|Competing for Second Place
Author: moon71 PM
While the great armies of Macedon and Persia clash, Euxippinus fights his own private war against Bagoas for Alexander's heart. But the rivals both have a lot to learn... Alexander x Euxippinus Alexander x HephaestionRated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Drama - Words: 7,906 - Reviews: 16 - Favs: 26 - Follows: 1 - Published: 03-10-06 - Status: Complete - id: 2838125
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
COMPETING FOR SECOND PLACE by Moon71
SUMMARY: While the Greeks and the Persians clash, Euxippinus and Bagoas fight their own private war for Alexander's love. But they both have a lot to learn…
DISCLAIMER: Not mine; along with all the others, Euxippinus belongs to history.
RATING: T for sexy bits.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Curtius is the only ancient source I know who mentions Euxippinus, and then only as a youth whose beauty rivalled Hephaestion's, though he could not compete with Hephaestion in charm, because he was a little effeminate. I have read that the Greek definition of effeminacy was more like the modern idea of a womaniser – presumably the idea was if you were too interested in women in this extremely male-oriented civilisation you must be a bit of a woman yourself…? At any rate, I've chosen to assume that the translators of Curtius intend the definition in our modern sense – that is to say, not very masculine.
DEDICATON: To my "second brain" Coral Dawn, for the suggestion, the information, and the encouragement. Euxippinus finally reports for duty - I do hope you like him.
Standing watch, I leaned idly against one of the tent-posts and listened to my fellow Pages talking. As usual, Narcissus dominated; as usual, the subject was sex. "I'm telling you, you should get yourself a lover," he was telling his brother Helenus, "anyone would think you're afraid to lose your virginity! I can find you someone!"
"I don't want your cast-offs," Helenus snapped irritably, picking up a cloth and beginning work polishing the king's cuirass.
"By Eros, you and Euxippinus are as bad as each other!"
I scowled across at Narcissus. "Leave me out of this!"
"Still saving yourself for Alexander…?" Narcissus grinned at me. Helenus hid a smirk behind his polishing cloth as I felt myself turning very red in the face. I swore at them both and turned away. "What a bore you are," Narcissus continued, "fixing on him when there are so many willing men out there just dreaming of getting their hands on you! You're probably the most desirable boy in the army… after me, of course. I could have any man in this camp…"
"You mean you haven't, yet?" I shot back.
Narcissus shrugged this off lightly. He was a very handsome boy; even I couldn't deny that. A shame then that his character didn't match is looks. Worst of all was that for all his vanity and hedonism, he was remarkably acute - he had a way of aiming right for a person's weak spots and stabbing deeply. I was sure that I had concealed my feelings for the King so well; yet shielding your mind from Narcissus was like trying to shield your heart from the arrows of Eros. I had failed on both counts.
We all snapped to attention as Hephaestion entered the King's tent, followed by Nireus, his eldest Page. Hephaestion smiled pleasantly at each one of us; he could be arrogant and impatient sometimes but when he wanted to he could also be very charming, and his smile was ravishing. He whispered something to Nireus before heading through into Alexander's private section of the tent without waiting for us to announce his arrival.
Nireus stayed behind, greeting me and Narcissus politely before dropping to a crouch beside Helenus, who glanced briefly at him before looking back down at his work. "Joy to you, my friend," I heard Nireus say softly, "Hephaestion has given us permission to look around the foundations for the new city; get your cloak, it'll be cold out there once the sun sets…"
"He can't," Narcissus cut in before Helenus could answer, "he's on duty."
Nireus glanced up at him. "What? Why?"
"I had some friends to say good-bye to, he swapped duties with me."
Nireus looked from one brother to the other. "Narcissus, you really are a selfish bugger! Anyway, you can't decide what duties you do, you'll get Helenus a beating!"
"I don't really mind," Helenus murmured carelessly, rubbing hard at the metal plate in his lap, "I didn't mind either way…"
Nireus gave him an odd, intense look, then turned away, remaining silent.
At that moment, Alexander's eunuch servant Bagoas walked past in his colourful, fluttering Persian robes, carrying a wine jug and two cups. He resolutely ignored all of us as he disappeared through the partition. "Little freak," Narcissus muttered, "if someone cut my bollocks off, I'd cut my own throat with the same knife!"
