21st Anthesterion

I am waked, and unable to rest, once again, and have just sent my servant once again - it is Aristobulus' nephew I learn, the sulking one who has such problem waking to serve me at night…I shall have to speak to him… for wine to refresh me, for nothing dulls this night for me of pain, and more pain, and the words of the god return to me afresh from my vision on the road to this place, so few weeks since…noumenion last, can it have been? Where I watched the form of my kingdom become lost to me due to error, due to lust. What might it otherwise have been? I cannot say.

Much of evil has occurred this night, and it wakes me, and I hold, cold, the stone of the god in my hand, and there is no wisdom. Thus, I turn to the comfort of the pages of Iliad, and turn once again to inward counsel. How did you die, Aristes, to leave me in a dilemma of my own creation? It would seem that I loathe my very body now, and all that it has demanded of me as tribute. I am the vanquished one…for men who would be otherwise whole and hearty now lie dead, to return to earth some other day, and curse my name in Hades, which should delight the gods who oppose me. I shiver, unable to contain the doubt that besieges me. This is what has occurred, in one short night.

Aphraxes indeed attended me, but alone, and was brought to me straight away, his eyes full of pain and fear such as I thought were not possible in a man as cheerful of demeanor as himself. I dismissed my servant - what is the name of this one? I have to inquire, the one who sulks, his moods are grating on me… at the hour after sunset as I had appointed him; and his manner was wild in the extreme, he barely contained himself as he eyed my departing guard, and took in the power of the weaponry around him. Abashed, unfamiliar with the ways of Hellenic war.

When he came before me he knew not what to do. I did not require him to do obeisance. I bid him sit at audience, and he was loath to sit.

"What is upon you, you look as though you were chased from Mylasa by some demon of Hades. And where are the others? Did you not seek them?"

"I - I did seek them," he stammered. "But the guard you spoke of, he is not in his place. When you took Ileus, was he not among them?"

"No, he was not," I admitted, "Ileus surrendered freely and I left him at liberty, taking as hostage only his guard and such of his leaders as we negotiated against his compliance. Not that in any case you needed to know, but I have no reason not to tell you. And of the whoremaster, Gennedes?"

"He is dead… Basileus."

I leapt up. "Dead - how?"

"It would seem, by his own hand. After I went to him, which I did directly after you came to me." Heavy with wine, my head grew light from the sudden action, and I sank back down, somewhat less graceful than I might.

"He committed suicide? What could you have said to him to make him do this?"

"I told him - just as you said, about the the man he had sold to Mithradates, and that he is sought by you, with a command for audience to you."

"And did you say aught else?" I leaned forward, keen upon reading the expression of him, to see if he would speak truthfully.

"He asked…"

"What said you to him?" I shouted. He shrank from me, nearly rising from his place to flee, and I instantly regretted my outburst.

"He asked - he asked whether it was you indeed."

"And what said you?" I spake more quietly, but agitated with what might come next from his lips. He knew this, and drew back from me in every way, as though fearing what form my rage would take when loosed.

"I told him the truth: I told him yes, it was you."

I lifted my wine, seeking vainly to appear calm. "And then what? What said he then? Must I pluck every word from you like scales from a loathsome carp?"

"Basileus… please do not grow angry with me. I see you have been at wine, I wish not to anger you…"

"I am angry, and it is not with wine that I grow angry but with these events. How killed he himself, because he learns of me?"

"He believed that you would do so yourself, he has heard cruel tales of Makedon and how you crushed the cities before your heel, you would think nothing of crushing him, as if he were a blood-filled tick lying on your horse's neck, for he could not have done other than offend you."

"Said he this to you?"

He nodded, mutely.

"But you told him otherwise, certainly - did you tell him of my gift, of my promise to you?" He nodded once again. "Speak!" I bid him, freshly impatient.

"He believed it was a mere lure, that I was easily taken in by bribery, but that he was not quite so easy to lure, and would not be lured."

"Curse his stupidity, knows no one what I truly am? I am myself at all times! Why is that unbelieved?"

