2 Dystros

We have discharged a thousand or more followers who would not reap for us. Sardis is large enough to handle the caste; they would not serve, and I would not put them to the sword, so with the small talents remaining from Parmenion's tribute at Abydos I paid them to leave us. I wonder, what would the whore Olympias think if she knew I wasted her treasury to show a kindness to those who would starve lest they cling to my host?

It is well that the populace runs to us; it is not well that they cling. Each sovereign, each coin salvaged from the local tribute and given to them as incentive is the vanguard of a subtler force of conquest. When has any satrapie under Ataxerxes distributed the gotten goods of its plunder back to its poor? This, I wish to be remembered, this the day of the birth of Alexandria on this land; this is no Persian host; but civilization, come as liberator from far Hellas, from its Makednoi god. These, the bounties of Zeus, to herald their freedom. I feel no contempt for these people, unwashed and unlettered - how many centuries has it been that they are lost in the darkness of the ignorant kingdoms which used them?

I could not punish them for not reaping, for I could not know these perhaps were the same men, the same youths and girls who would be pressed by Ataxerxes, or his cousin Darius -- to burn their own fields to thwart Basileus; how could I entice them to reap it for our mouths, depriving them again? We had Greek and Makednoi youths enough among us to reap what lay before us, as well as not-yet ripe Anatolian recruits who had joined us and were not of an age or strength as yet to bear arms, and I charged them to save a third of what we took for the people as a bounty upon their surrender. Xanion objected: he becomes the leader of those who question my sanity and leadership.

"We should give them back what we ourselves reap from the fields? Are we their farmers now, and not a powerful host to punish their masters? No army opposes us! We should take what is ours!"

"And would you like to stay here, as satrap in Sardis, awaiting the knife that will sink so soon into your back? For one time you turn away from vigilance against those who starve from consequence of your hungry garrison, and my even hungrier host, who are no longer protecting you? Think, Xanion." His look of angry displeasure did not abate, and I bid him follow me into privacy.

"Speak now, in private," spake I. "I will not continue to tolerate the ongoing insolence that is justified by your displeasure with my new regime."

He stood fast, his chin raised in defiance, but would not speak.

"Then stand, and I will await your words. I am patient. Do you wish I should obey you now, do you wish me to bow in adoration to you now? Are you Philip that I should kneel to you, Xanion? Do I cede my place to you today? Tell me, and I shall."

He almost spake and then shut his mouth, and for a moment, closed his eyes. What, I wondered, would this defiance cost him? I felt the eyes and ears of Seleuccus upon my tent, and resisted the temptation to open my door to his waiting expectation. Suddenly I was struck by an idea.

"Since your master awaits your report, why not ask him to join you here?"

"My - my what?" his tongue was finally loosed.

"Come, let us fetch him." I rose, and bid him follow, from my tent I strode to where Seleuccus stood, pretending to polish his cuirass and kick at the thigh of the page who did not immediately flee from his foot. "Seleuccus," I beckoned him, "perhaps you could take a moment away from abusing that child and attend me." His face blossomed with red rage. The more I spake of the god's words, the more I learned of him, and his presumption. I was somewhat surprised that Seleuccus actually obeyed me, so great was his indignation, and followed me once again within my tent, with Xanion trailing behind.

When we were alone, spake I again, waxing with the god, my hands afire with it. "Now that we have master and servant together, perhaps I can know what it is I am to understand of your opinion."

Seleuccus hesitated a moment before he spake. Wise, that. My eyes were fire, but I did not interrupt, for clarity was upon me then, and I knew what I must do and say. Fortunate that these choices are taken from me at these times, and I can merely stand by and witness wisdom, for I exhaust my own too soon, too often. There is none of my own wisdom in me for these things; and there are times when I believe it is some more personal god, Aristotle, perhaps… and at length he began.

"I hear you wish to reap for the poor of Sardis before we even gain their tribute and sack them? Since when do we serve rather than conquer? This is outrageous; and Philip would not approve. Hephaestion --" the name was out before he could usher it back into his lung, and he paused, eyes widening.

"Yes, what of Hephaestion? Does he have an opinion to render?" I glared at him.

