7 Dystros

The harvest is in. The day of Apollo is here, and there is feasting. I have appointed Seleuccus satrap of Sardis and its region, against my own will, but according to the will of the god. He will be left here, and removed entire from my army; this appointment is a form of banishment; however, I believe he will do well. He needs to be taken from the main action of the invasion, and away from my eye, and it is unlikely that here, amongst those who have loved me and capitulated to me, he could foment unrest. If he does, I will deal with the revolt of the city I had anticipated originally; only with the knowledge of Seleuccus to aid me in quelling him. I place him there as a calculated move, that of positioning an enemy in a weak place; and this I know as the god's working.

The inner part of me that would prefer to love and to be loved, to be aristos in the innocent manner… The Alexander of last year or the year before is crushed by my calculatedness, but that within me which is the cool voice of Aristes tells me that it must be. Not everyone can love me, and not everyone will love me, and that is not mine to care about. It is easy to contain his lust for power, now that Hephaestion is imprisoned in Lesbos; and I believe that, for the moment, the back of the insurrection has been broken.

News was good from abroad and from the fleet, and I was anxious to take the delta at Samos, for I knew we would meet naval resistance there. There was too much ground to cover, so we left apace, while I still smarted from the blows I was dealt.

A coldness descended upon my aristes when I emerged the following morning in daylight, and my staring purpled eye reproached them that they had not guarded myself or the camp adequately. My wounds were loud testimony that those who had disregarded my banishment of Hephaestion were untrue to me; and they were cowed. My therapeutus Paulos descended upon me, applying poultices to my torn cheek, and asked rude and intrusive questions about my habits, and his excessive curiousity and handling of my body outraged me - he too was curious about my relation to Hestes. I roared at him to depart, and said that if I had trouble with my water or my bowels he would be the first to know, and to his detriment. He fled me at last.

I have met Parmenion, who has taken Smyrna with little fight. He has not encountered the Persian line as yet, but it is imminent, and we expect to meet them at Ephesos or at Samos when we emerge onto the coast.

My despair deepened, rather than lightened, at the prospect of never seeing Hephaestion again, and my mind tormented me with the poignant moments of our last contact. That was not what I wanted to have as our ending! I could fall in battle any day, with the one regret that I had not placed my hand upon his cheek and forgiven him; which is what I sorely longed to do, and the days did not lessen this longing. I longed to write to him, as I do to you, in my own solitude, a less harsh tale of what I wished we would have become together, had we not been drawn down to strife. And perhaps this I shall do. And it will begin, "Philalexander…" in the fond hope that in some way I am still that to him.

Perhaps at this time, I no longer cared to live, but was driven in some way to prove that I had been found worthy of the god, and I felt invincible, untouchable. This in its own way enraged Parmenion, and when we met, he closeted himself with me and I endured long hours of his harangue. We met when the armies reconverged above the Caester, reprovisioned from the clear water, and then prepared for the siege of Ephesos. On the march, we accepted surrender from many small towns, with tribute, and during the settling of the towns and the execution of some traitors within the ranks, whom I put to the sword personally, I had long hours where I forgot the smell of Hephaestion, the perfume of his flesh, and did not think in my ruminations to compose some new epistle to be sent to Mytilene to assuage him and comfort him.

Parmenion looked defeated, tired, and was gruff with discontent about me; and he had several large things to lay upon my head. I always felt the relief of command with him, for of all of my father's generals he was greater than I in skill and insight, though he denied it; and was not slow to correct me. And with the respect he showed my father at all times, only made correction to me in complete privacy. He never wished to be king, nor would he take my place if I fell - his, he says, is a soldier's duty, and a second's duty, and he has served as second to Philip and as the leader of the fleet, and shall until he falls in battle or retires. I don't believe he will ever fall in battle, but die with a grim smile on his face, at advanced age. I love him in a way I never loved Philip, for he has a softness to him I have only ever glimpsed in you, Aristes.

He held up a hand to silence me when he approached my place and I admitted him. "Say nothing about the beard, Basileus. If you make me shave it, then you can find someone else to head your fleet and your right flank. You can cow all of the children in the phalanges, and all of the old men who think you are divine, but a man deserves to wear his beard, discipline or no."

I laughed aloud, so glad of setting eyes on him once again the pain were dispelled, and embraced him. To no small surprise of mine, he took my hand and knelt in obeisance, mumbling as though to himself, "just in case you are divine, I take no chances, and ask forgiveness of an old man's vanity at hiding his scars."

I raised him up, and he towered above me, and by the time his kiss was done the smile had fled him and his eyes had resumed their flinty hardness. There was something of grimness in him, and I prepared for hard news.

