20 Dystros

Aristes:

I am bereft of the god.

While standing on the moorage, reviewing the sailors, my eyes searched impulsively for him among them, hair tied back against the wind, proud countenance facing the sunrise - his crews, arrayed for my inspection... The death of Callisthenes' brother troubles me greatly; and Callisthenes was swept away by deep grief when the corpse was laid out. I am impatient of this substitution of woman in my bed for that which I desire to have; am I not king? I say to myself. Am I not entitled to that pleasure which I desire to have, the embrace of a warrior which is the love I have so long craved? Or something near to it? A tender, long-limbed priestess, devoted to me in every way - yes it is pleasant, but with bloodlust on me, and the deeper lusts I remember of Hestes, I am plagued this night, and equally, I am greatly agitated over this incursion against my people. Demes died because of a lack of preparation for the deceptions of Persia. How did I not prepare? I am assaulted by the idea of ill-planning: my own - and yet, Memnon and Parmenion stood nearby, and they too had counseled with me for war - between all of us we cannot prevent even this while we stand on ground we have taken? I have killed, and yet I do not rest; I have taken my woman, not once but many times in these two days while idle, and it has not dimmed the passion of frustration in me. That demon of lust that I had so often seen and detested in Hestes seems now to have lighted on me, and I humble myself to Zeus for it; and beg for rightness to enter into me, for some wrongness has possessed me. For many hours of the day I am closeted, alone, and my flesh remains provoked, to my disgust.

I contemplate once again what I would say to Schera, perhaps she could do something that would further slake me; and I recoil from that. I have cultivated a passion for the new, and yet desire for the old has recoiled, like an asp, and its fang is in me, as palpable as the closing wound. But it does not grow more dim; and my fantasies now take on a waking quality. In the midst of this reverie Memnon comes to me, and his face is set and hard. More hard news; and his countenance is green; there is illness upon him, and he can no longer hide his physical weakness. He cannot raise arms, but only lead from the rear, unless his wind returns to him. Taking horse must cause terrible pain.

Wordless, he gave me a letter, intercepted in its path from Hephaestion enroute to Sardis; a missive to Seleuccus; and as full of lies as would enrage me against him. He wrote, thus:

"I am told you are installed there; it is his plan to destroy us each, and you would let him? There is no love in him for his cousins, his friends, and his companion; and he will surely exile us each as we displease him in his divine glory. You too will stand for this? You will be a lowly governor in the midst of nothingness, the desert and rock of this hard place, for obedience to his divinity? Cold he is in his imagining, and this is only the beginning, Cousin, make no mistake. I know this illness on him, and it has grown year by year and day by day, his possessiveness of all around him, and hard revenge on all of us… I ask you, did he himself strike Pausis down, the innocent dupe? How many of our brothers and aristos have to die at his hand, under his merciless sword, in the name of his divinity? Do not let your men be sick with obedience to a god that is only a spoiled child. School them aright.

I have writ as well to home, and appealed to the queen for protection against his wrath; I do not know as yet what she will do except to plead with him. This is the problem of tyranny of autocracy - there is no recourse to that which becomes tyrannical in its corruption of power. There may be a chance of recall from Corinth, but those Greeks have lost their manhood after Thebes; they will not oppose him, because they are cowed utterly by his wrath; there would be no god's wrath without our arms to impose it! Would even you, brother, stand resolute in the face of his wrath? I grow sick from inaction, and sick of the pain he has put me to; I am ruined, and because of his pettiness; he could take every boy who ever stood against him at arms and it would not be enough for him; for even if he does not have the powers of Zeus he certainly has his eye!

Please destroy this, know that I am with you, and will come to you if I can, if the wrath of the divine Alexandrus abates. I will work upon that. My advisement is to leave that place and get back into his grace, if you can. None of us can do anything apart from a place of influence.

Philalexi

I very nearly tore the sheet into atoms as I read it. I set it down, trembling, and looked into Memnon's eyes. "Do you need further evidence?"

He shook his head. "I didn't need as much as this. You know the choice you must make."

"That is not a choice," I argued, and I realized I was red with rage. "The eye of Zeus! What does he think I am?"

"Too promiscuous for his taste. As if he were one to judge it. Jealousy is a terrible thing."

"He has no cause to raise insurrection against me because I take a lover, a wife, a catamite! Never!"

"No, but in his own mind he does, and this justifies all else," Memnon spoke mildly, but across his face there flickered the spasm of pain; and I forgot my dark thoughts and went to him; the discussion of Hestes was for the moment at an end, and I bid him lay down on my bed, while I busied myself with him, and took away the bandage held against the wound that had nearly felled him. I called Paulos and he tended to him, clucking loudly. Memnon lies abed now, with a draught, and once again, I take to my altar of the open air and sacrifice with wine this time, to Ares and to Apollo. There must be better care than this; and perhaps Schera would know the best physicians to find in a place such as this, between the coastal cities. Did not Anatolia, or its Persian oppressor, have medicine? I have sent messengers abroad in search of better medicine, and a message back to Mitylene to take due precaution with the traitor, who spreads his treason by letter. After that I put my seals aside and went into solitude.

