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Playing All Parts

And since I'm on the subject of Stealing Fire with the audiobook being settled this week, I thought I'd share one of my favorite scenes from Stealing Fire with you. This is also the scene that we'll come back to in Elza's dream in The Emperor's Agent which I posted a little while ago. The Emperor's Agent will be out this summer.

But this is the scene from Stealing Fire, and one of my favorites in the whole series.



The twentieth day after I came to Memphis I found myself in one of the courtyards of the Temple of Thoth. It was one of the smaller ones, with worn carvings on the walls that surrounded it, their colors faded and in need of repainting. How long did it take to fade like that in the stark sun of the Black Land? A hundred years? Two hundred? And surely the carvings were older still. A rectangular pool stood in the middle of the courtyard, surrounded by tall date palms and other things, while a weeping peach tree dipped its leaves almost in the water. There was a bench under it in the shade, and I sat there and closed my eyes.

I listened to the buzzing of the bees and wasps drawn to the almost ripe peaches, to the very faint lapping of the water against the sides of the pool. The sounds of the city seemed far away. I could hear the pulsing of my heart, smell the peaches and the water, feel the cool stone against my legs. This is what eternity feels like, I thought. For a moment the world stood still.

Beneath the beat of my heart, I could hear it, could feel it -- the pulse of the Black Land, the ancient tide of energy and strength in this place, like the tugging of a current far out to sea.

This was what I had touched in those moments when I stood before the hearse on the road, when the power seemed to fill me and flow through me like a mighty river. Then, it had poured into me, dashing me in its path like a leaf in the stream. Now, it seemed instead that I floated on the breast of it, safe as a child in the embrace of the sea.

How had I drawn on it, I wondered. I was no priest who had learned how, no prince with the blood right. How had I done it?

Tentatively, like a man floating on a pool may lazily move one hand to propel himself in the water, I reached out. It was not difficult. This was not command or mastery. It was simply moving in a familiar element, gentle as floating on a stream. I did not need to control the current, only follow it. The answers were so close, so easy.

"Lydias of Miletus?"

I opened my eyes.

Bagoas stood in the shade on the other side of the pool, the shadows of their leaves making dappled patterns of light across his hair.

"Hello, Bagoas," I said. It did not seem odd for him to be here, almost as though we had promised to meet.

"Why are you here?" he asked, his head to the side like a young hunting bird, his green eyes curious.

"I am on leave until my hand is well," I said, lifting my bandaged arm. "And I like these gardens. I came here to remember."

Bagoas smiled, and he came and sat in the shade by me, the width of two men between us, wary as the hunting bird I had named him. I did not move, only waited while the reflection of light from the surface of the pool played across his face. "I remember too," he said. "I will not forget My Lord while any breath of mine endures."

"That too," I said. And how could one not think of Alexander, when the world still echoed with his footsteps, like a ruin scoured by the wind?

Bagoas crossed his legs, and though the movement was swift it was not as limber as a boy. It came to me then that he was not nearly as young as he looked. He must be my age, or nearly so. He had been a handsome youth when he entered the King's service, but that was ten years ago. He glanced at me, and his voice was low. "What is it you remember?"

The light flickered on the surface of the pool, flashes of fire from water, the memory of fire. I could see the shapes stirring just beneath the surface, as easy to reach as opening a door to the distant past.

"I remember a boy who played the harp," I said, and could see him in my mind's eye, a pretty boy of fifteen or so with curling dark hair and eyes to drown in. “A boy who played the harp before the king, while the prince stood by, watching as if he had seen the other half of his soul. The gods meant him to be king, and so he was, even if it were over the bodies of his kindred, of his wife’s father, of his beloved.” I saw the hall around them, the courtiers in their old fashioned robes struck silent by the beauty of the music, the tall prince and his sister watching with the same expressions on their faces while I stood, a leashed cheetah at my side, her soft fur against my leg.

The ripples on the surface of the water shifted, reflecting the sky of the Black Land, walls trim and neat with new paint and sharp carvings, a pair of benches beneath four trees. Here, in this place, only removed in time, only trembling just below the surface. So very close.

