And no sooner had I thought it, than it was done.
For Hestes has the demon of lust in him these days, and neither battle nor my own attentions succored him. In these days, though we had one another as of old, I would just as soon have banished him from sight for ever, or seen him slain in an argument on the field. But that would never happen; he was too canny, and all knew how shamelessly I loved him, and would not raise a hand or word to him, for my sake.
I was sick of him, and sick of blood, and sick of the very taste of my own thoughts. And this enraged him secretly. He knew this mood in me, and had I my own courage I would take my horse, alone, and ride into the darkness, and sleep beneath the frigid sky, naked, cold, and alone, as Zeus would have me be, as Ares would favor me, as he always had. I had no need of the favors of men, or kings, or women, for I had my horse, the sky, the gods. They were enough for me. But Hestes needed one thing more: me.
He did not tell me until last night, when I refused him. He came to me late, when he knew I was chill with exhaustion, and tending to the men, and drew me aside. We wanted me, but I would not go with him. When I drew back he spat onto the ground.
"So, you are still sick for that slave of Darius," he accused.
"Leave me," I replied, and pushed by him, but he held my arm, an offense to my body.
"You dare !" I gasped.
"I dare," he spake, boldly. "I have some ill news for you, which is better heard from this mouth."
"No news this night!" I argued. He had done this before, and I was tired of it.
"Oh yes, news," he persisted, his face darkening, as with cloud and shadow.
"You are out of your place," I warned him, but I did not struggle against him. How could Basileus struggle with his own second on the parade ground like a pup in a litter fighting over a bone? This could not be! He knew this, and I cursed him as his arm drew me, possessive of my very body.
"You dare," I spake, when we were alone. His eyes flashed into mine as he drew near me.
"Your slave lies dead on an ash heap," he smiled with malevolence.
"How?" I was stunned.
"He came at me!" his smile tightened. "There was nothing I could do. Surely Pausis had told you the prisoner revolted after your pardon."
"No, he would not," I shook my head. You killed that child. He would let you tell me the lies before he spake truth." Had I been armed I might have struck him down with a blow. A spasm of violence shook me, and then I grew tired, tired unto death, Aristes.
"You accuse me?" he spake, everything in him a challenge. "Then you must accuse me before everyone!" He turned, furious and triumphant, to leave the tent, feigning to wake the camp. This was the moment I would wish Apollion would wake. He would not behave this way with such an audience. Only with me, only I saw this wretchedness, and only I bore it, and for what? But Apollion did not wake, nor did he come. Even now, the sky paled, and the rush was on the morrow. I could live on such whispers and hints of rest, with only the breath of the god in me, but they could not. I was alone, with my love gone mad in a rage of jealousy. And for this, I wished only to die. If he loved me so greatly, he could love the corpse rended to carrion in the desert daylight, he could lay with it! I was so tired, and for this futile love, an innocent had defended himself and died. Tears rose in my eyes, and all became vague, and then I spake.
"You disobeyed me, and everyone knows it. And now you challenge me. For this, the hostages we hold become useless, and now all must die. For this, the desperate army to the south will throw themselves on us as beasts and murderers, and all be slain. The corpse of their leader, dishonored and defiled, is an offense Ahura will not soon forgive. And perhaps this dawn, full of the justification of their god, they will rise up, and I will see my first great defeat in battle, given me at the hands of the one I love the most.
My breath burned in me, and the words continued: "If you wish to remain alive, you will leave me now, and bring back the body of that child before the sun rises. Or I will slay you myself, here, now." I was shaking, and I had grown completely cold. The god had seized me, and made His command. Whenever this happened, Hephaestion grew abashed; and rarely continued to defy me. Would he defy me again? Would he defy Zeus now? I hardly cared, for my sword was in my hand - how had it got there? "Choose."
The single word hung in the air.
"Come, regicide," I said coldly. Hephaestion did not move - he was held, as a mongoose is held by an asp. "Come." The god did not depart me.
"Then before this hour ends, the body of that child will be here, and whatever parts you rended from him before he was defiled. Any that are not brought, I will replace with your own." The voice of the god terrified me, yet filled me with a wild joy at my own courage, at the rightness of all that I had said. I did not raise my weapon - there was no need of weapon here, not now.
"Philos " he stammered the single word.
"Speak not! Go! And wake no one if you value your miserable skin, for I do not."
When he had gone, I made my way, as though blind, to my pallet, and there found your token, the one for the time when the god had taken me and brought me far from myself as in the heat of battle or the passion of death, and held it until it grew hot with the flame that burned in my hands and made the rest of me grow cold as death. As the stone grew hot, I could feel gradually the god depart me, but my mind was afire with all that I knew and understood then
Before me, the vision of the countryside around us, the small, mean camps of the impoverished enemy harrying us from the west. We were going in the wrong direction - this skirmish, these little battles, were a feint, a delaying tactic for a main force -- south. To proceed directly south was a trap, and these spearmen were a mere distraction, perhaps a hint that the coast was open and vulnerable to attack by sea. Darius knew how I loathed ships, and he did not know that ships I had, provisioning me. So, I had to leave my ships and meet them further on, at Miletus. All they needed was a message. There would be no battle and death with the Persian hordes this day, we would march, and east. As the vision cleared all other things from my mind, I slept, the stone gripped tightly in one hand, my sword in the other, until I rose to see Hestes with his horrid burden enter.
"You have lost me forever this night," I spake, hollowly. "Never will you touch as much as the hem of my cloak as long as you live. And may you live only long enough for the god to find a place for you in Hades."
The curse was done, and I am determined never to lay with him again, nor touch him, regardless of how bitterly I regret that curse, for I know it is a true one. And in time, he succumbed to it, and it were my fault. Having withdrawn my protection so obviously from him, I have allowed him to become prey to those others whom he had oppressed, and it would take only one of them to omit to guard his back in a rush, and let the enemy deal the killing stroke. I know this will happen - it is what the god decreed for his wanton destruction of Thummim. It should have happened the first time he had murdered a rival for my affections, but I did not see it then.
As the grey, grim dawn rose reluctantly over the blasted land of Pergamon, I prepared the defiled body of the warrior for his pyre, and said what words I could to assuage Ahura, for I was on Ahura's land. There was no oil to anoint him, so I used the incense I had and crumbled it into a powder to flavor his hands and feet.
A heavy grief is on me, heavier for knowing that I have caused it all, that as much as I desire to hold Hestes responsible, he is not, for he is no more than what he is. He is not a king, and I cannot expect him to act like one. I cannot expect of him a good soldier, for he is not even that, for he has no obedience in him. He is, was - merely the one I favored, and that favor could not raise him up to be more than what he started out to be, a spoiled child who always demanded more than he deserved or earned, who in time nurtured a beast within him that would destroy Macedon, if I let it. I must not let it, for surely as I know Darius's mercenaries wait with main force to the south of me, I know that, if I do not cast him away from me, the next corpse anointed for burial will be my own.