15 Dystros

Aristes…

Battle. All memory of self-doubt was wiped from me in the hours in which we prepared for the Persian army that lay aground within the delta of the Caester, watering near the island of Samos. I tasted the flavor of their hosts in my nostrils as the wind freshened from the Middle Sea at midnight while I stalked with my new companion. She is nimble and quick on her feet, and while I must restrain my pace, it is not too much to do to have a dear one at my side again -- Have I said this as yet? As each hour passes in her company my desire to linger on the memory of what is past, fades, and I find myself in small delights at the merest thing, a jeweled comb plundered from the house of the ousted satrap - once owned by one of his numberless concubines, and she adorns herself with these things given by my hand. I could not call her lovely - how do I know the delicate beauties of women? But she is fair to look on, well dressed and seemly, and I find myself well pleased with her. None could call us a match, but were she to ripen with child now, it would be no shame to me but honor; and I would delight in the infant as something not simply of me but of her; one of the many creations spun from her being, as she weaves the delicate traceries of the tunics she sews each day -- for me. But I digress.

As we stood upon the craggy eminence that threatened to plunge us directly into the coast, the very verge on which our army lay crowded, as we rushed to make encampment before rushing toward the port, the wind brought the pungent smell of offal - it were not horse but ox, and donkey, and mule. Darius's host was heavy with slow baggage. I breathed in the air of the offal as it were the sweetest scent, for there could not be host enough to defeat me, not of those few oxen. This, then, must be an advance party, sent by ship, perhaps, or taken from the assembled garrisons of the fleeing cities of the north, composed in part of refugees and cowards. Shall none stand against Ares? I send a silent challenge across the current of the wind back in the direction of their hosts. Battle, then, and no later than tomorrow. At my side, my silent one, ever slow with counsel, and this I loved in her. Apollion was wrong that I should want a woman with a love of talk; it was this same thing I loved in him - his slow counsel, the respect he gave with silence; and thus it is with Scheravasana, perhaps the worship of Bel Marduk for all of her life gave her skill to listen inwardly to the god, as I so often did, and did not blot it out with chatter.

When we lay together the night we camped, I found myself aroused with some new lust that came to me from images of battle; I had been used to this, but in this tender scene, I found myself confused with it; I longed to seize that thing I wished, to pry her thighs apart to force myself upon her, but the quiet eyes and quieter demeanor checked me. A look was upon my face, and she spied it.

"What troubles you, Basileus," she whispered, reaching a delicate hand to touch my brow.

"I cannot say," I spake, my confusion speaking in my stead. "It is as though a passion is on me."

"You want me now?" She placed a hand upon her robe, as though to open it to me.

"Yes, but, more… I wish… I do not want to cause you hurt, Schera. There is strength in me, and it is anxious to come out. I don't know how to say this…."

"You are feeling a violence in you," she spake, relieving me of the burden. "You wish to take me by force, to satisfy the passion?" her words were spoke quietly, but yet I hoped there was something of desire there, that this too may be something she would welcome. But it was not clear. I sought her face in the gloom, and wished for a lamp, so that I might study it her regard, to plumb this mystery that is woman; but I could not tell in the shadow what, if anything, she might want now.

"Yes," I replied.

"It would not be force, if I said yes. Do you want me to say yes?"

"Yes." But the touch of her was soft against me, and the illusion of violence that had aroused me was dispelled, and for the hour in her arms, I forgot again that I was a warrior, and I forgot for that hour that what was rising in my belly was something greater than the passion of a man, but the passion of a god for vengeance. She would see that form of passion soon enough.

We struck them in the black hour before dawn, as they lay hard by their ships in the delta. Flushed with the success of our sieges, and full of rage-inspired purpose that our cause was just, and that the Persian host were nothing but iniquity upon the land, we struck to kill, less to conquer. This counsel I gave to my Companions, as I gave address and prayed for them in the black eye of very night. They were well fed early. This I often did, to lay the camp to rest early, even before the sun had set, to wake them for a meal before we had to rise to battle, four hours' advance on the army that slept below us. There was contempt in me for my enemy, a contempt I learned at Philip's knee from his long counsels on the weakness of the enemy, and all the wisdom he taught of their limitation of strategy. Why have limitation of strategy? Why have mule and oxen, if all they do is delay the charge? These things are known; but it pleases me again to write of them; for all the coldness of Philip, there was great wisdom, and I learned, though late, all of this marvellous wisdom. What need greater armies, when one clever commander stands at its head, and makes the right choices? Even an inferior army (and often, mine is inferior in number, but not in arms or intelligence), conquers. My goal - to take that which is inferior, and make it supreme. Just as - ha! This makes me smile, that which is myself, inferior, has been made supreme. This is the paradox the gods enjoy to play at. To raise up that which is small, and to make it their own. This I know, and I will let them indulge me for as long as I please them, and they wish to do so. Let me please you, Zeus, and all the gods with whom you play. Just let me strike deep, another day!

