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Karen Wehrstein - I, Alexander


Karen Wehrstein, Huntsville, Canada


I, Alexander


unknown, in researching / writing stage, about 25% written


unknown; Karen already published three books in the 90s and several short stories


three-book historical series covering the life of Alexander from birth to death, written from his point of view

I heard Philotas’s voice through my door. “Alexander? You’re under arrest.”

He was not much for humour, but I couldn’t think of any other explanation for this. I opened the door. He was in full gear, and so were the two other men at his shoulders. Neither that nor the look of discomfort at doing this on their faces suggested a prank.

“If my father wants to see me about something urgent, I don’t need to be arrested to go to his office,” I said. “I’m perfectly willing.” I stepped towards Philotas, meaning he should get out of my way.

I could see the touch of inward struggle he had, not to move. “Look, Alexander, I’m just following orders. He said we were to bind your hands.”

He stared down at me and I stared up at him for a long moment, and then Hephaistion and I said, in unison, “What in the Gods-inhabited world is this about?”

“I don’t know; he just said to arrest Alexander, there was good reason. If you want to find out, let me bind your hands and you can hear it from him.”

If I tried to escape somehow, it would look as if I were guilty of whatever I was accused of; besides, they were three to our two, and we were unarmed. I thought of jumping back, slamming and bolting the door and going out the window; but if my father had done this the usual way, there’d be guards waiting, both on the ground and on the roof.

Mentally exploring with wonder the idea of my life having taken this turn, as we do when in total shock, I turned, and felt my wrists pulled together behind my back, and the rough feel the rope on my skin. “Grant me one mercy,” I said. “Let me wear my cloak over my shoulders, so no one sees.” I guess my father hadn’t foreseen and forbidden that, for Philotas agreed and Tion pinned it on. I remember the gentleness of his touch, greater even than usual.

My father was alone in his office. He sent out the other two, let Tion and Philotas stay. I had thought I would say something, but I just looked at him.

He lifted a letter. “This is from our ear in Halikarnassos,” he said.

“ 'The story going around is that Philip, King of Makedonia, secretly approached our satrap, Pixodaros, with a marriage offer, of his son Philip Arrhidaios to the satrap’s daughter. Of course everyone interprets this as part of his invasion plan, an attempt to gain Pixodaros’s assistance. But the satrap had barely received this communication, and sent to the Great King reporting it, when he received another, through the tragedian Thettalos, who had come to perform here. This was from the other son of Philip, Alexander, and it also proposed a marriage, but with himself as the prospective husband. People are saying this seems odd, but are theorizing that Alexander acted out of worry that you, my king, wished to make a match for Arrhidaios out of an intention to name him rather than Alexander your successor, since your relations with Alexander have become strained.' ”

I must have looked as I was, completely stunned. At the same time, my mind was running faster than wind, to put together what must have happened.

Our dealing with Pixodaros had got back to Dareios, obviously. The satrap had had to come up with a version for the king, lightning-fast, that showed him innocent of treason. Either to make a thorough point of it, or on Dareios’s command, he’d had to put out publicly a story that made us look like fools. There was a certain self-importance in it, having my father and me tripping over each other to arrange marriages with his daughter, which made me think it had been his own idea. Thettalos had been there; that he was my friend added plausibility, and Pixodaros wouldn’t hesitate to throw a mere actor to the wolves to save himself.

“So a Persian gets caught out plotting with us,” I said, “and therefore has to damn us fast... and that’s why I’m in your office with my hands tied behind my back? Father, I don’t understand.”

He said, “The story’s public, Alé. It’s going to get here soon enough.”

I had no idea why he’d said this, so I answered it honestly. “So then we can tell everyone it’s Persian lies; why would they doubt it, with a story so preposterous? I still don’t see why you’ve arrested me.”

“Because I want the truth.”

I stared at him, feeling sickness grow. I didn’t know which was worse: the idea that he believed an impossible stupidity of me, or that he didn’t believe it but had done this to me anyway. My mind fled back and forth between them like a hare between two grass-fires. At least it was easy to know what to say.

“The truth is I did no such thing, father. If I must swear, then I swear by Zeus, all the Gods be my witness.”

“It’s not as if no one ever makes false oaths,” he said, his one eye unchanging on mine.

The rope hurt my wrists, letting me know I’d strained against it. I took a breath and bit my tongue on the words I guess you’d know something of false oaths.

“So have me tortured, then. Go ahead! They’ll kill me before I change my story, because it’s the truth, and I just swore on it before the Gods.” I set myself against sensing what Tion was feeling.

Philip got up and paced, almost brushing my nose with the side of his shoulder. He loved to show me how much bigger he was than I when I’d crossed him. “You are so damned stubborn they’d have to half-kill you anyway, before you confessed to anything.”

His frustration encouraged me. “Father, have you not applied logic to this? Why would I do such a thing? It’s hardly as if I could make a marriage with Pixodaros without you finding out! All has been well between us, I have your public promise and you have my loyalty and we’re about to set off against Persia—why would I ruin all that for a plan that could never work? And what on earth would I be looking to marry the daughter of a Persian vassal for, anyway, when if it’s any Persian I marry it will be royalty—right? It makes no sense several ways; I can’t believe you believe it. You’ve caught Pixodaros lying already, twice, in this story—saying we approached him, and then saying he reported it right away to the Great King, oh, I’m sure!”

I was almost laughing; now I let my mouth run away, as teenagers armed with training in logic will sometimes do, imagining unassailable logic makes them unassailable. “What are you going to do, try me before the army for... for what, treason? On this evidence? They’ll think you’ve gone out of your head.” I could almost feel Tion cringe inwardly.

