This is a chapter of The Sunset of the Heroes: Last Adventures of the Takers of Troy, by W. M. L. Hutchinson.
The first thing Teucer saw on the harbor wall was the white head of his father, for Telamon had never ceased to set watchers day by day to bring him word when the ships of Ajax should be sighted. Behind the aged king and his retainers crowded all the folk of the city, with laughter and with weeping, straining their eyes for the first glimpse of father, husband, or son. Then, as they marked that Teucer and all the crews were garbed in black, a wail of grief broke from the multitude; but King Telamon, making a stern gesture for silence, cried aloud, “Ajax! Where is Ajax, my son?”
Teucer essayed to answer, but he found no words. He snatched the sleeping babe from Tecmessa’s arms and, springing ashore, held it mutely towards his father, while the tears rolled down his cheeks. The old man regarded him fixedly for a moment, then in a terrible voice — “Coward!” he cried. “What have you done with Ajax? Did you not swear to defend him with your life — to perish with him rather than return alone? Oh, no words — he is dead, I know it — fallen nobly, as he lived — and you, who deserted him, sneak home with your brat and your women and cringe to me for a welcome! Take your shame hence! Begone, I say, lest I do you a mischief, and never dare set foot in Salamis while I live.”
“Hear me, father,” began Teucer, but the king interrupted fiercely:
“I will hear no traitor call me father! You are no son of mine from henceforth; I have but the one — nay, he is gone, too, my first-born, and my house is left utterly desolate.”
“Not so — king,” said Teucer, “for this babe is his child, not mine. Take your grandson, and may you live to see him a second Ajax in valor and in strength. But I, since the little love you ever bore me is turned to hatred, right willingly depart at your bidding. Yet ill, methinks, it befits a king to condemn the meanest man unheard.”
Then swiftly he put the babe into his father’s arms and called the women ashore, and bade Tecmessa be of good cheer, for King Telamon would deal gently with her for the child’s sake. And with a loud voice he hailed the crews and said, “Friends, I go forth, as you have heard, a banished man. If any of you for love of Teucer will follow him into the wide world, he shall have a brother’s share of what good fortune the gods may send me; but let all who will abide here in peace.”
Now there was not a chieftain in the Greek host more beloved of his men than Teucer, and their hearts burned within them to see him thus hardly used. Though they saw before them the homes and kindred they had pined for through weary years, they raised answering shouts of “Teucer! We will all go with Teucer! Shame befall us if we dwell at ease while he wanders homeless! Up sail again, and the land that casts out our brave prince!” And forthwith the crew of every ship fell to heaving of anchors and hoisting of sails, and unshipping the long oars again. But all the folk who saw it ran to the quay’s edge, calling lamentably on the names of their dear ones, and with outstretched arms besought them to stay.
As for Telamon, he had beckoned Tecmessa to approach and laid the babe not ungently in her arms; but still he stood like one rooted to the spot, and, sunk in grief, neither heard nor heeded the tumult around him. Many an angry look was darted at him from among the throng, and the bolder spirits began to mutter that it were better to right Teucer by armed force than let the flower of Salamis follow him into exile.
But, meanwhile, Teucer sped from ship to ship and, as he thanked the crews from a full heart, he bade them remember the sacred motherland that mourned too many children already, fallen in the long war.
“I will not bereave her utterly,” he said. “Let the men who have wife and child, and the only sons of their mothers, remain, and the rest fare with me.”
So, having hardly prevailed with them, he manned two ships with comrades of his own age, who had gone as lads to Troy, and put forth from the harbor amid the tears and blessings of the people. Nor would he stay to victual his ships — only, he had the water casks refilled from a spring beside the harbor, that his men might drink once more the water of Salamis — but made first for the near of Aegina, whose folk were of all mortals the wealthiest and the most hospitable, and they made a great feast for the exiles and sent them on their way with costly gifts and provision in abundance.
After this, Teucer rounded safely the stormy Cape of Malea and steered northward for the port of Cirrha, that lies nearest to Delphi, being minded to inquire of Apollo in what land he should make his home. So, he came to the holy temple, and Apollo, by the mouth of his prophetess, bade him voyage southward and eastward until he reached a great island called Cyprus, for there he should found a city in a fruitful domain and name it Salamis. Many weeks he sailed on that quest, and at many an isle he disembarked, but none of them proved to be Cyprus. At last, the wanderers sighted at sunrise the white, gleaming cliffs of a small isle, and a long coastline behind it, misty and low-lying. So much as they could see of the isle appeared desert, and, when they had beached their ships in a cove among the cliffs, Teucer bade the rest make ready a meal, while he went to spy if any dwelled inland, and what manner of folk they were.
