This is a chapter of The Sunset of the Heroes: Last Adventures of the Takers of Troy, by W. M. L. Hutchinson.
But Nestor caught sight of Odysseus nigh at hand, giving chase to a foeman, and called to him for aid; and with his help the old man laid Antilochus in the chariot, together with his armor. Then they turned to strip the body of Memnon of his golden harness — but lo, it was vanished clean away, and where it had lain was naught but a pool of blood, for Dawn suffered not her child to lie weltering on the battle plain, a prey to the spoilers and after that to dogs and birds; like to a wreath of morning mist she came stealing over the field, and lightly, as a goddess can, she bore him aloft, unseen of human eyes. Far from dolorous Troy she sped him, to where, in a vale of Phrygia, silver poplars wave beside an eddying river; there she made his sepulcher, and there it is unto this day. And yearly, on the day he died, a flock of birds visit the tomb that are called Memnon’s birds, like crested larks; they clear away the fallen twigs and leaves with their bills, and, having dipped their wings in the river water, they scatter it in showers on the grassy mound. So, at least, the folk of Phrygia tell, and they say these birds are the spirits of the Ethiopians who fell at Troy.
Now when Nestor saw that the body of Memnon was gone, he said to Odysseus, “Of a surety, this is the work of some god; nor marvel I that there should be such care in heaven for that fallen prince, seeing he avowed himself the son of ever-sacred Dawn.”
“Ay, he was goddess-born, like Achilles that slew him,” answered Odysseus, and little such birth availed him, or will avail, I fear me, the son of Thetis, for not Zeus himself might save his son, Lycian Sarpedon, from the doom that comes to every churl. But here is no time for speech — I must away. See, the tide of fight has rolled Troy-wards; safely now may you return alone to the camp with your piteous freight.”
So old Nestor departed from the field, mourning as he went, and Odysseus hied him back to the work of war.
By this, as he said, the tide of battle was turned, for the Trojans were fleeing before Achilles. As when a roaring lion flies upon a herd at graze, and the kine scatter before him over the pasture, lowing in their terror —now on one, now on another he springs, greedy to slay— so Achilles bounded after the Trojans, crying his dread war cry; so leaped on man after man as they fled, shrieking, this way and that. And after him streamed a mingled mass of pursuers and pursued; and now might the watchers on Troy wall behold close at hand the dismal rout and slaughter of their host. Nor durst they open the gates to give them refuge, lest the Greeks should enter on their heels — so hot was the pursuit.
But the immortals that favored Troy, even Phoebus Apollo and Artemis, and fair Leto their mother, and Ares, and golden Aphrodite — these drew nigh the city, grieved at heart; and thus spoke warrior Ares to Apollo: “What though Father Zeus forbade us any more to do battle for Troy, shall we endure to behold murderous Achilles storm the wall, exceeding his destiny? Nay, let us arise against him, thou and I, and turn him back; not against us two, I ween, shall he stand long, for all his mad pride.”
But Phoebus Apollo answered, “Not so, my brother, lest valiant Athena be stirred up to take his part, whom thou hast known ere now for thy better in fight. Let him be awhile, for Zeus hath granted him his fill of glory this day, to the going down of the sun. But in the hour when he thinks full surely to storm yonder wall beyond his destiny, then will I so deal with him as shall well content thee.”
So Ares refrained himself from fight, and with Apollo and the goddesses he took stand on the tomb of a Trojan king of old — a high-built barrow overlooking all the plain. But thence he sent forth his mighty voice, as it were the roar of flame through a forest, calling on the Trojans to turn and play the man, for not that day should their city fall; and therewith he breathed into them valor and strength. So all day long the battle raged beneath Troy wall. And ever the spear of Achilles was lifted up to slay; and wheresoever he passed through the mellay, there might you see the dead lie thick about his track as ranks of bearded wheat in the path of the storm.
