Alexander the Great
Title: Letting Go
Fandom: Alexander the Great Movie
Characters: Ptolemy Alexander and Hephaistion
Prompt: choices #086
Word Count: 2554
Rating: PG. Implied M/M relationships.
Author's Notes: Ptolmy watches Hephaistion during the Alexander's wedding ceremony to Roxane. He reflects on the two friends and their relationship.
I remember the first time that I saw Hephaistion Amytor. He was sitting on a tree stump, all of ten years old, watching Alexander train with Bucephelus. He was frozen in place. A statue; completely still and silent as if he was witnessing some great miracle. As if he was watching some world shattering mystery unfold before his warm, yet ice blue eyes. Now, so many years later, I reflect on this quiet man’s still demeanor. He is just that… a statue, a monument, a pillar of self restraint and self control. A man willing to give himself so completely to another that his own needs and desires and pain are pushed, shoved, repressed and disregarded to the point of reconciling to live his life in virtual solitude while surrounded by an army of some forty thousand men. How, Alexander, how can you do this to him?
So today I watch him moping amidst this mixed crowd. Mingling with the Persians and avoiding our soldiers. He’s dressed Persian style, which suits him. The rich burgundy and gold embossed tunic and pants further lighten his crystalline blue eyes now darkened and framed with kohl. Too much kohl. He seems more apt to be in mourning, attending not a wedding but a funeral. For him a funeral it may be, for today, in just a short while, a part of his heart will be slain. Alexander, will be wed to a Sogdian princess redefining a relationship, that had been shared solely between my king and his lifetime friend and lover, Hephaistion, a relationship that today will be violated, raped of its purity by ‘duty’. Oh, you bitch, Olympias, how proud you must be of your son today. No, she, this Roxane, is not of the homeland, but yes he will marry her and he will consummate the joining.
Despite my earlier efforts to provide comfort, Hephaistion still stumbles lost, bereaved and alone through the crowd. His cloak, also of Persian make, is pulled tightly round his slumped shoulders. Strong shoulders now bowed by the weight of what he is forced to bear, alone, this day. Slumped beneath a burden that only he could possibly fully understand and fully embrace. Yes, if you ask me, there is no stronger man in this army than, Hephaistion. This surprisingly and secretly gentle man bears the awful burden of loving so deeply, of loving so completely that he’s given half of his soul and half of his heart to the other. First loving the boy, and then the boy who became a man and the man who became a king. Ten gods help him, remaining hopelessly in love with the man who was now a king. He does this without self concern. He ‘loves’ Alexander despite being hated and constantly ridiculed for the station that our king has bestowed upon him. Despite the fact that his peers refuse to accept his status because of their immature jealousies. Despite living with a dichotomy that has exacted such a price upon his truly gentle spirit. That of a loyal and fearless general and the label of being the kings whore and ‘lover’. Ah, Hephaistion, poor, poor Hephaistion, I have no words of solace for you on this day, Alexander’s wedding day.
The feast is grand beyond measure and Alexander, King of Persia and Macadonia, sits at the place of honor surrounded by other native and Greek dignitaries. There is no place at his side for Hephaistion this day. He plays a most adept host. Smiling and joking, eating and drinking but I have known this king since boyhood, and while his lips may curl in mirth and he may be laughing I read no real joy in his eyes. In his heart he is thinking, I am sure, of Hephaistion. In his heart he is crying for the loneliness being suffered this day by his beloved friend. There are even times that I think, when watching them enjoy a rare moment of peacefulness together, and I feel fortunate to be allowed to be with them when they relax and can be at ease in their closeness, that Alexander dreams of living a simple life away from this madness we have all fought so hard to insure for ourselves. It makes me glad to see their shared touches and soft smiles, the occasional chaste kiss or hug. The touch of hand to cheek or the gentle brushing of a strand of hair back behind an ear. All small habits born of love and trust and years of learning each others needs and desires. I tease them and say they are like an old married couple. No teasing today, that will all change.
