Thais and Eris become models for two great sculptors, while waiting for any news from Alexander's army, lost in the vastness of India.
There were days when Cleophrades was simply a man: a true Athenian, gregarious, merry, hungry for news. He was definitely that way on the day of meeting a guest from the distant East – a yellow-skinned man with eyes that were even more narrow and slanted than those of the dwellers of Central Asia. His face with delicate features looked like a mask carved out of pear wood. His clothing, threadbare and faded, was made of especially thick and heavy material, most likely silk, that was very rare and expensive on the shores of Asia Minor and Finikia. A loose blouse hung limply over his thin body and his wide pants, while similar to barbaric fashion, were much different from the tight Scythian leggings. Deep wrinkles betrayed both the traveler’s age and fatigue from the innumerable hardships of his journey. Dark eyes watched everything carefully, observantly and intelligently, with an almost uncomfortable level of attentiveness. Thais could not remember his complex name with unusual intonations. The guest spoke the old-fashioned Persian fairly well, raising his voice in a funny way and swallowing the “rho” sound. A friend of Lysippus, who was a scholarly Persian, easily managed the duties of an interpreter, and Lysippus and Thais also knew some Persian.
The traveler assured them that it has been eight years since he left his native country, crossing monstrous expanses of mountains, valleys, deserts and forests inhabited by different people. According to his calculations, he had walked, ridden and sailed a distance three times greater than that covered by Alexander from Ecbatana to Alexandria Eskhata.
Thais and Lysippus exchanged glances.
“If I understand the honored traveler correctly, he states that the inhabited land – Ecumene – stretches much further beyond Alexandria Eskhata than on the map by Hecateus, on which there are only twenty thousand uninhabited stadiums to Cape Tamar where the enormous wall of snowy mountains reaches the shore of the Eastern ocean.”
The guest’s face betrayed a hidden smile.
“My Heavenly Empire, or Middle Empire as we call it, lies twenty thousand stadiums to the east from the River of Sands, using your measure. There are more of us – its citizens – than I saw people along my entire journey, including Persia.”
“What do you know of the Eastern ocean?”
“Our empire reaches its shores and my compatriots fish in its waters. We do not know how large to ocean is and what lies beyond it. But there are sixty thousand stadiums from here to its shores.”
Lysippus opened his mouth, not even trying to hide his surprise, and Thais felt a cold shiver down her spine. Only yesterday Lysippus told her about the vast expanses of Libya spread to the south, and today the strange yellow-faced man spoke of unimaginably huge inhabited land – Ecumene – with unquestionable sincerity. The journey of Dionysus to India she viewed as a deed of a mighty god since her childhood, appeared small compared to what was accomplished by this frail man of average height, with wrinkle-covered yellow face, who came from lands far beyond the imaginary dwelling of gods.
Thais’s heart filled with deep pity for Alexander, who was fighting through scores of enemies with super-human heroism and was still separated from his goal by a distance twice greater than what he covered so far. The student of a great philosopher had no idea he was being led by an ignorant blind man. Perhaps Lysippus’s ovomanthy filled Thais with certainty that even if he followed the Indian route, the limits of Ecumene would turn out to be much farther away than those shown on Helenian maps.
The world was turning out to be much more complex and vast than Alexander’s companions and philosophers ever thought. How could she communicate that to Alexander, who no longer wished to listen even to his own cryptii, who discovered a great desert and long mountain ranges to the east of the Roof of the World. Had it not been for the savagely warlike Scythians, he would have gone further to the east, beyond Alexandria Eskhata. Bride of Death that took away Leontiscus! It was not possible to take away from Alexander his dream to be the first mortal to reach the edges of the world. But where were those edges? Judging by the traveler with unpronounceable name, millions of yellow-faced dwellers of the Heavenly Empire along the Eastern ocean possessed greater knowledge and art than common barbarians.
Such were the Athenian’s thoughts, as she watched the guest, who folded his delicate hands and settled comfortably to rest in a deep Persian armchair. He gladly accepted an invitation to stay at Lysippus’s house before going to Babylon, where he hoped to get to know the capitol of wise men and mages of western Asia, and then meet Alexander.
During the few days while the traveler stayed with Lysippus, Thais discovered many things she would have taken for a fairy tale in her home country. The Heavenly Empire was born during times as ancient as those of the origins of Egypt, Crete and Mesopotamia. The traveler spoke of a precise calendar, created two thousand years before construction of Parthenon. According to him, the state was founded two thousand years prior to the establishment of that calendar. He spoke of skilled craftsmen and artists; of astronomers who made maps of the sky; of mechanics, who created complex water-powered devices, unusually tall bridges, temple towers of iron, china and bronze; of palaces erected atop man-made hills; of artificial lakes dug by thousands of slaves.
The wise men of the Heavenly Empire came up with a device to predict earthquakes and where they were to take place. The traveler described in detail nature made more beautiful by human hands; mountains crowned with temples with wide staircases of thousands of steps leading toward them and surrounded by ancient trees; roads made of blue-glazed bricks, leading to sacred places; alleys of tall pines with white bark of identical height and age, stretching for hundreds of stadiums.
The son of the Heavenly Empire spoke of skilled doctors who healed patients by sticking tiny gold needles into affected areas. The Helenians thought it incredible, when two mirrors of glass and metals were mentioned, located at the emperor’s palace. With their help a doctor supposedly could see through a person and find places impacted by illness inside the body. Thais, who earned the traveler’s respect with her insatiable curiosity and intelligent questions, received from him a gift of a small china cup with an amazing blue pattern of reeds and birds in flight, wrapped in a piece of silk of dazzling golden color.
They visited symposiums, adopted enthusiastically by the Persians, who followed the artists’ example. Only Eris flatly refused to go – she was disgusted by the sight of people who ate and drank too much.
Thais also admitted to Hesiona her aversion toward gluttons. She was sensitive toward any expression of crudeness since she was a child, and presently lost all tolerance for it. Loud laughter, shallow jokes, uncontrolled eating and drinking, hungry glances that used to glide over her without bothering, now irritated her. The Athenian decided she was growing old. Spirited discussions heated with wine, poetic improvisations and love dances felt more and more like nonsense. She couldn’t believe that she and the gold-haired Spartan used to be called the queens of symposiums.
“It is not old age, my beautiful friend,” – Lysippus said in response to the Athenian’s question as he pinched her lightly on the smooth cheek, “Call it wisdom or maturity, if the first term seems too formal. Each year you will move further away from the games of your youth. The circle of your interests will become broader, and your expectations of yourself and others – deeper. You must be more demanding of yourself first, and then toward others, or else you shall turn into a haughty aristocrat with an impoverished heart and mind… And you will die… Not physically! With your healthy, you may live a long time. You will die spiritually and walk around as your own outer shell that would truly be a corpse. You are likely unaware of how many such living corpses trample the face of Gaia. They are deprived of conscience, honor, dignity and kindness – all things that form the basis of a man’s soul and are awakened, strengthened and upheld by artists, philosophers and poets. But these people get in the way of the living, while looking exactly like them. Except they are insatiable in the most basic and simplest of desires: food, drink, women, power over others. And they seek to satisfy themselves by all means… Have you heard of the Hecate’s companions?”
“The Lamias or Mormos or whatever they are called? Those who travel with her at night and drink the blood of passerby at the crossroads? Vampires?”
“That is primitive symbolism. In the secret knowledge the creatures of Underworld that drink living blood are those very insatiable living dead, ready to take everything possible from their countries, communities, people – their own and those of others. They are the ones that beat and overwork their slaves to death just to get more gold, silver, houses, spears, and new slaves. And the more they take, the greedier they become, reveling in the labor and sweat of people subservient to them.”
“You speak of terrible things, teacher!” – Thais shrugged as if from cold, “Now I will look at everyone more carefully…”
“Then my words have reached their goal.”
“What is to be done with such living dead?”
“They ought to be killed, of course, stripping them of their false living appearance,” – Lysippus said after a pause, “The trouble is that only rare people can recognize them – only those who reached such spiritual level that they are no longer capable of killing. I think the final elimination of the vampires is a matter of distant future; when homonoya – the intellectual equality among people – is established, the number of those rare people will increase many fold.”