21st Perition, Abydos


Another day has passed, and more developments. But first, to complete the tale of my trip to Abydos with Apollion. Seleuccus has left me to start the training of the new recruits who have joined me since we camped, and I have an hour of leisure before we meet again to plan our descent upon the town, and must conclude this. It seems somehow crucial to my life, and to my service to the god, for its stone has not spoken, and I find no wisdom in me but in the faces and the wisdom of men now. Every choice I make seems to be utterly mistaken, and yet I know it is right. I face a great test; and even as I know the shape of the gates of Babel before me, and know that the nation upholding it will be mine, I do not know what I will be when that happens, or what will remain of what I love or value. Perhaps it does not matter. The desire for my death is great in me; and I know I cannot afford to lead battle with this state of mind, for the god will grant my wish if I let it.

I pressed onward in this terrible moment with Apollion, wherein we traded both confidence and pain; his pain over the banishment of Hephaestion; and my pain over the same, and my service, my reign, and the hidden fear I could not voice to others. That I faced my great enemy, and he could not be avoided any longer, since the spring had advanced. It was time for me to depart the supply ships and press south away from the safety of the coast into the heart of Syria. To depart from Hephaestion, who had left with those ships, to some other port, to some other destination; I knew not where.

"And that is all then," Apollion spake. The day was nigh, and still we remained closeted. We had been expected that day at the camp, to be returned by a circuitous route, so that none would note and identify us. But the moment of stealth had passed. If we did not return, a messenger would come from Xanion, or another from Parmenion, and greet us where we would be expected. I resolved to wait for the messenger now, and to complete the moment that I pressed onward in winning back the confidence of my Companions and the sixteen through the new intimacy of Apollion.

"I cannot convince you that this is right. I cannot staunch either my love for him, nor yours. But these are the decisions left to king, and as hard as it is to do, there is no other choice. This is just as Creon had decreed it in the ancient tale: Once the word is pronounced, the law must be followed. This is how law works. Otherwise, Basileus is just another empty tyrant, who rules his land from his loins, and dictates his will from his bedchamber, and changes his law according to his lusts. Do you wish this? Do you think that Macedon would wish this, if they knew his crime against my house? How would any follow me if they knew I followed, not the will of Ares and Zeus, but instead the will of common passion? What will they think I am?" I grew passionate once again, and found myself desirous of rising, to pace the room, to take the power of my hand and force the expression of pain from his face by shaking him. I forced myself to stop speaking, to breathe, to regain my calm. Apollion's acceptance was important; and I had another pressing matter to lay upon him, hard by.

"You are serious about this. That you do not simply will, and choose."

"He defied me! Did he not defy me?"

"Yes. But you did not have to make the decree."

"Yes, I did. I had placed into my hands the soldier's life, my desire had endangered him, and I had lost it. I had to decree. Has not Aeschylus these many long Olympiads showed us the hand of Fate as it casts its die? Has not Sophocles shown us again and again the effect of hubris and arbitrary will upon the king? Its justice is swift, its outcome, sure. As surely as I wish to die, I will ignore offense to office. I will die for it; this I know."

"You will die for forgiveness of Hephaestion…" his tone were querulous.

"No, I will die for forgiveness of a crime that cannot be atoned."

"This crime can go without atonement!" He argued.

I shook my head. "Not this. Innocent blood spilled on my behalf. I owe more to the god Ahura now than I do to Macedon, or Philip, or Greece, or any of my satrapies. Therefore, I am in His hands, and he will not allow me to pass into Syria, or fight through to Babylon, or even to reap the spring harvest if I now defy him in defense of Hephaestion. This god requires a sacrifice."

"How do you know this?"

"It is written." I made a gesture toward a scroll I had kept with me for weeks. "In the Zend Avesta. I must with conscience obey Ahura-Mazda, or my own conscience will then betray me to my enemy. I am to blame for Hephaestion, I put my power in his hands to abuse; it is my power to rescind. I have lacked the courage previous, Apollion, and for this, I do owe you explanation."

Aristes, I had promised Hestes I would never reveal these tales I told Apollion that morning. But he was lost to me; and our oath to one another of eros and companionship was lost with it. I know what you had spake to me, all of the perfect companionship he and I shared, and how between us we could be as Phryxias and Helle reunited, but I also knew all of the rest you had taught me, about governance, about kingship, about loyalty and law, of that great new science, the Politik. Therefore, I chose that day, Politicly, to transfer the power vested in Hephaestion and remove it completely from him, to reinvest in one who bore him no ill will, nor myself, but one near to him and far more worthy; and one of far less of a temptation to my one basest lust, for Apollion was nothing to my taste, and I was at ease with him as a man. He knew this, and we were content.

