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The Mercenary

He did not covet gold or jewels, though he had won them.  He traveled only with the whetstone needed to sharpen his spear, and punished anyone who came near it.  He slept soundly, and when he dreamed of the faces he had killed they were all turned away.

On Sparta, he had been a captain of soldiers until he had been denied wine by a colonel.  The wine had been more important than rank, and he’d had it.  In Ithaca  he had been called Pelinorus, and slaughtered a family of merchants whose son had put his greasy hands on his spear.  In Athens he had slept peacefully in a grove dedicated to Athena until a rain had woken him from a dream in which wisdom’s face, too, had been turned away, and he had stripped the priests naked and lashed their backs with ceremonial rods in punishment.    He’d told them his name was Hedoclus.  He boarded a ship to Crete, where he fought the bulls for many years, until a woman with silver hair had teased him too much, and then it was time to move on.

He had been recruited, by Paris himself, to stand guard before the walls of Troy.  He had been told the queen the Greeks sought, Helen, was the most beautiful woman in the world … and the only thing in the city he could not have, as long as the walls were guarded.   The Trojans called him Aremistes.

Some of the Greeks whose chariots stormed across the shredded planes recognized him through his bronze helmet as the man who’d killed their brothers, or recognized his spear, now rusted but still perfectly honed.  Some of them saw him the way he saw himself, as one more warrior who stood in their way.   He pulled their chariots apart wheel by wheel, and bludgeoned them to death with their own weapons.  The Greeks began to say that Ares himself guarded the city gates.

He thought, in between battles, about Helen, about what he would do with her, when he was the last man standing and the walls had fallen and the ships had burned.  She stood on the balcony of Priam’s palace, and smiled slightly at the carnage that came from her broken promise.  He did not think she loved Paris.  He thought the two of them would get along.

When he saw Achilles’ chariot for the first time, and his tarnished sword, and his battered faceplate, riding a wave of blood from the ocean to the city, he stopped thinking about Helen.  He stopped thinking about wine.  He remembered the heart of a bull he had killed that would not stop beating, and a storm off the coast of Mycenae that had sunk three ships before him.  His skin reddened, and he closed his eyes, and saw all the dead turn around, their faces full in view, their bloody lips turned over in faint, slight smiles.


Benjamin Wachs has written for Village Voice Media,, and NPR among other venues.  He archives his work at

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