Connect with us

weekly stories

Chapter 3 : Odysseus, The Fever of war.





The heavy wooden door slowly opened to a vast candlelit hall. My gaze slowly adjusted to the dancing lights as they shimmered and burned on the tall onyx walls. The lack of a throne and the absence of courtsmen were the only things that shifted the thought of it being a room of royalty, yet everything else pointed to such. The hall seemed to go on for miles and nothing indicated an end to it, and what seemed to be a hundred tapestries hung down on either side of me. Their presence was mighty, as the colours of every tapestry were highlighted by the flame of the massive sconces that adorned the walls. They radiated life and I half thought they could speak, until they did.


All tapestries were knit with a scene of a heroic story, and as the door closed behind me, the eyes on every character of each story shifted towards me. The silence of the hall broke as they all started to whisper in unison. I must return to Ithaca, shrieked a man on every tapestry that seemed to be a part of all of them. The scene made me jolt with shock, but eventually my ears were accustomed to the murmur of the pictures and I made myself walk to see what secrets they hold.


The first tapestry on my right depicted a young man in his early twenties standing beneath a tall olive tree. His long auburn hair draped broad muscular shoulders that portrayed a life of labour and his beard framed a distinctive square jaw. His crimson tunic was tied to his waist with a golden belt and his black hooded cape brushed the hill he stood on as he looked down on a great field filled with cattle.On his back hung a mighty oaken bow with gilded tips and a quiver full of arrows. His eyes flamed with a sense of wits and cunning, and as locked his eyes with mine, he seemed to read into my soul. He smiled amicably as he started to speak.

“Greetings, friend. Do you require guidance?”

“Guidance is the only thing I require. But first, may I ask you who you are? I must admit your appearance is quite puzzling.” I answered, looking forward to his response.

“My apologies.” laughed the man, “I am not the shepherd you might think I am, if only that were true. I am Odysseus, Son of Laertes and Prince of Ithaca.”

“And why does someone of royalty need to tend to goats and sheep?” I asked as my intrigue grew.

“If you spoke to a prince of Mycenae in this manner, they would have your tongue in pieces before the end of your sentence.” replied Odysseus smiling, “But this is not Mycenae. My father taught me to know my land in order for me to rule it. Besides, I grew fond of these fields, the peace helps me think.”

“And what trouble do you have on your mind?” I asked.

“The war, my dear friend. A great war is coming and I am to be asked to hold a vow I took nigh on ten years ago. To be truthful, I am not keen on fighting. I am accustomed to the dull life of Ithaca and I do not wish to die only for bards to sing about me to kings I do not know. Heroic deeds are for the foolish and the mad.” sighed the prince as he answered.


But you are dead, I thought as I smiled sadly to the young hopeful soul of Odysseus. I decided not to broach the subject and I started walking down the hall to see the rest of the tapestries. The whispers grew louder as I slowly strolled and looked at the marvels of Odysseus’ life. One portrayed the prince wrestling with a boar that had his tusk thrusted deep into his leg. His first taste of battle, I thought bitterly. Another showed Odysseus with his great bow in his arms and an arrow piercing the eye of a wolf sixty yards away. Quite a man, I remarked and my eyes darted to a tapestry showing two men that looked like nothing but the highest of kings, puzzled at the look of Odysseus as he seemed to feign madness. What war can be so dreadful to make a prince act like a fool? I pondered, then I saw the one right next to it, with the picture of the prince ending his charade as he looked at his young children standing in front of a running carriage.


And so Odysseus took up arms and armour and sailed to war. My heart broke bit by bit as I saw the once Shepherd Prince of Ithaca grow wearier and warier as the years turned. His auburn hair started to whiten little by little as new scars marked his body on every new tapestry, each with its own story, and the whispers grew into screams with every step of my walk. I saw him wrestling heroes thrice his size and locked in arms with a dozen warriors. He appeared calm when other kings were in fits of rage and he looked stern when disciplining his men. As the war made other kings into heroes, it made Odysseus into a soldier.


