"From Now To Eternity"
Disclaimer: as per default chapter
Notes: For Penelope. To all my readers, I hope I do Alexander justice.
333 B.C. September, Babylon
They call it the Battle of Issus. A glorious victory for my men, but a hollow one for me. Long before I reached his camp, Macedonian soldier's had already begun to count and divide the spoils of war. Little joy did I have in riding my enemy's chariot. It is not a victory. Why? Because my enemy still eludes me. This time we were so close that I could almost hear his heart beating furiously in his chest. He has every reason to fear. The greatest enemy of my father. Enemy to Alexander. Soon to be no more.
Hephaestian rode beside my golden chariot, his attention captured by something in the distance. A few of our men were ordering people, pushing them into a line, women and slaves, a long with a few of Darius' soldiers. They were captives. A women stumbled and a soldier kicked her and laughed. I saw Hephaestian's lips thin. He was more merciful than I. Fresh from war, my blood still simmering in my veins I had no time for human graces. So close had he been. Within my grasp, yet he slipt from my fingers.
As I alighted from the chariot, Cassander held open a tent for me. "Yours my lord," he said with a gleaming smile. His cheek was smeared with blood and his long hair hung knotted down his back. He was a man bred to fight. He relished his role as captain. And I had no doubts that he would loose no sleep over what had transpired this day.
I ducked my head and when through the tent flap. Darius had left in a hurry. The treasures that filled the humble abode would bring joy to any man's face. I grinned broadly, eyeing a marble bath that stood to one corner. "So this is what it means to be King." This day I would enjoy a good bathing for the first time in months. Layers of dust, grim, blood and sweat had long encrusted to my body. I had forgotten what it felt like to wear only skin.
But even the king's treasure I beheld, would not satisfy my hunger. Gold and jewels weren't what my ambitions coveted, it was the earth and her people. That was my dream. Alexandria. An empire that spanned further than any man had ever dreamed. Ruled by the Greeks. No one would deny that I was my father's son, the son of a god.
It was much later that evening, that Ptolemy brought a woman before us. She was aged and weary, you could see it in her eyes. The woman had seen too many years, perhaps too many wars. What was she doing here? Her dress suggested that she was from a wealthy family. Was she woman of importance? Perhaps she could be ransomed for a handsome sum. Those thoughts I entertained before I learned who she was.
"Queen Sisygambis, mother of Darius III, king of Persia," the scribe announced, and fell to his knees. The queen looked at me and then at Hephaestian, before bowing low, her pale cheeks wet with tears.
"My son is dead, we ask good and merciful Alexander, King of Macedonia if we may serve you," she said humbly falling to Hephaestian's feet.
There was a snickering somewhere on the other side of the room, but it was quickly stifled as I reached out my hand to the woman, and helped her to her feet. I could see the fright and embarrassment on her face long before she took my hand. "Do not worry, mother. For he is also Alexander." I gave her a comforting smile, despite the humour I felt choking myself. I sent a glance to my friend, who did not look amused at all.
"Pray tell me what service befits you and your daughters?"
The woman looked blank, and then at her scribe who still kept his face inches from the floor.
I looked around the room at my men, and then back to the queen. "Do not fear. For as long as I am ruler, no harm will come to you or your daughters. I welcome you to my family, and you will treated as due to your station." I then passed her hand to Hephaestian, who finally spoke up.
"His word is true, Mother. You will have naught to fear from us." He kissed her hand and bowed his head to her.
The queen smiled gently at both of us and bowed repeatedly as she retreated from the tent.
The scribe scampered backward on his hands and knees after her.
After our uninvited guests were gone, I collapsed into my seat at the head of the table. "Father was right," I mumbled. "Women are more grief than they are worth." Grabbing a skin of wine, I downed it greedily. Sealing it and tossing it across the table, I plucked a fig from the tray and took a bite. "Persian women are such so unkind to my eyes," I scoffed.
The men roared with laughter. Hephaestian, I noted, was strangely silent. I was soon to learn why. I met Darius' women the following morning. And the gods had a laugh on me. Darius' wife, Queen Stateira, was the most beautiful woman my eyes had ever beheld. In his haste, Darius had not only left behind his mother, but his wife and his two young daughters. The once undefeated king, ruler of Persia had left his family at the mercy of his enemy. A fool and a coward. But I would keep my promise. No harm would ever come to them. However, in I promising that Stateira would not be mine, I would be promising that the sun would not rise at dawn.
