We march to rejoin Parmenion below and east; and I am confident that we have knowledge certain enough of Mylasa to take it, though it will be provisioned. I have fitted this to my strategy, and while I took curious looks of them, they did not object to excessive preparation for a large force of siege. It were citadel after all, and would need a garrison when we were through. I consoled my woman with a jeweled box wrested from the hand of the chiefest wife of the king of Miletus, and spared him, though well plundered, since he had surrendered after a goodly negotiation. These kings had far too many wives, and I wondered what service they were required to perform to keep them! A single concubine were exhausting both my emotions and patience.
Apollion joined me for private consultation upon my return, and his eyes were lined with worry and pain; I had tested him entirely overmuch, and could not burden him with the revelation of the god; only that I had made my adventure and that it was a calamitous mistake, and that his own misgivings were well placed. He seemed little cheered by this, for my divinity ill suited itself to humility. I could not win for admission of mistake! For too much was expected of me, immortality, and lately I learn, a certain infallibility, so that when I act, even if ill-advisedly and against the will of the god, I am expected to be pursuing the will of the god in every way, and woe to me if I admit otherwise to anyone. Thus I realize that hard by the end of childhood and beginning of kingship, is the end of normal leadership, and the beginning of an uneasy godhead I never wished to have, but which cannot be revoked. He is superstitious of me, and I must needs guard my tongue so as not to make life too great a burden to him. But even with all this inward counsel, I spake of my doubt, of my fear.
"Your silence speaks loudly, Second," I began our talk.
"What do you wish me to say, Basileus?" he answered, cautious.
"What is troubling you, naturally," I replied. "And please do not retreat into some cold distance. Our relation to one another is the same, though you have had some independent leadership since."
He nodded, though wearily. "Not the leadership I asked to have, however. All I did was deliver your letters, based upon the reply of the last. This went on until your return, when they had already decided to capitulate. No great leadership needed."
"Great leadership to conceal my brief abdication of place, and to not break under the pressure of it. Tell me, what is it like to be Basileus for two days?"
"I did not like it."
"Would you like to take my place?" I jested with him gently.
"No, Bas- Alexi. Every night I made sacrifice and prayer that you be returned safely and free of your sickness then. And from the look of your eye, you have been freed, at least for now. I take it you found your boy you sought." His face turned up wryly.
"And if I told you I found instead a ripe wife who even now awaits my return?"
"I would not believe you," he spake with some sobriety.
"Just so, a man does not change in a day."
"And so your reply ?" he persisted.
"Not quite a boy, rather more a man." His eye flickered then, and I beheld his concern change to somewhat of anger.
"Not another --"
"Prisoner? No. Though dangerous enough under other circumstances."
"Tell me, then, since you need to tell someone, and would not be tempted, once relieved, to tell another. It is best to tell me. For if you say any of these to Parmenion, both of us will not rest." I stared at him. He had indeed aged, and quickly, in these two days, and leadership rested far too heavily on him for my taste. But in him was some new confidence and quickness with me; and this, I valued. And what - indeed, to say to him? Was I so insensitive to burden that I did not notice kingship weigh upon my shoulders as it did him?
I told him, then, that I had arranged assignation privately through an application of bribes, and was not recognized; that I had been satisfied with the arrangement, but that I could not consider doing such a thing again at risk of the army and whatever siege we lay at. "And - " I placed the word at the end of my prepared statement to him, "this thing greatly displeased the god. Therefore, I must examine my goals, and not take this risk further. I must try once again to cleave to woman, perhaps another woman."
"Parmenion has told you this since," he grumbled.
"Yes, I know." I was blushing angrily, and was chagrined beyond speech. I raged for some moments, within. "Yes! But I did not heed! And you obeyed me in my determination!"
"Were you truly at risk? Were we?"
I stared again at him. Was I? Were they? Had he not obeyed me, my place would now be forfeit from mutiny and my seniors' insistence on my abdication. I, a skilled general, greatly flawed in leadership. I grew ashamed. Apollion held my leadership's future in his hands, and my destruction lay entirely within his discretion. And - how much can I trust him? I found myself thinking.
"But there is somewhat I must tell you, Apollion," and once again I read the emotion on his face as though it were scroll before good candlelight. He wished not to hear of what occurred between me and my male lovers, and wished to be away. "But first let me ask -- have you ever been eromenos?"
He hung his head and avoided my eye. "Must we speak of this?"
"No, but I wish to. You are my unburdener, my only one now, and in this you would serve me well. And have served me well."
He sighed. "You know that I was."
"And? Did you not enjoy it as the rest of us did when boys?"
"Not truly, no. But Tellimachus - you knew him, surely - was not a passionate tutor, so therefore, there was not much of that, nor would he insist had I refused."
"Did you refuse?"
"Several times. Each time he were less insistent. He had others; he did not need me. And he knew I was terrible for girls, which is how I married so quickly before your sister was barely weaned. You remember? I was promised to her for my chiefest wife "
"Until the murder."
