Ileus concedes his place, and I know that he has most likely expired his time for a sally against us from the southern reaches. Mithradates has sent no one. I sent word at my satisfaction with the one, and the following night, for thoroughness sake, had the other in all the same ways. As I had expected, the women were in intimate communication, and all instruction I had given to Bazrin had in thorough fashion already been communicated to Elibatan, the long-haired courtesan, who, in her own method, eagerly knelt before me athrone to offer me the pleasure of her mouth, before I even rose from work. I was greatly pleased by both her boldness and enthusiasm, and rutted with her as freely as I had once done so openly when I was boy with Erastos. Persia made its compensations to me, and I was quite satisfied, for the moment, as long as Ileus keeps his promise.
Our month is half over of the wait for supply, and we ready ourselves to settle the town. The initial meeting and interrogation of Ileus was yesterday eve, and in that time I brought a force of twenty, sword-bearers and hypaspists both, to stalk the city. I followed a familar route to a familiar tavern, doffed my helmet and my plumes, and entered therein. The taverner who had befriended me, stood at his tables, a large pitcher in his hand; and upon spying my dress a look of overt alarm passed. Two of the hypaspists crowded in to the door, shields too great to allow them to pass, yet they remained eager to defend their king. In this context, it became alarming to the drinkers in the room, and I bid them stay alert but abroad, in the street, and two guards with kopis ready to hand accompanied me within and more stood at the exterior. Several of those within stood, as though prepared for combat or to flee, and I raised both hands to assure them.
"Be at peace, I come only to speak with the master of this place, and briefly," as I waved a hand to hail Aphraxes who had gone still in serving a pitcher at table. I was recognized, first by dress as leader of the Makednoi invaders; second by face as the beardless youth he had sold, and when this second crossed his face, he went ashen.
He set it down, and approached, very slowly, taking in my battle dress and weapons, which I had attempted poorly to cover with a plain cloak so as not to appear belligerent to the inhabitants as I sojourned. It did not help. Several of the diners fled discreetly as I moved into the room, flanked by my thin compliment of guard. I turned and let it be known that the force outside should let the people pass in peace. Beyond, the houses of the wealthy were being secured, and the soldiers were searching for the refugees from the Granicus whom I had been told were housed here. Some noise was in the street from the disturbance, and it agitated everyone. It was not the peaceful town I had entered at noumenion last, and all on my account.
How differently my talkative taverner greeted me this day! I was disconcerted at the disappearance of his affability - no longer the anonymous boy he had made a gold Ares from and hastened to a room to shave his beard - no, but the conquerer, who even now bore down upon him with some malevolence he could not yet imagine; even now, the memory of that assignation began to erode before the stark reality of my place in Mylasa, my true place. His manner was stiff, and abashed, and his face was white with some form of terror that had until the moment I appeared, been entirely absent. I hailed him quietly and bid him enter into the privacy of his rooms beyond. The room had gone silent and still, and all eyes bore down upon me. I should have sent a servant! What was it in me that I had to always go and lead in all things, and not trust another to do a more discreet task! I regretted instantly my errand, but it was done.
My guards, silently, crowded into the room behind me and took their ease, and I sat. Aphraxes did not sit but stood worrying his sopping towel between his hands until it were nearly ruined and in pieces.
"Know you me then?" I spake, without introduction.
"Of course," he whispered. "We have met."
"No, it could not have been," I spake, my voice definite and precise, while I gazed into his eye.
"But I am -- this noumenion you - the beard " he was abashed, and stammering.
"Did you meet some bearded youth here who looked passably like me, and state this to some other person, who had spread it as rumor to others?"
"Yes, he was most like," he murmured, his eye fixed upon my own, now beginning to nod.
"But you see, as you set eye upon me closely, that it could not have been."
"What?" he was confused, I could see, but listening for something he could grasp of my words. His fear was a palpable presence in the room, as though he expected at any moment that I would reach out with sword and wrest his life from him in one stroke.
"It was a great likeness, certainly," he spake, his words coming to him reluctantly.
"I trust that you will take the gifts I have brought you, to seek amongst those with whom you trade, that you will pass this intelligence to others, that an uncanny double for the king dwells within the city, and is now being sought." I brought my hand forward and my guard laid a small satchel before him; within it lay gold and several large jewels of acceptable value to the local people: these were plundered at Troya and were of high quality. Despite his fear, he eagerly grasped the parcel and opened it upon his table, at which time he gasped, and his eyes sought mine for explanation.
"The apprehension of this person means much to me, and I am attending to the issue personally with those who had seen him, so that they may appreciate the gravity of the situation," I spake, not daring to say more. "Nothing need be offered up as to his background, or profession, or activities in the town, for that means naught to me."
He nodded, gulping. He knew! How could he not know! And yet, I could not slay one who had only incidentally crossed my path, simply because of political risk to me. I must give him another choice; and Gennedes for that matter. Mithradates' erstwhile guard, however, was another story. I turned to my guard. "There is no danger here, you frighten the poor man. Leave us for a few moments so that I may drink his health with him in peace." They cast a glare in my direction - this was not their order from Parmenion! - and left, staying hard by the door, and I closed it to.
Aphraxes' hand shook as he poured wine for his new king. Shattered was the ease and comfort of our last meeting, and I was chagrined. I placed hand upon his arm, and he resisted and then complied. "Friend," I spake. "I do count you friend."
"Do you?" his voice was hushed, and he stood still as a rabbit as its gaze is arrested by the arrival of a lighting owl above it.
"Indeed, and well served."
"But you - how could you " I could hear his question silently complete itself, and the mortification he felt at speculating so.
"Leadership is often very colorless, Aphraxes, and duty very tedious. You will be rewarded well for seeking for that youth whom you saw, and to spread it abroad - particularly with Gennedes that a youth and actor of such and such appearance had been seen in the town and sought, lest he be used by the Persians for obscure aim of their own.
"Yes, I understand."
"You may address me as Basileus, as my subjects do."
"Basileus," he uttered the word, automatic in obedience.
"I request you bring both Gennedes and the guard from Ileus' citadel to my camp, and give report on how you fared in finding this youth, at an hour after the sun's setting, tonight. Can you get there?"
"Of course - Basileus." Upon mention of this new meeting, a new fear was born in his eyes.
"Do not be afraid of me. I am still the same young man I was a fortnight ago."
He shook his head, vehement. "No - no no. You are not."
"Yes, try to remember that. I call you friend." He continued to shake his head as my guard opened the door and signaled that it was time to go, that I was been waited on without.