3 Anthesterion, dawn

Aristes,

He sleeps, at length, and I have bathed, and sleeplessly wait out the hour. But let me begin, while time remains before the guard returns to conduct me back to my lodging. As soon as he leaves me, I will be gone from this place.

I have explained already, that I was arranged to go to the house of the satrap.

Within minutes, it would seem, from my entry into the brothel in the employ of Gennedes, the whoremaster, a Persian guard, armed ceremoniously, entered into the outer door, his face a mask of indifference at entering the place of pleasure, from which the sound of rutting men, women, and youth emerged more and more loudly as the evening grew ripe.

When I gazed upon the guard - I did not learn his name - the mask of his indifference slipped and he took in a long glance the view of my face, my hair, and my body, and I felt my heart change its rhythm in my chest - he appeared to want me for himself! How vulnerable a whore is, I thought, when he can be bought by the owner of the nearest tavern and hired out to the brothel in the space of an hour; and now to be gazed on as a piece of ripe flesh by the king's own guard - I must proceed with care.

I pause, now, considering the risk I took to be here; how easy it would be for this guard to seize me bodily to take me, and would I fight him off? And if I did offend him - would he slip his dagger stealthily between my ribs and into my liver, leaving me unknown and dead in this bazaar? What would happen to the army, then, and what, the siege of Miletus? What must Apollion be enduring now, as he questioned his god on the wisdom of letting me go unguarded, against the strictest counsel of my elders?

In a sudden moment of clear vision, I realized how terribly foolish and mad I had been to embark on this sexual adventure. I knew then that I could not let what I had done be discovered. But I was committed, and, ignoring the penetrating gaze of the guard before he turned and led me out, I was seized by a strange and wholly unprecedented excitement, such as the excitement of raising the cry before the rush, the surge of passion of the god for his revenge; in this, it was the surge of passion of Dionysion for the revel, for Dionysios, the mad god, had me.

We made our way without concealment to the lodgings of the visiting satrap, Mithradates, which was hard by the large house, more like to a citadel, of Ileus. This was a small city, but important strategically, for its garrison guarded the crossroads of the passes that led down into Caria proper, and the great metropolis of Halicarnassos. Thus was Mithradates wise to ride northwest to see how well fortified against the invader these citadels were, how rationed, and how garrisoned.

Against a force as massive as mine; there would be no hope for them, for they were still liable to siege; and could only withstand if an army fortified them on the heights and in the passes, and I could not believe, that Mithradates intended to do any more than fill the garrison with an additional detachment, saving the best and most seasoned for defense of the greater city, the capital of Caria, and his home. This any Persian satrap might be expected to do; but my intended host was not Persian but Parthian, and their reputation for belligerence rivaled those of the Makednoi. This Mithradates was one to take by stealth, and thus my excitement. I had peculiar opportunity to take him by stealth. It became my ruling fantasy.

At the house, we were not greeted; the guard slipped in unseen and unchallenged through a narrow entryway I could hardly perceive in the gloom. Night was falling quickly, and a chill of the heights was upon the air. I shivered, and in his nearness to me in the gloom, he placed a hand upon my shoulder, perhaps to restrain or to quieten, but the hand lingered, and I strained to remain quiescent beneath it - was this the moment? Did he take me to his own lair, and there to challenge or to assign? I could not say, but prepared myself in mind for whatever might occur next. This silent one, cold, might be my true adventure for the night, and beneath his elaborate garment I could perceive a fit, spry soldier, one who took some pride in himself and valued his position, perhaps as second to the great leader he served. I had no way to tell, for their uniform and dress was not distinguished for insignia or rank, no moreso than the Makednoi. "Quietly," he said at length, which was the first word I heard him utter. The voice was basso, commanding, and I obeyed it as we proceeded in stealth. Before the clatter of our steps had echoed to nothingness in the mean alleyway we were upon the hidden entrance to the house and were within, where subdued, colored candles guttered and a newly-built fire burned brightly. No greater light illumined the place; it waited, invitingly. My guide pressed forward, and gestured for me to stay near the door. He ascended a stone stair, and made knock above. Brief silence, whispered exchange, and he withdrew, back down the stairs, to me.