"I merely --"

"And what of Philip, he too has an opinion to render?" I smiled an unfriendly smile at Seleuccus.

"Aristes, since we were boys --"

"I am a boy still, I see," I countered coldly. "Seleuccus, I have an hour of work before me, perhaps in that time you could reconnoiter with Philip and Hestes and bring them to me so that I might hear their opinion on our siege of Sardis. Can you bring them to me in the hour? I am sure Xanion would help you in that regard, I know he has news of Hephaestion and can bring him directly to us."

Xanion missed the irony of my words, and spoke in haste. "You would see him? He is --" I raised a hand.

"All in due course. You understand, however, that in bringing Hephaestion to me you will reveal then that he had defied my orders to Amisos, and his presence in Anatolia now would bring on his death. I would listen to his counsel prior to killing him, naturally."

"This is unreason! You have left your reason in Troya!" Seleuccus screamed, his pretense of poise shattered. "How can we do these things for you, that make no sense, and give away such great numbers of our grain and it not yet harvest? You are sick inside you, Alexi, and doing things for the sheer pleasure, just as you used to give away the foals of your prize mare at the Gamelia. There is no practicality in you, and no consideration for us!"

"Ah, consideration for you. Are you sure it is not considering for your cousin Hephaestion once again? Say what is true, do not distract from the subject with talk of Sardis and grain. This is not about Sardis, nor about grain."

"It is!"

"Then let it be known that if it were not for the utter stupidity of Ataxerxes, and the continued stupidity of his heir Darius and his people, we would be camped on a smoking, acrid hillside right now, and fighting with one another for the last of the winter wheat that will keep us in mere starvation until the milk-ripe grain is taken in Licia. How many days of food do you think we have left? Did you go and see? I did. We owe it to the god of this place, and the simplicity of the folk, that they would not destroy that which would feed someone, even an army of conquest. You may thank them yourself, on bended knee, as you fill your belly in Sardis come the dykhomenion. So now is this about Sardis and grain, or shall we talk about the actual subject, about Hephaestion yet again."

Seleuccus bristled, abashed by the rapid speech that claimed me when the god was upon me, the glare of fire that surrounded me, that abashed even me as the words came, too quickly to be considered, and too right to be ignored or turned back.

"Well then!" he shouted, pressed entirely into rage. The camp was aroused by the sound of raised voices by Basileus, and I wondered how many rushed to fetch Apollion at that moment, to bring him to my side. This is what I had commanded them to do, when rage beset my cousins or when disturbance was heard around me. I stood silent, while I waited for my men to act for me, and let him rage on as he willed. "You have sent your second from you and named another, and said nothing to us before doing so. This is what is so infuriating."

I wished to speak and the god bid me silent. He stopped, waited, then continued. "And - Apollion. He fears you too greatly! He closets himself with you and says nothing, what are we to think? Hephaestion would come to us each day and give us all of you that we needed, and now we are as nothing, we receive our daily task and that is all. We serve Apollion Basileus now, and care for it not!"

"I see. And you wish this changed."

His voice did not quiet with my mild tone, but raised. "Yes we want it changed! Hestes waits not at Amisos but at Troya, for your bout of anger to end. This has continued long enough, and it is wrong for you to engage, even with Parmenion at Smyrna, without him."

"I should accept his return then, on your word, because all has been made right and my anger should be assuaged now. This is what you say."

"Yes!" he thundered. Xanion cowered in the corner. A simpler man by far than Seleuccus, he could not fail to see the signs that I held rage in check, and the fact that my question back to Seleuccus each time was more of a temptation to him, to draw him out.

"I think I understand your position. Thank you, Seleuccus. Apollion, did you hear all this?" I raised my head to the door.

"Yes, Basileus."

"Good. Seleuccus has somewhat of a proposal to receive the traitor amongst us and supplant you. What say you?"

"I say, that is treason."

"Is this cause for a banishment, or must I also put Seleuccus to the sword?"

Xanion cried out - he could no longer tolerate the cold play we did, as a cat does with a furious but wounded bird of prey. I also tired of it, and it were wrong for me to speak of execution if I did not intend to strike. Seleuccus looked coldly and with loathing upon me then, and I replied to his regard immediately.

