Time for Alexander

Excerpt from The Road to Alexander, book I in the Time for Alexander series.

“My son, go find a fitting kingdom; Macedonia is too small for you.”      Philip of Macedonia to his son Alexander

“…And if you’re still not convinced that I have won the kingdom, fight me for it again, I shall be ready. But don’t run away, for I will follow you to the ends of the earth. ”                                                                                           Extract of a letter from Alexander to Darius (King of Persia)

“Tempus edax rerum” (Time destroys everything) – Ovid                     Saying written in gold above the door in the Sending Room at Tempus University, Institute of Time Travel and Study.

Prologue

There are several tombs purported to be of Alexander the Great. Only I know the real one. I will tell you this much: it is a simple tomb carved in hard stone. Inside, there are the relics of a legend. There is a gold cup in the shape of a winged lion. There is a large round shield, supposedly magic, that once belonged to the great hero, Achilles. There is a long braid of pale hair. There are many well-read letters in an ebony box, for he loved mail, and there is an ancient scroll that, when carefully unrolled, reveals a copy of the Iliad. He was never without it.

He was buried alone, since he died before any of us. For that, I will always curse him. My prayer had ever been to die before him. We would have all preferred to die before he did, for we all loved him. He was our sun, our god, and the reason we lived. Without him, the world appeared much darker and smaller somehow, than it had before.

Alexander: the name is a whisper in the room, merging with the shadows. There is still an echo of him; an echo that lasted for three thousand years. Sometimes I can almost feel him standing next to me. Blue light from the glass lamp makes strange shadows on the wall, and I pause as I write this. Night is falling, and soon lions will come to the water to drink. I love to sit on the porch and watch them. My terrace is set well back from the lake, but on a hill, so I can see all the way down the coast to the river, and sometimes I can catch a glint of the sea beyond. It is a timeless place; a place where the gods have their banquets, and where man and beast still live in perfect harmony. It will change. All will change.

I am getting old now, and my hand sometimes trembles and refuses to hold the pen. Getting old bothers me more than I thought it would, but the thought of dying holds no fear for me. I even look forward to it, for you see, how can I be afraid to die? In three thousand years I will be born again. I will win a prestigious award and choose to interview a legend. In three thousand years I will return to Alexander, and the story will go on. The story will never end. I am looking forward to meeting Alexander again.

 Chapter One

I could not, would not, go back in time with my head shaved. But the fashion consultant ignored my protests, put the razor to my head, and swept off my hair.

That should have been a warning, but all day long I’d ignored the signs. To begin with, I couldn’t get any of my so-called friends from Tempus University to come pick me up. They’d stopped speaking to me when I’d been chosen for the prize. It shouldn’t have bothered me. I’d never had friends before, why did I need them now? Well, they would have come in handy for a ride. The only flat I could afford after giving my money to a charity foundation was in a crappy section just outside town and there was no zip-tram nearby. When I called a taxi, he’d refused to drive up to my door and I had to walk through the garbage strewn streets to the main station.

When I finally got to the University, the fashion consultant gave me a dress to wear that felt like it had been woven from nettles and the most uncomfortable sandals in the world. The sandals, the fashion consultant informed me, were made by a shoemaker-slash-historian from plaited grass imported directly from the Euphrates riverbanks.

Just after I finished dressing, the smug fashion consultant shaved me bald and gave me a most unflattering wig. Then, in another room, a surgeon gave me a shot that would temporarily protect me from all the known illnesses of the time, including pregnancy and rabies. Then he implanted my tradi-scope right above my left ear, missing the first time, and giving me a fearsome headache. I didn’t complain. Besides, I needed the tradi-scope to understand all the languages I would meet.

Finally, when I was deemed dressed and coifed appropriately for 333 BC, the fashion consultant escorted me to the very center of the Institute of Time Travel, where I climbed onto the massive seat carved from a block of pure quartz crystal that would send my atoms spinning through time.

A nurse paused next to me and looked at the glowing screen by the cylinder of frozen nitrogen. “Only a few more minutes before you get vaporized,” she said, and smiled.

Everyone in the room was waiting for me to fail at my undertaking or to show some sort of weakness. I leaned back in the freezing chair and pretended to yawn.

Above all, a time-traveling journalist must be in control of his or her emotions. Emotions clouded judgment. Emotions were marks against you at Tempus University. Sentiments were stomped out and clinical thinking was put in their place. I was trained to observe and to ask pertinent questions, all the while remaining detached. The Time-Travel Institute was not about to spend millions of dollars to send people back in time to have them fall apart and blither.