The man stared at me, openly. "You do not truly understand? Are you saying you truly do not know?"

"What do I not know! Tell me what I do not know!" I took another cup of wine, and at length, offered some to him. He shook his head, vehement.

"How deeply you are feared. How great your power in this land. Do you know what it meant when you entered my tavern this day, it may be that none will ever come there again, out of fear of you, out of a superstition that I am an intimate of yours, and that I accept your pay."

"What!" A ray of understanding came upon me, too late. Too late. I sank down. How could I again have been so stupid? I did not see myself, too busy was I in my own place, considering cities as mere circles on a map, and not places filled with people, people whose lives were even now in disarray as I brought my army to destroy their hosts and their own fleeing conquerers. How naïve am I, after all? Youth once again showed itself, and impetuosity. Is this the first death, then? Undoubtedly, a direct result of my assignation. I was chagrined, and glad of the wine in me. There seemed to be little enough of it.

It was then I began to question him more closely, about Gennedes' brothel, his family, the circumstances of his death (he had taken poison, the least painful), and how fared those under his car.. Aphraxes answered all that I asked, as though he, too, had been broken under torture, the torture was the mere audience with me, the king he feared beyond death itself.

In the midst of this torturous audience, Cothon burst in upon me without preamble and without other announcement. "He is here!" he spake, loud.

"Who is here?" I queried, but I knew, and in response to the high color on Cothon, it was certain. A bolt of sensation traveled direct down my spine, and I was transported to an unbidden reverie. It was Hephaestion, returned.

"You had best see him, I should think."

I stood, and Aphraxes stood as well, knowing he was dismissed. "In a moment. Settle him and I will see him in an hour. Put him with Philander and let him see to him. Or Aristobulus. Aristobulus, rather."

He nodded and departed. I put my eye on the abashed Aphraxes, and went to him, putting my hands upon his shoulders: he shrank from me. "Do you remember when you took my face in your hands and told me that I should take off my beard?"

His eyes, wide as a rabbit's, stared into my own with nothing of friendliness but of pain. He nodded, mute once again.

"Where is your manhood now?" I queried him. "I am just a man, different from you only due to the favor of the god and my own fortune which brings me to this place to conquer your oppressors. Can you not see that?"

"I hear your words, but that is not what the world knows. That is not what I have learned of you." I dropped my hands and turned, retreating once again to my place. My own personal presence was not enough to reassure him, and I could not retreat from Basileus back to Aristos the solitary sojourner, there was no path to get to that place.

"Then in the moments I have left to myself and audience, please tell me what the world knows of me, that causes you to tremble in your very bowels to be in my presence."

And he spake to me of this, relieved to be unburdened; of the rumors of my immortality (which is no worse than what my own men believed), that my birth had caused the burning of the temple of Artemis at Ephesos, the greatest disaster to strike the area since the taking of Anatolia by Persia in the first place a hundred years previous. And that no army could stand against me; even now, the fool Darius was mounting an army of a million to stand against my mere 40,000, though he himself was convinced he could not win against me. I was some incredible legend in this place, and my diminuitive presence, and the peculiarities of his first meeting with me, had caused in him some conflict of unbelief; had he not seen me in the company of my royal guard, with my own thorax and weapon on me, he might never believed that I was Basileus even now. But now the evidence, undeniable, had destroyed all of what he had known, even my demeanor was not what he had thought of or was taught of me. No - no one knew me.

But I had run out of patience with this problem; and now my mind returned again to Hephaestion, waiting without for audience - would he grow piqued, and demand to see me, and push his way through my guard, who even now had express order not to admit him unless it was by invitation. I could not afford to have any come upon me alone and unannounced now that I was attended by concubines at night. Even now Scheravasana sought audience, and after the third attempt, I admitted her, while Aphraxes still stood, not knowing if he was dismissed as yet.

I held up a hand to stay him and make him sit once again. "This will not take a moment," and she came to me and stood before me at no respectful distance.

"The demon has returned to you - you sent for him." It was not a question.

"We will not speak of this now."

"We must…" she turned to look at the Greek from Mylasa and queried me with her eyes. I spake not.

