The prisoners leave in formations, each to a different town which has offered its surrender in the aftermath of the destruction of Halicarnassos. The harbor is empty of all but the burned hulks of the abandoned mercenary triremes, and a grey pall hangs in the still, silent air, now silent of the constant smash of wood against rock and masonry, the shout of the phalanx as they heave forward; and even the sound of revelry has died down as the army reforms to become two. The day ends and evening draws nigh, and I am empty - empty of love, empty of my victory, empty of the god who had filled me to the brim with the fire of conquest and the lust of savagery, leaving me numb, and in some slight distress.
Ada has not come to me; she prepares for her return to the citadel at Alinda, and to call to her the leaders of the cities to the north that I have since settled, for a plan of rebuilding of the great town of Halicarnassos. I pine for her; and yet, she has not come, and I wonder, did I read her aright? Was that not she who spent that night of unbridled passion in my arms, to be fulfilled again and again in so many ways? Perhaps I had wronged her, to allow this to occur, though I had not one moment of regret of it; quite the contrary.
I paced, alone, for some hours, ignoring work of planning that otherwise would well be done; and at length, sent for her by way of Apollion, who had sought audience with me for some long hours himself, and which I denied him.
And she attended me, her manner as always, refined, and yet, cool. I greeted her and invited her dine, which she demurred. "Can I ask why you summon me, Basileus? Is not our treaty fully executed? Are we not complete in our arrangement?"
My mouth went somewhat slack at her words. "Complete in our arrangement? That - - my queen, we are more to one another now than allies."
"Yes, indeed, you are my son now."
"Son! That is a political title, if anything. Are we not philos? I asked you here tonight that I may offer myself again to you " my words trailed as she raised a hand to stop me.
"What you ask is not possible, Alexandrus."
"I do not understand." I sat, agitated beyond words at her refusal, and I tried in vain to conceal it. How I would fain pace!
She shook her head, a slight sadness furrowed her brow. "No, I imagine you would not. This is somewhat awkward "
"What - awkward? I sit here and all I desire to do is to touch you, to make love to you. You have smitten me, Ada, and there is nothing else for me this night but thought of you in my arms."
She smiled, sweetly, listening and yet - not. "Yes - difficult, and I am flattered by your sentiments, Alexandrus. Ours was a moment of weakness and passion, yes "
"A moment!" My voice rose, and I detested the stridency in me. All that she had been to me, reduced to a mere moment . I felt myself faint, as though with hunger or loss of blood.
"Please, allow me to say what I have to say, for this is important. You are a fair and passionate man, a great warrior of uncanny strength and enduring. You may be the most beautiful man I have ever seen or touched, and certainly the most pleasing. Please do not misunderstand me. And the joy you brought me I shall treasure always, even more than the restoral of Caria to my house, for it was a gift to me personally. You have the greatness of Apollo in you, Alexandrus, and I am privileged to have met and to have loved you."
"But may yet continue to do so !" I protested. And here, she raised her hand again in protest.
"No. I am your new mother and you are my heir. Our alliance is but one action of a great number of feats you shall yet do. I go to my place at the citadel in Alinda, to plan our rebuilding following your conquest. My tarrying with you is not your destiny nor mine, and my god hastens me to remove from this place that you may go to meet the future, to crush Darius entire. You may do that with all the soldiers I can muster for you, and all the goods I can raise, and all the political might I can draw from my poor and broken nation. I will always recall with great fondness the night I spent with you on the eve of the razing of this city, Alexandrus, and had I the strength in me to turn away, I would come to you now again, and delay the pain of parting from you until the morrow. But this, I cannot do. I could not turn away a second time."
"Why should you have to do so!" My voice sounded unreasoning in my ears even as I spake the words, and the twin rages of lust and anger battled for supremacy within me. Why must this be so! I raged, and did not heed the reason she spake, for it were good counsel, and I did not wish to heed, I wished only to take her, trembling with desire, into my arms again. I fought to keep myself composed, and to not leap up. Rage was upon me, and I was loath to reveal it, but it leapt within my breast even as I fought myself down.
