The Bow of Heaven - Book I: The Other Al - By Andrew Levkoff


20 BCE - Summer, Siphnos, Greece

Year of the consulship of

Marcus Appuleius and Publius Silius Nerva

The boy comes bearing honeyed tea onto the blue tiled terrace with its too-white stuccoed walls. I shan’t call him ‘boy’ to his face, though, or risk forfeiting my foot massage. Say what he will, his scars are almost thirty years younger than mine. Though his were earned in battle and mine are of a different nature entirely, to me Melyaket will always be “boy.” Now he waits patiently for me to set down the stilus. I have long stopped trying to convince him that it is I who should serve him, for I know he will but smile thinly and ignore me as always. So be it. I am ancient and frail and the tea is hot and aromatic. Of course there is also the matter of my feet.

Enough of the Parthian bowman; how he and I came to this island sanctuary is a tale for another telling. This recounting does not belong to Melyaket, nor would I presume to lay claim to it for myself. This is my lord’s story, and I pray the gods grant me strength and time to tell it. My master is long dead; few mourned his passing; fewer still recall his name with kindness. More than thirty years have passed since his ignoble death in the dirt at the feet of his enemies. The memory of that heat-drenched day, encrusted with grime and blood and clouded by the dusty haze of battle yet returns to me with glittering clarity. His mocking Parthian captors, their barbarism and bloodlust palpable as they towered over him, pricked him with their taunts and jeers, swords poised to pierce his unarmored heart. Yet when the moment came, they were robbed of the release the mortal blow would have granted both murderers and murdered. For it was Melyaket who slew my lord.


There is much to tell. Nicias has sent men to scour the town for ink, reeds and parchment. I am anxious for their return, for these tablets are all but useless for my intention. It would take a forest of their frames to fill my need. I shall use them for my notes and musings. Now they sit before me, prepared with freshly melted wax, piled so high on my writing table that unless I rise from this cushioned chair, a feat for which I find I lack both the strength and the inclination, the splendor of the sea below, bronzed and burnished by the setting sun, can only wink at me between the cracks. I pull a simple string necklace from around my throat and find the single scallop shell that adorns it. With my thumb I absentmindedly rub its inside surface, grown glossy with age and use, admitting a rising tide of memory.

News has reached us from Rome: the standards of my master’s legions, pried from the twisted fingers of their fallen bearers and flaunted under the shamed chin of Rome for each day of their captivity have finally been ransomed, by no less a negotiator than Caesar Augustus himself. For thirty-five years they were held hostage behind the throne at Ctesiphon, the Parthian capital, a mockery of the invincibility of Rome. Though my body wrinkles and shrivels like a Persian peach forgotten in the desert sun, the memory of the day they were lost remains as ripe and raw as a newly drawn knife cut.

To the cruel and superstitious Roman, whether soldier or senator, these are more than poles covered in hide and metal, wood and bone. They are the very essence of Rome, imbued by the gods themselves with the divine mystery of its dominance and superiority. But to me they have always been absent and ironic reminders both of liberty and of loss. I care not, after all these years, that these eagle-festooned sticks have been returned to the bosom of Rome, a poisonous breast where I shall be pleased never to rest my head again.

Tulio writes that the return of the standards has caused such riotous celebration in the streets it is as though Parthia itself had been vanquished. The rabble’s ignorance is as supple and resilient as its memory is arthritic. And what of the nobles who cling with a slippery and tenuous grasp to the tether that holds the mob in check? They must remain blameless, their pristine togas unblemished by any crimson reminders of our misadventure.

PART I - Slave to Master

Chapter I

86 BCE - Summer, Rome