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Well, the whole point of this journal was for me to keep all my scribblings in one place. So this can go here as well. It's just me, mucking around.

Title: A Worthy Foe
Rating: G. Perfectly work safe.
Summary: Darius wonders who his enemy is.
Feedback: Yep.


Darius had hoped to avoid this war. Or, at the least, delay it. Delay to a degree they had managed, when a good deal of gold from the Royal Treasury had been given into certain hands, and Philippos of Macedon had died from it. From that, and from the spite of a lover scorned. The gold – and the men to whom it had been paid – had not dealt with Philippos’ son though. Perhaps he had not been thought an issue. Perhaps it had not been considered that he even needed to be dealt with. Darius, Great King of Persia, thought that rather a pity. If someone had only thought of dealing with this Alexandros sooner, he would not have mustered an army across the sea, waiting only for the weather to settle so that he could cross the straight to make war on Darius’ lands, and Darius would not have found himself in the position of having to take care of matters himself.

Not that he intended on doing any such thing. Not directly, in any case. He was Great King after all, he had governors and generals, aides and armies, to do these things for him. He himself had to do very little, in fact, beyond give an order here, a command there – a twitch of his fingers, that was all, a slight nod of his head. The Great King of Persia did not carry out his own will. He simply made his will known, and others carried it out for him. Even, Darius sometimes thought, when he was alone and could let the mask of kingship slip, to the point of distraction. He was not entirely sure how he felt about that, in those times when he was not wearing that mask – he had been a soldier once, in his life before he was the chosen of Ahura Mazda and Great King; he’d been good at it, enjoyed it. Great Kings of Persia, however, were not soldiers. He could be a general, stir himself to war, go forth in his gilded battle chariot with his ten thousand Immortals and a mighty army mustered from all the corners of his kingdom, meet the enemy under the eyes of the Lord of Light, and see him smitten down and his troops put to flight. He could not, though, stride after him across a field of war, call him down and fight him in the dust until the blood flowed red. That was not for Great Kings to do, and never mind that it would have made the world a good deal simpler.

A battle chariot, the Immortals, the ungainly sprawl of the Royal Household on the march … Darius sighed, thinking of it. It was an inward thing, that sigh – it was not fitting for the Great King to show emotion as other men. The Great King, Darius had learned, was not meant to show emotion at all, not in his public life. The Great King was as far above such things as that as the sun and stars were above the men they shone down on. Besides, it put on a good show, that regal impassivity. It impressed, it intimidated, it woke awe and a healthy respect. No one would respect a king who laughed, or who walked among his people and spoke to them face to face. It was a quality of kings that Darius had taken the effort to learn, that stillness and seeming calm in the face of the world. It would not do to let every thought he had show itself on his face. Better to seem unshakable and aloof than bored or concerned or even unsure, after all. In the wide, cool hall, his chamberlain was droning on about some trivial thing to do with tributes and taxes, but Darius let the words go past him to the many silent and scribbling scribes who wrote such things down and let his mind go on wondering about Alexandros of Macedon.

To march his army, his whole Household, to war … ah, it all seemed like rather a lot of effort to go to for only some little yellow haired barbarian kinglet. Darius was not sure that this man was worth it, this Alexandros. His noble lords, his satraps with their garrisons and walled cities, said that he was not. What had he done, they asked, besides destroy some squalling village in Hellas, and set a few tribesmen to rout? Philippos had been a threat, a man who knew what he wanted and what he was about. They had watched Philippos from across the sea, expanding, consolidating, building himself a nation to be king of, and casting his eyes then to Persia. Alexandros … well, that was a different matter, Darius was told. Alexandros was a nuisance, his generals said, that was all. The Great King of Persia and all his army should not bestir themselves for anything as trivial as that.

The Great King should, the Great King should not. The Great King was told a good many things. It did not help. There were times when Darius suspected he was told only what his lords and generals and chamberlains thought that he wanted to hear. What Darius of Persia wanted to hear when it came to Alexandros of Macedon, he could not truthfully say – he only knew that what he had been told so far did not quite seem like enough.