She looked up at me across the darkening gloom of the tent - soon the servant would fire the lamp and my agitated visage would be all too plain to her. Her eyes were kind, her expression, however, firm and composed, as it had been before the moment she invited me to her breast if I merely went to her - - but this advance, I knew, would be unwelcome, and I did not try. "My dear son," she spake, her words most deliberate, "today, you have a passion upon you, which tomorrow will be directed toward some other beauty. We have pleased one another, and greatly, for this time, and have served one another well. This is as the god willed it, and badly did I need what you have given me."
To my great chagrin, tears leapt to my eyes, and it was well I did not speak, for I doubt I could have quelled the emotion in me then, the pain that struck my breast from the kind wound she dealt me. I spake not, and after a little space of silence, she continued.
"Soon, you will understand that it would be insupportable for the young, vital conquerer to take to wife one such as myself; I am, though a monarch, old, and a widow, and though we would desire one another, it would ever be an assignation only. You would merit the contempt of your people for this. And this would destroy your work and your leadership. This cannot be allowed to happen, not even for a passion that seems today to be complete. It is infatuation, and that is normal for youth of your age and experience. Soon, flocking to the vanguard of your army will be the suits of many kings, whose beautiful and nubile daughters will be offered to you in pursuit of peace and alliance. And you may have as many of them as you desire, either as concubine or as wife, and just as many beautiful women of your own nation. It is thus for such a king as you; nothing will be denied you but that which is unsuitable. One night is what the god granted me with you, and I should not be arrogant to presume to take more."
I could not conceal from her my weeping eyes, nor did I wish to. "I do not know what to say. How can I imagine the future days and months without your caress?" My cry was plaintive, weak, and I abhorred it, but it came from some place of raw need that I did not know existed, but should have had suspicion of since.
"You will not need to - while remembered, joys even sweeter will replace this memory. Of this, I am certain. I have had the sweet memory of a first love, and if you say that this is your first love, I am flattered beyond words." Her voice trembled, and I saw through my own tears, the glitter of tears in her eyes. What strength emanated from her, that with the powerful passion I knew contained in her to come to me, she held fast and resolute without wavering.
"That does not help me at this moment."
"No, I know that," she replied.
I took to my feet and went to her, and took her face into my hands, and with some force placed my mouth upon her own, in the compulsion of my passion, and for a moment, she responded to me, and then pressed me gently but definitely from her. "Sweetness," I breathed upon her,
"Alexandrus," she spake, and turned her face from me. "Do not make it difficult for both of us. That is not fair." Crushed, I withdrew, and paced. And paced further, in the lengthening silence; for the second time in as many days, I was crushed and furious with frustration, and I felt that rising passion of internal war once again, the revolt which caused in me a wild desire to strike out. And yet, could not. She spake not, and the gloom gathered, thick. And then, my servant entered, unobtrusive, hesitating as he saw the queen seated quietly in the place of audience.
"Basileus?" he inquired, and I waved him forward to light my lamps.
"Highness," I spake, at length, "there will be arrangement for the departure of your entourage on the morrow. Craterus will accompany you with two hipparchs of cavalry, will that be sufficient?"
"I am sure it will, Basileus. As will the guards you have given to my personal staff." Her manner was as ever, completely gracious. She rose, and approached me, and took my hand, and made obeisance to me by laying her head upon my palm.
"May my blessings go with you to victory, and my love, Philios." I sighed. She departed me then, in the candlelight, and her scent lingered long in my nostrils. Since she departed me, I have felt a pain such as I have never known, even the pain of the banishment of Hephaestion was naught compared to this. I was waked, and keen to stalk, yet did not, which left me to the writing and brings me to this moment.
Somewhat strikes me now, looking at this and the previous, regarding Mithradates. Did he, kneeling before me the day before yesterday, feel the pain in his breast that I feel now, in parting, at the certain knowledge that he would never again feel my caress? Is it love, then, that causes such intense paroxysm of mental anguish when denied or withdrawn? I could see then, as through his eyes as he regarded me in his submission; the pain it caused him to be denied, after all else had been taken from him and destroyed. For am moment, it seemed I were he, with his goods, his lovers and concubines and catamites, all taken, his city - taken, and the one night of passion that had slaked him, with a man of equal intelligence and matched in desires, consigned to memory. For my night with Ada was the only token I could take from that love, now withdrawn - denied, just as I had denied him; what must he be feeling now, as he traveled to his place of exile with the remainder of his family? The selfsame desolation I feel now?
I understand, though I am the victor, the emptiness of loss, for though I conquered, I did not win in love.