“Very courtly counsel!” laughs the ancient. “I’ll begin,” he adds, leaning to kiss her. “So much for Nestor.”
She is clearly discomfited at being the center of several lords’ attention—and by their manner of introduction. Her eyes widen as a big, muscled mass looms before her.
“I’ll take that winter from your lips, fair lady!” he says, to tease old Nestor. “Achilles bids you welcome!” He bobs down to peck at her cheek.
She is relieved; the scariest meeting is now past.
King Menelaus, next in line, pauses. “I had good argument for kissing, once,” he says mournfully, thinking of his wife—who is now being called Helen of Troy.
“But that’s no argument for kissing slowly,” says Patroclus, brushing past him to buss her lightly on the cheek, “for thus popped in Paris in his hardiment—and thus parted you from your arguement!” he says liltingly. “That first was Menelaus’s kiss; this, mine! Patroclus kisses you!” He does so again.
Menelaus protest, laughing, “Oh, this is trim!”
Thinks Ulysses watching them, Oh, deadly gall, and theme of all our scorn!—for which we lose our heads—to gild his horns!
Patroclus nods toward the cuckolded king. “Paris and I kiss evermore for him!” he tells Cressida, whose color has returned.
“I’ll have my kiss, sir!” insists Menelaus. “Lady, by your leave….”
She regards him, smiling, now. “In kissing, do you render, or receive?”
“Both take and give.”
“I’d make my match to live!” she says pertly. “The kiss you’d take is better than you’d give—therefore no kiss!”
“I’ll give you a premium,” says Menelaus. “I’ll give you three for one!”
“You’re an odd man,” she jests. “Give even, or give none!”
Menelaus only laughs. “An odd man, lady? Every man is odd!”
“No, Paris is not,” she retorts, “for you know ’tis true, that you are odd,”—single, “and he is even with you!”
Menelaus winces as he chuckles, backing away. “You’ll fillip me on the head!”
“No, I’ll be sworn!” says she gaily, unaware of another meaning of head.
Ulysses approaches Cressida. “It were no match, your nails against his horn! May I, sweet lady, beg a kiss of you?”
“I do desire it.”
“Well, beg then.” Her patrician poise has returned.
Says Ulysses, glancing sourly at Menelaus, “Why then for Venus’ sake give me a kiss—when Helen is a maiden again!—and is his!” Venus is the goddess of beauty and sex.
The Trojan lady nods, accepting the specious conditions: “I am your debtor.” But she adds, “Claim it when ’tis due!”
Ulysses’ eyes narrow. “Never’s my day. And then a kiss from you.”
Diomedes now steps forward. “Lady, a word,” he says. “I’ll bring you to your father.” Cressida nods and follows him into the Greeks’ extensive encampment.
“A woman of quick sense!” says Nestor, highly impressed.
“Fie, fie upon her!” says Ulysses peevishly, annoyed by his own arousal—and rebuff. “There’s language in her eye, her cheek, her lip!—nay, her foot speaks! Her wanton spirit looks out from every joint and motion of her body!
“Oh, these encounterers so glib of tongue!—who yield to an accosting welcome ere it come, and wide unclasp the tablets of their thoughts to every ticklish reader! Set them down for sluttish spoils of opportunity—and daughters of the game!”
Old Nestor must quash a smile; the invaders have been afield—and away from women—for years. He shakes his head; the tough and hardy Ulysses, King of Ithaca, is not accustomed to feeling vulnerable.
And then from across the field they hear the clarion blaring of a Trojan trumpet. “Yonder comes their troop!” announces Agamemnon.
Hector, magnificently accoutered, strides toward them, leading, under the banner of Troy, a colorful party of noblemen, including his brother Prince Troilus and Lord Aeneas, along with many attendants.
“Hail, all you state of Greece!” says Aeneas as they approach that royal court. He comes before Agamemnon to settle terms. “What shall mean ‘done’ for him that Victory commends? Do you propose that, ere a victor shall be known, the knights shall to the edge of all extremity pursue each other, or shall they be divided by some voice or order on the field? Hector bade me ask.”
“Which way would Hector have it?”
“He cares not; he’ll obey conditions.”
An intruding laugh is harsh. “’Tis done like Hector!—done, but securely! A little proudly—and a great deal misprizing the knight opposèd!”
