|Between Fathers and Sons
Author: moon71 PM
Alexander finds it difficult to love his father Philip, but Hephaestion worships him. Will their opposing views of the king and the secrets hidden behind them finally drive them apart? Alexander X Hephaistion COMPLETERated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Chapters: 5 - Words: 14,322 - Reviews: 36 - Favs: 12 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 01-25-06 - Published: 01-15-06 - Status: Complete - id: 2753610
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BETWEEN FATHERS AND SONS
SUMMARY: Alexander doesn't find it easy to love his father Philip, but Hephaestion worships him. Will their opposing views and the secrets hidden behind them finally drive them apart?
DISCLAIMER: Not mine, what would I do with a couple of angst-ridden teenagers?
RATING: T for some mild sexy bits and a bit of violence in later chapters.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story obviously has no continuity with any of my others, not least because it starts by "killing of" one person I've spent a good amount of time developing. Don't let it bother you; death is not forever in the fiction world and after all, we really know nothing of Hephaestion's family life. I usually write my fics as complete short stories and don't divide them up unless they're exceptionally long, like "the ivory eros," but this one had a curiously episodic feel so I've split it up. (And no it's not a cynical ploy to try and get more reviews…!)
TO CORAL DAWN: Squabbling boys at your service.
They were sitting in the garden when the horsemen rode up. Certain one of them must his father back at last, Hephaestion sprang up eagerly and ran towards them, ignoring his mother's warning call. He stopped short some feet away from the new arrivals as they dismounted. One was short and stocky with a hard, sunburnt face and coarse sandy hair; the other was taller but moved with a pronounced limp; he kept his head bent, the hood of his riding cloak drawn up over his head.
Overcoming his disappointment that neither was his father, Hephaestion was about to greet the strangers when his mother, who had been busily shooing his sisters into the house, cried as if in disbelief, "Laius!"
"Joy to you, Helena," the fair haired man spoke in a deep, husky voice, his weather-beaten countenance softening to a look of deep warmth and compassion. Confused, Hephaestion glanced from him to his mother, whose dark eyes had suddenly seemed unnaturally large and bright, as if she was suffering from a fever.
"It is not joy you bring me, is it Laius," she said very softly.
"May we go inside?"
"Mother…!" Hephaestion protested as the man called Laius came closer and took hold of her arm, but before he could follow them indoors, a hand came down on his shoulder and he spun around.
"Hephaestion, son of Amyntor, I must talk to you." The taller man had removed his hood at last. Hephaestion gasped as he looked up into his face. His first reaction to it was that no man so ugly could mean him any good. His bearded face was worn and scarred and one of his eyes was missing, replaced by a dreadful mess of puckered, discoloured skin. But his other eye was darkly brilliant as it explored both of Hephaestion's and there was something about his manner, his very presence that spoke of confidence and authority.
"Who are you?" Hephaestion demanded, angered by the tremble in his own voice, knowing his mother would disapprove of his rudeness to an elder but seized by a growing panic. "Do – do you bring news of my father?"
"I do," the man said quietly, "but it is not good news. How old are you, Hephaestion?"
"Eleven," Hephaestion replied stiffly, "nearly twelve."
"You look older – nearly a man. Well, I am going to ask you to be one." The man sat down on the wooden bench Hephaestion's mother and sisters had just vacated, drawing the boy down beside him. "It is my duty to tell you that your father is dead."
"No…" Hephaestion felt a dizzy sickness rising through his body. He bent over, fighting back the nausea, moaning softly as he felt the man hesitantly begin to stroke his hair. Determined not to make a fool of himself, he straightened with difficulty and forced himself to look his visitor in the face.
"Hephaestion, we have never met, but my name is Philip. Your father worked for me… lost his life in my service. He was also my friend."
"Worked for… no, my father doesn't work for anyone, he's a farmer, a landlord, we live off our estate…"
Slowly, patiently, the man called Philip talked. Hephaestion listened as carefully as he could, knowing that though none of it made any sense now, later, some time his head was not spinning, his heart was not aching and his eyes not blinded with tears, if that time ever came, he might be able to recall it and reason it all out and when he did every one of these words would be as precious to him as gold.
