The first weddings
Victory against Miletus. By now, a runner must have reached Mylasa telling of the siege and impending fall of that town, for I had gone and returned in the time it would take a normal man on normal horse to run to the citadel I had already entered by stealth. Not time enough for Mithradates to react on their behalf, even if he desired to. Perhaps as his runner seeks him, I imagine that he seeks Gennedes once again to inquire of me, who had faded like morning dew the previous day. What name would he use? Basileus Alexandrus? I cannot restrain my smile, they would think him mad! Not so mad. Was there a part of him that wished to believe that it were no act, but that he had found the favor of the king who found so few to favor, and only by conquest? I strove to see myself, that which others saw, but cannot, not truly.
Schera awaited me, and gasped aloud at spying me, throwing herself into my arms in a most unseemly way, when I emerged from the rocks near her campfire. I was stiff with exhaustion, my horse near to expiration from thirst, and the sun, high and burning yet as I broke from cover and took to her place which was set away from the others of the followers of the vanguard. None were near; as had been planned, but as she twisted herself into my arm. I cast her off, rather too roughly, and she staggered back.
"Shah!" she cried, "how ill you treat me this day!" I ignored her, taking concealment behind the cloth of her mean dwelling. Is this how the woman lived? Did I not appoint her to all finery? What had been done with it? Nothing lay within of what I had granted her - where had it gone? As distant from the present moment as I was, my mind in some small part probed these questions as a tongue probes at a rotten tooth. I removed the filthy clothes I had upon me, and stretched out upon the ground within, in shade. She entered, crouching, and beheld me.
"What are those marks upon you?" It seemed she had only one voice for me this day, and that was one cry after another, and had I not been weak with my travel I might have raised my hand against her, but I did not strike.
"Be gone, and fetch Apollion, and my clothing, and a goodly amount of food and drink. I must reconnoiter the town today." She rewarded me with a poisonous look which might have been hatred, and departed, leaving me to cool, gradually, under the shadow of her cloth tent, nourished by a small breeze. I slept.
And soon felt hands once again upon my body, it were she, returned, and once again, as though some fever had descended, she had maneuvered herself into a position of mewling passion, for which I had no patience. I thrust her from me, which elicited a loud sound, and drew my arm across my brow to fall to slumber once again, and endured a blow across the head, which woke me to leap to my feet and grasp her by both shoulders and lift her cruelly from the ground.
"Leave me be, woman, or leave me permanently." I released her from my hands, and it were a tribute to her litheness that she did not fall onto the ground. Her face grew white with fear then, and she at length withdrew.
I sit once again in my place, fresh-groomed and well fed, with a slightest private ceremony of wine to reward my second for his individual success in delivering the town. Tonight, I drink him, and salute the twenty of the expedition party with us who are the first to marry for the long-delayed Gamelia. I pronounced it Gamelia Endymia, a new holiday, to celebrate the love of Artemis and Endymion. The labor of the unions made this night, undoubtedly, will yield some Endymions, and perhaps some Artemises.
It is a time of revel, and nowhere within my party is the sulking concubine. She were lucky to escape without stripe on her buttock or blow on her back; for I do not consider a blow visited on a woman to be a manly thing, though I have sorely desired it in my anger.
I am at leisure now, and at peace enough to return to write of my night with Mithradates; for only a portion of it were the exercise of lust; there were plenty enough of Politick. When he had been womaned adequately by me, when I had fulfilled my role of Hephaestion by buggering the king with some violence, he grew quite calm, and wished to tell me what a broken prisoner might tell his inquisitor once they had come to a friendly terms to spare his life.
I felt a sort of fearfulness in me, as I watched this transformation in him, from poised and mature man to this small and cowed thing -- is this what a man becomes, when that which he fears has overcome him, his own desire is made flesh? I felt self-conscious that I had become that thing he so feared and wanted. To slay a man in battle is one satisfaction of the god's desire I knew well; but I did not understand what of me there was in Dionysion's desire, for there seemed to be none of me in what took Mithradates, it were -- perhaps Hephaestion. I knew well enough what he felt, as eromenos, and this is what I had dreamed in waking dreams, reliving it, but never had I dreamed that I would be the aggressor here, in pursuit, nor that I would feel such gratification in it. Previous, all I had ever asked of my conquered was that they give a simple token, to kneel and drink of me, so that I might hold their face in my hands, and feel the pleasure of their mouth upon my provoked flesh, the merest touch often were enough to release me -- that is all, it were a fleeting but exquisite pleasure when taken, and never taken twice or even with force. That is what I assumed would be my assignation with Mithradates; but no.
