Hard Decision

Summary: A fateful event leaves Alexander no other responsible choice but to do exactly what Parmenion would have done.


Alexander's feelings towards Parmenion had never been without a hint of ambivalence. He had inherited Parmenion from his father along with the powerful Macedonian army. Philip's most trusted general was capable and courageous in the battlefield, a trait Alexander respected in his friends and foes alike. Parmenion's record as a commander was impressive and he had successfully fulfilled his responsibility of commanding the left wing of the Macedonian army at Issus and Gaugamela, allowing Alexander and his cavalry to strike the decisive blow against Darius' Persian force. On the battlefront, Alexander found a kindred spirit in Parmenion.

Parmenion's loyalty, however, was not something Alexander could take for granted. This was after all the man who married the daughter of Attalus, who was the very cause of Alexander's humiliating exile. Alexander did not need Olympias' bitter accusations to understand what the union meant. Had Parmenion regarded Alexander as a likely successor of Philip, he would not have made such an open alliance with a man who made no secret of his ambition which was clearly not compatible with Alexander's accession to the Macedonian throne.

That of course did not automatically turn Parmenion into Alexander's enemy. The old general was too shrewd a politician to place all eggs in one basket. He had encouraged his son Philotas to remain close to Alexander. Most importantly, he made a wise decision to support Alexander once the Macedonian army found Attalus guilty of Philip's murder and declared Alexander as their king. Alexander, not the type to dwell on old injuries, rewarded the general by restoring him to his previous position during Philip's reign. Parmenion was to be second in command in Alexander's army. It made sense from both political and military view points.

This beautiful simplicity was however often absent in Alexander's life. Unlike his father, the Macedonian king did not enjoy an intimate relationship with the old general. Alexander was even more ambitious than his father, and Parmenion's aspiration, when it came to the Persian Empire, did not stretch beyond the horizon Philip sought to reach. The Macedonian king and his second in command often disagreed over how far the military campaign should go and how the conquered Persians should be treated. True, Parmenion was merely representing the feelings of the Old Guard who had served under Philip. Still, Alexander often found it insufferable to be harassed by a persistent father and his equally importunate son in his own court. He had made Parmenion and Philotas a little too powerful.

The solution to his dilemma seemed simple enough. Alexander separated Parmenion and Philotas as often as he could afford, detaching the old general to command his communication lines. It seemed a prudent choice to keep the son at his side, since Philotas was his boyhood friend and had less influence in his court. The arrangement could have worked perfectly, had Philotas not been treacherous.

Unfortunately, however, Alexander had been wrong about Philotas' friendship. It was a bitter pill to swallow. His friends had repeatedly warned Alexander of Philotas' disloyalty. Craterus even arranged a secret interview with Antigone, Philotas' mistress, to let the Macedonian king know exactly what Philotas had been saying behind Alexander's back. What he heard did not please Alexander, but he had already known Philotas to be arrogant and pompous. He did not believe Philotas capable of actually wishing him harm. His friends thought differently, but then they had never liked Philotas.

There was no emotional outburst when Alexander was informed of Philotas' betrayal. His fury on this occasion was cold, his face calm and resolute. He knew he could not deal with Philotas without considering Parmenion's likely reaction to his son's disgrace. He didn't know which he hated Philotas more for, betraying his trust or forcing him into a blood feud with the old general. One thing was certain. Parmenion should not learn his son's fate until Alexander could make his move.

It was the sense of urgency that helped him to keep his composure during the crisis. He had no option but to respond to the event as a king. He could ponder and grieve over what might have been, once his empire was no longer under threat. In the meantime, decisions had to be made and he would abide by them.

In his heart, he already knew what he would do with Parmenion. He had known it from the moment he found out Philotas' inconceivable refusal to inform him of the plot against his life. Whether Philotas was behind the conspiracy or merely sought to benefit from it, it was clear that he did not value Alexander's life. The Macedonian king did not believe Philotas' lame excuse for the unforgivable act no more then did the assembly of Macedonian soldiers who condemned him to death. And once Alexander saw Philotas' death, he also saw Parmenion's.

