Gateway to the Classics: The Wonder-Book of Horses by James Baldwin
The Wonder-Book of Horses by  James Baldwin

Swift and Old-Gold

First Heat—The Wedding Presents

I COULD never quite understand why old King Peleus of the little city of Phthia in Thessaly should have been so great a favorite of the gods. But, say what we will, he knew some things that were well worth knowing. For instance, he knew that the best way to govern men was to give them plenty of work to do; and hence his people of Phthia were such busy bodies that they were everywhere called Myrmidons, which in plain English means Ants. Indeed, an absurd story was told that when Peleus first came into that part of the country there was no city there, and not a sign of human beings, not even a wild man in the woods—nothing but a great ant-hill with its thousands of six-legged workers toiling and fuming and laying up their stores of winter food. But while the young outlaw—for Peleus was only such—sat footsore and hungry on the green turf and watched these wise creatures, how by their industry they waxed rich, there came a sudden flash of lightning and a stunning clap of thunder from the clouds that hovered over Mount Olympus, and, presto! all was changed. The ant-hill was suddenly transformed into a white-walled town, and the insects themselves into busy men and women hurrying through the streets, carrying burdens, building houses, and buying and selling, just as though they had always been used to doing so. Armed warriors stood guard at the gates, and sturdy farmers with their teams of oxen were bringing in the produce of the fields; and in the middle part of the city, surrounded by a garden of olives and pomegranates, was a white palace which the Myrmidons had built for Peleus, whom they now hailed as their king.

But the most interesting happening in the life of King Peleus was his wedding with the sea-nymph Thetis, for that was the starting point of the greatest romance that has ever been sung or written. Whether Thetis was really a silver-footed nymph, as the poets would have us believe, or whether she was only the daughter of a fisherman, it matters not, the time was so long ago. It is certainly true that she was famed all over the world for her beauty and her many graces; and Peleus, who was then too old to be handsome, had no easy time of it in the winning of her.

The wedding was the grandest ever known, for there were gods and heroes among the guests; and the wedding presents, which were brought from land and sea and sky, were such as were never seen before or since. According to the custom of the time, the finest of these gifts were nominally for the bridegroom; but I have little doubt that had it not been for the sake of the beautiful bride they would not have been given. Among these gifts was a suit of well-wrought armor with a wooden tablet attached to it upon which was written: "This is from the gods." There was also an ashen spear of great weight which Cheiron, the Centaur, had cut and shaped from a tree that grew on the topmost crag of Mount Pelion. But the last and best of all were two peerless war steeds called Balios (Swift) and Xanthos (Old-Gold), the gift of the mighty sea-king Poseidon.

Both of these horses were of the same height, both were of the same perfect shape, and they moved together as if they had but one mind. Their color was that of old gold finely burnished, and their long manes, which were like silk for fineness, sparkled like sunbeams in the clear air of a frosty morning. Their eyes were like the eyes of eagles, their feet were light as the air, their speed was that of the west wind, and they understood the language of men.

Perhaps it would be unfair to say that King Peleus was prouder of these horses than he ever expected to be of his fair young wife. He had a fine suite of rooms fitted up for them in his palace at Phthia, and the best grooms in Hellas were employed to take care of them day and night. The fame of the steeds soon spread into foreign lands, and many were the princes and heroes that came from beyond the sea to look at and admire them. But the harness that belonged to them hung unused in its place upon the wall. For old King Peleus, who in his younger days had been a famous rider and driver, and had won the title of Lord of Horses, was too feeble ever to mount the war chariot again, and Swift and Old-Gold were too noble and precious to be driven by any common mortal. Every day they were bathed in wine and washed in the clearest spring water, their manes were oiled and combed and plaited in tresses, and they were allowed to gambol for an hour in the king's orchard. Otherwise they stood idle in their stalls, and knew neither bit nor lash nor loud war-cry; and while their master grew older and feebler with every change of the moon, they remained always young and beautiful and strong.

By and by a son was born to Thetis and the king, a fair-haired child who the soothsayers declared would be greater than his father and yet would die sooner than he. When the babe was brought in the nurse's arms to Peleus, the old man looked upon him fondly and said:

"This is the hero who will drive the steeds Balios and Xanthos in battle. He shall also have the armor of well-wrought bronze which the gods gave me on my wedding day, and the mighty spear which Cheiron, my wise grandfather, hewed out of the mountain-ash."

