|If Change Must Come
Author: moon71 PM
When Alexander considers taking a new lover, Hephaestion turns to someone special for some advice...Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Drama/Romance - Words: 5,766 - Reviews: 11 - Favs: 11 - Follows: 1 - Published: 06-29-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3624413
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IF CHANGE MUST COME by Moon71
SUMMARY: When Barsine enters Alexander's life, Hephaestion turns to his father for advice.
DEDICATION: For Marina, for translating my stories into Russian and just for being so nice to me (and to Hylas, my first O/C.) Hylas and Amyntor in one story, what more could you ask for?
DISCLAIMER: Oh get on with you, do you really think I think I own Alexander the Great? Or perhaps that I am Alexander the Great? Or Napoleon for that matter?
NOTES: HA HA HA HAAAH, you didn't think this was about Bagoas did you? Well no, you probably didn't. I hope this doesn't come across as some sort of pastiche of the infamous wedding scenes in the film – I wanted to show a much younger, less war-hardened Hephaestion wondering how to deal with change (as opposed to a veteran of the violent and prolonged Bactrian campaigns blubbing because his boyfriend… oh sorry, been there, done that… I'll shut up now.
EXCEPT TO SAY: Sorry for the long drought – the well has not run dry, the bucket was just a bit cracked. In plain English, I haven't been "doing time" or anything, I was having trouble getting around to the final edits on some completed stories. Couldn't make my mind up about this one in particular, so I thought I'd just post it and let my loyal readers decide!
Greetings to my dearest father Amyntor from your loving son Hephaestion
May the gods continue to smile upon you and all of our family…
I know you will excuse me for using our cipher for this letter when you have learned its content. I have also enclosed a letter for the eyes of my mother and sisters with all the usual news and fond greetings, but there is a matter I can discuss only with you, and trust as always what I am about to relate will go no further.
You know, of course, that the Persian Royal Family are now under Alexander's protection. You might not know that among those present at the Royal Court in Damaskhos when General Parmenion arrived to take control was the lady Barsine, princess of the Royal House of Persia, daughter of Artabarzus and widow of General Memnon of Rhodes. Parmenion will soon be returning to the main army and Lady Barsine has agreed to accompany him. She will of course be extremely useful to us with her closeness to the mother and sisters of King Darius as well as her extensive knowledge of both Persian court etiquette and Persian nobility. But that is not the main reason Parmenion has been so attentive to her.
As you know, one of General Parmenion's ongoing preoccupations has been the matter of the succession. Alexander's reluctance to marry – as the General sees it – is a threat to the stability of both Macedon and our continuing campaign in Persia. Of late he has been more outspoken on another matter which, were he not so deeply respected by all, I doubt he would have the courage to speak – the matter of Alexander himself. Let me speak freely, beloved Father, for after all what Parmenion has dared to express is not far from concerns I have confided in you before now. He worries – and I cannot help but worry too – that people are questioning Alexander's virility, his ability to function as a man and to provide heirs. Of course Alexander is defiant – he knows what he is or is not capable of; he knows both his own mind and his own body. And as you well know he hates to be told what to do and when to do it.
Let me spare your pains and get to the heart of the matter, where I suspect you are already waiting impatiently for me! Parmenion wants Alexander to take Barsine as his mistress. He might have Alexander offer her marriage, and she is hardly unworthy of it, but she does have children from her previous marriages and this is an unwanted complication. A private and respectable arrangement has been discussed, one I do not think the lady or her father would find in any way degrading.
Politically the match could not be faulted, for all the reasons I have stated above. More than that, Barsine's Greek education, her Greek marriages, her time spent in Macedon and even her ability to adapt to the life of the army camp all speak in her favour. Alexander remembers her with lasting affection and notes that his sisters loved her deeply and grieved when she and her father left Macedon; even Olympias appears to have loved her.
Still, Alexander hesitates. He has agreed to her coming to us, of course, and to receiving her personally. He often speaks of her fondly; he remembers her as a girl, older than him certainly but still a girl who wore beautiful clothes and smelled of exotic Eastern perfumes, who sat him on her lap, fed him honey-cakes and sang songs to him in Persian. By all accounts she has grown into a gracious, intelligent and beautiful woman, with all of the energy, adaptability and resilience which characterises her remarkable father. As Alexander puts it, she is "a survivor." I know he would like very much to see her again and is not in any way repulsed by the idea of taking her as a lover; he discusses the matter with me with apparent openness. Yet he is reluctant to give his absolute agreement. Part of this is just his wilful refusal to be governed – he would not have it said that he took a woman on Parmenion's instruction! But there is more to his hesitance than that, and I am afraid that part of it is to do with me.