Asks Aeneas, “If not ‘Achilles,’ sir, what is your name?” He knows well enough who the ponderous blusterer must be.
“If not Achilles, nothing!”
The Trojan seems to weigh both. “Therefore Achilles,” he decides. “But whate’er, know this! Valour and pride excel themselves in Hector—in the extremities of great and little: the one almost as infinite as all, the other blank as nothing. Weigh him well, and that which looks like pride is courtesy.
“This Ajax is half made of Hector’s blood,”—they are cousins, “in love whereof, half of Hector stays at home—half heart, half hand. Half Hector comes to seek this blended knight, half Trojan and half Greek.”
Gibes Achilles, “Oh, I perceive you: a battleof maidens then!”
Agamemnon sees a commander returning from Calchas’s tent. “Here is Sir Diomedes.
“Go, gentle knight, and stand by our Ajax. As you and Lord Aeneas consent upon the order of their fight, so be it: either to the uttermost, or else a-breath.
“The combatants’ being kin half stints their strife before their strokes begin,” he tells Diomedes—dryly.
Ajax’s second expects Hector’s ways to be as devious as their own; Diomedes will urge the Greek to expend his utmost effort.
Ajax and Hector approach each other; Aeneas and Diomedes stand nearby.
“They are opposed already!” says Ulysses, watching as the fighters square off.
Agamemnon scans the faces of those who are observing. “What Trojan is that same that looks so troubled?”
“The youngest son of Priam,” Ulysses tells him, “a true knight! Not yet mature, yet matchless. Firm of word, speaking by deeds, and deedless in his tongue; not soon provoked, nor being provokèd soon calmed. His heart and hand, both open and both free: for what he has, he gives; what thinks, he shows—yet gives he not till judgment guide his bounty, nor dignifies an impure thought with breath.
“Manly as Hector, but more dangerous, for Hector in his blaze of wrath subscribes to tender objections,”—admits sympathy, “but he in heat of action is more vindictive than jealous love!
“They call him Troilus—and on him erect a second hope, as fairly built as Hector.
“Thus says Aeneas, one who knows the youth even to his niches, and with private soul did in great Ilion”—in Troy; Ulysses was an ambassador there before the war—“thus translate him to me.”
The trumpet sounds, and the warriors both leap forward, swinging their heavy swords to begin vigorous, clanging combat, punctuated by thuds of sharp steel against wooden shields.
“His blows are well-disposèd!” notes Agamemnon. “There, Ajax!”
After much furious slashing and thrusting of blades, at one side Diomedes raises his arms to calls for a respite. “You must no more!” he cries. The Greeks can still use Ajax.
Aeneas, too, tells the combatants, “Princes, enough, so please you!”
The heroes gasp for breath as the referees confer.
Ajax protests. “I am not warm yet,” he claims, dripping sweat. “Let us fight again!”
The Greek second looks to the Trojan champion. “As Hector pleases,” says Diomedes.
Hector responds calmly. “Why, then will I no more.” He addresses Ajax. “Thou art, great lord, my father’s sister’s son—a cousin-german to great Priam’s seed; the obligation of our blood forbids a gory competition ’twixt us twain!
“Were thy co-mixture of Greek and Trojan such that thou couldst say, ‘This hand is Grecian all, and this is Trojan; the sinews of this leg all Greek, and this all Troy; my mother’s blood runs on the dexter cheek, and this left one bounds in my father’s,’ by Jove multipotent, thou shouldst not bear from me a Greekish member wherein my sword had not impressure made in our frank feud!
“But the just gods gainsay that any drop thou borrowedst from thy mother, my sacred aunt, should by my mortal sword be drainèd!
“Let me embrace thee, Ajax! By him that thunders, thou hast lusty arms! Hector would have them fall upon him thus!” He hugs the crestfallen warrior. “Cousin, all honour to thee!”
Ajax can only blink. “I thank thee, Hector,” he mutters. But he protests, dully, “Thou art too gentle and too free a man; I came to kill thee, cousin, and to bear hence a great addition earnèd in thy death.”
Hector laughs—and mentions Achilles’ young son: “Not Pyrrhus’s father—on whose bright crest Fame with her loud’st oyez cries, ‘This is he!’—is so admirable!—could promise to himself a thought of added honour torn from Hector!”
Aeneas is aware of the onlookers. “There is expectance here from both the sides; what further will you do?”