In secret we met for months, until she could no longer hide her pregnancy. I sent a messenger to Darius saying his wife was with child.
The letter said she was several months a long and desperately needed her husband. The messaged served two purposes. One bid to quell the growing suspicion of involvement with the woman, and the second was in hope of provoking a confrontation with Darius.
Neither succeeded. For within the month of my sending the letter, precious Stateira died in childbirth. My daughter and her mother both dead. I was in a rage for days, unable to openly express my grief, for a woman I never married or acknowledged as my own. And for a child that never drew it first breath.
A message from Macedonia only further infuriated me. From my mother, yet again intent on voicing her thoughts, her endless ranting over her fears for my life, counselling me on the conspirators she knew amongst my ranks. However, none of it was news, long had I grown used to her wiles and over-stretched tales. If it were not for a few short sentences, I would have gone on with my self-induced pity over my losses.
"My dear son, my only blood, it is out of love and concern for you that I speak these words. Nothing have I said of Hephaestian before, and I am reluctant to say it now for fear of the anger it will undoubtedly stir, but I must. For your future and your life are most precious to me. He may yet be turned, my son. Watch him closely. Many know you hear his words, seek his counsel. No man is without a price. Remember this..."
I nearly burned that letter. The boldness of the woman. The outright impertinence...it angered me. If she were standing before me I would have wrung her neck. First my father, now Hephaestian. I would not hear it. I would not tolerate it. I was glad to be a lone, as I paced my tent. Any disturbance at this time, and the intruder would have most likely died.
I immediately replied, listing all that had happened over the last few months - The first confrontation with Darius, the battle at Issus, the capture of the royal family, and the death of Stateira and her unborn child. As guilty and mournful as I felt over her passing, nothing could quell the rage that had spurred upon reading my mother's words.
"..We are two halves cut from the same cloth. Together we are a perfect whole. He has the patience I lack, the wisdom beyond his years, and the soothing calm I so desperately need. He has the heart of a king, where as I have the heart of a conqueror. Where I am strong, he is weak. And where I am weak, he is my strength. It is why I cannot let you come between us, Mother. It is why your words fall on deaf ears. Hephaestian is more than my companion. Castor and Pollux. Zeus' honoured Gemini. Inseparable and unmatchable. Thus we are. Love I have for you mother. Do not doubt that. But speak of him again in such a manner, and I will cut myself off from you. His soul is my own."
Hephaestian did not see the letter. He usually read all my missives, but this time I was intensely grateful that I was alone. I could not pour out my soul with passion, without upsetting him. Hephaestian, the peacemaker. It worried him to no end, that I kept my mother at a distance. His own mother had died when he was a child. He missed her terribly and often thought me ungrateful for not indulging the loving, although often-obsessive mother I did have. He would have cautioned me against riling her. To leave her be. I know he had asked for her blessings and understanding in the past, but still she would not give it. Her heart seemed intent on planting seeds of doubt and discord against all men. She would love nothing more than to see us ended and herself as my only confidant.
From the time we were boys, students of Aristotle, Hephaestian was the only one I could count on to see me as an equal, to challenge me in all things. I am a better man because of him. He does not fear me, but he respects me. There are men who I know fear me, but do not respect me. I would have ten thousand of the former, before a handful of the latter. For what good are they, but to plan and scheme your demise?
It would be many years later, seasoned by a marriage of political convenience and bitten by a woman scorned, that I would learn what real love meant. And even though it was only for a short time, those months would bring more joy and meaning to my life than all the campaigns I had waged.
324 B.C., February, Susa
Two years earlier we had taken the gorge, the last garrison and stronghold of the Susian defences. Many subjects of Darius' household had taken up residence there, moving from Babylon, and returning to their ancestors' city. The city itself was far from the grandeur of Babylon, but it had a warm, and welcoming air to it. Perhaps it was because Darius' grandfather had built up the city himself. He had a vision, just as I have, of what his empire should look like. He was just less farsighted. Why settle for the Medo-Persia, when you could unite all the free peoples of the earth under one banner, one king?
The heavy gates opened and a thunderous cheer broke out. It was never ending like the sound of the rain in the forest, falling on though the trees.