"We will not. You will go to your place and await me, I may have need of you later if I cannot sleep. I think you should take rest, for it will be very late if I call for you."

Her eyes flashed challenge but she did not speak further - she knew I was in a mood to shout if she disobeyed, and that would not be good if she wished anything further of me. Then she turned to go, and then turned back. "Do not.."

And I did shout. "Tell me not what I should do or not do! Attend to yourself!" I smiled with some embarrassment at Aphraxes. When she had departed, I spake, "She is somewhat in a mood, she is the first of my concubines, and now I have taken others. She was the only one for too long."

He nodded, on somewhat more familiar ground now. "And… you care for the others more."

"Abed I do. She is not schooled to such things, but is skilled in other areas such as healing. She knows as much or more of healing than I, and this is how she serves me. Now to your dilemma. I will do somewhat to settle Gennedes. Do you know his wife, his children?"

"His wife is my sister's cousin, that is how we know one another."

"Will they accept anything from my hand, to help them now that they have lost their livelihood?"

"Probably not directly of you, for they would, if they knew, blame you for his death."

"Just so, then it should be by you. I will send my servant to you tomorrow, with such that might settle his family and wake him with a proper burial. But now, I must bid you go. Please, fear me not."

"I cannot help but fear you, and I will await the sound of your soldiers' swords in my sleep. This I cannot help. But I will not take poison for the sake of fleeing your wrath, for something in me trusts you, against my own will."

"Then it is well," I spake, and rising, dismissed him with a gentle hand upon his arm.

And then, I was alone, not even my manservant hetairoi to distract me. Hephaestion, and Memnon most like, waited without. I should greet both! But no, I knew what had to be done.

I went out, and called my boy to me. "Send for Apollion to bring Hephaestion directly. I will see him now."

And I waited with a slow pulse in my neck, and a stiffness of body that made me feel altogether unnatural with myself, a though suddenly I were placed in another's corpse, which I had not mastered. But before I could contemplate any more deeply, came Hestes, in battle dress, and with full beard curling across his collar.

"Come within," I spake unnecessarily, and preceded them, raising arm for wine to be brought, and some small portion of the fruit that had been sent to me from Sardis. Dates, and other small dried things that were excessive sweet and which I could count on Hestes to devour on my behalf. And I went in and took my place. Apollion lingered, and I queried him. "And have you something you would like to discuss with Hephaestion at this time, Apollion?" I spake.

He looked back at me with a strange and unreadable glare, and replied "I will leave that all to you, Basileus" he mumbled, clearly embarrassed, and perhaps abashed at the return of his friend, so changed and so haughty. For the very air of Hestes was ashimmer with his haughtiness, I could feel it as a blow across my face, as he raised his eyes to greet me; cold, yes, very much so. There was nothing of humility in him as he took to his knee and kissed my ring, and nothing truly of obeisance. His lips brushed my hand as though a piece of silk were drawn across my knuckles, a whisper against my flesh. And he straightened up, awaiting my pleasure.

I sat, and gestured for him, also, to sit, and he did not, at least, not immediately. And I spake: "must you tower over me? I already know that you are taller than I am, but proving it again serves no true purpose."

"I am sore from galloping, if you don't mind," he said petulantly.

I did not want this to go so poorly! I tried once again. "Of course. The boy brings us wine, will you?"

He nodded, compliant enough for the nonce. And the boy brought wine and left us, casting a lingering look upon the beard on Hestes' face - it was strange, indeed.

"And so…" he spake… "I am unbanished now?"

"Only under the conditions of a new role in my regime," I spake quickly, perhaps too quickly.

"And what is this role of which you speak? You wrote of it too briefly for me to learn. I came in any case."

"Memnon - is he here then?"

"No. He stayed with his therapeutus. He said you would understand. His wind is poor, he must ride a litter, and only when the physician says so. I do bring another from the same temple at Corinth, though, a certain Philip. To help you with things that plague you, Memnon says."

"I see, I did not ask for this."

"No, he said you would not know, but you might understand."