As I watch, Alexander finds Hephaistion on the far edge of the swirling mass of people. Their eyes meet and for a long moment they stare at one another across the vast sea of people. I have the sense that they are speaking to each other with some silent language known only to them, such is their closeness. Finally Hephaistion dips his head allowing his long, sun bronzed, unkempt hair, he’s taken so little care for his appearance these last few days, to obscure his face despite the gold colored band he is wearing to bind it. Alexander actually stands and for the briefest moment I think that he is going to rush to his friend and offer some comfort. Instead he looks to where Roxane awaits the ceremony and sits heavily back down.
Had I not been a witness to the love these two men share for each other I would not have believed it. The are hewn from the same great tree, split from the same rare seed. They are so emotionally and physically tied to one another that it defies mere words. It seems that if one bleeds the other bleeds, if one is in pain then the other is equally pained, if Alexander should be brought to tears then Hephaistion is crying not only with him but for him as well. May the gods be merciful as I speak this but I fear that if one dies the other will follow with unhindered haste. To that end, what fools our companions are for wishing young Hephaistion dead. I doubt that they, so mired in their jealous blindness, see the folly of their desires.
I see now that they are making final preparations for the ceremony. Hephaistion should not have to suffer this day alone yet none will offer him comfort or kinship. I begin to push my way through the crowd, to stand at his side. The others have no use for the hard working young general, no use for him unless they think that through him they might sway Alexander’s opinion. Then the sorry lot swarms to him like bees to a hive, offering their praise like pollen, extolling his competence at completing some mad task that Alexander has sent him on. Trust me in this, Alexander holds nothing back in his varied assignments for his trusted friend. Many times I have seen the battered man come wandering into camp after some scouting foray or arduous trek ahead to organize supplies. How many times has crumbled in exhaustion, or from wounds. The others, Craterus, Cleitus, Parminion the old guard they see none of this unless it suits their needs. I often wonder if they give a second thought to the wine they sip at supper, and the fruit from thousands of miles away, not to mention armor and weapons, horses and food… the camps prepared and ready for their arrival. Hephaistion is largely responsible for it getting to us and getting the advance camps set up. It all means nothing unless they want something from him.
For example, the day that Alexander announced his plans to marry Roxane. They screamed at Alexander, they pleaded, berated cajoled and threatened Alexander. Cassander, the fool that he is, finally crossed the line and met full on the fury of his king. Alexander grabbed him by his throat and pinned him to the wall and put him in his rightful place. Hephaistion shocked me by stepping forward touching the raging man’s shoulder and calling to Alexander in a soft and almost sing song voice that abruptly halted the confrontation. That ended the ‘meeting’. Alexander stormed out dejected, descrying us all for being disloyal. Through it all, until he had intervened for Cassander, Hephaistion had stood in his normal spot off to the side stoically silent. One would not have known that he too was hearing the news for the first time.
Then the vultures converged on him. Without thought for the sad and stunned man they badgered. The callousness of their actions sickened me. The group surrounded him and demanded that he talk some sense into his king, his lover. Change his mind, get the crazy king back on track. Do what ever it took. Furious, I tried to intervene and get him away from them. I know him nearly as well as I know Alexander and I could tell that he was only barely maintaining control. Finally I heard Cleitus’ harsh voice above the others.
“Come now, Hephaistion! You of all people stand to loose the most in this, pretty boy. Who’ll warm ‘your’ bed, Patroclus, when your Achilles is warming lovely, Roxane’s?” The sarcasm and hate was caustic and bitter.
Hephaistion tried to leave then not wanting it to go to blows but they hemmed him in shouting insults and slurs not caring that in sullying Hephaistion they sullied their king as well. I screamed for them to back off, to let him go but it was futile. They were a pack of hounds who’d bloodied their prey and nothing short of death would turn them from the chase.