Lightning crashed and thunder shook the building. On the glass dome above my head, rain poured like a waterfall, the sound deafening. More lighting jagged across the sky, and the white-coated scientist standing next to me glanced upwards. “Right on time.” He checked his watch and then motioned curtly to a nurse standing nearby. “Four minutes.”

I shifted, my bones aching. The ice-cold, quartz-crystal chair beneath me seemed to vibrate with every lighting flash. Time travel uses lightning, and takes so much power that only one individual can voyage each year. The entire planet’s energy system dims for the hour it takes to send the voyager. The renown of the program and its consequences are such that none can ignore it. In a short time, I would be among the most famous people in the world.

The program had been invented in 2300 by scientists working for a private company based in Tempus University. At first, only inanimate objects, especially those made of quartz crystal, could be sent back in time. When it was perfected in 2900, Tempus University started their reporting program. Because their time in the past was limited, researchers and historians had to make the most of it. It was decided they should act as journalists and concentrate on interviewing famous people. Some early experiences were resounding successes. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar and Marie Curie gave fascinating interviews. Others were failures. Jesus, for example, remained elusive. Some trips simply didn’t work out because the journalist was in the wrong place or the wrong time; but they usually came back alive.

To be chosen for the program was akin to winning the lottery – the chances were against you millions to one. But that never bothered me. When at last I knew what I wanted to do, I went after my goal with a single-mindedness that would have put even my mother to shame. When I was chosen, the looks my fellow journalists gave me could have cut glass. Those I believed to be my friends turned out to be bitterly jealous. That shouldn’t have bothered me. Emotions were something I’d long ago learned to suppress.

But right now I was having a hard time. The visions I’d had of arriving back in time dressed in long, silk robes, my beautiful hair brushed into an intricate fashion, had shattered with the buzz of a razor and the sight of the shoddy sandals. I clenched my fists and tried to think of something else. But the something else was the present, and I was even more uncomfortable with that.

Looking upward, all that was visible was the glass dome and the water pouring upon it like black silk. Lighting flickered eerily across the night sky, and a moment later thunder boomed. I watched as scientists and nurses bustled about taking their endless measures, whispering, checking the magnetic poles, and muttering into microphones. The chair beneath me was growing colder by the second, and next to me a chrome cylinder full of liquid nitrogen gave off freezing vapor.

“Almost midnight.” The nurse stepped closer. “Not nervous yet?” Her look said clearly she was hoping for me to fall apart.

I didn’t answer. Silence is a shield. That had been the first lesson I’d learned. My upbringing set me apart from anyone I knew because of the fortune my parents possessed, and because I’d been unwanted. I was punished if I made noise so I learned to keep quiet and I wandered around our vast domain silently and alone until I was old enough to be shipped off to boarding school. Most of my mother’s friends had no idea she had a child.

My second lesson was harder. When I was sixteen I graduated from finishing school, and my mother decided to take control of my life. She married me to a man twenty years my senior, the Baron Thibault de Riveraine.

I’d never been an easy child – I’d inherited my parents’ tempers from both sides along with their stubbornness and, I’m afraid, their emotional aloofness, but it never occurred to me to protest my marriage. At the time, I thought I was escaping my mother.

My husband turned out to be worse. He was cruel, humorless, and violent. I was a virgin. He raped me on our wedding night and was brutal every night thereafter. He was careful not to bruise my face – I was his trophy wife and he liked to show me off. I left him after six months, dropping my suitcase out the window and climbing down after it like a thief in the night. It took me nearly a year to recover my self-esteem and face him again. I contacted a lawyer to arrange our divorce. My husband agreed because I’d threatened to expose him. When we finally did meet, my husband lost his temper and punched me.

The fight happened in the presence of my mother, the judge, and our two lawyers. My mother had come to court hanging onto my husband’s arm, her mouth twisted in scorn at my stupidity. I wanted a divorce and half my husband’s fortune. My husband said I could have neither.

I got both, along my title, Baronne Riveraine. I didn’t want the title, and that was the reason my ex-husband punched me. Or, perhaps it was my laugh when the judge asked if I were sure I wanted the divorce. Whatever the case, when he hit me, for the first time ever I dared hit back. My fist flew and broke Thibault’s nose with a satisfying crunch. My mother screamed, the lawyers gasped, and I walked out of the courtroom with a black eye, a fortune, and a new goal in life. I was eighteen and I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to go back in time and meet my childhood hero, Alexander the Great. I applied to Tempus University and graduated with honors.