Thus, I proceeded with this drastic decision, to disclose to him. It was meet for Apollion to know, and here is what I spake to him, in brief, a tale you only know in part. It was after I had been found with Olympias and taken from her by force; and though angry and frightened at the fury of my father, I could see his reason, that it was not for a mother to be the wife to the son, or his first -- or ever -- lover. I knew always, that it was wrong, and yet everything in me desired to do as she bid me; she was all to me, and Philip was nothing but cold. The warmth of her body and the heat of her desire obscured all of the cold for me, and if she was ever kind, it was when she brought me to her bed. I did not know her cruel design then. I did not know she measured me, as one measures a length of cloth for its usability; I did not know she tested me for my usefulness in her Macedon, and that she loved me not and adored me not. Oh the pain of this moment! For no one outside the palace knew this, perhaps not even you, in truth, though you probably had guessed.

And for long months, in the empty halls of Pella, I was alone, in an internal exile, at first catered to and pampered, and then at length, ignored. And she in exile, awaiting a fate that may lead to death for her impudence and presumption. This was the moment Hephaestion was made known to me, and when I first felt his caress…

Apollion listened, his face familiarly impassive, but beneath it I could sense a rebellion of his mind against the raw truth behind the fašade of our aristos house.

Thus I spake to him:

"I had clear memories of my first seduction by Hephaestion. I was so young, I was far too young to be considered a king, and his attention to me was so intensely flattering, and I did love him greatly - how could I reject such a welcome embrace? So isolated from Olympias and the females I might have known, so estranged from them… oh Hephaestion, who seeks to merit all his strength by his proximity.. he said to me, when he came to me and embraced me,

"I wish to gain my love directly from my king, it is my only fulfillment, that which I live and die for."

But how did my being the king make it different than just being me? I wondered then, I wonder now. He would not have seduced a boy standing in the street -- he would only seduce the one to be named the king, the protected of Philip and the named heir. I lacked the power and the title, and in me was the promise only, and the dread of a future full of outsized expectations. This was my expectation: that I would be loved, and not simply used as a ladder to personal advancement, that his touch was given in tenderness and desire for myself and not to flatter or to manipulate me to favor him. But that was what it was, and nothing more. He would not have seen me at all, outside the palace walls of Pella. I would be nothing to him, were I not to be the king…

"And so he took me, to console me, he said, and this was right in the eyes of Philip, and well approved by Aristotle, as the correction of great wrongs done by myself in a former embodiment, though with the proper supervision. And he had me as his eromenos then, though that was not told to them, it was assumed.

"War intervened, and the proper supervision could not be guaranteed, and as the months wore on and Philip took Greece one state at a time, Aristes stood at his side, and the proper supervision of the heir, and his approved companion, languished. And in that languishing, we found a madness in one another's bodies, and an occupation far afield from either war or kingship. And no one knew how deeply mad we became about one another, how preoccupied with the building of a kingdom I did not yet own, and the fantastic promises I made him of his rise while we were abed in our passion. Oh, I eat those words now, and swallow them like bile. What did I know, I was a child! Is that an excuse? Was I not doing as I had been told, obedient to the King and his royal tutor, and wasn't it common for my place to be eromenos to a cultured older youth who sought his place in my realm by passion?

"I did not know I was his mere plaything, and that in secrecy, I had lost all masculinity and will to him; he had consumed it as he had all those nights knelt and drunk from my flesh, he consumed that essence that was my will to rise of my own accord, and not in the shadow of a loved companion, or by his will. It was not Philip's intention that I be the boy to Hephaestion but to Aristotle himself, as was normal. And that mistake was never fully corrected - I was to be guided by the appointee for his son, and not some usurper cousin of handsome face and powerful charisma.

"These errors, never corrected, led to my first great political mistake; for when I took the field for Philip in my first campaign, I did not raise his generals in their proper order, but placed Hephaestion over them; and for this, I nearly lost my life, and his.

"I need not dwell on things that are known, Apollion. The army revolted on me and I had to make Hephaestion flee, because I did not keep the ranks dictated by Philip. But though I bid him go, I did not remove him then. I was told to remove him then, to relegate him to his proper position and to give up the infatuations of childhood. But my anger at Philip for sending Olympias away was too great, and I would not give up Hephaestion. Philip gave me my horse instead, as compensation; but still, I would not give up Hephaestion."

"And this, the saddest of all, Apollion. In your own house, with your father still living and ruling as Regent in Pella at this moment, I must trust you with absolute secrecy, and I must bind you with an oath and a threat of death upon disclosure. Do you accept?"

He bowed his head. "This I accept. My life is yours. Nothing will leave this chamber, Basileus. No matter what comes. No matter what burden you place on my house; I am your servant, regardless of family."

