5 Dystros

I have not slept, and twenty men at arms disappear over the hills, out of my view at last, bringing with them the traitor, now in chains. My heart is broken open and all of the god has spilled out from it; and I care not who sees me weep now.

My general Pausis will be burned tonight on his pyre, and we will mark a grave for him at his death upon the capitulation of Sardis and the opening of the Lician campaign.

Aristes, my body is my traitor, and these men are mere shadows of the treason that attacks me from within my own belly each day and each hour. When I am master of myself?

The night of the surrender of Sardis, I brought Philander to my tent and told him all I had spoken to Seleuccus. He grunted, and smiled as I explained the suggestion that Seleuccus should stand as midman in his phalanx. Seleuccus would rather die than take a humble place that so many worthy men would trade their lives to take. There was a time when I would gladly have taken that place, if only to be near the great king, Philip.

I have gone to the seconds of those I suspect of treason, and explained to them my reason. I have told them to explain my reason to their men, and to ask them if any of them believe I had done wrong by Hephaestion, and if so, to come to me directly, for I wished to be known as fair, and that I still did love him greatly but could no longer trust him. Unlike those nearest me, I received great confidence and trust from the chiliarchs, and I believe they knew, because they had never before been summoned, that they may be in a position of favor now, since they have held loyal. And they were greatly joyful to have a holiday and athetic event rather than an annoying siege.

Seleuccus has not been seen on the field, though I do not believe he has fled me. And Xanion has gone, and with him half a dozen, according to Callisthenes. Callisthenes himself, I did not speak to until he came to me to tell me Xanion had gone, and that he did not approve of his action.

And after the burning of Pausis, there was no sleep in me for the oil burning in my eyes, and the cold hand of the god in my flesh, cool, a warning that change was aborning. I left my guard posted as normal for my stalk, and the revelry had died down to small conversations by campfires. I slipped away unnoticed into the crags, there to draw my cloak and privacy around me, and to consider what I would say and do when Hephaestion inevitably arrived.

He must have taken horse previous, and met Xanion on the road; for the night did not end before his arrival.

I had nothing with me but my clothes, my weapon and my cloak, and in my usual way I removed everything and sat naked before the god on his rock, nothing but the wool of the cloak to protect my flesh from the cold and the clay. I burned amber that night, and this Asian herb that haunted me yet, bergamot mint. The exotics of this land intrigued me, and I gathered them for Ahura Mazda's obeisance and for the god of this city, Bel Marduk. Had I not been in obeisance to the foreign gods, I may have been in my own privacy in my tent below, but this was a time for the temple of the open air, for a pledge to the god who had brought me to his city to raise not a hand to it before receiving its surrender.

When my flesh grew uniformly cool, I drew my cloak around me, and in exhaustion, grew senseless to all but the sounds of the night around me. All grew still.

And I dreamed then, of the soft touch of satin upon my belly, sliding downward. And the pressure of a hand upon my shoulder. I could feel the hot breath of Erastes as I had so long and often remembered it - this was not the vision of the god, I knew, but yet I indulged it as it enwrapped me, and aroused me as my fondest fantasy; the satin-clothed flesh that slid against my naked form and beckoned me spread my hands across it and to find what musculature lay beneath, and worked itself purposefully against me. The feel of my cloak was gone from me, and as the breath that fell upon me formed itself to speech, I felt the definite and physical touch of arms enveloping me and of hands drawing me toward himself… and woke.

And saw the barely-glimpsed outline of his face as he leaned toward me, his hands already busily at work with earnest strokes, for I woke ready and aroused to the touch my flesh knew and welcomed, but which my mind now recoiled from. That ready response was all he required, and receiving it, he took me in his embrace.

"Philos," he whispered passionately in my ear; and I was aflame. Was this not as I had dreamed and desired? If I were to shut my eyes in this darkness, would the flame not burn out all that remained of pain and conflict, and bring me bright into his love again? I dared not speak. I, the master of word and debate with him -- with all this, I spake not.

He moved urgently against me and I felt the provocation of his flesh. Perhaps he had suffered as did I, these days - these weeks! "Philos," he whispered, and there emerged from him a moan that was of suffering and pain as well as desire. I spake not, but my breath grew hot and rapid in me, and my hands of their own accord were raised to receive him. I struck them down with a will and tried, at last, to draw away.