"I owe your father… and your family… a sacred debt, my child," Philip finished at last, "rest assured I shall never forget it. You will be taken care of. Laius will see to everything."
"Laius – he's alone with my mother!" Hephaestion cried suddenly, "who is he?"
"A veteran of the highest standing, several years retired," Philip replied firmly, "and a kinsman of your mother. Don't worry, he's known to her. Your father himself insisted that… should anything happen… Laius should be the one to come to her."
"No!" Hephaestion shouted, jumping up, "no, if my father is dead, I am the man of this house, I should make the decisions, we don't need anyone else, we…"
"Hephaestion," Philip said quietly, looking up at him with tenderness so unexpected on such a battle-scared face that Hephaestion was quite overcome. Unable to stop the shaking of his body, he sank back down again and buried his face in his hands, ashamed of the sobs which broke from him. Philip had told him to be a man; here he was crying like a child. But Philip only rubbed his large hand across Hephaestion's back in slow, soothing strokes and said again and again how sorry he was.
"I'm thirteen years old, Mother!" Hephaestion protested loudly, pacing angrily across the kitchen, "I'm old enough to think for myself! I don't need you and Laius telling me what to do!"
"Hephaestion, that is enough," Laius said in the low, firmly commanding tone which seemed to work so much more effectively than yelling, "you know better than to address your mother in that disrespectful tone. If you really are ready to be a man and not a boy, then you should remember that men resolve their problems by reasoning, not by screaming like spoilt brats."
Hephaestion rounded angrily on his kinsman, glaring into the pale blue eyes which were always so knowing, so gently mocking, as if there was nothing Hephaestion could do or say that could surprise him or change his mind. Then he looked over at his mother who was glancing unhappily from her son to her cousin and back again. Finally he sat down again, folding his arms sulkily.
He did not know why he so frequently lost his temper around Laius – the man had been nothing but kind to him and his sisters since the terrible news of their father's death and it was obvious his mother valued his counsel and his company. That first horrible shock had been quickly followed by another one – for their own safety they were to leave their estate outside Athens and move north to one on the outskirts of Macedon. It was bigger, true, and the land seemed better, but they had left behind all of their friends and neighbours, even most of their servants, almost everyone and everything that they knew and cared for.
Perhaps, Hephaestion thought guiltily, he was taking his anger out on Laius because he did not want to direct it to Philip. Philip, who Laius had later explained was none other than King Philip of Macedon. After that first day Hephaestion had never expected to see him again, but the king had visited them several times – visited him, more accurately. His mother and sisters usually greeted Philip politely and then retreated shyly to their own parlour. Philip would question him about his studies with the pedagogue he had arranged, about his riding and fighting skills, consulting him as one would a man about the marriages being arranged for his sisters, both of whom were a good few years older than Hephaestion and of age. Sometimes Philip would also talk about Amyntor, about his loyalty, cleverness and courage. And as he would listen, Hephaestion would gaze into Philip's face and wonder how he could ever have dismissed this strong, charismatic man as ugly and therefore evil. No day went by when Hephaestion did not long for news that it was all a terrible mistake, that Amyntor was really alive, only captured or badly injured somewhere, though his mother and his pedagogue had warned him against defying or arguing with the will of the gods. Philip could never replace his father, but he filled a little of the void left behind. In the first agonising months after the Amyntor's death, Hephaestion had pestered Laius again and again for stories of Philip's great bravery and cunning in battle, about the phalanx, the sarrissas and the siege engines he employed.
"I don't belong here anymore," Hephaestion finally said quietly.
"Hephaestion, what a thing to say!" his mother cried, "this is your home, we are your family! You're still only a boy – yes you are, Hephaestion, don't look at me like that! It has been hard for us, for all of us, none of us feel quite at home yet, but we've told you, this is your home, you're a Macedonian, just like your father and I!"
"I don't want to hurt you, Mother," Hephaestion replied, "but…" he met Laius' eye once more, then looked away with a frown.
"I am not trying to take your father's place, Hephaestion," Laius told him firmly.
