Storming the Foothills of Mount Olympus

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1.

All you need know: I am a soldier, dressed in a prior hoplisis,
fighting against the gods. My goals: succor and gold.

Achlys moves the Earth with her words: "Armies
onward towards the crest of this hill and
onward towards the home of the Gods;
ever forward, forward to ursup these
faulty idols. We do not pray, we demand
what's ours and will raze their castles of sand."

I say, "Those who stopped just before this hubris
are what we call, 'Unambitious.' They are
the forgotten soldiers upon history clods
upon with terrible hooves. Great people, this
is how we inhabit history
: ideas and tar
and mortar and art. We are dancing stars."

But we will not be the greatest. We would fall
under the forgotten tasks of our ancestors.

Achlys orders us further upwards to lay seige
the home of the gods. We will starve
them of pomegranite and catapult rocks
and rotten meat. We will not leave these
mountains without just rewards, riches carved
by Zeus; his struggles become our toy models.

I can see the great walls now: battlements
bare of soldiers are covered with a haze--
a smoke that refuses to rise. It is dusk;
I lay my head on the grass; slaves raise tents
for officers. I breathe deep: their supper today
is fowl: all save the best officers have gluttonous ways.

The soldiers empty stomachs churn, prolapse into
nightmares and make sleep exhausting.

Morning. "Xolotl has distemper; the eagle god's soft eggs
poach well," Achlys tells us we will be upon them,
we will fight the gods and triumph and win and reclaim
"For we have made them in natures image, the hags
and the dogs and the eagles and warriors!" Then
she stops short, breathes deep, and pulls up phlem.

She spits on the ground; it is clear and healthy.
"We spit upon their throne; we deny their place
at the head of our lives; we deny them any fame
or hope or existence. These gods--never the
way to truth--have occluded our search, face
to face they tell us that we're the inferior race."

My own doubts are still full and fast. There might
be something to this even still, even still.

"They're worse than us because they learn slowly;
even now, we see that bombs and wrath are tools
of last resort, and they act like the unwashed.
They are not our betters. We raid brutally
but with hope. We will kill those fools
who, on our sacrifice, lived petty, fought petty duels.

"And we see their castles brick by brick now,
each one white square and arranged by a slave.
Imagine such a life! An eternity of toil for naught;
for the mere pleasure of an ungrateful sow.
Zeus is mine. When I enter His castle, I'll pave
the world with his soldiers
, from general to knave."

Do her slaves hear her words as she promised freedom?
Do they know she lies like everyone before her?

Small men--advisors--scurry all around. New news
from scouts and prisoners returned. "Silence,
silence!" she says, wills, orders. "Free the men
in chains. What treasures from our dues
to the gods lie ahead? How do we battle? Lance,
sword, or siege?" Them: "There is barely even a fence.

When we ran to the gates and threw them agape--
no longer afraid of terrible white towers, buttresses
overhead--we scurried and pillaged every corner, ran
upwards, forever upwards, into spires. Empty, from nape
to foundation, of gods or men." "Then, what nemesis
bound you, stripped you, and held you in place?"

Who else is left? Who remains to lock them up? Logic
tells us who it must be, but it is still a cause for wonder.

"Achlys, we locked ourselves in the dungon and traded
our freedom for fear of offense. We were afraid
of our freedom. We wish to return to our holes,
bound and miserable and secure." She looks over faded
skin, gaunt and hanging loose, and clothes frayed,
worn. She says, "Do you say that when we raid

we, too, will feel this fear, and feel an ache for restraint?"
"Aye." "Well," she says, "I have felt deep aches, though
I wouldn't call them aches from fear." We laugh. "Souls,"
she says, after the slow men understand her faint
wit, "take a boat to that river and row, quickly, row.
Stay midriver. Rocks line the shores. Beware of undertows."

Of course you don't know (do they?) just around
the bend: waterfalls and rocks and hard clay.

2.

Awake again. Unlike the dreams, there was no maiden;
only a pile of urine-soaked hay. I regret nothing.

"Queen!" someone yells, "The Queen is dead! Smothered
under feathered pillows, her last breath hot against silk
pillow cases. Will you, can you, may you not weep, sweet
Achlys is dead. Some pious bastard, some fervant brother
of some false prophet, some demon or another of it's ilk
stole the life of her who led us to the honey and milk."

