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Some Man's Scheherazade

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I saw him again today, at sun-up—even this city is empty at that hour—by the docks. What god led me there I do not know, I do not, even now, venture far from my home—they hate the Parsa here, as they worship my lord, and only because I am known to be who I was am I tolerated—but it must have been some kind god. It is twice, now, that I have seen him, and the first I have seen him in the day.

 

I am glad that I saw him. The nose is different, and the set of his eyes, and the look in them—I had not known that, then, in lamplight, and secrecy, with the sarcophagus between us, but he is not my lord. Just a boy—sixteen, perhaps—though he could pass for Alexander, were the light dim, and hope strong in those who saw him.

 

As it was in mine, I do not deny it. He had so often cheated death. Then too, I had wanted him alive, and with the fire gleaming on the boy’s hair, for a moment I had thought.

 

Do not start, or stand up so fast you spill your wine; I would not have the servant here, listening to us. It was but a moment, in flickering light. I knew him today, for what he never was. It matters nothing.

 

Sit. Do you fear I shall run to the Athenian with my tale? She likes me not overmuch, and I would not add to those gathered in her rose-garden. The boy must know who he looks like. He would hardly have wandered here, did he want trouble.

 

You think me foolish, to trust his face, when I have seen it but twice, and never heard him speak, or his name? Perhaps, and this boy will soon be found, by those whose eyes will be thought better judges of his looks than I. He is young enough, and old enough, to have been born in Macedon. Yet he came with the bier, and so Ptolemy must know of him, and yet he walks under the sun.

 

And perhaps he looks nothing, after all, like Alexander, to eyes less fond. It matters nothing. Tell me instead your stories. They make for better listening. And I had rather hear them from you, than those hungry to hear mine.

 

***

 

But you would not stay, to savour the old wine, or the pomegranates newly picked, and only played with them as Persephone must have done, as eager to leave as anxious to stay. I do not blame you—perhaps your wife was truly as jealous of our meeting as you implied. But I have met her, and spoken with her, and she, in the bloom of her beauty, would not think me enough to steal you away, for all I have been the lover of kings. But then, she is as avid to hear my stories as you, and better, perhaps, at knowing them, than you, so dazzled by splendour and battles—Some an army of horsemen, some an army on foot and some say a fleet of ships is the loveliest sight, on this dark earth, and so think you.

 

Better you think as you do, and come of an evening still to hear my stories, and carry them to your masters, where you think they will earn you the most in commendation. You think me too simple to know to what use you put my stories, who have been at court since before you learnt to mount a horse or heft a spear. But a king’s plaything—for what else can a Persian eunuch be?—knows him better than the king’s soldier who sees him only in his shining armour, almost a god leading them to victory. I saw him wounded and festering from the Mallian arrow, and yet going to his army’s comfort. I saw him labouring for breath in the great bed while outside the horse-lords debated who would next be king. I saw him mad with grief in Ekbatana, and exultant in Susa—almost, then, I would have said he was in love, had I not known him in love.

 

Seven years in life I was with him, and fourteen years in all have I lived knowing the moods of men—you, armed with a sword and a plain face and your father who put you on your horse, why would I have you think me aught but simple?—and yet you think I would tell you all my stories, and take in return what you think the secrets of Ptolemy’s court. Piddling secrets, heard overhearing guards gossip, and for that you believe all my stories are yours. Cling to this belief, as those others do who hear my stories of my lord. Your wife knows better than you this game of mine, but her too you will not believe—for what do women know?

 

And yet. And yet best you had not come today, for I should not have told you of the boy. I would not have, tomorrow, or even had you come when the sun had set. You came too soon, and this first came to my tongue, what I should have never told you. It matters nothing, the boy looks like Alexander only because of his height, and hair, and great grey eyes. The grinning fool we must call King of Asia is as like his father. Yet, he is King, and none of Alexander’s friends could prevent that, not even Ptolemy. And this boy was on nobody’s leading string, and not even his friend was with him, as on that night. And if he is not a fool, he cannot be as easily guided, or fooled as the fool must have been.

 

And he had a lamb’s face, besides, beautiful as he was, and will lead no men, though he kill them. More it was his friend who misled me, in the lamp-light, who held him close—his face was a man’s, and stern, and crowned with hair shining copper in the fire. Today I knew him for who he was not. And tomorrow I will seek him out—he must have been a page, and his friend’s is a face I have seen among the Companions—tomorrow, or the day after, I shall find him, and throw myself at him.

 

And his friends will call him by his name, and look at me with laughing eyes, and though they laugh, will be kind to me, half-crazed with grief, and tell me how they too were misled, once, before they knew him, and tell me how unlike my lord he truly is. And I shall go dazed on my way, and they will have a story to share with their friends, and in time, perhaps even Ptolemy will know of it, and laugh. And the boy will be safe, who I might have put in danger. I should not have told you of him, for your false charm. Ptolemy, for all his love for Alexander—his brother, he called him, whether it be truth of blood or no—will not bear having his fragile peace challenged.

 

And if I become laughing-stock, for it, it matters nothing. Alexander would have called it necessary.