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Saturday, February 23, 2008

PROGRESS REPORT 29: PARTING WORDS



L'Ephebe on l'Alexandre d"Agade
(a statue of Alexander's son, in the style of Lysippos, museum France)

"Goodnight, goodnight! parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I should say good night til it be morrow."
William Shakespeare, 1564-1616 "Romeo and Juliet" II, ii

I've been writing some sensitive passages of "Shadow of the Lion" this week, in between bouts of editing for my travel web page. I sometimes have avoided working on the novel, distancing myself from the scene as I approached it, perhaps remembering episodes in my own life when I said those final farewells.

Everyone, at some time in life, has to say goodbye to a loved one, knowing it will be the last goodbye. Travelers, like me, are always saying 'adios' 'adieu', 'ciao'. But does it get any easier when it's a special friend you must part from? (You can always go back to a place, but often you know you may never see that friend again.)

One goodbye I've never forgotten was at the Istanbul airport in 1975, when I said goodbye to my Turkish lover, Hakki. I didn't want to believe that I'd never see him again. I cried all the way back home. I have never forgotten that day, or him.

My soul-brother/friend Roberto who I shared so many memorable hours with during my life in Greece, would never say goodbye when we parted. Each time I left him I'd wonder if it would be the last time. He would always kiss me on each cheek and say "Misbehave!" Until one year when I returned to Athens, he was gone forever.

I remember my last meeting with Mitso, my shepherd from the village in Greece.
We met on the road when I was walking back down the mountain to board a ferry to Athens. We talked awhile, though my Greek wasn't always fluent enough to grasp immediately what he was saying to me. He said something, and then we parted. And a few minutes later as I was on my way down the road, I realized what he'd said was "When will you marry me and come to live in the village?"
I thought about for a long time. He was a lovely man and we'd been friends for a number of years. But by the time I decided to reconsider the proposal, he too was gone, suddenly taken away by lung cancer.

My last spoken words with my Chilean friend Anibal, were said just the week before he slipped into morphine-induced oblivion. When I was leaving his room I had bent to kiss him and said, "Goodbye, I love you," I turned to leave and he called me back to his bedside and said," You know I love you, really! I have always had feelings for you since the day we first met."

"We will be friends until the end of time," he once told me. And that is true! Gone, but never forgotten.

Ah yes, parting is such sweet sorrow....



Golden box containing remains of King Philip
found in the tombs at Vergina

I've had to say goodbye to many characters in my novel, too. Alexander dies on the first page and his death scene was tragic. Some others were more difficult goodbyes because to end their lives was brutal. I remember sitting at my computer crying the night I killed General Perdikkas. I couldn't believe I'd actually assassinated him. "I killed him! I killed him!" I sobbed. He was a self-serving, arrogant character but still, I had created a living being from my historical research notes and I felt bad about having to do him in.

I grew somewhat fond of the Greek senator Demades, but about the time he had to be brutally murdered by Kassandros, I transferred my thoughts of him to a certain man I knew who reminded me of him, but with whom I was very angry. You'd be surprised what the dark corners of your mind can conjur up! LOL.
But the execution of the Athenian military governor Phokion was more difficult and tragic.

The deaths of the old Chaldean Magus and the old Regent Antipater were easier because I recalled the peaceful parting of my own dear father. And I was strangely detached when I had to do in poor unfortunate Arridaios and his defiant warrior wife Adeia-Eurydike.


I have grown even more detatched as the novel progressed because, like an ancient Greek drama or a Shakespearean tragedy I knew well beforehand that the stage would be strewn with bodies by the time this story ended.


But saying goodbye to one of my favorite (fictional) characters was not so easy.
I knew I couldn't kill Nabarzanes, but still, he had to go. So how would I remove him? And when I removed him from the action, how would it affect the little boy, Iskander (Alexander IV) who he was like a father-figure to. Nabarzanes, the Persian Court adviser and Royal Cousin of Roxana, has been with the child since the day of his birth. And now, he is to be sent away -- banished -- because Olympias will not tolerate his presence and influence over her grandson.

Here are some snippets from the parting scenes:

He knelt beside the child and looked at him straight. "Iskander-shah, one day soon you will be crowned king of Macedon, and all the countries your father conquered will be yours. My time with you and your mother is over now. I must return to my own people."

"But why?" Iskander asked.

