"Were you delirious?" asked Parda. George found that she had been accompanied by six other courtesans when his day was done, a trick George assumed Glaucon was playing to keep him too tired the next day. She sounded like she was trying not to scream that, but if she had no one would have noticed.
George tried to keep his eyes on Parda; when he told the other six to "amuse themselves for a bit," he had no idea that they would follow that command in a way that would keep drawing his attention "What was I going to do?" he said, trying to make his answer look like he was necking with her. "Give im an army and have it turn around on me? You and I both know we should keep an eye on him at all times."
"And if something happened to you in the field," she said, following Georges example in how to communicate, "whod be the wiser for it? It would be perfect for him."
"You think he means to have me nicked off, then?"
"I only just heard that your illness may not have been the gods testing your body."
George stopped in mid-action. "Christ, he tried to have me poisoned? I mean the other bloke But if hes trying to do that then-"
George couldnt keep his eyes off two of the women to his side. He never imagined two girls could do that to each other
Parda took his chin by her fingers and drew him back. "On campaign, a good many accidents could befall you. There is no end to the dangers you have placed yourself in."
"And I should have just stayed ere, then? That would have been what this Eracles bloke wouldve done, I bet."
"And maybe that would have been fine for him, but the way Glaucons been put out by it, maybe this man should ave had a stronger hand in it before now."
"Are you so certain of being the royal prince that you would try to be his better?"
"And if this joker comes back, maybe Im doing him a favor. And thats a bloody big if; I have no idea if hes ever going to be here instead of me." George almost stood as he continued, more on edge, "All I know is me old life is over and its up to me to make a good show of it ere. So maybe I am the prince royal now, and thats the way of it."
He looked at Parda underneath him, her body shivering slightly. She slowly brought up her hand to Georges face and said, "If you are indeed the royal prince now, then I would be especially sad to lose you."
George lowered himself slowly onto Parda; despite their best efforts, the other six in the room would not know his touch that night
"Does my liege require another blanket beneath him?" Glaucon asked as George repositioned himself on his horse.
George tried not to let the pain in his arse show on his face. So far today, Glaucon had had to suffer the shock of seeing his liege up early and eager and ready to be with his troops. There was no way George was going to let him get even the slightest satisfaction out of this.
George tried to imagine that this was a church function, like the ones hed go to as a lad where some Irish pony had been brought about for the kids to ride. So bloody simple then, of course, as they had the nice pony man hold your shoulder the whole time as he took you down the lane, keeping you upright and safe
George thought some more of it, and wondered why he didnt get a nice saddle with things to put your feet into. Not that he saw anyone else with one, but as the leader here at least, couldnt they make a special case?
Thankful he hadnt fallen off his horse, George trotted closer to his general, Archon, and asked, "So how the men holding up?"
"As you can see, my lord," he said with a sweep of his arm, "the men are well prepared. Our phalanx as you can see is well-armored," he pointed to the shining helmets worn by them, "and our javeliners are in good spirits."
George nodded. "We have what, ere, a few hundred or so?"
"Almost three hundred, my lord, not counting the followers."
George looked behind at the crowd that pursued the soldiers, a motley assortment of men and women with wagons and animals. "Got to keep them pretty far away when it all begins."
"My lord, we should have plenty of time as we set up in the field for the followers to find their place away from the action."
"Ive been meaning to ask you that. How we going to choose the right field? Is it something they choose before we get there?"
"If they are waiting for us with an army, they might."
"And were just going to let them choose the place?"
"Does my lord have a concern about this?"
"I mean, dont you find it grotty that they get to choose it, and if its something that makes them have an edge, wed be fighting em on their terms?"
"The first hope is that we will not have to get into formation when were there, and the second is that if we must, we get them to come to us with our position."
"But that seems such an act of faith, there. It doesnt burn you that they might try something like that?"
"Such are the dangers of war, my lord."
George shook his head, liking the campaign less and less.
"Does my lord seek some advice as to how to proceed?" Glaucon asked when he rode up to George.
"Think Ive got this campaign thing down fine, Unc. If I need some help, youll be the first to know."
