Over the last ten years, Thersites’ body had devolved into a series of convulsive gyrations. Clenched fists spun, ringing an invisible bell; legs trembled in revolutions; a head wheeled on its stalk. His breath came in jolts, dragging through his chest in painful constrictions. Yet he felt peace for the first time in all the years of war as he watched Menelaus’s fingers finally impress into Helen’s neck.
There was a sound like an arrow striking wood, and Helen’s supple frame popped into a myriad of reds, blues and yellows, spattering Menelaus and Thersites with her kaleidoscopic gore. Winding strings of confetti wafted throughout the temple, coating the nearby corpse of Deiphobus. Menelaus had carved Deiphobus into a relief sculpture; chiseling away the cartilage of his ears and nose to expose the waxen marble of bone.
A roll of papyrus fell amongst the chaos of colours, but its trajectory was interrupted by Menelaus’s grasp. He unrolled it and read aloud:
“If Menelaus is reading this, please come pick up the real Helen from Egypt. A warm thanks to everyone who participated in the Trojan War – Zeus.”
Menelaus chuckled. Then, like a plunge into the ocean, he drowned in fervid laughter, resurfacing from every bout just in time to gasp for air. Thersites collapsed to his haunches. He jammed his open hand down his face, smearing tears across his cheeks, whimpering.
“Nothing. It was all for nothing… it was all for nothing…it was…”
* * *
10 Years Ago
“Every villager in this dink shithole has gone out to the marketplace by now, so any slope you find enjoying the luxuries of his straw house, or savouring a nice meal of rice and dead rat, is either a Trojan or a Trojan sympathiser.”
Menelaus’s plume nodded in agreement with him. Beneath the purple horsehair, his helmet had engraved upon it the words One Bad Motherfucker, Made in Sparta, and the name Helen. He resembled a metal sculpture, his face consumed by the helmet’s bronze cheek plates and stiff copper-wire curls of his beard, his body encased in bronze. The only indication that there was something soft and fleshy underneath was a pair of frantic eyes, scrutinising every man in the platoon for some smirk, some whispered comment, so he could turn them celibate with a single blow. A woman scorned has nothing on the fury of a man cuckolded.
Menelaus’s soldiers lay before him, blades of grass reaching up to itch at their exposed arms and legs. Their inhalations were rapid and deep, hoisting their chests up from the ground, although in their frenzy it seemed as if their breath pushed the very Earth downwards. Each man fidgeted, itched, readjusted, cursed, fantasised, anything to quell the agonising glow radiating in their groins. The glow turned the platoon into a collective bowstring, pulled to its apex; tight in every respect, from their abdominals clenched in anticipation to their grips squeezing at their spears. It made them the bowstring, but also the arrow, ready to be ejaculated upon the village of Lyrnessus in the vale below.
The glow was no more brilliant in anyone than it was in Thersites. It had sent a lightning bolt up to his skull, filling its watery cavern with visions of glory. Arms that were as twisted and as gangly as chicken wings threw warriors back against their own ranks. A froglike countenance, which looked as though a face of fair proportion had been folded to bring its eyes down to its mouth, adorned the sculptures of great artists. Thersites’ exhilaration, although fantastical, poured forth sweat from every crevice and pit in his body, making him rank with a sour reek.
Someone was murmuring besides Thersites. He squirmed to face the noise and was confronted with the words Paris sucks dick, etched into the helmet of Ajax of Locris. Ajax’s mouth was stretched into its usual triangle, lips tapering upwards to reveal his front teeth, giving him a perpetual sneer. He exuded a constant nervous energy; when talking to a group, his eyes would dart from person to person, trying to gauge their opinions of him, which was always dismal. He spoke to the soldier alongside him.
“Hey Achilles, you seen this Nymphs vase I got before I came to this place?” He pointed to a vase he clutched in his hand, where bathing women reclined in erotic poses. “Look, there’s Miss Echo, Miss Atropos, and you see her,” he tapped the vase, “she’s Miss Daphne, man! She was Nymph of the year for two years in a row, a while back.”
Achilles’ face was an unmoving revelation of placidity. His eyes stretched open, his irises tiny blue coins in the white acres of his sclera, yet great blue planets compared to the needle pricks of his pupils. Those needles tore through the grass, the village, the distant tree line, to see a galaxy brilliant with strange constellations and lurid colours. Intense visions accelerated Achilles’ heartbeat, pumping blood through the thorn branches of veins pushing out of his forearms, making every muscle spasm with power. Ajax began again, voice cracking.
“Y’know I’ve got this month’s vase back at the tents. It’s got Miss Calliope in it, y’know, she’s one of those, uh, muses.”
Nothing. Ajax’s grin was frozen to his face, but its ends had begun to fray. He cast his eyes downwards and nodded, as if to waft away the silence.
