9 Dystros

We are one day from Ephesos, and the column has shortened up. I have ridden hard and long, staying away from the column, letting Parmenion do the work of generalship, while I spend my hours alone - alone with my personal guard, that is. I divide my time between examining maps and reading once again the Zend Avesta. As the second day wore on, after my obeisance to the god for Memnon, I began to have waking dreams and a fever came upon me. I felt as though he were here with me, speaking to me within my mind, and I had to remove myself from the march and the sunlight. The lead of my guard, Teshes, sets out a tent to keep me from the sun, but I erupt in gooseflesh and fever both, and my skin grows hot. My mind races in every direction, and I find myself in a bout of inexplicable despair.

When I can no longer stand the agony of inaction, and when writing words no longer bring sense to my mind, I leap up once again and ride. On the last turn, on the defile leading down onto the coastal plain, my horse stumbled on a rock precipice and I flew to the ground, there to stay, barely sensible.

Teshes was first to me, and attempted to lift me but I would not let him. He rode for the therapeutus, leaving the remaining of the ten to attend me and dab at my forehead, to hold my horse. A hush was upon them, for they could not comprehend the divine Alexander being pitched from his horse, or that he would be in any way clumsy. I grew impatient with their awe, and waved them away from me. I stayed upon the ground, oddly comforted by its solidity, for the world had begun to swim before my eyes, and I swooned.

An hour fell in shadow before Paulos attended me, and he felt of my face, and squeezed the veins of my neck to feel for swellings, and palpated my belly to look for bloating.

"When did this begin?" he spake.

"This? What do you mean 'this'? The dizziness, or the falling from the horse?"

"The dizziness, Basileus," he replied sourly.

"Yesterday, somewhat. I took it for heat exhaustion, for the heat in this land grows fierce now." He nodded, his hands still intruding upon me. I slapped them away from me. But for the caresses of my beloved, I cared not at all for the incidental touch of others, and refused to allow them due to the offense to my person. But Paulos was the great exception; for it was his livelihood to place his hands upon my person.

"What have you eaten today?" he persisted, and I replied "Practically naught. I made an offering to the god there, and took my portion from my pack. There is more there." I pointed vaguely toward the rise behind, where I had set an altar and a stone, and left my offering for the god. Paulos sprung up and went toward it, defiling the shrine in the process. I cried out and he waved dismissively at me.

"Basileus!" he spake, his voice stern. "We must find out if you are sick from your food. And we need to get you back out of this heat, where you can rest."

"Rest!" I bellowed, and was lost to a swoon as I tried to rise. Paulos gathered up the god's portion from the altar and put it in a sack. No doubt to check it for poison. In the meantime, the fever raged on in me, and I grew wild with imaginings that Hestes was bending over me, tending a wound, bandaging my shoulder, and that I was gushing blood from a stroke he had laid upon my neck. No! that could not be. He would never strike me. And yet, he had! My face was still marred from the imprint of his fist, and my eye was shot with blood from where it broke the delicate flesh upon the orb, and I could feel the grittiness of the skin of my cheek where it had mottled and broken out purple. He had done this thing! An ecstasy of rage passed through me, and I was alight with it.

They lifted me, against my flailing about, and tried to make a litter for me - I would not have it! And I took once again to Bucephalus and withdrew with some dignity to the head of the column with the other vanguard. By this time, a chill had taken me entire, and my teeth began to rattle uncontrollably in my head. And soon, I had to dismount and bolt for the underbrush to vomit out my stomach and cough out lungs, again and again, until I was utterly dry from it, and still heaving violently. And it seemed everytime I regained horse, I felt more and more weak. But I would not relent to rest, and we completed the stadia measured out by the bematist in excellent time, partly encouraged by the mania I had to ride, and the fever that was upon me inspired rather than concerned the men. It was little different than Alexander in his battle rage, rising to slaughter all enemy; only in this case, to annihilate the distance between Smyrna and Ephesos.

Later that day, Paulos came up by horse and paced me, attempting to take my wrist in his cold, intrusive hand. I had to stay from the column then, and wait with him while he prodded me again. "This is not good, Basileus. I gave a portion to a dog, and it has gone rabid these last hours. We need to be certain of the poison, so that we may cure you if we can. Are you drinking?"

"I never drink when on march, Therapeutus!" I bellowed, loud enough for the passing infantry to turn their heads and stair at Alexandrus in consultation as they had not seen him before, with a skinny Greek. In the wildness of my flittering mind I imagined they thought this was my new love, and I laughed to myself over this interpretation. Paulos - I would rather have lain with a broomstick.

He persisted. "We must give the food to a person, and if they sicken, then we know it is a poison meant for you, and to rout the assassin. Most important is to look at how a normal man reacts to the poison."

"You mean, he will die…" I brooded, frowning at the implication of his words.

He nodded. "Probably. You could not die, being descended from the god. But these others - a poisoner among us, who does not know he cannot fell Basileus with clever draughts or potions alone! And so - who shall you select?"

