26 Dystros


It is well that my men do not heed all of my visions and try to guess at their meaning, or worse; act upon them. For to my great amazement, Memnon sets foot once again on land and is returned to me, and I regard him! With some great amazement, too. I did not behold and embraced anything so tightly as I did him! We took no little time in counsel, and I raised Aristarchus and Cothon to leadership to replace Seleuccus and Xanion, and they sit in council with me hereafter. Xanion still fumes, but he is in a lesser place, awaiting a future moment of my forgiveness, which I will give him, but only after time. He did at length acknowledged that housing Hephaestion should have merited far greater consequence than I gave him, and he repented.

Cothon draws my eye annoyingly, and I am distracted by him - it is his youth, his beardlessness, his quick eye and careless beauty, and I school myself that these things cannot be, that I must seek my pleasures according to my own rules and could not lay with a member of my council. Hestes was the glaring exception, and I could not bear another such exception. But Cothon, I know, feels my eye, and perhaps even suspects that I raised him not by excellence or merit but by beauty. It were not by beauty.

I seek Memnon in privacy at the first; and I could tell nothing from his exterior how his meeting went with Hestes. He knew we were urgent for Miletus, and wasted no time in his point. There was no preamble.

"He is hard fixed against you, Basileus."

"How so, what is his reason?" I grew immediately indignant.

"That you have gone mad into a delusion of divinity and of some great destiny of leadership in this land, rather than seek our revenge on Persia."

"What is that to him?"

"What indeed? If what he says, the way he says it, is true, then we all have a problem, and with you, and immediately. He argues coherently, and had I not seen this other letter - no I did not mention it to him! And had I not seen the anguish in you over him, I would be convinced by him. This is important, Alexi. For if I could be convinced by him, how many others will be?"

"How many others are convinced? Did he confide in you?"

"He did not know I rode to him at your word."

"You did not have my word!" I laughed, and bitterly. He smiled, and his smile was a grim one. "What said he of others? And how many others? And whom?"

He shook his head. "He sought my understanding, and my counsel in turning you back from your position, and your decision. And his reason seemed tempting in the extreme."

"How? What says he to tempt you?"

"He tells me for example of your sexual tastes, of the risks you took with taking as lovers hostages who were enemies and dangerous; as if you took a physical pleasure in the danger of conquering them first on the field and then their bodies. He said there were so many of these he could not count. He said also he feared for both your sanity and life then, for the only safety that could be had with such men would be in shackles, and you did not take them to your bed in shackles. Therefore, your life might be forfeit, because you desired a violent sexual assault. I must say I find this in some way bizarre, and I would question it too."

"That has nothing to do with his treason to me!"

He raised a hand. "Ah, but it does. This is what served as the cause of the banishing. Did you plan it this way, because you wished to dispose of him as a disfavored lover, because you tired of him?"

"Memnon!" I cried, and put my head in my hands, and then raised them again to him. "How can you say this?"

"I ask this," his words were mild, and I found myself angered, enraged, and abashed in turn.

"Is that all you see? Jealousy? He was what he was before my eye alighted on another fair boy!"

"Yes, but you did nothing about it then. So why change now? What changes things now? Certainly your successes to date have changed you… and for this you wish not to share your glory with him?"

"You do not understand!" Once again I was on my feet. "I DO wish to share my glory with him! I would have him in my arms this moment! I would give him the world, the treasuries of Babylon, I would give it all to him!"

"And why don't you?" he spake, perfect reason shaping his argument.

"Because it is not right!"

"No, probably it is not. But what prevents you - you yourself, from doing this, and forgiving him, and taking him back to your side? What is the risk, what the benefit?"

"Socrates, I did not think I had to do this with you! It cannot be, simply because he has become corrupted. You know this, and you too said so."

"I am examining this from his perspective; and from his perspective he has some reason. If we do not understand this, then we fail to understand what he will do next."

I bridled. Just so! I reasoned with myself. Is this not the purpose for which I called Memnon to me recently, and why I prayed for his recovery so urgently? To help me? It was also my love for him, but there was an urgent need, a current purpose, and this was it.

"What will he do next?" I queried.

He lowered his eyes. "I believe he will attack you, on every front, and with every resource you do not withdraw from him. Withdraw those resources, or execute him. There is no other choice."

I grew impatient with him then, with his slow and discoursive speech. And I drew from Memnon's speech those words which struck as blades to cut me, all that Hestes spake to him of how barbarically I treated him; it all sounded terrible as it was portrayed. And all of it came back to a single point, that I had taken other men to my bed, and did this before his very eyes for days at a time, as some game of favors that he could not win, and that it drove him to fury. In time, in exile, this fury subsided to a bitter resignation and grief of loss at losing a place to which he is entitled. Nothing did Hestes mention of Olympias, or of his liaisons with her, or of his plots with Seleuccus, or of his disobediences to me and his assault upon me. And I was keen to note, there was no mention of his role in authoring the execution of my father just two years past? I asked, did Hestes think that Memnon was ignorant of these facts and would act on his word only, and to his benefit?

And his answer was yes. He believed not only I but Memnon himself were ignorant, and could not make common cause, for he tempted him in every way, including the lure of seduction. I was surprised to hear this: Memnon smiled at this; he was beyond the enticements of an eromenos; I could see Hephaestion attempting to take Memnon at his rest, with the same technique he used with me - Memnon, huge in both stature and strength, would simply kick him away and cast him to the floor! I found myself cheered with that image. Why could I not do the very same?