"I – I know," Hephaestion answered reluctantly. "But…"
"But you're young and bored and restless and you've noticed there's more to the world than this farm," Laius cut in with infuriating accuracy, turning slowly to Hephaestion's mother and to Hephaestion's silent indignation, putting his hand over hers. "Helena, it's natural for him to feel like this, I was no different at his age! Why don't I talk to the King, see what he…"
"No!" Sharp, unreasoning fury rose in Hephaestion as he sprang up once more, "no, I don't need you to speak for me! If I need anything I'll see to it myself!"
Ignoring his mother's protests, he stormed out of the house.
He spent several hours roaming the furthest fields of the estate, torn between defiance and guilt. If only Philip was his guardian instead of Laius, he wouldn't stand in his way! Laius had meant to be kind, he supposed, but he wasn't Philip; besides, Hephaestion did not like the closeness between Laius and his mother, the affectionate looks his mother bestowed on her kinsman, the way the two of them stood side by side against Hephaestion when she should be taking her son's part in everything! His sisters simply didn't understand – they were devoted to Laius, grateful for his support and his protection of their mother. "You don't know what it's like," they told him, "it's different for you, you'll become a man and leave home and she'll be alone!" He didn't like to think about what they were suggesting so he refused to listen.
When he finally came back, tired, hungry and dispirited, he heard voices in the kitchen and hung back, listening. "… frightened for him, Laius!" he heard his mother's voice, "I know King Philip has been good to us, I know Amyntor loved him, but one hears… stories… the drinking, the women… the boys…"
"Philip is a man of strong appetites, Helena, nobody would deny it, least of all him, but he is not the witless, drunken thug his enemies portray, Amyntor would never have devoted himself to him if he was!"
"Laius, I know I'm only a woman, but I am not deaf or blind! Hephaestion is a handsome boy and quite unworldly… you know what I fear! If it was just an older man showing interest… but King Philip…! As it is, Hephaestion is far too fond of him, too familiar with him, I know he doesn't mean anything by it, but does the King? The Gods forgive me, but I don't trust him!"
Rage swelled within him. He didn't quite understand all she was suggesting, but he knew it was not kind to Philip and her treachery stung him. H said nothing of it when he joined them for supper and apologised meekly for his conduct, but he had made up his mind.
Pella was a crowded, colourful town, both exciting and intimidating. With some difficulty Hephaestion found his way to the palace and made his way up the steps where he explained his mission to one of the guards. He was not unkind but nor was he very reassuring. He told Hephaestion the King was in council and would probably be there all day and he should come back on a day when he was holding an open audience for petitioners. Hephaestion suspected it was the disappointment which must have shown on his face that made the man relent and promise to pass on his request.
Feeling lonely and despondent, he made his way down to the public courtyard. After an hour of sitting, bored and lonely, in the blazing sun, he began to explore. Nobody stopped him so he wandered further and further, coming across a small, elegantly planted garden rich with the scent of summer roses.
Hephaestion blinked as he caught sight of a boy sitting in the corner, engrossed in a book. The boy seemed so still and so perfect that for a moment Hephaestion thought he was looking at a carefully painted statue. He was smaller than Hephaestion and of slighter build, plainly dressed with golden-blonde hair and fine, sensitive features, the only flaw being a faint frown of concentration creasing his pale brow.
Suddenly the boy looked up.
"Joy to you, my friend," Hephaestion said eagerly, giving him a friendly smile, "my name is Hephaestion, son of Amyntor. What are you reading?"
"What are you doing here?" the boy demanded, his frown deepening as his grey eyes settled coldly upon Hephaestion, "this is a private garden!"
"I – I'm sorry," Hephaestion replied, startled by the imperious manner. His annoyance was checked by the realisation he might well be trespassing. "I didn't know, I… I've never been to Pella before, I was hoping to… well, anyway, I was on my own and I didn't have anyone to talk to, and seeing as you're on your own too…"
"I came here to be on my own," the boy answered coldly.
Hephaestion scowled. "Then I'm sure the gods will grant you your wish," he grunted, turning on his heel. As he retreated in a heavy sulk he wondered absently if he had just insulted the son of anyone important. But surely King Philip would understand. Beauty wasn't always good; surely he should have learnt that lesson by now!
"Wait!" Hephaestion stopped as he heard soft footsteps behind him. A very warm hand touched him lightly on the shoulder and he turned to look down at the blonde boy. "I should not have been rude," the boy said with regal condescension, "but you surprised me. This is a private garden."
