THE SACK OF TROY

BY F. STORR

The Wooden Horse was set up in the citadel, and after a night of feasting and carousal, the Trojan warriors had all retired to rest from their labors, and deep slumber sealed their weary eyes, for now they feared no nightly alarms, no réveillé before break of day.

But with night-fall the Greek fleet at Tenedos had loosed their moorings, and were making full sail for the Trojan shore.

When all slept the traitor Sinon slipped out from the turret of the palace where the king had assigned him a lodging, and crouching in the shadow climbed the hill of the citadel. There stood the Wooden Horse, weird and ghostly in the moonlight, not a sentinel to guard it. Leaning on the parapet he watched the white sails of the fleet as it sped landward, and soon he saw the preconcerted signal—a flaming torch at the masthead of the admiral ship. Then by the ropes still left hanging from the Horse's neck, he swarmed up and opened a secret panel in the side. One by one the mailed warriors let themselves down: first Ulysses, the arch-plotter, then Neoptolemus, Achilles' son, Menelaus, Epeos, the architect of the Horse, and other chieftains too many to name. They made straight for the city gates, and despatching the sentinels before any had time to give the alarm, let in the serried battalions who were waiting outside.

Like the rest of the Trojan warriors Æneas slept, but his sleep was disturbed by a vision of the night. At his bedside stood a ghostly form. His visage was marred, his locks and beard were clotted with gouts of blood, his breast was slashed and scarred, and his feet were pierced and livid with the marks of cords. Yet, though thus defaced and maimed, Æneas knew at once the godlike Hector, and cried to him, "Light of Troy, our country's hope and stay, thou com'st much looked for. Where hast thou tarried this long, long while? Why is thy visage thus marred? What mean those hideous scars?"

The ghost answered nothing but gazed down on Æneas with sad, lack-luster eyes. Only as it vanished it spoke. "Fly, goddess-born; save thyself from the flames. The foe is within the gates. Troy topples to its fall. Could faith and courage have availed, this right hand had saved it. To thee Troy now commends her household gods. Take them with thee in thy flight, and with them to guide and guard thee found beyond the seas a new and mightier Troy."

The ghost had vanished; but when Æneas woke he found at his bedside the household gods and the fillets of Vesta and her fire that is never quenched.

From without there came a confused sound of hurrying feet, the tramp of armed men, the clash of arms, and mingled shouts and groans. He climbed to the roof to see what it all meant. Volumes of smoke like a mountain torrent were rolling over the city, and from the murk there leapt tongues of flame. In desperate haste he donned his arms and went forth, bewildered and not knowing which way to turn. At his threshold he met Panthus, high priest of Apollo and custodian of the citadel, and asked him what was happening.

"All is over," cried the priest; "the gods have deserted us; Greece has triumphed; Troy is no more—a name, a city of the past."

Horror-stricken but undeterred, Æneas hurried on to where the fray seemed the hottest, and gathering round him some score of trusty comrades, he thus addressed them: "Friends and brothers in arms, all is not lost; let us take courage from despair, and at worst die like men with our breasts to the foe."

They all rushed into the mellay, and at first fortune favored the brave. Androgeus, the captain of a picked corps of Greeks, hailed them; and mistaking them in the darkness for fellow-countrymen, twitted them on their tardiness, and bade them hurry on to share in the loot. Too late he perceived his mistake. Before they had time to unsheath a sword or unbuckle a shield, Æneas and his comrades were on them and not one escaped.

Flushed with their first success, Corœbus, one of the forlorn hope, cried: "Hark ye, comrades, I have bethought me of a glorious stratagem; let us exchange arms and scutcheons with our dead foemen. All is fair in war." No sooner said than done; and great was the havoc they wrought at the first by this disguise, but in the end it cost them dear.

