This is a chapter of The Sunset of the Heroes: Last Adventures of the Takers of Troy, by W. M. L. Hutchinson.
Then were the Trojans much dispirited, deeming that they had now lost the last of their allies, for ere this they had seen the overthrow of many helpers that came to them from afar; even from stormy Thrace and from the wide land of Lycia, whose godlike prince, Sarpedon, Patroclus slew in his latest fight. But it was decreed of Fate that yet one more helper should appear for King Priam.
For even while he stood on the high watch tower of his palace, gazing after the departing Amazons, the king was ‘ware of an armed multitude approaching from the East. As they drew nigh, the clang of cymbals and the roll of drums smote upon his ears and brought the Trojans thronging to the city wall. Then marked they a vast company of men on foot, armed with short bows and painted quivers; strangely bedight with head-dresses of nodding plumes and necklets of wild-beast fangs; and naked save for the leopard skin girt about their loins. All were of huge stature, with close-curled, jet-black hair; and the color of their bodies was the color of gleaming bronze. In the midst, high in a glittering chariot, rode one who seemed tallest of them all, but of another race; his golden armor was of the Trojan fashion, and his countenance, though deeply embrowned, resembled not distantly that of Hector. Wondering, the Trojans beheld this chieftain halt before their gate, and heard his loud summons — “Let King Priam of Troy appear to greet a friend and kinsman.”
With what speed his old limbs might, Priam hurried to the gate, attended by his sons; the stranger chief descended from his chariot to meet him, made dignified obeisance in the Oriental manner, and addressed him in these words:
“Though my person, royal and gracious kinsman, be unknown to you, you cannot but have heard my name. In me you behold Memnon, prince of Ethiopia. Not unmindful of the sacred tie of blood, I am come from my far home in the lands of the Sunrise to aid you in the war whereof the fame has reached even unto us who dwell at the world’s end.”
“Prince,” said old Priam with a troubled look, “I have heard indeed of the Ethiopians, inhabitants of earth’s utmost verge — but never, I think, the name of their ruler. But I grow an old man, and sorrows have dulled my brain — it may be I forget. Bear with me, noble Memnon, and say, what kinship have you with me, the son of Laomedon?”
“Had not Laomedon another son besides,” said Memnon, “who was called Tithonus? Ah, this at least I see you remember. Tell me, then, what became of Tithonus, your brother?”
“It was never known,” replied Priam. “While yet a lad in his bloom, he went hunting alone on Mount Ida, one summer’s morn, and was never seen again of human eye. But many believed that one of the immortals had carried him away, for he was fair to see as the young Ganymede — who was also of our blood — whom Zeus in the likeness of an eagle caught up to the heavenly palaces, to be his cupbearer.”
“They believed truth, then,” said Memnon, “for the rosy-fingered Dawn looked on Tithonus and loved him for the beauty that was like unto her own in its dewy freshness; and in her pearly car she sped him to the cloud-curtained pavilions of the East. And there the enamored goddess deigned to become a mortal’s bride. Of that union a son was born — who stands before you.”
Then joyfully Priam embraced him, saying, “Welcome, thrice welcome, child of my brother. Now I scan you more closely, I well perceive your likeness to the princes of our blood — ay, to my loved son Hector that is gone. But my brother — does he yet live? I fear me, no; he was my elder by many years — a babe in arms was I when he vanished from Troy.”
“Tithonus lives,” said Memnon, solemnly, “but against his will. Fain would he lay down the burden of extreme age, and it may not be; he knows that it may never, never be, for in the day of their espousals, Dawn bade him ask one boon, whatsoever he would, and in his witlessness he chose life immortal and bethought him not to ask therewithal immortal youth. And since the goddess had power but that once to grant such a gift, neither can recall it, Tithonus must languish forever in her roseate halls, the shrunken shadow of his former self.”
Now while these thus spoke together, Achilles had gone down to the beach of the sea, to a place apart from the ships; and there he sat in the early sunlight musing many things. Then appeared to him Thetis his mother, rising out of the blue deep like a morning cloud; and she drew near and stood before her son, weeping bitterly.
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“Is there fresh cause of tears, my mother,” said Achilles, “or do you but come to renew sorrow with fruitless plainings?”
“Child,” said Thetis, “I am come with a warning. By all my love I entreat you, go not forth to battle this day, for that will give wings to your doom.”
“Ah, lady mother,” answered Achilles, sighing deeply, “what avails it to tell me this? Bethink you how, when I thirsted for Hector’s blood, you warned me that my death was appointed in short space after his. Little I recked of that, if only I might slay him first as he slew Patroclus, when I, woe’s me, sat afar, not knowing it — not there to succor my comrade in his utmost need! And now I have had vengeance; but will that bring me back the light of mine eyes that is hidden in the grave? Is it any profit to me to live, widowed of my heart’s friend? Nay, but welcome shall be the hour of my death, whensoever Zeus wills it to betide. But I marvel, goddess, wherefore you should seek to avert the thing that you know ordained. Long since you revealed to me that if I went to Troy, nevermore must I see home again.”
“Alas,” said Thetis, “and against all my pleadings you set your face as a flint, both then and in the day Patroclus fell. But hear me yet this once again, child of my tears! Though Zeus himself cannot avert the early doom that you chose for love of glory, my prayers have won him to delay it, if you will but heed what now I bid you. Oh, harden not your heart — be not so pitiless to the mother that bore you as to hasten the day of her anguish.”
Then Achilles tenderly embraced his mother and said to her, “Weep not, lady of the waves, but tell me, from whom does peril threaten me in the fight today?”
“From Memnon, prince of the Ethiopians,” replied Thetis, “who is even now come with a great host to the defense of Troy, being near of kin to Priam by his father. He, too, is the son of a goddess — of her that brings light to mortals, sacred Dawn. Now it is ordained that Memnon shall fall in battle this very day — of this Dawn had knowledge; and though she might not save him, she sought and obtained of Zeus that her eyes should never behold among the living the slayer of her child. Therefore, bitter fear is mine lest Memnon fall by your spear invincible; and so you likewise perish, or ever Dawn’s pure eyelids open on the world again.”
Then said Achilles: “Would with all my heart that I may look no more upon her holy light; no better is it to me than darkness, for since Patroclus died I am like to one whose sight is lost. But this will I do, mother, for your sake, if it yield you any comfort: needs must I bear the brunt of fight with the chiefs my comrades, but I will post my Myrmidons far from the ranks of the Ethiopians and avoid encounter with their prince to the utmost of my power. I will not cope with him, I promise you, unless the chances of the mellay force me thereto. And that is much for your son to promise, for, like the eagle of the rock, he flies ever at the lordliest quarry he can spy.”
Thetis answered never a word, but drew her son to her bosom, weeping silently. And while she clasped him in her snow-white arms, bedewing his mailed breast with tears, a peal of thunder rolled through the clear heaven.
Thetis looked upward and said, “Chide not, oh, Thunderer, for I strive no more against thy decree.”
With that, she pressed one kiss on the brow of Achilles and glided from him like a ghost, and plunged beneath the waves.