But the babe, afraid of the gray locks and wrinkled visage of its sire, cried; and Peleus, turning away, said: "He is, after all, only a little whiner!" And they therefore called him Ligyron, which means whining.

When Ligyron was yet a very little child, his father sent him to live with Cheiron, who had a famous nursery and kindergarten of heroes at his home on the wooded slopes of Mount Pelion. The wise old Centaur changed the lad's name to Achilles and fed him with the hearts of lions and the marrow of bears and wild boars. And the boy was taught how to use the bow and how to manage horses and how to take care of his own body that he might always be strong and brave. He also learned what were the best ways of treating wounds, and what kind of herbs were good for medicines; and he became inured to exposure and danger, sleeping in the open air, chasing wild boars in the forest, riding barebacked on the half-tamed horses of the plains, and skirmishing with savage robbers in the mountain passes. He was not more than nine years old when, having finished his course in Cheiron's school, he went back to his home in Phthia, a tall, yellow-haired, sun-browned youth, very quick of temper, strong-limbed, and as graceful as he was brave. His fair mother wept when she saw him, for a soothsayer had told her that his life, although a glorious one, should be of short duration. His old father was very proud of him, and took him out to show him the treasures of the palace.

"Here," said the king, "is the matchless armor of bronze which the gods gave me on my wedding day. No man has ever yet worn it, but you are already well-nigh large enough for it to fit you becomingly. See this fair, round shield with many an image of beauty graven upon it, and this helmet with its nodding horsehair plume—was ever anything so delightsome to a young warrior's eye? And here is the ashen spear which not one of our Myrmidons is strong enough to wield, but which your stout arms will soon be able to hurl. And, lastly, here are Swift and Old-Gold, the noblest war steeds that any mortal ever owned. All these things are yours, my son!"

Second Heat—Before Troy

As I have set out to tell you only about a famous team of horses, I shall not be expected to relate the history of that ever-memorable war in which Swift and Old-Gold acted so important a part—the war which the Greeks waged against Troy on the farther side of the Ægean Sea. Hence I shall not stop to explain the causes of that war, how they began at old Peleus's wedding feast and became active when beautiful Helen of Argos was carried away by Prince Paris of Troy. Nor shall I tell how King Agamemnon lighted the war fires on every hilltop of Greece and summoned every warrior chief to join him in defending the honor of their country by punishing the Trojans and bringing fair Helen back to her home. Nor need I relate how the young Achilles was at first hidden away by his mother lest he should go to the war and lose his life therein; nor how, being discovered in his hiding-place, he was afterward persuaded to lead his Myrmidons to the attack upon Troy, although well knowing that he would never return to his native land; nor how nine long years were wasted in desultory warfare along the Trojan shores; nor yet how, at the beginning of the tenth year, Achilles, being angered at Agamemnon's high-handed tyranny, drew off his Myrmidons and withheld his aid at the very time when the Greeks stood most in need of it. Of all these things you may read in the works of the great poets; my story has to do with Swift and Old-Gold and the events that grew out of Achilles's wrath.

A month had already passed since the quarrel, and Achilles sat sulkily in his hut, nursing his anger toward Agamemnon. On either side of him, along the sandy sea-beach, were the tents of his Myrmidons; and behind them, drawn up on the shelving shore just out of reach of the lapping waves, were the fifty black ships which had borne them across the sea. Opening into the same courtyard as their master's hut was the stable wherein Swift and Old-Gold stood lazily champing the clover and parsley which the grooms had cut and brought to them from the meadows along the shore. Three times nine years had passed since they were given to old Peleus at his wedding feast, and yet they were as wondrously fair and strong and swift as they had ever been. Many times since crossing the sea, they had borne their young master into the din and fury of battle, and many times had their fearlessness and his prowess turned the tide of war. But now the days were passed in idleness. Their harness with their master's armor hung useless within the hut. The war chariot, polished and clean, stood well covered up beside the door, and Achilles's mighty ashen spear, leaned, half-forgotten, against the wall. The Myrmidons lolled lazily upon the grass in the shadow of their tents, some sleeping, some playing checkers or games of chance, and some telling wonderful tales of warfare and adventure. But beneath the walls of Troy, only a short distance away, the rest of the Greeks were fighting a losing battle with the Trojans. In vain did Agamemnon and his chiefs urge their warriors to the fray. Their foes, led by brave Hector of Troy, worsted them on every hand, and later in the day drove them back beaten and disheartened to the shore of the sea and to the shelter of their ships.