But when the day was far spent, Achilles took breath awhile and looked seaward, and beheld the tranquil deep and measureless vault of air aflame with the pomp of sunset. Wistfully he gazed, as one that looks his last on the dear fields of home, and with a bursting sigh he said, “Farewell, thou glorious Sun, hail and farewell! No more shall these eyes be gladdened with thy beams, thrice-holy god, but languish in darkness forever. Ah, happier is a peasant’s thrall that sees thy blessed light, than a king that holds sceptered sway among the dead. But till that light fail me, let me be up and doing; who knows but I may win the crown of all our toils in this last hour?”
He then darted to the foot of Troy wall, shouting his dread war cry, and the Myrmidons gathered after him as he ran. And where a buttress of rough masonry stood out from the rampart, he flung down his spear and climbed by the stonework of the corner, lightly as ever man clomb a stair. And the men upon the wall were astonished at the shout of Achilles in their ears, and the flashing of his sunlit helm as he mounted aloft, insomuch that they fled from his coming as from the face of a god. Nor other than a god he seemed to the wondering hosts below, when his form appeared on the battlements, towering up resplendent against the glowing sky.
Then, indeed, both Greeks and Trojans deemed the end was come, and the cry of thousands went up in diverse tones of triumph and anguish: “Behold, some god hath stormed the wall! Great Troy is fallen, is fallen at last!” And next there burst exulting shouts from all the Greeks: “Achilles! It is Achilles yonder! See, the bold Myrmidons essay to follow him! On, friends, make up to the assault — the glorious son of Peleus beckons us on!”
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But meanwhile Phoebus Apollo unslung from his shoulder the bow that is his joy, and drew an arrow from his shining quiver, and glided like a sunbeam to where, on the outskirts of the fight, Paris leaned against the stem of an oak, bemused with despair.
The god came before him in his own shape and said, “What ails Paris, best archer of the Trojans, to stand idle here when he might win deathless renown? Look where Achilles, high upon the wall, tears down the cornice with the god-given strength of his hands, breaking way for the Greeks — up, now, shoot at that goodly mark, and be ever famed as the deliverer of Troy.”
“Ah, glorious Apollo,” answered Paris, “do you appear to me only to mock those you have forsaken? For well I know the son of Thetis can nowhere be wounded but in the left heel — and what mortal can hit that mark at the distance of yonder wall? Were not you hard of heart beyond all gods, your own shafts, archer divine, would have slain ere now the scourge of your chosen people.”
“Be it unto you according to that word,” said Apollo, frowning. “I spoke to prove you, and had you not doubted, your arrow should have flown true as my own. But now shall Achilles verily fall by my shaft, and you lose half the glory of the deed. Take this my bow and lay this arrow to the string and beware how you disobey me twice.”
Sternly spoke the archer god, and Paris obeyed him trembling. Then Apollo laid his hands on the hands of Paris, from behind, and caused him to draw the bowstring with strength not his own, bending the bow into an arc, and let fly the gleaming arrow. Singing it flew, and therewithal the great bow twanged loud and sweet as the chime of harpstrings. And swifter than eye could follow that shaft found its mark, for Paris saw only that Achilles rose suddenly to his full height, threw up his arms, and fell, like a falling star, headlong from the battlement. In the same instant, the sun’s broad disc sank below the waves and the glory faded from earth and sky.
Then from all the Greek hosts rose a cry of horror — for all were gathered at the wall’s foot while Achilles labored above, some striving to clamber up, others piling together the huge stones he cast down, to mount thereby; nor heeded they any longer the Trojans, who meanwhile had sped through the city gate to make their last stand within. And these, hearing that cry, flocked to the wall and looked down on the white, upturned face of Achilles, who lay dead in the midst of his weeping Myrmidons. Unwounded he seemed and lay like one asleep, for they had pillowed his head on his shield and straightened the wan limbs; but whoso looked narrowly might spy a tiny graze, no deeper than a pin prick, on his left heel, for even so slight are the wounds dealt by the arrows of Apollo, that slay with a touch. Neither can any man find them when their work is done, but they return viewless into the hand of the god.