“Hey, y’know, I’ve actually uh,” Ajax coughed, “screwed Miss Daphne. I mean, she was thirsty for all of the guys in Locris leaving for Troy, you know, and I got in on that-”
“You screwed the Miss Daphne?” Thersites cut in.
“Yeah,” Ajax replied without turning to Thersites, his gaze unwavering on Achilles for some flicker of respect, or even acknowledgement, in those glass eyes.
“I’m curious, could you tell me how you did it? Use her sap for lube? You know she’s a tree now, right?”
“Piss off Thersites,” Ajax twisted to face Thersites, showing the angry pimples scattered on Oileus’s cheeks. “How come I’ve got to take a useless gimp like you into my platoon anyway? If Diomedes wasn’t your cousin, your greatest contributions to the Trojan War would be as my eromenos.” Ajax rammed the indent of his palm against Thersites’ ear, making him squeal.
“Thersites, Shut the fuck up,” Menelaus snapped. “What we are about to do, gentlemen, is going to be historical. The first battle of the war against Troy is going to be remembered for millennia. This fight will not be remembered because it was easy. It will not be remembered because the Trojans showed us mercy. It will be remembered because it was an epic conflict, where the Trojans fought with swords, spears, teeth, nails, exposed bones, anything. But their defeat was inevitable, because they were not fighting men on this day. They fought Chimeras. The Greeks breathed fire and incinerated every, fucking, gook in all of Lyrnessus!”
The glow inside the men exploded into a zealous fire, purifying their bodies of fear and fatigue. They shrieked in tongues as they charged down into the vale, limbs jerking in a frantic dance, faces grimacing and contorting, mirroring the fanatical seizures had at the temples of Dionysus. One soldier chanted odes, his eyes twisted shut whilst he ran, and one foot entangled the other, snapping him down to the grass. To his allies, he was the first casualty of the battle, felled by an enemy arrow, incensing them into greater frenzy.
“Go! Go! Kill anything that moves!” Menelaus howled.
At least fifty Trojans were scattered throughout the village’s rice paddy, gawking at the Greek assault. Each was armed, but the sudden nature of the ambush had deprived them of armour; they were clad only in chitons and bamboo-leaf hats. The Greeks leapt into the paddy, and the vale was filled with shluck, shluck, shluck as forty men plunged their sandals into the mud and suctioned them out again. The Trojans began to stumble backwards, and some close to the village even turned to flee.
Thersites thrust his spear at the nearest Trojan, screeching obscenities. The Trojan’s crescent eyes arched up in supplication, mouth agape, revealing a twisted set of lower teeth. He curled his spear against his body to protect himself. Thersites’ bronze spearhead clipped the shaft of the enemy’s spear, gouging out a chunk of wood. The blade bounced upward and entered the man’s throat. Reverberations echoed throughout Thersites’ weapon as the man’s trachea crunched inward. The Trojan stumbled back, dislodging the spearhead. He clutched at his jugular, staining his hand with the gore pulsing from the wound. Then, in a single motion, he flopped to his hands, then to his elbows, and finally to his stomach.
Flames of triumph soared up within Thersites, boiling his flesh, making perspiration drool down his skin like a melting wax figure. A female ‘Trojan sympathiser’ dropped her curving, alien blade and began a hectic scramble back to the village. Thersites hurtled after her, numb to the rice crops whipping at his exposed thighs, yet overstimulated by the Trojan’s terrified sobbing and billowing hair tickling his face. He ripped his sandal from the sludge and drove his heel into the small of her back until she was supine. Using the momentum of the fall, he rammed the spear through her left lung with such force that when he dragged out his weapon, the tip of the reddened blade was brown with mud.
Thersites surged from the rice paddy into the village. A fleeing Trojan scuttled into the closest hut. Thersites burst through the doorway. The Trojan cowered within, his hand clutching a small axe, his forearms squeezed over his head. Thersites battered his shield into him, mashing him to floor. Then he waited, chest heaving. The man cringed, awaiting annihilation. Thersites hurled down his spear and wrangled the axe from the Trojan’s hands. With his free hand, he snarled his fingers into the man’s chiton and tore him to his feet.
“Why the hell aren’t you fighting back?” The man twisted away, but Thersites wrenched him back. “Why are you trying to run? Huh? You’re a Trojan!”
The man whipped his head from side to side, “No Trojan, no Trojan!”
“Yes! You’re a fucking Trojan!” Thersites spat.
Thersites raised the Trojan’s weapon in an attempt to prove him wrong. He inspected the axe, and felt the iron fist of dread pushing down on his intestines, almost forcing excretion. What he held in his hand wasn’t an axe, but a small mattock, with dirt and grass still smeared across its blade.