I nodded. His face was hard, but his words and his manner were sincere. It suddenly came to me - he already knew! How could he know? Had you spoken of this to Pausanias' heir after the executions? How could I know, stricken with grief as I was, my hands and face black with the blood of my murdered father, what you had told them?

He did not know, I learned, he was merely impassive: for I pressed onward with the dark truths and his face grew ashen. "In the spring of that first year, when I at length quelled the rebellion of our clients to the north, and had my first success, I had won back the confidence of the army as long as Hestes was nowhere in evidence, and he led nothing. He was only in evidence in Pella, and upon my return I rushed to his arms as though to a wife. As though to my mother. I had nearly failed Philip, and dared not face him; I had placed my life in jeopardy, and all that I held dear. But still I had prevailed. Now the moment of reunion was at hand.

"And Philip did return, and far more coldly and furiously than I could have dreamed. In the company of Aristotle who took me practically by force from Hephaestion's arms, and Hestes did challenge him, his authority. He was taken away under guard, though not detained, shouting furious curses all down the hallways. I pleaded for him, and would not eat. And then my father came to me."

"He had appointed Attalus his heir; as punishment for my misconduct with Hephaestion, and my pure lack of judgement. He told me that Attalus would either rise to rule, or abdicate to me, at the moment I conquered my unnatural and female passion, and once again become a man. I was abashed, I was furious, and I was afraid. Not only this, Apollion, but that very week in Dystros when the day of marriage comes, he was to preside over the marriage of my sister Cleopatra to Attalus, so that he could be named not only heir but son to Philip. I was usurped!"

"That week, Hephaestion, despite orders barring him from me, came to me, with a message from Olympias, that I was to remain steadfast in my faith in her, and that Pausanias had a message for Philip, and that when he approached, I was to let him past the guard to deliver it to Philip during the feast (which she was not invited to attend.)

"Olympias!" he gasped. "Olympias arranged the murder!" he passed a hand over his face. "The demon! Oh Basileus I cannot stay this curse. She is a demon and in truth."

"No demon could have done the deed of corrupting the heart of Pausanias against Philip, Apollion. There had to be another wrong that drove him. It was not merely her."

"Unless --" He arrested his speech suddenly, and closed his mouth with an audible sound.

"Unless he were her intended. Yes, this too is known. Although you may have just realized it, it was what I had known all along. They had spent many nights together that I witnessed them, while Philip was on campaign or working with the army. She would always say that Philip had his boys, and his army, and his concubines, and what was her need to him? Pausanias was that need fulfilled."

"And so it was, because of this note given me in stealth by Hephaestion, that I let Pausanias pass when the play was done and the feast not yet begun, and when I knelt to adore Philip before I kissed his brow, his lifeblood spilled over me from his wound, and I was being borne away to safety while Attalus himself dealt the killing blow to the traitor with Philip's own sword. I stayed them, and returned, polluted by the regicide still, in time for Attalus and all to proclaim me the successor, and I stood, numbly, while I watched the blood of my father, which I believed to be my only hope for greatness, grow dull and dry on the tiles before me. Thus the overthrow of Macedon was complete, and Olympias and her child had won. By week-end she was back in the palace and Hephaestion was back in my bed, and Aristotle was once again my guide and Erastes, only this time in earnest preparation for the campaign I would have to lead as Philip's successor. There was no longer any talk of the regency of Attalus, nor of Hephaestion's exile (certainly not from Olympias, who knew she exacted my cooperation with the price of him) And the conspirators died by my own hand. Your cousin, your uncle, and three sons of the house of Xanthamenes. I was righteous with anger then, but there was no reason for it. My mother had done the murder, as surely as if she had poisoned him while eating, or stabbed him while he lay atop her. This I knew, I always knew, and concealed. This Hephaestion knew, and exploited. To keep that secret, I believed I had to keep him, and to keep the army in order, I had to interpose myself until he won his own loyalty from them. It took years, and perhaps more bribes than deceptions, but not many."

Apollion was abashed. How I could recite such horrors as some sort of epic tale from Iliad, without breath or stopping, without emotion or unnecessary commentary? The murder of my own father, the treachery amongst all of my intimates, their coldness? It was a coldness he likely could not understand.

"And so, Hephaestion then…"

"Was knowledgeable of and a part of the conspiracy that gained my cooperation, and that blamed Pausanias in full - but he was merely an instrument used by the beast Olympias. Pausanias was expendable, for she never intended to bear another child of his loins, but of mine. And this, too, Hephaestion served, for he was a great friend to her, and perhaps more as well. I did not want to know then, and perhaps I would rather not know now."

Aristes, the hour has fled, and the tale is not done. I shall resume and write on the morrow, when we return from our march to Didymos.