And the two war steeds, champing clover and gazing out of the open door of the courtyard, talked together about the prospects of the war.

"Methinks," said Swift, "that unless our master takes the field the Greeks will soon be pushed into the sea."

"Agamemnon himself knows that," responded Old-Gold, "and he will send men to Achilles this very night, to persuade him to forget his anger."

"And what will our master do then?" asked Swift. "Tell me, brother, for thou canst sometimes see into the future."

"He will not be moved, for he is unforgiving. And yet he will allow his dear friend Patroc1us to lead the Myrmidons into the fight. Have courage, brother, for I smell the fray afar off, and we shall have part in it ere many days."

Third Heat—The King's Messengers

That night the men of Troy encamped on the plain between the city and the ships, and Swift and Old-Gold looking out could see a thousand watch-fires blazing, and in the gleam of each sat fifty warriors proudly boasting of their deeds. But the Greeks were cowering among their tents on the shore and debating whether to betake themselves at once to their ships and return in disgrace to their native land, or whether to try the uncertain issue of another day of battle.

"Ah!" cried Swift, peering into the gloom. "Who comes here? It must be the men whom Agamemnon has sent out to treat with our master."

Moving with great caution along the shore, lest they should be heard by some Trojan picket, three noble Greeks were making their way toward the hut of Achilles. They were Ajax, the cousin of Achilles and next to him the mightiest of living heroes; Ulysses, the wiliest of the Grecian chiefs; and knightly old Phoinix, who had once been Achilles's schoolmaster in Phthia. With these men were also two heralds who came to help them find the way. Very quietly did they draw near, led by the cunning Ulysses. Unseen by anyone save the two war steeds, they entered the open door. They crossed the courtyard, found Achilles in his own room playing a sweet air upon a lyre of curious workmanship, and singing of the glories of war, whilst over against him sat his friend Patroclus, silently listening. Surprised by their sudden coming, both of the young men sprang to their feet, Achilles with the lyre still in his hand. Then he welcomed them warmly as his dearest friends, and leading them forward he made them sit down upon soft cushions and carpets of purple, and turning to Patroclus he bade him bring forth a great bowl of mixed wine and a cup for each of his guests.

And Patroclus did this and more. In the light of the blazing fire he placed a great fleshing-block, and upon it he laid a goat's back and choice pieces of mutton and pork; and having sliced them well, he pierced them with spits and roasted them above the hot coals. Then he put the meat on platters, and brought out baskets of white bread which he served to the guests. But Achilles himself served the meat, while Patroclus sacrificed to the gods by throwing some of the choicest pieces into the fire. When all had partaken of the good cheer before them Ulysses filled a cup with wine and pledged it to Achilles and made known the object of their coming.

All night long the three messengers pleaded with Achilles to lay aside his anger and to give to the sorely tried Greeks the succor of which they stood in so great need. And they promised in the name of Agamemnon that he should have for his reward seven tripods untouched by fire, and ten talents of gold, and twenty caldrons of bronze, and twelve prize-winning horses, and seven women slaves skilled in the finest handiwork. More than this, if they should succeed in taking Troy, then Achilles might load his ship full of gold and bronze from the pillage of the palaces; and he might choose the fairest of Agamemnon's daughters for his wife, and take with her as her dower seven well-peopled cities that lay near the sea. But Achilles turned a deaf ear to all their entreaties, and declared that it was his purpose to sail on the morrow with his Myrmidons back to his native land.

"Hateful to me," he said, "are Agamemnon's gifts, and to me he is not worth a straw. Not even if he gave me ten times, yea, twenty times, all that is his and all that may come to him—even though he should promise me gifts in number as the sand, yet he shall not persuade me. And so you have my answer."

