Shouts and screams, once so vivid now fell on a hushed silence in the alley where he lay. The once glorified king struggled to comprehend his surroundings. Men fell about him like petals in an autumn storm, writhing and destitute to their fate. A helmed face tumbled into his little world, landing heavily in the gathering crimson pool. The face was unfamiliar but the expression echoed a deep, now dulled sensation of panic deep within his chest. This only confused him further, as he drifted through ephemeral waves of senseless bliss. He neither felt, nor wished to feel. Entirely content with his state of being, he cast his eyes over the slate lying broken before him once more. The colour was familiar to him. That dusky, burnt red. So many times in his life had such a shade seemed to shadow his fortune.
A field of red shields spanned the horizon before him. Still held steady in the death grip of their fallen barer, as if even in death their training forbade they release their hold. The king harboured rueful admiration for such discipline. It was the first instance in which the merit of Alexander’s empire-building stratagem felt challenged in his mind. He could see even now, though early and impotent at this stage that should he fail to subdue the upstart state that the ramifications could upset the status quo of the entire Greek realm. The onus was considerable, no less compounded by the result of the day’s butchery. A light wind stirred the fallen standards as a sunset smothered by dark clouds silhouetted the traumatic remnants of the battle. Another such victory and they would be undone. His world falling away one piece at a time, crumbling down and away through calloused, bloodied fingers.
The realization of this came back to haunt him in his fallen state. He wanted nothing more than to set the wrongs to right yet he had failed. The wind that once nurtured the flame of their civilization’s candle now threatening to blow it out. Only now, prone on the cold stones did he truly value those last few motes drifting on the growing zephyrs from the west. Forced to flee across the Ionian Sea, he impressed upon his son the importance of the lessons he had learnt, forewarning of their kingdom’s dying light. For one cruelly short moment, he forgot of his son was dead. Tears fell to mingle with the blood gradually swallowing the paving stones as the thought pierced his conscience. He did not wish to remember that. Yet his eye wandered spitefully over the slate again. Red, like the colour of Ptolemy’s hair.
He had been questioning at first. How had it come to be that the father he had strived to equal all his life had been defeated and driven away? He could feel the disappointment and disbelief in his son’s gaze, boring into the back of his skull as if to seek out the truth he wished to hear. He could not lie to his son though, it was unbecoming of a man in his position and the reserve of the weak. He was not weak, nor was his son and thus it would not suffice to avoid the discomfort he brought home. He required Ptolemy’s presence in the days to come, elevating him to a notable position in his own vanguard for the assault south. Honour is poor currency in exchange for a father’s grief. He should have known better, however he also knew his son would not be content with anything less.
Grief. Grief, regret and pain. A squall of pain lanced outward from his brow. He could not fathom why his head hurt. Had he been injured? Was he in the midst of another battle? The cracked slate had provided him with nothing but torment again and again yet no answers. Splaying one hand out for support, he swung his head sideways to gather his bearings before lethargically turning his shambling body about. A trickle of blood traced a line down from his forehead, as he look upward into the face of a soldier. The sun stood posed at his back, the brilliant light dancing on the rim of his burnished round shield and glinting off his spatha. In that instance, he seemed the perfect Greek soldier. Yet his sword was wrong; the tip pointing downwards and descending.