"Until the murder," he echoed me. "Thus I have my Aolia in her stead. I do not regret it - much."
"Terrible for girls. I need to learn to be terrible for girls. This concubine has grown ill with lust of me, and I tire of her. Now what shall I do, and how can I make my pleasure complete in this female form?"
"You have taken her --"
"Roughly, yes, and from behind, and even buggered her when she was acquiescent to it, to see if that rendered difference."
"And?" he queried me in turn.
"And - that is not truly what I desire. She is pleasant enough when not in petulance, and pain enough to gall when in it. If I am constrained to marry woman, I cannot promise I will not raise a hand to strike when she does these meaningless and cruel things of emotion and passion! She struck me a blow across the head while I slumbered, this day!"
"Then she should be punished for raising her hand to you." I stopped him there with a raised hand.
"Peace, Apollion, if I wish her punished, I would punish. There is somewhat more, and I am afraid she will have to lose her place with me if the answer is not favorable. Where went the gold, and the clothing, and the goods I had showered on her from these last two sieges? Her camp here at Miletus shows nothing of value nearby her, and though just this very day I granted her a set of jeweled ornaments and box."
"Did she give them away?" he queried.
"I know not!" I cried, "but I know how you can determine that, and quickly," and told him to seek how the traders in goods, to find where she went to dispose of the finery I had given her. If she had done, then she had forfeited place and future by offending me. I was in some way pleased, for I had tired of her petulance, and could not redeem my own mistakes with her, in my own eyes. Another woman would have to be my practice ground, and I would build upon what I had learned with Schera. Perhaps satisfy her far less abed, and myself more. This is counsel to myself.
And so Apollion sought, and found. The very jeweled comb I gave her from the satrap's house at Ephesos lay now in the hands of a new Pergamese wife of one of my midmen, purchased with favors she had plied him with. I did not reclaim the gifts - no value could be gained by that. In very fact, the desirability of the items were determined in part by the fact that they had come by my hand to my woman favorite, and were sold in scorn. It was the scorn I cared little for - and the trinkets themselves, unimportant. When I fled to Mylasa, her cooperation in the plot proved too great a burden, and she declared me dead to her, or so she said to the man who bought her finery. He, not knowing of my absence (she did not tell him, fortunate for her!) And he had assumed that we had fought. This occurs with concubines daily apparently. Since I no longer had use for her, as she had portrayed. What intrigues! I could not keep track of them.
The moment came for summoning her to me, a moment I feared beyond my anger - who am I to fear the disrespect of a mere girl servant? Ah, because she was Woman. And like or no, I fear Woman far more than the blade of enemy in my liver. These I could see and touch, what do I know of the ephemera that is Woman? Just their hidden and emotional powers which they wielded as hidden, sharp weaponry, to slide into the heart. That is why my lust of them is stunted to coldness. I cannot truly desire that which I fear and am cowed by. My conquest of Scheravasana's body proved my undoing, for she turned it to me as a craving that could not be satisfied, and this were frightening familiar. Had she not struck me this very morning when I did not serve her pleasure, as though she were my queen? Then she would not lay with me again, just as Hephaestion and it seems that man or woman, king or whore, wears all one face to me, horrid in the fascination it ever bore.
She came, held by Apollion, and I let him speak, empowered in his new leadership, before me.
"You are summoned to answer for your actions against your master and king." Her chin raised itself in defiance. She stared into my eyes, uncowed, and I spake naught, while he proceeded.
"You have offended his body by striking him, and his generosity to you by selling the goods he granted you as gifts, and portrayed them to the common soldier as scorn against him. This is seen as treason, and adequate reason to expel you entirely from his service. Do you understand this?"
She did not speak. I did not expect her to.
"Have you done these things?" I spake, quietly.
"You know I struck you, Basileus, I struck you only a mere ghost of the blow you deserve for your offense to Ahura!"
I wanted to rise, to bellow, to strike her against the post of the door and watch her fall, lifeless, that cruel mouth silenced at last. I remained seated, and Apollion's hand was firm upon her thin arm. Again, my inner counsel spake: "why do you fear? What have you to fear of women?"
She pointed at me, and turned to my second. "You may look and see for yourself! Upon his breast, upon his neck, the mark of teeth of the demon feeding on his flesh. He fled the camp these two days to lie with it! And returns, infected again with the demon."
Apollion's face registered a muted surprise and his grip visibly loosened upon her, whereupon she broke from him and fell upon me, tearing at the frog that closed the cloak at my throat, and bared my throat and shoulder before I had time to strike her arm away. "Look!" she screamed. The marks she bared were from the mouth and teeth of Mithradates, lurid against the pallor of my skin. In the heat of passion, I had not heeded them during my assignation. There must be others, elsewhere but I took her her then, and restrained her lest she tear all my clothes from my back before she were through. He pulled her back by her shoulders, and she struggled with passionate violence.
