“By the Walls of Ilion”

Though the sounds of sword, shield, and spear clashing outside his tent should have brought some ease to his sorrow, Akhilleus sat within, dirty and unwashed, his grief a weight upon his soul.

He had had his Myrmidones double their normal training regimen in preparation to avenge the honor of the memory of his fallen cousin and dear companion – sweet, brave, foolish Patroklos. And though they had trained for some days now, the great warrior could not rouse himself into action. His mother, beauteous Thetis, had come to console him in his mourning and had even persuaded masterful Hephaistos Klutotékhnes to craft new armor for her son to replace the set that had fallen with Patroklos. The shield, breastplate, and helm sat in one corner of the warrior’s tent and every time his gaze fell upon it he could only think of how he only had such armor because his beloved cousin had died.

“He is gone, but can return,” a voice whispered so softly in Akhilleus’ ear that he wasn’t sure if there was another speaker or if it was his own thoughts.

Bewildered, his vision blurred by tears of grief, he saw a man standing near him within the dark shadows of the tent. As tall as the warrior would have been had he not been reclining on the ground, the man was garbed in robes of black that wrapped around him and covered most of his body. Swatches of dark olive-colored skin were visible here and there, and in the dim lighting of the tent, Akhilleus could see the man’s face held canted, almond-shaped eyes like some of the foreigners the Ilian troops had within their ranks.

“Who are you, man?!” The Aeginan warrior asked, his voice rough and raspy. “How did you get past my guards?”

The dark-robbed man stared at Akhilleus and though the warrior heard the voice whisper softly in his ear again, the stranger’s lips did not move. “Beseech the Unseen One. He will aid your wrath and vengeance.”

Confused, Akhilleus opened his mouth to reply, but was startled by a sound to his left. Turning his head, he saw that a bronze water vessel had toppled, it’s contents running forth onto the dirt floor of the tent, sinking into the earth. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, Akhilleus looked back to the stranger, but saw that he was alone within the tent. The warrior rubbed at his face, perturbed by the experience. The flaps of the tent pulled aside and one of the Myrmidones stuck his head in.

“Sire? Are you well?”

Akhilleus waved him off. “I thought…” He shook his head. “Nevermind.”

The soldier nodded and pulled his head back out, pausing only when Akhilleus called to him. “Sire?”

“Bring me wine,” the reclining warrior said. “And more of it at sunset.” He paused. “And a dozen black lambs, as well.”

“A dozen?” The Myrmidon asked. “I am not sure that we have that many.”

“Then barter amongst the other Akhaioi,” Akhilleus said. “But, I must have them.”

The soldier looked at his grieving leader skeptically for a moment, then nodded. “As you wish, sire.”

When sunset came, the burning orb of Helios turning the skies and the waters of the Aegean brilliant shades of orange, red, and indigo, Akhilleus donned a simple chiton and chlamys, a sheathed dagger held in hand. He stepped into the twilight, exiting his tent for the first time in days, and gathered a handful of his Myrmidones around him.

They traveled down the length of the shore, herding the dozen lambs and carrying the amphorae of wine as curious and baffled Akhaioi watched them pass. When they were sufficiently far from the military camps along the Aegean shore, Akhilleus stopped his men and had them build a fire before they poured some of the wine onto the sands.

Theos Kthonios!” Akhilleus cried out into the gathering night, the gleaming milk of Hera’s bosom beginning to appear in the blue-black skies above. “Nekrodegmon! Polyzeinos!” The warrior grabbed one of the black lambs near him and knelt, naked blade in hand. “Haides, I call out to you!” With a swift motion he slit the lamb’s throat, the blood spurting forth onto the sand as the animal collapsed into a heap. Myrmidones began slaughtering the other black lambs as their leader continued his invocation. “Honored One, Wealthy One, Unseen One – one whom I love beyond all thought, all reason, all measure has been cast untimely into your ranks. I give you these offerings” – as the lambs bleated fearfully and futilely, the rest of the wine was poured onto the sands – “and ask that you return my cousin, Patroklos, to my side. May he walk beside me, may he take up sword with me, may he help me bring vengeance upon the Ilians and send those dogs to you as a further offering in your honor!”