George clamped down on his jaw harder, trying not to let the riding sores get the better of him.
He tried to get his mind off of his problems by humming a few bars of Johnny B. Goode, which helped to salve his bruises.
"A good idea, my lord," said Archon when George finished.
"Oh, you like that bit?" George asked.
"A little music does help keep the mind off the travails of the march."
Happy he found some way to make this more bearable, George continued to hum. By days end he even sang a few verses of Roll Over Beethoven, although softly to keep from having to explain the lyrics to his troops.
By the end of the third day, George was regretting not letting Glaucon handle it. As bad as life on the road was, with the hotels and the press and the screaming fans ready to mob him, it was so much more comfortable than this. The long rides, the dust kicked up on the road, the paste made of wheat that served as food; even with every Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins tune he knew hummed and sung twice, George couldnt handle the strain any more.
George wanted to complain about this, but with all the soldiers looking up to him, their eyes on him filled with hope, he felt he couldnt let them down. Too much like a gig; hed see the anticipation on the fans eyes, and knew he had to give them a show that was worth it, nothing less. It was almost touring on the road again
George started to miss the band. John acting a bit daft, Paul taking things a little too seriously and Ringo just nodding and playing along with it. Brian doing his best to behave professionally, Mal keeping the gear moving even if it was now giving orders to other blokes. Even if life was starting to turn into a series of harried shows where one city blended into another, at least it was a good life
George shook his head. He figured the sores and dirt were making him nostalgic for the band. That and being alone; he didnt realize until he marched how much Parda had become a part of his life. He didnt ask her to come with him, not wanting Glaucon to catch on how much he relied on her advice, but now George questioned if that also was wise-
A rider came up to the area where George and his commanders were having their meal. He saluted with a fist to his shoulder and said, "They have taken arms and are ahead of us."
"Their strength?" asked Archon, rising.
"They are psiloi, but at least a hundred."
"How fast are they coming?"
"They run at full speed."
"Whats a seeoly?" George asked.
"Skirmishers, shields and slings," Archon explained. "They are lightly armed but fast."
George looked around at his men, all of them sitting after a long march and having their meal. "Christ, its a bad time for it," he said.
"Such is the way of war. Your orders?"
George felt a bad ache in his stomach; only now did the reality of what it meant to lead an army truly hit him, and the idea that what he said and did could mean someones death
Much as he hated it, he looked around him to get Glaucons counsel, but was dismayed to discover that he could not find him. George looked around and around, hoping to get him to come over, but he was nowhere to be seen.
"My lord, time grows short," pleaded Archon.
With the aches getting worse, George looked over his men; the phalanx had gotten the word from the rider and were getting their armor fastened.
"Them." George pointed to his best troops. "Get them ready to meet the other blokes, and get the rest away."
"But our main body.... My lord, what if the psiloi are but the first wave?"
"We dont have the bloody time to get everyone together, ere! Got to do what we can now with what we got, and give the others a chance to get them out of the way!"
Archons face changed visibly as his mind considered Georges impromptu strategy, and he barked orders for the phalanx to form.
"You there," George said to a lower ranking officer, "get the rest of them out of here. Weve got to get the others behind the main ones."
George took a second to stand and try and focus, to keep his head from throbbing off his neck. As he willed himself to not let the panic overcome him, the troops that were in front of the forming phalanx gathered themselves and moved to the rear, as the rest of the army and the camp followers started to pick themselves up with painful slowness as word of the battle came to them. The specter of pain and death seemed to hover over the people he ordered behind like a poison cloud
"My liege," said an officer, "your general requires orders."
George looked over and found the phalanx had formed up, their long spears in hand and armor glistening in the fading light of day. He saw Archon and most of the staff over at the rear of the assembled men.
No longer thinking straight, going on impulse, George went over to his horse and trotted despite the riding sores over to the unit.
Archon and his staff seemed surprised to see George with them. "My lord," he said, "you do us honor to be with the men."
George looked around the command staff. "Wheres Glaucon?" he asked, half-aware of what he was saying.
Archon and his men looked at each other. "Was he not with you, my lord? I have not seen your uncle--"
His words were cut short by the whoop of the other sides troops as they came over the ridge and ran towards where the army had been camped.