And so we struck them, sleeping, and drove them back against their ships, and as they retreated, we captured the greater part of their stores which they had left undefended, to be consumed on the morrow in their place of safety. We were days ahead of their certain expectation, and those we held as captive had no knowledge of the victory at Ephesos. What had happened to their reconnaissance? Who had disrupted their communication so utterly? This I wondered, until our force was joined, surprisingly, from the north.

But of the battle: there has been so little battle, at Pergamon, at Sardis, at Ephesos… and my men were stale to strike; so this was kindness to them to give them their head…. And I gave me my head to staunch my frustrations in the blood of Persia, and we ran among them, and killed over a hundred of those lying on the ground, naked in their mean camp. We fitted ourselves with short swords, and pithed them like fish, and were bathed in blood. The rest ran, terrified. Unexpectedly, though, one of the guardsmen responsible for the perimeter of the camp gathered himself up rather too late, and seeing my crown, aimed for me. I had been blinded temporarily by blood from the corpse that even now had fallen from my hand and whose life had splashed onto my face, and I felt, rather than saw or heard, a bolt come at me; whereupon I reacted.

It landed harmless in the fold of my cuirass, as such are meant to, but it stuck, and garishly, where the blood of others had already splashed. I had more to do than to wrest an arrow from the padding of my shoulder, and so went on and secured the camp as the rout concluded. Barely an hour it took for us to send them fleeing after the first attack, and I had taken twenty down myself, followed by the vanguard. My blood was hot in me, the god was raging with exultation in me, and I could feel myself again afire with the passion that drove me day by day into the arms of my enemy as to a lover. Victory was my love that day, and I lay with victory in that hour, full of her. And when the place was taken, and we had moved our division into their place, I camped on the ground, and set my tent where their leader lay dead, my own bolt bristling from his belly; as is my fashion, I took all my own bolts from the corpses, though my servant cleansed the offal from them after.

We were not without our own casualty in the rush; five of my advance footmen lay in in mortal wounds from bolts struck at them from the guard. These were excellent bows; and I would have to study them so as to protect in a larger-scale battle for which they were rested and prepared. This skirmish served as much the cause of intelligence as might.

But in the meantime, as the noncombatants were brought up and we prepared to take the delta, the time had come to have the feast of victory once again on the ground where our foe had spilled his blood; but before the wine, there was a graver duty.

There is good reason for the wine and revel following battle; at least for me, for the duty I performed upon the mortally wounded was one I detested; but one I did not shirk. But after this, wine I did need, and revel was my only consolation.

Paulos, and his students were with them, and the less mightily wounded lay apart from them, and I tended them briefly as the mortal were given their draughts, powerful with strong boiled wine, and redolent with henbane. They would be halfway in the embrace of Morpheus when I came to them, and even as they sipped from the cups the therapeuti offered them, they felt my nearness. At this hour I was merciful Death come, and no longer Basileus, and no longer their king and friend. For this hour, I felt the grief of duty heavy on me.

There is a sword used for the stroke of death on the mortal, one that will pierce the chest and strike sure to the heart through the ribs. It is slender, and strong, and deadly, carved in its handle with the images of Zeus and of Apollo. It seemed wrong, somehow, to be withdrawing the sword of mercy on the dykhomenia, or hard by; but yet, their pangs would torment them endlessly until they went to Hades, and that duty awaited.

It is a ritual with each, when they are drugged, to ask them the question, by the therapeutus first. And even so, at that time, for the king to ask, as if they had not yet been asked, and so I asked,

"Do you wish to linger, knowing that you are likely to die of your wounds, and ask for the intercession of Apollo, or do you wish to die by the hand of your king, knowing that you will rise tomorrow whole, in Hades, and soon to return to your place?"

