2 Anthesterion, Miletus
A sudden spring rain over the mountain hinders us in our final ascent, and the horses slip in the mud. But I am exhilarated still with the thin air, the sacredness of Artemis's spot. Here I feel very close to the god, and know with the power in my hands that victory is ours. Late spring is here, and Miletus will capitulate to us as to a far larger division. I keep our forces loosely assembled and active, so as to appear to any casual reconnoiter that we are twice what we are to their eye. Miletus is fortified, but none too greatly, and its supply must needs be carted from below along the Persian Royal Road. I had had commerce struck from this road, so their supply must be running thin these past two weeks as I led my army from Ephesos, or it must be got from the south, where the ascent is near to impossible.
Barely have we made the siege apparent and issued our request than the satrap offers terms, but they are none too pleasing to me. I have days in which to parley, as long as their doors remain capable of sending a runner to and fro. For as long as the city remains willing to negotiate, I am willing to wait, because I must away, and Apollion has adequate of my letters of various kinds, depending upon the outcome of the last, that he can either send one of mine, or pen another in a like style and sign it with my hand - he can manage an alpha and beta that looks royal but even with these preparations, he frowns at me, and is troubled.
Schera's service to me in this assignation was reluctantly gained; I told her I had to reconnoiter the next city while we remained on the heights, and that she must create for me a type of burnous, such as the desert-dwellers wear, that would mark me as familiar to the land, and would also be something I could ride horse at full stride with, and not endanger my life with some flapping garment. She obliged in one short day and night, which seemed to staunch her rage to have me in her. I wondered if perhaps she had grown deranged, but quickly as it came upon her it cooled once again, and she seemed to lose all interest in caresses. Rather she devoted it entirely to knotting the patterns on the dark, compelling fabric that would serve me as disguise. And in the three days of our ascent, I laid not razor to my chin or cheek, it was not enough of a lapse to cause comment from a distance, but in another two days of ride to Mylasa, I would have adequate beard that none who might otherwise see me and know me, could have recognized the boylike Basileus. I despise beards, except as disguise, and even now, it itches me merely to think of all the hair upon my chin - but beard is a precious disguise for a king known as well as I for demanding clean faces in all of my army.
The disguise was placed, the hood was fastened, and I had enough of other native clothing sewn by her that I had satchel enough to ride away; on nondescript but proven battle horse. I took to the heights at full speed, in the eye of night.
I rested brief on the road, in short naps under the open sky, naked to the god, and there, burned sacrifices. I was palpably relieved of the intrusive caress of the demanding female; what was in her, once she became the aggressor, that made me wish, more than anything, to withdraw? As each stadion went by, the memory of our caresses and long hesitant talks in one another's arms grew distant, even as I grew bright with the fantasy of meeting some new love on the road, in a tavern, or in a brothel. A brothel why not? These brothels would be brought low by my decree soon enough, why not learn what I can there?
I knew how to recognize them, certainly enough. I entered the city without notice, for it had not yet reached them that the Makednoi were upon their heights and had gone into Caria already. So, though all must know of Alexander's march and route, their arrogance taught them to fear him not, nor send runners to assess the strength of forces. Yes, I was far to the east and south of my army now, but still, I knew how terror worked, and there were no terror in the people here. This city had been given certain knowledge that was false. Parmenion had been busily informing the local prisoners whom he released, to speak of the horror of serving Alexandrus, that his tasks were exhausting, and that many would desert - thus enlarging my reputation with them in an unbelievable way as a tyrant. So that easily I could place among them spies who were seen as deserters, and who could travel freely, for the satraps watched for them as sources of intelligence. These 'deserters', my retainers and faithfuls, would go abroad and enter towns, and speak in a false and exaggerated manner about how incompetent and ill-managed the expedition was, so that the local towns would cast off and then cancel their own preparations for the terror to follow when Alexandrus actually came, much sooner, and much more powerfully than could be hoped for; like a lion upon an unsuspecting deer.
I was seen as one of these deserters, immediately, and so I played at it. And inquired at the taverns at which I drank where one might find the brothelmaster or mistress who served the satrap, Ileus.
One garrulous taverner served me a large bowl of fermented wine, and free of charge, for he said it was declared a holiday for the visit of the satrap of Halicarnassos, who had come for a review of the fortifications of the towns of Caria before they engaged the enemy. And so that he could be prepared for attack upon that place. When I asked about this satrap, he explained in some great detail, "even know the brothels are too busy to serve such a traveler as you with any boys of your taste, for they are all being offered, in turn to Mithradates, the satrap.
