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Some of you may have noticed a small break in proceedings. There are reasons for this. The fact that I am something of a computer dunce is one of them. The fact that I am preoccupied with another project is another. That being the case, I anticipate a decrease in what work I post here. For now, I make this rather modest offering, because quite frankly I've got nothing else to do with it than put it here.

We now return you to your regular transmission.

Title: Spin. Because it just IS.
Summary: The boys are skiving off. Just for larks.
Rating: Harmless.
Feedback: Sure.

The land about the Tyrian coast was not made for fine hunting. It was a place of red, stony soil and low harsh scrub, and a long plain rolling to the forested hills beyond. It was rabbit country, fit for goats or the flocks of small, hardy sheep; wealth here came from trade or from the sea, not from the land. Hephaistion, riding through it, thought that he could not live here. It was not good land for horses at all.

Nor was this long crawling siege good for horses either. Hephaistion sat back firmly against his stallion’s sudden coil, bringing the animal’s head in so that it arched its neck and jigged sideways instead. The dark eye rolled at him, ears flickering and flattening; Hephaistion laughed low between his teeth and told the horse to behave. It wanted to run. Hephaistion did not blame it. If he had spent most of the week hobbled on a picket line, he would have wanted to run too.

In a way, Hephaistion thought, he had been hobbled and picketed all week – or near enough as made no difference. That was Tyre for you, squatting out there on her rock in the sea, defiance in every stone. It was Alexandros too, who always wanted everything done right now and nothing set aside for later, and never mind how possible it was – or was not. An army could not take Tyre by land, and Alexandros had no fleet to speak of, but that was not going to stop him from getting what he wanted. It was impossible, it was mad, it was sheer and simple stubbornness, but Alexandros was not leaving until Tyre fell, or the stars did, or the seas rose up and drowned them all.

Hephaistion, who was used to Alexandros being impossible, had begun to wonder this time. Not at Alexandros’ resolve to do this thing, but that the man even believed it could be done at all. Tyre was an island, with high walls and barred harbours and closed and sealed gates. Alexandros had the finest cavalry in the world, and infantry drilled to precision, and none of it was going to help him reach that island or breach those walls. For that he had his engineers, his careful clerks and his builders, his makers of lists and drafters of plans and movers of stone. Sometimes, Hephaistion was not entirely sure that it would be enough.

Hephaistion shook his head, chasing those thoughts away. He was tired, that was all. Of course he would doubt things, when he was worn and weary and there was no end in sight. The siege had lasted for months so far, the weather warming as the days stretched on. It had given Hephaistion work and more to do – cutters and drivers and diggers to organise, and a dozen small things each day that went missing, or astray, or just plain wrong. Today it had been red ink that had run out, with the engineers swearing blind they could not draw their plans without it, and in the dull gloom before dawn some idiot had dropped a lit lamp into a cartload of fodder and sent the whole of it up in smoke, and another fool had managed to tip his wagon coming through the camp, breaking a wheel and spilling timbers in a jumble of wood and cursing that nearly took down Kallisthenes’ tent. The Royal Biographer had insisted on setting his tent in sight of the siegeworks, the better to document the slow inch of the causeway and the steep climb of the towers that would bring about Tyre’s fall, he said. Hephaistion had told him that he would be in the path of the carts coming and going. Kallisthenes had merely looked down the length of his nose in that haughty way he had even with men who topped him by a full head and more, and announced that he was disinclined to think that a problem. Hephaistion wondered if he was still disinclined now – nearly being crushed by an ox-cart of falling timber could go a long way to changing a man’s mind. Certainly Kallisthenes had made enough noise about it, squawking like an affronted hen. Hephaistion did not know what had come of that; he had not stayed to find out. He had thrown up his hands in disgust, and announced that he was going riding. If anyone needed him, they could go hang. Tyre was not going anywhere, after all.

Under him, his tall roan horse jibed and snorted, snaking its head against the bit. Hephaistion gathered it in without thought, holding it down with knees and heels and hands, sending it into a tight, neat circle and then reining up, boxing the animal square so that its back came up and its neck arched like a gamecock’s. He could feel the big muscles bunch and quiver, all energy and flare held down. The horse needed this as much as he did. With a sudden wild whoop to the sky, Hephaistion clapped his heels to the stallion’s flanks, dropped his hands and sent the horse surging forward.