"I don't know what Alexander finds to like about him," I said casually, "I think he's creepy - he doesn't even have a proper boy's body; he's more like a girl!"
"Euxippinus," Narcissus declared triumphantly, "it's your duty as a Macedonian to seduce Alexander! We can't have him wasting his energies on horrible little Persian whores like that! Next thing you know he'll be marrying one of them!"
I was infuriated to find myself blushing. "Don't be stupid, Narcissus - Alexander doesn't really notice boys like us!"
"Of course he does, stupid!" Narcissus laughed, "look around you! We're all pretty, aren't we? Alexander keeps all the pretty ones for himself and gives the ugly ones to Hephaestion!"
Stunned by the spite of his words, I glanced involuntarily towards Nireus, who was still sitting beside Helenus. Both of them had looked up; Helenus' expression was unreadable, but the older boy just shook his head and gave me a small, sad smile. I wanted to tell him I didn't agree with Narcissus, that it wasn't Nireus' fault that he was ugly, but I couldn't find the words. How cruel Narcissus was - surely Nireus should be pitied, not insulted. When I had first seen his disfigured face, one eye badly squinting, the cheekbone beneath distorted, his nose broken and pushed back against his face, I had asked him if he had received his injuries in battle. But he had just laughed - there always seemed to be laughter in those dark eyes - and said his wet-nurse had tried to suckle him while she was drunk and had dropped him onto the floor on his face. His honesty disconcerted me. I never did know quite what to make of him.
All the same, it was rather foolish of him to think Helenus might like him - Helenus was beautiful, in some ways more so than Narcissus, with large green eyes and rosy-gold hair. Why would he ever want someone ugly?
"Alexander likes you," Narcissus was saying to me, "It's obvious. You've only been with us a few months and he's already making a fuss of you - I've seen the way he smiles at you, and he ruffles your hair sometimes; he never does that to us, does he Helenus? And I've noticed how he stops to talk to you, too… besides," he added with a knowing grin, "I know for a fact he started praising your beauty to the other Companions at that drinking party the other night! He was getting all poetic about it, saying your eyes were like woodland violets, your hair had every tint of autumn and your skin was like roses kissed by golden sunshine – and then the others even began comparing your good looks to Hephaestion's!"
"Liar," I muttered, deciding this was just another of Narcissus' malicious little jokes. Why would anyone compare me to Hephaestion? It was true he was almost unfairly handsome, but he was a man, not a boy; Alexander's friend, not his lover, at least not anymore.
"It's the truth, I swear it by Aphrodite!" Narcissus insisted, then added with that glint of devilment I knew spelled trouble, "mind you… General Crateros said you walk like a girl, while Hephaestion only fights like one!"
Briefly I glanced at Nireus, knowing how protective Hephaestion's Pages could be of their commander. He looked back at me with a strange expression that might actually have been pity. What did someone who looked like him find to pity in one who looked like me? I might not be as vain as Narcissus, but I knew I was beautiful. I quickly glanced away. "Now I know you're lying," I sneered at Narcissus, "where would you get to hear things like that?"
"Iollas told me," he returned smugly, "it never hurts to have a… warm relationship with the King's Cup Bearer! Hah! Cup Bearer by name but not by nature! You should hear the things he comes out with when he's borne a few cups of his own!"
I was about to reply when I saw Nireus suddenly getting to his feet and pulling his cloak around himself. "Health to you, Helenus," he said quietly, "I'll see you when we rejoin the army…"
Helenus seemed to awaken for the first time. "Where are you going…?" he asked sharply. "I mean… you can stay here, I suppose… I don't care…"
Again Nireus gave him that odd look, his raised brows the only real indication of what he thought of this gracious invitation. "No," he said decisively, "my uncle is going with the main army, I'd better go and see him tonight…"
And with that he was gone. Helenus began to polish Alexander's armour so hard I thought he would wear it through.
"You should be grateful," Narcissus told him scornfully, "who wants to spend the night freezing in the cold looking at city foundations with a cyclops?"