"Mithradates? Isn't that a Parthian name?"
"Yes, he is a Parthian. And of the house royal, as well. Many of them have been named Mithradates."
"And it is boys he craves, then. What do you make of that?"
"This is the very verge of the wilderness, and anything may happen here, in brothels or in the houses of the kings. If a man wants to turn a boy into his whore, then who am I to stop him, or refuse his money to arrange such?" His words were matter-of-fact, unjudging.
"Do you think you could arrange such?"
"What - for you? I told you, all the boys have been made available to be offered to Mithradates. When he has had his fill of them, this week or the week following, then there will be enough left to serve the regular town's appetite."
I shook my head, enjoying both the easy manner of the taverner, and his acceptance of my questions without suspicion. "No - I mean, if I were to be offered up to him."
"You? You are somewhat more than a boy though, beauty you have, and that is his most important requirement or so I am told. I could not find boys with the fineness of feature you bear, to offer into the brothel." He placed a hand on my chin and turned my head slightly to the side, and I endured his touch, though with a shudder - he dares! I thought. And he noted my subtle but definite recoil.
"If you wish to be chosen for whore in the bed of Mithradates you would endure far more than a hand on your face, Aristos. You would most likely be stripped and probed in the arse to see if you bore the correct tightness for one as important as he! Would you endure that? Not to mention the expectation of your performance for him. It could be quite the feat. I have seen some of his selections return, and many must drink deep to assuage the wound he makes in them with his particular passion."
I found myself embarrassed with his plain speech, but endured it. I had sought this new, peculiar world as a stranger, and there were many embarrassments to be found along the way. I expected such at a brothel, but not so openly as in a public place of eat and drink. He spake again,
"I can show you were to go to await selection - the procurators are anxious to provide some variety - the king of Halicarnassos has been here a week, and one wonders whether he came to review their fortification, or to storm the loins of all of the local youth. I cannot say I approve, but there it is. Much money to be made, merely standing next to it and pointing."
"I would go if you will show me where, " I spake, making a species of excitement go into my voice. For was it not genuine, in some way?
"You might wish to retire to a room for now and take off the beard, it does not become you, and would make you seem less a youth. You look a full eighteen years, which is no longer a true youth, but the beard gives an illusion of greater maturity. I am sure that is not what he desires."
"But I am hardly sixteen," I lied smoothly. "It must be the beard."
"Truly," he spake, thoughtfully now. "Yes, take it and come back to me after. I will serve you some of the good wine in privacy and wait for my friend to come. I hope you understand if I take some coin for you as a fee. There will be nothing for the wine: drink all you like."
"No, I replied. "I would expect that. And my thanks for the wine."
I took his offer of a room, and drew once again a razor across my face until I emerged visibly Alexandrus once again, though in peculiar Pergamese dress. I washed, carefully, and purged my loins with water, so that if I were taken as eromenos, I would please the king. And this was what I hoped, fervently. Within the hour, the taverner, Aphraxes he announced himself, had sent for the brothel owner who would hurry to collect me and bring me to his lair to prepare me to be presented to Mithradates. My good fortunate was unbelievable.
And so the man came, in no small hurry, and grasped me rudely by both shoulders, and squeezed my arms and buttocks and face and murmured to himself. "A soldier! Are you a Greek in the garrisons to the north, a deserter such as we see so often?" He chattered as he clucked over my fair flesh and ran his hands along my arms and my chest, as though with personal desire for me. I myself desired nothing more than to draw away, there was that in his examination that was worse than the intrusive explorations of my therapeutus, Paulos.
"That is it," I said gruffly, removing his hand tactfully. "I have been without lover or companion or friend, and have need of funds now, and am completely clean."
He straightened up. "You are an educated man," he stated. It was not a question.
"Yes," I conceded. "And yes, in answer to your question, I did lead. But no longer. I was usurped, and seek other occupation. Occupation for the Greek is not easy in this land, so I must explore other things."
"I will not pay you more than 15 Ares, you understand, not even for Mithradates. Unless he calls you back to him, in which case it will be 20 for the second time. And prepare to be kept the whole night through. I am sure he will take you, he has asked me for older youth with good builds and good looks. You will definitely do, and I can send you tonight. Understand you?"
I moved back away from his agitated hand, still seeking to touch or probe something on me, but the hand reached out once again, seeking and possessive. "Come. He will be sending his guard who will take whoever I have for him."
I returned to the tavern to collect what I had of my own, and to pen these words, and joined him in the evening at the brothel.