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Saturday, July 03, 2010

PROGRESS REPORT #67: THE FINAL CHAPTER part 1: OMENS & PRAYERS

 View of Mount Pangaion

Beginning June 10,1992 (the anniversary of Alexander the Great's death in Babylon), I started a special journal to chronicle the field trips I was making in Greece to follow Alexander's path.  "In the Shadow of the Lion" covers these journies  up to July 2003, but there have been many other return visits to the sites, many new discoveries in my search for Alexander.

All through the writing of my novel, "Shadow of the Lion", I have found these on-site notes invaluable. "Being there" gave me a real sense of place, and with my research trips to archaeological sites, a sense of the 'times' and life of this incredible man and others associated with him.

There has never been much written about Alexander's son, (I use his Persian name "Iskander" to distinguish him from his father) who was born to Alexander's Soghdian wife, Roxana, a month after his death in Babylon, June 10, 323 BC.  Most of what has been written in the histories has not portrayed the women in Alexander's life as fairly or realistically as they likely were.  So much is speculation.  Many of the journals kept during Alexander's lifetime were destroyed, and the histories we know were written more than a hundred years later. 

As a historical fiction writer, getting to know Alexander's world has been invaluable in my writing his story - the story of what happened after his death leading to the destruction of his dynasty.  I wanted to give his little-known son a voice, and the women, too, who were incredibly strong women who have been maligned by the historians in many cases.  Almost everyone closely connected to Alexander, mainly his two sons (his legitimate heir and illegitimate son by his Persian mistress) his mother, sister, wives, lovers and friends were annihilated during the power struggle between his generals.

In writing this difficult last chapter, I have delved into my old on-site journal, capturing the settings down to as many details as I could find or imagine, or recorded on site.  I have been to the garrison of Amphipolis, looked down over the Strymon River delta to the sea, walked down the hillside on a route I imagined the boys would have used for their escape route. (And on that walk, saw the spiral path of a snake in the dust  - an omen?) I have stayed in the shadow of Mount Pangaion, imagined the mines up near the summit that to this day are still visible, scarring the mountainside.

Writing this last chapter has taken me back there to the very first time I saw the formidable acropolis of Amphipolis. As I walked toward it, the sky darkened and a bolt of lightening struck earthward -- an omen, for sure!  Or passing by the great stone Lion near the Nine Ways Crossing -- the lion, a funeral monument to one of Alexander's men; the Nine Ways, the place where the invading Persian king Xerxes ordered the sacrifices of nine boys and nine girls to the river god.  Another omen!

On my second trip, a couple of years later, I went right up to the ruins of the fortress, mostly Roman/Byzantine now, but there were the original stone walls, the wall the boys would scale to make their get-away.  And now, as I read through that journal (July 17, 1993) I'm back there again.  I've come full circle, and the novel is almost finished.  Just two more chapter segments to go!

Here's a little excerpt of part of this last chapter...
 
View of the Strymon River delta from Mt Pangaion

The stony trail led from the glade, up the mountainside where goats and sheep grazed, until the scrubby grass gave way to bracken and thyme. When they reached the bluff, Iskander stood looking out beyond the plain and sea. Far below, the sweeping brown curve of the river coiled around the acropolis of Amphipolis and snaked through the grassy fields toward the sea. To the west rose the mist-shrouded crests of Athos, beyond the long expanse of tawny shoreline. He turned to the east and shaded his eyes against the sun. He could see the long highway, the Royal Road, that Shah Xerxes had built when the Persians had come here, the same road his father, Alexander, had traveled on when he went east to conquer the world.
He had a dim memory of that day long ago, riding with his mother in the howdah, lulled by the rolling gait of Old Pearl. He vaguely recalled his first sight of Amphipolis’ great walled fortress high on the hill between the mountain the river. He remembered how frightened he had been and how his mother said there was nothing to fear. “It is only a hill castle guarding the seacoast and the mines on Mount Pangaion.” But she had made a sign against evil and whispered a Soghdian spell.

Orion was standing with his face upturned, his eyes fixed on the high cliffs above them. His hair shone like white-gold in the sunshine and there was a rosy flush on his tanned cheeks. “If my father was here, we could scale that rock face to the highest ridge. There’s a cave up there dedicated to Pan. Father used to climb there with my mother and he took me up there once. My mother lived on this mountain…tended sheep…She died when I was a baby … after father came home from the wars. And there…you see?” He pointed to a narrow rocky trail that led up the slope from the bluff. “That’s the mule trail that leads to the mines.”

