28th Perition, the final day. At Didymos
We conquered without battle. It was two days to Didymos, and when Apollion's delegation was met at the gate of the city, they capitulated with tribute in hand, and we are well fed to remain at peace with them. Parmenion has been sent for, and we widen our zone of occupation and divide it between the armies. I am again at leisure to complete my tale of that morning, and of the morning before we departed from Abydos.
To return to my exposition: Apollion's expression did not liven from my comment, and I found him struggling with the burden of revelation. I ceased, and took again to the bed briefly, so as to relieve him of my presence while he considered. I found myself in reverie then, of those clinging moments with Hephaestion in the days after Philip's death; his funeral, the meetings with the delegates from the loyal states of Hellas who were in attendance at the wedding, and now, at the funeral. But I was not left to my reverie for long.
"Basileus, these are heavy tidings, and yet, so many years in the past, they strike me as a blow."
"I know, Apollion." I wanted to rush to him; we were, in this moment, in a sympathy of pain, and my heart was wounded for his sake. I thought, have I said too much? Yes, I have said too much, and now he is overburdened. But no! This is the role of the second! Who will I trust if not him? When do I begin to trust? I must trust, and therefore, he is my choice. Far easier to trust Hephaestion, and he not worthy of it. Was this my lesson? I stayed recumbent, however, knowing it would help him for me to be quiescent.
I held fast, forcing relaxation through my limbs, being a counselor, as you had taught me to be. Listening is the hardest art. And soon, he spoke.
"I am not sure I can say more on this, Basileus. You are right to stay with your decree, but I do not care for it. Hephaestion - I fear for him. Out of your protection he has enemies. With your will against him, he will not stand. He must know this. You must know this. So how can this be helped? That is my concern."
"And I tell you this tale so that you know, it was my task, at the death of Philip, to execute his conspirators. And yet, how could I execute his conspirators, they were my salvation! I am my own usurper. And Hephaestion my accomplice. How can I change this today? There is no way for me to change his nature, considering how it was shaped and grown. I can only limit its result on me. His nature will destroy me now, and nearly did, at Pergamon, in an offense to the god. Are we done with this now? I cannot concern myself with his lack of protection, though it grieves me. Shall I issue a new decree that none shall raise a hand to him? I have not that power either, Apollion. My power is considerably limited, as you will discover in due course. If they love me, they will not do him harm. If they hate me and wish to defy me as he did, then they will, and I will also have them put to death. These are my choices; simple, brutal, and clear. Everyone knows this."
He lowered his head into his hands. "I wish that war were all we had to contend with here, Basileus. The war within us is too great for me to fathom. I am not learned in these things." His voice filled with anguish. "Your burden is greater than mine. Your own father, your mother. How would I feel if I had no one to cling to but my Erastes? Yes, I would cling to him. Is that what you wanted me to say? All right, then, I say it!"
"That helps my feelings, but not my choices. Do not bid me protect him or bring him to me again. I could not bear to do it twice. If you have suggestion on how to handle his presence in Troya or in Pella or on the campaign then by all means, I will listen. He is relegated to logistics, and ordered to Amisos, and if he does not go there, I care not to know where else he may wander, and he is free to go where he might, or to take his new position and assign himself their leader if they will follow him. I do not know if they will follow him, but he carries my seal, and all of my leaders know him by sight. He cannot rise from the place I have put him, unless he wishes to join Darius in his campaign against me." I managed a faint smile, thinking of the contempt Hestes felt for Darius. That would not happen. Not after all of these years
He nodded. "I understand. Then I will bring my suggestion to you when I have it."
"Now, Apollion, heavy things we have spoken of, but I come to a heavier subject still. Can you bear it?"
He looked gravely into my face. "Heavier still? How could this be?"
I raised a hand, and rose, once again to sit at table with him, now that the anguish of his feeling had passed into something like palpable consternation. It was a moment when, if it were Hephaestion I would embrace him, I would reassure him. And for an hour, or a night, we would speak of it not, but speak with our bodies. This would never be, and never be again. I found myself angry once again, briefly.
I made myself sit, and restrain my hands. This is Apollion, this is a new day, this is a new reign.
"Not heavier for you, aristes. Heavier yet for me. As I stated before, I must now marry. The very thought makes my flesh crawl. I would rather dig graves, than to do this. I would rather place a knife into my flesh than for mine to pierce the maidenhead of some white virgin. And yet, this I must do. How do I do this?"
"You have - you must have had women, before this?"
"I told you, the first flesh that touched mine was that of Olympias."
"She could hardly count. Do not measure women by her."
"That is my familiarity of women's bodies, of how they feel."
"No wonder you are repulsed." A curious expression gripped his face; a passion of hatred that passed over him, like a cloud of a storm, and then cleared.
"Yes. Well. This is it. The mere sight of the breast of a woman recalls to me the denied warmth of her breast, the pleasure she bestowed in me was an enticement for me to act for her. And none of it, love. How can I, after this, trust woman, or love one? The view of the breast itself " I restrained a shudder.
"All women are not like this. Believe me, Basileus. If they were, then I too would be enamored of boys." He stopped, flushed scarlet in the face. "I am sorry, I did not mean that."
"It is all right, Apollion. It is a fair sentiment, and a fair conclusion that I am sure anyone who knew this of me would conclude. Which is why they do not know it of me. And why you will not tell them. For that part of me is of the past, now. Too recent for me to feel its rightness, but the decision is made."
"I understand. Your word. I know your word, and it is law to me."
