Print this page

G.A. Hauser - In the Shadow of Alexander


G.A. Hauser


In the Shadow of Alexander; A Soldier's Tale


July 2003


PublishAmerica/Britannica, U.K./U.S.


the year is 356 BC and the lands of Europe are ruled by Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander. A young man in his army’s phalanx, known for its impenetrable wall of sharp pointed, 15’ sarissa, Thessius becomes completely enamored by the young golden haired boy, as does a whole army after him. As one of 45,000 men, he begins the long march with his young king to Persia, and on to India, hoping for a night alone with his beloved ruler. Alexander’s first wife, Roxane of Persia, is portrayed as his murderer. Thessius tries his best to prevent Roxane from moving to her victim, but, inevitably, fate wins out and Alexander the Great dies. With the help of his friends and lover, Thessius manages to find the strength to take the long road back home.

Chapter 1

It will forever be one of the great ‘what ifs’ of history. If I had only known sooner of the plot to poison my king the world may be a very different place. At age thirty-three, Alexander III of Macedon was too young to have perished. I will eternally blame myself though others think his destiny was determined by the gods and not by one of his most loyal Elite corps of the Agema Royal Battalion. But, a plot so sinister and deadly, a murder so loathsome and filled with delirium and agonizing pain should never have beset a man so great as he. If I had just understood what would have occurred after his passing, I would forever die a hundred deaths to spare our people of that nightmare to come.

Where can a simple man born to the sword begin his tale? What explanation or excuse can I come upon to ease my Hades inspired guilty heart? All I can speak is of what I know. And of this, you must first understand who I am. I am Thessius, son of Percedicus.

When I was ten I drew my first sword. It was a time of men and war. It was the year 344 B.C. when the genius son born to Philip II, third son of Amyntas III, was merely twelve years old. At eighteen I was already proficient in the sabre, and because of my height, soon learned the handling of the great sarissa. King Philip was developing an army of impenetrable phalanxes, all pointing fifteen foot spears, shoulder to shoulder. Nothing but missiles thrown at us could do us any harm. Of Philip, the men would be quick to gossip. Though we were sworn to him and did desire to serve him for he paid us in silver coins, his constant battles with the wild-eyed, red-haired Queen Olympias, who surrounded herself in snakes, was enough fodder to keep us amused nightly. This of course was nothing compared to the regular occurrence of the bedding of young females, and males alike, who courted the king. Though we tried to prevent it, our young prince did hear our sniggering while we drank our fill before the evening fires. The ugliness of Philip, with his blinded eye oozing constantly, his right arm hanging useless, his gimpy limp, could only be contrasted to the intense beauty of his son. Forever a mystery to the men he passed, brushing against them like an aura of fine frankincense or Persian silk, Alexander was convinced he was at one with the gods. Son of Ammon-Zeus, nicknamed Achilles by his beloved tutors, we began to believe he could not possibly have been a product of the broad, dark-bearded, sharp tongued Philip. And maybe not even borne to the witch-like-drug-induced-Dionysos-inspired Olympias. For the lovely intelligent Alexander had neither of their traits. He was blonde, blue-eyed, and exceptionally built. As one of the few lucky ones, I was to learn he had a scent to his skin that in itself was a natural aphrodisiac, his breath was odorless.

As men in the army we had an understanding unspoken that Alexander would assume power should his father die. Yet, beauty inspired jealousy, as the gods learned too well, and when one of the king’s consorts gave birth to a bastard son, Arridaeus, the whispers among the officers, which inevitably trickled down to the phalanx, was that the queen, like a lioness defending her lone cub, had somehow poisoned the infant. Though he was very much alive, he had only half a mind. At times he could be seen stealing food and stuffing the handfuls into his mouth, drooling as he mumbled, most incoherently. How could anyone worry for such a ruler as this? But, this idiot did indeed rule. A future horror that is yet to come.