My attention shifted to the time-sender, a tall, severe man in a white lab coat. “Don’t move,” he said. “The tractor beam must be set for your exact weight and mass.”

“How does it work?” I asked.

The scientist snorted. “I can’t tell you how, you won’t understand anyway. Suffice to say that you chose any person in any historic time and we send you to him or her. You are outfitted with the tradi-scope, so you speak and understand any language and idiom of that time. We provide the science, you provide the legwork.”

“I’ve been trained for all that, you know.” Across the top of the screen I saw numbers start to flash.

He snorted. Obviously he was sure my title and fortune had paved my way to this chair. If he read the papers, he’d know that after I’d paid for my education, I’d given my fortune away to a charity foundation. But I wasn’t going to tell him. I couldn’t care less what he thought.

“One minute and counting,” came the electronic voice. The nurse leaned over and spoke to me.

“What did you say?” I asked, keeping my eyes on the glowing needle inserted in my arm. My temperature was dropping rapidly; soon my blood would freeze. My atoms were being disconnected for their voyage into the vacuums of time. Pain bloomed, spreading from my arm to the rest of my body. My teeth began to chatter, and I wondered if I’d die. Some people did. I must have uttered a slight moan. The nurse looked at me sharply.

“I was wondering why you chose Alexander the Great,” she said. Then my vision darkened and I couldn’t answer, but I knew what I would say if I could.

I’d decided to interview him for several reasons. So much had been said about him, yet hardly any writings remained by his contemporaries. He’d been glorified, vilified, deified, and his myth existed in all the known languages on earth. He was represented in the four major religions.

I was curious to learn about the young man’s charisma and leadership qualities. What had made him so special? The final reason I wanted to see him was a burning passion I’d nurtured since high school for the enigmatic king. That, however, was not on the application I’d sent to the Institute of Time-Traveling Journalists. If they knew I’d turned down dates because the man didn’t measure up to my ideal of Alexander, they’d never have chosen me. An interviewer has to be able to hide his feelings. Clearly I’d succeeded. No one had realized the extent of my infatuation. I wasn’t worried about it. I was confident I would be able to control my emotions – after all, I was a modern, well educated woman.

Alexander had already been interviewed. (As had most of the people who’d made history.) However, the timing had been different. The interview had been held just before his death, and he’d been delirious with fever. He hadn’t said anything of interest, and no one had gone back to see him again. Afterwards, for some reason, he’d been classified as a dangerous subject. Most first-time time-traveling journalists chose an easy interview. I wanted the prize, though, so I’d gone with the risk and it had paid off. I’d been chosen over thousands of other candidates.

Interviewers had to be careful never to give away the fact they were from the future, and they had to make sure that they didn’t alter history. The time one spent in the past was severely limited, only twenty hours. We took vows. It’s all very Boy’s Club and Scout’s Honor sort of stuff. Cross your heart and hope to die. Prick your finger and dab a drop of blood on the dotted line, right next to your signature. You see, the time traveling program is so precise that if you change history, even the slightest, the scientists simply erase the part you changed, and in doing so, erase you. What’s more, if you don’t make it back to your rendezvous, you are left there to die. Your tradi-scope is disconnected, so you lose the power to understand and speak the languages of that time. Most people don’t last a week under those conditions, especially during wars, plagues, or intrigues. In the past, spies were executed without a trial, usually on the spot.

I was going back in time. I’d filled out my contract and meant to honor it. I also meant to come back and win another journalistic prize. Once tasted, success is intoxicating – and perhaps I was hoping I could prove to everyone that I was not just a spoiled, rich girl. I sought something that I’d never received: approval.

I clenched my teeth as intense pain exploded in my arms and legs. My chest grew tight, making breathing difficult. A solid wave of ice seemed to flow through my body. I tried to open my eyes, but all I saw were flashing white lights. I screamed then, and my last thoughts were that I was dying, that I’d failed, and that no one in that room, or anywhere on earth, would give the slightest damn.

I woke up beneath a small pomegranate tree. It was early morning, the sun was just rising and mist obscured the tops of the hills. My teeth chattered with cold, and my hands were pale blue and wouldn’t work. I lay there, shaking, until the sun’s rays finally thawed me out. When I could sit up, I had to brace myself against the tree trunk. I rested, waiting for the waves of dizziness and nausea to subside. Drops of blood ran down my chin and landed on my hands. It was just my nose. I pinched it, and waited. My head was clearing, and to my relief I found I could stand.