I walked further down, witnessing the atrocities of a war that never seemed to end. Visions of dismembered bodies and rotten flesh made my skin crawl as I saw what the gods have inflicted upon the greek. I saw plagues turn kings into hollow corpses and bring the youth to their deathbeds before they saw the world. Dreams shattered and hopes crumbled and Odysseus stood vigil, and slowly his soul kept on fading. 


Then I stood staring at the mighty Trojan Horse, standing high on the ruins of Troy. the city burned and Odysseus’ eyes burned with it. The Best of the Greeks, he was named after the death of Achilles, and he wore the title like a badge of honour. The war went on for ten bitter years and what would become of the Shepherd Prince was a matter I was aching to discover.


My feet began to pick up pace as I made my way down the hall. I must return to Ithaca, rang like bells in my head, half driving me to madness, and the fires started to dim as Odysseus set sail and embarked on his journey home. I could see a thousand dreams in his broad smile and the laughter of his men, but his eyes betrayed a sense of sadness that I could not understand. Unease pushed me closer to the tapestry and words I did not think to say slipped through my lips.

“Congratulations on a war well fought, Prince Odysseus.” I initiated. 

“I haven’t been a prince for ten years.” he replied, smiling, as his eyes locked with mine. “A decade listening to the barking of Menelaus and Agamemnon and you forget you are royalty. But now all is done and soon, if the gods are good, I once again will be the prince of goats and rocks.”

“May the winds be fair to you and your own.” I sincerely wished, as the thrill of his story made me forget my death and his.

“If they are not, my dear wife Penelope would fight Zeus himself for a fast voyage. God I miss her, and little Telemachus would be a grown man by now.” He daydreamed, and as I saw that the tapestries did not end, sadness pushed me from answering and I walked away from the tapestry. 


The whispers started to ebb as I watched his journey through seas that did not seem to end. The tapestries put forth a story that was a harsher hell for Odysseus than the underworld could ever be. His men kept on dying one by one as they fought with cannibals and Cyclopes. Hunger withered their strength and the storms of the Mediterranean Sea sealed their fate. They landed on a hundred islands and none of them Ithaca, as the winds disoriented them like they were toys for the gods. They found kindness in witches and slavery in Nymphs. Sleep was scarce, for Odysseus no longer trusted his own soldiers. A soldier who never left the war, I thought sourly. 


As I watched Odysseus turn grey with age and hardship, the black walls of the cave seemed to shake with the sound of pounding heartbeats. I felt like the hall almost came to an end, for the fires almost turned to cinders. Near the end, I was met with a tapestry that would have broken my heart to pieces if I had one. The fates made it so Odysseus was to see the Underworld before his own demise. I saw the Prince of Ithaca on the edge of this hideous realm, surrounded by the souls of all the soldiers that fought beside him. He saw Ajax, Achilles, Patroclus and every warrior lost in the battles of Troy, and all looked more alive than Odysseus. The pounding heart thundered mightily and I knew that the Best of the Greeks carried their memory on his shoulders every way he went.


The fires died out on my long march down the hall and I knew he reached the end. Feelings of both grief and thrill rose through me, for I desperately wanted to know if the poor soldier returned to his home. The last tapestry hanging down the walls of Odysseus’ shrine was the biggest, and with it the heartbeats sounded like drums of war. The prince that dreamed of being a shepherd was once again standing on the hills of Ithaca. His hair was bleached with the horrors he endured and his back was bent with decades of loss and sorrow. His battle scars were covered in armour and he could not keep still as he paced around with his rusty sword in hand. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I reluctantly approached the King of Ithaca.

I must return to Ithaca!” yelled Odysseus with the harshest of voices.

“But you made it, King Odysseus, you made it to your home.” I replied gravely.

“No, no, no, not this barren island. This is not my home. The hills, they do not feel the same. I cannot find peace beneath these trees and so this must not be Ithaca. Wherever I run, I hear them. A thousand hearts beating like hammers in my head and I cannot stop them. I cannot stay in these lands any longer. Athena has not called upon me in years and I long for her callings. I prayed and I prayed for peace, yet no god has blessed me, why didn’t they? I was the Best of the Greeks and I must return to Ithaca, Ithaca, Ithaca…” there was madness in his words as he spoke, and I knew Odysseus was no longer.

