This is a chapter of The Sunset of the Heroes: Last Adventures of the Takers of Troy, by W. M. L. Hutchinson.
While Ajax spoke thus, peace seemed indeed to rest already on his wan, weary face; even more than his words, his subdued and tranquil mien reassured both his hearers, insomuch that they permitted him to leave them without misgiving. They sat down to await his return, and silence once more reigned in the hut, for Diomedes was wrapped in thought, and Nestor, wearied out with the agitations of the morning, presently fell into the light slumber of age. Thus a full hour slipped by unheeded before they were aroused by the hasty entrance of someone who called loudly for Ajax. It was a young man, short and slender, with keen, dark eyes, accoutred as an archer.
“Teucer!” cried Diomedes, springing up. “You are welcome back indeed — sorely we have needed you! But have you heard?”
“I have heard all,” said Teucer quickly. “I found the chiefs in full debate as I came in — they made me listen to the charge laid against Ajax on the witness of Odysseus. Him I would not have credited, but Calchas was then and there inspired to confirm his saying and to reveal—— But where is my brother? He must be told the seer’s warning on the instant.”
“He is gone forth alone,” said Nestor, “but fear nothing, he has come to his right mind. He left us saying he would wash off the stains of slaughter in the sea, before making his peace with Athena.”
“Then he is lost!” exclaimed Teucer, smiting his breast. “Calchas straitly charged me not to let him stir abroad, because the heavy wrath of the goddess was upon him for this day only, and, if he kept quietly in hiding until sundown, he should yet escape it. My friends! Let us find him and bring him back, if it be not too late! Quick, quick, we may save him yet! If he can but win through this day, all will be well; the chiefs were at point to decree him death by public stoning, but, when Calchas told them how he sinned through heaven-sent madness, their wrath changed to pity and awe.”
“Go you with Teucer, Diomedes,” said Nestor; “as for me, my old limbs are too slow to be of service in the quest. Make all speed, my sons; take each of you a party of the Salaminians —for I hear them at hand— and search the shore both eastward and westward. And may the gods direct you to find and preserve him you seek!”
So Teucer took certain of his following, who were even now returned to their quarters laden with spoil of their foray, and bade others follow Diomedes; and the two bands went diverse ways, scattered in twos and threes as they ranged over the knolls and hollows along the shore.
But Teucer sped westward by himself, calling his brother’s name as he ran; and he had gone but a little way when he heard an answering cry from within a copse of gnarled, stunted oaks close upon the beach. Thitherward he flew, shouting in response, and the cry answered him again, but now he knew it for a woman’s, and the next instant Tecmessa came running to him from among the trees. Teucer’s heart stood still at the first glimpse of her face: “I am too late?” was all he found breath to utter.
Tecmessa looked at him with tearless, despairing eyes, and pointed to the little wood. “You will find him yonder,” she quietly said, “just beyond the trees on the sand — I have covered his face with my veil.”
“He is gone, then?” gasped Teucer, “but how — how — by what sudden end? And you — what do you here?”
“He has fallen on his sword,” answered Tecmessa with the same strange quietude, “the sword Hector gave him; as he told us he would, only when Nestor and Diomedes withstood him, he feigned to resign his purpose. But he deceived not me; I knew he only meant to escape them and gain time to die in peace. So I stole out by the back door of the hut and followed warily, keeping out of view, resolved to turn his heart at the last moment — or die with him. But when he had passed through this wood, and I had all but overtaken him, a great awe held me back. Oh, Teucer, I saw him standing alone upon the open shore and dared not approach or speak to him, so strangely it was borne in on me that he was not alone, that — “her voice sank to a whisper — “there were — others standing there — watching — waiting.”
“And then?” asked Teucer, with a shudder.
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“Then,” she went on, “Ajax dug deep into the sand with the sword, and I thought, ‘Will he but bury it, after all?’ — for that was what he told Nestor he would do. But he planted it upright, hilt downwards, and stamped the sand firm about the gory blade so that it stood fast, pointing up to heaven — a grim sight. And he stepped back paces two or three and looked at it long and hard. Then said he, ‘So best the slayer may deal his blow — the Trojan brand rooted in Trojan soil — my foeman’s gift, yet now to do me the office of a friend. I am ready for thee, kindly steel; but first I will pray, as is meet. Hear me, Zeus on high, for I ask but a little thing: send Teucer quickly hither that no hands but his may raise my corpse — no hostile eyes gloat over me lying in my blood. Naught else crave I of powers above; but do thou, oh, Hermes, shepherd of souls, grant swift passing to my spirit; and ye, dread virgins, fleet, all-beholding, avenging Erinnyes, I summon you from the nether gloom to haunt the path of those that drove me to this end! And now, farewell, sweet light of day; farewell, dear distant Salamis and hearth of my home; farewell, fountains and streams of Troyland that have so long refreshed me — you will see this sojourner no more. Now all is said; only the dull, cold ear of Death will hear my voice again.’
“Ah, Teucer, while my lord spoke thus I looked and listened as one spellbound, and his every word seemed burned into my brain; but, when he ceased, terror of what I must next behold overpowered my senses, and I fell swooning to the ground. When I came to myself and mustered strength to go near — all was over with my lord; the shepherd of souls had been gracious to him — you can see that he passed without a struggle.”
“I go to him,” said Teucer, choking back a sob, “and praised be Zeus, who likewise heard his prayer and guided me aright. But do you haste to find our men; bid them aid you to prepare all things needful and to bring them hither anon, for we will lay him to rest in this place of his release, not yonder where he sorrowed and suffered. And see to it, Tecmessa, that all be done quietly, without word given to the rest of the camp; Ajax shall have his wish, and no unfriendly eyes witness the last rites.”
Then quickly passed Teucer through the belt of trees to where the body lay on the lonely shore, covered with Tecmessa’s ample, saffron-colored veil. He raised that pall and looked tenderly awhile on his dead brother’s face ere he covered it again; then sat him down and wept.
And as he wept thus he said, “Oh, Ajax, noblest of men and dearest to me, what shall I do or whither go for refuge, bereft of you? For in this land all are mine enemies now — more hateful than the Trojans do I count the Greeks that have so basely wronged you. And if I betake me home again, how shall I face our stern old sire — with these tidings? If his heart broke not to hear them, well I know that the sight of me would be pain and grief to him ever after, for all his pride was in you, his mighty first-born, but me he has slighted from a child as a weakling unfit to bear the shield and spear. Ah, cruel was your doom, my brother, yet here your sorrows cease, and nothing can touch you further. But a harder lot is mine, who must henceforth walk the world friendless, eating my heart.”