Authors: Valerio Massimo Manfredi
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #General
The priest noticed Alexander staring at the girl as she left the temple through a side door.
‘She goes swimming every evening in the sea near the mouth of the Scamander,’ he whispered in his ear.
The King said nothing as he left. Not long afterwards the priest saw him mount his horse and set off towards the camp on the seashore, which was teeming with activity like some giant anthill.
Alexander saw her arrive, walking briskly and confidently in the darkness, coming along the left-hand bank of the river. She stopped just where the waters of the Scamander mixed with the sea waves. It was a peaceful, calm night and the moon was just beginning to rise from the sea, drawing a long silver wake from the horizon to the shore. The girl took off her clothes, undid her hair in the moonlight and entered the water. Her body, caressed by the waves, glowed like polished marble.
‘You are beautiful. You look like a goddess, Daunia,’ Alexander said quietly as he came out of the shadow.
The girl went in deeper, up to her chin, and moved away. ‘Do not harm me. I have been consecrated.’
‘To do penance for an ancient act of rape?’
‘To do penance for all rapes. Women are always obliged to endure.’
The King took off his clothes and entered the water, as she crossed her arms over her chest to hide her breasts.
‘They say that the Aphrodite of Criidus, sculpted by the divine Praxiteles, covers her breasts just as you are doing now. Even Aphrodite is demure … do not be afraid. Come.’
The girl moved towards him slowly, walking over the sandy bed and, as she came nearer, her divine body emerged dripping from the water and the surface of the sea receded until it embraced her hips and her belly.
‘Lead me through the water to the tumulus of Achilles. I don’t want anyone to see us.’
‘Follow me then,’ said Daunia. ‘And let’s hope you are a good swimmer.’ She turned on to her side and slipped through the waves like a Nereid, a nymph of the salty abyss.
The coast formed a wide bay at that point, the shoreline already illuminated by the campfires, and it ended in a promontory with an earthen tumulus at its tip.
‘Don’t you worry about me,’ replied Alexander as he swam alongside her.
The girl struck out offshore, cutting straight across the bay, aiming directly for the headland. She swam elegantly, graceful and flowing in her movements, almost noiseless, slipping through the water like some marine creature.
‘You are very good,’ said Alexander, himself breathless.
‘I was born on the sea. Do you still want to go as far as the Sigeus headland?’
Alexander did not reply and continued swimming until he saw the foam of the breaking water in the moonlight on the beach, the waves stretching up rhythmically to the base of the great tumulus.
They came out of the water holding each other by the hand, and the King led them closer to the dark mass of Achilles’s tomb. Alexander felt, or he believed he felt, the spirit of the hero penetrate him and he thought he saw Brisei’s with her rosy cheeks when he turned towards his companion, who was now standing before him in the silver moonlight, searching for Alexander’s gaze in the darkness that enveloped him.
‘Only the gods are allowed moments like this,’ Alexander whispered to her and turned towards the warm breeze that came from the sea. ‘Here Achilles sat and cried for the death of Patroclus. Here his mother, the ocean nymph, deposited his arms, weapons forged by a god.’
‘So you do believe in it after all?’ the girl asked him.
‘So why in the temple …”
‘It’s different here. It’s night and those distant voices, long silenced, can still be heard. And you are resplendent here before me -unveiled.’
‘Are you really a king?’
‘Look at me. Who do you see here before you?’
‘You are the young man who sometimes appears in my dreams while I sleep with my friends in the goddess’s sanctuary. The young man I would have wanted to love.’
He moved closer and held her head on his chest.
‘I will leave tomorrow, and in a few days’ time I will have to face a difficult battle perhaps
I will be victorious, perhaps I will die.’
‘In that case, take me if you want me, take me here on this warm sand and let me hold you in my arms, even if we will regret it later.’ She kissed him long and passionately, stroking his hair. ‘Moments like this are reserved for the gods alone. But we are gods, for as long as this night lasts.’