"Hestes…" I began, and then faltered as his eye lighted on me. I grated my hands together, for sitting with my sandals twined around the legs of the seat, I found in myself an uncanny powerful desire to rise to embrace him, which would surely lead to a less appropriate outcome. I sat, and kept my feet entwined.

"Yes, Basileus?"

"You may yet call me Alexi…"

"I think not. You are my king, and my king only, surely no longer my friend?" His eye was cold, I could not read the coldness of his stare behind his beard. How I detested him with beard, he seemed so - unreachable, untouchable.

Best to run forward into the breach - I never shirked a battle, and this would be one, I knew already.

"I say you may call me Alexi, and you may do what you like, but do not annoy me constantly."

"Ah, the king speaks at length," he spake, the words dripping with irony.

"Hephaestion…" I spake, attempting once again. "Did you mean all you said in your letter, about your readiness to serve, despite your limitations of obedience in the past?"

He nodded, briefly deflected from the previous volleys. "Yes, of course I did. I would not be here otherwise."

"And do you know somewhat of what has transpired with my leaders while you were in Lesbos?"

"As much as Seleuccus knows, whom you also banished, though he does not yet know it. His banishment requires a direct labor for you, which is in its own way, less tolerable."

"You show little of the remorse you spake of in your letter," I commented dryly. It was meant to be ironic, but it angered him, and his face grew red.

"Perhaps today I feel little of it. Though it is there, and I am sorry that I caused you such anger. That was not intended."

"What was intended then? To merely eliminate the rivals to my bed? Please speak openly."

"If I am to be open, then I would say yes. My desire for you is exceeding, and you flaunt it cruelly. It is clear you do not feel the same extreme of passion in my direction, or you would not have sought the pleasure of strange lovers. You are queer in this, Alexi. You cannot know how much you pained me this way."

"But to do as you did..."

"To strike down an enemy? He might easily have been struck down in battle, and by your own hand! What is it to me?"

I shook my head. "But it was not, and it was expressly against my will, after I had made my decree. That is defiance. That is what must not be borne. To act against my own will in the matter of hostages."

He spake, rapidly now, his breath coming fast in him. "I could not bear the thought of some barbarian boy, kneeling before you to offer you his mouth! It is selfish in the extreme! Had I come upon him with his mouth upon you, I might have struck you both down!"

"At least there is openness now rather than game. That is an improvement. But that child was of innocence and defiance, and he had no part in my desire for him. And that, you knew. So must he pay for my eye lighting upon his shapeliness, for my desire to have him, if only for an hour? Why must he pay the ultimate price?"

"Because someone has to pay," he replied, darkly. "And clearly, that someone is not you."

"And if you could, would you strike me down now? Have you had part of the plots of those seeking my life, Hestes? This I also need to know. I have not heart in me to execute you, unless you take your own kopis to my throat in my sleep. And perhaps not even then, for my passion for you is unending. Yes, is this a surprise? Unending, as Aristes said it might be, polluted by pleasures, and marred by jealousies, all as he said it might be. Can you not see this?"

He nodded, slowly. "Oh, I can see this, better than you can. And if I thought it might change something, I would rise from this place you put me, and come to you, and take you in my embrace again, and erase all that is standing between us - we would be as we were when we were boys."

I shook my head. "That would not be acceptable to me."

"Yes, I know."

"Then why ask again?"

"Why?" his voice became somewhat broken and harsh then. "Why indeed? There is no mercy in you. I have seen this coldness, with others, the coldness you take upon you when you kill that which you once loved, when one becomes an enemy and turns on you. And you think that this is I, for some reason unknown to me."

At this point in time, I began to gnash my teeth, first subtly, then more obviously. I was angry beyond all reason, and not with the mere words he spake, but with my own desire to be swayed by his reason, and to make my certain knowledge fade back into some semblance of ignorance; to make it possible, in some way, to embrace him again. I marched onward with my reason, however, though I felt abashed to speak it.

"This is what I know of your treason to me, Hestes. Let us contemplate whether I have all of this right, or whether there is something unreasoning in here, shall we? Is this what we shall do today to obey our king and leader?"