"Is there no love for me left in you, Seleuccus, was it all to Hephaestion and only if I bowed to him? Your eye offends me, and I require your token now."

"You dare," he hissed.

"Basileus dares," spake I, advancing upon him with rapid step. "Do you wish to take my place? Do you wish to fight me for it, hand to hand? Or do you wish to hold it for the champion? Do you wish to take Apollion's place from him, and usurp him for Hephaestion now? Yes, I dare. " I breathed into his face, my breath hot with rage. "Tell me what you dare, so that I may measure your fate. By whose hand do you wish to die today, Seleuccus? And how will I explain to your mother?"

His cold look of loathing at length disintegrated into a species of fear; far too late, he realized that my sword was not an idle threat. He took a rapid step back.

"You wish me to --"

"Kneel. And serve, or you may join Hephaestion in his insurrection. But you will not stand in defiance of me in my own camp, and create dissension by your very presence. My tolerating it is treason to my leadership. I will wait."

He stood, trembling, with the silent Apollion unseen behind him, Xanion now lost to misery and abashed, and I, suddenly weary, before them all. I did not draw my sword. I waited. This play must end of its own.

Silence. I inbreathed, then spake again.

"Xanion, come forward, stand next to your master. You may share his fate. You know how this must be." At my word, Xanion rose, his face a mask of both fear and anger, and came before me. He too, trembled.

"Apollion, please attend me," I raised my hand to my second, and beckoned him to my side. Thus we stood, the conspirators, and myself, and my new second, the two and the two facing, and I let the moment wait itself out to frustration. I let my own piqued frustration seep through my hands into the stone. The god was in me, and I could not say what would occur next. I waited for the god to speak, long moments.

"Now let us wait for the token of Seleuccus."

"Basileus…" he spake.

"We wait, Seleuccus. Do you care to make a petition to me?"

"Y - yes, I do."

"And before you do that you may make your token."

"I will not make obeisance."

"Why not?" I asked, keeping my voice reasonable.

"Because we are aristes. We are equals, you are first of equals. I am older than you!"

"Seleuccus, everyone in this chamber is older than me. My sixteen are all older than me. And there are half a hundred thousand men on this hillside older than me. Parmenion is older than my father, and some of my soldiers may be old enough to have fathered my father. What is your being older have to do with your obeisance? And does not the first of equals require both discipline and obedience? It is your obedience, and not my youth, that is at issue!"

"I am not disobedient."

"What part is not disobedient? That which willingly entertains the traitor, and aids him in defying me? Who is it you truly defy, and why do you think I insist now?"

"You are going to say that I defy the god! Well show me this god, that I am defying! I see a man of just twenty-two summers, recently a boy. One who is mad with jealousy of his Erastes, and who is full of the madness of being a king in Anatolia, rather than a conquerer of Darius who speeds to destroy him. Your advisor waits to counsel you!"

"My advisor? Which advisor is this? Have you brought Aristotle from his grave as well, Seleuccus? Please, speak plain to me. You wish to bring his bones to advise me?"

"Do not be stupid, Alexi," he argued, all reason and convention fleeing him.

"I am stupid now!" I mused. "Apollion, how stupid have I become, that I should endure insolence and insolence again?"

Apollion, ever slow to speech, oped his mouth. "Basileus, I think it is wrong to tempt Seleuccus in his anger to say things he regrets. I know he regrets offending you, though it pleases his ire now. And Seleuccus, you would best hold, for you are offending Basileus whether he appears to be offended or not. You know how it is when the god is upon him, he will argue you for a night and day, and never rest. We don't need to do that. None of us do." Apollion took hold of Seleuccus, who drew away from him in fury. He would not be contained.

"I need to know what Basileus intends for Hephaestion," he cried, unrestrained.

"And why do you need to know what you have already been told?" I countered, rapidly. The hot breath of the god coursed through me. At last, we come to truth.

"This cannot be what you intend."

"This? His exile? And why not?"

"Because it is wrong!"

"No, it is right."

"You cannot mean this! You cannot send him from you!"