"And his gifts? What did you with them?" he proceeded, ignoring her accusation.
She rounded on him then: "Don't you see? Are you so blind in loyalty to him you do not see what afflicts? And must be healed? Why do you obey him in this?"
"That is not your place to say, Priestess. You are pleasure for his bed only, and may play other role only at his desire. Answer the question put to you." His manner was dry and dogged, and it abashed her with its relentless reason. She slumped in his arms, and the fight left her.
"Yes, I sold the goods."
"What are you, woman?" I cried then, hurt beyond reason. "Did you not respect the favor of your king, at any time? Did you not value my token to you? For there will be no other now."
"What do you say?" she stared at me.
"No other token, no other moment with me."
"This cannot be, Basileus!" she shrieked. "This is a great mistake!"
I grew cold, and haughty, offended at being told too much of my mistake all in a single day. If the world be obsessed with my mistake, then let me be gone from the world! I wished to shout then.
Instead I spake, "I am sure it is not what your passion would demand. But your passion will henceforth be slaked elsewhere. Today, and henceforth you may be sold to any man in my army who would have one who is expelled from Basileus's bed. This consequence you made for yourself."
"I will not serve other than you."
"Then there is no use for you and your death will soon follow."
"You would have me put to death for not being a whore to your army! Oh, arrogance again!" she cried scornfully.
"And what should I do then," I argued, knowing I should not argue or ask.
"You should expel the demon from you, and let me work to heal you." For the oddest reason, I found within her counsel a truth, a bald fact; and my own abashedness at my vision had concurred with her angry words. She did not merely serve her own passion; she served some truth we both knew.
"And how heal me?" I asked further. The look of shock on Apollion's face distracted me momentarily before she spake:
"You must know woman again." Of course, this would be natural. Of course she would say this. But then again I had said it myself, and to Apollion, not an hour previous. As I considered, I recalled yet another of fact - I could not simply banish or sell Schera. My choices were two: keep her near to me, or execute her. I was not ready to execute her for her privy knowledge, so I must keep her near to me: somehow. I should not have included her in my plot! And this is my price. The death of all I hold dear. And did I not hold the slight pretense to passion I had in her arms, dear? Is this the first death?
I said, no, and said "Apollion, I believe you should leave me now. I have somewhat to do in private with my concubine." He gave me a long, exasperated look, brought his hands up in a gesture of surrender, and departed, wordlessly.
"He is an obedient servant." I spake to Schera. "Were that you could learn such obedience." She approached me very closely then, bold.
"I do not fear you," she said outright, and stood before me in challenge.
"And I do fear you," I admitted. "But tonight, I feel a desire to conquer that which I fear. Prepare yourself."
She had learned from me the method of purging her bowels, that I required for her to prepare for my desired form of eros, and I sent her away with my servant to do this. This would take some time, in the interim, I could complete the correspondence of Vergina that had arrived in my absence, and review of that prepared by Parmenion of his reconnoitering the correspondence of Seleuccus to Hestes. His were far less slanted to treason, and I began to suspect perhaps I was wrong about him in some way.
Vergina sought relief, and the regent, Apollion's father Antipater, sent a letter of grievances against Olympias. This I was interested to learn, which spelled, between his flowery phrases, the shape of her treason, now that her favorite Hephaestion was in exile. I wondered what exile I could fashion for her that would appease my regent; and thought about it long, until my door was darkened again.
It was my concubine, once again accompanied by Apollion. I gave him his father's letter to read, with a grim look, "we will talk later, I will need until the rising of the moon with this. When you hear the ending of her sobs then return." My eye lighted upon Schera, and in anticipation of that violence rising in me, my pulse quickened as my eye took in the sight of her.
"I hope you are prepared for what you unleash," I spake coldly.
"The demon in you," she replied with finality and dark satisfaction.
"You cannot provoke me further than I have already been provoked," I countered, and rose from my place of study. "Come to me, then, and see if submitting to me fulfills your duty to your god, as I fulfill my duty to mine." She unclothed without protest, and placed herself supine upon my pallet, whereupon I seized her, throwing her down on her face, and spread her knees with my own.
"There will be somewhat difference in our nights from henceforth, I think," I spake. And that god of rapine returned to me then, and bade me slake in rage of lust I had unleashed first upon Mithradates with such satisfaction. Then sob she did, but there was coldness in me that even I abhorred, a coldness that sex did not appear to touch. A coldness of hatred that had been unleashed in me by the letter I had placed in Apollion's hands. I heeded not her sobs of despair as I took her roughly, nor what pain I put her too as I forced myself utterly between her buttocks, what was to her an unnatural love. I cared not, I heeded not. My pleasure lay in her despair. For all women, it would seem, turned a single face to me then, and there was nothing of tenderness in me for anyone, this night.