I jumped away from the tapestry, as my mind can no longer handle the cruel stream of thought that haunts Odysseus through every moment of his death. The war ended in Troy but it lived on in Odysseus, and who were unlucky enough to survive it. He was shaped by battle and broken by grief, and I closed my eyes and prayed long for this soldier to finally find his peace.



Written by : Hachem Saihi.

Share your thoughts

Continue Reading

weekly stories

Chapter 6 : Achilles, Valor and Vendetta.







The frame strikingly tall and intimidating, waltzing in reconfigures my senses; a stench of blood encapsulates all, though I seem to be the only one to notice, or rather the last to accustom to it.

The smell of strong hints of iron, rust particles in the atmosphere engulfing the area I was standing, and the eerie noise of metal clashing, I knew I was in for an intricately disturbing turn of events, one that I wasn’t ready to stomach: I found myself on the battlefield.


I presumed that after a decade of perpetual warfare, either side would relent and surrender, or at the very least fight with less valor and patriotism, it is common for the passage of time to dwindle hope and demoralize warriors, but not in the Trojan War, I fear. A grandiose display of courage and heroic sacrifice litters the battlefield, much like the countless corpses impaled with spears.

I never was one to indulge in the idea of warfare, let alone wish to witness it unfolding. I always found the resolution of conflict through violence seldom a path to ending a feud, but rather delaying it.


It appears I’m on the Greek side, and as I realize my stance, the hairs on my nape stand up, and I tremble, feeling the slightest gust of breath over my shoulder, an ominous presence hovers above me, but I dare not turn, neither utter a letter nor exhale, for I fear my fate lies in the hands of what ambushed me. A statue I become.

moments pass and an eternity of paranoia clouds my mind, I am but a prayer away from the river Styx, and I don’t understand the fate I’m bestowed.


« You bear no resemblance to a myrmidon, yet neither are you a Trojan. Where, then, do your loyalties reside? », the silence that befell me as soon as I petrified broke, the voice young, taut, and disembodied, but the tone trod the line between fierce and menacing. Inclined to answer, my thoughts race to implore my limbs to move, but trepidation courses through my frozen nerves, and dread holds me in place. I am but a still husk of a man, dare I glance wrong and I may meet my fate. Nevertheless, glance I shall, my eyes roll cautiously down, and a white silhouette captures my attention: wings.


Wings, even here, rarely turn up on someone’s heel, unless Zeus has something to do with it— and then it blinded me clear as a lightning bolt: those were Arke’s wings on his heels, Zeus’s something borrowed for Thetis and Peleus’s wedding, making their beholder the pinnacle of Greek warriors, the legend of the Trojan War, and the foretold harbinger of peace after a decade of bloodshed: Achilles.

Somehow, in the murk of my innermost self, a deeper tumult of anguish surged, and I recalled a verse wherein his name found sanctuary, which reads:


« Rage, goddess — Sing of the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles, murderous, accursed,  doomed, that brought the Achaeons great suffering »


How must I compose myself when faced with such a formidable presence, formidable yet daunting? Achilles was infamous for his uncontrolled burst of fury, only Patroclus could guide him back to reason with his wise words. As childhood companions, the both of them were inseparable, Achilles and Patroclus. The latter being the role model in kindness and wisdom, and the former in heroic attributes and combat valor, they were an imposing pair. At last, courage stirs in me a storm, and I find myself pivoting gradually to meet his gaze, his sharp, cold, preemptory gaze.


« I mean no harm. » I quivered. It seems as though the courage I amassed wasn’t enough to answer without traces of trembling in my voice. « I’m here to observe, not interfere. »


From behind him approaches a towering figure— a friendlier one than what I confront, though it be void of relevance, for Achilles remains peerless at that.


« Achilles, my brother in arms, hear my earnest plea, » solicits Patroclus as Achilles lowers his defenses. His focus shifts from glaring at me to attentively heeding his companion’s entreaty. Finally, I could draw a relieved breath.