"Then I'm sorry and I'll go at once."
"No, don't! I mean…" the boy hesitated, his fair skin colouring pink. "Let's start again. Joy to you, Hephaestion, son of Amyntor. My name is Alexander. Come and sit with me… where are you from, Hephaestion?"
"My family is from Macedon," Hephaestion answered after a moment's hesitation, remembering the warnings his mother and King Philip had given him once he had learned the truth about his father, "but we had a farm outside Athens for some years. Now we have one some miles south of here, it's bigger than the old one, but… it's not quite the same. I mean, I hardly know anyone and our neighbours' children are all either babies or grown up and… well anyway, I don't care about farming, so I want to see if I can join the army. I think King Philip is wonderful, don't you? Do you think he'll really attack Persia?"
Alexander did not respond for a long time, staring down pensively at the book in his lap. "Do you know Xenephon?" he asked suddenly.
"I've… heard of him," Hephaestion answered slowly, sitting down beside Alexander and looking at the book he held out.
"There's so much to learn from him if you want to be a good soldier. One day, when I'm a General…" Alexander suddenly began to talk so rapidly Hephaestion had trouble keeping up with him, let alone getting a word in edgeways. Did this boy really want to be on his own? "I'm… glad you came," Alexander said suddenly, looking up into Hephaestion's eyes with such intensity that Hephaestion found it difficult to breathe. "I feel like I've been waiting for someone like you for years…"
"You hardly know me," Hephaestion chuckled, trying to lighten the other's mood.
"I know, but… I've got lots of other friends, but they don't… you really seem to be listening to me."
Hephaestion shook his head, both charmed and bewildered. "How quickly you change, Alexander… I don't think I can keep up with you!"
As Alexander was about to reply, Hephaestion suddenly remembered why he had come in the first place and jumped to his feet.He had been about to tell Alexander everything but now he hesitated, wondering what this boy would think about him wanting to see King Philip. "I'm… supposed to be waiting for someone, could we go back to the big courtyard…?"
Alexander frowned slightly, as if disappointed, but he nodded and led the way.
Philip took a long, slow drink of wine as he listened to the guard's message. "You say he's out in the courtyard? You mean the poor little bugger's been sitting there all day?" He gave a wheezy laugh and got to his feet. "He'll have sunstroke!"
"He may've cleared off by now, you know what boys are like, Sire," the guard suggested, "should I go and check?"
"No, leave it, I'll go myself in a minute, you can go." Rising slowly, rubbing his injured leg which had stiffened during the time he had been sitting around through the council meeting, Philip drained the last of his wine and went over to the window overlooking the courtyard. There was Amyntor's boy sure enough; talking to someone apparently, though Philip could not see who from the angle he was seated at. At least he hadn't been sitting there alone all this time.
A handsome boy indeed, tall, strong, the perfect Greek beauty. But then Amyntor had been a very handsome man. Dear Amyntor… the gods were jealous and cruel, robbing men of the best friends they had. Death was a common reality for Philip and he had learned not to be sentimental about it, or about life for that matter. He had killed members of his own family, would do it again if he had to and without blinking. If one gave into sentiment, one became weak. And the weak ended up enslaved – or dead.
All the same, there was something comforting in the adoring looks Hephaestion bestowed on him the few times he was able to spare time to visit him. To visit Amyntor's family, really, yet it was Hephaestion Philip most enjoyed seeing. That was how a son should look at his father, how he should behave in his company – respectfully, submissively, admiringly. The way Alexander had once looked at Philip – before Olympias had filled his mind with her poison, with her wild dreams of divine paternity, all the better to detach the boy from his real father. Philip sighed wearily. One couldn't blame that magnificent bitch for everything; Macedon itself had come between them, just as he always knew it would. Alexander might have inherited his mother's fiery passions, her desperation for devotion and love, her sensitivity to any slights, but it was from Philip that he got his ambition, his cunning, his dreams of glory – and his love of intrigue. And, Philip thought with a certain satisfaction, his charm.