Either that or facing the disastrous future of his army's supply line being cut off with no reinforcements in the harsh winter of Bactria. Worse, a war between Macedonian forces in a hostile land. No responsible king could spare Parmenion's life.

Yet, Alexander could not help but wonder whether there was another way, even as he was writing a royal warrant that sealed Parmenion's fate. It bothered him that he would never know whether Parmenion was informed of the conspiracy any more than the exact extent of Philotas' treachery. He would never know whether he should feel sorrowful or be glad over ridding himself of his father's trusted companion. His feelings towards the much respected general would always remain ambivalent.

"Alexander, the messengers are ready to set off. Shall I bring them in?"

Alexander lifted his gaze from the scroll he had yet to seal to greet Hephaistion. A deep frown marred the handsome countenance of his faithful friend, whose gaze was fixed on the royal ring Alexander had been playing with. The King realised then that the wax was getting cold.

"You are not having second thoughts, are you? It's no more than what Parmenion would have done, had he been in your position."

Alexander gave a weary smile and sent his squire out to fetch fresh hot wax. The old tower room he had been staying in smelled damp with windows that seemed to let in more wind than light. Alexander thought it somehow fitting that he conducted the unpleasant business of signing Parmenion's death warrant here while Parmenion lived his last days like a king in Ecbatana.

"And that is supposed to cheer me up?" Alexander asked almost playfully, trying to lighten the situation. "You know I took delight in telling Parmenion that I would not do as he would."

"Ah, that you did and it gave me such pleasure that I was almost sorry to see him leave the court." Hephaistion smiled indulgently. "Of course, being away from the court never stopped him from offering you his invaluable advice."

"And it frightened the life out of my poor doctor at Tarsus."

"Oh yes, he warned you that Darius bribed old Philip to poison you. You proved right when you ignored the counsel, but you were reckless. You shouldn't have drunk the medicine prepared by him."

"You are right. The potion tasted atrocious."

"You are impossible." Hephaistion shook his head, laughing. Then, his tone took a serious turn. "Alexander, you know we are all behind you."

"All of you? Even Cleitus?" Alexander sounded sceptical.

"He is unhappy about the situation, but deep down he too understands the necessity. In any case, we have Coenus' whole-hearted support and it is he who is Parmenion's son-in-law."

"Coenus was a real find and so were Parmenion's two other sons. Remember Hector whom we lost in Egypt?"

"I thought you would never stop grieving."

"If we had lost him in battle, it would have been easier. But he was drowned because of the weight of his armour. I grieved for what Fate had deprived of him as much as for the loss of his company."

"And now you think it was better that way. That he didn't live long enough to see what Fate had in store for his family."

"Yes, I will have to take some consolation in that. It could have been worse."

"The important thing is that you are still alive and that Macedonia needs their king more than Parmenion. Do you recall the one defeat Parmenion suffered? It was when his army learned your father's death. It is my duty, as your friend and as a Macedonian, to do everything in my power to keep you safe."

Alexander smiled up at the resolute face that would not take no for an answer. He remembered how vehemently Hephaistion advocated the use of torture against Philotas while they discussed the appropriate punishment for the traitor. Angry Hephaistion was a terrifying presence in any council, with his brutal cold logic that did not give his opponents an inch. In the end, he got what he wanted with a strong support from Craterus and Coenus who didn't want to be outshone by Alexander's favourite friend in displaying their righteous anger against the treacherous Philotas. He recalled the wrath of Achilles upon learning his beloved Patroclus' death and knew that he would have acted just the same manner as Hephaistion, had someone plotted against his friend's life.

The only shame of it all was he could not give Parmenion a hero's death, which he might or might not have deserved.

The rusty door creaked open. His squire had brought in hot wax.

"Hephaistion, I will see the envoys now."

"And you will not regret?"

Alexander gave an answer that would set his friend's mind at ease and was glad to know that he was speaking the truth. "No, I will not."