And as I had expected, each in turn, his eyes bright with the drug and the wine, sought to grasp my hand as I placed the sword of mercy upon their breast and asked the question,

"I wish to die by your hand, Basileus," each whispered, and I spake, "then you shall" and drove the blade directly to the heart. This is an exceedingly delicate task, and one for which I had received early practice at Thebes when the city rose against me. The welling out of lifeblood from the heart is rapid, and leaves little stain at the entering wound. It is a mercy, yet, when I struck, it was utterly unlike the selfsame blow struck at the enemy, there was both mercy and pity in it, and duty, but no passion for rightness; and I grieved their passing, each, as their breath stopped in their mouths and then hung slack.

We burn them on pyre tomorrow.

My armor had been carried in before me, and Schera joined me there, where she placed her hands on the bloody place on the cuirass where the arrow still bristled from the leather. "You are wounded!" she cried, and came to me, her hand as light as a songbird as it touched near to my shoulder.

"No, not wounded."

"Yes - " and she stripped back the cloth swathing me and - she was right, the arrow had pierced the flesh in the angle between the shoulder and neck, and left its point in the midst of a dark wound I had not yet felt, and had yet to feel. I realized then that blood caked itself around the wound, and had found its way across my chest, and mingled with the blood of those I had slain. Had I looked in a glass, I might have beheld a fresh corpse, for my eyes too were sunken from fatigue; and the wound made garish the pallor of my flesh, and I grew alarmed -- how much blood had I lost? It would be necessary to staunch it. Even now she was pressing me down into my throne where she bid me sit and called for Apollion to come to me.

"Basileus is wounded, you must get Paulos," he said to him quickly, and he rushed to me.

"Do as she says, Second, don't lose your head!" I barked at him, and pressed my hand against the place where suddenly pain had sprung forward like a beast breaking cover to attack, and threatened to make me swoon. Apollion backed away reluctantly, and fled. Her hands were upon me once again, soothing in a way I could not name, and I could feel my head fall back. What had so suddenly happened, after the rout was finished? Why did I not know a wound when I felt it enter me? Purposeful, she pressed against me, to staunch the remarkable thing, I was bleeding afresh! And the wound gushed forth, unknown to me until now. Some artery had been opened that poured forth my life, and this required sudden care. And she held her hand against my wound, suddenly bright with agony - until Paulos came at dead run to me.

"Basileus!" he cried.

"Just, fix it," I said, weary and shocked from the new wave of agony that assailed me. And from his kit he drew a long needle and its coarse gut to stitch the wound, first the vein, and then the flesh. I did not writhe; the sharpness of the needle was a welcome distraction from the deep throb of the outwelling life that seeped with every heartbeat. I sat, athrone, while that which was within me continued to course across my chest and arms, unreal, as if it were some other corpse gushing out the last of itself at my feet. And somewhere dimly behind, was the presence of this soft other, not in anguish but in true concern. Shortly, Paulos had the wound staunched and closed, and wound my shoulder with a fresh bandage, while Schera had taken my pitcher and cleansed the greater part of my skin of the dried and sticky blood, the blood of myself and of my enemy; but much remained when she was exhausted of cloths.

Hanging back, vaguely present behind me, Apollion and Callisthenes - surprisingly. A curse came to my lips at the glimpse of him, "are you waiting to see the corpse of your king laid out, so that you may dance upon his bones?" I muttered, but the look of him showed a true shock. Perhaps, I had been wrong about him. I wondered, once again, what these men, my intimates, my childhood companions, could be thinking when a normal thing like a battle wound is dressed on me - where had they got the idea that there was something mystical in me greater than any king or leader? I had just this past week fallen from horse, and grown ill with fever - what was so special about beholding my blood? I puzzled on this, repeatedly, and soon I was helped to my feet - I threw their hands off, all but two… and took to my bed, where I waved them all away. They were, all of them, abashed with some unnamed emotion, and it angered me. Paulos pressed a draught on me, and I refused it until he said "it will restore your blood, you must," and I took it. I did not believe him: it was some sleeping potion, I was sure, but I did not resist him. I would be poor example to my men, particularly my generals, if I refused the care of my therapeutus -they would do the same, and the men would do the same, and there would be deaths.

I did not sleep, but lay, slightly agitated, while Schera sat with me, perched upon the bed, with my head cradled in her warm lap. Never had I been held so by woman or man, and I adored it. Seemingly without thinking, she stroked my hair, and little sounds of song escaped her, aimlessly, as she looked upon me with a serene comfort. She did not fear my death; she knew I was not in danger, but simply in some pain and weak. As I lay, I grew more quiet, and began to long for more than idle caress from her, and reached my stronger right hand around her.