And Ajax and Ulysses arose, and went back sorrowfully to their own tents. But old Phoinix stayed with his one-time pupil Achilles.

Fourth Heat—The Fierce Fight

On the next day, and the next, and the next, the battle raged fiercely about the camp and the ships of the Greeks; but Achilles and his Myrmidons stayed quietly in their tents, and neither gave aid to their countrymen nor embarked on their ships to return to their native land. On the third day, however, Patroclus went out unarmed to see how things were faring with his friends. It was a sad tale that he brought back to Achilles.

"The bravest of the Greeks," said he, "are lying among the ships smitten and wounded. Everywhere the men of Troy press upon them; they have broken over the wall into the camp, and they are even throwing fire into the ships. If thou withhold thy help longer, surely thou art without pity—thou canst not be the son of Peleus and gentle Thetis, but art rather born of the gray sea and the beetling rocks. But if that old prophecy of the soothsayer holds thee back, then I pray thee let me go forth leading the Myrmidons to the help of our kinsmen. And lend me thine armor and chariot and the war steeds, Swift and Old-Gold, so that the Trojans will mistake me for thee and perhaps be dismayed at my coming."

Achilles was moved by his friend's entreaties, and the more so as, looking toward the Grecian ships, he saw thick smoke arise and then great sheets of flame.

"Truly, you may go!" he cried. "Gird on my armor quickly, and I will call the Myrmidons."

Patroclus made haste to don the armor great and fair which the gods had given to old Peleus on his marriage day. Round his shoulders he belted the sword of bronze, on his head he set the glittering helmet, and in his hands he took the mighty shield and two strong lances. But the ashen spear that Cheiron had made he left in the hut, for no man but Achilles could wield it. Then the horses, Swift and Old-Gold, were led out by Automedon, the skillfullest of charioteers, and harnessed in their places. Very glad were the noble steeds when they smelled the battle and knew that they were soon to take part in the dreadful fray. And in the side-traces Automedon put a third horse, a chestnut-colored steed named Pedasos, which had been captured in Cilicia.

In the meanwhile Achilles had called the Myrmidons to arms, and now they came forward in close-serried ranks, shield pressed against shield, helm against helm, and man against man—the horsehair crests on the bright helmet-ridges touching each other when they nodded, so closely together did they stand. And the proud war horses, Swift and Old-Gold, guided by the strong arms of Automedon and drawing the car in which stood the fearless Patroclus, led the way into the thick of battle. And in one mass the Myrmidons fell upon the Trojans that were besetting the ships, and the din of the conflict waxed wondrous great.

Now, when the Trojans saw the chariot drawn by the world-famous steeds and in it Patroclus shining in armor, they wavered in the fight, for they thought that Achilles himself had come out against them. Then, as if every man sought only his own safety, they turned and in dreadful panic fled as best they could away from the encampment of the Greeks. And wherever they were thickest in the flight, there followed Swift and Old-Gold, glorying in their strength and speed, crushing men beneath their feet, and overturning many a fleeing car. When they came to the great ditch that the Greeks had digged outside their camp, many were the horses and very many the men that fell in one terrible, struggling heap; but our swift steeds, guided by Automedon, leaped straight over all in their mad pursuit of the mighty Hector, who was speeding across the plain toward the shelter of his own gates.

But why tell of all the terrible deeds of that terrible day? Why tell of the fight beneath the walls of Troy, of the brave rallying of the Trojans under great Hector, and of the fierce onset of Sarpedon, who slew the goodly trace-horse Pedasos with his spear? Then indeed it might have gone hard with Patroclus had not Automedon reached over with his long-edged sword and quickly cut adrift the unlucky beast; and Swift and Old-Gold, no longer cumbered in their course, strained forward upon the reins and rushed furiously onward.

At length, however, there was a turn in the tide of battle, for Patroclus, still eager to meet the great Hector, was struck from behind. His helmet was smitten from his head and rolled rattling away beneath the horses' hoofs; the long lance which he bore was shattered in his hands, and the tasseled shield fell with a crash to the ground. The Greeks afterward said that no mortal dealt that blow, but only Apollo, whom no man can withstand. Dazed and blind and sorely wounded, Patroclus would have fled to the succor of his comrades. But Hector, seeing his sorry plight, now rushed upon him and with his spear gave him his death wound. With a crash the hero fell headlong to the ground, and the swift-footed steeds bore the chariot and Automedon, the driver, away from the field.

