Excerpt 1

Death in Battle

Melittos held out the longest of the seven brothers, and lived to see the Clytarites who fought with him go out from underneath the sun. He rallied a small group of his fellows, the very men with whom he had gathered honey in the summertime, and harvested the wheat in the autumn, those with whom he had, running and laughing, stripped off his clothes and jumped into the stream when they were still children. Now they fought the thirty-fourth trabecula in a field that reeked of shit and blood, and the battle-hungry Florentines had the better of them.

In a ragged outward-facing circle, Melittos fought alongside his fellows, nor could he in his gut comprehend the blood-drunkenness that clouded the eye of the enemy. All was rage and churning-up and noise and at last, a Florentine drove up the sharp and shattered rim of Melittos’s shield into his belly, so that its oaken splinters chewed his liver and his spleen, and unstitched his bowel, and he fell.

Some men say that in the moment before his death, a man recalls his life in its entirety. By this means the secret pattern of his life is laid bare to him at last, and he may depart from underneath the sun at peace or despairing, as the answer to the mysteries that were himself would tend. It is worth remarking that some thing similar to this transpired with Melittos as well, as he lay dying in the mud compounded out of blood and yellow dust. For the moment that he started in to dying, the rage and terror of the battle broke out from his passions. With calm reason he saw not only that the end of his short life was nearly on him, but also that the way of life of his people, which were the only way that he had known, was drawing to a close as well. In clear and ordered thoughts he conceived of the world as a gust of wind that carries leaves on it. What is a man, after all, but a house with two doors, and both of them are open, and the world gusts through him for a little while, and the leaves it carries scuttle on the floor, and perhaps some of them collect in the corners, and then the house persists no longer, yet the world goes on gusting, driving leaves before it.

All this passed before the calm reason of dying Melittos, and it seemed right to him. Nor was he much upset that the house denominated Melittos should fall, for the wind that was passing through it seemed to him to have a foul smell, and he was just as pleased that the aimless wind should carry on without that it should pass through him.

Yet so soon as Melittos thought on the foul smell of the wind that was the world, this smell was removed from the nostril of his reason. In its place he smelled a succession of smells that were of a painful sweetness to him, for they were the smells of every living thing from which the bees of Clytaris make their famous honey. Therefore he smelled the fresh-risen clover thick with morning dew, and then the apple blossom and the orange blossom, and the flowers of the dogwood and the honeysuckle, and many fine living smells besides.

The shovel of free-roaming Death was swiftly undermining the walls of the mind of Melittos, and all the while these ineffable smells succeeded one another in him. Can a thing be reasoned on without that a mind exists to reason on it? It is difficult to say. For it seems there was little left of the house of Melittos, perhaps only the memory of heady scents. At last he smelled the hot rich smell of honey just collected from the hive, thick and flowing, with bits of the comb still stuck in it. What there was of the dying youth to feel, that part felt a vast and unruined happiness, complete in its every part, such as no man has yet described. The next minute the boot of the trabecula smashed his brains.


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