such as my friend,
               but Talthybius smiles
          as his personal pantheon holds a victory march.
"On our way to Achilles,
     we'll pass the Myrmidon pavilion,
          will we not?"

"We shall."

"Those lucky bastards are preparing a departure for home.
     We'll likely not see them again,
               and so
           it's only fitting for us to wish them farewell."

"Quite true,"
     I agree.
     "And what of Agamemnon?"

"We are his heralds."
     Talthybius bites his lip.
"We bear the standard of his authority."

"But?"

     "But if the Myrmidons offer hospitality and drink,
               and if we refuse while on duty,
          we would disgrace the good office of our Overlord."

     "That would never stand."

"That would never stand,"
     he agrees.
"It would be our duty to delay our duty for a drink--"

     "--or two--"

          "--or however many it takes
               to properly honor the greatness of Agamemnon."

"Then for the honor of Agamemnon,
     we must hasten to delay!"

"And to delay without delay,"
     Talthybius agrees,
             and he smiles,
        and truly,
          for perhaps the first time,
the gods within him have spoken out.

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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