George got a good look at the other side; their only protection were round shields which only half of them had, and between the slings and javelins they carried they seemed badly mismatched against the armor and heavy spears his own side had.
"Hold up " George started to say before he was forced to duck by a hurled sling stone.
"Stand firm!" Archon commanded.
The psiloi with slings hurled their stones as they ran up on the phalanx, picking up stones to throw as they ran over to Georges army, trying to swarm over them with their numbers. The javelin hurlers threw their spears, which the phalanxs large shields deflected, and then ran back.
"How we doing ere?" George asked after a massive volley of spears and stones ended and he could lift his head.
Archon looked down the units line. "Were standing fine," he said with pride. "Theyve done nothing to us."
George started to feel better; if all this battle was going to be was a few sticks and stones that didnt do anyone any harm, his conscience was going to feel a lot-
The screams pulled his attention. From the front of the phalanx, a group of the stone hurlers tried to rush his troops. Nine of the rushers were at the front of the unit, their blood spurting out the sides of the long spears that pierced their stomachs and chests. One of the unfortunate enemy had been caught on two spears; the men who held the spears leaned back on their shafts and tipped the hapless enemy up over their heads. Other spears from the phalanx stabbed into his body, trying to dislodge the man from the two spears. The victims arm and leg were torn off him before his corpse could be bounced along the spear heads away from the heads of the phalanx.
George felt three days of bad meals on the march try and leave his body from both ends at once in a hurry
George could not close his eyes all night, unable to get the sight of the dying men out of his head, and the lack of sleep wore heavily on him. From the moment his unit won the field, every other image before his eyes was bathed in blood, and every sound carried beneath it the screams of the dying.
So enrapt was George with the images, he had not noticed the approaching party escorted to meet him until they were before him. "Prince Demeron," the escort announced, "under petition of truce."
George just looked at him. If there had been anyone to blame for what happened last night, George thought it should be him.
Confronted with the man whose own forces made the phalanx kill, all George could do was give Demeron a cold hard stare.
The prince, a man not much older than George, had seemed nervous as he came before him, but the cold silence radiated at him from his lord made him more fidgety. Nearly a minute after George started staring at him, Demeron could not even keep his eyes on his. After two, Demeron was gulping for air.
No longer able to take the strain of Georges cold glower, Demeron prostrated himself before his lord. "A thousand pardons, my liege," said the withering prince. "I plead for your mercy, and offer myself as your hostage. I place my own life in your hands, to do with as you wish."
George just felt himself burning up inside as Demeron groveled at his feet, his anger searing the flesh inside his chest.
One of his officers stepped forward and offered George a sword, its hilt presented for George to pick up and use on Demeron.
At the moment when his anger was highest, presented with the opportunity to act on it, George found himself paused like a man dragged from the edge of a cliff. He looked at the sword, nearly two feet long with sharpened edges, and at Demeron, whose eyes were now lifted from the ground, moistened in tears of fear.
"Git yourself up," George said in disgust. "Youre making me sick."
Demeron exhaled with relief. "My life I owe you. I-"
"You dont deserve to lead anyone, you bastard. And Im going to keep an eye on you from now on."
Demeron bowed. "I submit to being your hostage, my merciful lord."
"An dont try to suck up to me, youll just make me mad."
Demeron bowed as his escort took him away.
"You showed great mercy, my lord," said Archon.
"And what was killing im going to do for me? Itd be just more blood on blood, and Im sick of blood, now."
"Blood is a necessary element of rule, my lord."
"Youre not telling me you want more killing, now, are you?"
"Nay, not me. I just gird myself for it, an ever present possibility, and see to completing my tasks when the time comes."
"Nice to have something to look forward to," George muttered.
The march back to the palace for George was pain interspersed with horrors, as the images of the battle were slowly overtaken by the discomfort of the trek as the rains opened up on the marchers. As the first day came to an end, George found himself off from the head of the army, back among the camp followers. The pains in his rear made riding so difficult he went on foot, and he was so miserable looking in drenched coverings that he passed among his subjects without much notice.