Then, throughout the rest of the day, Trojans and Greeks fought around the body of Patroclus, these that they might carry it to the ships, and those that they might drag it in triumph into the city. Swift and Old-Gold, when they had gotten away from the thick of battle and knew their warrior had fallen, would move no farther but stood still and wept. Vainly did Automedon try to coax them with gentle words; vainly did he ply the cruel lash; they would neither go back to the ships nor return to the field of fight. With their heads bowed to the ground, they wept hot tears for Patroclus, and their shining manes were covered with dust. At length, however, as if new courage had been put into their knees, they rallied and made a fierce onset upon the enemy, and behind them Automedon fought wildly, sweeping upon his foes as a vulture upon wild geese. Being alone in the car, however, he could do small harm, for he was unable to wield his spear and at the same time guide his fiery team.

So the fighting went on over the body of Patroclus, from which Hector had already stripped the gory armor, and it was not until the evening that the Greeks were at last able to bear it from the field, and, with the stress of war waxing fierce behind them, carry it in sorrow back to the ships. And Swift and Old-Gold, their heads drooping and their manes bedraggled in dust and blood, returned with Automedon and the battered chariot to the tent of their master Achilles.

Fifth Heat—AEthon and Galathe

The proudest of all the steeds that went out of the battle that day were Hector's royal horses, Æthon and Galathe. Red as the glowing flame, or as the sunset clouds, was Æthon; yellow as the buttercups that bespangle the meadows, was Galathe; swift as birds on the wing, and tireless as eagles, were they both. They had been reared in the rich pasture-lands of Lycia, some say by Apollo, the archer-god, and had been chosen by their master for their beauty and strength. For ten years they had been fed in the king's own stalls and cared for by the hands of Hector himself, and among all the horses of Troy there were none to be compared with them.

From noon till evening on that eventful day, ever in the thickest of the fight, they had drawn their master's chariot without fear or weariness; and when at length the darkness had put an end to the dreadful combat, it was with high heads and tossing manes that they betook themselves to the camp of the victorious Trojans. They knew that behind them rode the hero of the day, and at his feet lay the armor which he had stripped from Patroclus—the matchless armor which the gods had given to old Peleus. From out of the mêlée of battle they had come unscathed by any wound, and as fresh as when the grooms had led them from their stalls. All through that night they stood beside the chariot in the blazing light of the watch-fires, and champed white barley and spelt, and waited impatiently for the day.

"To-day our master will drive the Greeks into the sea," said red Æthon as the dawn arose behind the distant mountains.

"Yes," said Galathe, "to-day he will rid Troy of her foes. See! he has donned the armor of the gods which he stripped from foolhardy Patroclus. Not even Achilles would dare meet him now."

And when the sun had risen, gilding the towers of Troy with his beams, Hector marshaled his host and mounting his chariot led them forth to battle again.

In the meanwhile the death of Patroclus had wrought a great change in the stubborn heart of Achilles. His wrath toward Agamemnon was laid aside, and he vowed that he would not rest until he had slain Hector and avenged his friend. All night long he sat before the tents and wept, and as soon as morning dawned he hastened to prepare himself for the battle. The armor with which he girded himself was better even than that which he had lost through Patroclus's sad misfortune. For it had been wrought by Vulcan, the lame blacksmith of the gods, and its likeness for beauty and service had never been seen. When he had proved the armor to see whether it fitted him, he took in hand the ashen spear, great and heavy and strong, which Cheiron had given to his father and which none of the Greeks could wield. Forthwith the grooms led out his war steeds. They buckled on the breast-straps and put bits into their mouths and stretched the reins behind to the chariot. Then Automedon sprang up into his place, ready to drive to the field of combat, and Achilles, armed in his sun-bright coat of mail, stepped into the car.


A Greek war chariot.

"Xanthos and Balios, Swift and Old-Gold," he cried, "take heed that you bring your charioteer safe back to his tent and to his own folk, and do not leave him on the field as you left Patroclus!"