My father said, as if thinking aloud, “Actors aren’t so brave.” He sat back down, snatched a parchment out of the clean pile, took up his pen and dipped it in the ink, all without a glance at me, giving it time to sink in.

Thettalos. I felt a draining out of my face, heat all over, the prickling beginning of sweat. My father was writing to Corinth, “Send him.” With the story public, he could legitimately do it, as investigation.

Being totally innocent, Thettalos would have no truth, no story that would make sense and fit with what else was known, to give the torturers so they would spare him. If they didn’t let on that it was about me, he’d look like he was holding out because he wouldn’t know what to say to give in. If they did tell him it was about me, he would hold out for my sake, and if it got far enough to break him, he would incriminate me, falsely, then suffer the worse afterwards for knowing he had. He was doomed every way. I thought of his voice, his perfect bearing, his beautiful way of moving; of what produced them all, his spirit. How hard could it be to ruin an actor by torture?

“Father—” I swallowed; all my avowals wouldn’t save Thettalos, I’d only be making it more certain. “Father.” He looked up at me with the smile I’d always liked to see when I was younger, for the sake of Makedonia and my own eventual fortunes: the smile of knowing his stratagem would work.

I did what I had to. “Let him be and I’ll accept what punishment you choose.”

He didn’t push for a confession. That wasn’t the point. I saw why he had reminded me the story would soon be public. That’s what’s going to make it possible for me take you down a rung, was what he’d meant. It didn’t matter to him whether it was true; I’d seem guilty, lose face and credibility, lose whatever power he chose to take from me through the punishment he chose. He had promised me only under duress that I’d be his successor, and counted the loyalty I’d sworn to him as coin only, to be taken away when it suited me, same as his own. He had been waiting for a chance, and the lost agreement with Pixodaros had provided it. Always find some gain in your losses, he’d taught me.

I’d only get it worse for saying the one last thing I wanted to, but I did anyway. “Pixodaros—or Dareios—must also have been thinking of widening the rift between you and me, with this. They’ll be delighted to find out how well it worked.”

He fixed me with his one dark eye. “Have I any reason to doubt that we are anything but entirely in accord on everything, Alexander?”

“No, father,” I said, there being nothing else to say.

He ordered Ptolemy, Harpalos, Erigyios, Laomedon and Nearchos sent into exile, while Hephaistion stayed as hostage to my good behaviour. I didn’t even get to say goodbye; my father had Philotas take me back to my room and keep me under watch until they were out of town. (Why had my father sent Philotas? To make him and me enemies, no doubt.) Hephaistion didn’t get to say anything to them either, since he wouldn’t leave me.

I was thirsty, but wasn’t about to have myself given a drink like a baby. I managed to keep my anger-trembling from showing until Philotas had freed me. Tion’s lips turned into a hard whitened line as soon as the door closed.

“If you asked me to kill him, I would,” he said softly.

“You shouldn’t say that.” I knew he wasn’t talking idly; he meant it, that was clear on his face. “I’d never ask you to do such a thing, philos, in a thousand years, for so many reasons.” I put all imaginings of my father’s death out of my mind, afraid they’d be too tempting to my heart.

“I know, Alé. However much he might deserve it, you never would. You know you were magnificent.”

I stared at him. I felt about as magnificent as a sheep-turd. “What, because I didn’t break down in front of him? Maybe in my old age I’m getting used to this shit.”

“How many men could look Philip of Makedonia in the eye and say ‘Torture me’ without any fear? How many princes would suffer this treatment to save an actor?”

“Thettalos has done absolutely nothing! Besides, he’s a friend. I can’t drag other people into what’s between my father and me. And you know, I really didn’t care if he did have me tortured, right then.”

“You are too busy being deserving of love to notice yourself doing it,” he said, more softly.

My mind was still running. “Thettalos... do you think I should write him to stay clear of Pella for a while? It won’t be long until we’re gone, Philip and me both... damn it, is he exiling the five from the campaign, too? I didn’t ask him that, I don’t know if I should, he might decide to if I seem too eager...” It was planning-talk after that; with Tion’s help I decided to tell Thettalos only what had happened, and let him make his own choices, and to see how things went between my father and me before mentioning the five and the campaign. All very capable men, they should be there, but there was enough time that I needn’t bring it up right away.

I had never seen Hephaistion so angry at my father. He had started hiding it from me in Illyria, except in flashes, not wanting to worry or trouble me. As I cooled off, I told myself, and him, that except for our friends being gone, nothing had changed; I had been loyal before, and still was, and some day they’d be allowed back, perhaps for the campaign. I told myself and him that no one in his right mind would truly believe that I had offered myself as son-in-law to Pixodaros; everyone would recognize it for disinformation, whatever they pretended to think in front of my father. (A few people asked, until my answer of “I don’t speak on that subject,” given with a glare, taught them they shouldn’t.)

Many older people spoke to me gently. Try to understand your father’s position, with a son as remarkable as you barking on his heels, they said; don’t blame him for being cautious about his security when he’s about to embark on such a campaign; be patient, you have all your life ahead of you, your time will come. I would see the truth in it, nod and thank them, and think, “Easy for you to say, who have lived so long.”

I thought my father might shut me out of the planning, but if anything, he happily involved me more closely. Of course now he has me more under his thumb, I thought, he feels more certain of me. Unless Thettalos went into hiding; but an actor can hardly do that and still eat, and so he would remain hostage. So I’d sit with my father, pore over maps, make calculations, and tell myself the yoke on my shoulders wasn’t any heavier than that of any of his other insubordinates.

Excerpt submitted to by Karen Wehrstein. © Karen Wehrstein.