This is a chapter of The Sunset of the Heroes: Last Adventures of the Takers of Troy, by W. M. L. Hutchinson.
Now had the sun appeared in his strength above the peak of Ida, and the crystal hollow of heaven was filled with his sacred beams, even as a cup overflows with wine at the banquet. And straightway Zeus called fierce Discord before his throne and sent her flying down to the ships of the Greeks that she might put lust of battle into their hearts. Thither came the baneful goddess in likeness of a vulture and perched on the black ship of Odysseus, where it lay midmost of the line, and flapped her broad wings, yelling as vultures yell over the bodies of the slain.
Then forthwith every man of the host grew athirst for the fray, even such as were most weary of continual fight and yearned most to be gone from Troy. So clamor of shouting arose in all the camp, and mighty din of warriors arming and chariots harnessed in haste; little need had the chiefs that day to stir up their vassals to the work of war, for one and all were zealous of themselves.
Forth they went, all the host of them, soon as the battalions were marshaled, eager as wolves that follow the trail of a stricken deer; and while they fared over the plain, a little cloud drifted over them in the blue, and dissolved in a shower of raindrops clammy with gore. Thus did Zeus give sign how the blood of captains and of kings should be poured out that day like water; but the portent stayed not the Greeks in their fiery course, for Discord urged them on with invisible lash.
Now midway of the plain the Trojans met them, having descried their coming from afar; and a gallant sight it was to see the two armies draw together in order of battle. With the warriors of Troy came a remnant of their allies, Lycians and Mysians; and a mixed company of aliens, men outlawed and cityless, rovers on the earth, that fought for hire. And in the post of honor, on the right, were seen the dark ranks of the Ethiopians, led by Memnon in his resplendent chariot of four white steeds. As a flock of cranes, scared aloft from their marshy feeding ground, rend the air with harshest cries, so cried and clamored together the mixed armament of Troy in many an outlandish tongue. But the Greeks came on in silence, like well-schooled soldiers, hearkening mutely for the voice of their commanders and scorning to spend their breath in boastful outcry.
Now the men of Diomedes, and Odysseus, and Ajax, were marshaled on the left fronting the Ethiopians; Agamemnon himself commanded the midmost battalion, having with him Menelaus, and Nestor with his sons, and many a chief of renown besides; these had the sons and kinsmen of Priam over against them, with the men of Troy and the mercenaries. And Achilles, with the Myrmidons, held his wonted post on the right and faced the Lycian and Mysian allies.
But when King Agamemnon beheld the Ethiopians, he hastened to him along the lines and said, “See you, Achilles, the new foes that are mustered yonder, how many they are and stalwart, and grim of aspect; and their leader is even like unto a god? Would that the grave had gaped for me in mine own land ere I led a host against this city, for Zeus will never make an end of succoring it with warriors of every race under heaven. But come now, son of Peleus, set your array over against these barbarians, for none but you, methinks, can avail to withstand them.”
But sternly answered Achilles: “What words are these you have let fall, king of Argos? Now might the soul of Hector laugh and be glad, to hear that mighty Agamemnon is afeared of half-naked blackamoors. What, must I shift my array to cope with such as these? Not so; here will I bide, unless, forsooth, they make head against our comrades. As for their prince, soon enough will Diomedes or stout Ajax lower his proud crest and strip him of all that golden gear.”
So spake he, mindful of his promise to Thetis, yet with no feigned scorn, for he well believed that the heavy-armed Greeks could overmatch the fiercest barbarians at any odds.
And now both hosts were set in array, and signal given for battle; and shoulder to shoulder charged the front ranks of either, and clashed together with thunder of shield on shield. And behind the press of the bronze-shielded footmen, the chieftains drove to and fro, each cheering on his vassals and watching well his time to leap from his chariot and break a way through the lines. But long while stood that living wall unbroken, for even as two lordly stags battle for the mastery, locking their antlers together and thrusting with all their weight, and neither can stir the other a foot, even so foeman thrust shield against foeman along the serried lines, nor could gain an inch of ground.
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At last Prince Memnon, devising subtlety, made the foremost of his dusky legions wheel as for flight, and the Greeks shouted and rushed after and cut down many, until they turned again to wage desperate combat. Thus the columns of Ajax and Diomedes were sundered from the rest — as for Odysseus, he restrained what men he could, scenting a snare — and meantime Memnon with the flower of his host charged down on the flank of Agamemnon’s battalion. And the press of men-at-arms was scattered by the shock of his onset, and now they fought dispersedly, man to man, with the fury of wolves. But on rushed Memnon through the mellay, encompassed with a pillar of dust sent up by the whirling wheels; in sight like the bright, baleful star that rises in harvest time, when it glitters athwart the stormcloud; and ever he looked about him to spy a chieftain worthy his encounter.
Then marked he noble Nestor driving his burnished car, and he cast at him with his javelin. Nestor it missed, but struck the trace horse of his car full on the crest, piercing bone and brain; and the steed fell dead, dragging his two yoke fellows to their knees. Nimbly the old man leaped down to cut the trace and right the struggling pair — for charioteer he had none, since by reason of age he wielded weapons no more, but took the field only to strengthen the hands of others with skillful leadership. Now in a trice he got the horses to their feet, but as he did so he saw gigantic Memnon close upon him, brandishing his great curved scimitar. Then the old man’s heart failed him for fear: he shrank back and cried in a loud voice of anguish, “Help, my sons! Hither and help me, or I perish!”
Antilochus, his youngest, heard the cry and came speeding like the wind; in the nick of time he sprang from his chariot and threw himself in front of Nestor.
“Mount and flee, my father,” he said, “while I hold the foe in play”; and so saying, he hurled his spear at Memnon with a good aim and true. But deftly Memnon swerved aside, and the spear flew over his left shoulder and buried its point in the ground. Loud laughed the haughty prince in triumph and rushed upon Antilochus, whirling aloft his scimitar with both hands, and smote him where neck and shoulder join or ever he could ward off the blow. As a sapling oak falls in its summer glory beneath the woodman’s axe, and its green crown lies wilting on the mountainside, so fell young Antilochus, so his comely head lay low in the bloody dust. His father saw it, looking backward as he fled; then groaned he in agony of soul and urged his horses on, seeking some helper. But Memnon exulted aloud and set his foot on the dead man’s breast, and stripped him of corselet and helm.