Then Old-Gold bowed his head to the ground until his long mane fell over his eyes and face, and said: "Truly, great master, we will bear thee safe this day, but yet thy death is not far away. It was through no fault of ours that the Trojans slew good Patroclus, but by the will of the gods. And so, too, shall thy own fate overtake thee."

Achilles was sorely troubled by these words, for never before had he heard aught of speech from the lips of the horse. "Xanthos," he cried, "why do you tell me of my death? I know that I shall never return to my old father and beautiful mother and dear native land; and therefore I will not hold my hand until I have avenged my friend." And having spoken, he rode onward, leading his Myrmidons and the hosts of the Greeks into the battle.

I need not follow the events of this day, a day in which the tide of war was turned and the Trojans forced to flee into the city for their lives. It was with downcast heads that Æthon and Galathe dragged their master's chariot within the gates that afternoon, and their eyes no longer flashed with joy and pride. The terror of Achilles had cowed them utterly, as it had the entire Trojan host, and they knew that they had borne their master into the fight for the last time.

On the high battlements of Troy a sorrowful company was gathered—the king, the queen, and such of the Trojan princes as the fortunes of war had spared—and they wept and wailed and tore their garments for grief at the sad sight which they beheld outside of the walls. For Hector, the flower and hope of Troy, had been slain at the hands of Achilles. Despoiled of his armor, he lay bound to the tail of the victor's chariot, his head trailing in the dust. The pitiless lord of the Myrmidons stood in the car alone, and lashed his steeds to their utmost speed, and Swift and Old-Gold, unused to such cruelty, leaped wildly in their traces and flew over the plain with the swiftness of the wind, while a cloud of dust arose about them as if to hide their master's heartless deed from the eyes of the pitying beholders.

Hector's mother shrieked aloud in her grief, and tore her long hair, and threw her veil far over the wall. The king, his father, moaned piteously, and would have gone out alone from the gates to entreat the mercy of Achilles, had not those around him held him back. And the cries of the people upon the walls were echoed throughout the town, and there was mourning and wild grief in every house. Around the entire circuit of the city, Achilles drove his team, and then, followed by his Myrmidons and with the body of Hector still trailing in the dust, he betook himself to his own encampment beside the sea.

Then Hector's squire, heavy of heart because of that day's work, went out into his master's courtyard and unyoked the steeds Æthon and Galathe, and led them away from the blood-stained chariot which they had drawn so often to victory.

"Never again," said he, "shall you bear your master into the field of strife; never again shall you lift your proud heads in joy. Better would it have been had we all been slain, for there is no longer any hope for Troy."

Then he washed them in clear water, and combed their manes as he had been used to do, and fed them with parsley and white barley. But they never drew war car again.

Sixth Heat—The Thread of Fate

That night, as Swift and Old-Gold stood in their stalls, champing sweet clover and looking out into the darkness, they saw a strange procession coming slowly across the meadows and drawing near to the spacious hut which the Myrmidons had built for their master Achilles. The sentinels had fallen asleep at their posts, and the warriors, weary and worn, had retired within their tents. The great chief himself, having closed and bolted the heavy outer door of his hut, was sitting at meat with his squire Automedon.

"Who is it that rides unchallenged toward our door?" asked Swift.

"Methinks," answered Old-Gold, "that it is old King Priam of Troy, coming in his sorrow to beg the body of his son Hector, which lies uncared for in our courtyard. I see in front a smooth-running wagon drawn by the two strong mules which the Mysians gave to the king in his happier days. All the world knows those mules, for they have never been matched in strength and endurance. On the wagon I see chests of gold and much fine bronze, which I suppose the old man is bringing to offer as a ransom for his dead son. And yoked to the king's light car that follows behind are two sad steeds with drooping ears and lifeless gait. If I am not mistaken, the dull-coated creatures are Æthon and Galathe, the once proud creatures that drew Prince Hector into the battle."

Soon the wagon and the chariot drew up before the door, and the king and his groom dismounted. With them was also a herald, whose armor shone brightly amid the gloom, and whom neither Swift nor Old-Gold had ever seen before. The great door was barred with a huge bolt made of a log of pine, so heavy that three stout Greeks could barely move it, although Achilles alone could thrust it home. But the bright herald easily pushed it aside and opened the door without making any noise; and then, having bidden the king good-by, he as silently disappeared in the darkness.

