"And he talked to the ambassadors himself?" He looked up and down at him with a smile that was barely hiding his contempt. "Good boy!" He said, way too loud.
Yes he was, he was a good boy. He couldn't imagine it any other way.
Though, his father seemed genuinely happy with him for the first time; and that's all that mattered to him right now. His father's other friends were easier to endure this way, despite their constant attitude.
He did talk to the envoys by himself, and greeted them as he saw fit. And he loved their presence, the way they talked, the way they dressed. Of course he could talk to them himself, all his short life until now he has been studying military strategy. He was an expert, and he couldn't imagine it any other way. You are so mature for your age, they all said. And he was, but he didn't have any choice really.
Alexander was looking straight into his lap, waiting for the conversation to end. When he was next to his father, all his confidence was dispersed, even when he was praised. Somehow no matter what he did, no matter how valiant a deed, it never felt like enough. Next day he'll just move to the next thing already.
As they were talking, sometimes to each other, sometimes about him, but never really to him, his eyes drifted to the outside garden. It was a sunny day and he could see the outline of the hills in the distance, bathed in sunlight. A lot of times he would just sit and dream, dream of being a wild deer sprinting through the forest, free and unbothered, following the footsteps of the moon. Of Artemis. He loved to make his chiton look like hers, throwing a quiver with three or four arrows over his back and wander around through nature. Fantasize about getting lost and never coming back.
"He is back into his room. I put him into his bed." He couldn't dare lift his eyes from where he was kneeling. "Your Highness, I'm sorry for my incompetence. It won't happen again."
"Who are you calling your Highness?" She chuckled softly. The cold air combed through her beautiful locks of hair, the very same that adorned Alexander’s head. "Get up, Hephaestion. It wasn't your fault."
The storm outside was still roaring, the sound of trees being pulled apart echoing through the hall. It was fully dark now, with only a few weak flames throwing orange shades around them. Hephaestion let out an inaudible sigh. Of course it was his fault, he promised to take care of the prince no matter what.
"Come on, get up."
He complied and faced Olympias, who for some reason didn't seem as troubled as him. Or at least she didn't show it.
"That's what he does every time he's upset. Sooner or later he always comes back, but we all need our space, don't we? One of these days he'll run into a wolf and that will teach him." She paused, a worry passing over her face. She ignored it. "Don't apologize, you did nothing wrong. You don't have to be after him all day, you're not a nanny."
She looked towards the hills and for a moment she seemed lost in thought. It was hard being a queen already, and being a mother on top of that was simply exhausting.
She took a long look at the boy in front of her. He was already a young man. When he was around, she would feel that her son was safe and a burden would lift off her chest. She knew she could trust him, no matter what the future would bring.
"Alright, it's getting late now. Go, you're dismissed. Good night."
He left and went towards his room. He was so, so tired. It was the first day in a long time, months since he's been at the court, when he decided to relax and have some time away from others. He had so much material he wanted to read that was gathering dust by his bed, and he finally decided to excuse himself from any obligations and pick them up again. And on this day, despite weeks of peace before, Alexander had a big fight with his father and decided to get lost in the woods and not come back for dinner, and still not appear while the sun was going down, and get everyone panicked. And since it was his responsibility to look after the prince, they all came to him.
When he heard the prince hasn't been in the palace the whole day and no one knew of his whereabouts he felt his stomach drop and heart beginning to pound madly in his chest. His Fault. And while the attendants that came to him on the behalf of the queen were losing their composure he was the one supposed to remain calm and solve the situation. They told him something about Alexander going in the woods not far from the palace, but that was all. All kind of thoughts troubled their minds, from Alexander breaking a leg to him getting attacked by a wild beast, and they were all crying and making a scene, as though that would be of any help.
He grabbed his bag. He'll run into the mountains, then.
When he finally found him, he was sitting hidden behind big, sharp rocks covered in moss and slippery to the touch. The rain came pouring, it began at some point but his mind was too preoccupied to notice. It's been an hour of walking, maybe two. The first thing that came out of the boy's mouth was How did you know to find me here? and Leave me alone! and other ridiculous things he didn't pay any attention to. All he cared was to bring him home. Alexander was stubborn, and drenched, and dirty, screaming and fighting for no reason against his captor, as though him sitting in the middle of wilderness during a storm was his natural state and he was getting abused by the other person.