"Oh shut up!" Helenus snapped at him, turning away. It was the first time I'd ever heard him raise his voice to his brother.
I felt suddenly annoyed at Helenus, though I wasn't quite sure why. Narcissus might be awful but at least he had the courage of his convictions, disagreeable though they might be. Not long after I'd arrived I'd watched him take a whipping for reporting an hour late for duty and he never once cried or complained, either during the beating or after, but had told me quite matter-of-factly that one of his former lovers was being invalided home and he had gone to give him what he called a "worthy send-off." It seemed to me that Helenus had all of his brother's superficiality with none of his charm.
Suddenly I was itching to ask Narcissus more about Alexander's praising my beauty - did he really think the King might want me? But Narcissus had flung on his own cloak and was already on his way out to meet whichever lover he had honoured with his favours that night. Helenus put aside the cuirass and picked up Alexander's sword, polishing it in brooding silence. Some moments later, Bagoas reappeared, walking past us with the faint whiff of sweet Persian perfume, his eyes sweeping scornfully over us before he returned to part of the tent where the other Persian servants gathered and talked their barbaric language.
I felt hatred swell within me. Alexander lavished gifts upon that horrible little thing and let him stand at his elbow when he was meeting with Persians. I had heard that King Darius had had him before Alexander - why did our magnificent leader what something which had fallen out of the bed of a defeated rival? I could understand why he loved Hephaestion, who was so handsome and clever and seemed to love Alexander so much. Absently I wondered how they spent their time alone together. Probably planning strategy and discussing problems. Perhaps talking about their shared childhood. I had heard the camp gossip about them but paid no attention - the two of them still lovers! At their age! People were so spiteful and stupid!
All at once I knew someone was watching me. I looked up, straight at Bagoas. He looked away again quickly, but for a split second I had seen deep and personal hatred in his eyes. My heart fluttered. Would he look at me like that if Alexander didn't really like me? I felt a warm flush of hope. Narcissus had said a few days ago that Alexander was growing bored with his Persian boy, sending for him less and less. I couldn't always trust Narcissus, but suddenly I clung to his words like a drowning man clings to driftwood.
I blinked and sat up at once, startled to find Alexander bending over me. Before I could speak he pressed a finger to my lips, then beckoned me to follow him. I slipped through the partition after him, my heart pounding in my breast. He turned and smiled at me. "Pour me some wine," he said, "unmixed. And take some for yourself…"
"Yes, Sire…" I mumbled. My head was still clogged with sleep, but I managed to keep my hands steady as I went to the dresser and poured the wine, unable to meet his eyes as I handed him the cup.
"To - to your health and glory, Sire," I whispered, raising my cup uncertainly.
"To your fresh beauty, Euxippinus," grinned Alexander. I felt a hot shiver spread through my body. The wine was good; sweet and clear and warming. After several sips, I was finally able to look directly up into Alexander's face.
This moment had been coming for weeks now; I had felt it growing between us like the heat of a slowly smouldering fire. Each day Alexander had grown more attentive, more eager to keep me near him. Small compliments seemed to come from nowhere; small caresses were made as if by accident. Quite often in the evenings since we had left Hephaestion behind, he had asked me to stay a while, to talk or to read to him. My Greek was good, much better than Bagoas', and Alexander seemed to like the way I read.
Yet so far nothing more had come of it. Was he afraid to take what was already his? Was he playing a game with me? Or was he tantalising himself, practising that great self-discipline we had all heard of but which Narcissus dismissed as self-promotion? (Really, I was beginning to wonder why Narcissus hadn't been executed for treason, though the amount of the Companions he had apparently bedded might have had something to do with it.)
Alexander finished his wine and handed me the cup. As I reached to refill it, he stopped me, took my hand from the wine jar and kissed it. Then he touched my cheek with gentle fingers. The intensity in his grey eyes mesmerised me. Sometimes with Hephaestion or the other Companions he could almost be womanish in his lazy, flirtatious manner, luring them in with his wonderful charm and giving out kisses like gifts of gold. Here with me he was completely a man, confident, dominating, demanding. When he finally tilted back my head and kissed my lips, I felt my knees grow weak. But his arms had slipped around me and he was pressing me close and I knew he would not let me fall.