"Please him well and you may find yourself here again and in favor. Though I doubt you will; if not, Gennedes knows how to find me, and you would be welcome with me, without doubt." He did not smile, but turned before I had a chance to answer. That was his word, and this, his promise of assignation, but only if I displeased the satrap! Perhaps this was the reason there were so few whores available in the town; it was not merely Mithradates but at least one of his leaders who demanded supply. I was being offered first to the satrap, and if not pleasing, was promised to be passed to the next. And I was left alone, my small satchel in hand, heavy with the wooden weight of Iliad in its case, with these leaves folded with care within. I would not depart anywhere without Iliad, and this I hoped would not be unusually curious to my host. But he surely was used to travelers who must carry their valuables with them, in the satchel I carried some normal type of jewels to be used for money, and of course, some nondescript gold and bronze of the empire, the ares and the herakles.

And I waited. I had the uncanny impression that I was under observation, and so, did not pace or otherwise occupy myself, but stood as though at rest in march, with the pretense of both alertness and relaxation that soldiers do for so many long and frustrating hours. How many hours had I stood so! This were nothing to that, though the excitement that had crept into me before kept bidding me to pace, as I so often do when athought. And at length, in my reverie of parade rest, came back the guard, who spared me one further lingering look before departing, wordlessly. His wordlessness spake louder than most shouts, to me, and my eye turned to follow him, to remember him, since I had no name to keep.

And hard by his departure, a slender figure crept, with some stealth, upon the stone stair, and made no noise, but his shadow played upon the wall, and a small voice said, in Greek (to my surprise), "ascend! Join me here."

And I ascended the stair. What I beheld was not what I might have expected from the rude comments of the taverner, nor even of the brothelmaster, but the slight figure of a man who was in no way a soldier, and though certainly not young, showed no sign of excess or dissipation. "Greetings, northerner. Are you Greek or are you Makednoi?"

"I am what you make of me," I replied, as I had planned to do, with ambiguity.

"I would make of you a Greek, and from your build, a warrior, a hero of some kind," he countered equably, cheerfully, and smiled. "I am Mithradates, the king of Halicarnassos and of all Caria. And you, it would seem, be my companion of the evening, and a lovely one."

I bowed my head, in a play of the slightest obsequiousness, as I had so often received the bow of a lesser noble. "You are an actor, then, in plays of Aeschylus, wandering to this place from the northern reaches?"

"You think me an actor? Why is this?" I was frankly confused. What had actors to do with whores? How little I knew of this play of conversation.

He held a hand up to my question. "Please, let us sit, and drink, there is time enough for all of this. He turned to a small table, and laid out were fine bowls, and a casket of wine. "Let us drink, and learn of one another." This was not as I had imagined, this was as an audience with a foreign king! A suspicion crept upon me, and I began to think quickly, in rapid steps, about how I had come to this town, and by whom led; were there those here who might see and recognize Alexandrus, and was I led to one of these by deception? Who, indeed, deceived whom here? I must find out.

I examined him, his dress, his manner and bearing, and tried to piece that together with the comments that had been made about him. Nothing seemed to match - but then again, if I were to be described to my enemy, and then met, would there be any concurrence of the story with the man? Probably not; certainly not with the descriptions given by such as Hephaestion. Besides, what sign does promiscuity of lust give on the exterior? Did I look at this moment in a mirror, and see only a king, a man of education and tastes and manners, who sought a companion and conversation for the evening, and solace in his bed? If so, what harm in that?

I sat, at a little place across from him, in a wide chamber in the upper room of the house, smaller than that of the beast Delaleuccus, but then this was a mountain fastness, and the buildings here were of stone and wood all hauled up or quarried from below. They would of necessity be smaller.