"Hush, quietly, my king," she whispered, but moved against my hand pleasantly. Thus we were, in tableau, a subtle form of lovemaking that was hardly noticed, the simple movement of caress against her hip, her thigh, and she came to me then, nestling close into my good, unharnessed shoulder, and put her mouth against my ear, 'what is it in you that you are aroused when you feel pain," and her words, somehow, empassioned me.

"I do not know," I replied with this same whisper, placing my own mouth against the side of her face. "Perhaps it is the way of war, but it pleases me, and will you please me now?" Her eyes grew wide with some concern, but she did not resist me… and this was true, there was something in the pain in me that had excited lust as well, and drove me toward her… the look upon her face in the slight gloom told me all I needed to know, that this alarmed her, but she would not resist. And when I wrenched my elbow free from the restraint Paulos had put upon it she held her arm out to hold me and I pushed her down with it. "Do not mother me, woman," I said low, "I can counsel myself on myself," and I was inspired enough in this new power of manhood to make experiment with pleasing a woman; for instead of mounting her as in the usual fashion I seized her hips easily in my arms and placed my mouth upon her sex, and spoke low and into her,

"has this been tried before?" and she shuddered in reply. This was all reply that I required; and to blot the ache that assailed me, I applied myself to this new uncanny taste that was a woman. This too, was reward, and far greater reward later, as Apollion had counseled me; for stoking her proved a richer thing than the simple act that man requires… I lost myself in it as though for the first time, I learned the pattern of a woman's desire, and it was nothing like that of a man; and I worshipped it. I felt the power of the passion that coursed through her like flame, and saw the flush of climax such as I had not seen before, upon her face when I had done; and it drew me as I had not been drawn before by woman, it was aphrodisiac for me. For that hour, and more, the arrow that had pierced me ceased to stab, and passion eclipsed the pain as well as sleep could have done, and at length, we slept.

Parmenion woke me; he was angry with me for not informing him of my wound; and I endured yet another harangue, cut short by the arrival of Memnon's small force. I had expected a letter; not the man himself! And I rushed out to greet him on my own two feet, still slightly weak.

"Basileus!" he kissed me openly, and knelt, before the camp's eyes, whereupon I raised him to my own embarrassment. Memnon was too old, too senior to me in stature to bow before the army. I pulled him into privacy with my good arm, and closeted myself with him, asking Parmenion to await his own question for later.

"I have much to talk to you about, Uncle," I beseeched him.

"You are wounded," he observed abruptly, and bade me sit. I sat, grateful, and he took seat more carefully.

"Yes, an arrow, unheeded, right through the shoulder."

"And you better have been armored…" he growled.

"Yes, it went through."

"Through!" he cried. "How close was this archer?"

I tried to recall - had I seen the archer? I vaguely recalled, but could not say.

"That is not what this is about, Memnon. I wish to speak of hard things, and I hope you are well enough to speak of them with me." His face grew hard.

"Hephaestion. You dismissed Hephaestion."

"I did not dismiss him! At least, not immediately."

"It is the same thing. And I hear from him directly, he is in exile and under sentence of death. What demon possessed you to do this outrageous act?"

I held up my hand, and felt a pang through the shoulder. I was stiff. "Please, Uncle. Hear, listen, do not judge."

"It is too late. You are an impetuous child, and have always had some sick fascination with this love-wife relation to Hephaestion. Yes, he is an emotionally overwrought man, but all Dionysians are. It is the way of them. Don't let it influence you."

I shook my head; suddenly, I felt out of depth, as I always did with Memnon.

"Curse you! Can't I even get the words out that you have already said your piece?"

"What more words? I know him, I know you. You executed your will on him because you had no other power with him. That is your fault."

"Don't you think I know this?" I cried, anguished, then realizing the sound of pain in my voice, I ceased, and composed myself.

"Then why do you act when you know you're not being reasonable?"

"I have to act. The king has to act."

"Fair enough, but not irrevocably."

"It was made irrevocable, and not by me." I pointed to the bruise lingering under my eye.

"So what is that? he put his fists on you. And you can't defend? The great Alexandrus?"

I grew livid with frustration, and he burst out with a laugh. "Hard to take, isn't it?"

"What?"