The sun was a pink disk on the horizon, and the mist started to dissipate. I straightened my shoulders and took a deep breath. I’d made it this far. I stood up, brushing the dirt off my robe with my tingling hands. I fingered the sash. It marked me a vestal virgin and would hopefully protect me from the common soldiers.

My head itched, my dress scratched, and every step I took with the flimsy grass sandals hurt. And I hated my stupid wig. It was the Egyptian style, reported to be the fashion rage that decade in the Tigris delta. I sincerely hoped so – I’d hate to be executed for lack of taste. In any case, I’d find out soon enough.

I waited until the sun rose fully, then made my way eastwards over low hills toward where streamers of smoke reached to the sky. Dew sparkled on the grass, wetting my feet. The air was incredibly pure, sweet and potent. I filled my lungs with it, drawing huge breaths. I’d never inhaled a breeze such as that. It was intoxicating. I inhaled the air as I walked, gulping it heartily. My journalist mind was busy ticking off details for the article I was to write. The pristine air, the diamond bright dewdrops, the groves of date palms, and the scent of freshly ploughed fields were all part of the unfolding scene. It was still early, and the sky was pale blue. Smoke from campfires spiraled upwards and was lost in the mist. Faraway mountains faded into a lavender haze. The morning air was fresh and cool, but the shimmer on the horizon announced a brassy heat. It was going to be a scorching day.

My article would start with a description of the opalescent colors of the hills, then… I tripped on a rock and winced, the pain bringing me back to the present. I inspected my toe, shaking the dew off my foot, then sniffed. The smell of wood smoke and garlic wafted through the air, along with the sharper odor of sweat and the sound of many voices. I crested the last hill and stopped, dazed. I hadn’t truly realized what I had done yet, or where I was. Imagining the camp was one thing, actually seeing, hearing, and smelling it was another. I had arrived.

The encampment was a sprawling affair near the banks of a river. I’d read that Alexander had forty thousand men with him. Unbleached linen tents were set up in orderly rows in a level field; behind them were horse corrals. Soldiers swarmed around like ants. After watching closely, I saw an order to their movements. Some men were taking care of weapons (there was a veritable thicket of long spears alongside the tents), checking shields, or sharpening swords. Other soldiers were in the shade playing with what looked like dice. They were talking, laughing or even singing. I heard music from flutes.

A strong smell of garlic and onions permeated the encampment. There were also the odors of smoke, acrid sweat, freshly cut wood and baking bread. The camp was surrounded by guards and was full of soldiers, but I saw other people as well. Merchants hawked their wares, slaves bustled about, and pot-bellied children played noisily. On the banks of the wide, shallow river, women were washing clothes and chattering in shrill voices.

I walked down the hill and entered the camp. Nobody paid any direct attention to me, but the sentinels followed me with their eyes, spears gripped tightly in their hands. For all their apparent relaxation, they were on the qui vive.

I strolled down a well-trodden path following the riverbank and smiled in a friendly fashion to a young woman carrying a jug of water on her head. She smiled back and said something to me that set my tradi-scope working. They work well, but they have to be prompted by sound. So, for a few annoying seconds, there was an infernal buzzing in my head while the tradi-scope chewed up the woman’s words, digested them, and spit them out. She’d said, “Lovely morning for a walk.”

“Very nice,” I agreed. My own words came out of my mouth in her language, thanks to a complex bio-implant in my cerebral cortex. It was a shock at first.

“Are you one of the temple virgins?” she asked.

“I’m not a temple virgin. I’m an onirocrite.”

Her eyes widened. Onirocrites interpreted dreams. They were also exempt from most of the mundane sacrifices. It wasn’t a bad choice for someone from the future.

I waved and continued along the path. I wanted to go directly to Alexander’s tent. He was reputed to be easily approachable, well educated, and interested in omens, portents and dreams. The biggest tent was set off by itself between two tall palm trees. I thought it must be Alexander’s, so after taking a deep breath to clear my head, I went towards it.

There were three guards outside his tent. They were sitting on a mat made of woven grass, playing a game with bleached knucklebones. Bright coins glittered in the middle of the mat, and after each throw a new one would be added or subtracted from the pile. The guards barely glanced at me when I arrived.

“Is Alexander here? May I speak with him?” I asked.