« The time has come for us to don the mantle of strategy as well as valor. Your divine armor, crafted with such skill by Hephaestus, holds not only the strength of the gods but also a potent symbol to strike fear into the hearts of our enemies. As we stand against the Trojan hordes, let us wield not just swords and spears but also cunning and deception. Allow me, with your blessing, to bear your armor into battle. Let the Trojans believe that Achilles himself strides forth, while in truth, it is I who shall wear the gleaming bronze. In this ruse lies our advantage, a shadow of fear cast upon our foes, as they face the might of Achilles where he is not. Grant me this honor, my friend, that together we may achieve victory on the field of Troy. »


Achilles has abstained from engaging in battle ever since Agamemnon, the commander of the Achaeon forces, dishonored him. In earlier raids, Achilles captured Briseis and Chryseis, the latter of whom he surrendered to Agamemnon. However, her father, chryses, a priest of Apollo, intervened with ransom and the threat of divine retribution, compelling Agamemnon to release her. In retaliation, he seized Briseis for himself. With wrath coursing through his veins, Achilles lifted his voice to the heavens, his words resonating with fervor and anguish:


« Zeus, ruler of the skies, heed my prayer! Injustice stains the battlefield, and the honor that once bound warriors together lies shattered. Stripped of my due honor, I stand aggrieved. Yet, I beseech you, turn your gaze upon the Trojans, and grant them your favor. Let them gain ground, that Agamemnon may taste humility and I may reclaim my rightful glory. O Zeus, if ever my valor earned your favor, let vengeance be wrought upon those who wronged me. Grant me vengeance, O mighty Zeus, and restore my honor in the eyes of men! »


As Zeus answered his prayers aiding the Trojans in their advance against the Greeks led by Prince Hector, the situation turned grim, with more soldiers falling in arms. In the midst of this chaotically bleak scenario, Patroclus’s demand appears increasingly more justified, perhaps the most reasonable course of action.


« Patroclus, my trusted companion. » Achilles sighs with compassion, he knows the inevitable, and he comprehends the fate bestowed upon him, yet he acquiesces with a tinge of regret in his voice. Perhaps putting hubris before reason was unwise; maybe he ought to stand alongside his comrade in battle. Nevertheless, Achilles, pompous as he is, complies.


« I bestow upon you the privilege of donning my armor in battle. Yet, I beseech you, do not forget my plea: once you have repelled the Trojans from our ships, return to me unharmed. Your bravery is unmatched, but my heart cannot bear the thought of losing you in the fray. With this gift, I entrust not just my armor, but a piece of my own spirit to your care. May its gleam blind our enemies to the truth, may its weight fortify your resolve, and may its presence upon the battlefield be a beacon of hope to our allies. Promise me, Patroclus, that you will come back to stand by my side, so that together we may revel in our victory and face whatever lies ahead as brothers in arms. »


Patroclus, instilling trust in Achilles, dons his armor and charges forth with formidable strength. None among the Trojans dare to oppose him as he cuts a path through their ranks, and each who dares meets his untimely fate. The disguised hero successfully repels the nearby enemies. Proud, Patroclus basks in the glow of glory, and hubris, once again, trumps reason as an unfulfilled promise is disregarded. Pressing onward towards the gates of Troy, Patroclus finds himself ensnared in battle and Apollo removes his wits. Patroclus falls victim to the spear of Euphorbos, followed by the fatal blow from Prince Hector. As Patroclus lies bleeding on the ground, and as Hector strips him from Achilles’ prized armor as a trophy of victory over the cunning warrior, he utters his last words:


« You yourself are not one who shall live long, but now already death and powerful destiny are standing beside you, to go down under the hands of Aiakos’ great son, Achilleus. »


News of Patroclus’s demise spreads swiftly across the battlefield, and upon learning of his companion’s death, Achilles’ composure shatters, his muscles tense, his gaze hollow, enveloped in an eerie haze of grief. Slowly, Achilles’s world crumbles around him. Slowly, he turns to confront the remainder of his comrades-in-arms. As I stand there, I resign once more to the whims of the great son of Peleus, unsure of what lies ahead, uncertain of his reaction, knowing full well that his wrath may even affect those who stand by his side. And I, unfortunate soul, am burdened with that very fate. For Achilles, hearing Patroclus’s death rewires him, honor recedes in significance and friendship comes to the fore as he exhales with sorrow, consuming and profound:


« The man I loved beyond all other comrades, loved as my own life — I lost him. And now, far away from the land of his fathers, he has perished, and lacked my fighting strength to defend him. Now, since I am not going back to the land of my fathers, since I was no light of safety to Patroclus, but sit here beside my ships, a useless weight on the good land, I, who am such as no other of the bronze-armored Achaeans in battle »


Thetis, his mother, rushes to console the grieving Achilles, entreating Hephaestus to forge another set of armor for him, complete with an intricately crafted shield. His sorrow fleeting, his wrath bursting at the seams, Achilles unlearns restraint and his eyes sparkle with the lust for bloodshed. No grudge against Agamemnon, no swollen pride, no vendetta to reclaim honor, and no pursuit of glory or heroic deeds could ever eclipse what Achilles sought after the most; in that moment alone, Achilles, liberated from hesitation or uncertainty, consumed by a fiery passion to fulfill his one true burning desire above all else: vengeance for Patroclus.


At that moment alone, he unleashed a display of wrath unparalleled by any mortal, as if he had harbored it within his soul since birth, as if his destiny dictated that it would erupt only at this juncture in the war. Perhaps it was the gods who scripted this sequence of events in their celestial books, decreeing that Achilles must lose his dearest friend and embark on a merciless killing spree.


Yet Achilles did not contemplate such matters; consumed by rage, he transcended his own identity, becoming nothing but a harbinger of death to all who crossed his path. His once invincible hands are now stained with the blood of countless foes, the more he advances relentlessly into the enemy ranks, drawing ever closer to Hector — the embodiment of his vengeance — the sooner he fulfills his purpose and returns but a mere shell of his former self, devoid of all impetus and ipseity.


The river ran thick with blood. Angered by the defilement of its waters, the river god Scamander attempts to drown Achilles, but Hera and Hephaestus intervene, allowing him to rise unscathed and undeterred, pressing onward toward his sole target. Even Zeus dispatched the gods to restrain Achilles, so he doesn’t sack Troy before the time allotted for its destruction, for his unhindered rage seems to defy fate itself, threatening to rewrite the very will of Olympus.


Affronted, wroth, and deranged, a determined Achilles tracks down Hector, the subject of his smite. Once Achilles locates his prey, the wings of Akre aid him to catch up swiftly with the Prince. Circulating the walls of Troy, the vengeance-crazed warrior shouts:


« I shall ensnare you with your own entrails, coiling them around you like a scarf, tightening the grip until it suffocates you, until it feels like my hands around your throat »


The anticipation hung thick in the air as Hector and Achilles closed in on each other, poised for a clash of legendary proportions. Maybe it was here and now that the Trojan War vanquisher comes to light. Hector charges through the wind with his sword, fast, efficient, sharp, perhaps from fear of the debilitating force before him, perhaps with the help of his opponent’s trusted shield, he misses. The poor prince, not hearing the sound of metal penetrating flesh, seeing his famed blade not stained with blood of his most formidable opponent, accepts his grim fate. In seconds few, he shall be dead. In seconds few, he meets the consequences of murdering Patroclus in cold blood, and he understands those consequences will be severe.


« Hector— surely you thought when you stripped Patroclus’ armor that you, you would be safe! Never a fear of me— far from the fighting as I was— you fool! Left behind there, down by the beaked ships his great avenger waited, a greater man by far— that man was I, and I smashed your strength! And you— the dogs and birds will maul you, shame your corpse while Achaeans bury my dear friend in glory! »


Hector raises his gaze to Achilles as the blade penetrates further his chest, as the warrior stands over him, towering, terrifying, fatal:


« I beg you, beg you by your life, your parents— don’t let the dogs devour me by the Argive ships! give my body to friends to carry home again, so Trojan men and Trojan women can do me honor with fitting rites of fire once I am dead. »


Disgusted, Achilles grips the spear with both hands and twists it as Hector groans in agony.