I tried to savour each moment of what happened next, but it was impossible; within moments I was lost in a delirium of love.
Could Bagoas understand Alexander any better than I did? Could he think of incisive and intelligent responses even in the drowsy aftermath of love? Somehow I doubted it. Maybe Alexander didn't care. Maybe to talk was enough, as long as the one lying beside him seemed to be listening. For no reason I suddenly found myself thinking of Hephaestion - Hephaestion who had been educated with Alexander, who apparently received letters from philosophers. Was this what he gave Alexander as they sat up late over their wine - understanding? The thought of Alexander's friend, of those understanding looks the two exchanged, unsettled me, so I drove my thoughts back to Bagoas.
I wanted to be so much more to Alexander than Bagoas was - what were silly arts like dancing, singing, even sexual pleasure to a man who could have any dancer, singer or lover he desired? I wanted to be someone he turned to for comfort, someone he trusted. But lying here next to him, so close to his heart I could feel it's quick beat, I felt quite disconnected - a guest arriving empty handed; no gifts to offer, not even the promise of a return invitation, for what could I promise to give him that he did not already have from me? My life had been his the moment I joined the army, if not from the moment he became king; now he had my body too.
Alexander had just whispered my name. I tensed, realising I had not been listening. He smiled and kissed me. I shifted closer to him, suddenly wanting desperately for him to claim me again; this time I promised myself I would memorise every second. But though he didn't push me away, nor did he seem inclined to more pleasure. So once again my mind wandered.
All at once I could hear the voice of my grandfather, heavy with scorn as usual. "Now listen to me, Euxippinus - you're not much of a man, but until your brothers are older you're the best asset this family has. Oh in the name of Zeus stop pouting like a girl and pay attention! You're a good-looking boy - too good-looking if you ask me; now if you'd just carry yourself like a real man instead of a girl… well, anyway, when you reach the army, the best thing you can do is get yourself an erastes. A respectable one, mind - don't you go throwing yourself at the first dashing young foot soldier who tells you you're pretty! Never forget you come from a good, noble family. Aim for an officer in the Companion Cavalry, for instance. Now don't look at me like that - it doesn't have to be some scarred old veteran; we're not some bloody Athenian prigs, but make sure he's nobly born and has connections you can make use of! Don't forget that in a few years your brothers will be of age and they'll need your influence to get good positions now that your father…" he always said it with such contempt, "…is out of action. Oh, and one other thing, Euxippinus… don't be stupid and go losing your head over the man you choose - or anyone else either, man or woman. No falling in love like a fool - do you understand?"
Well, I'd certainly done what I was told - I'd bagged the highest ranking erastes in the whole army and one who was young, attractive and kind into the bargain. But I still hadn't got things completely right; I was afraid, like a fool, that I was very much in love.
Alexander never told me to leave; he just kissed me, murmuring that it was time he slept, then drew his arm from around me and rolled over, burrowing into the furs. I could have stayed where I was, but somehow I knew that was not what I should do. Silently I retrieved my chiton from the floor and slipped out through the partition to my own cot. Just as I was sliding beneath my own pile of furs I sensed a movement in the shadows and caught the brief, dark glitter of Bagoas' eyes upon me.
Suddenly I was the standard bearer for Macedonian discontent with Persia. Men who had previously teased me as girlish were suddenly praising my charms over Bagoas', declaring I was just what Alexander needed.
Bagoas' star was definitely on the decline; everyone said it. Alexander didn't send him away and he still gave him gifts, but he seemed to treat him more like a doting uncle than a real erastes. He gave me gifts too - beautiful new chitons, gold bracelets, expensive oils, even a new sword with an elaborately decorated scabbard.
It felt wonderful. Never in my life had I felt so loved, not just by my heroic Alexander but by the whole army. Never in my life had I felt that I was so well accepted. I thought of my grandfather with a mixture of pride and contempt. Satisfied now, you old bastard? I would find myself thinking when I left Alexander's bed in the early hours.