"The raw truth. You miss that in me." He came to me and embraced me bodily, taking some care not to crush my left arm. "You are a little fool, and a brilliant strategist. You will kill us all."

I puzzled over this, as he regained his seat. Had he just complimented or insulted me? I could not say!

"What do you mean? Speak plain to me, I am swooning."

"You are not swooning," he spat, "you are hardly scratched." He could not be argued down - not by me. I loved him greatly, Aristes. In a way so different from Parmenion, yet less abashed.

"I told Parmes that I could not be felled by a single arrow. I didn't say I could not bleed; simply, not felled."

"And so you set out to prove it? How does an arrow get through a cuirass I would wonder? How close?"

"That I do not know, Uncle, these are remarkable bolts, and remarkable bows."

"Then let us make some!" His face was bright with a new plan - he was ever the planner for new strategies, and I once again held up a hand on a wretched, painful shoulder, to halt him.

"Please, I wish to speak, and in some detail, of Hestes. Is he well?"

Memnon's eyes searched my face. "Then it is true, that you still do love him."

"Of course I love him. Is that in doubt? It is not love that was ever at issue. Tell me how he fares!"

"Roughly, out of your gaze and without occupation. This is a great loss to all of us, don't you see?"

"No," I spake, piqued once again at having my will questioned. I took a deep breath, and wondered then had I the courage to say what counsel I needed from Memnon, and whether he would give it. This would be painful, more painful than taking an arrow in the collarbone. What could I say to provoke his trust, and take his counsel aright? "It be no loss for me, Memnon, and please, I must have this counsel of you, and I need you first to listen."

"Perhaps you need to rest from your wounds," he spake, and I glanced at him quickly. Was this irony from him? Anger? I could never tell.

"No, wound or no wound, it is another kind of wound I speak of now," I said, pleading for the god to take the lead of me now. I remained alone.

"The wound of your ill-counseled eros," he replied, his voice flat, his face, unreadable.

"If you will."

"Oh I see this now. You wish the old man to justify his eromenos, do you? That I made him this way in youth?" He shook his head, unbelieving.

"No, no," I protested. "There are things you must understand, and then tell me; how these things came to be. I am not content with matters as they are; yet, there are irrevocabilities, and I must meditate upon them."

"Of Hestes then. You speak of his fate: you intend to execute him?"

Shock must have passed a spasm over my face, for he grew alarmed then as he regarded me. "Execution? He did not say that, did he?"

"He tells everyone. He writes also to Pella to plead with Olympias for protection against your wrath. He justifies himself that he executed a hostage who attempted escape, and the hostage was a favorite and bedmate of yours."

"He said these things?" I grew cold with horror. " How could he?"

"Is it true? It would seem to be true, from all I know of you, and of him."

I shook my head. "No. This prisoner had caught my eye only; and had he been willing, perhaps… but that is not what happened. I released him despite refusal; I could not punish a man for not pleasing me, nor even boy for that matter. I am not that type of person, Memnon, you know that!"

"How do I know what corruption power has placed upon you!" he spake, his voice grim and hard. "And well we all knew how you clung to your days and hours of passions, and half a dozen times have sought the new attentions of some young dark youth while on campaign. Zeus only knew where you drew the energy for sex all night and battle all day; but that is how some youth live. We might have questioned it, had you not won so brilliantly each time. And now you have suddenly reformed? And demand some new loyalty of Hestes that you had never demanded otherwise? Don't you think that might have hurt him?" He shook his head, unbelieving.

Despite my inner conviction, I was abashed by his plain speech. All he said was true; there were those times, twice one year, and in the previous, while at Thebes and Illyria, where I had found among the natives fair and comely youth who anxiously accommodated me… this, of fact, were all true, and each time, aroused a hatred and jealousy in Hestes that was beyond all comprehension. Yet - was I not king? To do as I willed with my own passion? Why had I to defend myself? And yet here again, with Memnon, defending myself…

"Why should it hurt him! Would it hurt him for me to lay with a wife and father an heir, would it hurt him for me to please myself with myself of an evening rather than entertain him? What is this to him? Does he own me and all my life and body?" My voice rose, pitched to an extreme, and even I grew wondering at the fierceness in it.

"Listen to yourself," he replied. "This is not Hephaestion you speak of. He is merely a possessive and jealous youth, and too anxious and ambitious to climb in your favor to have done so gracefully. Who do you truly speak of?" I despised this question, I knew its answer; and yet, I despised being herded as a sheep into the pen he placed before me.