"So - " he began, drinking deeply of his bowl, as I did of mine (was I fearful? Anxious?) "are you what I make of you, what would you make of yourself? What is this mystery that is before me, and what shall I call you?"

"I am no actor" I spake with no small pride, "but what I had told Gennedes upon our meeting - a warrior, who is usurped in his place, and in some need."

"Ah! And what warrior would seek the private audience of this leader?" He used the term "Leus" and a word rose to my tongue in reply.

"Another leader, an honored leader, and defender of men." He nodded, sagely.

"You are correct in that, for the Defender even now approaches the verges of my domain, and I am here to prepare for his approach." He spake, of course, of me in the literal.

"Yes, Alexandrus comes, he is closer than you think!" I spake, and drained my bowl, whereupon he filled it again.

"You have ridden from the north then," he spake, all interest.

"Of course, I am from the north, I have ridden from him."

"And your name, fair one?"

"You even now have spoken it."

"Basileus Alexandrus!" he cried aloud. "Just so, is this what I am to imagine this night? That the youthful invader seeks me in my frontier citadel and drinks my health with me, what a fantasy that would be."

I smiled a slow smile, and realized it pleased me endlessly to jest with him with the mere truth. "I can well imagine that. He is known for his assignation with the enemy."

"That I did not know!" he spake, curiosity gaining on him. "Know you this of him?"

"I do. It is part of his passion as conquerer." I gazed upon his eyes; they were light, unlike those dark and black of Persia, his skin was light, and hair, more like my own, though he was clearly of the eastern race, thicker of nose, and of jaw, though lean as a mountain cat, and lithe. I imagined what he would be like in my arms, then, and contrasted that of his physique with those I had known, of the men I had craved; and though I could not say he appealed in particular to me, there was nothing that repulsed. He took some pride of himself, this I could see, and was fastidious; his hands were not those of a soldier who rode to war each day (unlike my own), but soft and tended, that of a scholar or the king of a settled realm. His were no settled realm, however, and he would be constrained to ride to war, and soonest.

"I would see and know this conquerer," he spake, and his voice were slightly drunken, and his lips had parted to reveal the white and even teeth of a cared-for, wealthy person. The very smell of him were clean, as though he had spent a half a day at the bath, nothing base or mean had entered into this room, and all was perfectly ordered. This appealed to me in a compelling way. He placed a hand upon my cheek, as lightly as a dove.

"Would you?" I answered, my voice gone low.

"Yes, if he is fair, and hardened with the desire for conquest. Does he desire to take my city, and my goods, and my very body to sack for his personal pleasure?" His voice grew ever more soft, as he tried his fluency in this foreign tongue, more mellifluous than the abruptness of Persian.

"Then he would address you in your own tongue," I replied in Parthian, and a look of sheer surprise passed his face, his caressing hand arrested on my shoulder.

"How do you know this? What education have you that you speak thus?"

"I have learned many tongues, Shah," I spake, using the proper title for the Parthian kingdom. "But you should not be surprised, for Basileus knows many tongues, and negotiates many surrenders." I arrested his hands; a suspicion was on me that this king, like one other I knew well, desired nothing more in his power than to be overpowered, and that this struggle for power were the principle ingredient for him of passion. Then let me play the role tonight of Hephaestion, for I had learned it entire at his knees… and was rewarded by the slight struggle of one who resisted, but only for the show of having resisted, and of proving the power of the arms restraining him.

He gazed upon me even as my face came close to his own and my breath was on him - yes, I could take this man by force, if this was the passion he desired…. And the flush in his face showed that indeed, this was what he desired, when he had asked for an older, more warlike assignation. I must have shown my belligerence upon my face, for he responded to it, both abashed and enflamed.

"And what do you require?" he whispered then, his voice a small thing, lingering in shadows. I placed my hands upon his gown and loosened it, to reveal the clean and golden flesh beneath.

"First," I spake, "I require your token," and bid him kneel.

The guard comes -- I must away.