There were times when I longed to confide in Alexander about my father, who had been invalided home after Issus. Alexander remembered him when I first arrived; he had said such kind things about his bravery and his comeliness. But I wanted to tell him how cruel my grandfather had been to him when he had returned to Macedon, saying only a coward came back wounded and it would have been better if he had died. I never told Alexander, because he never asked. He rarely asked me anything about myself since he had taken me as his boy.
I still didn't think I really understood him. He didn't seem to have a great appetite for sex, though he didn't lack passion or ability when he took me. I knew he wanted me. The problem was I was not quite sure exactly what it was he wanted from me. Perhaps it was something I couldn't give him or hadn't yet learned to understand, because even when he was making love to me now and then I caught a look of loneliness in his eyes, as if he wasn't really with me. In the end I just took satisfaction in the knowledge that whatever it was, Bagoas couldn't give it to him either, or he would never have turned to me.
My new status gave me a strange and rather dangerous ally in Narcissus. He was in his own way as enigmatic as Alexander, because I had the strangest impression he didn't like Alexander that much. It wasn't a matter of ideology or principles; I began to realise he didn't even dislike Bagoas much, but only teased him because, like Nireus, he was fair game. It was more as if he could see through Alexander with that frightening penetration of his and didn't much care for what he saw. Whatever he could see, I didn't want to know about it. I didn't want anything to tarnish the gold of my beautiful lover.
"What are you, Greek boy?" he demanded in his clear but heavily accented Greek. "You are nothing! Nothing! He will grow tired of you soon enough!"
"As he has with you?" I sneered.
Bagoas tossed his long hair back contemptuously. "He will come back to me. What can you offer him? You have nothing to offer him, to keep him amused! All you can do is bend over like some street whore! You have no training, no grace, no skills, no art…"
"At least I've got balls!"
Bagoas' eyes glittered balefully. "Yes," he hissed, "and soon you will be a man - a soldier, hairy, stinking, scarred and ugly!"
"You're no younger than me," I challenged, "I've heard they stuff clapped out old eunuchs into the harems where they grow querulous and fat!"
"Better that than to die rotting on a battlefield with an arrow in my belly!"
"Better in the belly than in the back, getting shot running away like you Persians!"
"You stinking little whore's aborted bastard!" Bagoas' clever wit apparently deserted him at that point.
"You revolting little freak!" So did mine. "Why, if you were anything like a real man I'd knock you out!"
It was then that Bagoas' fist connected with my cheekbone, knocking me back so hard I fell over a chair. He might not have been a real man, but he certainly packed a punch. Before I could rouse myself to retaliate, Alexander walked in.
"Just what is going on?" he demanded, eyeing us both suspiciously.
I don't know why I did it; but before I could stop myself I had blurted out, "nothing, Sire, I was fixing one of the tent poles and I fell off the chair. Bagoas just came to see I was all right."
Alexander frowned at the welt forming on my cheek. "Get a cold cloth, Bagoas," he said quietly, then with a last look at the two of us, he headed out again. When Bagoas returned with the cold cloth, I sensed he wanted to say something to me. But I didn't want gratitude from him; I didn't want anything that might make me hate him less.
"Sire, why don't you take Helenus instead?" Narcissus had the cheek to protest, "I'm so slow I'll probably get eaten by a lion!"
"That's enough, Narcissus," Alexander grunted, though his spirits were high and his thoughts too distracted to take the Page's whining seriously.
"I don't mind, Sire!" Helenus suddenly cried, stepping forward. "Please, may I go instead?"
Narcissus and I both stared at Helenus. His pretty face was flushed and his eyes were wide and hopeful. What was the matter with him?
"Don't be silly, Helenus," Alexander growled, "it's about time you stopped yapping at your brother's heels like a stray puppy! And don't think I don't know you two boys changed duties the night before we decamped - one more trick like that and I'll whip you both myself! Now get ready, Narcissus!"
"Sire, might I…" I began when the other two retreated. Alexander glanced towards me, absently caressed my face, then headed out of the tent. Tears pricked my eyes, but before I could let them fall, I heard the sound of paper crumpling. In the corner, Helenus threw down a stylus, wiped roughly at his eyes and disappeared outside.