He thought he might know a way to rectify that. Eyes-and-ears were all very well, and Darius had his agents who reported to him of what his enemies – and his allies, for that matter – might be doing, but this new kinglet of the Greeks remained an unknown. He contradicted himself at every turn, if the reports from Darius’ agents were to be believed. He was a poet, a warrior, a philosopher, a barbarian thug. He was generous to a fault, said one report, and too too trusting; he was ruthless said another, with a temper like lightning, quick and sharp and fit to strike a man dead. Darius would have liked to know which of these things were true. What he needed, Darius decided, was a man who knew his enemy. It was fortunate for him that he had one such, and knew just where to find him.

He lifted a finger, cutting off the chamberlain in mid-ramble, and rose stately and proud to his feet. “Enough,” he said, without raising his voice at all. “Have the matters remained recorded and seen to. Have Memnon of Rhodes brought to the Winter Garden. I would speak with him. That is all.”

The Great King did not carry out his own will. He simply let his will be known, and others ran to carry it out for him.

*****

Memnon of Rhodes did not run. Not to obey summons, at any rate. He did not need to, not these days. He may only have been a mercenary general in the eyes of the world, but he had proven himself many times over, cut his reputation out on the fields of war in this land and others until it went before him and made the world take notice. He had earned wealth for his men, and honour for himself – honour enough to speak in the presence of kings and never bow his head for a moment beyond what Persian court manners required. They were a balancing act, the manners of the Persian court; Memnon had learned to use them as soundly as any other strategy, and anticipate them too. On a battlefield, power might change hands based on the smallest of things – a song, a surge, a single act of bravery. In the Royal Persian court, it was the same; a man’s life could be won and lost in the way he held his eyes, or how he lowered himself before the Great King. Too much of one way, and a man lost whatever pride or regard he might have had. Too far the other, and he would be punished for having pride too much. Memnon did not run … but nor did he dally, and keep the Great King waiting.

The Winter Garden was a wonder of a place, here in this city of gardens and courtyards and lush greenery. It was colonnaded on three sides, airy green spaces of sunlight and shade where a man could walk or sit or simply take the air. The fourth side lay open to the walls, with a great drop to the city below. The winter sun angled across it through the day, made it shimmer in shades of gold and green and warm, soft light. Memnon had learned to like the place in spite of its tame and trammelled nature; in Babylon, it seemed, even the gardens answered to the will of the Great King.

Memnon had learned to like Darius too. The man was new still to the throne of Persia, and he seemed both more direct and less corrupt than those that had gone before. Or perhaps it was only that Memnon was more used to it now, to what it was to be Great King in Persia. He’d been in this land for half of his life, it seemed – even taken a Persian wife of an old and noble family, and got children by her too. He knew the language and the customs, though he had never been able to bring himself to wear those fool trousers. He had, over the years, become used to a great many things that had seemed strange and foreign to him at first. A man who was not careful, Memnon had decided, could become accustomed to almost anything.

He was announced into the Great King’s presence by one of the palace eunuchs, a long narrow creature with a smooth face and a fluting voice. As always, the odd smooth skin and long soft body and the thought of what it had lost unsettled him – a man could become accustomed to almost anything, but the Persian habit of gelding men and letting them live made him shudder. Any man who lost that part of himself should, the mercenary thought, be allowed to die with what was left of his dignity. Better that, than this half life as this half creature that was neither man nor woman and not as useful as either. Trousers, then, and eunuchs – two things he had not accustomed himself to. Two things that still set him apart, that still let him say in his head and his heart, I am of Hellas. In such small ways, a man held to his home as he may.

The eunuch withdrew, and Memnon bowed low and low in formal greeting, the ritual abasement before the Great King. Darius barely seemed to note it, only inclined his head a little as Memnon straightened again, waving him forward with a flick of his much beringed hand.

“I am curious,” Darius said without preamble, “about this Alexandros of Macedon. You know him, yes?”
Memnon gave a little nod. Oh yes, Darius was much more direct. It was to the good. Memnon preferred a man who got to the point. “I did once, Great Lord. When I lived in Macedon briefly, in his father’s household.”
“Good.” Darius nodded, once, decisively. “You will tell me of him. Come. We will walk.”