"You rode alone to Sardis and allowed yourself to be engulfed by the populace there, without a vanguard or force behind you or nearby."

"Yes."

"Do not tell me that this was the plan of the god and that you must go alone without guard to prove your invincibility. That will not work with me."

"Just so, I won't tell you. It is done and the city is mine."

He glared at me, long, before speaking. "I expect that will not happen again, Alexi. It is things like that that prove you are still a child. You act like one, and others mistrust you."

My temper flared suddenly and engulfed me. "You dare!"

"Don't do that with me. You have to rank your men - you don't need me to prove obedience to you. I am not one of your men. I am your man, and there are no proofs to make. It was childish, dangerous, and threatening. Don't do it again."

"I had to do it."

He shook his head. "You are being stubborn. Think. This campaign may be effective in taking Anatolia, and we may hold it. Our goal is larger, and is planned for decades. I planned it with your father while you still suckled. You are the great indispensible part of that goal; and therefore cannot be risked. You endanger us when you risk yourself. Is this some desire in you to tempt Zeus? I am not impressed; though I think many others are. It would do better in the Athanaeum than on a battlefield, Basileus."

His use of my title was ironic. He did not honor me but cast me down with his words. The color of rage darkened my face then, and I was glad of being alone in his audience.

"War is risk," I countered.

"That is irrelevant. You have a vanguard because you are the leader. You have that guard by you always, because your enemy knows that to kill you is to kill your army. Do you not remember how they descended on you at Granicus? Think! Do not be a foolish child who dreams of immortality!"

"Parmenion…"

"Do not speak, child, think! How much counsel do you get on the field? You should use me for this, I say it is foolish. One moment you stand below a city gate, alone and unarmored, and one arrow can fell you. Tell me that one arrow cannot fell you!"

"One arrow cannot fell me."

"How is it that you are different from - -- no, I am not going to do this again. You will destroy the faith others have in you if you continue in this fashion. Persia will soon know you take idiotic risks and will watch for them. You may be lost to us in our second engagement, here, before we ever reach the gates of Jonah. I will grieve your passing, and will drink you at your burial." His words were bitter and resigned, and they, more than anything, checked my rising outburst in response. I sat, and considered. "I ask you to watch your safety. I ask you to take your guard, to strengthen it, and to not go alone. It isn't necessary. There are times when it will be necessary for you to charge, and to lead without vanguard or flank, and you may be felled. That is inevitably possible. But don't do it when it isn't. Sardis was not necessary."

"You care for me that much…" I said, wonderingly. Tears sprang to my eyes.

"Do not go weak on me just yet, Basileus," he spoke more softly. "There is more, and harder, news."

"More?" My voice cracked. How much I missed being the second to someone of true maturity! I only felt it when in his presence, the assurance he gave me was beyond mere words, beyond the sheer physical strength of him, and I longed to reach for him for his protective embrace, as I had in childhood, that parent I did not have…

"Memnon is ill from his wounds. I did not write you of this because I did not want the news to precede me."

"Memnon! Is it mortal?" I felt the finger of fear upon my heart. These men, these stalwarts of my father, mortal all, and as we moved to engage the main force of Persia, I wondered whether there were enough seasoned leaders to reach our hand into their midst, and prevail. With Parmenion by my side, I began to truly doubt. Memnon - how could I lead on water without him? I detested ships, and must lead cavalry. There was none, I realized coldly, to replace Memnon if he fell.

"I cannot say. He took a wound at the Granicus and has flagged since, and not well recovered. I believe it is the lung, his wind is gone from him.

"Then who will lead in his stead?"

"I would say - Hephaestion. If you can bear to have him leave your side. Where is he, by the way? I have not seen him."

My face went dark, as he grew alarmed. "Hephaestion will lead nothing."

"What has happened? Where is he?" He stood, agitated now.

"He is in Mytilene. He will stay in Mytilene."

"What is he doing in Lesbos? Who seconds you? What have you done, Alexi?" his voice rose.

"Apollion seconds me. This is news, and you would have heard had I not advanced directly to you. Hephaestion no longer serves me and is banished."

He put a hand over his eyes. "Can nothing happen in my absence that is not utterly outrageous? Tell me this tale!"

And I put the tale to him, to the extent he could know. Without the painful detail that would cause him the new grief of Philip, without the secrets I had bound Apollion with oaths not to reveal, I admitted of the dalliances of youth with Hephaestion, and his plots, and most recently, his offenses to my person.

"You were too harsh with him. He is an emotional boy, and has not even the maturity you show, as little as it is."

