They will know him by his deaths.
The boy he, himself still a child, unknowing of how breath stole from the body on a tide of blood and released the wailing shade to go staggeringly on its long way to Hades, slew in childish rage over a game of dice. You have heard how he knelt, fascinated, at the boy’s side—they had been friends till they fought, and you have always inserted here an embrace, his arm looping around the corpse, their faces close together, foreheads touching—and how he dipped his fingers in the congealing blood, and how he tapped the cooling skin with frantic fingers, smearing blood. It had taken an hour for his father to find them, the living boy tangled with the dead, both still under the evening sky.
The pig, dying to drip blood into fine white wool in anointment at Delphi, the priest’s hands shaking to offer absolution to one still so far from the ruthless pleasures of manhood. It had needed the hands of a king to hold them steady, and his father’s trembling hands to hold him steady under the steady drip of warm blood clotting in his hair, staining his skin. There in the god’s clear eyes he had first found his crime, first wept for the life he’d taken, like a child weeping for a broken toy. You have wondered long if his sudden tendernesses were the two-edged gift of the archer, winging into his soul as blood-guilt left it. With you he had grown always sombre after the blood-hunger left him, tracing with slow fingers the red mouths through which blood had fled the body—a stranger curiosity that he had found always disconcerting to others, and never you.
Other deaths, falling in his wake like a line of ducklings swimming strainedly after their splendid parent—a rabbit with its neck broken, head drooping into the fire; a stag prized for its antlers; a leopard killed while feasting upon a lamb—that only you can remember, being their solitary witness and sharer, in rambles through the wooded hills of Pthia, orphans leaning heads together to grow like saplings twisted close. The Kentaurs had laughed to see him dragging indefatigably behind you, making up for his mortal flesh with his lion’s heart—even Nestor had known he had come to Troy to care for you as your father would have wanted, and so it has been all the years you have clung to each other—schooling his boy’s awkward paw to delicate stitching to nurse your several scratches. Ten years you had together, before the call came for war, and your mother, all overflowing with love like a heroic father come home to show off his prizes, failed to keep you from war by hiding you amongst girls: in the seventh year, in a border raid with the men of your father’s tribe, who for all their joy in taking you on hunts took only him on a hunt for men, he had blooded his spear and hidden from all shouted exaltations for killing his first man.
In Troy the deaths had crowded close like men pressing one after the other to scale a wall or take a fortress, and he had stalked behind you as you pushed your way to victories, blood turning to gold in your hands, to tripods and horses and jewels and women. For every sacked town—and it had been the work of years to bring Troy down to its own city—and burnt village a line of ghosts wound behind him, nearly as long as your own, all the captains of the kings you slew, and his purse grew heavy as yours and his bed as well-stocked. In the long wait while Agamemnon scorned you and you him, the rains had come pelting down on the plains of Troy, and your men—and there are farmers among them used to a lifetime of coaxing crops in stony soil—had supplemented their hunts with farming; and you had found with a shock that he had helped them to it every year, in all the years you’d lived in the shadow of the great ships, and you too blinded with blood had never known how he smelt of wet earth and of green things growing. You had thought then that he should smell always like the earth, like a life where creatures went to their death only as the seasons turned, that he should, that he must, go to your mountain home and watch your son grow tall like a young tree, and burn your fathers with the proper rites.
You had thought, then, that they might remember him by his life, that you might give him your discarded fate to wear like a borrowed cloak—a long life quickly forgotten, fading from family stories till the children no longer knew who had built a hall or cleared a wood. But they will remember him by his deaths, by the bodies he pulled life from, throwing the Trojans from the ships, by those who died following his mad rush and those who died opposing him—the day Patroclus of the Myrmidons drove the Trojans back to their city, they will call it, and sorrowing or laughing, the day Patroclus of the Myrmidons met Thanatos before the walls of Troy, the day Hector tamer of horses slew him. He will go to Hades’ realm with a guard of honour—all princes and captains of war, and you wish you had seen him fight without blood-hunger veiling your own eyes—and in the mortal realm they will remember him by his deaths. This death best, after his own, that you slew Hector to captain his captive guard, and that the war was turned out of stalemate because he was killed, and that great Zeus has granted you your wishes most dearly, and has taken full blood-price for every victory.
Nobody will know how anxiously he hovered like a parent to a child scant two years younger, and how his smile flashed in joy, and how his limbs gleamed in mountain streams and in lamplight tangled with other flesh, and how he had come to you once in Troy with barley cupped in his man-slaying hands and offered for peace at home and unfailing rains. They will remember him as captain and soldier and shield-mate, and that should be commendation enough for any man, that he fought well in the greatest war of his short days, and that a god had had to press him down to death ere a prince could slay him.
But that they will recall him by his deaths, number them to count out his value, seems suddenly a fate beyond the bearing of it.