Thersites tumbled from the house, praying, begging against reality. He scoured the paddy until he came upon the woman he had killed. Her curved sword now resembled a farming sickle rather than a weapon. Further away, In the clutches of his first kill, where a spear once was, rested a gardening hoe. He unfurled the woman’s body so she faced upwards. Her eyelids were snapped open in shock, her skin and clothes soiled with mud. Cradled in a blanket wrapped around her torso was an infant. Its chubby cheeks dangled in ribbons and its nose was smudged out of shape. Thersites twisted away and retched.
The acrid odour of smoke and cooking meat stung his nostrils. The village was alight, flames blackening each hut’s exposed infrastructure. Menelaus and the other Greeks yanked bloody hunks into a home that had just been lit up. Ajax lugged in a shredded chiton with chunks of human still entangled amongst it, laughing to Achilles:
“You see the way that fucking gook came apart!”
Achilles was dead to his voice; the only existing creature to Achilles was the young girl before him. His hand writhed and groped beneath her chiton like a parasite worming beneath skin. The girl wailed, snot plastered across the constricting muscles in her chin. Every shift in Achilles’ monstrous frame tossed her flaccid body. Two armed villagers, the first Thersites had seen all day, charged Achilles. One tore Achilles from the girl, while the other pitched his blade at Achilles’ throat.
Achilles plucked the oncoming arm by its wrist and twisted it backwards. As the limb wrenched back, the man’s elbow burst from his bicep. He hadn’t even pumped a single scream from his lungs before Achilles hammered the palm of his free hand into the man’s nose. His nasal bone punched into his frontal lobe, lobotomising him. Achilles collected the man’s sword from his hand as he sagged backwards, and with it scooped a quivering mound of flesh from his other assailant’s waist. The man spun to the ground, and he screamed up at the Greeks.
“This guy speaking Greek?” Menelaus asked, “Stand down, Achilles.”
Achilles obeyed a different voice, and lunged for the man. A cry rose among the soldiers. Several restrained Achilles and dragged him off as he snarled and spat. Menelaus bent over the man, head cocked.
“This guy says he’s King Telephus… He’s saying our boats,” He leaned in, “have landed too far south… that we’re not in Troy,” He turned to the army. “That right, Talybithius?”
Hissed commands and rustling inventories echoed throughout the platoon. A group of men retrieved the map and pored over it. One of the soldiers, Talybithius, spoke up.
“You aren’t going to believe this sir… we’re in some place called Mysia… Y’know, I thought this shore looked weird.”
The Greeks booed and laughed, teasing Talybithius. Menelaus pulled Telephus to his feet.
“Sorry about that mate, we’ve got some real retards working in Navigation. If it makes you feel any better, my brother’s never going to let me live this one down,” Menelaus shook his head, chuckling. “Alright Hoplites, back to the ships.”
The Greek marched past the huts smouldering down to a few smoking logs. They marched through the rice paddy, past a behemoth of a hundred splayed legs and a hundred twisted arms. Achilles sprawled the young girl across his shoulders, her limbs bound across his chest as though she was livestock. Telephus limped towards him, shrieking with such violence that the tendons in his neck surged up to his jaw.
“Briseis is a princess of Apollo! She isn’t going to be your slave! You killed her brother! You killed Tenes, you sick-” Achilles dug two fingers into the gash in Telephus’s side, and he crumpled, howling.
Before long the soldiers had abandoned Lyrnessus, leaving only one behind. His eyelids flickered to inhibit tears, his nostrils flared to keep back burning mucous. What he felt was the complete absence of glory, turning the world from a metope of great things done into a blank wall. He felt a foulness like a virus boring into his intestines, and he could go on vomiting until he’d retched up the lining of his stomach, but that bleakness would still be within him. He jammed his open hand down his face, smearing tears across his cheeks, whimpering.
“All for nothing… it was all for nothing… I killed those people for nothing… nothing… I killed them for your honour… for your fucking honour… for your honour! I killed them, for fucking nothing!”
* * *
Menelaus’s colourless lips no longer laughed. They fell apart into death’s mediocre expression. His head jiggled on the base formed by Thersites’ two hands constricting his jugular. His eyelids, glossy and purple, were swollen shut, his flesh ashen. Thersites discarded Menelaus’s corpse, and staggered from the temple.
In the city outside, Odysseus hurled Astyanax from the walls of Troy, his little bones leaping out of their shattered flesh on the rocks below. Ajax ripped Cassandra from the statue of Athena and straddled her, buttocks pistoning, glutes tensing. Pyrrhus seized Priam’s hair, the old man’s pathetic arms slapping against him, and tugged his throat across his blade.
It was a riddle; what has one voice, and spares neither the four-footed, the two-footed or the three-footed? Thersites laughed. His laughter resounded off the figures of the Gods before the temple. The flickering blazes in the street illuminated mirth in their stone eyes as they laughed at him. Their laughter echoed throughout the bloodstained caverns of holocaust, laughing at them all.