As they passed by the temple of Minerva they were arrested by a piteous spectacle. Cassandra, the prophetic maid, was being dragged from the altar by the rude soldiery, her hair disheveled, her arms pinioned, and her eyes upturned to heaven. Corœbus' high spirit could not brook the sight, and he hurled himself on the ruffians, the rest following his lead. Though outnumbered they held, and more than held, their own, till from the pinnacles of the temple a whole battery of rocks and missiles rained down on their devoted heads. Their disguise had too well deceived the defenders of the temple, and soon the assailants were reinforced by the main body of the Greeks, with Ajax and the two Atridæ at their head, who soon penetrated their disguise. Corœbus was the first to fall; then Ripeus, the justest ruler in all Troy; nor did his gray hairs and the fillet of Apollo that he wore save Panthus from the common fate.

Æneas, with two wounded comrades, all that was left of that devoted band, made his way to the palace of Priam, where it looked as if the whole Greek force had gathered. Part were working battering-rams against the solid masonry, others planting scaling ladders against the walls, up which the boldest, with shields held high above their heads, were already swarming, while the garrison hurled down on them stones, tiles, whatever came to hand; even the gilded beams of the royal chambers.

At the rear of the palace was a postern gate leading to a covered passage that connected the house of Hector and Andromache with the palace. By this Æneas entered and climbed to a watch-tower that commanded the whole city, the plain with the Greek encampments, and beyond, the sea, now studded with ships. At his bidding the guards set to work, and soon, with axes and crow-bars, they had loosened the foundations of the turret. It tottered, it toppled, and fell with a mighty crash, burying hundreds of the besiegers beneath its ruins. But what were they among so many?

At the main entrance of the palace stood Neoptolemus in his glittering armor, like a snake who has lost its winter weeds, and snatching a double-headed ax from a common soldier, he battered in the panels and wrenched the massive door from its brass hinges. Through the long corridors and gilded ante-chambers, like a river that has burst its dam, the flood of armed Greeks swept on, and from the inner chambers there came a long-drawn wail of women's voices that shivered to the golden stars. On came Neoptolemus, sweeping before him the feeble palace guards. The cedarn doors gave way like match-wood, and there, huddled on the floor or clinging to the pillars of the tapestried chamber, he beheld, like sheep led to the slaughter, the queen and the princesses, the fifty daughters and fifty daughters-in-law of King Priam. But where was Priam the while?

In the center of the palace was a court open to the sky, and in the center of the court was a great altar over-shadowed by an immemorial bay-tree. Hither Hecuba and her kinswomen had fled for refuge when the rabble of soldiers burst in on them, and in the court she espied her aged husband girt in armor that ill-fitted his shrunken limbs, and she called to him, "What madness hath seized thee thus to rush to certain death? Hector himself could not save us now; what can thy feeble arms avail? Take sanctuary with us. Either this altar shall protect us or here we shall all perish together!"

The feeble old king yielded to his wife's entreaties, but hardly had he reached the altar when he beheld Polites, the child of his old age, whom he loved most now Hector was dead, limping towards them like a wounded hare, and close behind him in hot pursuit Neoptolemus with outstretched lance; and a moment after the son fell transfixed at his father's feet. "Wretch," he cried, beside himself with righteous wrath, "more fell than dire Achilles! He gave me back my son's corpse, but thou hast stained my gray hairs and god's altar with a son's blood." He spake, and hurled at Neoptolemus with nerveless arm a spear that scarce had force to pierce the outmost fold of the targe.

With a scornful laugh Neoptolemus turned on him, and dragged him by his long white beard from the altar. "Die, old dotard," he cried, "and in the shades be sure thou tell my sire Achilles what a degenerate son is his." So saying, he drove his sword to the old king's heart.

"Such was the end of Priam, such his fate,
To see in death his house all desolate,
And Troy, whom erst a hundred states obeyed,
A heap of blackened stones in ruin laid.
A headless corpse washed by the salt sea tide,
Not e'en a stone to show where Priam died."