"Do you want to get sick and die here? Is that what you want?" He was fuming. If something happened to him he would certainly get executed. If something happened.... he could never forgive himself.
He would never do it under any circumstances in any other situation than this, but now that he was mostly controlled by rage and fear, Hephaestion grabbed Alexander by his waist and threw him over his shoulder, which he found was surprisingly easy; and no matter how much it cost his muscles he resolved to carry him like this the whole way back home, for a lack of a better choice. And there really were barely any choices left when Alexander decided to be against something.
When he finally reached the bottom of the hill he was all sore and tired. He put Alexander down, who was now quiet and trembling, took his arm in a strong grip, as though he was afraid he'll escape again, and more or less dragged him back to his room. Passing through the hall, Hephaestion took his cloak off the hanger and wrapped the other in it. In the end, Alexander was sitting on his bed, not saying a word, looking down. Long moments passed.
Hephaestion was beyond angry.
Alexander’s mood seemed to have changed, as though he was just now realizing his condition. He felt ashamed. This is not how a king acts; as always, he was nothing but a stupid child.
"I'm sorry." Alexander murmured softly. "I didn't know what else to do. I didn't want to cause you trouble-" A tear made its way across his face. "I'm sorry...."
Hephaestion stared at him. He looked so innocent and pitiful, holding tightly onto his cloak. Of course he ran away, who wouldn't? His father was the king, a bad argument could cost him his life. Or worse. And just like that, he couldn't hold any animosity towards the boy anymore. Whatever he was feeling and thinking in that moment was all gone and all he knew was that he needed to hold him close, so close. He would never admit how much power Alexander held over him, especially when he was tearing up like that. A single tear and right now, he would kill anything that came his way, be it a random civilian, king or god. Could he be so impertinent? Holy Zeus and the whole parteon was nothing to his sweet Alexander in this moment.
He kneeled down beside him and traced his hand over his cheek. Alexander looked at him.
"You're safe now. You should have just come to me. I'll protect you" He shifted and tightened the cloak around him. "I won't let anyone hurt you, not even your father."
"Thank you..." He smiled weakly. "For being patient with me."
"You should go to sleep. If there's anything..." He hesitated. "If there's anything you can always come to my room, it's just one door away."
"I will." He smiled, again.
It was something about Alexander that always made all men fall on their knees before him. After all his impossible marches, his cruel orders, his insurmountable will, a look it was all it took, those beautiful green eyes, and any man in his right mind would worship the very earth he walked on. Or at least that's how Hephaestion felt.
He laid sleepless on his bed all night.
It was hot and humid, and all eyes were on him.
He wanted it to be a more private party, intended for his trusted generals of his Macedonian army and also the new ones from his Persian one. It was an attempt at creating a bond between them. Out of the whole group, the real problem were his Macedonians, mostly the older ones. His father's Macedonians. It was an impossible feat to try to make them accept his Persian soldiers as equals. The war with Persia was rooted so deep in their souls since the day they were born that change was something that could never happen, but he never stopped trying.
Alexander was in the middle of giving his speech and the words were flowing out of his mouth in a way it surprised him. He was so anxious before, but once he started, his daimons inspired him, and it all came out of him at once. He was sitting still, in his hands a golden, gilded cup filled with wine raised high.
A single drop of wine was traveling on the sides of the goblet, over his finger. His hands trembled slightly. He should not spill.
"And so, my brave soldiers, my friends...." He looked around the room. Friendly stares, unfriendly stares. "What else should I say to you, but be thankful to you. You all know, there would be no Alexander without his people." He smiled. "As I drink from this cup, so will you. Because I am one of you. My spirit dwells with yours. During our shared adventures, we have become brothers, and closer still. And so we will be bonded, throughout this journey... despite our differences..."
He took a deep breath. Out of the corner of his eye he could feel the hostile gaze of Callisthenes and his faithful group. He knew about it, they made sure he knew about their distaste for his controversies. And so they called most of what he did, a controversy. There was never going to be peace, this was the Macedonian way. His father's way. We, the chosen ones, them, the inferior others. And he was now choosing inferiority over them; a highly treacherous act.