"You think I was too harsh? How can you say that? Slaying a prisoner like that! Then defying my order."

"So there was a prisoner. So he was made a casualty of your wandering eye, your famous lust. Hephaestion has done that since and no surprise. He wishes to be beloved of you only. What is there to banish him for?"

"For defiance."

"And you defy no one I assume."

"You make it sound so casual! It is not casual!"

"Say what you mean, Alexi. Say that you wished to carry on your pleasures without his intrusion, that you tired of him, that he was a poor leader, or that he criticized you too openly. But don't say it is because of treason. We know him. He is of us."

"I don't believe you know him, Uncle. I don't believe you know him at all."

"Very well. You have a choice now. You can tell me the whole tale that you presently withhold, or I will accept your choice without knowing and without understanding."

"You will have to accept my choice. Hephaestion stays where he is put now. Whether I was too harsh or no, all of my men have seen the mark of his fists upon my face, and all know that he remains defiant against my will. I am not so young or so stupid as to know not what that kind of defiance will breed, if allowed."

"Yes, it has gone too far for that - but you provoked it that far. Acknowledge that! And permit me, when I am able, to go to him. He will not last in exile without some support."

"I cannot do that, Uncle. I need you here, and with Memnon - will he die?"


"I cannot know. There may be more news for us when the runners return to the line. My news is a week old. You surely won't stop Hephaestion from writing?"

"No, of course not. At the very least, to read what he writes and to whom." I put my eye upon Parmenion, to gauge his mood. "You don't care for anything I have done to date."

"You are young, and impetuous, and you waste."

"Waste! You think that 200 talents at Sardis was waste? I will tell you - if you care to know, why it was important I ride to Sardis!"

"It was not important."

"Please! Listen to me, Uncle."

"I will listen, but don't expect a change of mind. You, dead, will destroy our hope. And I will miss your pretty face. It is all I have left of Philip."

I told him about my experience in the crags, about the message I had felt that there was a treasure waiting for me to collect, that there was some power in the god of that place that would unleash the forgiveness of Ahura Mazda on me, and that I would be redeemed from my offense to him. Parmenion held little faith in gods, I learned, and I could not sway him to my belief that had I not ridden out as Seleuccus that day, the treasury that paid our fleet would be forfeit, and it were proved. For Miletus would be empty, and Ephesos would be empty, and we would have nothing to sustain us but for the treasury of Sardis for some weeks to come, until our very garrisons would be besieged from a want of food and supply. It all sounded so ephemeral when spoken, in the presence of his skeptical ear, and yet, it was an absolute conviction to me at the time.

What was it in Parmenion's practicality that made me doubt myself? Oh, how I had missed him on these days, and how uncertain I realized I had been, with only my imagined Aristes to counsel me in my fancy. Time after time, with the lives of thousands at stake, I had ventured forth into the breach, across unknown country, and into enemy hands, with absolute conviction. And time after time, I had been proved right. Was this just my own good fortune, or was this knowledge from the god? Rarely did I doubt this, not within myself, and not upon the field, and not upon awakening from the visions themselves; It were only when I had the eye of Parmenion upon me, or, less frequently, Memnon, who was far less delicate about speaking openly of his disagreement. My counsel are few, Aristes. My journal to myself in this volume is my mean attempt to counsel yet again with myself. For the god counsels not; and speaks only as command, only with inambiguity. I cannot answer or explain for the god, I cannot give men its reason at times. I can only prove it out by action.

I learned by my disagreements with Parmenion, however, that this is not enough; and my risk of my life was the pact I signed with the god for the conquest of Sardis. I ransomed my life and won. I know there are times when I must risk my life. I believe that in this way, I renew it and wipe away the wrongdoing I have caused by wilfulness or lust. How can Parmenion penetrate this mystery with his cold facts? And should he? And who, indeed, is right? There are times like this, when I rage within myself and ask: am I not king? If Parmenion were king, would he not himself hear the voice of the god? Is this wisdom not reserved for kings? He is today the great unmoving wall against which I throw myself, and am defeated; for I know in almost every way, he is right. As he was in Philip's years, but Philip ever yielded to him, and almost always, yielded to Memnon, Aristes, or Demosthenes. And I yield to him. Except - for sometimes.

But there may be another thing that may trouble him, which causes him to speak so; my wish to leave this world for the god's world. I know, as well, that I care not, most days, for my life, and would just as well die, if it were not for my men, or for the things I love, or for the desire to find what lies over the edge of that mountain. This is he fears in me, and what my followers fear in me; how little I care for my life, and how much more they value it than I do.