“Hephaistion, listen to us.” Cassander again. “Talk to him. First you are tossed from his bed, and then from his favor. What will you have then? A cot in a tent with men who would love to have a piece of the king’s pretty leftovers.” Gods the cruelty of these beasts.
Thinking back on it now I wonder if he should not have simply battered them. If I should have battered them. Finally Ptolemy had regained control his battle voice booming above the others stopping the barrage of comments.
“Forget it, forget him. Let the pretty little king’s whore be. Maybe,” as I watched he stepped right up into Hephaistion’s face. “maybe she can be useful in ridding us of the foul bit of ass licking shit, who rules our good king with his cock.” He spat in Hephaistion’s face. “We’ve no use for you Hephaistion, may the gods end your life soon and with great suffering.”
As Parmenion turned to go, Hephaistion finally spoke, his voice wrought with fury and hurt, so different from the voice that had saved Cassander only moments ago. “You are so wrong General Parminion. It is not I who steal your king from you, but this new world he is so blindly driven to build. Just as it steals him from me.”
They all followed the old leader from the room spitting on Hephaistion as they passed. Only Cleitus paused and did not spit. Instead he looked at the stricken younger man with an odd sense of wonder. As though he discovered something about Hephaistion that he’d not known before. I watched stunned as he reached out, his face softening into a look of sincere sadness and squeezed Hephaistion’s shoulder. Only now did Hephaistion look down.
“Cleitus, hurry up you fool, leave him be!” Parmenion hollered.
“Take care of him.” Was all he said as hurried to catch up to the others.
I closed the door and turned in time to see Hephaistion slide down the wall to the floor. He sat head down with his knees drawn up and his elbows resting on them. He was utterly defeated.
I rushed to the wash basin for a cloth to clean the filth from his face and after doing so got him to lie down on a couch. He rolled onto his side and just stared ahead.
“He did not tell you?” I asked rubbing his back as I’d seen Alexander do. He shook his head no.
We sat like that for some time, I had no wise words or wisdom, I felt the fool telling him that after all he had to know that this would happen. What do you say? After a time I felt his breathing even out and was glad to see that he’s fallen asleep.
I turned as the sound of the rear door opening caught my attention. Alexander strode in slowly almost afraid of what he might find. He looked from me to Hephaistion and back again. I stood and he replaced me at his lover’s side. He combed his fingers through Hephaistion’s long hair and then bent down and kissed him softly on the cheek.
“I am sorry my beloved friend, I am so sorry.”
Now that day is here. In only moments Alexander will be a married man and a queen will sit at his side. I reached Hephaistion and put my arm around his shoulder in support. He was exhausted and it appeared as though he’d been crying. He shuffled nervously at my attentions. Finally I stood directly in front of him and leaning down just a bit looked into his blue eyes. The sorrow and fear I saw there brought tears to my own eyes and I pulled him into an embrace.
“Hephaistion, you can come to me for anything; you know that right? He loves you my good friend more than life, more than life.”
He pulled away and faked a smile, gods if he falls any deeper into his robe he will vanish. A trumpet blared and the sorrowful thing began. Alexander split the bread and the new couple shared the loaf. Gifts were presented and the good king gave a speech. He offered gifts for this one and treasures for that one and dowries for the women and honors for the men and promises for the future but for Hephaistion there was naught. Only the uncertainty of this new dynamic in their lives. I felt him grab onto my arm and sink a little in the knees, so I held him up.
I do not think that he was afraid of losing his Alexander. I do not think that he was jealous. For his credit I do not think he felt any less loved or needed. I think he simply felt that much more alone, separated yet again from the circle that surrounded Alexander. I think he had no stomach left for the new slurs and insults the men would throw at him. He was ‘tired’ he’d told me once. Tired of fighting so hard just to stay ahead of them and clear of their wrath. He knows full well that none understand the depth and strength of the love bond between him and their king. That they simply see it as him being cast aside, and replaced. This was the pivot point of their relationship, the trial that both had readied themselves for all along, the ability to let go of a piece of one another for duty.