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A path led up from that cove to the top of the isle, which was flat as any table, and partly wooded, partly turf-clad down. No sign of folk or dwelling could Teucer see, until he had crossed the tableland and looked down on the farther shore. There, to his wonder, stood a great mansion with courts and colonnades, all of dark-red stone, and the fashion of the building and the masonry was unlike any he had seen. The face of the cliff under him was terraced with hanging gardens of strange, vivid flowers, and a broad stairway, cut in the limestone, wound from terrace to terrace. Down this he hastened, trusting to find hospitality in that stately house and learn his course for Cyprus.
Then he saw that the landward front of the house was a lofty and massive wall, having no windows, but a central doorway of great height, and the folding doors therein were shut; and as he went towards it he marked on his left hand a small chapel of black marble and a tomb of the same before the chapel, beside which stood a tall, fair-haired woman, richly appareled.
“Lady,” he said to her, “of your courtesy, tell me the name of this place and who is lord of so royal a house.”
But scarce had he said this when, staring amazedly on her face, he cried, “Oh, heavenly gods, what do I see? Are you — can you be Helen? Nay, nay,” he muttered, “I dream — how could the accursed wretch be here? — and yet — so like, so like! Now by the soul of Ajax, if it is Helen, I will kill her though I die for it.”
“Stranger,” said the lady, haughtily, “I know not of whom you speak, and desire to hear no more of these wild words.” And she looked him full in the eyes, with the air of an offended queen.
“Grant me pardon, lady,” said Teucer, much abashed, “for most marvelously do you resemble one whom every Greek holds in utter loathing. My blood boils even to think of that golden-haired fiend and the hundreds of brave men that have died for her wicked sake.”
“Speak of her no more,” said the lady hastily, but tell me who you are and what you seek here.”
Then Teucer told her his name and story, and, when he spoke of Troy, she said, “I have heard of that renowned city and how the Greeks laid siege to it to win back his wife for King Menelaus. Some say it will never be taken, so gallantly and so long have the Trojans held out.”
“They say wrong, then,” said Teucer, “for it was taken the night before I came thence, and burned with fire, and by this there is not one stone of it left upon another, for we had sworn to raze it even to the ground.”
“Troy is taken?” exclaimed the lady; “then did Menelaus — I mean — did you hear the fate of his wife?”
“Hear it?” replied Teucer. “Nay, I saw it with my own eyes. Menelaus, the fond fool, would not deal her the doom she merited, for all our urging, but sent her on board his ship under strong guard. And if they ‘scaped shipwreck in the tempest coming homeward, I make no doubt she is queening it once more in Sparta.”
“What!” gasped the lady. “This false Helen—” and seemed to choke upon the words.
“Well may you say false,” said Teucer, “but when you say Helen you give her a worse name still — ay, one that shall be infamous to the world’s end. But what ails you, noble dame? You are white as death.”
“It is nothing,” she answered faintly; “your tale, courteous stranger, brings back cruel memories — that is all. I, too, have suffered exile and the loss of all that makes life dear.”
Her words, and sad, sweet dignity, touched the young man to the heart, and he was about to ask if he could serve her in any way, when she continued, hurriedly, “But we talk too long — why do I keep you here in peril? Know that the land you see yonder is Egypt, and this is the summer palace of the king, who, alas! so mortally hates your countrymen that he puts to death every Greek, high or low, that enters his dominions. By heaven-sent chance, he is following the chase today, but any moment some of his people may see you from the palace wall. Oh, fly, I entreat you, and go warily, lest you fall in with him and his train. Haste aboard your ship, and may the gods bring you to your desired haven. Farewell, farewell!”
So saying, she glided swiftly within the chapel, and Teucer saw her no more.
“That was a strange encounter,” thought he, as he cautiously retraced his steps across the isle, “and why a woman who, I dare wager my life, is noble and virtuous, should be the living image of the vile traitress Helen, the gods alone know. Certainly, the likeness can be only skin-deep, for yonder lady’s speech and manner bear the very stamp of truth.”
Now, here we take leave of Teucer, son of Telamon, because this was the last of his adventures, and, when he had safely rejoined his comrades, they came with a fair wind to a spacious island haven, crowded with Phoenician merchant vessels. And from the dark-skinned Phoenician traders they learned that this was Cyprus at last, where that busy folk had built themselves thriving seaport towns. There did the exiles found a new Salamis and took wives from among the island people; good luck abode with them according to Apollo’s word, and the posterity of Teucer reigned as kings in Cyprus for many ages.
But as for Telamon, he lived to see his grandchild become a gallant youth, and, when he died full of years and honors, the son of Ajax ruled over Salamis in his stead.