The masses that lined the streets, contributed to a beautiful sea of colour. Red and gold ribbons drifted from the sky, falling on the path before us. Children waved palm frons and ran before the chariot. At every turn I saw people waving and smiling. I held up my hand and acknowledged them as the horses edged on. It was the first time I really felt like a king. After my father died, I left my birthplace almost immediately. My ascension to the through felt too convenient, too contrived, I did not wish the people to mull over the change in rulership too long. Besides, I'd been waiting for the opportunity to begin my dream for as long as I could remember. And without anyone to appose my plans, I eagerly left Mesopotamia.
It was late in the day when we reached the palace. Alighting from the chariot I went into the Great Hall, where Princess Barsine waited. Eight years ago, after their mother died. I sent Queen Sisygambis and her granddaughters Barsine and Drypetis, back to their homeland. After Stateira's death, I could not bear to look upon, their sad and sorrow-filled eyes. Under their stare, the guilt I thought was long buried would consume me with such force it was as though Stateira herself had come back to taunt me.
Queen Sisygambis did not understand why I wished to send her away. She thought it was because she had displeased me in some way. How wrong she could have been. It was her loyalty, and her willing heart that made me see what a self-serving and callous man I was. I had taken her only daughter and used her. I had taken another man's wife, bed her and made her with child. Then instead of marrying her and doing the honourable deed, I had hid her away. Pretending it was Darius' child she carried, and that had ultimately caused her death. Seeing Sisygambis and her granddaughters made me reflect on things I wished to deny. Things I wished to forget. So I sent them away.
As I approached, the princess raised her head. It was only the briefest of eye contact. I saw her face for a second. It could have been a trick of the light, had I not been afflicted with a memory worthy of an artist. A flash of imagery, and it would be emblazed into my mind with devastating clarity for all time. I saw Stateira. Barsine was the mirror of her mother. The sight of her caused my heart to pound to a stand still in my chest. The air in my lungs left with a strangled sob. She was stunningly beautiful, and had the grace of a queen. Her head bowed and on bended knee, she stretched out her hand to me. I humbly took it. I raised her hand, brushing it with my lips in the gentlest of contact. My body was working, and I was moving without comprehension. I raised her chin with my forefinger, hoping the inner turmoil was not written on my face. I was torn with the desire to see her face again, and not doing so, knowing what it would do to my conscience.
"Dismiss the men, leave us. We will discuss our plans tomorrow," I said, without even looking in their direction. She studied me with a mixture of curiosity and nervousness.
Alone in the Great Hall, she spoke. "My grandmother would have been honoured to welcome you, she is no longer with us," she confided softly. "I heard that you were close, and I am sorry."
"We were, and had I known she was ill I would have tried to come sooner." I felt annoyance as soon as the lie fell from my lips. It was an insult, instead of the feeble attempt at sympathy that I had intended. My condolences for her mother had not been much better. A smart man would have learnt to keep foolish words to himself. Unfortunately I was not.
"You must be weary. Come, we have prepared a meal for you."
Her gentle manner, and her warm smile were a pleasant change for me. It was like entering a dream. I was alone for the first time in months. No one demanded my attention. There were no gruff and coarse voices within hearing, and from what seemed like another lifetime, I felt no sand or dirt beneath my feet. She led me to a chamber filled with a sweet aroma. Rose oil drifted to my nose, and I inhaled deeply. Lamps burned in every corner of the darkened room. A pool filled with warm water, beckoned to me. The top of the water was sprinkled with flower petals, which hid the watery depths from view.
"Bathe," she said. "I will return when you are ready to take your meal."
A wicked smile curled my lips. I pictured her joining me now, and not for food. It was not the type of sustenance that my body hungered for at this moment. It had been so long since I had enjoyed a woman's company. A feminine form, that curved so well against mine. Exquisite softness that craved to be explored, tasted. When I sought the object of my fantasy, I found myself alone. She was gone.
I thought back to the year crossing the desert, a defiant stand to test my fate. My men suffered greatly for my pride. Then my pride had brought suffering on many counts over the last few years. In my haste to seal our people's lands, I had taken Roxane as my bride with no thought for Barsine. Fate blessed me with two Barsines in my life. Were I a man to pay more heed to the counsels of others I might not have bed them both. Women were no trivial matter. Perhaps goddess Isara would have looked upon me more favorably had I done so her daughters.