The animal flung itself into a wild, mad gallop, flat and hard like a spear flung from one of Tyre’s great trebuchets. Hephaistion lay himself low along the dark grey neck and gave the horse its head. There was a great freedom in this – one man, one horse, and all the world nothing more than the drum of hoofbeats on the earth, the slash of mane and tail in the wind, the rush of air against one’s skin. No siege, no red ink, no long and endless stream of carts coming and going. Hephaistion found himself opening to it the way he always had, with a quick bright delight that took him out of everything, making all the world fall away in the wide and sweeping rush of air and sky and earth, and in the coil and beat of muscles that were not – quite – his own. He imagined that falcons might feel like this, the same singularity and clarity and release, in the moment that they stalled in the air and plummeted into their dive, and laughed at himself for sounding like a fool. The sound of his laughter seemed to touch the horse too; it stretched long and low and ran on.

Hephaistion gave his mount no urging. Instead, he dropped the reins to the horse’s neck and let all of Alexandros’ mad blind siege fall away from him under the churn of his horse’s hooves. Alexandros hated to be denied, and hated more to be balked … hardly a wonder then, if he hated Tyre too. He had come to this place and been told he could not have a thing that he wanted. That would have made Hephaistion laugh, if it had not given him so much work to be getting on with. The Tyrians had denied the Macedonian king, had closed up their harbours and drawn up their fleet and settled behind their high stone walls and told Alexandros no. It was as if they thought that the young man who had come out of the west with an army at his back was just anyone at all. In the beginning, Hephaistion had wondered what they were playing at.

With the initial wild joy of the run easing to something calmer and kinder, Hephaistion’s stallion settled to a steady canter, and then down to a snorting, jostling trot. Hephaistion let his arms drop and took up the reins again, loose and light. He was not so far from the camp, here – he could look over his shoulder and see the chaos and scatter of it on the shore, and Tyre a blur in the sea-spray haze – but it was far enough that red ink and tumbled timber carts did not matter at all. Hephaistion, who didn’t care if he never saw red ink again, was content to let them go on not mattering for the rest of the day. He had a good horse and an open sky and no one asking him for anything. It made a pleasant change.

The plain was not empty; he was not alone out here. He would have to ride a lot further from the camp to escape it completely – out, even, beyond the forested hill country where the woodcutters were at work. Lines of dust went up in the distance where the timber carts groaned down to the camp and then rattled their way back up to the cutting grounds, and along the coast road inland he could make out a small convoy of men and mules, probably carrying fresh fodder. Grooms and horseboys and off-duty troopers exercised horses in wide, sweeping circles and a scattering of young men were playing some game that involved a chaff-filled ball and a lot of shouting. Away to his left, Hephaistion could see a troop of horsemen wheeling and spinning, and hear snatches of faintly shouted commands. Kleitos, that was, drilling his men. A siege was no place for cavalry, but that did not mean that a commander should let his men go soft. Kleitos had been Philippos’ man for long enough to know the truth of that; he’d drilled green young boys into soldiers with only the snap of his teeth and the snarl of his voice and the heavy fall of his hand where it was needed – he knew a thing or two about keeping men to their places. Kleitos, Hephaistion had sometimes thought, would not know soft if it jumped up and chewed his beard off.

In the centre of the plain, partway between the place where the horses were being exercised and where Kleitos’ men wheeled in their rank, another line of dust went up, catching Hephaistion’s eye. No surprise in that; wherever Alexandros was, he would always draw eyes to him, and Hephaistion’s had a way of finding him even when he was not looking. Even, sometimes, with his eyes closed. Right now, even from half a parade ground away, Hephaistion recognised him at once. He recognised what he was doing too, and the chariot he rode in, plain homespun thing that might have come straight out of Homer. There were not two chariots in all the world that looked like that one, as if it might fall apart at any moment and spill its driver to the ground. It had looked even worse when Alexandros had first found it in some corner of the palace stables at Pella, an old dismounter with a missing wheel and a broken axle, and all the sinew ties and springs as brittle as dry twigs. Now it bounced across the scrubby plain, as rickety as ever, jolting over the uneven ground. A pair of Alexandros’ Pages followed along in the chariot’s wake, holding their horses to a steady trot. Even from this distance, Hephaistion could see that the one on the left was the better rider; the other sat his horse like a sack of meal, ungainly and oddly loose. Hephaistion hoped for the lad’s sake that Kleitos would not see him, riding like that. Kleitos would tear strips off him.