Alexander certainly had charm; Philip could not deny it, even if the boy was something of a prig, not to mention a prude, too easily offended by rough talk and lewd behaviour. He needed to get himself laid, sooner rather than later. He couldn't see Alexander consenting to be anyone's eromenos in the traditional Greek sense, but maybe in a year or two he might take an interest in another boy, or get himself a woman. Perhaps then he'd stop listening to his mother's complaints and turning his nose up at his father's women!
There was still plenty of time for Philip to gain back ground he had lost – if he didn't get called away on campaign for a while, if there were no political problems he had to sort out, if… if…if…
He looked again at Hephaestion. Yes, he really was a beauty. And it wasn't as if the boy was unwilling, only innocent, isolated on that farm the way he was. There was plenty of time for him too. Philip could give him another year or two, treat him kindly and encourage him gently. It would be wrong to destroy what was beautiful and pure by being impatient and greedy. Philip had never had to force himself on any boy, nor would he ever have dreamed of doing so to Amyntor's son. And of course he would see Hephaestion did very well out of it; he could take him on his next campaign, let him gain experience as a Page…
Philip's brows rose in surprise as Hephaestion sprawled lazily back on the bench, talking so loudly and cheerfully that his voice echoed through the window. It was Alexander himself sitting next to him – but an Alexander Philip had never seen before. Instead of the usual haughtiness he practised with his friends, he seemed quite diffident, his head tilted almost coyly away from his companion, listening passively while Hephaestion talked. He was blushing vigorously and his large grey eyes were as bright and darting as a virgin on her wedding night. Would wonders never cease!
Philip shook his head. With quick, firm decision he dismissed all his own romantic notions about Amyntor's son. There were so many ways he and Alexander could still fall out, maybe irrevocably. The last thing they needed was to argue over the favours of a boy. If Alexander wanted him, Alexander could have him – would have him, if he truly was Philip's blood. Idly Philip wondered which one of them Hephaestion would have preferred. But such speculation was useless. Hephaestion did not have the choice.
Philip headed out of the building and down the steps. "Joy to you, Hephaestion," he called, smiling as the bigger boy sprang to his feet. "Oh!" he added, feigning surprise, "and to you, Alexander!"
"Joy to you, Father," Alexander said, stiffening. Hephaestion glanced at Alexander in surprise, then at Philip. So Alexander hadn't told him who he was. As soon as Philip saw the shadow pass over his son's face he knew he had made a mistake. Well what was to be done when the boy was so infernally sensitive! Philip could hardly have pretended not to know Hephaestion; if Alexander wanted to read things into it that were not there, Philip could not help it.
"You wanted to see me, young man," he said to Hephaestion, pressing ahead as casually as he could.
"Oh, yes, Sire, but…" Hephaestion turned sharply as Alexander rose and mumbled a parting salutation. "Alexander – I mean, Prince Alexander – "
Alexander turned with an air of cool politeness. "Yes?"
Hephaestion now looked both hurt and confused. "May - may I come and see you again?"
Alexander nodded so slightly that it was hardly an affirmation at all. "I must go now and dress for dinner."
Philip glowered at him. "Why don't you ask Hephaestion to join us? It's late, he must be hungry too."
"Oh – no, thank you Sire," Hephaestion said quickly, his cheeks flushing red. "I'd better go, my mother will be worrying about me."
Philip took a deep breath. "You've waited all day to see me, child, you might as well tell me what you came for."
So Hephaestion told him, quietly, miserably, without any of the enthusiasm he must have left home with. Even as he did so, his dark eyes kept straying in the direction Alexander had gone.
And of course Philip had to say no; partly because once he had made a resolution he had to stick to it; partly because he did not want Alexander to have the satisfaction of seeing his unworthy suspicions proved correct. As he watched Hephaestion make his way from the courtyard, Philip sighed. He could, of course, call Alexander to him and explain exactly who Hephaestion was – and who Amyntor had been – and why Hephaestion had come to him today. But what would become of the world if a man had to justify himself to his own son?
Enough was enough. Olympias – and Alexander himself – had done enough damage. The relationship between father and son had to be salvaged before it was too late. Alexander was Philip's only legitimate heir, he was too young to survive and hold on to power even if his mother and her cronies encouraged him to move against Philip and far too young to guarantee the succession beyond himself. And what was more, Philip… loved him. Loved him more than he cared to think about.
It was time for Alexander and Olympias to be separated.