12 Dystros

We have encircled them, and because there has been no rain of late, they cannot be reprovisioned from the river, for it is too low. No one can leave the walls of the town, and ten phalanges guard the exits. Every few hours, a family, a priest, a man of landholdings, dashes from one of the less-watched gates with as much as they can carry on their backs, at a dead run, and makes for the line of the phalanx to surrender and beg water. They cannot survive the starvation of water, and there is no doubt there are people dying. I grow more enraged with their satrap, holding his people with such cruelty against me, yet I cannot retreat, for that will be acknowledgement of loss, and the siege will break soon.

The bodies of dessicated children are thrown over the wall at my soldiers. We burn them nightly with pomp, and pray for them openly to the god of this land. The Greeks have erected their statue of Dionysios, and I find myself unreasoningly angry with them; they celebrate the first night of Lenaia, which for this month has coincided with the actual dikhomenia, for the air is clear and the moon rises full and malevolent over the excruciation of Ephesos. Another day until the true dikhomenia. Why do these Ephesians not relent?

Something is amiss, and I consider it in the company of my concubine, whom I have permitted the liberty of attending to my hair, something I had only previously allowed my servant Ipsichus to do. I reasoned that accustoming myself to her touch would allow greater intimacy in time. The looks on the faces of my leaders upon morning review and an accounting of the night's activities registered great approval; and my fear of regicide eases, in this, a single day. Perhaps I would survive Lenaia without having to play at lyre and drama, and perhaps I would survive Gamelia itself - I have another week to prepare myself for the weddings over which I should preside. We must end this siege, and prepare for the next challenge - Samos. My enemy will meet me in force there; the god has ordained it. Then, there will be no doubt, I will kill.

She counsels me soberly, and with great reserve, and whenever I request it she disrobes and sits before me while I consider the mystery of the female body - it is a beautiful thing, truly, not as beautiful as man's body, nor as intricate or fascinating in musculature, but more delicate and refined. Scheravasana, I say the name to myself, are you one I could love, in some fashion? I try the idea on my tongue, and listen to the song of her fingers as they comb out the various inconveniences that have landed there in the daytime. She says little except when asked, but when asked, her voice has a wisdom that shakes me and continues to surprise. Rather than a toy of pleasure, Parmenion has sent to me a gift of an oracle in a woman's form, and I am loath to bring her down to the baseness which is the lust of the body. She herself appears devoid of it, which itself is a great mystery, and my eyes upon her upset her not. I have not yet, however, placed hands upon her - what prevents me? What were she to do if I released her from bonds, as yet still a virgin, and I cannot help myself but to ask her.

"Release me? You yourself, so close to the god, cannot release me from my bond of obligation to Bel Marduk's will. Release me if you like, but I would be compelled to hang upon your doorstep until you put me to the sword, or follow your army until one of the unruly Thessalian cavalry who are so keen for rape, takes me and I am broken by one of them."

"No, you are pledged to me now, none in this army would lay hand or eye upon you for fear of his life."

"So you say, Basileus." We spake Greek, her Greek was excellent. This, too surprised me, for I ventured I would find an easier language of sex in Persian, and I found she would not engage with me in that tongue more than I required her to. As I had been warned so many times, what occurred was all her will. And her will bade me come to her and ask for only her company and counsel, and the incidental touch that was what personal grooming dictated; though soon there must be more. I held myself apart in this way, for I sought to find what submitting to me would mean to her god, and why he would send her to me to cleave to me against her own oath and station. What was I that she should do this?

And like so many times in this second night, I simply asked, and she just as simply answered. "You believe, do you not, in the return of souls?"

"Of course, that is true. I am told that I am Achilles returned, and that prior to Achilles I was Phryxis, saved by Jason and brother and husband to Helle."

"Who tells you these things?" she inquired, piqued. She sat quietly, working some cloth were her fingers, some fascinating crimson garment from a delicate fabric that she herself wore. I had given Philogynos the task of providing for her from the baggage those of the plunder of Pergamon and Thrace that might serve her, now that she was at leisure, to make of clothing for herself. But it was me she was embroidering for! This touched me beyond all words, and I watched the puckering of the intricate design work its way into the crimson fabric. She must discern that crimson was the color that I felt most courage in, and by the time I met Darius again I would be clothed in something made by the hand of one pledged to me. These things Apollion had never mentioned!

I retorted, "my tutor, Aristotle, taught me these things."

She shook her head, vehemently. "You may have been in this world many times, Basileus, and it may be in behalf of the Greeks, but those other things are of no true import: you are given this land, for you are its king. You have always been its king."