Mere weeks before Barsine had given me a son, it took Roxane as my wife. Fond as I was of Barsine, she could not be my bride. Though we both never made any vows of commitment or love, I knew she felt bitter over my Asian bride. Barsine I knew from childhood. I knew her father, and brother. So did Hephaestian. It was his discretion on my behalf that kept her from making her scorn for me known. He have her a generous dowry, and sent her to Babylon. I have since heard that she has married, providing Heracles with a father.
On our wedding night, Roxane not only exceeded my expectations, she forced me within a breath of my life. I had newfound respect for women. Not only as equals in their fearlessness, but realized that their brains matched their beauty. Even though we had language against us. We came to a mutual understanding. I would never force her to share my bed, and I would never ever let her handle a blade again. Lucky for my male ego, she had only cut my chest. The wound was easily hidden beneath my tunic. We had since consummated our marriage, but I have found that what first intrigued me about her, has also begun to turn me away from her. She had eyes black as the night, hair like a so dark it shone blue under the midday sun, but she had the same jealous and suspicious heart as my mother, and the same possessive, scheming nature. There were occasions that she brought me to the edge of my sanity. Bless the gods for their intervention for she almost drove Hephaestian away.
My eyes drifted closed as I let the water turn my taut muscles to butter. Exhaustion overtook my body, and I fell asleep. It was hours later that I awoke. A cloth was bathing my face with cool water, and I stared up to glittering brown eyes. Her skin glowed in the dim lamp light. A rosy pink crept into her cheeks, as she blushed. Her hand stilled and I reached up to grasp it.
In the next breath, I kissed her. Her lips were as delicious as they looked. Supple and willing. She opened for me, and I tasted her. Sweet as honey, and intoxicating. I pulled at the comb in her hair, already straining against the weight of her curls, the comb snapped in my palm, her hair tumbling down her back. Not caring for the consequences, I pulled her down into the pool. Her gown and robe bellowed around her, her hair weighted further with water, drifted about her head. Her lips were red from my kiss and her eyes were molten with a newly awakened desire. She stood at a distance from me, not making a move to retreat, but not daring to move closer either. I reached for her hand.
"My good king," she whispered, her voice wavering. "I should take my leave."
The tremor in her voice brought me crashing back to the present. This was not a dream. I wish I could claim ignorance to what had processed me to assault her with such disrespect, but I needed only to see her face and I understood my weakness. This was not nine years ago. She was not Stateira. This was her daughter, a Persian princess. After Stateira's death, I promised myself I would treat her family with more dignity and respect. They deserved as much. Perhaps more after what I had done to them. I took Stateira from them. And here I was treating Barsine like a woman from a whorehouse. I shook my head in disgust. I did not stop her as she quietly left the room. If felt like a dishonourable savage again. In a single moment I had brought myself right back to that sad day. The day I lost Stateira.
Had I been blessed with a talent of wisdom and care back then, I would have done the noble deed and married her. I should have taken her back to Babylon and placed her under care fit for a queen. Then perhaps she would not have died in the desert, unmarried, disgraced, alone and with child. Determined to erase past errors, I got out of the pool and pulled on a robe. I called for assistance, and dressed hurriedly. There was a woman I needed to speak with. And by Zeus, I would get it right this time.
The following week was a time of joyous celebration. I sat beside my wife, the most beautiful woman in the world. I looked down at her as I raised my cup. I was blessed that she accepted my hand. "It is with joy that I look across this room. Pride in my men and the women they have taken in marriage this day. Every man who takes a Persian wife will be given a year's wages in gold as dowry. And to his wife, her stone of choice from my treasury. To the blessed unions."
"To Alexander," Cassander shouted, raising his cup. Everyone joined him in the toast, and I revelled in the praise of my men.
I inclined my head to Hephaestian, and raised my cup. Barsine's sister, Drypetis sat to his left.
Hephaestian lifted his cup acknowledging my toast and bowed his head. A brief smile graced his lips, and then disappeared, replaced by a thin line of contemplation.
I had learned much about my extended family over the week past. The two daughter's of Darius were like the night and the day. Barsine of quiet, meek and gentle nature, and Drypetis was strong-minded, untamed and challenging. She was not disrespectful, but she enjoyed herself immensely when she left a man baffled and outwitted. She was as smart as she was beautiful. Barsine was not dull, but she paled in comparison to her sister. Drypetis wasted no time absorbing all the knowledge of the Greek tutors I had commissioned to educate the princesses. And in those nine years, Drypetis had begun teaching other women, much to the chagrin of the male leaders.