"Please answer my question, Apollion. How do I love a woman? What is it that you see and feel in a woman, what is it that causes you to want her? These things may be very hard to say to me, but I must hear them from someone to whom the other tale is told. And there is only one: you."
Again, I waited for the set of unreadable expressions, Aristes. Apollion spoke with his face, more than anything, more than with his words. It was uncanny - and this, I could tell of him. Where Hephaestion was always a mask of inscrutability until the moment he spake (and the moment always came soon), I knew all that passed this man's mind by reading his face, and he was ever slow to speak. And in this instance I could see passing across his face: a desire to conceal what he wished not for his king to know, a fear that his own passions would become my own, or that he would earn my desire for him for speaking of sexual things openly; and a fear that if he did not do as I wished, then his place would be forfeit. All of these things I read as clearly as if he had pronounced them aloud. At length, he spake and said:
"What is it you wish to know?"
"Be at peace, Aristes," I replied, and raised a hand to give him peace. " I ask for openness, not to plumb your own secrets. I wish to know what it is of women I am lacking in knowledge, not what or with whom you have done it. And whatever you speak, it is the same to me. It is a relief of my ignorance, not a risk of injury to you."
He nodded, gulping. I had read him aright.
"Then, this is what I would say," he spake, his words now a rush, and unusual. "I would say, that you should choose as a wife someone who is like that which you crave physically. And you know what that is. Strong, willful, and passioned. Small, and dark, as you like them to be. And one you can talk to, for you are famed for the desire to talk. She must be one who can match you in language, and assuage you with words as well as listen."
"These are more of mental things, though, Apollion. I wish to speak of more basic things."
"Basic things?" he was bewildered.
"I mean, sex. How does one have sex with a woman?"
His face turned bright with color. "How does - you know how it is done! You must!"
I shook my head. "No, I don't. Not at all."
"Very well - I will tell you what I know, and you can tell me what I do not know. Would you prefer that I ask you questions instead? Specific ones?"
His face told me he wished to run from the room. And so I waited, once again. The sun was high, and I paced toward the window. I felt a great relief, that the hidden ruminations of my mind were being laid bare, and made plain. All that had twisted itself into my dreams and fears had been ordered and presented, as in an order of battle. And with that relief came an almost insatiable hunger. My breakfast had long been consumed, and no bread remained. "I have a better idea. Can you get us some more food? Give us some time to think on this. Until the messenger comes. We have an hour or perhaps two. Before that happens. Fruit, and some meat."
His relief was palpable, and he fled from me as though from a routed battlefield. I took again to the bed, and within moments, was dead asleep and resting as I had not had since the moment I had laid myself in Hephaestion's arms as a child. I awoke when he returned, cheerful and ravenous.
"Basileus," he said, when he saw I was sated.
"Yes, Apollion." I waited for him this time. This was going so well!
"You wish to know "
"How sex is done with women."
"Because you do not know."
"I do not know how it should be done. How one would serve a wife, father an heir, and satisfy her. As a husband would do. As you would do. I would like to satisfy a woman."
He gazed at me over the course of a long moment. As though trying to imagine what I had thought sex would be with a woman. "For instance, how do you know that she wishes you to take her? I always knew when Hestes wanted me, since he told me. Does a woman tell you., just like that?"
"Well no. Not always. Sometimes there are exceptions."
"Tell me of the exceptions."
"The -- oh. I would prefer not."
"And I would prefer. Please continue. You need not name names."
"Continue. At my request."
"The exceptions," he relented. Well then - when she asks. Or when she demands, that is," he blushed again. "Let me see. When a woman demands, it is difficult to refuse. She may not let you refuse her. If you do, there may be great consequence. So therefore it is best never to refuse."
"What would she say? How would she act? Would she simply undress, place herself in your arms?"
"She would - she would lie in wait. Yes. In the bedchamber, or appear where she is not supposed to be, such as a tavern, or even at the stables. I have had that happen. And her clothing will be different. If she is in the bedchamber, she will be perfumed, and naked. She will be redolent with a perfume of her own, and that is when she is fertile. That is how you know, and why you should not refuse her, because she has the animal instinct of lust on her."
"Like horses do."
He warmed to the topic, remembering. "And what you should do, what I would do, is coming upon her in the bedchamber, to approach her clothed. And she would struggle with my clothing, the more she struggled, the more empassioned she would become with the frustration of not gaining her goal."
"What is her goal?"
"To get you inside her as quickly as possible."
"I see. Not so different, then." He made a quick glance upward into my face. I should not have spoke - it had interrupted him. "So, to get you inside her, she tears at your clothes."
"Yes. So you help her. Or better, throw her down. For some reason, they love this, it drives them mad with passion. Then, take her. She is already ready. And what I have done at this times is, when a woman is mad with passion I would spend too quickly, and so it is best to take her from behind, that way not to become overexcited with what she might do, for women love to squeeze the juice out of you those times. That is what they desire most, not your tenderness, or your care, or even your own satisfaction, but to spend you, as quickly as possible."
"Perhaps I know more than I think I do. What of the usual then?"
"Of that. The rest of the time, she pines for you. There are little hints. She will spurn you, or refuse to speak when you address her. She will let her hair grow untidy, and refuse to come to your bed when you summon her. This are all the games of petulance. This is woman at her usual. But you can be sure that she always wants you, and if she doesn't want you, she is thinking of you or of another man, or fantasizing about the last time, or the next time. When she does these games of petulance, take her anyway."