Darius did not wait to see if Memnon would follow, he simply walked and assumed that he would. Memnon had not expected anything else. He fell into step behind the Great King, at a distance both practical and respectful. He had to stretch his legs to keep up; Darius was a tall man, and given to striding out. They walked along the colonnade, from sun to shade to cool dappled light, and back to sun again. In the garden, a coloured bird whirred past in a bright flurry of feathers, calling as it went in a voice both sweet and harsh. Memnon watched it as it flew out over the walls.

“My agents,” Darius said, ignoring the bird, “tell me many things. They report to me that this Alexandros, he is an educated man, that he reads poetry and philosophy. They also report that he is ruthless and brutal, that he lives on war and drinks the blood of his enemies. Tell me, which is true?”
Memnon gave a quiet snort. Darius needed to find himself better spies, if that was all he was getting. Aloud, he said, “Both are most likely true, Great Lord. Though I have my doubts about the blood drinking. Macedonians are a rough people, but they are not savages.”
“Are they not?” The Persian king glanced at Memnon briefly, as if he neither believed that nor cared. “So then, tell me, if both these things are more or less true, what manner of a man is he, this Alexandros of yours?”
“With respect, Great Lord, he is not my Alexandros. He is king of Macedon, and Macedon was never my home. And he was but a lad when I knew him.”
“Boys are only men writ small.” Darius paused, stepped out from the shelter of the colonnade into the garden itself. There was a fountain in one corner; he stopped there, leaning on the smooth stone rim, looking into the water. “My nobles, my generals, they tell me that he is merely a nuisance, a boy playing at soldiers. Are they right?”
That made Memnon bite back a laugh. Hera’s tits, was that what they thought? He’d known that at least half of them were fools, the Persian lords with their fineries and their sidelong glances, but he had not thought that they would take it so far as that. To dismiss an army of Macedon, no matter who led them, was folly enough. To dismiss Alexandros though – ah, he might have been only a boy when Memnon had known him, but Darius was right about one thing. Boys grew into men. Memnon remembered a young prince like a falcon diving out of the sun, quick and sharp and startling. He very much doubted that the thing that Alexandros had grown into would ever be called merely a nuisance by anyone.
“My lord,” he said seriously, “Great King. In Macedon, they do not play at soldiers. They are soldiers. And Alexandros is no longer a boy. You could do better than underestimate him.”
“You think, then,” the Great King said, in a calm, considered voice, as if he were discussing some academic treatise and not the enemy about to make war on him, “that we do underestimate him?”
“If your nobles believe that he is a raw boy, untried and green, then yes Great Lord, I believe so. He is Philippos of Macedon’s son, and Philippos was a man who understood war. This pup of his will be a wolf from the same pack.”
“Ah,” Darius said. He trailed long, jewelled fingers in the water of the fountain. A slow ribbon of silver rose to the surface, following them; a fish, light against the dark water. “But a pup all the same, yes?”
“My lord,” Memnon said, “No.” It was important, this – suddenly and deadly important. Memnon was paid, and paid well, to fight Darius’ battles; his troops would be the first into any engagement, hired men, foreign and expendable. It would very much help if Darius knew what he was up against. Memnon had no intention of dying simply because a brace of well bred Persians underestimated their enemy. He was not a man who liked paying for other people’s mistakes. He would take his enemies seriously, or not at all. Darius, if he was wise, would do the same. It could save them all a great deal of grief. “When a man holds his first regency at sixteen and leads an army to war, when he is a commander of cavalry at eighteen and destroys in one charge the Sacred Band of Thebes, when he is a king at twenty and crushes the city that the Band rose from so that no two stones stand one on the other, when he can keep down the north and settle the south in only a season, with his father’s death still fresh in the world, then he is not a man to be taken lightly. He has Philippos’ army and Philippos officers and the finest strategos in Hellas to tell him how things should be done. My lord, Great Lord of All, he is no untried pup, this man.”