Despite her subdue nature, Barsine had a showed an overwhelming interest in my travels. She sat in rap awe as I spoke of the lands that I had crossed and cultures I had experienced. When I asked if she desired to travel, she had almost burst with enthusiasm. I found that her sister shared the same interest in exploring. Had Darius been so narrow minded that he kept them hidden away, and secluded from the outside world? The timid weeping women I'd sent back to Babylon all those years ago were a far cry from the ones I saw now. But they were only children then. They had grown into passionate, intelligent and beautiful women.
The more I learned of her. The more I was convinced that Drypetis was my dear brother's match. I longed for him to find the happiness as I had. And when I arranged the first meeting between them I was almost bursting with curious excitement. I would have had more of a response had I been watching a signet take its first flight. Not that Hephaestian was rude. But his disinterest could not have been more obvious had he said so aloud. I felt sorry for Drypetis. She had been interested to meet him. I had spoken about him in great length to Barsine, who had no doubt shared the stories with her sister.
In reflection perhaps Hephaestian only agreed to the marriage for my sake. I had not been subtle in my wishes. Not less than a day of broaching the subject with him, had I announced proudly to an audience that, "Our children shall be kin."
A mass wedding and five days of celebration followed our union. I was so happy that I did not notice the growing unhappiness of Roxane or the sombre mood of Hephaestian. It was only in the week that followed that I came to realize just what kind of marriage I had arranged.
A loud knock sounded on my door, and I opened my eyes with drowsy annoyance. What kind of crisis would bring them to me at this unholy hour?
"Apologies my king, but the guards arrested a woman coming out of the tunnels beneath the palace."
My surprise must have been plain on my face, for the servant hurried on in explanation. "I only learned of their existence myself. The entrance was overrun with vegetation. The guards heard a noise and went to investigate. She refuses to talk. She is being interrogated as we speak."
The guards threw open the barred door and I strode in. The smell of the room was putrid. Dried blood painted the walls, rats crawled over the dirt floor, and the figure huddled in the corner was pale and shaking. One of the guards hauled her to her feet and threw her to the ground at my feet. She did not look up. Her slender hands quivered either side of her veiled head. Just what had possessed her to try and steal into the palace?
Her attempt at adventure to experience a little freedom had turned from bad to worse. Hephaestian would be notified of his wayward wife and he would become the laughing stock of the entire city. Bad news spread like wildfire, and whispers from the palace even faster. She had brought shame on herself and her husband. That thought brought a painful squeeze inside her chest. She felt tears welling behind her eyes. She didn't feel sorry for herself. She felt sorry for the pain she had unwittingly, and foolishly brought upon her husband. The man she loved, but who had only married her out of duty and honour.
"What is your name?" I queried with impatience.
In spite of herself, Drypetis found that she could not answer. Her lips formed the reply, but no words came out. In a last bit to save a cruel beating from the guard again, she looked up at the king with pleading eyes. The beating came when she did not answer. The guard kicked her hard in the stomach, and she moaned in pain. Clutching her belly, she doubled over and sucked in breath hoping to ease the sting. Had she imagined it, a flicker of recognition in his eyes. Did he know?
I could not believe my eyes. It had to be a trick. But there was no mistaking those hazel eyes. Eyes that caught the light and shone green like the Nile or grey like a sudden storm depending on her mood. I clenched my fists. Did she know the penalty of her actions? Did she know the disgrace she had brought on her husband. A woman without an attendant, wondering the city dressed in men's clothes.
The surprise followed by a swift blaze of anger that had flamed in his golden eyes had been enough to send her tongue into retreat. Averting her gaze she waited for the punishing onslaught to come. Her father often beat the women of his house when they brought him shame and embarrassment. It was expected and taught as just, since their king was their master. The gentleness took her unawares.
"Release her and return to your stations," I said gruffly. I didn't trust myself to say more. I prayed desperately that the guards would not press the matter, or I would have been tempted to unleash my anger on them.
Her throat felt tight, and Drypetis swallowed in an effort to dislodge the lump that had formed there. Alexander was lifting her into his arms. He carried her from the cell and up the narrow flight of steps that descended into the palace prison. Once they reached the courtyard, he set her on her feet and pulled her into the shadows behind some hanging vines.