“He’s in the tent; let me announce you. State your name and business.” The guards were all professional. They seemed to be absorbed in their game but had subtly shifted position as soon as I’d arrived, so that I could neither advance nor retreat.

“I can’t tell you my real name,” I said truthfully. “But you can say that an onirocrite is here to speak to him. I’ve traveled all night.”

After a second’s hesitation, the guard lifted the tent flap and disappeared inside. The heavy cloth was nearly soundproof. All I could hear was an indistinct murmur of voices before he came out again.

“Iskander receives the onirocrite,” he said, holding the flap high for me.

I ducked and entered. My eyes took a second to get used to the gloom. Then I saw him. Alexander was sitting cross-legged on a beautiful rug. A bowl of pale green grapes was next to him, and he was idly picking through them, choosing the smallest and sweetest to eat.

He was wearing a short, pleated tunic made of bleached linen. His feet were bare, but a pair of leather sandals lay on the floor next to him. Otherwise, he wore no ornaments and his tunic, though finely woven, was plain. He had many scars on his legs and arms. Most looked like they had been made by swords. They’d healed well, but one on his wrist seemed recent. As I watched, he rubbed it a bit; perhaps it still pained him. His hands were square and strong with the tendons showing on the backs. His fingers were long and his nails trimmed very short. On the inside of his arms I could see the tracing of blue veins. Though he was tanned, his skin was nearly translucent in some places; there were lavender shadows beneath his eyes and on his temples, and in the hollow of his throat I could see a pulse beat.

My first impression was that he was dangerous. He gave off an aura of energy. His movements were controlled. His gaze was direct yet hooded. He had long, brassy gold hair tied back from his face with a leather thong. His hair was dyed, which was not unusual for a man in that time, but it was impossible to say what the true color was, perhaps a reddish-gold, or a warm brown. His eyebrows were dark, thick, and arched across a wide, clear brow. His eyes were canny; I was reminded of a South American jaguar. Then he tilted his head and I saw that one eye was blue-green and the other brown. It was disconcerting. He looked both wary and assured. Without breaking his gaze, he popped another grape into his mouth.

Before I realized how he’d done it, he was standing in front of me. His movement had been so fast and fluid I hadn’t even registered it. I took a step back.

“Did I startle you? My pardon.” His voice was a comfortable tenor. He smiled for the first time since I came in, showing white, even, teeth with a slight overbite, and he motioned towards the rug. “Please sit down. I was told you’d walked all night. Would you care for a drink, or something to eat?”

“Both, please, thank you. Is this your breakfast?”

He looked amused. “No, it’s just a snack. I’ve been up since before dawn. I eat breakfast when the first rays of the sun pierce the night’s gloom.”

I looked around the tent and found it Spartan yet rich. Only one rug, but it was sublime. Just one bed covered with richly embroidered cushions. A low table of carved wood, inlaid with ivory and jet, stood in the corner. On top of it were writing materials made of bone set with gold. A delicately molded glass lamp hung from the tent pole overhead. The fruit bowl was carved from a block of apple-green jade.

I sat cross-legged on the rug and waited for him to sit, but he paced back and forth in front of me, further heightening the impression of a caged feline. I wondered if I should speak or wait until he spoke to me. I was irritated to feel myself getting flustered. Then Alexander sat down next to me with a fluid movement and I stifled an exclamation.

“What can I give you? Grapes? Some wine?”

“That sounds fine,” I said, my fingers itching for a pen so I could write down all my impressions. But I had to wait until I got back. Until then, I was supposed to make a mental note of every word and action.

He chose a grape for me and gently put it into my mouth. It was one of the most sensual gestures anyone had ever made to me. I felt faint, and when he leaned over and kissed me I toppled over onto the rug with hardly a whimper.

Alexander obviously thought I’d come to see him for only one reason. I guess he was smothered with women throwing themselves on him, but vestal virgins? My body was saying, “Yes! Yes!” My head said, “Ashley! Get a hold of yourself this instant!” I sat up and pushed him away. “Sorry, I can’t do this,” I said.

His expression of surprise was comical. “You mean, you really did come from the temple?”

“Can we talk?” I avoided the question and took a bunch of grapes.

“Not those,” he said, plucking them from my hand and putting them back into the bowl. “Those grapes are poisoned. I keep them in case an enemy comes. So, what do you want to talk about?” His brow furrowed, then his face cleared. “Ah, yes, I recall. You’re the onirocrite. So, what dreams have you had?”