How had he found me? I raged. How many hours did he search among the crags for that one place where I would be hid? Was it the smell of the burning herb that drew him? for he was nothing if not clever. How could he discern some new alien thing from all the herbs I burned for the gods I honored? No - there were some animal wisdom in him that brought him directly to me, as though my sheer presence were a beacon on a hillside. This had happened before, there was no hiding from him and seeking peace, I could not escape from the torrent of whatever desire plagued him to seek me out, and seek me out he did again; and I adored it; and I abhorred it. To be so passionately desired; even now he sought to disentangle me from my cloak and free my chilled body from its only protection, so that he might claim it, and as the cold air struck the fever that had descended on my flesh, I woke in earnest and sat up. And begged for words to salvage me from some passion that spoke independent of my will.

"You!" I cried, my voice hoarse with a desire I attemped, too late, to staunch.

"Philos, I thought you lost to me," he whispered still, this time pitched low and husky, almost aloud. "Your anger, do not be angry, let me love you now. Take me within you now," he spake, and put his hands upon my shoulders, and he made to press me down onto the ground. Now - now I felt rage rise, and seized both his wrists.

"What are you doing?" I cried.

"What do you think I'm doing? I am making love to you. Quietly, now," he commanded, and reached again to stoke my aroused flesh, to ready me for him.

I got my knees beneath me, then my feet, and stood naked in the night. My sword lay more than a shoulder's length away, unseen and unfelt by me. It was frigidly cold, and this better, for the passion cooled on me like ice, and the god descended upon me as a breath of ice. He knelt before the place that I had lain, and the warmth that had held my body was now dispelled. My eyes adjusted to the gloom and I could make out his form, a long cloth of satin clothed him - he had dressed for a seduction, and would take me sleeping if he could, while I dreamed the hundred small sensations too subtle for my mind to register openly. He knew how deeply I slept these times; there were times he took me in my sleep and I did not wake until the moment of utter surrender, when exhaustion were overcome by the intrusion of his flesh in mine. This perhaps he had hoped would happen again, and he could claim me by overpowering my sleep with his lust. And it did not.

"You are the traitor."

He held his hands up as though I had struck him, to protect his face. "Philos…"

"And so, this again, Hephaestion. The face I had turned from me, turns itself to me to take me in my sleep. What are you, assassin of my love, will you kill it and then burn it?"

"What are you saying?" He tried once more, but I stood unmoving, ice, a wall of ice before him, and my flesh was cold in every part. There was no minute part of lust remaining in that core of ice and hatred that claimed me then. I had never yet felt hatred to Hephaestion until that moment, and it seemed that a stable of trampling warhorses now seized me and stampeded through me at him. "Philos, speak to me. Alexi, come to me, you were with me, and rose to my touch. His arms reached out -- he was beseeching.

I paused. How much pause was weakness? I wondered. Did Alexander look through my eyes at his beloved, then, and quail at what I intended now? For had I knife or sword then, I would have cut him down, and been glad of it for the sake of Alexander.

But Alexander was not glad, and the pain rose up in me as well, like a knife in my belly, and I felt no remorse of the god, while at the same time within me the remorse of Alexander was like the pain of death.

His hands were upon my thighs then, and he placed his head against me. I moved not, and felt naught. His hands burned my flesh as though made of fire, and I staggered back.

"Touch me not!" I shouted at him, and my voice echoed loudly against the cliff at my back. His hands tightened on me and once again I threw him off, this time prying his grip from off my thighs.

"You increase your treason with offense to my body!" I cried. "Do so again at pain of death." He raised his hands as though to ward me off, once again, and then stood, staggering back as he gained his feet.

"Alexander," spake he, his voice now breaking with the passion of frustration and of new anger. "It is I. Do not look on me as stranger."

"Stranger," I hissed, repeating his words, "Offend me again at pain of death!" I repeated, this time automatically. "We have nothing of which to speak but your greater crime here now."

"I did not come to talk of crimes, or of treason, Alexi," he replied, now cold and furious. "You reject me in the coldest possible way, after coming alight at my touch. There is some illness of anger that besets you. Come, you hurt me with this." His arm made another pass in my direction, and I withdrew, bending in one movement to retrieve my cloak. My clothes were nearby, and I intended to don them, and my weapons, despite him. I would not win this argument unclothed. He misread my gesture as departure. "Do not go."