A day I remember in detail, which has since passed into legend, I am told, was when our young prince was merely thirteen years of age. Though I was ordered to practice with my squadron on that brilliant sunny day, I managed to slip away on the pretext of a strained calf muscle. Giving my best impersonation of Philip’s limp, I knew very well that the new horses from Thessaly were going to be on parade. Dreaming of leaving the phalanx for the cavalry, it was only natural for my nineteen year old passion to lead me to that spectacle. Once out of the sightline of my group, I hurried on feathered feet to that wide field of green where handlers were showing off their four-hooved beasts. It was quite hot that day and I remember feeling that crisp morning sun on the tanned skin of my back. The field was vast and merged with the foothills of a mountain range that extended as far north as Illyria. Elegant carts were set in rows casting long shadows between them as bearded merchants haggled over talents of gold.

As if I were a spy from Athens, I crept to where I had a splendid view of what were soon to be our very own pets. The spinning in my heart when I unexpectedly found the golden haired prince perched on top of a course marker eyeing the parade was like a jolt from an arrow tip. Why I hadn’t expected to see him there, I can’t explain.

A large crowd had gathered behind the king who seemed never without his ubiquitous generals. Creeping close as I dared, I wanted to know which of these fine beasts would be a king’s fancy.

Several inspectors pointed to almost a dozen by then that were cleared for purchase when it seemed a commotion took place at the rear of the procession. Unknown to myself, Alexander and I both perked up and strained to see the cause.

Like a giant black storm cloud, a stallion appeared. It was enormous and dark as night save for a single white blaze on its face in the shape of an ox’s head. The thrill I felt inside my body at the sight of the animal was obviously being duplicated by the prince. The moment the king’s one good eye noticed its wild spirit, he waved it off with a grunt.

“No! Father!” Alexander shouted.

I jumped out of my skin to hear his voice. It was high and very powerful. (Rumor had it he sang like a lark.)

“Do not send him away!” Alexander rushed to confront the king face to face.

“What want I with a creature that cannot be handled!” Philip roared.

For some reason it seemed I was eavesdropping on a private conversation between father and son, and well, I suppose I was. I imagined in my head this was not king and prince, but, merely simple kin. I chided myself at the thought, for there was nothing simple about these two, their complex relationship, or their strained respect of each other. As the multitude looked on, as if we were spectators at an important Greek play, the boy-prince attempted to have his way.

“I can handle him! Look upon him! How can you dismiss this noble animal simply because the handlers are inept!”

Without blinking, I stared at that young male’s face. His eyes were on fire and I could see how blue they were from where I stood, cubits away. Like all others who had made eye contact with him, I soon loved him.

Philip twisted his girth to Antigonous, and one of his generals, Parmenion. It was as if Philip was seeking confirmation from them that his son was a madman.

It enraged the youthful prince who understood completely its context even at so young an age. “I shall tame him!” came the defiant response.

With that, the king’s belly jiggled with his laugh. I have to admit, a bitter water rose in my mouth at the sight. It seemed infinitely cruel an attempt at humiliating Alexander in front of so many; slaves, officers, foreigners, and most of all, his peers.

“You think you can do what an experienced handler cannot?” The one-eyed goat found the potential to embarrass his son very amusing, especially seeing there were almost a hundred present. “All right. I shall make you a deal. You ride him without being thrown off, and I shall buy him for you. But-” With pleasure in his eye he added, “If he does get the better of you, what will you give me?”

“I shall pay you the three talents! The asking price of him!” Alexander responded without hesitation. He knew very well success was his only option.

Philip heard the laughter erupt behind his back. “Where will you get three talents?”

Alexander was now about to strike someone. I could see the veins in his neck protruding. So, the boy had a hot temper and was most certainly proud. “Why do you not let me worry about that! Are you afraid of the wager?”

When that insult smacked Philip in the face, I cringed for Alexander’s sake. He may be his father, but, no offspring was beyond exiling. (Or poison, for that matter.)

With his large white teeth grinding, Philip nodded out to that dust storm surrounding the horse’s massive earth clawing hoofs. “Go! Go tame your beast!”

In disbelief I did not think that my afternoon would bring so much entertainment. Now it was as if I were at the games, cheering for my favored athlete. The contest and stakes were high, and I never thought I could hold my breath that long, for I could not inhale from the anxiety. All who surrounded them moved to the edge of the ring. My heart was pounding so hard, I could not hear the shouting and noise around me. Then I realized it was simply because the shouting had ceased, and silence prevailed.

