The Word and The Flesh (6)


Ahura Mazda (right, with high crown) invests Ardashir I (left)
with the ring of kingship. (
Naqsh-e Rustam, 3rd c. CE)

Every day of my so-called exile took me further away from you.

How differently would everything have turned out had I, on the night on which you served Komodos poison, been on the Euphrates rather than in Mathura, whence it is closer to the Ganges than to the Hind! And, oh, how far it is from the banks of the Hind to Rome! And Alexandria, too, how far!

What sort of nonsense is this? Here we are in Alexandria now, both of us, but Alexandra tells us that our -- yours and mine -- child should only be conceived on the other side of the Hind. How generous, don't you think? One might have expected Alexandra to appoint for that purpose China. Or that land, dreamt up by Seneca, squeezed in the middle of the ocean, half way between Hispania and China. I should laugh. Which would be good: I have not laughed in a long time. Alas, I am told that it is not her, who says this, but you, speaking through Alexandra's mouth: we must flee!

Oh, you miserable Greek of half-breeds! Here I am, laboring my second day, trying to explain, in writing, as you wished, why it is not necessary that we flee, and how far have I gotten? I have not even managed to tell you yet how my father, beginning with the question about the elephant, set out to lead my tortured soul of a half-breed bastard towards that place, whence only one path was possible: towards absolute readiness to prove, at the cost of the so-called great sacrifices, even -- how much one can indeed rely on the so-called half-breed bastard, even at such times when one should rather trust that overhead monkey than any Arsakid truly deserving of that name.

I exaggerate. I was ready to make ultimate sacrifices, that is true. I knew that I was exposing myself to great dangers, yetI did not refuse the plea; this is also true. But how would it have been with that readiness of mine if here, among the Romans, you did not await me, Markia?

True, this doubt has only now passed through my mind. But this great two-day -- or rather two-night -- concentration on the task of writing to you in Greek with the help of a goose feather, this, I will say it, painful concentration seems to dig up from the dark places of my memory something which I had completely forgotten, long forgotten, perhaps as soon as the day after my conversation with my father in Nisa. It was not me who asked the question of myself, but he: would I be so ready to be given up as a Roman hostage, if you were not awaiting me here? While characterising Septymios Kaisar -- yes, now I remember it all very clearly -- he began, apparently for no special reason, to name all those Romans over whose dead bodies the lust for power took Septymios while guiding him ever closer towards that imperial purple which had fallen off the shoulders of Komodos. And there, somewhere, between Eklektos and Aimilios Laitos, he sneaked in your name; for no special reason, apparently. But mentioning it, he looked at me most meaningfully. And me? What did I do? you will ask. I can't remember.

It's unbelievable, I know, but I cannot remember.

Of course, I knew at that time that you were alive. For though my father, until the moment of the Roman capture of Ktesiphon, had continued to reject all pleas, regardless who made them, to recall me from exile, yet I had managed to smuggle into the West first -- as you know -- Alexandra, then Ardashir, then Babrios. And all three sent the same message: you were alive! But did I tell my father, when he named you among the dead, that you were in fact alive? Perhaps not, for this I should have remembered. But, surely, I must have rejected that nonsense somehow: I simply cannot believe that I would have been able to control myself, and to summon such powers of pretending, that my father might actually believe: "This does not seem to concern him at all."

So what happened then? What happened?

Whatever happened, my father must have been satisfied; his doubts must have been dispelled; and he thanked me most passionately for my readiness to serve him so selflessly in such a difficult moment of his reign. And I think that this time the passion was not pretended, and that there was no hidden intent in his suggestion that I should cross the Tigris on the back of that elephant, given me once by Vasishka-Vasudeva. But I resisted this suggestion; I was in the position to name terms and I named them. I warned him that Romans might see in my appointment as hostage a ruse, perhaps even ridicule; after all, I added with a smile, no one has ever made it a secret that I was the least favored of all the nephews of the Sun and the Moon; and that from the royal treasury of Ktesiphon (or Ragas) not a single coin has ever passed over the last thirty years to any temple treasury to defray the cost of prayers for my life and my health. And that therefore it was necessary to do everything in our power to dispel any Roman doubts as to whether the King of Kings cared at all for the life, health and comfort of his hostage. Of course, only a small group will come with me to Seleukia: the Karen girl, Samgila, Adrashir, Samasaryston with his niece, and as many servants and guards as my father will be pleased to give me; but there should be no more of them than -- say -- two dozen.

But I must cross the bridge dressed fabulously, indeed: ceremonially; I should be accompanied by five Karens, as many Mirs and as many Geopatrans, all of them with their body-guards, flying their clan banners; it would also be advisable that the kettle-drum carried before me should be drummed by the King of Elymais himself, the oldest and the stupidest of my half-brothers; and let Gokhiras of Persia walk right behind me, leading in hand my palfrey.

He'll refuse? Let him try! Does my father still have in his hands those three Mages who had agitated in Arbela for the stoning of the Christians? Let Gokhiras choose then: either he will agree to lead my horse, or those three will be walled-in alive as guilty of violating royal edicts concerning freedom of religion. And, believe me, Markia, my father agreed to it all. Of course, those three Mages were never seriously under threat (even though, had anyone deserved being walled-up alive, it was those three) because Gokhiras was really tortured by another fear: I had announced that I should release Ardashir of the word he had given me, that word which chains him to me like irons; and Gokhiras knew very well, that the moment Ardashir appears in Istakar, the Basrangs' rule over Persis will have at most a week in it.

Of course, the humiliation and rage of Gokhiras could have speared my back on the bridge (to the greater glory of Ormazd), but for this eventuality I had Ardashir, who, for that occasion, transformed himself from my hand-servant into the sword-bearer of the King of Persia. And, oh, would it have given Ardashir special pleasure to cut in half the King of Persia with that king's own sword!


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