As the last of the wine seeped into the sands, as the last of the lambs fell lifeless to the ground, the fire sputtered and extinguished though there was no wind. The Myrmidones looked cautiously amongst themselves, uncertain of what their respected leader had done, before a groaning sound like the rumbling bellow of a waking bear mixed with the sound of cracking, quaking earth grew around them. Hysterically, his eyes dancing in the growing moonlight, Akhilleus laughed maniacally, falling to his knees and dropping the dagger into the sands next to him. “It will be done, Theos! It will be done!” He cried out, laughing until the rumbling sound that filled the shore and drowned out the sound of the Aegean waves crashing upon the beach began to fade away.

When silence reigned once again, Akhilleus had several of his soldiers begin burying the corpses of the lambs as he returned to the Akhaian camps. The warrior’s heart fell, though, when upon returning to the Myrmidones’ camp, he saw that the body of Patroklos still lay upon its decorated table, lifeless. Shaking with grief, he returned to his tent and drunk himself into a stupor until he passed into the oblivion of sleep.

The sound of the Myrmidones going about their morning chores was the first thing of which Akhilleus became aware when he swam back up to consciousness. Groaning, he turned away from the dawn light of Eos sneaking into the tent, flailing for a jug of water to slake his thirst. Slowly he sat up and rubbed at his aching head, regretting the mournful consumption of so much wine the night before.

“Good morn, dear cousin.”

The voice was raspy and halting, as if the speaker had an inherent difficulty speaking. Rubbing at his eyes, Akhilleus looked toward the tent’s entrance and saw the silhouette of a man sitting, cross-legged, on the ground facing him.

“Who are you?” Akhilleus grumbled sorely. “And how dare you insult me by calling me ‘cousin’? The only cousin I have is within Haides’ greedy fist now.”

“Not true, Akhilleus,” the figure said, standing slowly, haltingly, before moving to the flap and letting more light in. “Patroklos stands before you.”

The warrior inhaled sharply as the morning light fell across the pallid and blotchy features of his cousin, the young man dressed only in a chiton. “What sorcery–” Akhilleus stopped himself. Of course, his offering to Haides. The god below had fulfilled his end of the bargain. A fire kindled equally of joy at the sight of Patroklos and of furious rage at the prospect of vengeance upon the dogs of Ilion burned brightly within Akhilleus’ breast and he smiled. Slowly he stood and after a moment moved, more quickly now, toward the armor forged by Hephaistos himself.

“Come, beloved cousin,” Akhilleus said as he donned the armor. “Let us go meet Hektor and his mewling cowards upon the fields.”

When the warrior and his cousin emerged from the tent, the Myrmidones were stunned into silence. They had seen the decorated table empty of Patroklos’ form, but had decided to investigate the disappearance before rousing their leader. They had not expected to see the youth – his skin blue-black in places where the blood had settled over the previous days, his eyes beginning to turn milky-white – walking under his own volition after lying in state for so long.

“Sire,” one of the Myrmidones said, looking furtively from Patroklos to Akhilleus, “what is this?!”

The warrior resolutely slammed the butt of his spear into the dirt, his shining shield held in his other hand. “Haides has blessed me with the gift of Patroklos by my side once more,” Akhilleus told the gathered Myrmidones. “In return, we must send him a generous bounty of Ilian warriors to Domus Haidou. Who shall help me make that offering?”

The soldiers looked questioningly among themselves for a long moment, before one, then five, then twenty took up their spears and began beating the butts rhythmically on the Ilian soil. “Good!” roared Akhilleus. “Now let us bring the fight to the walls of Ilion!”

The roar of the Myrmidones came back in response and the soldiers quickly readied themselves for battle as Patroklos donned the old, battered armor of Akhilleus that he had worn when Hektor had struck him down. The Aeginan warrior lead his troops, his risen cousin at his side, through the camps of the Akhaioi, drawing bewildered stares from likes of Odysseus and Aias who had protected the youth’s corpse from being ravaged upon the field of battle only days prior. When they reached the edge of the Akhaians’ encampment, near where their fallen men had been placed in preparation for cremation, Patroklos stopped Akhilleus’ advance toward Ilion with a light touch on the warrior’s arm.

Looking to his young cousin, Akhilleus watched as Patroklos, dressed in Akhilleus’ black, scratched armor beat his shield with his spear calling out rhythmically in a tongue that neither the warrior nor his fellow Akhaioi understood. As the lyrical chanting went on, rising and falling to the beating of the shield, several of the soldiers gave a cry of alarm as they saw the corpses of their fallen comrades move and begin to rise. The fallen Akhaians slowly regained their feet, taking up whatever weapons had not yet been stripped from them and slowly formed phalanx ranks around their living comrades.

