"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,
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,
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,
a fish on a spear.
"By your neck?
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,
even you must admit that our orders leave room
with hands clapped over his ears,
and a bland obedient heart.
let me clasp an arm around your shoulders.
You and I may not be warriors
all these great kings of Hellas
would fall to chaos
without heralds and attendants like us.
We are important.
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
that you spent nine years on the Troad plain
with your head stuck up your bung?"
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?"
but like a flower first opening to the sky,
he's seeing new possibilities.
And it's only taken nine damn years.
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,
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,
"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
No. I recognize these shakes.
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.
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?"
"Those lucky bastards are preparing a departure for home.
We'll likely not see them again,
it's only fitting for us to wish them farewell."
"And what of Agamemnon?"
"We are his heralds."
Talthybius bites his lip.
"We bear the standard of his authority."
"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,"
"It would be our duty to delay our duty for a drink--"
"--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,"
and he smiles,
for perhaps the first time,
the gods within him have spoken out.