"No, it is he," I protested. "There are things of which you are ignorant, Memnon, and I wish not to speak of them any more than necessary, but perhaps in your case, these things are necessary. Hestes has ever been in league with Olympias, and this you always ignored, even when pointed out to you by Philip. You were blind to his faults and the loyalties he truly represented; and his possessive claim of me is merely an extension of her own, which I despise, and which is against my own interest and of the nation. Surely, you can see that, as much as you too love him."

"What do you mean, Olympias? In league with her for what?"

"For murder. The murder of my father. It was he who came to me and bid me bring Pausanius to him to strike the blow, with private message for his eyes alone. It was he. And it could not be done without compliance from me."

Memnon seized me then, heedless of my wound, and I winced, unspeaking. The scene around me tilted crazily while a seizure of pain gripped me in while he squeezed both his massive hands upon my arms, as though to squeeze the truth until it hid. "During the Gamelia…" he spake, and severed his sentence, as realization came to him. "Hestes…"

"Did he not leave his post, then, to come to me, without any permit of any kind from Philip? Why had he suddenly been sent to Pella to attend me so completely? This was all arranged, and he the bearer of the message from the regicide himself."

"This I did not know."

"And had I not been so enamored of him, would I have yielded against Philip's own word to speak not to Olympias or him? Had he not broken the word of my father, then, in defiance?"

Memnon stared at me wordlessly for the first time, his eyes, too, aglitter with unshed emotion. Now, at last, he understands.

I pressed on, righteous from myself at length. "And do you not see, of his relation to my mother?" I stared into his face, waiting for my answer. His hard look told much.

"What of it?"

"You knew of it -- he was your student, Memnon. These things I now need to sort out in my mind, looking back, at how the past leads to the present problem. I need to make peace within me on this, to know and acknowledge the moment he truly betrayed me - betrayed us - and all the betrayal since then, which I allowed. And that cannot be allowed." I ceased, for he would speak.

"You want to know his relation to Olympias. You are sure of this."

"Yes. Sure." But I was not sure. My skin ran cold, and the image of the bitch rose before me, and I shivered despite my intended reserve.

"You surely knew that he served her in her bed."

"I imagined this."

"Much earlier and far longer than you."

"What!" I was aghast. "You knew this too?" I spat. I felt fury at no new knowledge. "You knew, all along. And you too did nothing?"

"What was I to do? Provoke the rage of Philip to smite me? I think not! I value my skin too greatly!" At length, Memnon too was provoked by the memory of deeds to dark to speak of in completeness, and only paranthetically.

"Then what of Hephaestion, did you know that he had plotted with her against Philip, even then? You too, knew this?"

He shook his head, sadly. "No, this I did not know. Yet, this too makes some sense."

"He was a traitor in my very love! How could he love me, and bring upon the death of my own father, or even hasten it with any act! He knew how dearly I respected him!" My words came from me in anguish, an anguish I had not felt, perhaps not even when Philip bled to death in my arms. The blood of the day, the wound in my shoulder, brought upon the images of a greater, more fatal wound that gushed out the life of one who would never speak to me again, and who would never lead again, this glorious campaign. I felt a peak of anguish and tears rushed to my eyes to overwhelm my sight.

"I don’t think Hestes would have thought about your wishes then," he spake, his words thick and slow in him. A species of disgust, I could see, had also taken his composure from him as he thought upon new things. "Have you ever asked him of this? Have you ever told him your heart on the matter?"

"How could I tell him? I was blind with grief then, and sought him for comfort I needed like I had never needed comfort since Illyria. And since, I believed - I chose to believe I had executed those responsible. I wanted to think that."

He nodded, and his hands upon my shoulders softened to a species of embrace then, a father holding an injured child in protection. Thus we were, together in our own private grief.

"And so," I began again at length, drained empty of all anger then… "over these four years, since, more and more, Hephaestion has taken liberty with me, with the threat of his power with Olympias holding me at bay; my own perverse love for him was his hold upon me, to extort all he willed of my time, and attention, to hold my body as his private hostage against my compliance for a future day, a future campaign, and some future power. That power I believe he wished to take here, in Anatolia, to be given some kingdom of his own. He came to me at Sardis, after I had sent him to Amisos - the first time. He tried bodily to seduce me in sleep while I stood away from my guard, and defied my word again, to my face. For this, he offended my person. How can I lead a man who will not be led? Passion aside, there is no order here; and his is no loyalty, not in any form."