I did not speak, but straightened the cloak and placed it on my arm. Three paces, four, there they were, my foot fetched up against the edge of my sandal, and I took on my clothing, deliberately, while the shadow nearby me wavered uncertainly. A mere shadow.

"Now I am dressed for audience." I fastened the frog on my cloak, and drew on my weapon at the last, and turned to descend the small cliff face. I placed my feet and leaned down into the darkness. I do not know how he had climbed the crag so stealthily, but I could tell the height panicked him somewhat - Hephaestion was never keen on the heights. He caught at my arm, and I ignored it, and came down, stones clattering, upon the path below.

"Do not run from me!" he cried, and came down himself, with less stealth and even less dignity. I drew upon him then and held my weapon before his eyes. At that moment, moonlight broke from the moody clouds and I could see him clearly in light and shadow.

"I run from no man."

"Put up," he spat, disgust overpowering what may have been fear, or even passion still. I put up and stood.

"I am leaving now," said I, and turned once again. I sheathed the sword and came down the path my feet knew, in their own stealth, how to find. Noisily, he matched my path, and fought to keep up. In many ways a clumsy man, he was bested by me in this craggy course for the better part of an hour, and throughout I heard naught but curses and the clatter of stones. He would be enraged by the time I emerged at the top of the camp; the better to confront him, for in passion or in sweetness, I could not truly oppose him with success. And in time, we came to the top of the camp. The signs of revel had gone, leaving only the guttering remains of the fires. It had grown very late, and only my guard waited for me. I did not take to my tent, but stayed abroad, in the open air, and away from any that might be within hearing. This was not their fight, but mine.

I rounded on him then, at last. "I will only say this, I hope, one more time. You are nothing to me, and even less after tonight. Do you wish me to say I love you? Then I love you. Do you wish me to put you back into the place you had thrown away in defiance? That, I will not do. Do you wish forgiveness? That, I shall not do, and ever, not after tonight."

"You cannot be serious, Alexi," he chided.

"Oh and what will yet convince you of my seriousness?"

"Something that makes sense."

"This talk will not continue. Apollion has been named my second, and my orders to you to Amisos were defied. So therefore, you have not even that place to return to, but out. Away from my sight and my side."

"You took Sardis and did not take me with you!" he cried, hurt now evident in his voice.

"Yes, and not ever to take you as second or as leader, for any reason. Nor to sleep in my bed, nor touch me again."

"This cannot be. We are meant --"

"Aristotle is dead, Hestes. His prophecy dies as well. He misjudged you, and greatly; and it cannot be that you are to be my companion - you have and do, threaten my reign with machinations, with manipulations, and with lies. How many lies I have seen in these past days without you! Your empire has diminished since by one. Pausis is dead."

"Pausis? How?" This abashed him.

"I owe you no explanations. Were you not traitor, you could have prevented this. But you provoked it! Basileus is not pleased, and I am not pleased."

"You? What do you mean, you?"

"I do not speak to you as Alexander now," spake I, the cold rage that had unloosed in me was now unraveling in my belly. "You must now speak directly to me."

"This is madness!" he cried. "You cannot be other than Alexander."

I nodded, slowly. "Oh yes, you have missed this truth, all this time. This is the god that speaks for Alexander, now, and you have offended my eye and this body, my servant, and my mission in this land. Now you will go, and never show your face again, nor raise a hand against him, for you will die, and in great pain, for so doing."

At these words, Hephaestion's rage took him entire, and he set upon me with his fists. I did not defend. He placed a heavy blow across the side of my face, and I knew that it would purple and swell, and I let him do it. Many other blows fell, and I stood fast, accepting them. He could not defeat the god, he could only beat at the thing he thought he owned, and that was the undefending body of Alexander, the thing he no longer owned. And I allowed it, because the god allowed it. I could do nothing else.

He checked himself soon, and withdrew some paces away, breathing heavily, growing abashed at my stillness as his fury spent itself. "And now,", spake I, "if you have finished battering the King of Macedon, you should flee before his army catches you and wreaks its revenge upon you, tearing your very heart from you and burning it so that it may not return to its former place. You have little enough heart to begin with."

At this, Hephaestion turned in horror at my cold and unresponsive visage, and was gone.

I moved, then. I raised a quiet alarm with Apollion, and he personally took the twenty to arrest him. And as the god's justice seeped out of my bruised and bleeding body, I took to my bed, empty, and wept for the remainder of the night, overcome with an emptiness I had never before felt until that night. And I have not slept a moment since.