The Word and The Flesh (9)

Parthian archer, Palazzo Madama, Turin.

I know: you'll say that this is not our main theme for you; that you ordered me to take the quill into my hand so that I may justify myself, not so that I may instruct others. It's an old Roman trick, that, well known to us, Parthians: "It is meet to bury the battle dead"! Well, let us bury them, then. But can we for a moment leave the corpses of my relations with Rachela Eratona, with Samgila, and with the gods and anti-gods who in turn blessed these unions or frowned upon them -- leave these corpses, I say, lying in peace upon the bier? After all, the very involvement of beings of divine nature in the progress and dissolution of these unions will prevent their corpses from rotting too quickly. But nothing divine permeates, or even shines its light upon the most curious case of Alexandra's marriage to Achilles, son of Kornelios. You'll say -- both of you will -- that its corpse has been buried. Has it? Really? It's strange, most strange. When, would you say, the burial took place? In the first decade of Apelaios, which month here is called Atyros? That is to say nearly two weeks ago? My dear Markia, do not believe it. The interment has not taken place. The stench of the corpse can still be smelled, though, I must confess, its smell is most unusual for a dead body. You know this stench -- I believe that ten years ago you compared it to the smell of dried up apple rinds soaked in cedar resin and sprinkled with spicy wine. At this very moment I can smell this mixture of scents very clearly because I have leaned my ruby-flamed inkwell against that can which you had once received from me along with the shoes of princess Kaliope and those six beards which at that time so much amused you.

I had never guessed that the can might return to me in any other way but along with all your earthly possessions (which had been your father's before you). Yet, it returned to me alone. Empty. For six days now I have believed that on the night which the Romans call New Year's Eve, you gave poison to Komodos Kaisar; and if so, then it follows that everything else which Klaudia of Britain and Alexandra, especially Alexandra, have told me about that night, and what is confirmed by the official protocol prepared from the meeting of the senatus in the wee hours of that night at the turning point of old and new year, must be true...

You did not put the entire content of that can into Kaisar's celebration goblet. What happened to the rest? It had to remain -- for years and years -- where you had left it; or else there would not now rise from that empty can towards my nostrils that scent of dried-up apple-rinds, soaked in cedar resin and sprinkled with spicy wine.

But Klaudios Iulianos did not find as much as a smidgen of the poison-weed in the can when he lifted it from the night-stand, upon which Achilles the Hermopolitan used to rest his toy-ship-making tools before going to sleep. And he found the can that very morning when Alexandra -- having spent a day, a night, and a day again with me -- revealed to me that you are nearby, that she's seeing you, but that I may not see you until the day we make our escape together. As she said those words, her husband was already dead. But he had been alive the night before when, in order to celebrate Alexandra's visit, I gave a feast for nine guests.

Six Romans had awaited that feast for a long time; indeed, they kept inviting themselves in. We Parthians are famous for our hospitality, which makes this a bit of a shame, does it not?, that I forced these would be guests to invite themselves in, or, indeed, even as much as made them wait. But they did not take offense; nor did they complain; because clearly they understood that if Alexandra was delaying her visit to her brother (a brother she had not seen for ten years), then obviously she really could not leave the side of her handicapped husband.

Yet, she left his side; and more: she left him without attendants, alone, for a whole night, the whole following day, and the whole following night again! And during this entire time she was the most extra-ordinarily tender sister to me: as tender as she'd never been before my parting from her in India. So tender, in fact, that even the Karen's daughter -- o wonder of wonders! -- began to act as if she were jealous; not to mention Samgila and Samasariston's niece!

What is more: Asmodeos, the Median demon feared and respected by the Jews, who lives in the ruby-flaming glove, and who did not yet at the time suspect that his dwelling place will be soon and unceremoniously turned into an ink well, rebelled in the name of her who had enslaved him -- my former wife, Rachela -- and in the name of defending her rights to me, rights which, at her father's command she had then renounced: he rebelled, I say, and -- the glove fell off the wall and onto the stone floor with a racket so great, as if the glove had had to its account slapped faces of Antiochoses, Tituses and Hadrians, and not just those of a few humble merchants.

What a total lack of logic on my part! I just wrote a moment ago: at her father's command, Rachela Erato divorced me and married, in Babylon, a wise man of Israel, whom she'd already born as many Symeons, Jacobs, Joanneses, Judahs, Naathaniels and Matheuses as have broken off from Israel two centuries ago in order to follow him, who has caused it that also west of the Hind walking on water becomes accessible to human-kind. And she bore those twelve -- as says Samasariston -- in great joy; whence thus comes this appeal to her rights, by way of the rebellion by her demon-servant, rights which she'd laid at the booted feet of a caravan robber? Has she loved me, after all? Poor creature! She'd always so wanted for good fortune and long life -- or so, at least, says Alexandra. What will happen now? There is but one hope: that the demons of Media take their oaths of loyalty as seriously as the sons of the grand priests of Persis. Ardashir hates me, but serves me faithfully, and until I grant him his freedom, will not betray any of my secrets even to his own father. May Asmodeos, subdued by Rachela, be as loyal to her as Ardashir is to me! If she -- after all -- does love me, and he knows about that love, he'd be a scoundrel, not a knight, to reveal this fact to any of his incorporeal friends.

Do not rejoice too early, my tender sister: the mounted archer only seemingly pointed his far-ranging weapon towards the auxiliary unit recruited in the ravines of the borderland desert; in fact, he still aims straight into the Roman quadrangle: Klaudios Iulian says that, without slightest doubt at all, he believes the murderer of Achilles to be -- you, Alexandra!

(Which ends Khesroes to Markia letter the first, earning you stars for such faithful reading, and me -- a well deserved break).


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