Hephaistion grinned, watching Alexandros turn the rugged little ponies in the chariot’s traces into a neat curve, then leap off the moving chariot and back on again in a swift, sure flicker. Well, he was not the only one shirking his duties then, if Macedon’s king was out here playing at chariots while his siege ground on without him. Hephaistion’s grin widened. There was a small audience watching Alexandros now he looked for it – a cluster of grooms and horseboys, a gaggle of troopers who had been hunting and had a brace of scrawny rabbits to show for it, a trio of Pages with time on their hands. Hephaistion decided to give them something to look at. He set his horse’s head towards the place where the old chariot bumped and jounced along the plain and heeled it forward.

Alexandros looked up and laughed as Hephaistion went by him in a thunder of hooves and a flash of grey horse and bronze hair and wild, white smile. He was standing on the stallion’s broad rump, knees bent for balance, whooping like a loon. Alexandros’ own grin was just as wild; he knew a challenge when he saw one. Hephaistion let his horse sweep in a broad circle about the chariot, cutting across the path of the stocky ponies that drew it and dropping easily astride to draw rein on Alexandros’ right hand. Alexandros bared teeth at him, lightly, laughing still.
“Show off.”
“Raven, crow.” Hephaistion shrugged lightly and waved a hand, airily dismissive. As if Alexandros was one to talk. The lads who had been playing with the ball had stopped to watch as well, gathered in a shoving, jostling group. Hephaistion felt his stallion dance under him, jibbing sideways and bunching its hindquarters to spring. He laughed, a pure, clean sound – gods, this was better than supplies and timber wagons and a fortress on a rock in the sea! – and made the horse spin on the spot. “Your turn.”

The arch of Hephaistion’s brow was positively wicked. Alexandros felt his own grin answer it, sharp and tight and brightly fierce. Oh, challenge indeed. He gave the reins a sharp flick, urging the ponies to a run. Hephaistion kept pace easily, his leggy stallion cantering alongside.

It was no easy thing, holding one’s balance on the narrow deck of a bouncing, surging chariot. Alexandros managed it without falter. Dust and small stones sprayed up from the ponies’ hooves, flared from the rims of the chariot’s wheels. It sprayed up under Alexandros’ boots too, when he stepped smoothly down from the deck and onto the good earth, running even as he landed. There was a trick to it – balance, timing, the length of the leap; he made it look like effortless, like breathing. Hephaistion remembered watching him learn the trick of that, back in Pella. It had cost Alexandros skinned knees beyond counting and one badly twisted ankle, but he had mastered it. He always did, with the things he set his mind to. The Tyrians might have learned from that, if they had been watching.

The king matched the chariot’s pace for a handful of strides, then he grasped the rail and pulled and leapt and swung all in one movement, and then he was back on the chariot’s rattling deck, grinning up like a fiend, all fierce bright eyes and sharp teeth in a dusty face. A shout of approval went up from one of the hunters, and someone laughed, swatting at his fellow with one of the dead rabbits. Hephaistion bit back a laugh of his own and gave his friend a nod, schooling his voice to something very like indifference even while his eyes glittered with something altogether else. “Not bad.”

That won him a sweet smile and a hard flash of eyes, but that was all. Alexandros was hardly going to let him get away with that. Not in front of an audience, he was not. The king’s voice matched his smile, sweet and cutting both at once.
“Your turn.”