Without a blink, I watched as Alexander stood still, assessing the nervous horse. Silently, I begged the beast to behave. Something I have no doubt Alexander was doing simultaneously. Very slowly, he reached for the clasp of his cape and it dropped to the hard packed clay ground. Even at thirteen the boy was so well defined and muscular it made me grate my teeth in longing. The epitome of classic male beauty, his tutors had trained him well.

Those light blue eyes assessed the sun’s direction, then his own shadow. On cat-like feet, he moved closer to the agitated creature.

A whinny of terror came from the beast. I thought surely this was going to end in tragedy. It stomped as if it were counting down the charge. In disgust I noticed blood on its lips from the cruel barbed bit.

Like a soothing song, the sound of Alexander’s voice was carried on the warm breeze. As he approached this massive animal, he spoke words to it, telling it not to be afraid. Pan courting his Syrinx, hoping she does not flee. To my astonishment, he had the attention of every eye including the large brown ones showing their whites.

“That’s it, my lovely, Bucephalus… you shall be all right. I shall take care of you and see to it you are not harmed… come to me, my lovely one.” When I heard the name he used in Greek, I smiled, Oxhead, yes, that is what he will be.

If I had not been there on that day, if someone had told me that tale that evening after I had drunken too much wine, I would never have believed. Even with it playing out before my own eyes, I was sure I could not be awake. The trickle of a drop of sweat moved down my temple as I dared not flinch. I must say, the rest thought the same and a funereal like stillness fell upon the surrounding crowd. It was as if we all were waiting for that flinch. That jolting of sinew and muscle that would lift the black steed onto its rear legs, and flail out its powerful hooves in anger. But that moment never arrived.

“You see? I am here for you…Come to me, Oxhead…come to your new master….” Alexander took the rein from the handler and turned his body so his shadow was behind him. “That’s my boy…yes…you see who I am…you know I am the son of Zeus…”

And in my heart I thought, yes, Apollo you are, of beauty, military prowess, and god of truth. Something the prince prided himself in.

When that large black head seemed to bow before him, I had to blink to see if I was still in touch with reality. At this point all else seemed to be part of a dream.

When I relayed to my fellow soldiers that this animal had actually lowered down to receive the prince, they gave one another that slanted eyed look as if I was talking visions and hallucinations. You have no idea how I begged them to believe me. Only when it was confirmed by the general did they stare at my nodding gape in amazement.

Alexander, son of Philip, mounted that wild black stallion, and without a blanket on his back, he rode him in the most elegant canter around the perimeter of the ring to the absolute astonishment of all who witnessed it that day.

As he passed me like a flash of a shadow, I felt his eyes meet mine for the first time in my life. That act of seeing me, acknowledging me, was enough to seal my emotions forever.

And of his father, who should have praised his son in front of so many, the man merely paid for the horse and turned away. Not a word of kindness passed between them. I oft wondered if Olympias influence was somehow responsible. It was no secret she hated her king-and was divorced by him. The pain of seeing him marry a very young girl in her place and the events and insinuations to follow, no doubt left their scars.

Somehow I was to get back to my squadron and miraculously recover from my strained calf muscle. One glance back at the ring as Alexander dismounted gracefully and leaned against his lifelong companion, and I knew I must return to the training grounds. I thought of bribes, or favors, anything I could use to avoid the punishment of my ranking officer. Then the idea occurred to me. Simply retelling this story may be my ticket back inside. Rushing now, excitement building, I accidentally slammed into someone. When I brushed him off to apologize, my gaze came to rest on his face. Though it was not happy, and very irritated at being hit so squarely by one as large as he was, it was simply the face of a man even more beautiful than that of the prince. For a moment frozen in time as I memorized his features, he left me standing there looking after him as he strut away with remarkable bold confidence. It was several years later I was to learn that this man was Hephaestion, who would soon become the lover and confidant of the great prince, to the envy of all.

Excerpt submitted to by G.A. Hauser. © G.A. Hauser.