Ah, what I learned, the hidden places of my rage, the excesses of my desire to feel pain in pleasure! For we spoke at length after I had him, and when we were at ease with one another, I told him that I too, wished for a rough conquest, and could he do this thing for me? And he smiled a long, slow smile. The hour had long passed during which his lust had renewed itself, and we were thus reversed, though he could not in any way pretend that he could hold me if I decided not to be held. He were not superior to me in size and strength, as Hephaestion, and though disappointing in this one respect, he did not disappoint in expertise to pleasure, for he was skilled in ways my Erastes was not; in ways that I was not; and prolonged the moment of my subjugation to stimulus without penetration for as long as I could stand, until I stood no more. And after that moment was passed, I must plead with him, his sword of rapine were swift to follow, and the thrust left me spent and gasping. Well that I should benefit in satisfaction so utterly from my foreign purchaser, now that I know the price I must pay for that mutual surrender. What must he pay, I wonder? I merely forfeited my legacy and empire!
But I speak not of the important thing, the Politick. Once I had taken him, and we were at first at leisure, Mithradates became a talkative man, and his tongue loosened by the catharsis of his climaxes, and the massive bowls of wine he took, he held forth on all that he detested of Darius, of Darius's cousin the dead Ataxerxes, and the legion of regal heirs to the Babylonian throne. Here and there, I interjected questions which I strove to make sound casual, things that a soldier of my pretended caste and learning might know or hear, if he were briefly graced with leadership and insight from his betters. He heeded little of my posture now, for his inebriation had loosened him. I did fear, for a time, that he would lose his sexual abilities in drink, for I had soon a further request to make of him. But he did not, and there was no need to fear. He was a heavily-drinking man, schooled to it, as it were, and as well, he were schooled far better than I in the endurances of night-long sexual revelry. He was a devoted student of this Hedonism. There was a schooling to it, he would tell me, and again and again, between the comments on the provisioning of Anatolia, and of the fortifications the Great King had neglected to make at Tyre and Persepolis against the internal enemies of Babylon, he would make further comment on the assignations he had made, on the boys and catamites he had taken in the halls of the regents of the empire. It was his very avocation, the pursuit and sexual conquest of boys. Far more than Makedon were the Persians entrenched in their eros, and made of perfectly good and healthy boy-children permanent male concubines through castration. That practice I found barbaric in the extreme, particularly since its principle use was to keep a boy in pristine condition of childhood, and beardless for life, to serve as permanent receptacles for the seed of those masters who wished to bugger them at their leisure, at any time of day or night. Easy enough to be beardless with a razor, no need to use the razor in such a total way and commit a blasphemy against the gods of fertility and perpetuation. I urged him gently back onto the topic I cared about - battle, and the preparations of Darius.
The intelligence that emerged that was greatest in importance to me, however, was his commentary on the attitude and action of Darius toward the Makednoi threat, and I strove to commit to memory all that he had spoken, for if taken down and provided to Darius entire, with guarantee that it came from Mithradates' own lips while abed with his Greek whore, (whores are little more than intelligence-gatherers for those who hire them with stealth), his life would be forfeit. Which meant, my knowledge of him, and my memory of his words to me, were all that hung in the balance between life and death for my erstwhile host.
I queried him on Darius, and he needed little prompting.
"He is a child, and no soldier. How can he hope to make such great choices as what to defend, what to sacrifice, and when to parley? We have writ him to sue for peace in Anatolia, to mark a territory for the Greek cities and cede them to the League, and maintain the interior intact - surely we believe the important point for Alexandrus is to maintain strength on the coast and to bring his Greeks here under dominion. We hear that his sole true objective was Troya, because he wishes to regain the territory lost in the Trojan war, from his former existence."
I arrested my words of reply and considered. Less said, the better. "What former existence?"
Mithradates regarded me. "I thought all Hellenes knew, that Alexandrus was prophesied to be the returned Achilles. Do you not all believe that? I am told that he does."
I replied with vagueness: "I thought it was a metaphor."
"We have even been told that when he took Troya he performed a ceremony upon the grave of Achilles, an obscene one."
"An obscene ceremony? This I am ignorant of," I lied.
"Well, a sexual one. That he and his lover, some strange name -- I can never remember Makedon names -- performed some sex rite on the grave. This I would give something to see, Alexandrus at revel on Achilles' resting place." He ran a languid hand along his chest, in some semblance of passionate reverie, and I could see that the reverie stirred his lust.
It was well that firelight and shadow obscured the expression on my face. I had not written of this! For it occurred before this confession began. And indeed we did make ceremony on the gravesite of Achilles, where Hephaestion crowned me with a laurel he had twisted from that very garden, and laid upon me the arms of the defeated king of that place, after I had slain him. Who watched us that evening, who then informed all of Hellas, Makedon and Anatolia of our embrace that night? The joy of victory, of some great destiny, had filled me then, and I rejoiced in my love then, and held him, and we lay together in passion in the garden ensconcing the ancient marker of the place of his death, and gave ourselves to each other in sheer ecstasy of drunkenness. It were not a drunkenness of wine, then, but of power and of success, and it lent an edge of intoxicated pleasure to his touch that I had not felt in the previous exhausting weeks of approach and siege. It was because of this night of love that I had founded Alexandria Troas hard by, for I felt it was a city founded on the reunion of Achilles and Patroclus, of Phryxis and Helle, and truth to tell, I felt the power of memory upon me, that at this spot where once I had been slain, I was risen and ascended, and my love, with me.