Let me open my heart to you, Father – I am afraid that Alexander holds back because of me. Even if I lied outright about our continuing involvement you would see through me so there is no point in denial. Alexander is still my lover. But should he be? Does he think he should be? I worry that he fears he will lose my love if he denies me his bed. It is not so, it could never be so, but you know Alexander almost as well as I do – for all he is a king, a conqueror as yet undefeated, he still has that need for love he had when he was a boy. Perhaps the decision is too difficult for him to make and I should make it for him. Should I offer to step aside? Should I even go so far as to refuse to lie with him? Even if Alexander has none of the fears I charge him with, I worry still that his feelings for me hinder his making a decision about Barsine.
I am not totally naïve, Father – I know that his taking her as a lover will not automatically mean the end of our involvement. But it will bring change, change I am perhaps not yet ready for. I do not believe a man could ever love a woman as he could another man, but he could – perhaps should? – come to prefer one sexually. Alexander places so much importance on his own abstemiousness; for so long he has been almost blind to the charms of women and his liaisons with willing youths have been few, but taking Barsine will surely change him…
I am ashamed of my selfishness, yet I cannot put it aside as easily as I should. I do not want change to come. A part of me resents anyone who will see Alexander under the spell of Eros as I have. But far more than that, what I fear is the loss of Alexander's attention. For so long it has seemed that the sunlight and the warmth that radiates from Alexander has shone on me brighter on me than on any other. I alone still feel free to speak my mind to him, no matter how violently I might disagree with him. I alone have seen him at his weakest moments. It has been me he has chosen to share both his fears and his greatest joys. I know many have resented me the position I hold, but I have never cared. If anything I have thrived on their jealousy! Perhaps I have been spoiled by so much time in the sun, but I am not yet ready to return to the shadows.
Alexander trusts my opinion. So far I have not given it, only encouraged him to decide for himself. My duty, my loyalty to Macedon, my belief in the Persian Campaigns, even my continuing respect for the memory of King Philip, tells me that I should actively encourage Alexander to form this alliance with Barsine. Yet so far I have not done so. Please, Father, write quickly to me; I have never needed your guidance more.
Your devoted son, Hephaestion
My Dearest son Hephaestion,
I send you a father's blessings, and the wish that the gods will protect and keep both you and our Sovereign King Alexander of Macedon
Thank you for your letter; as always, your discretion is commendable and your faith in your father delights his heart.
In my opinion Barsine is an excellent choice for Alexander. I did not know her well in Macedon, though I did have the pleasure of conversation with her noble father. Any ideas I might once have entertained about the barbarity of the Persians were dismissed when I met him. They are different from us in so many ways, and war between the East and the West seems the continuing will of the gods. If Macedon is to grow and to control Hellas, Alexander's campaign must continue. But any who are foolish enough dismiss the Persians as beneath us deserve the fate the blindly arrogant so often meet!
I believe your assessment of the political situation is quite correct and I have nothing to add on that score that worthy Parmenion will not already have mentioned. Let me make myself useful instead by answering the real question you have asked.
You speak of fear, and of change. But change cannot be avoided. You, of all people, should know that now. Your life changed the day I sent you to Mieza. It changed again when you became a Royal Page and served King Philip, yet again when the magnificent cruelty of the fates took him from us and your beloved Alexander became King of Macedon. Each time I have seen you face change with a brave heart and an open mind. I know you have felt fear each time, but that has not hindered you, nor should it now.
My dearest child, if change must come, receive it graciously, unmarred by resentment, anger, embarrassment or bitter reproaches. Rejoice in change – the change you yourself have helped to bring. When he allies himself to Barsine, when, by the will of the gods, she bears his sons, your dear boy will be seen as a man in front of the world and you will have helped to make him one. You yourself have said he discusses the matter with you, wants to know that you approve. Do not make the mistake of using his love and his trust against him – you have never done so before, do not start now over a matter which you will soon find so trivial.