"Very well!" he snapped in reply. "You tell me all that rankles in you that was heretofore unspoken." He rose, abruptly, and took such of the fruit I had placed upon the table, and began to gnaw upon the dry sugars. These were his weakness. Thereupon, he began to pace while I oped my mouth to speak.

"Firstly, the creation of laws of obeisance for the vanguard which I had not authorized, that they cannot eat, or sit, or be relaxed at arms lest Basileus give them order. I have released them from these laws, entire, and none further will be made. This was defiance of my will to the army, and weakened me before them, for they felt afraid that they could not do any natural action without my leave."

He nodded. "A law introduced in Philip's time for the mercenaries, which I put there lately to increase a sense of discipline within the others - unless you see that we have excess of discipline."

"But --" I was amazed. "You simply did these things, in my name, and did not ask nor tell me of them. This cannot be!"

He shook his head, adamant, and plucked another of the dates. "When you decide against a person, Basileus, then all is wrong with them and they cannot do right. You are against me, and I cannot do right, regardless of how righteous. I cannot defend. So I will not try."

"Very well then. Now let us go back to basic things. I wish to know what I had heretofore been ignorant concerning your relation to Olympias, and how she used you as messenger for her plottings on me and my father in Pella, during her exile from him."

"Oh - this! How many years hence must you drag this into my sight, Basileus?" he spake the title in bitterness. "I too was an innocent at one time, until corrupted by the unslakable passions of my elders. Would I refuse the Queen? Did you?"

"This is not about me. This is about you, and her."

"No I did not refuse the Queen. I lay with her when she came to me, and as unhappy as I was about it, I did it. It was all I could do then to keep you and Philip from knowing, lest I too end up banished and my hopes for leadership under him, crushed completely. Tell me - when was it that you ever refused her wishes?"

"I have told you this does not concern me. You were during her exile a young man of years, and could have determined your own fate. Even now, you are far older and more experienced, and had all of the years of tutelage, both of Memnon and Aristotle to draw upon. You had these things I did not have, for I was isolated. Why did you never tell me you were her lover?"

"Alexi - I feared for my very life with her! Do you think I would tell you, and endanger myself when you inevitably were cowed by another tirade of Philip? Had I not kept this from all of you, I would never have been allowed near you, and never would we have loved one another. Is this what you would have preferred, truth and solitude? Think! Is that what you truly would have wanted?"

I thought a thousand things, crowding into my mind - all sounded so rational, so explainable, and yet, it were also wrong, and he was twisting the fact into some acceptable fiction I could not deny. And this was a pointless endeavor. And so I decided to end it.

"I would have wanted the one I trusted to tell me what I needed to know. I would have wanted, and do require, that those I trust reveal all to me that is relevant to me, so that I may lead. I do not have that trust of you, and that is why you are no longer counsel to me. You may be trusted to do as a regular commander of cavalry, or infantry, or fleet, may do, but not with regard to discretion, or law-making, or discipline, or Politick of any nature. I cannot trust you with my emotions or secrets, I cannot trust you with my love or passion. Therefore, I shall not."

"It is this, then."

"Yes - and no effective or reasoned debate with Socrates is going to change this determination. I cannot argue you down, as great as I myself am at debate, but these facts remain: I cannot trust you, for that has been broken. You show poor judgement in confidence, poor judgement in sex, and poor judgement in leadership. I have you here for a single reason, to put you to use in those things which you are skilled, and not to tempt you to things in which you are not capable and not trustworthy."

"How demeaning!" he cried.

"You have a choice, as always, Hestes. You may accept this change, or you may resist it, and go from me, but if you go, I cannot say what your portion may be, and you will not be able to dwell in any place but exile, or a foreign land. I am sure that Mitylene was an uncomfortable exile, but it is not far enough an exile for a permanent breach between us. I would like you to tell me whether you can accept this decrease in your glory, in the hope that you will regain somewhat of my trust through accomplishment, or whether it must be an exile entire."