Hephaistion gave him that nod again, seeming serious but for the dancing of his eyes and the soaring that was in every line of him. The chariot was still clattering along briskly; the roan stallion, who would have surged ahead given the chance, answered the rein and held back to a steady canter. Hephaistion knew the rhythm of it in every bone, just as he knew the pound and drive of the horse’s pace beneath him and the perfect time to vault. He fisted his hands in the stallion’s thick mane, drew up his legs and suddenly lifted himself across the animal’s shoulders, letting his feet touch the ground in a neat tap, then swinging back and across to the other side, halfway to a flying dismount only to vault back astride without missing a beat. The horse, used to his master’s oddities, did not falter. A cheer went up, and someone whooped in approval of one thing or another. Hephaistion wondered what they were betting on, then decided he didn’t care. He was having too much fun. He cast his friend a look that was part challenge and part laughter. “Well?”
“Not bad,” Alexandros allowed, manfully unimpressed. Hephaistion was not fooled for a moment. He only gave the king that sharp, defiant grin. Alexandros felt his lips quirk up in spite of his efforts. “My turn?”
“Your turn.”

Leaning into the reins, Alexandros brought the ponies around in a tidy curve, setting their heads towards the place where Kleitos was drilling his men. One of the chariot’s wheels hit a stone and kicked sideways; the chariot seemed to leap. So did Alexandros, fast and flat and forward of the wheel, as if he had been thrown. For half a heartbeat, Hephaistion felt his gut twist in alarm, and behind him someone yelled out, but then Alexandros was hitting the ground in a tight, coiled roll and springing neatly to his feet. The ponies had not slowed; the empty chariot rattled and bounced, already drawing away. Alexandros took two running strides and launched after it, catching the rear of it by the barest breath. Someone shouted encouragement, and the little crowd that had gathered to watch jostled and seemed to bounce on its toes, willing Alexandros on. Hephaistion swore under his breath, and willed Alexandros on too. If he fell now, he would come up half flayed.

The young king two steps more, barely touching the ground. The chariot lurched under the drag, and Alexandros sprang forward. His booted foot hit the edge of the deck, slipped, then teetered, then caught. For a heartbeat, two, he hung on that point of balance that was perfectly between triumph and pure disaster, and Hephaistion half expected to see him tumble hard to the dirt … but Alexandros was in the habit of defying impossibility. He’d not have been laying siege to an island, else. The young king coiled and seemed to slide forward, and then he was back aboard the thing, reaching for the reins, crowing in triumph.

He should rightly have fallen. Hephaistion was not surprised that he had not. Anyone else would have paid for that misstep, spilled out onto the sandy soil. Alexandros, though, had always had the luck of the gods. Or of a madman, Hephaistion thought, which might have been closer to the truth. He said so out loud, pitching his voice to be heard over the steady drum of hooves and the rattle of the chariot and the shouts of the watching men. Alexandros only gave him a playful glance over his shoulder. It made Hephaistion think of the way a young lion played, practicing for the kill.

The ponies were blowing and snorting when Alexandros pulled them up. They shook their shaggy heads, making their harness rattle, and ambled into an easy walk. Behind them, one of the Pages was chattering like a magpie, waving his hands about in excitement. The other was doing his best to hold his seat.
“A man makes his own luck, Hephaistion. God or mad or otherwise.” Alexandros was dust all over, and one red raw scrape down one arm from his elbow to his wrist. He looked inordinately pleased with himself. “Well?”
Hephaistion grinned his concession. “Show off.” His horse began to sidle and toss, protesting the slow pace, wanting to prance. It was like Alexandros in that – it liked an audience too. Hephaistion gave it a slap on the neck and nudged it around, reined it in when it tried to snap at the haunches of the nearside pony. The pony didn’t flinch, only flicked its ears in disdain. Well trained, those ponies. Alexandros smiled happily in agreement.
“Always,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve managed a clean remount on the dive, though. I usually miss it.”
“I’m pleased for you. Idiot.”
“Idiot?” Alexandros looked around, mock indignant. “Now who’s talking about ravens and crows? I’m not the one vaulting off horses at a full gallop!”
Hephaistion snorted to show what he thought of that. Full gallop, indeed. His horse had barely been stretching out. The animal was bred for more speed than that.
“That wasn’t a gallop, that was a brisk canter at best. And I’m not the one trying to break his fool neck diving head first off old chariots. Perdikkas would have kittens.”
“Perdikkas only frets about keeping other people from killing me,” Alexandros said, unconcerned. “He doesn’t care if I kill myself.”