"Do you understand what you have done?" I asked her softly.
Sadly she nodded, and was about to speak and I quieted her with my hand.
"You will never dress in men's garments again. Henceforth, everywhere you go Razul will accompany you. I will send him at dawn. Now go to your chamber. We will never speak of this again." I took off my outer robe and placed it over her small shoulders. The garment dwarfed her in their immense size. The edges folded about her feet and she shivered as a gust of wind stole through our shelter. Tear escaped the corner of her eye and slid down her cheek.
"Thank you for your kindness," she said with gratitude.
Her sorrowful eyes pierced my heart. I watched her hang her head and cross the yard. I nodded at one of the guards to follow her. If any word of this reached Hephaestian's ears both of those guards would be silenced indefinitely. With all my being I had wished to question her further. Why had she done it? Was she not happy? Her actions would speak against it. I shook my head. "My dear friend, what have I done?"
Razul was a young Egyptian boy. He had been taken captive, along with many others when Alexander's army passed through Gaza. He would not be much of a guard, but if it allowed her the freedom to roam the palace after dark then she would not protest. As she slipped down the corridor to her chamber, she almost cried openly in relief. She felt guilt. Perhaps if she had been punished she would not feel so horrible now. But instead of weeping, she sent a prayer of thanks to her God for the angel of mercy He had sent. For the next few weeks, she scarcely left her room, except to visit with her sister. Being spared from humiliation and shame, she dared not tempt fate. She would do her best to play the role given to her. The meek and dutiful - however unwanted - wife.
Deciding that Hephaestian left me no choice, I called the unhappy couple to my throne. Long had the light that was once sparkled in Drypetis'eyes had been extinguished. And even with the attendance of Razul, she had not ventured further than the women's rooms of the palace.
Hephaestian was the first to arrive having only left to pursue some tasks I had appointed him to do mere moments before. Drypetis did not keep us waiting long.
"I have thought through my plans at length, you will take a third of your battalion and map the terrain and waters that border our new city. Your wife will of course accompany you," I added, much to his obvious discomfiture.
Drypetis on the other hand, was a picture of barely contained excitement. The gleam in her eyes and the clasp of her hands did wonders for my previous concern. I felt a great sense of achievement. I had thought that perhaps forcing his hand would push my friend into requesting a separation, or openly protesting her hindrance to the sudden expedition, but he had not voiced either of my concerns, and I was relieved.
I waved to the servant standing by the window. He brought me an ornate box, and I stepped down from my throne and went to Drypetis. As I approached I saw her tense. I smiled, hoping that would calm her nerves. I would never betray her confidence. Not so long as she respected her part of our agreement.
Opening the box, I lifted out the jeweled anklet. It was solid gold, delicate, yet strong in make. The metal was twisted and moulded to shape a vine, with clusters of diamonds and emeralds that represented lilies and foliage. I read the shock on her face, and her hand trembled as I lifted her palm.
"For you," I said gently smiling. "May the sparkle return, dear princess." I closed her fingers around the anklet. And kissed her cheek. Over her shoulder I noted the flicker of annoyance or was it jealousy in Hephaestian's eyes. I stood back, waiting for a retort on the extravagance of the gift, or the unwelcome nature of the gift. But none came. I was disappointed, not that I did not enjoy bestowing jewelry on women, especially beautiful women. It was that this time it served a dual purpose. And from the reaction it did not receive, I could tell it was a lost cause.
Watching Drypetis study the gift with quiet curiosity, I thought perhaps it was not a complete waste. No doubt she would look into its history. Discover its origins and wear it with pride. It once belonged to a Pharaoh's lover. It was his marriage gift to her. She wore it always. The inscription in its band was in Arabic, and it read, 'My desert temptress, my delicate flower, and the essence of my soul,' a passionate omission from a man in love. Perhaps that would provoke something, if the trinket did not. As I watched them leave the room, I saw a frown knit across the brow of my friend. Though he may deny it, I did believe he was growing fond of the woman.