"A decrease in my glory, indeed. Why do you portray the utter denial of my love for you as a decrease in my glory?" Tears sprung from him, and he put his head into his hands. Oh Aristes, how I desired to go to him, and to put my hands upon his head, to raise him up with a kiss and to bring him to me. It was harder than drawing a cart up Mt. Aetna, what I did that night, but did it, I did. And throughout, I desired nothing but to caress him. I was broken, within me.

"I do not deny your love for me, I deny its expression. As I must, for my sake, for the sake of the crown, and for the sake of the expedition, and for all of these others, who, I must say are greater in importance than my mere desires, or yours. Or both of ours together."

He raised his head, vehement. "You never thought so previous! You said that all that mattered was us!"

"I was not the leader of this expedition, previous. I learn leadership. And leadership entails the punishment of treason. If you do treason, you are punished. It is simple, and I have not made this occur - you have done. Do not make it recur. I have made great mistakes, and the mistake of raising you up as I have, and of fantasizing in our bed of passion about our collective leadership, were all mistake, which I regret. I take full responsibility."

"I see…" he grew somewhat more cold, then.

"I admit to mistake. I admit that I judged you harshly in my reaction. I would not have recalled you if I had not recognized excessive harshness in me. I have sought and taken ongoing counsel, from the god, and from all of my leaders in this."

"So they all decide on my fate, do they?"

"Yes, I do not rely upon my own whim in matters such as leadership."

"And you discussed this all with them, the sixteen…"

"Yes, the fourteen actually. Seleuccus and Xanion no longer."

"Ah, so I am not the only one who has been expelled from your intimacy."

"Xanion tries hard to redeem himself after disobedience, and I believe Seleuccus too wishes to regain his own place. This may yet happen in time, or not. It is their choice." I was somewhat more on solid territory with him now, as he appeared once again to actually listen rather than cry out. The tears stood still in his eyes, but he looked instead at me rather than down in dejection. "Now you will be relegated to a place of lesser leadership, but as you have some privy knowledge, you may be called upon for your opinion or counsel. And if you succeed there, then you may be raised up somewhat. I know not what challenges await, and which of my officers will yet fall in battle. At this time, you are replacement for Memnon who, though he lives, has fallen and is unlikely now to lead in the battle we now face, to the south. You will be responsible for the drilling of your troops, but you will not give laws but that they are given to you, and you will not punish but that Cothon authorizes from me."

"Cothon! What is Cothon now to you? Has he finally taken my place in your heart? Is it he whose caress you now accept?" The wheedling returned to him, and the expression of pain in his eyes.

I shook my head, definite. "You are correct in knowing his desires, but not correct in thinking that I would take him to me. No. I share my bed only now with concubines."

"Concubines!" his voice cracked. "You - have taken women? He laughed, harshly. "This I would dearly love to see."

"And this you will accept if you are to resume any place with me at all."

"Alexi - this is unbelievable! You wouldn't even touch a girl, much less rise for one!"

"Much has changed, Hestes." I found my face hot with a kind of shame, then, and felt as though my manhood were gone from me and I was back in my tormented childhood, and that I sat in shame before my father when he questioned me on why I would not take a girl, nor show passion for one. I heard his voice return to me as echo, "if I did not see you stand naked before me how many times, and see your manhood existed, I would swear there none in you… you might as well be a female yourself, for all the will you show, and lack of passion - will you be only fit to kneel as eromenos and take the phallus of another, as a woman does? How can that be my child, how could he lead this great army, and be a king in Makedon?"

My skin flamed hot with the remembered shame of his abuses on me, but he spake true, I had no passion in me for female flesh, and wished only for the comfort of my teacher, your caress upon me, Aristes. This I felt again as Hephaestion derided me. But at length I was recalled to myself in the silence that echoed his derision.

"As I say, much has changed," I repeated.

"So you managed to be aroused at length, and be spent by one slave. How meritorious, the fair Olympias will be proud. And let us hope the girl is of good blood of Epirus like her, to bind the kingdoms, or of Makedon entire."

"Not one…" I could not resist his barb. "Yet, three."

"Three!"

"And not Makednoi. I will not take a wife of Makedon."