In the distance there was the sound of men’s voices carried on the wind, like the harsh cawing of distant crows and the crack of anvils on rock echoed across the mountainside. Iskander imagined the long line of men making their perilous way into a narrow shaft in the mountain. What it was like the cold dusty depths of the mine pits? Although sometimes these past few years he had felt like he was a prisoner, at least he was not like them, shackled and beaten, forced to go down into the bowels of the earth to dig out the precious metals that had made his father’s dynasty so wealthy. Gold and silver. What gave some men pleasure was a curse to those poor wretches. And what had all that gold and silver bought for Macedon? He had been told that it had financed his father’s campaigns in the East where Alexander had found even more wealth. The quest for riches and power had driven him farther and farther away from home. And in the end, Alexander had died, so now his Companions were at war, fighting over his wealth and empire.

Orion put his arm around Iskander’s shoulders. “What are you thinking?” he asked

“Of Persia….of my father…”

“Does it make you feel sad, thinking of your father?”

“Sometimes. Does it make you feel sad thinking of yours?”

Orion took a deep breath. “I miss him. I wish he were here now.”

“If my father had not died…” Iskander kicked at a stone. “And if your father was still alive, my mother and I would not be prisoners.”

“What will you do, if Kassandros won’t return you to Pella?”

“I will find a way…”

“And I will come with you.”

“Then we must make a plan.”

They looked at each other and smiled.

“Where you go, I will go,” Orion said. He reached out and clasped Iskander’s hand.

Iskander squinted against the sun and looked eastward again. “How many stades do you reckon it is to the Hellespont?”

“Why?”

“If we got an early start – in the dark before dawn, before cock-crow – we could get most of the way there by nightfall.

“And then?”

“We could get a boat across – get new horses on the other side – ride clear down the coast to Troy or even farther, to Ephesus. Perhaps I could find Nabarzanes…”

“They’d have the hounds on us before we even reached Thrace. There’s no way we could chance going by the Royal Road. There’s staging posts along the way and day runners. No Iskander, there must be another way.”

“Mother still thinks we’ll be returned to Pella. But so long as Kassandros is my guardian …unless the Assembly deems it so …or the Diodochi order it …” He hit his fist into his palm. “Kassandros hated my father. If he has his way…” Then he tossed back his hair and shrugged. “No matter…The sea-lanes are open now so if I can get a message to Uncle Ptolemy…For now, with Castor in charge, all is well. But I am mindful of the risks and we must make a good plan, just in case.”

“Just in case!” Orion agreed. “We’ll make a blood oath…”

“Your word is all I need,” Iskander replied.

The orange disc of the sun hung suspended over the sea. Iskander glanced up at the cloudless blue sky and saw an eagle soaring eastward, toward the lands that had once been Persia’s. He became aware of the stillness, and it came to him then that this was the place the Magus had come to die. He remembered how the old man had carried the fire altar up the mountain, ignited the sacred flame, said his prayers and died, and how Nabarzanes had found the Magus lying here, his face upturned to the heavens.

He reached into his leather saddle bag and took out the wine flask and poured what was left of the wine into the earth. It was all he had to offer as a sacrifice. He still remembered the prayers he and Nabarzanes and the Magus offered when they made their orisons at the fire altar at the end of each day. He straightened, and began to sing softly in his sweet treble.

“How manifold are thy works, O Wise Lord”

The words came back to him, the prayers the Macedonians had  forbidden them to utter, the sacred words of their god, Ahura Mazdah. He sang, hesitating at first, in the sweet sounding Elamite he had spoken as a child.

“To Thee I beg with outstretched arms, Ahura. This I ask Thee. Tell me truly…”

Tears sprang to his eyes. He lifted his hands, palms up, facing the dim horizon of the East. “O Holy One, give me counsel…” He thought of the eagle. Had it been an omen? Was it the sacred eagle, Si-murg? “Gather me up in your strong wings and carry me safely to my deliverance…”

Orion came to stand beside him and put his arm around his shoulders. Iskander did not try to hide the tears that splashed down his cheeks.

“Your memories will be mine and mine yours until we die,” Orion said.

The sun had westered. The shadow of Pangaion crept beyond the shoreline and quenched the sun’s glow on the sea. They scrambled back down from the bluff, and led their ponies through the glade back to where their bodyguard waited.



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2 comments:

Debra Young said...

Marvelous, Ruth! Nothing beats verisimilitude like being there to lock imagination with place. A coffee and ink salute to you--last chapter! Wow! d:)

Wynn Bexton said...

Thanks Debra. It's definitely the value of keeping on-site written records in order to enhance setting details etc. I've got a start on the last half now. Just getting up the energy to start on it - probably by tomorrow. The big push is on to finish but I don't want to do a sloppy job of the ending after all these years of meticulous work.