For a moment, Darius seemed to consider that. He watched the fish slide silently through the water, under the gentle patter of the fountain, then raised his eyes to look out over the city below. Finally he said, “You have not yet answered my question. I would know, what manner of man is he?”
“My lord, I don’t know the man. I barely knew the boy.”
“Tell me then, of this boy you barely knew.” There was an edge of impatience to that. Darius may have been direct for a Persian king, but there was a limit to how direct a man could be in return. Memnon knew that. He stifled a sigh, and did as he was bid.

“He was a bright young thing, not big for his age but intelligent, and quite fearless. My lord will know that my father by marriage, Artabazus, spent the years of his exile in Macedon. I was there when that exile was recalled, and an embassy came to Pella to deliver the news and bring him home.” Memnon paused, remembering how out of place the Persian embassy had looked in Philippos’ half-finished palace, all shimmering silks and bright colours amid the blacks and whites and greys. It was true, what he had said to the Great King about the Macedonians being a rough people – civilisation in Macedon was a new enough thing to still show stark at the edges, especially to men of Persia whose lands had been civilised from nearly the dawn of time. It had been like watching a troop of peacocks strut through a pack of war hounds. “Philippos was away from the palace when they arrived, so the young prince received them in his father’s place. He couldn’t have been more than eight years old.” Memnon remembered that too, the golden haired boy who had escaped from his nurse, and who had greeted these oddly dressed strangers with a maturity beyond his years. Had he even been eight? He might have been younger. He had looked such a child, and the Persians had smiled tolerantly and settled in to wait for the king – “My father will be with you presently,” the young prince had said, in his high, piping voice – but then the boy had started asking questions, and they had not been a child’s questions at all. “He received the embassy, my lord, and made them welcome, and proceeded to question them on Persian law, and Persian custom, and in what ways the Royal Roads ran from city to city, and how long it might take an army to march from one to the next. Not questions for a child, my lord king. Questions for a soldier. Even then.”
“He had been schooled to ask them, then,” Darius supposed. Memnon shrugged carefully. It would not do to tell the Great King of Persia he was wrong.
“Perhaps, lord king. Though I don’t think so. When his father came and heard what the boy was asking, he laughed and called him … precocious.” Actually, what Philippos had said had been a good deal rougher and much less polite, though pride had still made up most of it. Memnon shrugged again, trying to think what else he could say. “Wolves are born to hunt, Great Lord. Men in Macedon are born to war. Princes in Macedon more than most.”

Another silence met that. Memnon suffered it; it was not his place to break it, he was not such a fool as that. Darius left off teasing the fish with his trailing fingers. He strode instead about the rim of the fountain, following the path of fine crushed stone that whispered and crunched softly under his slippered feet. The mercenary general stayed where he was, and watched as the Great King circled once and came back.
“You say he was weaned on war,” Darius said. “You say he is a wolf born to hunt. What of the poetry, then? The philosophy? Is this little king of theirs, this Alexandros,” and his tongue did odd things to that name, softening it, making it slide between teeth, Iskandros, “only an animal made to fight and kill? Or is he an enemy worthy of a Great King?”

Ah. Now there was something that Memnon had not expected – that Darius might be concerned for whether or not Alexandros of Macedon was worthy of him. It was, in Memnon’s opinion, errant nonsense to wonder any such thing … an enemy was an enemy, worthy or not. A man took his enemies seriously or he died of them as a rule, and only a fool would discount one simply for not being worthy. What did the man think that war was, some courtly dance of honour played out to make a man a hero? War was blood and ash and men bleeding their lives away in a pain beyond sound, that was what war was. One fought and lived, or one fought and died … but one did not, one absolutely did not, turn one’s back to a man because he was not a worthy foe. A man could do better for his death than to be stabbed from behind. Memnon preferred to face his enemies front on. Worthy. What kind of nonsense was that? He answered as best as could, trying not to let his teeth grit.
“He is said, my lord, to have been schooled in such things. Philippos took some care to see to that. He imported a tutor, I understand, and I remember the boy had some ear for music.” He made a small, blank gesture with his hands, holding his frustration down. Worthy. “My lord, I remember that he was sharp, that war ran in his veins, that he had been weaned on tales of glory and heroes. I remember that he was singleminded past all point of reason, and that he did not take well to being crossed. He hated to be told no, even then, would always fight for what he wanted, whether it be honeycakes before bedtime or a fine new horse. More than that, Great Lord, I cannot say. Only this; if the son takes after the father, he will be more than worthy enough, for you and for your army.” That was bold, that last, but it had to be said. If Darius was going to start discounting his enemies because they did not know enough poetry, Memnon thought he might soon be looking for another sponsor.

