Over the next few days, there was a definite change in Sariel’s behavior. She didn’t say anything about it, but Chess noticed. She continued hunting rabbits, as always, but she also started gathering more plants and berries. And, on these foraging runs, she began to take Ileana with her.
The two did not become close friends or anything; they were still quiet around each other, but Chess felt greatly relieved.
One night, Ileana was the one to set up the campfire. And, as with everything she did, she got it lit much faster than Chess ever could. She smiled up at Chess over the first trails of curling smoke. “You should be really good at this,” she told him. “It’s all a strategy game.”
“What do you mean?” Chess asked, surprised.
“Well…” Ileana waved toward the fire as she got to her feet. “You use friction to get the tinder started. And then, you use that ember to get the kindling lit, and then --”
“No…” Chess interrupted her. “I mean, why do you think I should be good at it?”
Ileana laughed, shaking her head. “I think -- if that strategy you came up with for taking down Razor is any indication -- your brain works in ways that are downright Machiavellian.”
As usual, Chess gave a start when Razor’s name was mentioned. “That plan didn’t work,” he answered, trying to sound casual. He was still feeling shy about their encounter a few days before.
Ileana brushed the bits of tinder off her hands, and Chess tried not to remember holding her fingers in his as he cut her nails. He looked away, wondering if he could ever think of her as a sister.
“We just didn’t have time to watch it play out,” Ileana countered. “These things can take a while. After all, it took ten years -- and a lot of meddling from gods,” she said, glancing at Sariel, “for the city of Troy to fall.” Then, she smiled ruefully. “I’m sorry, you guys have no idea what I’m talking about. I feel kind of connected with that story because I looked up my name once, and supposedly it means: ‘one who comes from Ileum.’”
“Oh: Ileum!” Sariel appeared suddenly delighted – and then confused. “Part of the small intestine?” she ventured, making Ileana blink at her in surprise.
“Oh, I know!” Chess exclaimed. “The Iliad: the story of the Trojan war… Odysseus… Hector… the Trojan horse…” He watched Sariel shrug and go back to ignoring the conversation.
Ileana gave him a rewarding smile. “Yeah, I always liked that idea: a city under siege, outnumbered, making a stand against would-be conquerors…”
“Huh. Uh, don’t they end up losing?” Chess commented, with a vague queasy feeling in his stomach. “Well, anyway, it’s more interesting than my name,” he muttered. “Uh, how about you, Sar? Is your name a traditional one from your village or something?” he probed, but Sariel merely sent a brief glare in his direction, silencing him and, at the same time, making his heart jump.
“You have a good name,” Ileana reassured him. She looked thoughtful for a moment. “But if you don’t like it… what was the name of your character, again? In that game you told me about…?”
Chess felt his face redden. Reluctantly, he answered, “Chess.”
“Chess,” Ileana repeated with satisfaction, filling him with amazement. “That fits.”
The next morning, they started out in a direction that would move them further into wooded territory, away from the paved road that they had been following. The noise of engines passing during the night had made them fearful. They had not traveled far, however, when a voice shouted to them.
Chess’s heart began to pound as he watched strangers emerge from the cover of the trees and move toward them, with rifles raised. “We’re, uh, just passing through,” he shouted to them, his voice shaking. “We don’t want any trouble.”
The girls edged closer to him as he stood there, squinting at the men. With torn and dirty clothing and scowling expressions, they reminded him of the dissidents that he had met outside of the army camp. “You better come with us,” one of them ordered.
Continued next page...
Cease to consult, the time for action calls;
War, horrid war, approaches to your walls!
Assembled armies oft have I beheld;
But ne'er till now such numbers charged a field:
Thick as autumnal leaves or driving sand,
The moving squadrons blacken all the strand.
Thou, godlike Hector! all thy force employ,
Assemble all the united bands of Troy
- The Iliad of Homer Translated by Alexander Pope
The Iliad is the quintessential epic poem of mythology and battles. Modern writers from Marion Zimmer Bradley to the Crüxshadows’s lyricist have re-imagined the Iliad as a romantic tale about a brave underdog (the city of Troy) which valiantly faces the overwhelming odds of the combined Greek armies and is tragically defeated. However, it appears to be, rather, an extensive and graphic description of bloody one-on-one spear fights, with the intention of praising strength and valor in battle and belittling any fear or weakness. The story is filled with lists of names of the fighters, and ancestors of fighters. I fear that in these modern times, when the world wishes for peace above all, none of us has the cultural background to appreciate fully the point of this story.
Frequently hilarious, though, is the way the gods get involved: they intensify the battle or they rescue their favorite warriors... and then get wounded themselves and run, wailing, back to Mount Olympus to stand before daddy Zeus and accuse each other of meddling. One understands how Paris and Helen are allowed to remain in Troy despite the terrible war they have brought upon their countrymen: clearly, all believe that it’s the gods’ doing. How can humans stand against the machinations of gods?
Other than that, the Iliad is mostly about Achilles and whether he will enter the fight and thus win the war for the Greeks. For much of the story, while the others go off to battle, he sulks in his tent because his captain, King Agamemnon, has taken away Briseis, his lovely captured slave. However, in one translation, once Achilles and Agamemnon make up:
...Achilles rose and said, "Son of Atreus, surely it would have been better alike for both you and me, when we two were in such high anger about Briseis, surely it would have been better, had Diana's arrow slain her at the ships on the day when I took her after having sacked Lyrnessus.
Ah, so admirable, these ancient Greek heroes! And to the argument that Achilles was a hero because he was so mighty, remember this giant among men got his mother, Thetis, to go plead his hissy-fit case on her knees before Zeus. Mighty warriors, indeed: men in togas.
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