Ch. 006 - My *moira* is my soul’s choice
Stripped naked of my flesh I go out screaming from my soul-mouth, not wanting to die. But then all is peaceful; I still feel it all, but only distantly, as if in imagination only, so it doesn’t matter. I am looking down from the ceiling, from straight above my mother’s head; I see the gold of her diadem against her dark copper hair. Arrhidaios is still there, leaning against the wall like a broom, watching with his blank gaze; I’d forgotten about him. I hear, distantly, rain pounding on the roof.
I watch the tiny, slender-boned body, with which I am maintaining just the one slender tie like a thread made of mind, go through its death-struggle, watch the twitching and writhing and helpless hip-thrusting, see the animal panic and agony in the eyes sink to ultimate hopelessness, followed soon by the laxness of unconsciousness, each time.
She looks up. She is seeing me here. I am suddenly certain she has done this before, perhaps many times. My soul she controls entirely, sending it further and further out of my body each time; I know, because as I rise her gaze follows me, her face still as unchanging as a theatre mask, only the eyes alive. It will be twelve times, I see, because she sings the name of a different God on each round of the chant. Her voice is husky.
The body is weakening; its struggles are more feeble each time, and the stretches of senselessness at each death are lengthening, as the body finds it harder and harder to awaken; it seems less and less alive as it does. After the twelfth death and awakening, the body does not move except to breathe, and only barely does that, eyes staring upwards, seeing nothing. It seems stone, as if the eyes saw Medusa. They accede. What you say will be will be. I accept my destiny as you lay it out. I will do what you tell me I must. The body, the mind, have given themselves.
She sends me up through the ceiling-beams up into the night sky, past the statues of Nike that stand on every corner of the Palace roof, water dripping from their wings, above the city spread out in darkness, lamplight in windows blurred by rain, and the great fertile plain beyond. I see it all conceptually, which makes it seem day-lit.
Evil things flock around me, chittering, laughing, poking, showing black teeth that drip blood and claws dirty with flesh and hair: Cyclops, the Minotaur, Gorgons, Harpies. The Furies cast a glance at me from their rock, their heads perking like cats’, considering. The Fates work, Clotho spinning, Lachesis measuring, Atropos stretching the thread of someone’s life, which I now know is made of mind, across the edge of the lower blade of her scissors, about to cut. I want to cry for Lanike, but know she can’t hear. A deeper part wants to cry for my mother. I scream “Father Zeus!”
“Alexander,” calls a voice I thought I’d never hear again. “My little Achilles!”
She’s alive. She looks at me, she smiles, she holds out her arms. “Come come!” she says, like when I was a toddler. I bury myself in her. She caresses my hair, my cheeks, my shoulders. By this I know I am not a wisp of soul, or a moth, but still shaped like a boy, the way ghosts still appear to be the people they were.
“It’s not your time yet, Alexander,” she says. I know somehow that she would not call me that name if it were. “You’ll suffer, but that’s the fate of mortals; in the end you’ll be all right. We all are.”
“I miss you already.”
“I am never really gone. Remember that, always.” She is right, I see. Things I have always known are returning to me.
“I want to be in the place where no one ever says hello or goodbye, because everyone knows that everyone is always there,” I say. I remember it, and remember remembering it as a younger child.
“No, precious, not yet. Your mother isn’t killing you. She is giving you only a taste of it. Because you will be King; it is a ritual she knows that is very ancient. She is a priestess. Don’t worry, you’ll forget, and the pain will go away. Do you want to see your future?”
I hesitate at that. Before I came up here, I didn’t want to die, but now I’m not sure I want to go back. Not to what lies below. “Are we near Olympos? Can I see the Gods?”
She laughs. “If you are frightened of seeing your future, you won’t be able to bear seeing the Gods. But think about it: in truth, you always see them, everywhere, in everything, if you know how to look. Father Zeus in the storm and the tossing clouds, Aphrodite in the spark in a lover’s eye, Hephaistos in a well-made cabinet or cup, Artemis in the pregnant-bellied white moon, hanging over the trees. It’s not for you to drink ambrosia. Not yet.”
I am going to be King, I think. A King should know what will happen in the future.
So I say “Yes,” and she says, “Look.”
After knowing nothing but warm dark comfort, every baby is thrust out into shattering light and naked air, towards suffering or mercy, joy or misery, whatever the Gods and the Fates have decreed his life will be. No wonder he screams when he sees it. But at least he doesn’t see it all in one instant.
I freeze as if all life has halted in my soul, lose all power to move or think. When I can, I bury my head in her neck, wanting blackness, wanting oblivion, wanting to be anywhere but here. But I can’t make it go away, same as a blinding lightning flash lasting an instant burns through your eyes into your mind, except this will never fade off. It’s permanent. You cannot unlearn what you have learned.