"Guards, Guards! Where were the guards? All the guards
in this world are as impotent djinni on a vacuous moon.
Dead by dawn; her life disappeared before birds tweet.
Dead. Now, only by tall tale and legend will great bards
expand her own life. Dead, gone far too soon, too soon,
and my own quest looks just as quashed and doomed."

As others rise from their beds, find our leader vanquished,
they simply shrug and turn toward home. Honorless fools.

"You cowards evacuate even before a funeral dirge reverbs
through this valley," I yell. "Very well! I shall go alone
against the gods. Your leader dies, you run! I won't abandon
this war. You, who would simply turn away, are the turds
that a skunk would not bury. You could not present a bone
even for a siren." Abandoned, I must bury her on my own.

So I set myself with a grimice to the burial of my queen,
I took a shovel from an idle gravedigger (war profiteers,
but I don't envy their task) and planted rocky dirt one
pile on another, down until the ground was unseen
even if I stretched up on my toes. The grave clear
and deep and long: I climbed out, thirsty for wine or beer.

I do not pray; I mourn, but I will
not pray, and I drink deep.

At the end of the day, she lies still under dirt and rocks
and some pitiable headstone, and I alone sit here. Even
the supply train is out of sight, now, and it is just me,
that pitiable, terrible, white castle, and a dirty loch
choaked with algae. Dusk erupts, and some unheavenly
light flickers from the building. There is no decision

I have made so willingly, to head into that abode to slay
whatever demons, gods, or men that killed or ordered
to kill my queen. Thusly and forever, I shall forsake the
minor desire sof life and love, and my thoughts every day
will be turned to the execution of such a brutal coward.
I know and ignore that such vengence makes hearts sour.

Sustain me, Vengence. I cannot plead with an emotion,
but it might sustain me for what is a forever war.

I sleep again after burying my queen, and I hold no hope
the night will slacken my rage, but it turned inward.
How dare I--all hubris and fantasy--make justice? I
shame at the false words I said. I fashion a rough rope
into a loose noose and think. I am not a bard,
I am a fool who makes love sword-in-scabbard

and I am a fool who cannot finish even a fool's errand.
How dare I--all failures in my crowded heart--propose
anything but to dive from cliff to rocks. Why try?
Let me do nothing and not fail rather than to defend
some concept as honor, valor, pride. I can say to those
who doubt me, "I am a coward, written in poetry or prose."

But am I? I have lived through more battles
than memories and I know there is valour in beer!

I face the castle and eye its iron fence and surrounding
curtilage, again the grounds look idle, not gardner nor
soldier disturb the architecture, glamourous white
stones stacked and grouted with more glittlering
mortar disturbed regularly with murder holes, no door
visible. This is more keep then castle; a fortress for war

and no other purpose. Fear not, we are at the foothills
of the great mountains, and this keep is but the first
building to fall. "Coward," I tell myself, "before the light
dims in the sky, add at least one number to your kills."
I breathe, close my eyes, and when I open the curse
of fear has cleared and I move to slake my murderous thirst.

The distance collapses as I approach, alone, but the sun
sets fast in the sky. Wasn't it morning not long ago?

The dark is no matter for this mission, and there is no restraint
upon my violence with what I find on the throne. I'll run though
that false idol with my bare hands, and the pitiable souls
he's decieved will then be free. The hope and the light is faint,
I charge closer to this castle, this keep, into the row upon row
of gleaming white bricks towering over the moat's deadly undertows.

There it is! A massive door, and I must enter it. I have traded
grass for rock in front of that door--and yes, yes I am afraid.
Solid! Cut from one tree two men's height wide. I see no holes,
for keys nor hands. I push against where the wood is faded,
and it moves easily, and I can imagine the ropes, frayed
with time, pulling it open. I step in, ready to begin my raid--

The sword is comfortable in my hand, and the shield offers
comfort like a mother. I press forward, ever forward.

3.

The smell is wet and cold and tired, like boots
worn through a shallow brook in the fall.