"Cleitos!" Narcissus replied triumphantly, putting his arm around Helenus and leading him over to me. "Now there's a real man! No wasting time on pathetic compliments; he just gets down to it! Don't worry, Euxippinus," he went on merrily, "Alexander hardly looked at the little creep. Hephaestion was the champion of the hunt - he's usually useless, but maybe he was just happy to see Alexander! Or maybe he was trying to impress Nireus… eh, Helenus?" He gave his brother another kiss.
"Oh, shut up," Helenus mumbled, but he seemed more sad than angry.
I searched for Alexander, but Narcissus eventually got round to telling me that the King was dining with Ptolemy and Crateros. That would mean a night of drinking; of him returning to me so drunk he could hardly stand, let alone make love.
Then I saw Bagoas.
He looked different. He looked… plain. I stared at him, wondering if I was imagining it. But no - he wasn't wearing his usually carefully applied makeup and his hair, normally sleek with oil, looked messy. His lovely rainbow clothes were dusty and he seemed tired. He walked past me into Alexander's tent without once acknowledging me, and without leaving behind a delicate cloud of perfume. Without all of his usual poise and his whore's trappings, he looked very young. Frowning, I followed him in, but didn't say anything to him.
Of course Narcissus noticed and made a great fuss of it, showing me it was proof Alexander was bored with Bagoas. He even suggested Bagoas had demanded Alexander get rid of me and the king had rebuked him sharply, or that Bagoas had declared his love for Alexander and been rejected. But he didn't really know and neither did I.
But I didn't have the heart to capitalise on his apparent downfall. What was the point of chasing after an enemy who was running away? I wasn't Alexander, pursuing Darius to the death. Besides, I was beginning to wonder if Alexander was growing bored with me too.
He never took either of us regularly, but since his return from hunting he seemed so distracted and impatient.
Helenus startled me one day by boldly asking Alexander, "Sire, do you know when - when Hephaestion will rejoin the army?"
Alexander scowled at this, though not really at Helenus. "It should be very soon," he said roughly, "it had better be. Damnation, why doesn't he hurry, he knows I…" Then he caught himself and fell silent. "Get on with your work!" he snapped, and Helenus fled.
Hephaestion had retreated to his own tent, but his pages, Admetus, Iason and of course Nireus, were all standing nearby, laughing with the friends who had come to greet them and proudly showing off the bear and wolf skins their commander had given them to wear after the hunt. I heard a soft indrawn breath behind me, and suddenly Helenus slipped past me out of Alexander's tent and ran straight up to Nireus. To my astonishment and the laughter of the others, he threw his arms impulsively around the older boy's neck. Nireus looked hesitant at first; perhaps like me he thought it was some nasty little joke planned by Narcissus. But Helenus was speaking softly and quickly to him, so softly and so quickly that I couldn't hear what was said. As Nireus inclined his head to listen, Helenus suddenly kissed him right on the lips. Wolf whistles erupted, filling the evening air. Iason slapped Nireus companionably upon the back. Obviously embarrassed by the attention, Helenus hid his face in the thick silvery fur draped over Nireus' shoulder. Nireus stroked his hair and tenderly kissed his brow, whispering something to him. Then he glanced over and said something to Admetus, and I saw the sweet, happy smile on his face. And all at once he was transfigured into something beautiful; in a strange, magical way every bit as beautiful as Alexander himself.
Suddenly I was cold and empty amidst so much love and warmth. Because whatever I had done for Alexander, I had never made him smile like that.
I had never much liked any of Hephaestion's pages; Narcissus was right about their being an aesthetically displeasing group – lanky, redheaded Admetus, disfigured Nireus and Iason, a big dark, heavyset boy who the soldiers nicknamed "Cleitos' bastard" and who now, wrapped in that black bearskin, did indeed look like a miniature version of that fearsome commander. But they also had a superior attitude and a devotion to Hephaestion that, if his own devotion to Alexander hadn't been so obvious, might have seemed disloyal to Alexander to the point of mutiny. And it suddenly occurred to me that not one of them gave a damn what anyone else thought of them.
