3 Dystros

Pausis is dead, some say by his own hand. I think not. I think rather that the conspirators quarrel amongst themselves for their next action, based upon the pressure I brought to bear. I must isolate myself from them so that they do not know all that I am aware of, in their plots. For I know all, with a clarity that is both terrible and liberating. Events have escalated among them, and Apollion tells me what he knows of what as the chief of the vanguard, as the commander now of all of the phalanges. 50 phalanges of footsoldiers that have not parted with Parmenion for leave, all far too much for an undefended city, plus six thousand horse, all chewing on the hay that grows wildly in this part of Anatolia.

We prepare for his burning, and delay the approach to the city another night. Was Pausis slain to delay all action, to prepare for a trial and an execution? What is Sardis, then, to Hephaestion that he is so determined I do not attack it without him? Some symbol? How many times we had imagined ourselves, in our bed of love, to have finally reached these fertile plains? Yes, perhaps this was all delaying, for the return of Hephaestion.

And came he did, but not before Basileus donned the armor and badge of Seleuccus, and rode, alone, to play at Seleuccus at the gates of Sardis. I posed as a lone soldier, carrying the message of hope and the threat of terror both. He himself could not go; I could no longer trust him with the errand.

At the city gate, unattended, I approached and a muezzin sang out, "It is the destroyer of Babel! He comes!" I looked behind me and upward toward and my hosts in their encampment, above, but they were hidden in mists and smoke, even our campfires were obscured. I spurred Bucephalus onward as a surge of faces came to the closed gates of the town, and they were flung open. A spare, thin priest came out, flapping his arms, and took in the vision of my horse. My horse! I had not thought to change horse, and if nothing were known of me otherwise, my stallion must be known.

He cried out to me and went to take the rein. I halted short of him. "Hail, Conquerer of Sardis. We yield to you."

"You know me?" I replied in his tongue.

"You are Alexander, the king of Makedon. You are so bold, to come alone into our town, while thousands of your host reap our grain. You take from us as though by right of ownership!"

"I do, but not without sparing you your own share. Will a third of the milk-ripe wheat feed Sardis for its first season?"

"What? What did you say? You will yield us a third of the harvest?" The priest turned back to the growing crowd, held at bay by his arms which still flapped wildly as though by their own personal accord.

"I did, and I do. Upon your surrender."

"Then it is true!" he cried maniacally, and the murmur of the people became a roar as he rushed toward me. "Bel Marduk has forsaken our conquerers, and yielded to you! And we must do the same!"

"Where is your satrap?" I said, ignoring his pronouncement. "He must speak for Sardis."

"No, I speak for Sardis! I and the people. I am the oracle of the Temple of Marduk. And Bel Marduk says that Darius is no true king of Anatolia, but that king is Alexander, and to serve him."

"And how does he say to serve him?" I replied, amused in spite of myself.

"We will yield you all the treasury of the town," he said simply. "The satrap has fled without his money, and the money is a yield taken from our city to pay for the army's campaign to the west. We cannot let that gold go to oppose Alexander."

"Just so!" I said, delighted. "You accept surrender? All of you there, you accept surrender at my hands?"

The murmur became a roar. It was over. That battle was no battle. The battle that should not have been, awaited me in my own heart. But Sardis, and the 200 talents that paid the entire debt for my fleet and my phalanges, was mine. Were that my own will were that easy to conquer!