"What? Take her anyway?"
"This makes no sense."
"Just - what? Pick her up and throw her down?"
"Perhaps not so bluntly, no. But you make yourself clear. You say "you are my wife, and so therefore, it is your duty to serve me. If you cannot serve then I shall have to spend myself elsewhere. You choose. That is what I say. And there have been times when I have."
"Apollion, you surprise me."
He hung his head, and then raised it. "You are not the only man with sudden appetite, Basileus."
I beamed upon him. "I never thought so. So now, how often does the normal man need a woman?"
"Normal. On campaign or off?"
"Let us say, on."
"After every battle."
"Just so. And when not in battle, say, when on march?"
"That depends on the availability of women. You don't have that problem. Didn't Oh, I am sorry."
"You do not need to be so guarded. I know what I am. Surely you think I do not suffer the illusion that no one knows anything I do or never sees it? I am the king. Everyone knows everything I do except in absolute secrecy. And I am sure at least you, and Seleuccus, and Parmenion, and all of my guard, and my pages who watch me at night, even know the sounds I make in passion. Is this not true?"
"Yes, it is true,' he said impassively. "It is very different, though "
"To speak of it. And why not speak of it? It is liberating for me. You speak amongst yourselves. In fact, you probably have gauged my mood upon your listening to the sound of my passions while on campaign. There are no true secrets here. I know far less of all of you, because I cannot know everything, nor be everywhere. But you are always near to me when I am about, there is always someone near to me. You said it yourself - 'you gain your power of the god through the bodies of your beloved, whom you love so well.' How do you know I love them so well, except directly? You might as well have been in my tent. All you lacked was a direct witness. Which you probably would not want unless you wanted me for yourself."
"Call me Alexi. Relax." Again, I restrained my hands. This was the moment I approached and reassured my beloved. This was the moment I did with caresses what my words could not, or would not do. I had to learn to act otherwise with him, and it was gratingly difficult. Not all men were eromenos. He was far too important for that.
"Alexi. I can't call you that."
"It is my name."
"It is too familiar!"
"We are intimates. This is your role."
"You test me - Alexi."
"Always, Apollion. But not in jest. In earnest. You are being raised up due to your worth. Prove that worth now, and trust me."
"I will trust you."
"Good. On march."
"On march. How frequently to take her, on march?"
"Every night. Good, then. When she is available."
"And when she is not?"
"You take a concubine."
"How tedious! How about exceptions for the king having to do his other duties?"
"Well, the king is somewhat different. However, a woman expects to be served each day."
"Even if she does not, or if by petulance she refuses."
"So when I have my queen, when I am not on campaign or when she is with me, I have to have her each night."
"Or a concubine."
"How many wives should I have?"
"Three! Apollion, this is coming quite naturally to you now."
He grinned. The moment of discomfort again had passed.
"Now, about the actual act. There are certain preliminaries.." I prompted him.
"You have to make her wet, if she is not. And if she is not you cannot get anywhere. The best way to do that is to suckle or handle her breasts. That is the most sensitive and easily aroused before you get to the act. Besides, it is the most fun -- for men."
"Yes, but there is some magic for women in it, you know you have aroused her when she forces your head upon her breast. It is built into her body, and she is empassioned by it. You could suckle a woman only and she would be satisfied, sometimes. And perhaps yourself as well. It is a natural thing."
I shook my head, vehement. "This will be a problem. There has to be something else."
"If you do not handle her there, it will be a problem."
"There has to be something else. That I could not do."
"There has to be something else."
"Well of course there is there is wetting her directly, with your mouth and tongue, but you have to get used to the taste. Some women are quite foul to the taste - most whores are, and one should never try that with a whore except as a practice for a wife. You can get a lesson from -- I did not mean to imply you should have a whore "
"You bought me a whore last night, Apollion."
"But - you were - yes, of course you're right. But Basileus --"
"But we are speaking as ourselves now."
"And you only intended to jest at buying me a whore last night because I was not Basileus."
"No!" he was chagrined.
"Go on. So what am I supposed to taste that is so terrible? You don't do this yourself, do you?"
"Not unless I cannot arouse her. As I say - it is the breast - "
"Tell me about this other. How it is done."
"It is very little different, than as you do "
"You mean, when I take a man into my mouth. How is it no little different?"
"Because she -- she too has a phallus of a kind, at the opening of the womb. It grows prominent in passion, and it is even more delicate to arousal. It is this she craves mightily. If you stoke this to her satisfaction, then you will win her. But she may expect it often. It prefers the tongue to the hand, but if you are disgusted by it, your hand may do all that is necessary."
"And that requires practice?"
"Yes, I would say."
"And how do I gain this practice before I take her to wife?"
"Take another. Take a concubine."
"There is a good deal of work involved. Very well. Perhaps we'll skip that part. Wouldn't the embrace itself, the pleasure of being in the bed of Basileus cause adequate arousal for the act? I am not like a normal man to them. And I am very fair, as everyone keeps pointing out. Does that do nothing for a woman?"
"Very little, although money I am told can cause an instant state of arousal. That would not work with a queen, it always works with a concubine."
"Then I think I have what I need. Except for, what of the act itself? She is aroused, she is ready. Which way does she prefer to be penetrated?"
"From behind is far more beneficial, but women tend to dislike it as being like - well, you know."
"Like eros. Yes. All right. Why more beneficial?"
"Because if you are a small man --"
"Like me "
"Then she will get greater pleasure from behind. For the larger, they could not do that without causing some pain."