Helenus had apparently managed to cross the lines unharmed; he stood now protectively sheltered by Nireus' arm, smiling in perfect contentment. Nor did Iason and Admetus seem embarrassed when the new lovers stopped to kiss and hold one another; they just laughed with a mixture of fondness and scorn and ignored them. Stupid little Helenus, who I had dismissed as shallow and weak, lost in Narcissus' shadow, had suddenly become someone quietly remarkable, defying all we had been brought up to believe in by offering his beauty to someone who had, on the surface at least, none to offer in return. Had Helenus seen Nireus' smile, somewhere within, long before I had?
Unsettled and confused, I politely rejected their invitation and headed to my bed.
An hour later Alexander reappeared. He hardly noticed me, huddled in my corner; he was holding Hephaestion's arm with both hands and whispering quickly to him. Suddenly he dissolved into high, astonishingly girlish giggles. He was leaning giddily into his friend; his face was flushed and his eyes bright, but for once wine was not the cause. Hephaestion was watching him with dark, predatory eyes. Surely he shouldn't look at Alexander that way anymore; but after all, I could forgive Hephaestion for still desiring him, even if he was far too old to be his beloved anymore. They retreated through the partition and a moment later even the slaves retreated, padding away to seek their own beds.
I tried to concentrate on the book Alexander had given me - a work of Euripides - but my mind wandered again and again. How long would Hephaestion stay? Would Alexander send for me? It had seemed so long since he had…
"Go to sleep," Bagoas' voice came from the shadows. He stepped towards me, holding a lamp. "Or go out with your friends. He will not send for you. He will not send for you for a long time now."
"What do you know about it?" I demanded hotly, "you don't know anything about Alexander, you're just a barbarian!"
Bagoas stared at me for a long time, his face expressionless. Then, quite unexpectedly, he held out his hand. "Come here," he said. In a daze, I let him draw me to my feet. His hand was soft and cold - like a small child's. Moving silently in his soft slippers, he led me over to the partitioning curtain and parted it very slightly. "Look," he whispered in my ear, "and tell me if you know him any better than I."
In spite of myself, I looked.
Hephaestion was leaning back on Alexander's bed. He was completely naked - his body was superb, with long, smooth muscles and sleek golden skin. I stared in dull fascination at his prominent arousal, for a while unable to make sense of what I was seeing. He was smiling and following someone with his eyes. A moment later someone's hands came into view, taking hold of his large manhood and slowly rubbing it with oil while Hephaestion purred like a cat. Perhaps Alexander and Hephaestion were sharing a woman or a boy - I was a little jealous, but I was also pleased that it was not me he wanted to share with his friend. Whatever it was, I shouldn't be watching. What did the disgusting little eunuch think he was doing, showing me this?
And then it happened. Alexander himself appeared, also naked and also erect; he leaned over Hephaestion, kissed him with slow, sensual pleasure on the mouth, then clambered smoothly into his lap and settled himself with the confidence of years of practise onto his friend's erection.
My cry of protest would have disturbed them if Bagoas hadn't been ready for it. His hand slammed over my mouth so hard my lips were crushed back against my teeth. My eyes bulging, I watched with the horrible fascination I might have done an execution.
"He can't…!" I gasped as Bagoas finally released me.
"He is Great Iskander," Bagoas replied in a cold whisper, "he can do whatever he wants."
I forced myself to tear my eyes away from the scene, to look at the Persian boy, who remained fixed upon the lovers. "You saw this. On the hunting trip…"
Bagoas barely nodded, then said suddenly, "how do they look to you, Greek boy?"
Trembling, I looked at Alexander and Hephaestion again. Alexander was gently rocking against Hephaestion's hips; Hephaestion had one arm around him, softly stroking his back; his other hand slowly caressed Alexander's manhood. They gazed into each others eyes so steadily I would swear neither one blinked. Then, as if linked in mind as well as body, they leaned towards one another and kissed deeply. "I love you…" Alexander whispered, though he didn't need to. It was expressed in his eyes, his face, the very movements of his body. Hephaestion only smiled at him, but it was a smile any man would give his life to receive.
"They look… perfect," I croaked. "Beautiful…"
"And Iskander himself, Greek boy? How does he look to you now?"