"I do believe that he is Hermes, the kind messenger of the gods," said Old-Gold.

King Priam left the groom to mind the horses and the mules, and went boldly across the courtyard into the room where his great enemy sat; nor was Achilles aware of his coming till he saw him standing silently before him. As the warrior leaped astonished to his feet, the old king clasped his knees and entreated his pity, and reminded him of his own dear father Peleus in his lonely palace in far-off Phthia. And the heart of Achilles was strangely stirred within him as he remembered his boyhood and his native land and his sorrowing parents, to whom he should never return; and he gave kind heed to Priam's petition, and the two lifted up their voices together and wept.

"This," said Achilles, "is the thread of fate which the gods have spun for miserable men, that they should live in sorrow. For although they gave to Peleus splendid gifts, and favored him above all other men, yet they meted out to him great grief because no princely sons were born in his halls save only myself, who am doomed to an untimely death."

Then Priam besought him that, for the sake of his own father (so soon to be bereaved), he would deliver to him the body of Hector and accept therefor the rich ransom that he had brought. Without saying a word in reply, Achilles, followed by his squire, hastened across the courtyard and leaped through the great door. Then, loosing the horses and the mules, they began to unload the countless treasures. And when they had carried all into the house, they took up the body of Hector from the place where it lay, and, having covered it over with a doublet and a princely robe and laid it upon a bier, they lifted it into the polished wagon.

Long before the dawn of day, Swift and Old-Gold, still looking out into the darkness, saw the chariot of King Priam and the wagon drawn by the team of mules issue noiselessly from the courtyard. And in the chariot stood the king and his groom; but upon the wagon, driving the sturdy mules, sat the bright herald whom Old-Gold declared to be none other than Hermes, the helper of men, come down to aid the old man in his dire extremity. And upon the bier behind, covered with heavy robes, was all that remained of the mighty Hector.

"They go thus early for fear of the Greeks, who are crafty above all other men," said Old-Gold. Then the steeds returned to their manger of sweet clover.

And at sunrise, at a little distance outside of the city gates, all the people of Troy met Priam bringing home his dead.

Seventh Heat—The Goal

But the doom of Achilles, which the soothsayer had foretold at his birth, came sure and soon. One day, while hard fighting was going on beneath the walls of Troy, he drove his chariot close up to the famous gate, called the Scæan, and stopped to taunt the unhappy Trojans who stood upon the battlements. Vainly did the faithful steed, Old-Gold, champ upon his foaming bit and rear in his traces and strain hard upon the reins; for he knew the fate that threatened his master and would fain have carried him away from danger. But Achilles, standing high in the chariot, boasted of his great deeds: how from the sea he had laid waste twelve cities, and from the land eleven; how he had vanquished the queen of the Amazons, and had slain Hector, the hope of the Trojans; how he had taken great spoils and countless treasures from many lands; and how, in all the world, there was no name so terrible as his, no, not even the name of the sun-bright Apollo.

But scarcely had the last rash boast passed his lips when a gleaming spear circled down upon him from above, nor could the armor which Vulcan had forged for him ward off the swift death which it brought. Some say that the fatal weapon was hurled from the battlements by Paris, the perfidious prince who had caused all that sad war; and others assert that it came from the hands of no mortal man, but was cast from the sky by great Apollo himself, offended beyond measure at the hero's boasting. I do not know whether either of these stories is true, nor does it matter now. All I need to say is that the destroyer of three and twenty cities fell headlong and helpless in the dust, as many another boaster has done since his day, and the great world went on as before. And his wonderful war steeds, no longer restrained by his voice and hand, sprang wildly away and galloped with the speed of the wind across the plain.

And old King Peleus, rich and wretched, the favorite of the gods, sat mourning in his desolate halls at Phthia. But his hero son never returned to him, and no man brought him any word concerning the fate of the rare gifts which Poseidon had given him on his wedding day—the immortal creatures, Swift and Old-Gold.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: Rozinante  |  Next: The Great Wooden Horse
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.