"They feel pain?"
"They can, especially at certain times. Women are not like men."
"They feel pain on penetration? What is in them?"
"Delicate things, Basileus. But during their time of passion, you would not know it, because they could take a spear and satisfy themselves on it without blood. Women in these times are like beasts in frenzy."
We spoke of little more of importance; but it was a day of revelations for me. I felt as though I had liberated myself with the knowledge that the mystery of women had at last been opened; and I had sought good counsel. At least, as good as could be had; Apollion was well liked, and well known with women, and his wife was one of the few who one could say was happy with her husband. Therefore, from the result I had seen, his words may have been a good counsel for me. Certainly far better than that of Philip (who had no knowledge of this mystery), or you, Aristes, as insightful as you were on dealings of men and the public. What did you teach me of the Politik of sex? Here in my friend, my childhood companion and comrade, who had killed many at my right hand, and who led so many of my battles in the previous decade, I hardly knew until this day. It brought me a joy I had not felt, because it brought me closer to resolving a problem that had haunted my nights. Did he know I feared women? Yes - he must. Himself, dismissed woman as an emotional creature, to be served in such a way: and did not fear women. Women were not Olympias; however. Olympias was other than this; and she was not Woman.
I considered this all night, after we returned with Parmenion's messenger after nightfall. I was unable to rest, and so paced the camp, measuring out the paces of the ranks of the vanguard first, who were placed on the high ground nearest to me, and then further along. A few were still abroad, stoking the last embers of their warming fires; though spring was nigh, they burned fires still to warm them before retiring. Each stood to hail me as I stalked; my habits were well known to them. They knew when I stalked, all was well, or at least, I was not brooding, and this comforted them.
Always, the army grew uneasy when I was abroad; it was a superstition with them, that my very presence was important at all times. Those who broke from me in ranks, those who I sent out from me, always grew uneasy, or so I was told. When I reconnoitered cities, as I often did, those who stayed behind were restless until once again I stalked among them at night when I could not sleep, and they were put at ease by it. And I stalked until there was nothing but bone-weariness in me, and until I had ranged the long stadia to the end of the camp. The army was strung back halfway still to the last port town with the baggage train, and it would take another day for the end to catch up at Abydos, the last of them were still marching from the last engagement east of Troya, with the wounded who were now able to ride and soon would be active once again. I would let them rest until the next campaign, and that was still two weeks hence at the least.
I took the stalk on foot and not by horse; there would grow no weariness in me were I to ride; although for pure pleasure I would ride often; this was not one of these times. The pure frustration of my body and of sitting, of preparing for battle and not engaging, was a rising tension in me; and I began to become aware of my own solitude; there was no one with me, there was none to take to my bed, and there was no solace this night. I stalked. A species of madness overcame me briefly, and I could not say whether any could see me among the rocks and crags, I became occupied in the challenge of handling the terrain in the darkness, by stealth; and those who were not abroad, did not stir as I passed. When I returned, Apollion stood as ever, attending me, though he sagged. Did he wait for me? Did he wish to sleep and dare not?
"What is this?" I inquired, while he straightened himself and yawned. "I did not ask you to do vigil for me."
"No you did not."
"Then what are you doing?"
"I waited to give you news of Parmenion's children; he says they should be reviewed. There is one among them he says should lead them in training exercise, and they could be of value in providing provision from the ships along the Troya road as well for as long as we have them. Good strong children, and in many ways obedient. We can delay placing them into battle for months in this way, and they can learn the way of the army."
"Good, then, I will review them. Go to bed, Apollion." I was annoyed, but did not know why. Why had he waited for me? Did he think -- I looked closely at him, and then decided me. "Attend me instead." I entered my tent, and he followed.
"What?" I stood, then paced. "What is it truly?"
"Basileus --" he began.
"No. What is it? Do not title me tonight. We have done this before now. Why do you test me again?"
Apollion waited, and waited, and then spoke. "About these recruits "
"What of them?"
"They are - they were slaves. They ransomed themselves to come to you."
"What of it?"
"I wanted you to know this. They had gold on them when they arrived."
"If they had gold, how could they be slaves? And if they had gold, why would they come to me? They would not be starving."
"This perhaps you know."
"Me, know? How can I know?" I did not understand him then. I did not take his meaning.
I slept the short hours, finally, until the barest of dawn, before the early cookfires were stoked. And stalked once again among the vanguard to where the new recruits had been assembled and provisioned. There were no weapons among them as yet, only knives, and short packs, and food. And there was, indeed, a good deal of gold: inexplicably.
Following the morning routine, the camp began to break, half for the prospect of encirclement of Abydos, and half for our march to Didymos. The vanguard and Seleuccus's delegation had already departed to reconnoiter the next city, and we prepared Parmenion's delegation to issue the demand to Abydos.
That morning, after I had fed, a servant was sent to me to dress me for the review of the new recruits. Seleuccus had him with him, and I found myself once again being fussed over; I despised clothes and clothing, ceremony and artifice. While the youth adjusted some new cloak upon me, I glared at Seleuccus and demanded explanation.
"It is for the sake of these that we dress you, Basileus. They have brought with them tribute granted by the people of Abydos for freeing the entire population of slaves held by the brothel-owners. These have fled to the south upon our arrival here, and bring dire news of the massing of our armies. A satisfied smile passed across his face. "There is no doubt that some of these youths are sent here for other reasons, so we must provide them with what they wish to know."