Thankful at least that these people were spared the horror of battle, George found some solace in their safety, which helped him focus and move him away from his brooding.
His eye caught a small man with a shaved head walking among the followers, offering help to those who were having trouble making their way with the rest of the pack. Every time he would help, others would see him struggling with the loads he could barely move and offer to take his place, but once relieved of his load he would look for another one to struggle with until relieved.
After about the sixth time, George started to laugh at the man. The sight of it just struck him as very funny as he kept trying to help and getting pushed aside for others to do the work.
The man noticed this and walked up to George. He had a slight smile on his face, and he asked in a serene voice, "Is there perhaps something I can help you lift?"
George started to laugh again, then said, "No offense, but even if I had something as light as me sisters purse, I dont think youd manage all that well with it."
"So I am to assume that the load you carry does not need to be lessened from your shoulders, then?"
"What load? All I ave is meself here."
"You point out your load, so heavy as it is, and yet you claim it does not wear on you."
Georges chuckles were shattered as he thought about what the man said. The two men stood there as the rest of the camp followers moved around them.
"Perhaps we had best keep moving," the bald man said. "The load you carry will not get any lighter if we just stand here."
"Cor," George said in a low breath, as he started to walk.
"I am waiting to be of help," the man said.
"I dont, well, I dont know how you can."
"Perhaps I can take up what I can, one word at a time from you."
"I see what you mean, now. I just saw something bloody awful. Id never seen anything like it, and I hope I dont ever see that kind of thing again."
"And what was this troubling sight?" the man asked.
"I saw nine men--hell, they were young enough to be boys, some of em--and they went and got themselves stabbed in the chest yesterday, because someone decided to be a vain idiot."
"And the one who was vain, what did he do when confronted with it?"
"He bowed down and asked for forgiveness, and I near took his head off." George let the words hang there for a bit before he added, "Or did you mean the other fool?"
"And what makes you certain he was?"
"I Aw, crap, I dont want to be rude, but maybe I should be talking to a priest, here."
"How fortunate. You are."
"What, you? You dont look C of E, Father."
"I am not familiar with that phrase. What is a C of E?"
George looked at him, unassuming and very tiny but with considerable patience and sincerity. "So what denomination do you practice, then?"
"My practice? Only my deeds."
"More by doing than saying, eh?"
"There is enough to say as well, but it is by our acts that we are better known. It is our deeds that make up our dharma."
"The code by which we lead our lives which allows our following our path to a successful completion into nirvana."
"Nirvana thats a heaven, what?"
"The final goal, yes," the priest nodded.
"So you do this, lead a good life, and get on in with the saints? Sounds the same to me."
"There is a certain universality one finds as our beliefs are compared."
"And I suppose theres a hell too for all the bad little boys and girls?"
"A You mean, the penalty for a poorly lived life."
"Right. You end up where they all ave pitchforks and horns and all."
The priest smiled.
"Eh, you dont mean theres not a punishment in it, do you?" George asked.
"Oh, there is. The repetition of that life until you have followed your samsara."
"Samsara, the cycle of birth and death during which one must follow their dharma in
order to achieve nirvana."
George stood stunned. "What, you mean, you live again? Are you joking with me?"
The priest smiled but said, "I assure you, I am quite serious."
"And you keep on living, over an over till you get it right?"
"I can understand if you have trouble with this idea, as it can be a difficult concept to
"You know," said George, "I dont think Im going to have too much trouble with that idea at all. Wait up, father, theres a lot to talk about ere. Father " George fished for his name.
"You may call me Bhrigu, if it pleases you."
"My lord," Archon asked again, "where are we to have Demeron placed?"
"There somewhere," George absent mindedly waved his hand to a corner of the palace. If his commander showed annoyance at that, George did not notice; for the rest of the march, he was never more than a few feet away from Bhrigu, and at every chance he got he discussed samsara and dharma with him.
George was so engaged in the ongoing conversation that even the appearance of Glaucon with open arms and voice dripping with honeyed tones did not pull his full attention. "My dear sweet nephew, its good to have you back. I-"
George held his hand up to Glaucons face as he said to Bhrigu, "Scuse me a sec, I got a little business ere to see to." He turned to Glaucon and said, "So where were you when it got bad out there? What were you doing, then?"