“H-how?” Akhilleus heard one of the Myrmidones ask behind him as Patroklos’ song came to an end. The warrior looked to his cousin questioningly and the milky-eyed youth stared back him from within the battered helm.

“I am not the only gift from the Lord Below,” Patroklos rasped.

The great warrior heard disconcerted mutterings from his soldiers behind him: the Akhaioi did not like this turning of events. “Silence!” Akhilleus thundered, turning to face his men and their gathered allies. “We have been blessed by the One Unseen with an army of our fellows, are we to turn that gift away like frightened babes?! Let us use this in the spirit that it was given, let us descend upon Hektor, Alexandros, Priamos, and all the rest of Ilion and show them the fury of the Akhaioi! Let us show them the fury that they have stirred up and spat upon! TO ILION!”

The Myrmidones returned his call with an enthusiastic roar that was soon carried by the other Akhaioi, both living and dead. Akhilleus lead the ranks of the Akhaioi out onto the battlefield, where the forces of Ilion soon met them. Both armies fought bravely, savagely, and furiously, but Akhilleus and Patroklos waded their way through a sea of falling Ilian soldiers with a wrath that couldn’t be contained even by Okeanos himself. When they finally came to Hektor, the Ilian prince was startled to see both Akhilleus and his fallen cousin standing before him, swords and shields in hand, and had no time to gird himself for the fight. Terrified, he fled and the two chased him around the walls of Ilion until they fell upon him and carved his body to pieces. In his rage and blood-lust, the Aeginan warrior hooked the quartered limbs and sections that had once been Hektor, Prince of Ilion, to the back of a chariot and rode around the walls of Ilion, with Patroklos at his side, only to stop before the gates.

“Your beloved son is fallen, Priamos!” Akhilleus called out to the battlements of the city. “Open the gates and let this farce end once and for all, or else I shall bring the wrath of Haides and the Akhaioi upon your head and give no mercy – no quarter – to people of Ilion!”

Silence from the battlements of Ilion – the soldiers and the townsfolk, the commoners and Priamos himself, watching in frozen horror both at the atrocity committed upon the body of Hektor and the army of risen Akhaians that was arrayed before them – met the call of Akhilleus.

“So be it,” rasped Patroklos, who began hammering the pommel of his sword against his shield.

The risen Akhaians, many maimed and damaged beyond all recognition by the blades of the Ilians but still walking due to the blessing of Haides, rumbled lowly as a cry that shook the bowels of the huddled Ilians issued forth from their dead throats. Patroklos jumped from the chariot and strode toward the gates of Ilion, his necrotic comrades following and surging past the ranks of the living Akhaians to swarm against the walls of the city. Some dead battered at the gates with their swords, their shields, their very bodies while many others surged against the walls, climbing the backs and shoulders of their dead comrades, building piles of risen soldiers that grew taller and taller until they swept over the walls of Ilion like a slowly building wave.

Akhilleus and the other Akhaioi stood in horrified silence as screams issued out from behind the walls of the city as the Akhaian dead swept in. After several long minutes, cries of pain and terror rising in volume as more of the Ilians encountered the dead, the gates of the city burst inward and the forces there surged into the already falling city.

It was past noontide by the time Patroklos returned to where Akhilleus sat upon the chariot, the great warrior not daring to venture into the fallen city of Ilion as he began to question the blessing and gift that he had called up from Haides. In his hands the pallid youth carried his shield as if it were a platter, upon which sat the bodiless heads of Priamos and his beautiful son, Alexandros. Behind the Aeginan’s cousin two of the dead Akhaioi dragged a shackled Heléne, the woman’s face a mass of bruises and cuts, her long chiton shredded and stained with blood as she walked exposed, shamed, and terrified toward the Akhaioi.

“Take the woman to Menelaos,” Patroklos croaked to the dead soldiers, “let him decide what more should be done with her.” Obediently, the two soldiers led the Spartan woman through the ranks of the silent Akhaioi, the living soldiers shocked by the sight they beheld. “I bring you the heads of Priamos and Alexandros, cousin,” the youth said to Akhilleus. “I would think that you would be happy to see them.”

Akhilleus stared from the dead eyes of his enemies into the milky-white eyes of his cousin, horrified. “By the Theoi, what have I done?” The great warrior, sobered by the sights and sounds he had witnessed, asked aloud.

“Why, this is the blessing of Haides: death and destruction, rot and ruin,” the pallid youth said with a toothy grin that sent a shiver up Akhilleus’ spine. “What else did you expect, dear cousin?”

© Nicholas Egelhoff 2013

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