“We’ll answer it: the outcome is embracement!” says Hector, clasping the Greek around the shoulders. “Ajax, farewell!” He turns to go.
Ajax tells him, “If I might in entreaties find success—as seld I have the chance—I would desire my famous cousin to visit our Grecian tents.”
“’Tis Agamemnon’s wish,” adds Diomedes. “And great Achilles doth long to see, unarmèd, the valiant Hector.”
Hector smiles and nods. “Aeneas, call my brother Troilus to me, and, conveying this loving interview to the spectators on our Trojan part, desire them home.
“Give me thy hand, my cousin!” he says, warmly gripping Ajax’s, “I will go eat with thee, and see your nights!”
Ajax sees his general approaching. “Great Agamemnon comes to meet us here.”
Hector turns to Aeneas. “The worthiest of them tell me, name by name—but for Achilles; mine own searching eyes shall find him by his large and portly size.” The Greek hero has gained more than muscle during his dallying.
Agamemnon greets Hector ebulliently: “Worthy of arms, welcome!—as from one who would be rid of such an enemy!” He chides himself: “But that’s no welcome! Understand more clearly: what’s past and what’s to come are strewed with the husks and formless ruin of oblivion; but in this extant moment—i’ faith and troth constrainèd purely, all hollow bias withdrawn—I bid thee, with most divine integrity, from the heart of very heart, great Hector, welcome!”
Hector bows. “I thank thee, most imperial Agamemnon!”
The Greek general nods to Troilus. “My well-famèd lord of Troy, no less to you.”
“Let me confirm my princely brother’s greeting,” says the King of Sparta. “You brace of warlike brothers, welcome hither!”
Hector doesn’t know him: “Whom must we answer?”
Aeneas tells him: “The noble Menelaus.”
“Ah, you, my lord!” Hector bows—too deeply. “By Mars’s gauntlet, Thanks! Mock not that I effect that untraded oath! Your quondam wife still wears Venus’ glove!”—resembles the alluring goddess. “She’s well, but bade me not commend her to you,” he adds dryly.
Menelaus is stone-faced. “Name her not now, sir; she’s a deadly theme.”
“Oh, pardon; I offend,” says Hector—too politely.
The venerable Nestor now comes to Hector, smiling. “I have, thou gallant Trojan, seen thee oft, labouring for Destiny, make cruel way through ranks of Greekish youth.
“And I have seen thee spur thy Phrygian steed, as hot as Perseus disprizing many in forfeits and subduements, when thou hast hung thy advancèd sword i’ the air, not letting it decline on the declinèd!—so that I have said to some, my standers-by, ‘Lo, Jupiter is yonder, dealing life!’
“And I have seen thee pause and take thy breath—when a ring of Greeks have hemmed thee in, as an Olympian wrestling!
“That have I seen; but this thy countenance, ever lockèd in steel,”—always helmeted, “I never saw till now. I knew thy grandsire, and once fought with him; he was a good soldier; but—by great Mars, the captain of us all—I never saw one like thee!
“Let an old man embrace thee!—and, worthy warrior, welcome to our tents!”
- “’Tis old Nestor,” whispers Aeneas.
“Let me embrace thee!” says Hector, “good old chronicle that hast so long walked hand in hand with Time! Most reverend Nestor, I am glad to clasp thee!”
Nestor beams. “I would my arms could match thee in contention as they contend with thee in courtesy!”
“I would they could,” says Hector.
Nestor laughs. “Hah! By this white beard, I’d fight with thee tomorrow! Well, welcome, welcome! I have seen the time,” he murmurs, quite pleased.
Ulysses steps forward. “I wonder how yonder city stands now, when we have here by us her base and pillar!”
Hector grins. “I know your face, Lord Ulysses, well. Ah, sir, there’s many a Greek and Trojan dead since first I saw yourself and Diomedes!—in Ilion, on your Greekish embassy.”
“Sir, I foretold you then what would ensue,” says Ulysses sternly. “My prophecy is but half its journey, yet—for yonder walls that pertly front your town, yond towers whose wanton tops do buss the clouds, must kiss their own feet!”
Hector shrugs. “I must not believe you; there they stand yet!” he says, with a sweeping gesture toward Troy. “And I think, modestly, the fall of every Phrygian stone will cost a drop of Grecian blood!
“The end crowns all; and that old, common arbitrator Time will one day end it.”