Darius was not completely a fool. He knew what he was being told. After all, he had been a soldier once. He gave Memnon a long, thoughtful stare.
“You think this kinglet of theirs might stand against us?”
There were two ways to answer that, that Memnon could think of. Safely, and honestly. He chose, gods help him, to be honest. It was the safest thing he could think of, in the long run – if it did not get him killed where he stood. “My lord,” he said, “If he is underestimated, yes. If he is underestimated enough, he could even win.”

Darius considered that. Memnon was a man who lived by war; he should, the Persian king thought, know what he was about. He had lived in Macedon – long enough, he had claimed, to know how they would fight, how they were equipped, what they were capable of doing. He said, as if he even believed it, that the barbarian kinglet might even win this war he wanted to start. That would have been amusing, if it had not also raised the hackles on Darius’ neck and made his gut turn cold and empty. By the Great Lord of Light, how much easier it all would be if he could only know what to do! As for this Alexandros … a warrior born, a poet and king – but it remained to be seen just what he was worth. There was Memnon’s say so, but Darius could not lift himself and his Household to war based on only that. Memnon was useful, but he was also a hired sword, no more – a barbarian Greek just as the little Macedonian king was, with no more rank by birth in the Persian court than one of Darius’ horses. If anyone was going to see what this Alexandros of Macedon was made of though, Darius would rather it was this man before him right now than any of his fine and powerful nobles, who would look down their noses and trip over their own feet. This man, at least, would take the enemy seriously. After that … well, after that, then Darius would not have to ask questions any more. After that, he would know.

“You will go,” Darius said, “to meet this Alexandros in the field when he crosses. You will find out for me, if we face a wolf or only a yapping puppy.”

Memnon did not answer that, only bowed low and moved off as the king dismissed him. It was only what he had expected, in truth; what else was he for, if not to fight his sponsor’s wars. He did not think that he would be facing a wolf though, and certainly not a puppy. He had known Philippos, and seen what he had done. Alexandros had shown himself already his father’s son, a man needed only ask the Thebans if he wanted proof of that. No, Memnon did not expect wolves or wolf pups or anything of the sort. What Memnon expected, was lions.

Lions, and here he would be hunting with untried Persian hounds. Memnon sighed, lengthened his stride, and went in search of his officers. It could be a long campaign, this one.

Then again, if he was right about the lions, it might be shorter than anyone expected.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-02-09 02:23 pm (UTC)
ext_1059: (Default)
From: [identity profile] shezan.livejournal.com
Oh, very very very nice! I love the account of the Persian embassy from a different point of view. Excellent!

(no subject)

Date: 2005-02-09 06:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 3scoremiles-10.livejournal.com
Thank you. I took a bit of a liberty, dumping Memnon in the middle of it, but I had to give him something to say to Darius.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-02-09 06:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 3scoremiles-10.livejournal.com
Interesting is much better than likeable, I think. Likeable gets dull after a while, but interesting characters ask that much more of us. So yay that.

I think Memnon had a few things in common with his adversary actually, and not just getting to the point. He led Alexandros a merry chase for a while there, made life rather difficult for him. A good general, Memnon - just backed the wrong horse.

I love that line about toadying, by the way. ;)

(no subject)

Date: 2005-02-09 11:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] susa-938.livejournal.com
I had a fantasy moment whilst reading this, as my first thought was, what a great scene it would have made in the movie.