It were not often that the god was upon me in my personal passion, but in this case, he was, and had my love been woman, a hero would be raised today from the intercourse that night. Instead, my consolation was to raise a city as son, and that Troas was, magnificent in scope.
After these moments of reverie, I mustered something to speak. "I believe you all make up stories like this just to make war less tedious, and something more to be desired."
He shook his head with some vigor. "Oh - no. This part is true. The sacred site is ever guarded, and the guard, once the city had been taken, took refuge in the shrine of Ares that lay hidden below the temple. It was here that he saw and heard all, and recorded it directly for Darius and passed to all who would soon be under siege of him. This is what is so intensely interesting to us, to learn the intricacies of our enemy - he is not a common man, or even truly a warrior in the traditional manner, therefore, cannot be predicted for his strategy."
I reached for him, and pulled him to me. "Must we talk of your intrigue with the invader? I hear too much of him in my own land, and it is even worse here. Can we not speak of you, or of your empire, or speak of nothing whatever but what pleases us?"
He drew himself back, intent upon his subject, ignoring me for the moment. "This is important. For this is where Darius fails, and that is the point I make. He cannot assume that Alexandrus will proceed in any direct manner, and yet assume he does."
"Direct manner? What do you mean?"
"If the invader were to take this country - and we must assume that with the slowness of the fleet in engaging him so far - do you know he took the delta of Samos with no fight? The garrison had fled him in terror! No discipline, those Darius assumes it easy to hold the interior and leave the coasts for his fleet to defend, and gathers all of his force to keep Alexandrus from entering Syria through the main valley! Alexandrus would not do this. He would stay by the coast! He must know these places are less secure, and he would go south, defeat the navy at their land bases, and then encircle Persis by this string of conquests both north and west. He could defeat the navy without sailing a single day, simply by siege of the coastal towns. But my king does not read maps, he refuses to see the obvious course, and does not see the type of strategy a truly brilliant enemy can make. This is what Achilles would have done, had he lived. This is what Achilles will do, now that he lives. I will swear on it. This is why I am trying to fortify the obvious route."
"Against his strategy."
"Yes, he is a mere two and twenty, the child."
"I am a mere fifteen," I raised myself upon my elbow.
"You are not fifteen, and well I know, you are no Greek either." He placed his hands on either of my cheeks and raised my countenance out of shadow to face him. "No, you are no Greek. One of your sires, somewhere, was Median, I am certain. But far too lovely to be of the large-nosed Makednoi. You are a true mystery to me, he who does not give name."
"I gave you name "
"I will call no paid servant Basileus, that is no name for my servant." I smiled in the dark.
"Ares, then. For have I not conquered here?"
"Hush " he placed his mouth on mine to silence me. "Please, let me continue. You are far too distracting " he hesitated. "You don't mind if I talk of this, do you? It is a tremendous treason to Darius, but since you are soldier, and not of this nation, and unlikely to be his spy . You are not his spy, are you?"
"Darius? Or Alexandrus?"
He laughed self-consciously. "That was a passionate play, at Alexandrus. You play conquerer well, I can see in you that you were meant to lead. Your misfortune is sad to me. Tell me of it ?" He took his attention from his own military preoccupation to delve into his curiosity of me, and now I must invent.
"To answer you, no I do not spy for Darius. And would not spy for Alexandrus. Those such as he would believe nothing from such as me. He has a thing of whores and soldiers who are too weak to lead, and once failed in his eyes, one cannot be redeemed, and today I am both." I mouthed words I had heard from the ears of others that were Hephaestion's view of me as king, for I had accused him of both at one time or at another. Very easy for me to play at Hephaestion, how well I knew his point of view!
He eased himself toward his bowl of wine and used the time to renew his intoxication, nodding all the while. "Then you served him."
"His is a paid army, you knew this? So any - including Greeks, Medians, even Persians or Pergamese or Anatolian - or Parthian such as you, could rise, but only if they had not offended his sense of honor. He would be offended by your habits, I am sure."
He wiped the crimson stain from his lips with one careless hand and placed it against his chest. "My habits? What of his own? Perhaps too much of reminder of himself! But I will take heed if he takes my city, to conceal or to send away my favorites, so that he does not revenge himself on them. I know how the Hellenes feel about male concubines, they would rather them be quite potent, and have not tasted of the eunuch. Perhaps they fear that taste of men without manhood. Sometimes - I fear it. But once again, you say nothing of yourself! Say who you are." He plucked at my arms, as though to provoke.
"I say, I am Ares, and am your conquerer, but through mischance, have fallen in your power," I spake. And to avoid the moment of absolute discomfort of being named and known, and speaking of my land to this man (oh, I was tempted), I asked him for my desire then, which I sorely required.
It was there that he challenged, and there, we were engaged.