“So to him we leave it,” says Ulysses. “Most gentle and most valiant Hector, welcome! After the general, I beseech you next to feast with me, and see me at my tent.”
But Achilles’ bulk intervenes. “I shall forestall thee, Lord Ulysses, even thou!
“Now, Hector, I have fed mine eyes on thee; I have with exact view perused thee, Hector, and noted, limb by limb—”
Hector interrupts: “Is this Achilles?” he asks Aeneas, as if disappointed.
“I am Achilles!”
Hector frowns. “Stand there, I pray thee; let me look on thee.”
“Behold thy fill!”
But Hector turns away. “Nay, I have done already.”
“Thou art too brief!” growls Achilles. “I will look a second time—view thee joint by joint, as if I would buy thee!”—like beef.
Hector raises an eyebrow. “Oh, thou’lt read me o’er like a book of sport? But there’s more in me than thou canst understand.”He seems surprised at the anger. “Why dost thou so oppress me with thine eye?”
Achilles’ red face turns skyward, and he kneels. “Tell me, you heavens: in which part of his body shall I destroy him?” He motions toward the Trojan’s legs, then trunk, then head: “Whether there… or there… or there?—so that I may give the location’s wound a name, and make distinct the very breach whereout Hector’s great spirit flew! Answer me, heavens!”
Hector shakes his head. “It would discredit the blest gods, proud man, to reply to such a question!
“Stand again,” he says—generously, as if the warrior had been kneeling to him. “Think’st thou to catch my life so pleasantly as to prenominate in precise conjecture where thou wilt hit me dead?”
Achilles glowers, and his deep voice booms: “I tell thee, yea!”
Hector chuckles. “Wert thou an oracletelling me so, I’d not believe that!” The smile fades. “Henceforth guard thee well; for I’ll not kill thee there, nor there, nor there, but, by the forge that smithied Mars’s helm, I’ll kill thee everywhere!—yea, o’er and o’er!”
He says, glancing at Nestor, as Achilles fumes, “You wisest Grecian, pardon me this brag. His insolence draws folly from my lips; but I’ll endeavour deeds to match these words,” he vows, “or may I never—”
Ajax steps between the angry champions. “Do not chafe thee, cousin! And you, Achilles, let these threats alone, till purpose—or accident—bring you to’t. You may every day have enough of Hector, if you have the stomach! The general state, I fear, can scarcely entreat you to be at odds with him!”
Still glaring at Achilles, Hector nods. “We have had pelting wars”—mere stone-throwing—“since you refused the Grecians’ cause! I pray you, let us see you in the field!”
“Dost thou entreat me, Hector?” says Achilles, sneering. “Tomorrow do I meet thee!—fell as Death! Tonight, all friends.”
“Thy hand upon that match!”
Brawny arms bulging, they shake hands—each straining against the other’s crushingly powerful grip.
Agamemnon resumes his role as host. “First, all you peers of Greece, go to my tent; there to the full convive we! Afterwards, as Hector’s leisure and your bounties shall concur together, severally greet him!
“Beat loud the tambourines! Let the trumpets blow, that this great soldier may his welcome know!” He leads the champions, calming, for now, toward his pavilion.
As the other leave, Troilus stays behind; and as it happens, a Greek is there, too—waiting for Troy’s second hope. “My lord Ulysses, tell me, I beseech you, in what place of the field doth Calchas keep?”
“At Menelaus’ tent, most princely Troilus.” The wily warrior volunteers, apparently casually, some news: “There doth feast with him tonight Diomedes, who looks upon neither the heavens nor earth, but gives all gaze in bent of amorous view on the fair Cressida.”
Troilus wants to witness her devotion; he needs to see that her suitor is being foiled. “Shall I, sweet lord, be bound to you so much as that, after we part from Agamemnon’s tent, you guide me thither?”
“You shall command me, sir!” He seems curious. “And as kindly, tell me: of what honour was this Cressida in Troy? Had she no lover there who wails her absence?” He knows, of course; Diomedes has told him.
Troilus’s laugh seems careless. He dodges: “Oh, sir, to such as, boasting, ‘show their scars,’ a mock is due! Will you walk on, my lord?”
Thinks the young Trojan prince, She was belovèd; she loved. He insists to himself, She is, and doth!
Still, he frets. But always love is sweet food for Fortune’s tooth….