I know you fear the end of your intimacy with Alexander. Let me simplify the matter for you. I know Alexander has so often treated you as a brother, as an equal in everything but his sovereignty. But he is still your king and you are still his subordinate. The decision is not yours to make. If you are a true friend to him you will allow Alexander to make it, and accept whatever decision he makes. My words might seem harsh, but consider them and you will see that they offer you not chastisement but solace. If you do as your best judgement tells you, if you give Alexander the support he asks for (for surely, my dear, it is your support, not your approval, the king is really asking for!), and do no more, but place yourself in his hands and the hands of the gods, then whatever the result, your heart will remain pure - and your conscience clear!
I will not fill your head full of false hopes; nor will I torment you with unnecessary doubts. The Alexander I knew best was a comely, engaging youth, so serious and so passionate in all matters, eager to love and to be loved, capricious of temper but not fickle of heart. You are in a far better position to know the man who is leading you now – and to best predict how change will touch your relationship with him.
Your loving father, Amyntor
My dearest, most beloved father Amyntor
Truly I believe you possess the wisdom of aged Nestor and youthful Patroklos combined… Allow me to begin where I left off in my last letter.
Having read your letter, I went at once to Alexander and, without confessing the reasons for my reticence, told him that I felt he should court Barsine and if she was agreeable, take her as his woman, but that of course I would stand by him whatever he did. I think he was a little startled by my sudden enthusiasm, but of course you were quite right – as soon as he heard what I had to say, he relaxed and seemed happier about the whole arrangement. I was quite surprised when after that, he did not even mention it again until Barsine arrived with Parmenion.
I was a lot more surprised when, after she had been with us for two days, Alexander announced his intention to call upon her – and asked me to come with him! I felt awkward and said so, but he pointed out that he was not planning to speak of love to her, but only to welcome her as an old friend and a woman of high rank. Already her presence has been a great comfort to the family of Darius and that alone deserved his personal thanks.
I am glad that he brought me with him, not least because I found her company so pleasant. She strikes me as everything Parmenion and Alexander have said and more. She is certainly of high intelligence and fine breeding, but more than that, I think her nature is gentle and warm - maternal, perhaps, without being discouragingly matronly; but also responsive without being wanton. Above all I think she is kind, and Alexander will need kindness as well as tact and discretion. As to her person – I would not describe her as a mortal Aphrodite, though her face is very pleasing; she has the figure of a woman who has kept her appetites modest, but who has obviously borne children. It is her manner, however, which attracts – her Greek is nearly perfect, and she has obviously kept herself well informed about Macedon and about Alexander's family. She has a quick but gentle wit, and seems good-humoured, and her graciousness is beyond question.
When we left her, Alexander asked me what I thought. Without hesitation I said again that I thought he should take her. "She will be good for you," was what I actually said, and Alexander simply nodded and smiled.
The next time he called upon her, he went alone. Alexander's courtship of Barsine, daughter of Artabarzus, is now underway…
It came as no surprise that Barsine accepted Alexander's approaches. While I think she has a strong enough character to refuse both Alexander and Artabarzus if she cared to, I had a sense that she was a logical woman and also one who would not wish to retire to the obscurity of the harem when a more interesting alternative was available.
Inept fool that I was, in my nervousness I mentioned her late husband Memnon when I met her – not, I would swear, to embarrass either Barsine or Alexander, but because both Alexander and Father had spoken of Memnon with such admiration and I myself had heard of his brilliance. I offered my sympathy at her loss, and she received it warmly, without awkwardness. Alexander only smiled a little wryly at me. Privately, he has told me that though Artabarzus and Parmenion have both been at pains to dismiss the marriage as another political arrangement, he feels that Barsine genuinely loved him.
After that we discussed many things of an impersonal nature – Persian politics, cultural differences, Barsine's recollections of Macedon when her family fled there from Persia. I should not really have been surprised by her intellect, not with her aristocratic pedigree and courtly education and her eventful life, but the unsentimental incisiveness of her talk contrasted quite sharply with that seemingly natural air of gentle, feminine complaisance. Barsine is no fool, no mere pawn in the political games of men. And I have a sense she would not make the mistake Alexander's mother to often did – of trying to master Alexander, of demanding instead of asking, of shouting instead of cajoling. An interesting woman. In with the detached eye of a student of Aristotle, there is a part of me which would like to see just how these two strong but contrasting personalities will come together.