"He too, has been corrupted by not only Dionysion, but the plots of Hera herself."

I cried out. "Speak not of religion now, Uncle! This is Olympias. If anything, she is the dread Medea, who would soonest kill all of her own brood to gain power, if that would serve her. If it served her, would she not have an arrow sent into my place now, to fell me - if she could? What of this arrow? How could an archer on the wall of the fortification at Samos hit me so squarely and through my armor, unless it were launched from my own line?"

"Peace, child," he comforted me. "You do swoon."

"There has already been a regicide sent to me, this past week, and he lies unwaked."

"Yes, Xenotropon the guard, Parmenion told me. This arrow… do you have it?"

I stirred myself and went to where my armor lay, uncleaned. No one had dared to touch it as yet. We were secure in the town and there would be no impending battle to move from - my servants had been bid to stand aside from me. Yes, there was the arrow. I gave it over to him, stained black with streaks of gore, now dry.

"Is it one of yours?"

I considered, examining it, and went to my panoply, and took one of my own bolts, which were made shorter for the length of my bow. "Not mine, personally," I held them up to compare length. "And the making, unremarkable. Could this be told?"

"Maybe. One of the armorers may have a keener eye of this. It is a question. You could not accuse your own vanguard of striking you unless you knew as fact that this bolt came from one of them."

"And on the field, even in darkness, how easy might it be to gather arms and arrows from the enemy! We have two tons of their own supply with us this moment, and this to use in the next battle. So how would we learn if this were theirs, or ours, launched from one of theirs, or ours? We could not."

"True."

"Futile!" I cried. "Not to know which enemy strikes me, but knowing, each moment, which enemy strikes me. They are the same enemy - the one within, the one without. And it is she. And it is he!"

"I cannot deny it," Memnon said heavily. "For this treason, I must have wine." He stalked out and bellowed for my servant to bring it. And at the same time, he summoned Parmenion and Apollion, for we would meet in council of war, over wine.

They came to me, and we drank for some time in silence, not for intoxication but for some small comfort from the events, to clear our mind for decision. Memnon told them as he understood, in his clearer, unemotional manner. As he spoke of my wound, Apollion stood and interrupted.

"It is all through the camp, that you had spoke to Parmenion and told him you were safe at Sardis, for a single arrow could not fell you. And you took an arrow at Samos here this day, and the single arrow did not fell you!"

I gaped at him. "What are you saying!"

"That it is proved, you are immortal."

"Apollion!" I shouted. "This is madness! A thousand men have taken bolts and not been felled. You yourself at Thebes…"

"No" - he shook his head, vehemently. "You fought the day entire, and settled the town, and waked the heroes, and led the feast, all of it, with the arrow piercing your chest. That no man could do."

I looked helplessly at my seniors, at my second. "You, two, all? All gone mad with this?"

Parmenion's face told all - he himself had spread this tale; his mouth was a grim, determined line. "You have some strength in you that men of common strength, and even of great strength, do not have. The pain you feel is not even the same; for it seems at times, there is no ability in you to feel pain. That cannot be normal. It makes even me fear you, Basileus."

"Memnon? Surely you have seen men in battle endure."

"You have an endurance beyond all of them. So if it is of a normal man it is beyond all those I know. Therefore, the same as if you were immortal."

I sank down into my seat, awash with a weakness that would not leave me, and I was glad for the glow of the new wine in my blood. My men had gone mad. I had merely told them of my confidence in myself; there were no magic of divinity in this! But how could I explain this, that there are times when there is no feeling in me, and I could carry on despite wound? Surely other men are this way, Aristes! "Surely, I am not immortal at this moment, for there are those who seek my life. Do we allow them to continue to test it, or shall I be defended from my own line, my own men?"

"You will be defended" they spake as a group.

"And there will be no more talk of peace and restoral of Hephaestion among my ranks then…" I continued.

"We will see to it," Memnon spake. "But against this knowledge and his plot, you should execute him."

I shook my head, vehement. "No. Never. Leave him be."

"And Olympias."

"No! Never."

"This is a great error," Apollion now.

"Then let it be my error. Let them both stay in an elegant exile, without the power that they seek so avidly, and let them send their petitioners to come to me to plead if they would, and know that I spare them." In the gathering gloom of our grim council, I knew they spoke the truth, and I knew, I could not bear to harm them, either of them.