9. "Achaeans, Assemble!"

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Centering Swift-Footed Achilles,
Warrior Prince of Phthia:

Death surrounds me.
     Death stings my eyes.
Death chokes my throat
     with soot particles that were,
               days ago,
          living men,
     my comrades in arms.

     These warriors came to Troy
   for battlefield glory,
       and deaths with honor and meaning.
But cruel Thanatos found them,
       puking,
          shivering,
     too weak to battle a flea.

Until someone stops this plague,
     death will come to others still.
Unless someone breaks this fever,
     death will come to--

Patroclus jumps in front of me,
     hand on my chest.
"You have been avoiding me,"
     he says.

"I can't talk now,"
     I tell him.
"There's a leadership assembly."

     He studies my face.
"I've heard nothing about a meeting."

"There will be a call to assemble,"
     I insist,
          and break away from his grasp,
          and break away from his protests,
          and break into a run.

At the place of assembly,
     I ring the bell
          and make myself a truth-teller.

The leadership assembles:
     Odysseus,
          a tricky one to oppose,
          but stalwart as an ally,
     Big Ajax,
          a proud son of my Uncle Telemon,
     Idomeneus,
          Cretan leader of a hundred cities,
     Diomedes,
          trailed by his crude kinsman,
          Thersites,
               who seems to have no better place to be,
     Calchas,
          the seer,
          who avoids my gaze,
     and as I watch him,
I am barely aware of the others that arrive.

Calchas takes his seat,
          nervous,
          uncertain,
     marshaling his army of facts
               against a wall
          of uncertain reception.

All assembled but one,
          we wait
     until Agamemnon,
     leader of the leaders,
          finally arrives,
     grumbling that other men who think to rouse him
          are like stars that think to move the sun.

"Achilles summoned us to council,"
     Odysseus tells him,
          pointing a grin in my direction,

     and Agamemnon growls,
"Deliver then,
     Son of Peleus,
words as swift as your speedy feet,
     and let us be done."

"It's not my own words I deliver,
     but a message from the gods,"
          I say.
     "In a dream,
white-armed Hera came to me.
          She favors our expedition,
     and is pained to see
               so much untimely death,
               so much loss from our ranks,
               so much enduring glory
                    wasted
          on a battle against camp fever.

     'When men in their prime,
          are cut down by disease
     the valor intended for them
               is poured out,
     like a fine vintage poured into the sea
          to the detriment of all Achaeans.'

"This is what Hera said to me,
          and so
     I fear the loss of more dear companions
               to this plague,
          and that the survivors will be driven home
with our purpose unfulfilled
     bringing shame and failure as our prizes."

     Agamemnon smolders.
"Messages from the gods
     should concern you less
than messages from your commander."

     I pound my fist.
"Unless we placate the god of pestilence,
     you will command nothing
          but a graveyard!
Why does Phoebus Apollo shoot deadly shafts into our camp?
     Has one of us broken a vow?
     Have we missed a sacrifice?
We need some prophet who can tell us,
     some priest to read the signs,
          some dream interpreter,
     or a seer who claims Apollo's favor."

Faces turn toward Calchas.
     He stands.
     He swallows.
     He speaks in a trembling voice.
"When angered,
     the gods crush mortals into dust.
This, we see around our camp.
     But mortals too,
          made from a pattern of the gods,
     will likewise harm their fellows.
There is grave danger in angering a powerful king.
     My words,
          plainly spoken,
          truthfully spoken,
     will endanger my life
          as surely as a thunderbolt from Olympus.
If I am to speak,
     I will require a pledge of protection.
          Who among you is willing to keep me safe,
          even from the ire of a powerful king?"

Odysseus,
     for all his cunning,
looks away.
     Big Ajax,
          for all his bravery,
     looks away.
Idommeneus,
     for all his power,
looks away.
     Agamemnon glowers.

          And Calchas
               looks at me.

There was a clear warning in his words.
     No man can shield another
          when gods are driven to wrath,
               but
          a warrior often stands before a comrade
               to withstand the attacks of men
                    from their spears,
                    from their swords,
                    from their arrows,
               to bear the brunt of an opposing force
          so that the other,
               shielded,
          might launch an attack.

     I do this on the Troad Plain without hesitation.
Why should this battlefield be any different?

               And so,

          I stand in the assembly,

     and step between two adversaries.

"Have courage, Calchas.
     Speak your truth.
And know,
     by Apollo to whom you pray,
that none shall lay a hand on you beside the hollow ships.
     None of our fellow Achaeans 
          shall retaliate against you for your words,
     not while I live above the earth,
     not even if you name Agamemnon himself,
          who is the best of us all."

Author Commentary:

An author commentary for this installment is available to subscribers of the free Mythoversal Newsletter.

EPIC CYCLE ROADMAP:

* The Kypria
* The Iliad
* The Posthomerica
* Tales of Nostos
* The Odyssey
* The Telegony
* The Aeneid
  Rage is the first book of the Iliad. Amazons is the first book of the Posthomerica.
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