We needed a voice other than Old Ptolemy's droning on wearily, and Memnon's the man for the job here - telling us what a whiz kid this Alexander is and what a swathe he is cutting through the world, especially in this quote; (italic-less, I'm afraid)

“When a man holds his first regency at sixteen and leads an army to war, when he is a commander of cavalry at eighteen and destroys in one charge the Sacred Band of Thebes, when he is a king at twenty and crushes the city that the Band rose from so that no two stones stand one on the other, when he can keep down the north and settle the south in only a season, with his father’s death still fresh in the world, then he is not a man to be taken lightly. He has Philippos’ army and Philippos officers and the finest strategos in Hellas to tell him how things should be done. My lord, Great Lord of All, he is no untried pup, this man.”

In my fantasy, as Memnon says all this in voiceover, we get to see snippets of the action on screen in montage. We then get to see Darius' reaction shots (and it would have given that rather splendid looking Daz Regan something to actually do and say in the movie) It would have filled in some of the gaping maw betwixt the trembling prince and the confident kick-ass king, and told us a little about the charisma of that young lion. It would have shown us a little about Darius' character and mindset - and we'd have been nearly all ready for that battle at Gaugamela....

Sorry - I got carried away there, it was a good fantasy. And this piece is more than just good, as always. As I've said before, I like to hear these other voices telling us about Alexander, and it's about time Memnon got his chance. Liked it. A lot.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-02-10 07:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 3scoremiles-10.livejournal.com
Hehehe ... cool, you direct, I'll write, and we'll have a movie of our own. ;)

Memnon was a bloody effective general, he kept Alexander's hands full for a while. I don't think that he made the mistake of underestimating the man that he was up against, but I do think that Darius - or at least Darius' nobles and officers - did fall into that trap. I'm not sure I really do Memnon justice here, but you'll meet him again in my other work, more fleshed out than in this quick piece.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-02-17 05:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] florachan.livejournal.com
Very nice portraial of Darius, here.

Here you are again with the "never bi-dimensional characters!" thing!^^

I absolutely agree with your portrait of Darius. I don't think he was the incompetent coward that is often described by history books.
He may as well has been a competent man entrapted in a surrounding so much bigger than him, a surrounding in which he could hardly carry out his ultimate saying - as you say: "The Great King did not carry out his own will. He simply let his will be known, and others ran to carry it out for him. Pragmatism didn't fit the Great Kings of Persia.

It wasn't like it was for that young lion from Macedon, who could think and act at the same time, swift and lethal as a lightning. Being the Great King of Persia, could be a little cumbersome, sometimes, if one thinks of it.^_-
It wasn't like being the king of these foreign tribesmen - born and feed to make war - which just had to stand up and say "let's win us a world." It' wasn't that simple for him.

Well, of course it wasn't *that* simple for Alexander too, but surely a less elaborate process than it was for Darius who - just to say the first thing that pops up in my mind - had to got to war with the bloody royal household. Think about the nightmare!

I also liked the way you put in Memnon of Rodhes, and the clear, honest voice you gave him. A sensible man you have here, practical and pragmatic the way Darius could have never been.
It was a very nice just juxtaposition, which added substance to the story.
I liked it a lot.

(no subject)

Date: 2005-02-17 07:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 3scoremiles-10.livejournal.com
Two very different styles of kingship, when we look at Alexandros vs Darius. To be a king in Macedon does not make one less of a man, or more of one ... Alexandros at the end of the day is just another trooper, it's just that he gets to call the shots. While there are certain duties and constraints of kingship that apply, he is largely just "one of the boys", and Macedon is a kingdom geared for war. Darius on the other hand, has to fulfil a role of celestial, divinely sponsered kingship. In his role as Great King, he lays off being only a man and becomes something far more institutional and ceremonial than Alexandros ever has to worry about. So yes, I do think that to a degree Darius was hampered by protocal and expectation - and I think that, to start with at least, he underestimated his opponent. I don't think we can judge him too harshly for that - underestimating Alexandros must have been easy. No one could have expected anyone like him.

I rate Memnon pretty well, and I think if Darius had any sense he'd have used the man's knowledge and experience where he could. I'm pleased you enjoyed his presence, and his voice. He's a useful man.

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