"He looks…" I had to swallow hard to rid myself of the constriction in my throat. "He looks happy… he looks… like he's in love!"
That seemed to satisfy Bagoas; he let the curtain drop and helped me to move away, so blinded was I by the tears filling my eyes. "I love him…!" I heard myself cry.
"Then you are a fool," Bagoas said flatly.
I glared at him, wanting it to be all his fault, wanting to hate him because I couldn't hate Alexander. "You felt something for him too, Bagoas - I saw it! When he – when he and I… it mattered to you, it was more than just losing your place!"
"If it mattered, it was only in passing," he replied in the same toneless voice. "It is a mistake to love a man like that. He feeds off your love and in return he seems to fill your cup to overflowing with sweet wine. But when you look down you see your cup is filled only with water. He saves the good wine for… that one." He nodded bitterly towards the curtain. "Of course we have other uses too… I make him appear a real man to the Persians, you to the Greeks…"
"No!" I whimpered, "you don't know that! How can you know that?"
"I watch," he replied tonelessly, "while you were playing with wooden swords and killing pigs with javelins out in some scrubland, I was learning to watch. There is no greater survival skill I know." He frowned as he studied my face, then startled me by wiping away my tears. "You should not cry. It reddens the eyes and makes them unattractive, especially blue ones like yours." Then he confused me even more by drawing me back to the curtain and parting it once more. "Look at them… Euxippinus. There is nothing wrong with admiring perfection… that is something the Great King told me when I complained that his courtiers stared at me… and he was a wise man."
I watched and listened in silence, knowing he wasn't talking about Alexander. The lovers continued obliviously, not hurrying though the intensity of their passion was so clear on their faces, hands and lips gently caressing one another's bodies, perfect trust between them. I saw Alexander close his eyes as Hephaestion grasped his hips and pushed himself harder inside of him; but there was no pain, no indignance on the King's face, only pure ecstasy. Studying them, desire rose in me like a fever. In spite of my misery I felt I could have watched them forever. Frantically I forced myself to turn away, straight into Bagoas' arms.
For a moment I just held his slender body, not knowing whether I wanted comfort or love or just protection from what I had just seen. At last I mastered myself long enough to look into his eyes; without knowing why, I leaned down and kissed him.
He accepted my kiss with a small, crooked smile, quite unlike the beautiful ones he saved for Alexander yet somehow much more natural – a boy's smile, one I could recognise and understand. As if in a dream, I took his hand and lead him out of Alexander's tent.
"They've done it, they've come back to get warm, and when little sleepy-head wakes up they'll do it again," Iason declared as dispassionately as if he was organising a duty roster. Then his large black eyes fixed upon Bagoas.
"Alexander didn't need us tonight," I said with sudden force. "He's with Hephaestion."
Iason just nodded with the same pragmatism. So they knew. Maybe they had always known. What a fool I felt. Iason continued to stare at Bagoas, then held out the wine jar to him. "There's still some meat left," he said to him, "are you hungry?"
Reluctantly, Bagoas nodded, and the two of us took our places around the fire.
As the time wore on and the wine was finished off, a lazy, comfortable silence settled over us. With gentle patience Nireus helped up his tipsy, giggling new beloved and led him off into the shadows with a friendly wink in my direction. A few moments later Admetus and Iason exchanged an odd glance, then the two of them rose and wandered away, their arms close about one another. The fox and the bear, I mused dreamily as I watched them go, who would have thought it?
Suddenly shy of being alone with Bagoas, who was staring intensely into the fire, I glanced at him and said quickly, "why don't you teach me some Persian?"
His delicately sculpted brows rose as he turned to look at me. "Very well," he said, and shifted just a little closer.
He taught me a few other things besides Persian that night, though nothing either of us felt the need to report to our king. Suffice it to say, in spite of our many differences in race, culture, language, upbringing and social standing we somehow managed to find a small patch of common ground – we were after all both boys, lonely and starved of real love. Perhaps I should have felt ashamed of myself, but actually I awoke the next morning feeling rather pleased – for once I had something I could keep, something no-one else knew about or had given me or could take away from me. Not even Alexander.