“I dreamt that I came to your tent while you were sleeping. In your sleep you were calling out my name, the secret one that I can’t tell to anyone except the goddess. When you woke up you saw me. You said that I must come to you because you had a dream that you wanted me to interpret for you. You also said that it was a waking dream.”

He looked interested. “Really? And just what is a waking dream?”

“It’s like a wish,” I said. “It’s what you want to do with your life. Can you tell me about it?” I was hoping for grist for the prize-winning article that I was going to write when I got back. No one knew why Alexander had decided to conquer Persia and travel as far as the Indus River. It was a mystery, and I’d decided to solve it.

Instead of answering me, he lay back on his bed, put his arms above his head and stretched, showing off his lean body with its beautiful, flowing lines. “That’s too bad,” he said. “I was hoping you were one of the virgins who didn’t want to be sacrificed. There are lots of them, you know,” he added, looking at me sideways out of his magnificent eyes. “When they don’t want to be sacrificed they simply cease to be virgins, if you get my meaning.”

“I do,” I said, “and I’m flattered. But can we get back to the subject of my visit?”

“A single-minded woman,” he sighed. “You remind me of my mother. She’s terribly stubborn. She hated it when I sucked my thumb, so I did it for years just to spite her.”

“Well, that explains your teeth,” I said, vexed to be compared to his mother.

He looked at me, his expression unreadable. I started to think that maybe conversations about his mother weren’t the best idea, but all he said was, “You want to hear about my dreams, is that it?”

“Please,” I said, concentrating on his next words.

“Very well.” He stood up, poured two glasses of wine from an earthenware pitcher, and sat down next to me again, handing me one. The wine had a faint spicy note.

I was feeling smug. The article was going to net me a huge prize. I could just imagine the accolades. I was going to be famous; I couldn’t wait to see the faces of those who’d been waiting to see me fail. “Cheers,” I said, and sipped. The drink wasn’t bad. It was young grape wine with spices and a trace of honey. It had been watered down so it was refreshing.

He raised his eyebrows. “Cheers?”

“Here’s to your health,” I amended.

We sipped our wine in silence for a few minutes while he studied me. Finally he put down his glass and shook his head.

“There’s something strange about you,” he said, “though I cannot say exactly what it is. You are impressed, I sense this, and you are interested. But, you are not afraid. Perhaps it is your lack of fear I detect the most. I am extremely attuned to fear; my father beat it into me. But it goes deeper than that.” As he spoke, he wound his body around me, pausing now and then to touch my cheeks, my neck, or my breast. “I get a very peculiar feeling from you. There is a coldness, a frost that emanates from your very bones.” He paused and ran his hands lightly down my sides.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I stammered. “I’ve wanted to meet you since I first heard about you. It was a dream, and now it’s come true.” The passion in my voice startled me. I frowned, struggling to keep my emotions in check. This was not the cool, calm, collected Ashley I knew.

Alexander took my hand, stroking the inside of my wrist before pressing it to his mouth. “I want to bite you,” he said. “I want to shake you out of your indifference. I want to hear you scream.” He stared at me, a fierce expression in his uncanny eyes. “My mother is cold like you. She’s as cold as the ice on the mountaintops.”

I shivered. “I’m sorry if I appear cold. It was my parents’ fault. I had to stay quiet, otherwise I was punished.”

“Perhaps that’s it.” He tilted his head and looked at me. I felt the blood rush to my cheeks. There was such intensity in his gaze that I had to struggle not to drop my eyes.

“Did you know that of all the living things on this earth, only man can look another man in the eye? My teacher, an old Greek, taught me that. He is a very intelligent man. He said that the world was round like an orange, and that the stars we see at night are in reality other earths, like this one, or suns. Is that heresy do you think, or is it truth? I would like to know the answer to those questions and to so many more. I want to see the ends of the earth where the water drops off into a great chasm. Of course, if my teacher is right, I shall never find that. Instead, I will end up where I started out.” He sighed, then leaned over and lifted a corner of the tent to peer outside. “It’s getting near mid-day, I have to go see my troops. Will you stay, or will you go back to your temple?”

“If you please,” I said humbly, “I’d like to stay.”

“I please.” He smiled then, and I realized that his face had more expressions than anyone’s I’d ever seen did, including the great actors and mimes. His smile seemed to bloom from within, to reach out and caress me, and to bind me to him.

Anyone on the receiving end of that smile, I thought, would walk straight off the edge of the world if Alexander asked him to.