So, seven days after the courtship began, Alexander went to spend his first night with Barsine. He wanted me to be present when he dressed himself for the evening and I wanted to be there. The matter was hardly a secret after all – I could not help but pity the lovers, with the entire camp buzzing with gossip about their liaison and each and every soldier, clerk, engineer, trader, artisan, wife, mistress, whore and slave knowing where Alexander was going that night. We called for no privacy and got none – not only was Parmenion hovering, but Artabarzus, the anxious father, was apparently waiting to take Alexander to his daughter. All we got time for was a smile and a quick press of hands, though it meant everything to me.
The feelings I had that evening were very strange. I still do not completely understand them!
I felt a little jealousy, of course; but not a violent jealousy, perhaps because it had no focus. I could not resent Alexander, and, since I had met her, I could not resent Barsine either. I had seen something in her eyes that day, something I could not confess even to Father. I saw loneliness, I think; I know so little of women and what matters to them, but Barsine has been a widow for over a year, and perhaps she misses the companionship of a man. But that loneliness was tempered by hope, even by expectation. And then I saw something else… something that might just have been pity… was it for Alexander? For me? At any rate I was jealous – I did not care to think even of the gentle Barsine showing Alexander the delights only a woman could offer. This I dismissed quickly.
I felt envy too – absurd, but there it is. I wanted to be the one who Alexander came to that night. Ungrateful wretch that I am, it is a wonder the gods haven't struck me down for my shameless greed! I have been thoroughly spoilt by my chaste, abstemious lover! How many nights with Alexander will be enough for me? This I laughed off scornfully.
I dismissed other feelings too – doubts about my status with the army, the gossip and the snide remarks which I knew I would encounter. They wouldn't be worse than what poor Barsine would experience soon enough. But beneath all the armour of useless, petty worries, I found loneliness and uncertainty, and these were harder to dismiss. Whatever happened, Alexander would never be quite as mine as he had been up until this night…
In fairness to my friends, I received several invitations to drinking parties that night. Parmenion's family were particularly warm to me – I think the old man was relieved I had not put up a fuss! But I was in no mood to make a public spectacle of myself, so after sharing a couple of cups of wine with Erigyius and Laomedon I returned to my tent with the intention of getting privately and blissfully drunk.
I had given all four of my pages the night off, but I had expected them to disperse to their families and friends. Instead I found them all seated on the floor of my tent playing knucklebones. My first instinct was to order the lot of them away, but suddenly I found I did not want to get drunk on my own, so, to their amazement, I sank to my knees amongst them. They are an odd little group, I know, but each has proven his worth many times, and after two cups of unmixed wine I felt a sudden rush of affection for them.
"Knucklebones!" I said scathingly to them, "a stupid boy's game! It's about time you played a game for men!" And for no reason I can possibly recall, I suggested kottabos. The boys gaped at me, their eyes bulging, and I saw a strange look passed around the group. But they fetched the wine and six cups, one to flick the drops of wine into, and we each drank off a cup before the game began.
It was the strangest game of Kottabos I have ever played. Everybody won every time, except me. And everyone chose me to kiss. And kiss me they did with quite ridiculous enthusiasm, even Nireus and Iason who were old enough to know better. But we laughed together, and we got drunk together, and I told them stories of the scrapes Alexander and I got into when we were carefree boys. As the evening drew on, I looked at each one of them with the sentimental gaze of a besotted uncle, rhyming their names off in my head – Nireus, Iason, Admetus, Hylas. The wolf, the bear, the fox and the… what? What exactly was Hylas? Suddenly, as if I was back in Aristotle's lessons, I felt a desperate need to classify him. A shy boy of thirteen tender years. A rabbit? No, if that was so the three predators would have devoured him by now. As I watched him, he yawned and stretched lavishly, then curled up his boyishly supple legs beneath him and slumped giddily against Nireus' arm. A cat? Hylas closed his eyes as the older boy absently stroked his golden hair. A lion cub…? My mind reeled.