"My lord, I had to see to it that some of the force was readied in reserve. Had I-"
"Look, Unc, its a damn shame you had to fly on me there, and what you did is going to be remembered. Itd be a shame to have between us that when me first time with an army came, you, the experienced one, went and hid."
George could feel the tension in Glaucons jaws as he tried to keep from going into a rage. "Perhaps if I saw to it that my royal prince had a splendid feast tomorrow to celebrate his victory, he might find it in him to be forgiving," he replied.
"Eh, sure. I gave Demeron a second chance, I could give you one too, I guess."
George wasnt sure what passed through Glaucons eyes as he said that, but it was gone as he said, "So you have commanded, so it shall be done."
When Glaucon had gone, George turned to Bhrigu and said, "Now theres someone who as a lot to work to do before for the next time."
Bhrigu gave a slight nod. "I see, my prince. You seem to have an interesting relationship with him."
"He was a bit stuck at first, but you hold your own to im and he does come round."
"At first, did you say?"
"Right, when I " George started to say. He pulled the priest away from others in his court and said in a low voice, "Do you want to know a secret? Promise not to tell?"
"If you so wish of me."
"Well, the bit we talked about on the way ome, how we go through different lives and much of what we have is illusion. You seemed amazed that I took it so ready from you."
"Of the many Yavana I have discussed these things with, I have to confess you are the most open-minded."
"Yavana? That something like nirvana, then?"
"My apologies, it is a name meant for those whose history rests in their coming here from far away recently, with an army. But I am sure as a prince you were told many great things about your forebearers riding with Alexander and his campaigns."
"Alexander " George fished, then came up with, "the Great?"
"So he is named, by some," said Bhrigu warily.
"Cor, that gives me something to think of. Me ancestor was with a man in the lower form who just seemed like some dead git on a horse to me, and now Im like a distant relation."
"Your approach to your heritage seems odd."
"Thats just it: The whole thing bout the transmigration of the soul. Ive done it. I have lived before, and I remember it well."
"What do you remember of your old life?"
"Well, me name wasnt always Heracles. It used to be George, although I still think of meself as George. I guess even a whole month here, being royalty and all, its hard to give up old habits."
Bhrigu shook his head and held up a hand. "A month a single month There is something badly understood here."
"What, have I gotten an idea wrong?"
"I dont know. Please, let us sit, and tell me more about being this George."
"What do you need to know? Come on, we can use my room and-"
When they entered, George was surprised to see Parda patiently sitting on the floor. She rose as he came over, and they embraced passionately.
"Would this be a bad time to tell me-" Bhrigu started to say.
"Ah," George broke the lock. "Parda, this is Father Bhrigu. Bhrigu, just Bhrigu, sorry. This is Parda, me consort. And shes in on the secret, too."
"The secret," said Bhrigu.
Parda looked at George. "Was it wise to share that with him?"
"He seems to have a lot of the answers, luv. The way souls move back and forth and all, I think he understands this whole thing better than I do."
"Somewhat," Bhrigu said with a little unease. "What I have said, what I believe, seems a little at odds with what you are saying. Perhaps if we began at the beginning, with everything."
"How far back, Bhrigu?"
"From the very earliest memories until the here and now."
From Liverpool through the Beatles to New York and the palace, the three of them sat in Georges room. Even without the few interruptions for food, it was near dawn by the time George finished relating his story, good memories and sad recollections punctuated with a few songs.
Bhrigu sat motionless the whole time as he listened to the tale. Towards the end of the story, long after Parda had fallen asleep and rested her head in Georges lap, George wondered if the priest had fallen asleep himself with his eyes open, and the long silence that followed seemed to support this idea.
When Bhrigu moved, it was sudden and surprised George. "That is the only answer," he said.
"What is?" George asked.
"The connectivity of soul. There seem to be many parallels between the circumstances of the life of Heracles and the life of George Harrison. Both are young men with talents who find themselves in unenviable positions where they are to be tested."
"Talents? No one said to me Eracles was a musician."
