Yilan smiled and watched the cities in the smoke, and the passing shapes of friends. Enkindu, Patroclus, Hephestion, and Antony and a thousand others. “Patroclus,” he called him. “And Lancelot. And Roland. O my friend…do you see, do you yet see? Sometimes we meet so late…you’re always with me, but so often born late, my great, good friend. Most of my life I knew I was missing something, and then I found you, and Gunesh, and I was whole. Then it could begin. I didn’t know in those years what I was waiting for, but I knew it when it came, and now I know why.”
Shimshek’s eyes lifted to his, spilling tears and dreams, dark as night his eyes were now, but they had been green and blue and gray and brown, narrow and wide, and all shades between. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yes. Now I think you do. Cities more than this one…, And Gunesh… she’s always there…through all the ages.”
“You”re like my father, Yilan Baba; more father than my own. Tell me what to believe and I believe it.”
He shook his head. “You’ve only known me longer; give your father his honor. There was not always such a gap of years, sometimes we were brothers.”
“In other lives, Baba? Is that what you mean?”
“There was a city named Dur-sharrunkin; I was Sargon; I was Menes, by a river called Nile; I was Hammurabi; and you were always there; I was Gilgamesh; we watched the birth of cities, my friend, the first stone piled on stone in this world.”
Shimshek shivered, and looked into his eyes. “Achilles,” he murmured. “You had that name once. Did you not?”
“And Cyrus the Persian; and Alexander. You were Hephestion, and I lost you first that round – ah that hurt – and the generals murdered me then, not wanting to go on. How I needed you.”
“O God,” Shimshek wept.
Yilan reached out and caught Shimshek’s strong young arm. “I was Hannibal, hear me? And you Hasdrubal my brother; Caesar, and you Antony; I was Germanicus and Arthur and Attila; Charlemagne and William; Saladin and Genghis. I fight; I fight the world’s wars, and this one is finished as far as it must go, do you hear me, my son, my brother, my friend? Am I not always the same? Do I ever hold long what I win?”
“Yilan Baba -”
“Do I ever truly win? Or lose? Only you and Gunesh…Roxane and Cleopatra; Guenevere and Helen…as many shapes as mine and yours; and always you love her.”
Terror was in Shimshek’s eyes, and grief.
It’s from The General by C. J. Cherryh. A good story, and there are better ones in the compendium of short sci-fi stories by the author. Pick it up and read it for a good sense of a sweeping scale, an inkling of man’s infinitesimal presence in the epic transformation of ages.