"It is done. The fact that he will hide with Xanion's wife in the Troad is nothing to me. He defies me, then he defies me again. And you defy me for his cause, and Xanion defies me for his family's cause, and for some as yet unnamed fear. Now - " my voice rose, and I felt at last the unloosing of rage like a bolt that departed me and rendered me weak from it, "now I grow weary of this defiance. Let loose, traitor. How far do I banish you, or must I now cut you down?"

"Basileus!" he shrieked, yet unbelieving.

"It is well you should address me as I should be addressed!" I shouted back. "Kneel. Or do not kneel, and on the morrow you will be assigned as midman in Philander's phalanges, and you will lead no more my vanguard. And if you fail to serve Philander, then you will be sent by ship to clean holds in Mytilene. I hope your children like Lesbos, for I will have them all sent there, and your wives. How many is it now, will they tolerate the straightened circumstance of a single hovel in Lesbos? Is it worth it to serve Hephaestion?"

"What! You would do this to me? I am the general of the left flank!"

"You are nothing except by me. Do you wish to be a midman, do you wish to be a mere body in the phalanges? Do you wish to be an exile on Lesbos? Choose, and I will obey your pleasure. Or you may make obeisance to your king, and by him, your god."

"You are not my god!" he cried, and to my utter lack of surprise, fled from the tent.

"That went well," I commented, seating myself. "Xanion, do you also wish to flee with your master?"

"He is not my master!" he cried, provoked to words.

"Surely he is. Unless you call Hephaestion your master. How well I know that role." I laughed, bitterly. "Then flee with your champion and general. Would you too like to summer at Mytilene? That is the historic place of exiles. Although I dare say that Cleopatra my sister would be very disappointed to find herself suddenly without home in Pella, and sent to be with you in disgrace because of your poor judgement."

"Do not threaten me, Basileus. I am not to blame for the hot words of Seleuccus!"

"No, but you are to blame for housing the traitor. It is your Trojan wife of this past month he houses himself with, is it not?"

"How do you know these things?" He was shocked at my intelligence.

"Hephaestion waits at Troya. He could not be housed with the builders at Troas. So he must be with - what is her name? Zelira, Zephira?"

"Zephira," he spake, his voice a bare whisper.

"So you intend to ride for him, or send for him. What of the reaping?"

"I have put that in the hands of my second, Herodion," he replied quickly. "He will do it."

"While you traverse the countryside? I find that unacceptable. You will not go."

"You cannot stop me!" he rose up, now overtly defiant.

"Yes, I can," I drew my sword then and laid it astride his shoulder, angling toward the vein of his neck. "You too need to give token before I can confirm you in your place once again. And then, I will have to roust these others from their beds and have a conference on why my leadership is so suspicious, particularly when I succeed so boldly." Xanion stared, as much at the blade as at me. I did not blink as I regarded him in turn. Apollion, as usual, said nothing, but his eye said much.

I put up. "Go, then. But do not bring the traitor to me. Entertain him as you will, and if you decide to return to me, it will be to a lesser place. If you choose to raise yourself from your humiliation, then you will do the right thing by me. Take your face from my tent." I turned to Apollion. "This audience is ended. I wish to see none of them, nor Callisthenes, nor Pausis, nor any of their seconds. Bar their way, and get ten men of the vanguard to guard my privacy if you must. I have wearied of them and will not see them further now." Apollion nodded grimly. He knew that I had endured well, but that I had endured more than I should.

Xanion turned and fled as though pursued. And I knew whence he fled, now. There was nothing more for me to do but take my rage and send it into the stone. There would be time enough to vent my rage upon the head of my enemy. There would be a defiant city to burn, and defiant enemies to slaughter. There was time enough for death.

But enough of them. I wish to write of Sardis. The god did not leave me when I was alone, and I could not rest, any more than I could take wing of Daedalus and fly to the sun. And I knew then that siege was unnecessary, and that while my host descended upon the milk-ripe harvest and refilled our flagging coffers, I would take a written guarantee of that harvest and bring it, alone, to the city as my first bloodless, individual conquest. Something in the god had bled the lust to destroy from me, and within me grew the desire for another kind of success.