There was a great guilt in me - what had caused such hurt in Hestes that he would strike at me so boldly in his treason, and speak such condemnation? Was I so na´ve that I did not see these the words of his true belief, at any time? He spake thus to me many times about others; so there was no doubt that this was his voice and his belief. He wrote not in simple anger, but in considered opinion, though it would be hard to imagine how angry he would be about an arrest and detainment as I had done to him, the humiliation itself might have killed him, but it did not cow him. What would cow him? Death itself, my sword in his belly? Is this what I must do? My thoughts raged, once again. And I realized, I had lost all mastery of myself, and the look of mirror reflection in Memnon's face told me the same; that I had departed all reason in rage. In contemplation, however, I consider: what reason have I to rage? Even as I read his letter I am alight with daytime imaginings of a lover I might take, and I groan with desire for it. So what reason had I to condemn his words? I raged because he knew me too well; and the conclusion he drew, that I would kill anyone who would stand between me and my divine right of control, abashed me. Without the god upon me, I questioned myself once again. And I could not seek counsel of Apollion on this now; for if I doubted myself in his presence, it would only breed doubt in him; and my leadership of him was crucial.

I had to bring my doubt, alone, to the gods, with my horse, to the sky. And to you, Aristes, now languishing in Hades. How did you die, to leave me with my elders, who regard me with condescension and suspicion until the very proof is in their faces? Action is far too late for proofs; instincts only are what make a commander right in battle - proof of the galloping horse of treason means the body of the king is already trampled underfoot. Thus the your lesson returns to my memory as counsels. The cost of treason is exile. The cost of jealousy is: to make an ending. He was regicide of my passion, and works even now to destroy me directly. For he never loved me, if he can do this. He would have me removed from generalship of the League if he could! His arrogance of power astonishes me; yet it should not. If he would kill an innocent whom I desired, then he would strike at me to reduce me, or to end me; and this is what an enemy is.

I sent for my priestess once again and she came into my arms without being bid, protective, possessive; and I recoiled, pushing her aside. And she questioned me.

"Do not question me, or my moods," I spake to her.

"Oh then you are in a mood."

"My companion slays me."

"Oh - the demon. Yes, you are dark with the demon tonight."

"Don't call him that!" I had a great desire in me, then, to strike her, and sensing this temptation, I withdrew and sat, composing myself. What was this woman here for? My eye tired of her. I do not need this foreign counsel! I reasoned with myself.

As if she had heard my thoughts directly, her face coloured, and she spake: "You do not wish me here tonight, why then send for me?"

"I wish to know, whether Anatolia or the priests of Bel Marduk have superior knowledge for treatment of wounds to those my therapeuti have. In your opinion. This is infection; and must be handled with drugs or herbs or strange prayer."

Her face displayed a passing anger. "Is that all I am to you, some source of intelligence for the priesthood here?"

"Is that not what Bel Marduk intended for you to be?" I replied quickly. "What else, then?"

Her eyes dropped. "Naught else, I see."

"You are a fine concubine and a good healer. You please me, in the main. And I appreciate it."

"And naught else."

"I ask you a question of some urgency. The duties of Basileus lie on me now and it is not time to dwell on the passions of idle hours," I spake with no great patience. I realized, then, that I had gone some distance in offending her femininity or her passion for me - for there is some large lust in her for me that craved me bodily that moment. I was flattered, but annoyed by this. This was not the moment when I would rise to her.

"I see." The color faded from her then, and I could see she was angry, in a way I had not seen her before. "Then there will be no love with you tonight."

"Woman, you anger me now," I growled. There was another way, I had been counseled -- what was I supposed to say? I grasped for Apollion's counsel in my anger, and found it not - ah! Yes, I found it! This was the time of petulance, when she would be ripe. For she would not take refusal, and all she craved was my sword in her. All that she would do or say was to one end, and that end, the fulfillment of her fertile moment. And what must I do? Oh, take her roughly, that was it. Even throw her down. And I would be cursed by Ares if I would do that! I had work that must be done, and nowhere in me could I see myself able to rise to passion, for the dread of Memnon's passing, and the moment when I must put the sword of mercy on his chest while he lay dying had filled me to the brim with grief, and beyond the brim with rage at Hestes for his repeated and ongoing offenses. There was no passion in me now!

She lowered her eyes. "I am but a convenience."

"Yes!" I shouted. "And most inconvenient now! If you will not help me, be gone!" And to my very great surprise, she stood fast. My voice must have broken her ear, and yet she did not move, nor blink. What did it take for her not to tremble, as Xanion did, at this same rage? It made me pause.

"Must I pursue you from this place?" I added, dropping my voice more low as threat. To my fascination and horror her face came up and it was moist with tears and red with a mysterious passion.

"I will help you," she whispered. "But I ask aught of you."

"You ask!" I laughed aloud for the boldness of her!

"I ask. Lay with me tonight, Basileus. I cannot eat or sleep but that I think of you. Touch me only, and all I do will be to you."

I shook my head wonderingly. "This? Trouble me not, give me what I ask and I will reward you. Annoy me and you will not see me, not tonight or ever."

"Oh!" she cried aloud, indignant.

"You do not negotiate with kings, Priestess. And I do not negotiate with you. So be gone and trouble me not tonight." My words satisfied my mouth, but as I watched the last of her in the door of my tent I knew that I had done badly. Had this been my queen, it was likely she would poison me on the morrow. And perhaps this one, with her excellent knowledge, would also poison me on the morrow. I put my head into my hands, and wept for the fear of the death of Memnon, and as the night grew late, and no one came to trouble me, I took to my bed and felt the loneliness and grief of being empty of the god, and for long hours, unto dawn itself, I did not sleep but hungered, and hungered.