“And I remember this place, and a prince I loved and served when Troy was no more, when across the wide seas we sought a new home. I wanted to return here, to the Black Land, and I have." Like leaves falling silently on the wind, a piece fell into place. "I knew, when Hephaistion came to Miletus, that I must go. My prince had need of me again. It was Hephaistion I followed then, you see, though he wore a different face and a different name."

"Kalanos…" Bagoas began, and I started. I had almost forgotten he was there.

I tore my eyes from the water with difficulty. "Yes, Kalanos," I said. "The Indian sage who came back with us from the lands of Raja Puru. He said things like this. My wife said things like this. Perhaps I listened too closely. Or perhaps I lost my mind in Gedrosia."

Bagoas was silent, but I saw the thought on his face. Many men had. Many men had lost their minds for far less reason than I had. And my mind was not so valuable after all. Who did it harm, if I were god-touched?

I had not spoken of it before, and now it seemed I could not stop. "Do you know what I dreamed in Gedrosia, Bagoas? After Sati and Sikander were dead, when all we could do was stagger onward in the heat while the wind tore the flesh from our bones?"

Bagoas shook his head, his face drawn.

I could see the reflections of light in his eyes, just as in the water. “I dreamed of snow,” I said softly. “I dreamed of snow in my veins, snow crusting my eyelashes and the mane of the horse beneath me. I followed my king through endless plains of snow, a curved sword of steel and ice at my side, the horse picking his way around the dead, through whispering powdered winds until my woman’s body seemed to fray into nothing but wind, into silence and cold,. An endless retreat into nothing, into the heart of winter, a procession of shadows under a black sky. As though I stood on that plain of ice and reached back for me, drawing heat from Gedrosia.” I looked away and shook my head, knowing how I must sound.
"Men think strange things when they've been out in the sun too long."

"They do," he said, and his breath caught. "Perhaps you should have been a priest instead of a soldier."

“If my wife, Sati, was right, and we are born many times, should we not all play all parts?” I asked. “I should play priest and soldier both, eunuch and prince, wife and camp follower and servant of the gods.”

"To what end?" he said, and his face was shadowed, "And have it be more than ceaseless suffering."

I thought for a moment, but I was raised in Persian lands, and perhaps I understood a little. “You abhor the Lie and revere Truth,” I said. “Does not that sacred fire demand service, no matter what its form, should it be garbed as an Apis bull, or as the sole god of Judah or as Magi’s flame? Are we not servants of the light together, working toward the good?"

Bagoas' mouth quirked. "I am My Lord's servant. Nothing more."

I lifted my eyes, seeing in the wind stirring the tree branches above the crux of the matter, the question that I had never dared to think. Here, surrounded by the stillness of the ancient Black Land, it was possible to put into words. "And who does Alexander serve?"

Bagoas shook his head. "You are above yourself to ask such questions."

"I am above myself," I said. "I have been above myself since I left Miletus. And so there is nothing to stop me from daring all."


Read the two scenes back to back. I'd love to hear what you think!

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
shezan
May. 9th, 2013 06:42 pm (UTC)
I love that bit, and especially the parallel between the two long marches, one in the desert and the other in the snow.

Many images of the latter here!
http://royal-dragons.forumactif.com/t1936p1-images-napoleonienne
jo_graham
May. 10th, 2013 09:24 am (UTC)
Those are very useful, thank you! I think some of them are Detaille?

The scene in Stealing Fire, I'm actually cribbing Hugo at one point. "An endless retreat into nothing, into the heart of winter, a procession of shadows under a black sky," is almost a direct translation of lines in L'Expiation.

"C'était un rêve errant dans la brume, un mystère,
Une procession d'ombres sous le ciel noir."

I've already written that part of Elza's story, though it's several books on from where we are. I wrote it before Stealing Fire, actually.
mari4212
May. 9th, 2013 07:55 pm (UTC)
I always forget, until I re-read, exactly how much I love Bagoas and his relationship with Lydias.
jo_graham
May. 10th, 2013 09:27 am (UTC)
I love them too. That's one of the relationships I keep coming back to just to reread.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )