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End of Alexander

End of Alexander

26 mins 265 26 mins 265

‘Tell me of your proudest victory, my king.’ The beautiful queen Roxana asked of her dying husband, Alexander of Macedon.

The king’s fever had subsided for moments after three days of capricious chills and intolerable pain. His dark blond hair was a sweaty, tangled mess, and his piercing blue gazed at the stars in despair.

We shall meet in Babylon.

Calanus’ final words chimed in his weary head, before the old man had walked merrily into the fire to his death.

The lion-god never forgets, the lion-god never forgives, the Indian monk had told him, and at the gates of death he will be waiting, to torment you for all eternity.

We shall meet in Babylon.

And here he was, the king returned to the ancient Babylon, the hanging gardens built by Nebuchadnezzar lush and bountiful all around him. His body began the first tremors of convulsion all over again, and he looked at the marble temple of the city, afar on the hilltop.

Oh Hades, protect me from this lion-headed devil. I can feel his breath on my face.

He could now see Calanos’ apparition standing behind Roxana. He looked calm and stoic, almost sad.

The king’s body was wrecked with sharp stabs of pain, and he felt hot blood rush up his throat. The queen wailed and called for his physician, and the attendants rushed in a hurry to fetch water, ice, and herbs.

The monk looked at Alexander in silence, invisible to all else

We meet in Babylon, as I had promised.


 

The city of Persepolis, the pinnacle of Persia, had been razed to the ground.

Alexander had called it retribution for the destruction of Athens when Xerxes had marched into the west with his million-strong army, demolishing the three hundred Spartans led by the brave king Leonidas.

Or, so they called it. Razed.

It was a slaughter, and the Greek army knew it.

Thousands of innocent children were butchered as the sky-sprawling minarets of the greatest city in the world burnt to dust. The old and the sick run through with spears, often left to die, writhing in pain. The fabled, centuries-old Persepolis which people all across the fringes of Persia would throng to see, making year-long pilgrimages.

The buildings were lined with gold, silver and sculpted rocks, the library filled with a hundred thousand manuscripts, and the people peaceful when they capitulated to the conqueror from the west.

Alexander did not care. He watched it burn to its foundations, the screams from the dying population not reaching his ears, for his dancing girl, Thais, swayed her luscious body to a sweet desert symphony as he and his brother-in-arms, Hephaestion, enjoyed a strong drink.

The next morning, there was only a deathly quiet. The city was now a bed of ashes, its citizens corpses strewn across the cold streets. The Greeks had looted it to the bone.

‘Revenge.’ Alexander had proclaimed it, without a hint of remorse, and then he turned his eyes further eastward, to another fabled land flowing with riches. A land of a hundred rivers, where the soil spills out gold and diamonds and sapphires and lapis lazulis. A land where the gods themselves walk the earth.

India.



The lion of Macedon reached the borders of the ancient country through the end of Asia Minor, from the north-west where the great Nanda Empire hadn’t rooted its stronghold. There were small republics and confederacies everywhere- protected by chieftains and commanders. He began hearing rumours of a capital that could rival even Persepolis, flourishing under age-old rulers.

Magadh.

For the first time, he was unsure if he should advance. He, with all his allied troops, had thirty thousand infantry and eight thousand cavalry. The king of Magadh, said his sources, had five hundred thousand men with fifty thousand cavalry and eight thousand war elephants. Moreover, the Indian longbow had such propensity to damage that neither shield nor breastplate could hinder its fatal path.

He would have to face someone stronger than King Darius of Persia.

To put off the conflict until the end, he began raiding the Sindh river adjacents, where the country was still fragmented without a united front. He would conquer it all, bit by bit.

So they rode through the frigid cold of Hindu Kush. India was almost as if protected by nature itself- you couldn’t move in through the peninsula unless you had a fleet, and the Himadri mountain chain in the north was impenetrable. The only way was through Sindh, that too through the torment of the hills and the desert.

‘It is as if their gods have created a fortress of rock, sand and water. My king, are you certain that we should battle the lords of this country?’ Hephaestion asked him, as they faced the steep hill cities beginning from the ranges.

‘Persia was the undefeatable enemy for centuries, brother, and look what I did. After Darius fled, I took his daughter on his very royal bed. I am the son of Zeus himself. I will bring this land to its knees.’

The general looked at Alexander in despair. After years of conquest, the army had gotten weary and homesick. They had no morale left to face the might of the Nanda Empire. Further rumours spoke of kings of Gangaridai, near the eastern Vanga, raising another army of a hundred thousand.

This was the land of the ever-victorious Ajatasatru, the man who had made Magadh what it was, decades ago.

Alexander looked at the vast expanse before him- the land was near the river called Asvayana, and dense forests covered parts of the mountains. A silvery fog floated heavy upon the emerald hills, and an altogether deep sense of peace prevailed. Further east, blurring to the unpractised Greek eye, high in the clouds and the jagged hills, stood the sky-city of Masakavati.



The Greeks had begun the climb.

The hills were sodden from a fit of spring rain, and the crevices were treacherous. The army, which was used to digging trenches across citadel walls or climbing stone structures with rope and spear suddenly found the city almost impregnable. The mountain was flat at the top and could grow bountiful crops, so they couldn’t be starved out. A siege was impossible, for war-machines and catapults rarely worked when gravity worked so vehemently against them. The only possible option was for the men to climb up and open the city gates from within. This was another Trojan War.

 Every few hours, torrents of indigenous arrows filled the sky like a thunderstorm and rained upon the Greeks, taking half a dozen men down with them. It was a city of but forty thousand people, with the fighting force barely two thousand. How could they even be resisting the Macedonian force?

After a week of the climb, the king rested in the foothills of the mountain. The Masakavati tribe, or the Massaga as the Greeks called them, would not relent.

But he was Alexander.

A monk from Gandhar had joined his camp a few months before- a wandering ascetic with grey ash smeared upon his papery brown skin, named Kalanosh or Calanus. They found him by a riverside- paying obeisance to gods unknown, and the king’s guard, Ptolemy, brought him to talk to his advisors. He was a curious man, especially due to his aversion to food and ornate clothing, and preaching enlightenment in renunciation, something only people belonging to what the Indians called the ‘Sanatana dharma’ could fathom. He claimed that this civilisation was five thousand years old, and to decimate it with blood and sword would be unwise.

‘If Massaga is anything to judge by, Magadh will be a herculean task.’ Alexander said as he saw the monk meditating under a massive strangler fig, away from the camp. ‘Why do they even try? Haven’t they heard of what I did at Persepolis?’

The old Calanus opened his eyes and looked at him in sadness.

‘Sikander, you don’t seek to conquer here. You want to destroy their way of life and loot them. These are a very old people, from the time when an avatar of our god acted as charioteer in a great battle. They worship Him. They are peace-loving and gentle, averse to war or annexing land. You will gain nothing by raiding Masakavati.’

The king was enraged.

‘And be laughed at by the rest of the world because I couldn’t capture a little village? The man who conquered Persia? The man who brought the people of Gilgamesh to beg for mercy? Let them flood the sky with arrows. Tomorrow, we will take their land and teach them a lesson to remember!’

The monk sighed in resignation. When Alexander had set his mind to something, he would do it or die trying.

‘Sikander,’ he pleaded, ‘if not for the people, at least stop in the fear of god. The avatar they worship, the lion-headed Ugra Narasimha is a vengeful one.’

‘Then we will have to test the strength of this… abomination… against the might of Ares, won’t we?’ The king chuckled and walked off.



The next day the heavens tore open.

The sky-city above was canopied with lush forestry so it wasn’t a hindrance for them, but the Greeks were swept downwards by the elemental force of water. When the water rushed into the mountain crevices, the paths became ridden with mud. When the arrows volleyed upon them, they were helpless and blinded by the rain.

Alexander seethed in fury and charged on till the stone gates. All four gates of Masakavati were sealed from inside, the archers ready to loosen arrows upon command. If there was any dialogue to be had, the sound of thunder was deafening.

He did the same manoeuvre that he had learnt from his father, King Philip. He sent in secret a small dispatch of his most elite soldiers to the rear gate made of stone and mud, while he formed the vanguard that would charge at the front. The forty soldiers from the back were shielded from view by the forests, and he would try in vain to overcome the front gate while soldiers would apparently desert him in exhaustion. But what they would truly be doing was collecting as a reserve troop, ready to attack when the other gate was unlocked from inside. A feigned defeat, a deceitful victory.

Alexander’s men began climbing the walls, and every time they were shot down. The stone was slippery and the defenders relentless. The king watched with amazement at how vehement their resolve to save their home was, appearing as tiny specks from the walls, light-skinned and clad in measly armour, yet deadly in their shot and target.

The Trojan War indeed, he smiled and led another charge. It had been two hours.

This time, he used all the force his army could muster, using their own archers and lining ladders up the walls, as each time the masterful longbowmen from above shot them down. As the Greeks, now completely sapped of strength from this futile onslaught began a retreat, the news arrived.

The rear gate was opened. The Greeks had killed the few guards there were.

Alexander roared in triumph and cried to the reserve troops to storm the city. Crying to Ares and Nike, they thundered in, the king following their stead. Whatever little resistance there was left was quelled. What could two thousand do against fifteen times their number?

‘Defeat runs in fear at my name.’ Alexander said as he walked through the gate. ‘I am invincible.’

He looked at the place- there was no opulence as he had seen in Persepolis, only humble stone houses, straight roads and large water reservoirs- an almost Spartan appearance. However, surprisingly, there was a placid beauty in the symmetrical arches lining the houses, the eight-faced pillars and the occasional carved linings of bronze by the larger structures. It was a place out of time, an age-old land enveloped by a cumulonimbus. At the centre, far from him, towered a massive temple in the shape of a lotus.

The few of the native soldiers alive were taken captive, and the chieftain of the city was brought before him. The whole population, dressed in simple earth-coloured clothes had gathered to see this gold-hemmed battalion of foreigners in the town square. Alexander’s interpreters waited to translate his orders, and the aged monk, Calanus, too, had climbed up, looking on at the city with a disheartened gaze.

 Drenched to the skin but burning with zeal, Alexander spoke.

‘You have put on a strong resistance and I admire it, which is why I will spare your lives. But we will be taking your gold, your crops and your livestock. You, with all of your people, will work for my army as our slaves. Consider this the king’s mercy.’

When the interpreter spoke this in their tongue, for a moment, there was a soundless quiet among the Massagians, then the chieftain, in his large mass of black hair and burning ochre eyes, snarled something to his soldiers.

The men shouted back in unison, throwing off their captors with sheer bodily force. One of them took an arrow from a fallen Greek man, strung it to his bow and shot at Alexander.

It all happened at the speed of lightning. The king was dumbstruck as he saw a wooden shaft protruding from his shoulder.

Then all hell broke loose. The soldiers beat back the natives in fright and alarm, and Ptolemy and the other guards formed a shield wall around Alexander. The crowd cheered at the valour of their soldiers.

The king pulled out the arrow with one swift pull- it had missed its mark, landing on an area shielded by the breastplate. The wound was shallow, but it stained his silk shirt underneath with blood.

The great Greek had been defeated by this simple act of insolence. An open act of defiance against the conqueror of the world. A complete humiliation.

His anger knew no bounds. His face contorted with sheer rage, watching the cheering crowd.

‘Kill them! KILL THEM ALL!’ He howled.

Calanus gasped in terror.

‘Sikander... your majesty... what do you mean? There are innocent people here, the old, the women and children!’

Alexander looked past him at Hephaestion, in cold and steel.

‘Turn this savage land into Persepolis, brother. Show this land what it means to lay a hand on me.’

The Greeks steadied their swords and spears.

‘My king... please...’ Calanus began.

Alexander looked directly at his army.

‘No survivors.’



That was when the savagery began.

The crowd of people screamed in shock when the armed soldiers charged at them without warning, as an old man was stabbed in the chest by a long spear. A few more were cut down by swords, and the terrified Massagians began to run to their houses. Very soon, the Greeks broke down their doors and dragged them out- unarmed, helpless and begging for mercy. Their fault had been to rejoice when their own leader had stood up to an invader who wanted to take them as slaves, away from a home they had lived in for centuries.

The wells and reservoirs began to fill up with corpses and mutilated bodies as the crystal water from the rains tinted to bloody red. When they fell short of swords, the Greeks poured hot liquid metal into the natives’ eyes. Bodies half-dead and writhing lay everywhere, and the people, peaceful and unaccustomed to such horror, began running to the gates in the midst of chaos. They were shot and left to die. The children had it easier- the infants and toddlers had their heads smashed in with stones while those a little older were cut across their bellies, running with their guts in their hands until they bled to death.

The women, however, were not so lucky. They were dragged out of their houses, and the ones that seemed choicest to the Greeks were stripped of their garments, raped in front of their parents, husbands and children- and then made to watch as their families were flayed or burnt alive. A young woman, some six or seven months pregnant, raped repeatedly by a dozen soldiers, was cut open from chest to thighs, the unborn babe protruding from her mangled corpse. After they had been subjected to every shame and outrage even worse than death, they were mercifully allowed by the Greeks to join their families in death.

This was genocide.

Calanus looked, wordless tears streaming out of his eyes as corpses lay across the once prosperous Masakavati whose houses had been burnt to cinder.Were these soldiers of Greece, the light of the west, or were they inhuman hell-hounds?

‘Only that place left.’ Alexander said lazily, pointing to the temple. Ptolemy and the remaining guards unsheathed their swords. 

‘Sikander, that’s a house of god! You can’t desecrate such a place!’ The Indian monk shouted in desperation.

‘I told you, Calanus. Let’s test this lion-god against the mighty Ares.’ He smirked and led the group himself, walking past the bodies and destruction. After Persepolis, this was nothing new to him.



The temple stood silent and solitary amidst the slaughter, like a lonely lotus in a dirtied pond.

The king watched its intricate carvings in red stone- of a god being reborn into this world in many forms. It was afternoon, but candles had been lit in the temple in stellar constellations. The priests lay slain in pools of blood, and the red and gold created a serene atmosphere.

At the centre of the stone hall within, a massive idol stood, twenty feet tall, of a man with the head of a roaring lion, crowned. With one hand it held a giant mace, and the other, a thunder discus. Its strength seemed to be radiating across the walls and the pillars. So this was the fabled god.

And at its feet, beside a man’s fresh corpse, was a girl of eighteen or nineteen holding a child a few months old in her arms.

She looked bewildered at the approaching Greeks as the infant wailed, then made out Alexander to be their king. Sobbing, she spoke a few words to him which he couldn’t understand.

‘She is entreating you to spare the child, Sikander,’ Calanus spoke softly, ‘it is her only one.’

Alexander saw Ptolemy and a few other men eye the girl with desire- she had a strange, exotic beauty.

‘Impossible,’ he sighed, ‘No survivors.’

‘You are the conqueror of the world,’ the monk pleaded one last time, ‘couldn’t you at least show some pity to a mother protecting her child?’

‘War has no place for pity.’

Alexander walked up to the girl. With brute force tore the child away from her arms, and drawing a dagger from his hip-belt stabbed it twice in the chest and the throat. The crying stopped, blood pooling out of the little body.

The girl looked, dumbstruck, and then let out a heaven-piercing scream, her voice cracking.

A few Greeks held her, her body shaking with sobs as the dead infant lay in front of the idol. As they began to drag her away, she looked up again at Alexander, but now she looked like a different woman altogether.

Her hair was dishevelled and her cheeks tear-stained, but her black eyes blazed with hellish fury. She shouted something at Alexander with such venom and hatred that even he was taken aback.

His soldiers took her away to the back of the temple as he looked at Calanus, whose face was shrunken in abject fear.

‘What did she say, Calanus?’

‘She... She cursed you, Sikander, in the name of the lion-god. She cursed you to eternal damnation, to feel what she felt today a thousand times over. And a mother’s curse... there is no power stronger in this world.’

Alexander was speechless for a moment, then he began to laugh.

‘Really? Must I fear what some village wench said?’

‘The lion-god never forgets, and the lion-god never forgives,’ the monk said, now looking utterly exhausted, ‘and at the gates of death he will be waiting, to torment you for all eternity.’

The blood-splattered walls of the temple shook with the king’s laughter.

‘Is that so? Then let him see this today- the child is dead by my hand, and that girl’s getting violated by my men- Where is your god? Why doesn’t he come out in front of me? Where is he?!’

Only silence answered him.

‘Thought so.’ Alexander looked at the idol, golden-brown in the candlelight. ‘I am blessed by the god of war, Calanus, I am... I am... immortal!’

He sheathed his dagger back, walking past the carnage back to the city gate.



The rest of Alexander’s conquest did not go as planned.

He had many victories while crossing the five rivers, even wrestling a battle over a king who had superior numbers near the banks of Jhelum, but once they reached the farthest river, Beas, his army rebelled and wanted to return home. He tried to persuade them, reasoning that Magadh and the far east lay waiting to be taken, but to no avail. With an unfulfilled heart, he had to begin the journey to Greece.

The monk, Calanus, became very taciturn, speaking only when Alexander asked him to know of eastern spirituality. It was as if the man was waiting to die.

When the army reached Susa in Persia, with the king delighting in the company of the Bactrian queen Roxana, he approached Alexander. He was smiling, but behind that smile there was a lot of pain.

‘We shall meet in Babylon.’

That was all he said as he took his leave. The king, too enamoured with his beautiful wife, paid him no mind. Besides, Alexander had no immediate plans to go to Babylon.

The next day, he heard that the monk had walked into a burning pyre, sitting mute as the flames consumed him. He hadn’t even flinched, greeting death like a lost brother.



Then the pains began.

In an insidious pace, a fever enveloped his body from time to time. He could barely stand the sudden sweats, and pain shot up like dagger stabs in his abdomen. He could only cry out in agony as delirium set in.

He was only thirty and two years old.

All the greatest healers, physicians and charmers were brought from his allies and his army, but no one could even take away a sliver of his misery. The once undefeatable king lay in bed, sickly and dying.

And then, on a night of a dying winter, he saw the beast.

The first light of dawn hadn’t broken the night sky, and in his intense perspiration, he looked at the unreachable horizon, knowing that Babylon was near.

But what he saw brought out horrors he couldn’t bear to face.

A giant lion-headed silhouette stood past the horizon, faceless and soundless, five morning stars making a canopy over his head like five massive serpents.

He screamed in terror, which woke other people in his camp. They couldn’t understand what he was talking about, but the lion remained, silent and unmoving.

As the days passed, it became clearer and larger in the dark heavens. It would watch the dying king all through the night, while the feeble man prayed uncountable hymns to Ares and Zeus to protect him.

Nothing worked.

When they finally reached Babylon, he couldn’t even speak. Queen Roxana tried many a time to coax words out of him, but in vain. The king lay on his deathbed, coughing up blood from his emaciated body.

A mother’s curse... there is no power stronger in this world.

The lion was very close now, towering over him like an impending doom.

Waiting, waiting.

The lion-god never forgets, the lion-god never forgives, and at the gates of death he will be waiting, to torment you for all eternity.

In the night when the pain became truly intolerable, the ghost of Calanus visited him near the temple of Babylon.

‘We meet in Babylon, as I had promised.’

‘Calanus,’ Alexander croaked, ‘stop this. Please. Make that thing go away.’

The monk shook his head.

‘I had implored you not to kill that child. That too in that very temple in front of its mother. What did you think, that your cruelty would be forgotten? Your sins would go unpunished?’

Alexander only wept, his throat choking with dry sobs.

‘These are beings beyond our comprehension, Sikander, and so is their wrath. You went to a land blessed by them, killed their people, desecrated their temples and destroyed the most sacred bond in humans, that between a mother and her child. And you thought that made you powerful. You are too feeble to even understand what true power is.’

The lion-headed monster was now just above them, waiting for the final moment.

‘Life is a gift, Sikander, and to take it away is the greatest possible crime. You will be repaid. You killed that girl’s child, thus none of yours will survive. The three sons you shall have, two from your queens, Roxana and Stateira, and the one from the woman you captured, Barsine, all of them will die. Your bloodline will be finished. As for your pride of building the largest empire ever, that too will not remain. I can see it. A long time from now, another boy will rise in the deserts of a land called Mongolia named Temujin- Genghis Khan, he will be called later. The sheer size of his kingdom will dwarf yours. As for your lands in India, none of that will remain as well. A king is in the making, a king moulded by the very best. He will bring forth the age of imperial unity, making India the greatest empire in the world.

Your legacy is a lie, Sikander. You would be admired in the pages of history, yet your torment will only begin over millennia, as the ultimate justice to all the innocent men, women and children you massacred. And that will be the greatest irony.’

The monk sank into silence as another fit of pain came upon Alexander, and he felt his beating heart stop, a strange peace fleeting upon his body.

The very next moment, the lion stretched its clawed hands from beyond the horizon and held the king in his deathly grip. Entreating for mercy and pity, he saw his cold body left on the silken bed as he was lifted higher and higher into the infinite, damned blackness.

Thus was the end of Alexander.


 

 The day Persepolis was being razed to the ground, a solitary man was travelling on horseback past the forests of the Vinjha mountains of the Nanda Empire in India. He was a Brahmin.

Exhausted for the day, he stopped at a village shielded from the sun by sprawling trees.

Drinking from a pond, he saw a few boys playing court. They were cowherds, pretending to be royalty.

A few of them brought a play-pretend thief to a tall and fair boy who was acting as their king. Punishment was to be dealt out.

‘Why did you steal food, you wicked thief?’ The king asked.

‘There was no food anywhere, your majesty. My whole family is starving, and my village too. I had to steal to keep them alive.’ The thief replied.

‘Then what should be the punishment, your majesty?’ A child playing a courtier asked.

‘Ten whip lashes for me, the king.’ The boy replied, unwavering. ‘A king who cannot ensure that his subjects are fed deserves to be whipped.’

The Brahmin looked at him with sheer amazement.

Much later, he asked a local man who this boy was.

‘Oh, him?’ The man replied casually, ‘He’s the son of that Mura woman at the end of the village. She wouldn’t say who his father is, but the boy is called Chandra.’

‘Then I must meet her.’ The Brahmin spoke, beaming. ‘I think I’ve found what I was looking for.’

‘And who might you be, o Brahmin?’

There was a smile.

‘My name is Vishnugupta, also known as Chanakya.’ 


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