"When I was your age, " Nabarzanes said, "I was brought out from among the women and taught to ride and draw the bow. Boys were expected to be chivalrous gentlemen as well as soldiers. We were taught the Good Religion of the great prophet, just as the old Magus and i taught you. Now it is time for you to learn your father's ways. He was a great man and you, his son, will some day be great like him. Never forget who you are. Never renounce the Truth and follow the Lie." He put his arms around the child and embraced him. "Now, I must make ready to go..."

"To go where?" the child clung to him, his bright gray eyes welling with tears. "Will you come back?"

Nabarzaes took the child's face in his hands and kissed him. "I won't go far away," he promised. "Just across the Hellespont. And one day, when you are king, I will return to pay homage to you. Fortune loves you, my little Ashabal." He untangled the child's arms from around his neck and stood. "You must not be angry with your grandmother for sending me away. She did this for you, because of the Macedonians who do not want to believe you are truly Alexander's son. Now it is up to you to prove it to them."

And how does the child react to the parting?

He felt such deep hurt. No words, no amount of tears, could wash it away. All within him was dark and crying. He was left alone with his troubled thoughts, puzzling over the truth in the whispers of the palace servants; the snatches of angry conversations overheard between his mother and grandmother: questions about his birth, his father, who now more than ever, was the vague ghost of a prowling lion in his dreams.

Who would take him riding in the king's paradise if Nabarzanes went away? Who would carry him on their shoulders and play games with him? When would he ever visit the mahouts' camp again? He was just seven years old, but he had already begun to understand that all these things, the conspiracies to seize the throne, the wars, the terrible killings, had been caused partly because of him. Anger welled inside him like a red-hot rod, striking his heart. 'To be king,' he thought, 'What does it mean? To make wars? To forsake your loyal friends?' If it meant this, how could he be the king? He wished with all his heart that he had been born an ordinary boy, not the son of the Invincible Alexander, a man he had never known. Then, perhaps Nabarzanes, who had always been like a real father to him, might never be sent away.

NOTE: An interesting post script to this entry: Last night I was speaking to my friend the Babylonian, who always asks how I am coming along with the novel. (He's my living embodiment of Nabarzanes). I told him about the segment I'd just written and he told me that lately he has been so nostalgic for home and that lately his thoughts have been in Babylon (Baghdad). His family is there but unlike my Nabarzanes, since Saddam killed his father and forced him into exile, he has been unable to return.




Alexander as a youth
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8 comments:

Father Park said...

Ah yes. I once, back when Crocodile Rock was hit, was desperately in love with a girl. The family was on holidays at Seven Mile Beach (Gerroa) – a marvellous place of sun, surf and sand – and she was next door in a huge holiday house. When we left, at the end of the week, I was truly, utterly devastated. And I’d not uttered one word in her direction. “Ships in the night” – minus Morse flashers!

Then there was Lyndall Sims from Presbyterian Ladies’ College Croydon when Slade were doing their thing. Long train rides home in the guards’ van. Talk about hormonally hung up. Still remember the adolescent aches…

Ahem, so, enough of the ancient reminisces: time for truly ancient reminisces.

He was a self-serving, arrogant character… Perdiccas to a tee (or should that be to a pee?). To which I might add “aggrandising” and “grasping”. A fellow who imagined himself another Philip II and arranged matters accordingly. Already married into Persian aristocracy at Susa, he promptly set about soothing the “old rope”, Antipater, by agreeing to marry his daughter Nicaea. This agreement lasted only as long as it took Perdiccas to realise that Alexander’s sister Cleopatra, being offered by her terrible mother Olympias, was the much better step on the path to empire. Peithon, Seleucus and Antigenes – quickly summing up the overweening nature of the fellow – promptly did him in. Poor old Antigenes, loyal to the royal house as the Argyraspids’ commander, would find out that what goes around comes around. Antigonus Monophthalmos was not a fellow lightly spurned.

Just on which: The deaths of the old Chaldean Magus and the old Regent Antigonos… I suspect you mean the aforementioned “old rope”, Antipater.

Alexander’s death might well be tragic. Any fellow whose body gives up as a result of disease, damage from wounds, alcohol poisoning – or a combination of all three – is tragic. More so due to the complete mess he left. His father will have been truly mortified at the irresponsibility. A murderous bastard Philip might, on more than one occasion, have been but he was always an organised one.

I’m not certain that the wider world of Archaeology has settled on the fact that the bones within the gold box are Philip’s. It would be nice if they were though.