"His talents are his gifts for which he was born. As Georges is music, so his is statecraft and war."
"You mean, the battle is his gig? Christ, I dont know if I could do that again."
"And yet you did, and will do so."
"But thats not me, thats this prince."
"You do not understand. You and Heracles are one and the same. Your soul is one, at one time Heracles, Royal Prince of the Sangrurans and Vassal to the King of Bactria, and again as George Harrison of the Beatles, and in the normal order of things your soul would live out the life of Heracles, go through samsara and live as Harrison."
"So what happened here? Whys it me- I mean, the Harrison me, here?"
"Your soul has need of Harrison in this time. As there are many similarities between both aspects, Heracles must be in considerable distress and in need of help."
"A prince whos got a knack for being who he is? I cant see " George looked down at Parda, the elegant lines of her neck. "Glaucon," he said. "Hes not being all he can, the prince, is he, and its his uncles fault."
"And so in desperation, Harrison is here. As you mentioned your own difficulties, maybe the balances between the two were just set so that you came to this existence on Heracles behalf."
"And hes back with the band, probably not holding up well, playing with them. I hope the others gave him a good send off before they found another guitarist."
"That may not be necessary. Were this so common, then there would be only chaos in the world with no purpose to life. There is only one answer that makes sense in an orderly universe where samsara applies."
"And that is, man?" asked George.
"That in order to restore harmony and allow for orderly transmigration, you are here to live out a difficult time in Heracles life, bringing your instincts and experience as an older version of you to bear. Once you have accomplished what is needed for yourself to continue, you would again be Harrison among Harrisons things."
George rubbed his chin. "But what about me back home?"
"Unless there were reason for Heracles to be there for a purpose, you might not be away from your other self so long. It might be a mere instant, or it might be years. It is hard to say."
"But I do something ere to set things right, I dont have to stay a prince, then?"
"If you do not," said Bhrigu, "you may well cause more harm than good. The order of the universe is certainly being challenged in this, and while it has so far worked in your souls favor it is not something to take for granted."
"The universe Cor, thats a big drag to have over you, isnt it?"
George felt Pardas head move as she stirred awake. "I did not mean to miss your tale," she yawned as she woke up. "I wanted to hear more of this place, Liverpool, that you were speaking fondly of."
"Maybe later, luv. Right now, we figured out why its me here, and its old Uncle Glaucon thats the stick in the gears. Its because of him that its me in the palace, in the princes body, and hes got to be sacked."
"Sacked ?" asked Parda. "You mean, disposed of?"
"Aye, yeah. I should find im and have him slipped and off."
"That may not be wise," she said.
"And why not?" asked Bhrigu.
"Glaucon is well-entrenched at the palace. There are many factions who serve you that if forced to choose would be against you, and he has the ear of the king above us. To simply dismiss him would threaten your rule and might lead to violence between your supporters and his."
"I cant imagine Im ere to give Heracles a civil war," said George. He turned to Bhrigu and asked, "I dont suppose you have a little divine guidance here for me?"
"Hmmm," thought Bhrigu for a long moment, then said, "Was it not odd, the way Glaucon reacted when you mentioned that Demeron had your forgiveness?"
George nodded slowly. "He did seem a bit off his charming self when I mentioned that, didnt he?"
"It took him considerable reserve to carry forth with his proposed feast for you this evening, yes," noted Bhrigu.
"A feast?" said Parda with alarm.
"What, hes a bad cook or some " George started to say. "The poisoning. Hed be likely to try it again, I bet."
"Perhaps you may want to cancel the feast," said Bhrigu. "That would be the safest course."
"Safe, yes," said George, "but I think Ive got a better idea "
James Ryan has been on the verge of actually being recognized as a writer in the past; who knows, someday it may happen.... His work has appeared in such places as Dragon magazine, Lacunae, the Urbanite, the New York Times, and some of the better men's room walls across the state of New York. Until he gets the chance to follow the program for disenfranchised neurotic writers, he's doing the regular job and grad school schtick. His wife Susan and son Jamie just nod and smile when he starts to rant, which, all said, makes things that much easier.
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