"I can think of a number of traitors, but they are too valuable as lessons. What of the hostages from the engagement at Troya? There must be an unmarried man who is wounded, who would serve his new king in this unusual way. I will offer a bounty and someone will volunteer!"

"Be cautious, Basileus. This sickness is not done in you."

And so I went among the hostages marching at the end of my column, and found among them, not a wounded man, but one whole, though advanced in age to something more Parmenion's age. Who had no parents living, nor children among our prisoners, nor home to return to. And I asked him, "If you were to take this food we believe has been poisoned, you will likely die. But if you do this thing, then your people will be made free, all of them, in an Alexandria town such as I built south of Troy. And if you live, then you will be well cared for and redeemed as a true citizen of Makedon."

It was more than generous, but the look of fear passed his face and fixed on me. "I will take your offer," he said, his voice grim. Promptly, he took the food for the god from Paulos's hand and took it down with one glass of wine and water. The look on his face was defiant and triumphant; he knew that sure death was probably his portion, but he had recently faced death at my hands and was spared. I could see the look of vain hope cross his face again, that slim chance at a future for himself, along with the bright hope of a future and freedom for all of his people. He could not refuse, truly, for the sake of these others.

"And now," I spake, looking down upon him with the compassion lent to me by the god in the heat of my fever, "you can know what it is like to be Basileus, for you share his fate." He gulped then, and nodded. If he survived, then he would know my own fate, as well as that of his nation, and whether I lived or died.

I waited with the prisoner, until he sickened. And sicken he did, and as he heaved out his last breaths in choking agony, I personally held him and wiped the sweat that leaked from his brow. He died in my arms, and when therapeutus came to take the body for examination, he once again checked my flagging fever. "It may have broken, but it is regicide. Now we must attend to who has done this thing. If you are well enough to do so, you should review the troops, and bring about your wrath; otherwise, the killer will strike again, thinking he had failed utterly."

I agreed, and as the night waned into morning, and myself waked and on vigil, I planned for the morrow's review, and sent a message up the column to Parmenion that there had been an attempt upon me. He should attend me, and Apollion as well, and to be accompanied by all of the groupmen and vanguard of the hypaspists, and chiliarchs. I did not sleep again, and instead, wrote by candlelight all that had transpired, and in my waking dream, imagined myself once again your student, Aristes, penning odes to my love, and I wrote them in the margins of my texts, as I have written such things in the margins of the script of Iliad, and I long to strike the chord of lyre and wait for Melpomene to sing to me of Troya. But all that comes from my pen are odes to my love, and meditations upon the betrayal I felt so keenly in myself still.

My honored prince, my catamite and whore,

I dreamed of you in yesterday once more!

Oh how I dreamed him.

The Dionysion is meant to bring a great delight to the community and to the body by celebrating the phallic symbol, and early I recognized its fascination for me, as obsessed as I was with my own inadequacy to please the queen. It was common among the Erastes to indulge their own phallus in their eromenos, though not necessarily so, and not frequently - it must have been true with Hephaestion since he grew such an appetite as I had for for the phallic penetration. It was this Philip detested to know; that I had been made woman by Hephaestion - there were other pleasures were not so forbidden as this, and you made this clear, that there were simpler and more holy things one may learn to love about one's body than the substitution of boy for woman - the love for the eromenos was a raising up of what was masculine, and a tutelage, and a passage into the adulthood that brought boy to warrior and warrior to husband under the greatest care and protection. One cannot work with student so closely and for years without intimacy, and eros was a simple extension of that; this is how I have always viewed it - for all of these others. And that is how it was for Hestes in his relation to Memnon in his youth. How then to explain the unprecedented relation of Hestes to me? For he came to me as Erastes though not as tutor, and used me as man uses woman, and I desired it! And I wonder, still, if he has ruined me, since, in the way Apollion described woman, my only goal was to get him inside me, and spent, as quickly as possible, which made me like woman. What was this if not woman?

And this, at long last, was what I desired of counsel from Memnon. He could tell me, I hoped, and forthrightly - for he never held back, what he had placed into the tutelage of Hephaestion (what I had missed, in very fact) that made him as he was, and compelled him to draw me down, and addict me to him in the way a pampered wife is addicted to the phallus of a potent mate. In the fevered clarity of this moment, I see myself from the perspective of the god, and wonder if he had placed this weakness upon me as he had placed upon Achilles his vulnerability, to be made mortal in this one minor place. I had been made mortal in one minor place, and it was in this fixation; it clung to me. As we made camp before the final encirclement of the town, I closeted myself and find myself alone with the fetishes of Dionysion, which Hephaestion and I had used for these many years to arouse one another. Was I ready to cast them off in favor of some normality? This appetite too, was a poison the bitch put into me, her phallic worship at Dionysios' altar. I still acknowledged this god, but could not in honesty bring to my bed the worship of Dionysios if I were to be made potent to another sex. This night, I was not willing to cast them off. I took them to me this night, for a reminder of him. They were my last retreat before surrendering Dionysios to the god of masculine virility, Ares.