A storm of men’s roaring, like at the stadium, but vast as a sea. Flung forward as my horse springs into a charge, the wind blowing my helmet back against my head by the plumes. The ecstasy of fighting, all my life come down to each moment, all cares left behind. Blood spattering, warm on my face. Every kind of rending of human flesh that points and edges can do, bones, entrails, organs, blackening blood. The inexorability of a sack: fire creeping from house to house, the spread of rape and child-killing no more stoppable. A mother and child both screaming for each other as they are torn apart forever on the slave-block. Bashing in a fleeing helmeted head with each downstroke, one side of my horse then the other, back and forth, bored, my mind half elsewhere. So many battles, so many battle-problems and solutions, so many spear and sword-thrusts into chests and throats and faces, so many stades of marching one step at a time, so many parlays, so many languages, so many different peoples. I fight in forests, in deserts, in mountains, on plains, on water, on land, in dust, in rain, in jungle, in swamp, on scrub, on sand. I fight in the dark of night and glare of day, on horseback and on my feet, in narrow passageways and on high walls. I fight by crawling on my belly, by heaving dirt with my hands. I fight light men and dark, big men and small, brave men and cowardly, fancy men and plain. I fight men who can recite sagas, I fight men who’ve never bathed in their lives.
Millions of faces staring, hands raised; millions of voices crying out. Change like a wave crashing across the world, driven by iron and fire, leaving the grand course of history altered forever like land newly-carven by water. New citadels, houses, temples, theatres, statues, inscriptions, the building spreading out from Makednia to the shore of Ocean; new fields carved out of forests, the plough turning sweet black earth that has never been turned before, by people who speak a hundred languages. Years turning, centuries, millennia; the rise and fall of empires, the worship of strange new deities spreading, the inventions of engines and tools and methods beyond imagining, each of these making its own great wave—and yet still following those changed courses.
I am in the statues and friezes, on the coins and stone inscriptions, in the names of cities, everywhere. I carved those river-courses through which history now flows; they are my footprints. The eyes of the uncountable masses go on staying fixed on me long after I die; the multitude of voices still cries out thousands of years later, with either undying love or undying loathing, is “Alexander!” Millions think me a God; millions more would like to spit on my pyre. I’m the subject of a myriad tall tales, visiting the heavens or under the sea in a glass globe; the world uses me to clothe its fantasies, dreams, lusts, nightmares. While one man says, “Alexander, dead? Can’t be—the world would stink of his corpse!” another says, “If Alexander hadn’t existed, he would have to have been invented.”
In fact it all seems so impossible I wonder if I actually was born, or if I am in truth the spawn of the pen of some playwright gone mad, and only imagine I’m real. I look at my own hand, and I see through it.
I scream to my Grandma, “No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!” But at the same I feel my heart reaching out to it all. My moira is my soul’s choice.
I see things I will forget entirely until I am becoming distant from life again; others I will remember in my bones, if not my mind. They will be the foundation-stones beneath all my planning, the rhythm of my days, the drumbeat, inaudible to anyone else, to which Alexander dances.
The infant can never crawl back into the womb. My grandmother tightens her arms around me. “We all have our place, our duty to do,” she whispers. “This is yours. The Gods made you for it, and They will be with you. Don’t forget, you’re just a small boy now. You have many years in which to learn, and grow up, and gain strength and confidence.
“My poor little Achilles! Suffering is the lot of mortals. All that matters is whether you let yourself be defeated by it, or purified; how nobly and elegantly you can suffer.”
“I want to go home!” I sob, though I am not sure where that is.
She covers my head with kisses. “Let me cherish you, let me love you! I always will; don’t forget that! I will always be watching you, and loving you, even when you can’t see me, even if you forget you were with me here. The Gods too, they will always be with you!” I am being drawn away from her, now, harder and harder; I bury myself in her soft breast, and feel her try to put strength into me. “I love you, I love you, I love you,” we both say, over and over. Then by the cord of my soul I am yanked downward, past the evils and the Nikes and through the rafters, and land hard back inside myself.
I lie so lax my mouth hangs open with my tongue slightly out; I can’t even move my eyes. I could take a blade thrust into me slowly without even tensing, so thoroughly I have surrendered. The inside of my nose and throat and lungs and guts burn, and there’s sticky sliminess between my butt cheeks. I realize that even though it seemed like some time in the other world, it was only an instant, like a dream.
My mother dips her finger in Arrhidaios’s blood and touches it to my tongue again, while he watches dully. She runs her nails along my skin, all over, head to foot, leaving slight scratches. That stands for the Mainads’ tearing. She sings a song with the line, The King is given to the God; the greatest king must give and be the greatest gift, both at once.
She tenderly washes me clean and carries me to my bed, tears flowing freely from her own eyes, her breath quivering. What she did to me, I sense, not only has she done to others before, but someone did to her. Though there is no milk in it, she gives me her breast, which she gave me but once before, right after I was born, to know what my true mother’s milk tasted like before she handed me off to the wet-nurse. She rocks me in her arms and asks the Gods to heal me with sleep. In the morning I will have forgotten all, except the rhythm of it, which my feet and hands will follow.
I feel what I have never felt so strongly before: that she loves me.