So, this, the second death. We prepare the body of Scheravasana according to her own religion, for there are others of the cult of Bel Marduk in this land. My pain has bled out of me all the way into the ground, and I rehearse mentally all that I ever said that was of unkindness to her, and am abashed before the god. Here has my appetite led once again to death, as the god has forewarned!
Again it was the ubiquitous Cothon, ingratiating himself with me in the most annoying way, who ran to me abed, when, as I had long feared, I prepared for climactic thrust into the willing loins of Elibatan who at that moment was moaning with excitement under me, and I lost my passion completely, and left the bed. The girl was flushed with color almost to her feet, and the peak of her frustrated passion turned to hot anger as my leader entered.
"How dare you!" she cried, in Persian, fortunate that he did not understand her impertinent words. I covered myself for mere modesty's sake, and sat.
"The Sardis woman, she lies dead in the ravine below us. We have not moved her, but she is lifeless." His eye wandered to the naked courtesan, briefly, then turned to me.
I dropped my clothing and stood. "Madness! Untrue! How?" I waved for the girl to leave me apace, and took up my battle dress. "Help me with this."
I was anticipating ambush, as we began moving in column again and in battle formation, I had instituted new rules of dress requiring some degree of armor and hand weapon whenever afoot. And I suspected something of ambush in this.
"Speak to me, tell me what you know, and how it is you found her," I spake, lacing my riding sandal, for horse I intended to take, and ride the camp if necessary.
He shook his head. "I did not find her, it was Aristobulus gathering herbs by the moonlight, perhaps it was she who was doing the same, for the moon is risen now and remains full bright."
"Herbs! She dies by herbs! Bring Aristobulus to me directly, and my vanguard."
I questioned them all, at length and into exhaustion, the camp was settled already, and all but my quiet scholar had retired for the march at dawn. Aristobulus knew less even than Cothon, except that there was a horse run loose, and that horse had her belongings tied to it, her bournous, and such of her personal effects that it appeared she was fleeing the camp. Or so it seemed. When I had completed my questions, a deep and dark suspicion came upon me, and I asked Apollion where he had settled Hephaestion, and to attend me. I drew on my slashing sword.
"Basileus, what do you do? She was thrown from her horse, her head was broken on a rock!"
"It is easy to break a woman's head on a rock and blame a horse, Apollion." I want to know when Hestes spied her and when he followed her to her place! This must end!"
"Wait - Basileus!" he hurried after me and put hand upon my arm. I raised my weapon to him. "Stay me not!" I shouted. Screamed, rather.
And came to Hephaestion's tent. He rose from his mean pallet as I entered, and saw the rage purpling my face. Wisely, he spake not, for I fell upon him then, and put my hands about his neck - he had already taken off his beard, and I recognized far better the ravaged face of my loved one, and that visage very nearly checked me in the passion that had conquered me and which bid me slay him with my own hands.
He cast me off, and I lunged again, screaming. Apollion then took me from behind, disarmed me of my kopis, and stayed my arms, while Hestes rose from the ground and backed away, his face drained of what little color remained from a night of weeping. "What madness takes you now, Basileus?" he spake, his voice a bare whisper.
"What indeed? And why? What is some other innocent, who seeks only to relieve my pain, doing lying broken on a stone this night, mere hours after she comes to my tent? Tell me why!"
"I cannot tell you why," he whispered in reply. "It has naught to do with me."
"It has all to do with you!"
"No, it does not," spake Cothon, who then entered the tent. "I put guard on Hephaestion when he entered the camp. He has not left his tent."
"Then he sent someone!" I raged. Apollion's arms gradually relinquished me from his crushing grasp, as my rage abated into confusion. Now, both Cothon and Apollion shook their heads
"You know I have no love of Hephaestion, " Cothon spake, "and that for some years now I fancied myself his rival. I tell you in defense of him now, he has sent no messenger, and no one hath visited him here. So it cannot have been him, had it been murder."
I shouted still, into Hephaestion's face. "It is well that your rival defends you so utterly! For you would be a dead man on the plain below now otherwise."
He turned his face from me, tears flowing afresh. "I am sorry that you lost your favorite, truly. For I would not bring on my death so directly as to anger you so. That would be pure stupidity on my part, the night of my return. And I will grieve her passing. But perhaps you should look to other rivals for explanation, or perhaps, pure mischance. Could it not be instead that, angered by my return, she sought escape and in the darkness, fell?"
There was that. The logic of him was inescapable. I should have considered that, with her baggage on her horse, that she grew angered with the return of the demon, and sought to flee me, and in haste, fell from her horse and was killed. Now remorse took me completely.
"Perhaps this could be," I spake, my passion now fled from me, leaving me shivering with it. "There is some reason in this. Mischance."
I withdrew quickly from his tent with no true apology to him, for the rage I felt on me to harm him was complete, and had not entirely fled. There still lived doubt in me - how well could I trust Cothon, his only defender? It were true they were not friendly, and it would suit Cothon better for Hestes to be banned or dead, and another rival eliminated, in his fancy. But no - Cothon took these precautions as a defense of himself, not Hephaestion, to reserve himself to his place, and thus he knew every action taken in the camp. As he should - he was a competent and thorough officer, and very good with both logistics and reconnaisance. For this, I should reward him.
I returned, wordless, to my tent. To my amazement, Elibatan remained abed. "There will be no more of passion tonight," I spake roughly.
"This cannot be," she spake. "I cannot simply turn away at the moment of fulfillment. So a slave is dead, you kill many slaves in the course of time." She came to me and began to pull at my dress as though mere pulling would release it from my body. "Come," she spake, "take me. I can make you rise again "
My rage, hardly abated from moments before, erupted in me like a bolt of thunder echoing into the mountain, and I grasped her arms even as her hands plucked at me, and lifted her bodily. "I said - go!"
She shook her head, denying, as I brought her close to my face, and I threw her down. It took several moments, at least -- far too long -- for me to be free of my thorax, and then naked once again I was. I did not need her assistance in gaining arousal, for anger and pain and passion had once again conjuncted in me, and the god of rapine descended. But in this case, the god of rapine was all that she desired, and she writhed with wanton satisfaction from my savagery as I fell upon her.