"Barbarians…" he hissed. "How dare you, pollute yourself with barbarians. Battle-hot hostages of Troya, for a simple assignation even I could see, but now you put your flesh in barbarian woman, what seed will be grown here, you wish to be King Darius's son now and forsake your own flesh?"

"That is naught for you to judge. I do not think of other races of man, and other religions, as naturally hostile to one another, Hephaestion. By this light, Aristotle is another race to us, yet you too took him in your arms, and bowed to his wisdom. He, an Athene, and you Makednoi. Who does Apollo hold in higher esteem? Is Ahura or Bel Marduk greater in stature than our gods, or do they bow in turn to Zeus? Who are we to say whose gods are finest, and whose nations are the finest?"

He sank into his seat, the fruit forgotten in his open hand. "You have now truly abashed me," he spake. "I have now truly lost you. Not even Cothon… but some concubine, more than one concubine. I do not believe I ever knew you. And you count yourself deceived by me? I believe it is much in the other direction."

"It would interest you to learn that it pleased my leaders greatly that I exhibited more natural passions."

He bridled. "What is it to them who slakes you! Did they care for me so little! How could they? Memnon even?"

"Memnon most of all. He believes that the love of men with one another and tutors with students is a thing of youth, and he feared I would not grow out of my permanent youth, as long as you dominated my passions."

"He said this?"

"Not as I have spoken it, but that it was unnatural for me to be as wife and husband with you, and perhaps with myself more the wife. I would not gain the respect of my leaders had I persisted in this, and been cowed by your passion for me."

"Oh, Alexi, I would rather you put your sarissa right through me and peg me to the spot than to hear this… now, you have destroyed me. My passion is bled out." His tears sprung fresh and hard in him, and he wept in hard gasps. "Why don't you simply execute me now, rather than torment me with this little death of cold words?" I sat, and watched him, and did not move. My wine grew warm in the glass in the reflected sun of the encroaching mountain night, though it was nigh on summer, the darkness began to fall, and my spirits fell into the blackness of despair besides. The sobs that were wracked from him seemed, after some time, to be my own. When I placed fingers to face, I realized that my face was fully wet, that I had wept silently, with him, with the sharp pain of loss, and wished him not to see: I grew grateful for the lapse in the light, but soon, the boy came to light the lamp, and I waved him away.

"No, leave us be," I spake to him, and forced myself not to rise. "Bring Apollion instead. This audience is at an end."

Hephaestion's head came up again, and his face was ravaged with pain. "I should have stayed in exile in Mitylene, in ignorance of your great change, than to have learned of it in this way."

"I am sorry, I am truly sorry. None of what I do is to cause you pain, but I cannot help but cause you pain in this. As you have caused me pain."

He rose then, to his feet, "but then I had never taken the pleasure of a boy since the day I met you, Alexi, and never the taste of woman."

"Except of course, my mother." His face went white, then, and he ceased speaking. "You have no call to judge me on my behavior," I continued. "And it is no longer any of your personal interest to do so. If you can lead within my ranks, then do so. If you cannot, then you will be arrested and conducted elsewhere, to an exile of my choosing. Apollion comes to situate you in the ranks. You may consider my proposal, while we complete our settling of the town. I will leave aside any larger issue that might be considered treasonous, unless I have reason to believe that you plot against me. If you learn and know your place, then we may again become friends, and aristos as we always had the inclination to be. And that I am pleased to look upon your fair face, if only it is clean."

"And you wish for me to shave too, despite the fact that you will never touch me…" he raised a hand to his cheek, and his voice was deep with bitter anguish.

"That is my law, you are subject to it."

Apollion came, and that ended our audience, rather abruptly, and gradually I untangled my sandals from the frame of my throne and relaxed them, bruised and painful from the way I had gripped with them. I had got through an hour with him and never put a hand upon him. It seemed like a greater accomplishment than the Charonea! And I were more exhausted.

I instructed Apollion to return to me with Schera, but to make certain that Hestes' eyes did not light upon her, for still I feared what may befall any of my concubines at his hands, so bitter was he now.