"How much gold did they bring?" I inquired, as though I did not know nor had seen.
"Nearly half of what the tribute Parmenion would be asking, and already delivered without request."
"A letter promising a third of the spring harvest as yet ungrown, as we need it, and whatever is left in their granaries from the winter."
"Generous. Why does Abydos offer itself to me so willingly?" I pushed the hands of the youth from my shoulders and sat, heedless of mussing the fancy garment he had bound upon me. Instead, he placed my sword next to me at the table, and took some unobtrusive place behind me. What did this youth think of all that transpired while he attended me? Did he listen? Did he wonder what it meant to him? I did not know his name, I realized. "You, what is your name?"
He lowered his eyes. "It is Alexander, Basileus."
"Yes, I am Alexander Basileus."
"No, Basileus. My name is Alexander. I am named for you." He took to one knee at being addressed.
"Come, get up. I simply wished to know who helps me, I do not like to treat men as mere hands, nameless."
"Yes, Basileus." He rose, and stepped back to await a command from Seleuccus.
"It seems everyone is Alexander this week," I spake.
"If I may," Seleuccus interrupted. "Your question. It is on account of this youth, the one I spake of. He said that he was sent by the people of the town to offer these freed slaves in service to you, and this gold as the greater portion of the coffers of the brothels that have now been emptied of them."
"Then let us see these children, and let us see this youth. And he is? Let me puzzle this one out. He is Alexander."
Seleuccus smiled a great smile. "Yes, that too."
"I could go home then to Pella and let all of these others do my work then. There are plenty of Alexanders to go around. Don't you think, Alexander?" I addressed the boy.
"Certainly not!" he cried. "We are not as you, though we adore you more than others."
"Well, then. Lead on, Seleuccus. Horse or no horse? I would prefer no horse."
"No horse then."
And so we came to a band of children, standing on the parade ground in the twilight of dawn, where the cold shadow still hung over the cliffs behind us to the east and lent a frigidity to the air that made me grateful of the new crimson cloak. There were thirty, no, closer to forty of them, youths between the tender age of childhood and the first growth of manhood. And at the far right, head turned alertly toward my approaching figure, was one less imposing in height but far more attentive to me. It was this Alexander.
Seleuccus bid them hail me, and as one, they knelt, without faltering. And when they rose, the child's eyes sought mine, and I went cold for a moment. This child was the very boy I had brought to my bedchamber two nights previous, and sent away with a gift of gold! Perhaps every talent of that gold lay once again in my hands, returned in full along with thousands more.
"So, Seleuccus, is this the one you speak of to me, the leader? Alexander of Abydos?"
"No, of Pergamon originally, Basileus. Sold in Abydos after the taking of Troy this week and more." I put my eyes upon the child, and watched the expression in his face change as he heard my voice speak in the cold morning. Now - he knew, and was abashed beyond speaking. His face grew ashen then, with something like a fear. I could say or do nothing to reassure him then; perhaps there would come a moment further on. Seleuccus continued, "He wishes to make gift on behalf of the grateful people of Abydos, and brings with him thirty-five of the most able bodied youth freed from the brothels when your armies bid their masters flee. They wish to march with you against Darius."
"You have given them the oath to take?" I addressed Seleuccus, but my eyes were on the child; freshly outfitted for the weather, and looking far healthier than he had even a day previous.
"Good. I will speak with their leader now. Apart." Seleuccus signaled the boy to come forward, and I turned with him aside, and we walked a short distance away.
"We meet again," I spake, this time in a voice pitched only for his ear.
"Basileus!" he gasped, and tried once again to kneel. I took his arm quickly so as to conceal his reaction from the others.
"Stand, Alexander of Pergamon. Speak to me as a soldier to a soldier. None of this now."
"Yes, Basileus. But you - had I known --"
"And so now you know. Though I was not in Abydos to purchase children for pleasure, Alexander."
"I see that. I know that."
"I was there to enter the town before we sent Parmenion to negotiate. I do this frequently, and always in disguise."
"Yes," I noted with great discomfort that tears stood in his eyes.
"Tell me how this tribute came about, and who these children may be."
"These are the other refugees from Pergamon. Our parents sold us to the traders from Abydos, Basileus. We fear we will not see them further, and some of us had already been taken as whores before the brothel masters fled you. This happened just after -- after the night you bought -- I met you."
"And what of the gold?"
"That - I told them - the satrap who holds the town, that is, he is "
"Basrara, I am sure you mean."
"Yes, that is the name . I told them that you would come and destroy all of the brothels in your rage, and raze the town, and that I had been sent, a messenger who carried his name, from the refugees at Pergamon, that your wrath was terrible and that you would burn their crops all around in your rage to pursue Darius to his place." He smiled wanly.
"You told Basrara all of this?"
He nodded. "And more, I showed him the gift of gold you had given me. I said that Alexander's countrymen were abroad in the town, and would gladly give to each a large bounty if they would capitulate to you; and that this was an example. I told him that I had been well paid to bring this news to him, by the will of Alexander. He did not know I was named Alexander as well, so when I said the will of Alexander, I meant by my own will. He did not know that."
"Clever child." I was greatly moved by his account, and what he had done with my sudden bounty and advisement to him. "So, you have already negotiated Parmenion's truce in the main. For this, you deserve promotion."
"Basileus, if I may "
"What is it, Alexander of Pergamon? What do you wish for yourself?"
He hesitated not, and spake quickly: "I wish to offer myself to you."
"What?" I was baffled.