"What do you mean, 'always'? Do not speak in spiritual riddles! Tell me what you prophesy of me and why you prophesied for me to take Sardis so? And will your words open the gates of Ephesos so its starving and thirsting children may once again eat and drink and accept me?"

"They may yet do," she spake quickly. "I will tell you what I know. The greatest king of this land, in all of our history, was the one who founded the sacred city of Urarta to the east, which is in the land you know as Pamphylia, near the borders of Bactria. There were two kingdoms, Mannea and Urarta, and they were under the rulership of Bel Marduk and Ur-Kiph, the gods of sacrifice and plenty. You were the king of that land of Mannea, and rose from humility to take Urarta from its oppressors, and to spread the might of the Ur south into all of what is now Babylon, along the Euphrates river. Is this not the place you seek once again to conquer? This has all occurred before, Basileus. The god of this land chooses its kings, and has chosen you twice. First as the king of Mannea, and now as the conquerer of all lands surrounding it south of the Hellespont Your soul is the soul of the Ur, the predecessors to the Persians."

"You speak as though you are not one of the Persians." She did not answer, but instead took a long look at the comb that had gone idle. On a whim, I put out my hand, and she regarded it, not looking up at me. "I am not one of the Persians," she replied simply. "I was born in the temple of Bel Marduk as the summer ritual began, on the month the Greeks call Mounykhion, on the day of Bel Marduk's feast."

"Yes, I too was born in Mounykhion," I said, nodding. "In Makedon we call it Daisios You know the day?"

"Yes, the day of dikhomenia, as you say, the 14th of the month."

I was abashed. You were born on the 14th of Mounykhion? And you are twenty-two summers old? You were born in the year of the great flood? This was the same day! We are born on the selfsame day!"

"There was no great flood in this land, but yes, in the year the Greeks call the Year of the Undoing by the God. Yes, it is the same day, I should have known this heretofore. That year is when all of the warrior-kings returned, to kill the unjust and take back their kingdoms. You are their leader. Surely you see this." She wound a skein of embroidery yarn, crimson, and I found myself staring at her hands. So lovely, compared to the square and calloused hands of a soldier… I put my hand out once again, and brushed against her cheek, veiled by the jet black of her hair, the ivory of her complexion. She replied as though my hand had spoken words to her, "I do not find this service repulsive to me, Basileus. You are an educated and respectful person in private. You have harmed me not, and the mere touch of my hand upon your head makes me feel a kind of satisfaction in you, a joy in sitting here with you. I am not sure that intercourse with you would be repulsive to me…." She ceased to speak then, and she observed once again my hand near her. "You touch me with your left hand," she commented, inanely.

"I am left handed in these things, as I am left handed with the sword and pike. I command with the right, I kill with the left."

"And do you slay me?" she spake then, her voice grown hollow as if filled with the god I looked into her eyes then, deeply.

"If I must slay you, then I will slay you. But this hand is not extended in war… I placed my hand upon her shoulder then, and felt of her taut, muscular, though delicate flesh. Boylike…? Once again she replied to my hand,

"You are a very beautiful man, Basileus. It is easy to imagine myself loving you, if you will have me."

"Then you accept me?" I drew my hand back - suddenly this were no experiment but in earnest - she wanted me!

"Yes," the hollow voice accompanied the slack look of a face gone white. Was this her passion, then? I was confused. Should I wait for the action, or should I respond to the word? I wracked my mind for the memory of Apollion's counsel. Nothing of it fit this situation!

I did not have to wait - she placed herself sinuously into my arms and her mouth sought mine. I drew back, briefly - never had a woman placed her mouth upon mine! But I checked myself, and let this thing occur. And she, who had never lain with a man, was not alarmed by either my inexperience or lack of passion in the exploration - her passion, whether driven by necessity, lust, or the god, was enough to sustain her, and for my part, it was enough to awaken me, and I did what I had despaired of ever doing with woman - I had freed myself from the binding the bitch had placed upon me, and reveled in it! She was nothing of Olympias, and soft; compliant to my touch, and unlike anything I had ever known, sweetness in her acceptance of me - every soft caress lured me more deeply into her, and the memory of what I had known of lust and war faded into something inexpressibly gentle and unhurried, and she did not cry out from me but gasped, wonderingly, when I took her to climax. A sound I had despaired of ever hearing from the lips of any woman who lay beneath me. And then, silence.

My flesh had desired something far more brutal in the taking; and this I pondered later, much later. There was a lightness to me that I had never felt upon receiving man, upon being made the woman - was it that I had shared something more in equal portion with Schera? Was it that in her acceptance of me she placed directly from her god Bel Marduk a spell of healing that took what had been broken in me and put it right? For there was rightness in me I had not known; though not of the passion of lust I had thought might be there Just - rightness. Perhaps passion will arrive - later.