I will never bend to them, Alexander thought. It was a promise, one that he made a long time ago.
The cold metal of the cup hovered over his lips; he could taste the bitter wine before it hit his tongue. This is poison, his mother used to tell him, one that you have to be willing to drink for the sake of others. Everything he did, it was for them; he gave everything to his army and still they wanted more. He knew that one day he'll run dry under their demands, like the very barbaric deserts they were passing through.
He drank. He stood and waited for the rest to come to him, to show obedience; kiss him, and then let the wine kiss them. There was a moment of silence that seemed to stretch forever. No Macedonian would dare take part in this too sacred ritual.
There was a shift to his right. He turned his head slightly, and saw Hephaestion looking back at him. He seemed like he could not perceive anyone in the room but Alexander. His eyes never left him.
He stood up from where he was sitting besides the other somatophylakes, and placed himself in front of Alexander. Everyone was watching him closely, some tense, some bored, some hateful.
Alexander smiled shyly, and waited to receive the symbolic kiss on his cheek. He closed his eyes.
Hephaestion took a step back. He looked at the king; at his king. His fiery locks of hair where sticking to his neck, his skin shimmering with a coat of sweat. He appeared to be shining; brighter than the gold in his hands, brighter than the fire of the candles around him.
He remembered the beautiful statues of Apollo he used to see in the temples back home, their cold limbs arched and gracious. When he was young he used to pray that the bronze would turn to flesh, so that he could hold them closely, feel their divine heartbeat in their chest. He never told his parents that he was so egotistical as to wish Apollo for himself, away from the dirty eyes of the common people in the temple. He used to always be so insolent.
He bent his knees on the carpeted floor. He bowed down, down, until his forehead was touching the ground. This time he would prostrate not to the lifeless Apollo but to the beautiful Amun Ra, the true sun. His sun.
Whatever commotion his actions started, it was all nothing to him. He showed his fellow friends what was appropriate to do, whether their broken egos agreed to it or not.
He barely remembered what followed. At some point the whole ordeal was over, and it all went more or less smoothly. No one wanted to cause a scandal, but it was an unsaid promise that they will unleash their rage upon Alexander in the future. It didn't matter.
As though a mere second passed since the ceremony, Hephaestion found himself in the same position, but this time it was a lofty, weakly lit room. A candle wa struggling to illuminate him and Alexander, flickering from time to time. From where he was sitting on the carpet, he slowly rose, a hand snaking around Alexander’s ankle, then tracing over the warm skin of his calf, and travelling yet higher on his soft thigh. He let his head rest there. He inhaled the sweet smell of his body; it was like burning incense. He felt intoxicated. He exhaled and felt the warmth engulf him. After such a long way on the road his skin was still smooth like marble; he felt as though he was losing himself, as though he was drowning in a stream. He remembered when he met Aristotle for the first time, when he told him he would grow up to be the strongest and most rational youth there is. He felt like laughing. He was a madman.
He looked up. Alexander was looking down at him, his hand caressing his hair. He seemed shy.
"What are you doing down there? Come on, get up!" He said half laughing, half worried, as he helped him raise.
"Gods, did you see their faces... you're out of your mind!" He laughed nervously. "You should have just kissed my cheek..."
"I can kiss you now, if you like."
Alexander sighed. There was no winning when he got into these moods. It wasn't that he didn't like it, but he was scared of what could happen if he went too far. He was also guilty of acting recklessly, afterall. If both of them continued like this, it wouldn't be long until their beloved friends would pour actual poison in their cups.
He sat on the bed and let his head hit the soft pillows. He felt overwhelmed. Hephaestion sat beside him, took his hand and pressed a kiss into it. Alexander closed his eyes. He could forget about it all for tonight, at least. He did enough.
He sure did. But tomorrow was a new day, and he should rise early to fight his opposition that strangely enough was made out of people that were supposed to be on his side. Some days it was harder than others. He felt the other shift and embrace him. They would surely prevail in the end, somehow…