« Dog! » Achilles shouts, still inebriated with rage. « Talk not to me neither of honor nor parents; would that I could be as sure of being able to cut your flesh into pieces and eat it raw, for the ill have done me, as I am that nothing save you from the dogs— such agonies you have caused me. Your noble mother shall never lay you on your deathbed to mourn the son she bore. The dogs and birds will rend you— blood and bone! »


On the precipice of death, and in a hopeless effort to frighten Achilles, Hector struggles to collect a breath, then proclaims:


« Be careful now; for I might be made into the gods’ curse. Upon you, on that day when Paris and Phoibos Apollo destroy you in the Skainan gates, for all your valor. »


Hector’s prophecy is cut short, and as his soul trickles down into Hades’s realm, his body’s fate is as grim. Achilles wrenches the spear from the corpse, sets it aside, and rips his stolen armor from the fallen prince. Not one of the nearby warriors flocked to the body and did not stab it mockingly, proudly, as if the war was already won, as if the prince’s remains shall never know peace. Achilles, perplexed by the Hector’s last words, was determined to shame him, finding solace in the lament of his grieving mother.


He pierces the tendons, from ankle to heel behind both feet, then binds them with straps of rawhide, lashing them to his chariot, and leaving the head to drag along the ground. Mounting the wagon and hoisting the armor abroad, the troops aside him follow as he charges onward and leaves a cloud of dust in his wake from the humiliated prince Hector, the once glorious and pompous warrior now reduced to a mere spectacle, being defiled in the lands of his ancestors.


The desecration of Hector’s body broke the once proud Trojans, their spirits shattered by the sight of his lifeless form being dragged behind Achilles’ chariot. The agony that envelops their ranks is palpable, a suffocating shroud that weighs heavy upon the hearts of all who bore witness to their prince’s downfall. And amidst that turmoil, the mother’s cries pierce the air, from the depths of Troy’s walls to the chambers of the royal palace, echoing the grief that courses through every corner of the besieged city.


And as the atmosphere of Troy sways between the landscape of murderous warriors driven by carnage, the humiliating display put on by Achilles to drag a dead man through the mud as you ransack your enemy’s motherland, and the harrowing sounds of a weeping family over their son’s departure and public mockery, I stood there more perplexed than I was when I came in through that door. Once again, stuck in the ebb and flow of tragedies that don’t concern me, I was frozen in place, pondering the same thought that I tend never to omit: what am I doing here?


While tending to that query I realized that I had gotten used to that overpowering smell of blood and that I now wasn’t terrified of Achilles anymore than he was threatened by me at first, a stranger ominously appeared amidst his ranks, perilously close to his most cherished companion. The more time I spend among these flawed gods and legendary mortals, the more I recognize the humanity in them, as if they hold a mirror reflecting our strongest desires and deepest flaws. What is Achilles but a man driven to fury by the loss of a loved one? What is Hector but a patriot willing to sacrifice honor to defend Troy, the land of his ancestors? What is Scamander but a guardian of what he holds dear? And mighty Zeus— What is he but the embodiment of desire for things to unfold according to his will?


In the end, gods and warriors alike are not immune to the passions and frailties that define the human experience. The Trojan War, too, was but a reaction to human emotions of control and greed, and the warriors and gods alike participated, each for the opportunity to bring glory to their name and nothing else. Achilles, with his insatiable thirst for vengeance, and Hector, with his tragic downfall, were but manifestations of the same emotional tapestry that weaves through the fabric of mortal existence. They feel love, grief, and remorse just as keenly as any mortal.


My prejudice of these mythical creatures has led me to unfairly judge Achilles when I met him, for it is not the legends etched in stones or the rumors whispered around that define anyone’s character, but rather their actions and the motivation behind them. And while the path to it may be fraught with peril and uncertainty, it is far nobler to embrace the human emotions within than to meddle with the ever-shifting currents of fate and fortune.


Although I had long forgotten the concept of home, a glimmer of hope lit my face as I gazed at the door materializing before me. Through its threshold, I caught a fleeting glimpse of a reflection of myself from before I came here. Perhaps another adventure awaits me, but an instinct within tells me home awaits on the other side of that door. And so, unwavering, I stride forward and step through.



Written by: Rayen Aouicha.

Share your thoughts

Continue Reading

Made with ❤ at INSAT - Copyrights © 2019, Insat Press