After they returned from the expedition, there was a change between them. But still they did not seem like a pair in love. Not once since their marriage night, had they shared a bed. Having guards and servants crawling throughout the palace, it was easy to discover if someone was alone. A joke had spread among the men about providing the princess with some entertainment, since she was obviously bored. She had made good use of Razul since their return. He was often seen trailing after her, as she wandered the palace at night. At first I had found it humorous, but as the stories stretched in persistence, so did my patience. The joke would end. His honour as a man was being tested. And as my vizier, it reflected poorly on me. That morning when I sought a private audience with him, I was annoyed to discover that he had not left his chamber yet. As I was about to knock and burst in, someone flew at my ankles and clung tightly, pouring out apologies with desperate intensity. I managed to shuffle a short distance from the door, and haul the girl to her feet.
"What is the matter?" I queried with a sharp hiss. She was causing a scene, and already two women further down the passage had paused to observe.
She looked at the door and then up at me. "My lady. She is..."
I broke out in laughter. My relief was so sudden in its intensity, I felt tears pooling in my eyes. Seeing the girl's shocked face, I patted her arm. "I will leave them be. You have my word. When you do see my Vizier, tell him I wish to speak with him."
The girl nodded furiously. And took her post again a short distance away. I walked away grinning broadly. It was fast becoming a very good day.
In council chambers, we were greeted by an unusually beaming Hephaestian, who was uncharacteristically late in joining the group. He apologised for not appearing on time, and went on to give his report without further delay. No one else seemed to know what had brought on the change. I did however, and during his speech I smiled with that secret knowledge, relieved to know that my first instincts about their match were finally proving correct.
But all was not to last. Like the spring before the harsh winter, the flowers that bloomed with fragile perfection, shed their petals and blended with the earth. No more would the same flower ever appear, their scent and beauty soon to be a distant memory. If only our lives had played out differently before my eyes. The painful moments too many in number, the joyous ones too far and few. How short it had all been. Far too short, only 21 years. Barely half of the lifetime we dreamed we would share together. The one son I did have to young to wear a crown, and the other a bastard son, who would never see a throne. And my poor Hephaestian. No child to continue his legacy. The blame would not rest with Drypetis. The woman loved her husband. It had been too little too late. If anything I blame myself for letting Hephaestian too close. Perhaps our love had claimed all of his heart. And blinded him to the love of another. But regrets would not bring him back. Part of my dream ended the day Hephaestian died. Perhaps part of myself too. Perhaps if I had remembered my mother's counsel. If I had listened to Drypetis and Stateria instead of closing them both out, then maybe my own legacy would have had more promise.
As I drank from my cup, I could feel the liquid burn a trail of fire down my throat. Often I had used the drink to numb my troubles. To blur the faces that plagued my waking hours. To drown the voices that screamed and tore for my attention. The more I took in the better I felt. It was like being awake, but in a dream. The peace was fleeting, but so it seemed, was the tale of my days as a conqueror. That evening was different from all the others. After falling into a dreamless sleep from the effects of the wine, I awoke the next morning to a raging fever. It lasted unbroken for three months. I drifted between consciousness and dream state, never knowing which was real, and each instance I awoke to feel the pain, I prayed that the sickness would cease.
"Please Alexander, you must live." I heard Roxane pleading, the desperation in her voice, the sound of her cries. I knew they were all there - all of them - my advisors, my mentors, the leaders of my campaigns, waiting.
Waiting for me to name a successor. Waiting for me to die. Not one of them did I believe wished for me to win this battle. Every one of them were wagering on my death. All of their dreams, all of their plans depended on it. How I had not seen their secret desires? Why had I had been blind to their conspiracy? How long had they been waiting, perhaps planning this moment? Only two women were in mourning beside me, one at my head, and the other at my feet. Two gracious sisters, unmatched in beauty and wisdom. Both worthy of more than I ever gave, but both accepting much less. With what little strength I had, I brought Stateria's fingers to my lips.
"You are free of me," I whispered my voice breaking.
My vision was blurred and the room echoed with voices. Too many voices. I could feel my veins pulsing in my neck, and the blood thundering in my ears. Breath…I need air, cannot breathe.
"You must name your successor. To whom do you leave your rule, Alexander?" Cassander demanded.
"The fittest," I gasped. "…the strongest."
The room fell silent. Drypetis stood, and walked to the head of the bed to kneel by her sister. Taking her in her arms, they each cried openly into the still warm body of their king. A man once strong and powerful enough to put fear into the heart of the most seasoned warrior, son of a god he himself had claimed, was mortal in the end.
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References: Jona Lendering (1996-2005) "Alexander The Great" (online) http: www. livius. org/aj-al/alexander/alexander00. html visited 25-27 Jan 2005