"I probably have no right." The child's eyes now fairly stung with bright, unshed tears. "I have one desire, and that desire is to serve you. However you may wish. I have done my best this day. If there is more "
"What are you saying?"
"As in the tavern."
"You wish me to bed you, after what you said to me that night? You said that you have not had man, and you wish to marry!"
He shook his head, perhaps to clear it. I should return him to his group and groupmen - there was no good explanation for my taking him aside this way for so long. And if he should throw himself on me in some passion, I could not guarantee the safety of him against my guard, if they misunderstood. Time was running down.
He did not reply to my query. I took him by the shoulders this time - so frail, so vulnerable to offense, he shrank at my touch and was abashed, awed, and looked wildly into my eyes.
"This is what you wish?" I spake, too harshly this time.
"I wish only what you ask," he trembled beneath my hands. I let him go and stepped back. We had gathered the attention of all within sight and hearing now, and I made to turn. He reached for me then, suddenly, beseeching. "Yes. That is what I wish."
"Come to me tonight, and we will speak again. Come dressed as you are now, or similar. Do not come as a whore. You are not a whore."
"Yes, Basileus. His feet hastened back to his place, while the other children whispered amongst themselves at an audible volume.
"Seleuccus, arrange for Alexander of Pergamon to be housed as he finds it comfortable, either among the others, or with you. And he will dine with me tonight." A hush fell over the assembled youth, whose eyes all turned to Alexander in awe. My order given, I departed.
The day of breaking camp and preparing supplies seemed never to end, and as each hour passed, I grew more uneasy of my decision to meet and become familiar with this Alexander once again. What had he done? And why? Was this due to love of me, or because of my compassion to him? I could not know. And I reasoned with myself, I should find out.
At last the hour to dine had arrived, and as I expected, the youth was brought to me directly, and early, by Xanion.
"Do you have anything you wish to say to me alone, Alexander?" I said when I had greeted him, and he rose from his obeisance.
"Alone? Oh." He looked upon Xanion, who politely waited inside the door, and back to me. "Y - yes. If I may, Basileus."
"Xanion, I will call you when we are ready to dine, and I wish to have the entire guard attend me at that time. We will dine as our usual." Xanion nodded and departed, turning too quickly for me to read any expression upon him. Let him wonder, then, I thought, briefly, once again somewhat chagrined.
"Sit," I told the boy, and he took the seat of the page, nearest to the door, not daring to approach me it would seem. I did not rise.
I waited for him to speak, but there was silence. "You wished to speak with me, alone. You had something to say of importance on the parade ground. You have the privilege of privacy, and my audience now."
He bowed his head. "Yes, I thank you." His obsequiousness disquieted me.
"So. I wait upon you now," I prompted him.
"I - Basileus, I am afraid to speak."
"Why is this? Have I become fearsome?"
"Yes. I have angered you somewhat, I fear."
"No. You have not." At this, he brought his head up to gaze at me.
"I have not?"
"No. You have pleased me greatly. I am not angry."
"But on the - this morning - "
"Do not abase yourself before me. That is not necessary. You are a youth, soon a man, and one of good judgement, strength, and courage. I ask you to behave like one. There is no reason to fear me or be abashed. These others do not fear me; if you wish to number yourselves among my intimates, if you wish to join my march, take courage that I am a man, much as you. And not too long ago, I was a boy, much as you. Full of strength and lacking utterly in courage to approach my king. I did fear him greatly too!"
"Your father the king?"
"Yes. He was very powerful, and his voice itself made my bowels tremble."
He nodded. "Yes, your very voice. When I first heard it I feared."
"I am sorry for that. When I cry out on the battlefield my enemy flees!" I smiled mischievously, and tried to make my voice sweet, as though speaking to a small child or a horse. "It is good to have such a weapon. But I do not use that weapon now, and yet I cannot change my voice because it makes you tremble."
"Yes, Basileus." Finally what I was looking for I was rewarded with - the brightness came to his eye, and he met my gaze directly.
"I worry when my own allies fear me, Alexander," I spake. "How would you feel inside yourself if others fled your face merely because you spoke to them?"
"I would be angry with them. They have no reason to fear me," he replied quickly.
"Just so. Just as it is here. So be at ease. Do you trust me now, can you speak to me now?"
"Yes, I can. You are - it is true what they say about you, Basileus. You are a great man. I can feel it when I am next to you. Others speak of you like this, and it is all true."
"Perhaps it is true, perhaps it is somewhat story. I am a man, and I have weakness in me, many different kinds of weakness."
"You mean a weakness for boys?" he spoke plainly and without intent to hurt, but still I felt a pang, but tried not to react to his direct question.
"Not quite this, but similar. My weakness -- why do I speak of my weakness with you? How do you do that to a person, child? You are - twelve years? And yet you can draw from the most subtle person the deepest truth! There must be the god in you."
"Yes, this is what is in me, the sudden bolt of awareness that comes - from beyond, that tells me things I cannot otherwise know from reading a man's face or scanning the terrain around me. It is the god, Zeus, and other times, the god Ares, who guides me in battle. I cannot otherwise explain how I can strike with impunity forces far larger than my own and emerge unharmed, victorious. I simply know. So you do this with me, in one brief moment you draw from me one thing that others do not know or do not bring to me."
"A weakness for boys. That why Apollion bought me for you wasn't it?"
"Yes, I cannot deny that."
"And he chose me because of my appearance, because I am what you desire, or that is what he thought."
"You are what Apollion imagined I desired. He knows me well enough. Yes."