That was not, strictly speaking, true, but Hephaistion let him get away with it. The men who had stopped to watch began to disperse, remembering they had business to be about. The game with the ball had started back up. The Pages were talking amongst themselves, all bright eyed and keen. They’d be out here themselves soon, trying to vault their own horses and coming up with wrenched knees and bruises for their troubles. At least they didn’t have a chariot to lark about in – if any of them took it into their heads to try that diving dismount, they’d probably break bones. Hephaistion supposed they could try the trick of it in one of the timber carts if they were determined to play the fool, but he was not very worried about that. Mules and oxen and a lumbering timber cart were a long way removed from Alexandros’ rattle-trap of a chariot and its quick, neat ponies.

Hephaistion watched the Pages chatter for a moment, and the other men move away. If they had work to be doing, then so did he. He was in no hurry to get back to it. Nor did Alexandros seem to be, especially. Hephaistion smiled to himself at that. He scratched under his horse’s mane, and glanced idly to Alexandros. “What are you doing out here? Run out of siege to organise?”
“Hmm?” Alexandros had been watching Kleitos’ men drill through the left wheel formation. He looked around, distracted. “Oh, I’m skiving off, same as you.”
“I’m not skiving off,” Hephaistion told him. “I’m damn near running away.” He listed off the morning’s infractions on his fingers. “Red ink, a torched feed wagon, and some fool who tipped a cart load of timber over Kallisthenes’ tent. Kallisthenes was still squawking when I left. Tyre,” he added darkly, “has a lot to answer for.”

So it did, but Alexandros had done with chewing rocks over it. He had been furious at first, when they had shut their gates and told him no, but that fury had settled into something surer and saner and far more dangerous. It had settled into anticipation. There was nothing in Alexandros more dangerous than that.
“Another month, that’s all. The causeway’s making good progress. Soon the towers will be able to reach the walls. Then we’ll have them.”
There was something predatory in how Alexandros looked when he said that. It made Hephaistion think of fangs and the red gleam of eyes beyond a campfire. Not for the first time, he wondered if the men behind Tyre’s walls knew what they had got themselves into. They were crouched on their rock in the sea, fancying themselves safe, the way sheep might seem safe behind the walls of their pen. Hephaistion, though, had seen what happened when a wolf got into a sheepfold. This would end in blood and death, and the Tyrians would have no one to blame but themselves.

They should have known better. Perhaps they had thought that they were facing only some young upstart, who had a habit of biting off more than he could chew. Perhaps they had thought that he would turn tail and leave, when he saw that he could not have what he wanted. That made Hephaistion want to snort in disgust or laugh out loud, that anyone could lay eyes on Alexandros and think that. But then, the Tyrians had never seen the hard, set look of Alexandros’ face when a thing set itself before him and defied him to master it. They had never seen a young prince of Macedon walk up to a stallion that could have trampled him and never broken stride, and then ride that stallion away. They had never watched him scrape himself bloody in fall after fall, learning the trick of a rickety old chariot the rest of the world had forgotten about, or seen him fling himself headlong from it only to prove that he could. They had never seen him stare into the sun.

They could not possibly know. Hephaistion, who had seen all those things and more, understood that utterly. It was as if a cloud had moved from over the sun, and set the clean light free again, realising that. They could not know, but he did, and there were doubts and there were doubts, but when it came to Alexandros doubts counted for nothing at all. Alexandros would have what he wanted. There should never have been any doubt of that. A part of Hephaistion wanted to laugh at that, too. At himself, mostly, for ever wondering at all.

The old chariot clattered as Alexandros turned the ponies, and set their heads back towards the shore and the camp that waited there. Hephaistion, letting his roan horse walk along beside and listening to Alexandros talk about one thing and another, wondered what the Tyrians would think if they knew that what was going to take their city was not the great causeway that turned sea to land, or the high impossible siege towers on their wheeled bases, or the engines that Alexandros had seen built. It was one man, in an old chariot that rattled as it went, who did not know what impossible meant.

And, Hephaistion thought to himself, if Alexandros could do the impossible, he himself could do whatever else was left. It was only one irate scholar after all, and few jars of red ink. He was up to this. They both were. Tyre would know that, soon enough.
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August 2006

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