Of course it is dank and dark and dirty, what clean world
do I expect in a castle built for war? I must confess a fear
of bugs bigger than my hand. An unlit torch in its holder
smells of pitch and tar, so I spark my knifes whorled
Damascus blade against the wall and light it. A small tear
of flame falls to the floor. I piss it out with my mourning beer.

I belch. After the echo, no sound other than distant droplets
of some unknown liquid and the crackling flame. The corridor
branches: two paths diverge and I turn left, opposite a cur's
pile accompanying quiet flies. "And this fecund waste, wet
with maggots, is found in a castle? Even disgust in war
is a weapon," and I trudge onward, but I need not travel far.

{When two gods meet, nude as the barbarous men who
made them, they each believe they are the higher rank.}

The walls widen into a room, the ceiling high, peaked
and adorned with a story of creation. A single man sits,
cross-legged, center of the room, looking at me curiously,
floating. I can smell his vanity from here, the stink
of his perfumed self offending even beyond the dog shit
I avoided; his face tells me he's not long from mommy's tit.

"I am all that is man and god," he says. I respond, "Obesity
should not be a goal of an immortal." The portly hovering
man smiles. "Ah. Your joke is unfunny, old, and simply
louder. Originality is not your generation's forte. Pity.
to waste immortality on a normal person, not a king
or someone worth any more than a strand of string."

Either the floor is warped, or my eyes are. Light or this man
play tricks, and I trust men less than light and shadow.

I charge the floating prophet, knock him from mirrorwork.
And, sprawled out on the cobbled stones and dirt, white
clothes turn dingy gray as he fumbles to his feet.
"You fool! What depression you engender! Go on, smirk
now, but know," he inhales sharply, "I am surely in the right.
You are damned to eternal life, only God himself may lighten

your heavy mind. All your friends and loves will die in a fire,
when the world ends you exist, no man shall kill you, fool,
even death may die before you have a chance to meet
your own end and wish, beg for your own funeral pyre!
Even upon grass that could be put out with a baby's drool,
but no. You will live forever, even when the sun grows cool."

I laughed just now, unable to keep it away. Tell a sadistic
soldier like me I'll live forever and see how that forever is.

"Very well; I am immortal, and only God can end this life,"
I laugh again, unable to hold it in, "And how does prophecy
change me? I fight for my queen's memory and her whispered
sighs live beyond your lie-strewn oaths!" He says, "Strife
is your life and her fading memory is the bowels of history.
She will be forgotten by everyone, even you eventually."

"As long as I live, I will speak her name." "And even the air
will be gone around you, and your voice will make no sound."
"I will write her words," I say. He contends, "The ink will blur
among all the words of humanity. But to be just a little fair,
some writings live until even the medium of stones are ground
into powder, just before the sun grows plump, red, and round."

I say, "You say the sun cools, then you say it reddens and
grows. You fool!" He says, "You are a fool. Stars live long lives."

He sighs and rolls his head around his shoulders, and I hear
his bones crack. He stands. "Tell me what you fear." Again,
I laugh, "Have you considered writing comedies?" He coldly
reads me, "You fear the terrible enlightening knowledge. Fear
knowing I am truthful and right. Maybe just then,
at the end of this world, when neither kith nor kin

surround you...Tell me, how is your mother's back?"
I feel my head tilt, "How do you know of my mother?"
I ask. "Well, I could never know, except you told me.
You told me of your mother, your family, your pack
of wolf-dogs raised since pups to be loyal to no other.
Even I doubted. Until your torch lit this foggy ether."

"You could have guessed all of those things. Tell
me more about what you know of my mother."

"Her back is twisted like a screw. She worked for you
while your father warred under your dispicable queen."
I raise my hand, "I would not--" "--say such things if
I were you?" he cut me off, knowing my words before I do.
"You will learn much, immortal one, though she seems
great right now, her existence is as ephemeral as steam."

"Dispicable or ephemeral? Choose one!" I say. "Both,"
he says, "Evil and good are simple words, you taught this
to all the children and monsters of our time; when a whiff
of an errant wind could kill you, every day is a trophy
to be held and cherished and every night's sleep is bliss."
He smiles, "My words are weak; my argument is amiss.

"I will show, not tell." He pulls something scintilating from the folds
of his dirty white robe. He touches it, and we are outside.

To be continued "When It's Done."