"And yet you did not use me?"
"But why?" his voice was plaintive. "Even when I did not know you were Basileus, there was that about you that drew me to you. I am drawn to you, and I did desire you, though I do not know what the desire is for."
"So you are drawn. Men are drawn to me.; women are drawn to me; children and boys are drawn to me. It is not me that draws them."
"Yes, it is!" he cried. "It is you. That is why your army is so great; they follow you - we follow you now, because of it. Your greatness."
I was chagrined once again. "And so - you desired me for this?"
"Yes!" he did not drop his gaze. "And I was not what you wish."
The thought that this innocent, drawn to me from my very presence, had risked himself so utterly out of a pure attraction to me, made me feel a great obligation to him, and no small spark of desire, if I were to be truthful. The image before my eyes of a vulnerable, thin slave had fled to reveal a bright and courageous youth, holding his ground before the most powerful king in this land, and making his will known. And I was drawn. This - too, was Alexander; this reminded me of me, and I could see what it was in me, then, that drew others to me, even in extreme youth.
"No. That is not true, Alexander. I did not take you for reasons of my own. I should not have to explain, but I shall, anyway."
"Please - explain."
At that moment - curse him! Seleuccus arrived and came into the tent. "We await your pleasure, Basileus." He glanced down upon the child who had warmed to our discussion, who sat in a pose of familiarity across from me.
"Not now. Serve them, I will be with you directly. Do not enter again. Carry on, and wait when they are served. Till it is cold if you must."
"As you will, Basileus." He departed, an angry look passing across his face. He did not need to do that; he expected I would be abed with the boy, and so entered unannounced. And I grew enraged. I made to stand, and forced myself to sit. I would deal with him later. He awaits my pleasure! Oh I received his message. How arrogant. He would not do so again in my service.
"Now, to my explanation. You see, it is not only Apollion who thinks he knows my tastes and proclivities. They all do. To be a king is to have everyone presume upon you. It is wretched!"
He grinned, and said nothing, permitting me to continue.
"Yes. He expected that I would be enjoying you before dinner. He has his reason. So for the explanation - there were two reasons for this I will give you. First, my desire is not adequate for me to simply act. There must be more than this; to lead a battle, to execute an enemy - there has to be something more than this, at all times. There has to be reason. And even in eros - in sex, there has to be something more than the sheer desire to enjoy the body. And buying a boy for me was not my idea; it was Apollion's mistake that he could assuage a lost companion with a substitute."
"You lost a companion? Was he killed?"
"No. I don't think so. But yes. I had to send him from me."
"So you are grieving. And I was to be the consolation for your grief."
"Just so. But I am not a man who takes, or exercises pure lust. Or at least I hope I am not. Sometimes, I question myself. I questioned myself that night. But it was not because you were unsuitable, or because I wanted to reject you."
"I understand. It was wrong of him to try to staunch your grief in that way. If I knew you were in grief I would also have understood, that night, rather than run away."
Again, a thrill of surprise shook me. This youth speaks to me as an equal, once he is unabashed. He is, perhaps, though young and unschooled, wise with the god, and he could see my reason.
"And you said there was another reason," he prompted me.
"Yes, Alexander, there was another reason. Eros is well and good but does not produce sons."
"So you decided to take a wife. That is what you would like to do now. The entire world knows that you would not take a wife; that no woman was worthy of you, and you only took the fairest of boys who pleased you."
I could not answer his interpretation, it made me pause, but I pressed on. "Yes. This my second did not appreciate. That is why I grew angry in the tavern, because I was brooding upon this. That I prepare to take a wife, and to give my love to her, to leave behind the eros of my youth."
"Completely?" there was a strain in his voice. So, he still hoped. Why did this stranger complicate my life so much, so quickly?
"Do you wish me to say I find you fair? Do you wish me to demonstrate weakness to you? You presume, young Alexander. Do not manipulate me, and do not press me."
He lowered his eyes. "I am sorry."
"There is one thing further you should know, and perhaps you should choose. And then I let my hungry men eat with me, and you will join me. I do not choose lovers from among warriors who serve in my ranks. This would destroy the order of my ranks. Those who have been in my bed have been either my childhood companion who joined the army later, but who were intimates previously, or non-combatant servants, who have no incentive to rise in my favor. They enjoy personal favor at my side, not professional favor nor other wage in my employ."
"You do not?" A look of amazement passed over his face, and dismay.
"And I see quickly that you would serve me best within my ranks, if you still desire to."
"So you say that you would not have me, though I join your army."
"Yes. That is what I am saying."
"Simply because of this."
"Yes, it would destroy the order of my ranks. Even now my most trusted wonder about my judgement, and Apollion most of all, that I entertain a slave youth who brings me large sums of gold, and I closet myself with him. They suspect my reason has left me for this. Were I to take you to my bed now, they would know that I had lost my reason, and that lust had destroyed me completely. After all, it was Apollion who brought you to me in the first place, believing that I had lost my reason in another way."
"Do they trust you so little?"
"Not so much that," I said, but his question suddenly made me wonder. "Let us talk further, tomorrow. Now it is time to reassure them all with a grand speech and a rather good feast. Attend me." I rose, and departed with the youth striding confidently behind me. The night promised much for me and for the leaders of my kingdom.