We are now set for Cassander’s grand spree, err, “spray”. The fourth century “final solution” – at least for Argeads.

Wynn Bexton said...

Oops..I corrected that little slip (Antigonos vs Antipater) Thx for pointing it out.

Yes, I expect you must be one of the Companions from Pothos.org because you are so knowledgeable about the history (and I find your comments very encouraging and helpful, by the way.)
re the Tombs: I'm one of the true believers, having seen the findings three times beginning with when they were first shown in the museum at Thessaloniki. What an incredible thrill after first having read about them in the National Geographic and never imagining that I'd actually see them for real! And the Tombs...wow..on my first visit to them I was stunned. On my second visit astounded. An amazing display! (On my first visit to the Tombs I got to talk to one of the archaeologists and he sent me up to an adjoining shed where I was allowed to view the findings of Eurydike's tomb (Philip's mother) before they had even been put on public display.

On my visit to Pydna I was introduced to the archaeologist who was excavating the trench Kassandros had dug to keep Olympias and her gang sealed into the fortress. At that time he said they were looking for Olympias' tomb and had found one there but said it was probably just a memorial tomb as they figured her body was probably at Vergina. Pretty thrilling stuff!

Father Park said...

I missed getting to the tombs and Pella when in Greece last year. Although I'd not ever consider going without them, taking the Rectory on the road with you - the Lady Rector and the two postulants - can have a marked tendency to slow one down!

Still, from Athens to Mycenae and a journey through the Argolid, Arcadia and Olympia in the Peloponnese; the Corinthian Gulf, Naupactos and up to Delphi; Thessaly and Meteora and back to Athens via Thermopylae and Chaeronea in some six days was not bad going.

I thoroughly enjoyed the four days in Athens though. Grilled Octopus, sardines, olives, olive oil with crusty bread and Mythos beer (as well as the none too few Macedonian reds) all in close proximity to antiquity is something I'd love to repeat.

I am deeply, deeply jealous of your luck with the excavations.

I expect you must be one of the Companions...

Not quite: I doubt they'd extend that invitation just yet. I shall have to remain a strategos for some time yet I'd suggest. Fancy me a moderator?! Some at the site would suffer apoplexy methinks.

Having helped with a few questions you posed over there I thought I’d poke my nose in and see how you were doing. How long do you think until done and, if it isn’t rude, have you a publisher yet?

I am toying with a Eumenes/Argyraspids thingy myself. Toying as I often find historical fiction unsatisfying. A stickler for the actualities I’m afraid. Aside from which, if the debate started by my piece for Ancient Warfare is any indication, there are firmly entrenched views out there held by more than one - currently absent - type on Pothos.org.

Paralus.

Wynn Bexton said...

Well, Paralus, you have certainly made me feel very homesick for Greece. As you know I spend a lot of time there (wish I could afford more!) and was there last summer but won't return again til next year's Assembly of 2009. I know all the places you have mentioned and have been to them many times. I remember the day I went to Chaeroneia -- another one of those thrills much like when I went to Philippi and saw the battle field where the Romans fought it out.

As for Shadow, I am winding down to the end now and aside from the time I occasionally spend editing stuff for my travel web site, I am focusing on finishing it SOON.
A long time ago I had looked into agents/publishers. Was once offered a deal by Kalendis Publishing in Athens but they wanted me to pay a huge amount of money and the novel wasn't nearly ready to be finished then. The closest I am to that right now is that an editor from NY who I introduced at a workshop at writer's conference last Fall, told me to send her the MSS when it was done as she is interested in historical fiction. That part of it is so daunting I am not worrying myself about it until I start the final editing draft of the MSS which I will be starting once I get to THE END. Soon, I hope.

Sam said...

That was a bittersweet post!
Yes, saying goodbye to characters is hard. I remember crying over my keyboard as I killed off a character in 'Angels on Crusade'. My tears made it impossible to see the letters, lol. I felt rather ridiculous, and kept telling myself it was only a fictional character.

Meghan said...

What a sad (but lovely) post. It's so sad to lose a friend but it's great that you still have memories of all the people you love. It also impressive that you care so much for your characters. I hope you finish your novel soon!

Wynn Bexton said...

Thanks for the comments. Work is progressing slowly...but I'll soon be back in the thick of it!

Patsy Terrell said...

Parting is such sweet sorrow... this caused me to think about many of my own goodbyes... bittersweet.