And you wonder, Aristes, did I take this fair and promising youth to my bed? Any other day, on any other month, in my entire life until that moment, I would have done. But that night we sat at a small feast, in celebration of the capitulation of Abydos that would happen on the morrow. And placed in their proper order were my ranks of the companions; elsewhere, those who had not broken camp to march for Didymos also sat briefly at feast, and I drank with each a moment, twice a thousand men. And this is what I spake of Alexander of Pergamon to them:
"Tonight we give honor to the youth of Pergamon, the thirty five who sit before you who join us, and the one who brought them. It may seem excessive to honor these youth who join us, but I think not, and I will tell you why this is so." The entire camp hushed, though my words could not have reached more than two hundred of them, and only those who sat at feast with me in the open air. Others repeated what I said. Twenty groupmen sat with me on mean camp seats, with our cups in our hands, our bowls in our laps, but we were at magnificent table.
"Ten nights ago, at noumenion, I paid homage to Ahura Mazda, the god of this land, and burned the body of my enemy in his honor. And in the privacy of the ritual, I made my plea to be absolved of the crime of his innocent death. To be given the power to continue through this difficult and craggy land, safety and passage to move onward to attack the heart of Babel, to thrust myself into the heartland of my enemy, and destroy him." As I spoke, the god came upon me, and my hands grew hot with certain knowledge and wisdom, and what I spake then was rightness, was truth. And I had known, in the presence of this remarkable child, that it had happened because of him. Because of my compassion to him. "This has been given me, and this city has capitulated to me. We can expect too that Didymos will fall to me without a spear being raised. There will be resistance, further along; make no mistake. Babylon will resist. Tyre will resist. Persepolis will resist with the very force of Darius. They will resist with everything they have. But no matter: my sacrifice has been found acceptable. They will not stand.
"This youth has come to me, a messenger of the god, and like so many, unknowing, in a form none could recognize, and has delivered me this city which is as much a stranger to him as to me. A child of no power or wealth, no protector, and yet he delivered Abydos to me in accord with the will of the god who favors me now.
"There are those who, knowing my heart, believe I am aggrieved about the loss of my second. This I am. I am sorely grieved. However, law is served, and I have sent him to other duties more suitable for him. This event occurs because of my obedience to law. You have objected, within yourselves, to the harshness I showed Hephaestion. But know it is the smallest portion of the harshness that he merited under my decree. I know none of you wish to be sent from me to serve elsewhere; but if you defy my decree, the same will happen to you. It is not because of anger, but because of rightness. And the same is true of me; if I defy the decree of the god, the god of this land, the god of another, and he wishes me to fall, I will surely fall, and there is no other duty for me to serve. If I am not King of Macedon and the ruler of the empire we now seek to conquer, then I fall and am lost, and you will no longer follow me, and I must die. That is the consequence of disobedience. In this, I will not disobey; not for pride, or for love, or for power. Let there be no mistake about this; let none of you mistake the wisdom that is given me in unusual ways for some peculiarity of mind. Let this success, and the victories that await, be proof enough for you that we go to conquer, and we will not be turned back!"
A sound arose from them, and as they raised their bowls I watched each face in turn. A great test for them all, Aristes. How easy to presume upon all that has been the same until now; but nothing could be the same, not anymore. And upon their faces, with the wisdom of the god, I saw those whom I had won with my words, and those who were not won. These, the cousins of Hephaestion, who merited much from his station, indirectly, and who stood to lose much to champion his cause. Must I send them all from me now, for his sake? Must I provoke them foment insurrection, all caused by their overreaction? Did I lead them not? Had I not rewarded them, independent of my love of their protector? It was as though as a lightning bolt had landed in my mind, I grew aware, keenly, of the meaning of these faces full with discontent. There, laid before me as script, was the hidden work of my enemy upon them. He was not only the destroyer of my love and a traitor to me when that love wandered from his person, but also a traitor to my favor when favor wandered. My suspicion blossomed into a certain knowledge as the sound of revel grew around me unheeded -- yes, perhaps it is that Hestes played king to his own intimates in my absence, and spoke for me in ways I did not know. Issuing promises I did not make and would not keep, disappointing them in ways I could not know. To strengthen himself, and to weaken me, he had given them to believe that if his place were forfeit, that my wrath would be upon them. Thus were he to fall in favor, I too would fall in their esteem. Any innocent action of mine, without my knowledge, could turn them violently against me. The seed of that violence was writ upon their faces. Among them, Seleuccus, already rankling against me and anyone I appeared to favor; Xanion, my cousin, Pausis, Antitarchus, Philip of Amisos, my nephew Attalus. My advisor and biographer, Callisthenes. Perhaps others, whose faces did not betray them in this moment when the god opened my eye briefly at the feast at which I celebrated the end of Hephaestion's rule of Makedon from his place in my bed.
And was he capable of this? How much treachery had he done within my kingdom? And how much more would he yet do to me out of spite or anger? If so, it were treason again. But how could I know, and would it matter, once done? How, I wondered, did I need to act in order to lead these men, so that they would place their lives into my hands once again, and not falter when we went over the wall again?
There was much work to be done, and could not be delayed.
We were idle once again at Didymos, and I extended my camp there, to meet with each one of my leaders, the chiliarchs, and to hear all of their grievances, to receive the news from Pella, from Amisos, and from Alexandria Troas where my builders were laying the city. And from the fleet. Alexander, my namesake, was sent from me, with no small pang in him or me, to lead the group of recruits who would provision Troas from the fleet, and once they had grown in strength and stature, train at arms, to join us further on.
Never did I lay caress upon him; though many a night I dreamed it. And, I imagined in my vanity, that he too dreamed it.