I remember little of the rest of the evening. All I know is that I woke up the next morning in my bed, mercifully fully clothed, with Hylas in one arm, Admetus in other, and the heads of Nireus and Iason pillowed against my thighs. I disentangled myself with the skill of one used to slipping out a bed without disturbing the sleeper (I still seethe when I remember Alexander joking that I would make a marvellous hetaera) and stumbled outside into the crisp dawn air, fighting down a rising nausea and an urge to look towards Alexander's tent to see if I could guess whether he was still with Barsine. Finding a camp stool, I sank down onto it and rested my head in my hands.
A cold little hand on the back of my neck awakened me. I turned to find Hylas gazing down at me with anxious blue eyes. His cheeks were flushed, his breathing was a little unsteady and I could see he was still quite tipsy, in spite of the fact that his movements were measured, even graceful, as he crouched down before me. "Hephaestion," he said so softly I could hardly hear him. I gazed at him expectantly and he inhaled deeply. "Hephaestion there is something I must have you know!" Mildly intrigued, I told him to speak freely. He swallowed and ducked his head. "I love you!" he said.
Perhaps, had I been sober and had the circumstances not been so bizarre, I might have given a more intelligent answer. As it was, all I could offer the poor boy was a sad smile. "I know that, Hylas," I said.
As it turned out, this was exactly the right thing to say. Hylas smiled in relief. "I'm so glad," he said, "I felt it was important that you should…" He didn't add "tonight of all nights" though he might have done. He just leaned forward and kissed me, right on the lips. I might have enjoyed it more if my lips weren't already sore from all the rough kisses I had received that evening. I knew I could take him to my bed so easily – once I'd got the others out of it – but I felt no need of it; instead I embraced him, then told him to fetch furs for both of us. When he returned, I wrapped them about both of us and let him huddle close to me, his arms about my waist, his cheek pressed against my belly. His hands never strayed; he talked no more of love and made no suggestion he wanted anything else. When I looked down into his eyes I saw perfect contentment.
And perhaps, after all, Hylas has given me the answer, the way to accept any change that will come for Alexander and me. Perhaps happiness and peace can be found in the simplest way – perhaps it can be enough to be in the presence of the beloved, to be able to attend him and care for him and ease his troubles, and ask for nothing in return except for the beloved to acknowledge that what you do for him, you do not out of duty, but out of love. Surely more the sentiments of a loving wife than a Macedonian warrior, but there is a strange comfort in such a notion…
"You know, now I think about it, you do look so much like your father Nicanor," I observed. I don't know why I'd never mentioned it to him before – Alexander is always so much better at these things than I am. Then again, maybe it was Hylas' initial resemblance to Alexander at his age that distracted me. That resemblance is really only superficial; the one I saw that night was far more substantial and I suspect it will only increase as the boy becomes a man. "Nicanor son of Telemachus was a very handsome man…"
"Do you really remember my father?" Hylas asked me softly.
I nodded. When I caught a look of faint scepticism in my Page's eye, I added, "oh, I admit I didn't recall his name until Alexander reminded me, but I remember how he looked. A comely golden haired giant, with fierce, deep blue eyes… but with kind smile and such a low, gentle voice. Well, am I right?"
The briefest glimpse of blue eyes brimming with tears confirmed the accuracy of my recollection before Hylas quickly turned away. Pretending I had not noticed his reaction I continued airily, "it isn't as strange as it sounds that I shoulder remember him… don't forget that I cut my teeth at Chaeronea, just like Alexander. We'd been in skirmishes before, but never like that. The Companion Cavalry were like gods to us – how Alexander and I admired them! We spent every moment we could watching them train and I would swear between the two of us we'd memorised every name, every face and every horse! Your father rode a pure white stallion…"
"Snow," Hylas breathed, "His name was Snow. He died at Chaeronea too…"
I did not reply to that. What could I say that had not been said a hundred times? Instead, I told him of my own experiences of the battle. "I was so scared I nearly shat myself when the call came for us to advance," I said frankly. "The Sacred Band were right – I only appreciated how right after that battle. The only thing that stopped me turning tail and running all the way back to Macedon was the thought of appearing a coward before – before the one I loved…"
And so I rattled on until the other boys awoke and it was time to start the day…
To my dearest, most respected father Amyntor,
Allow your neglectful son to apologise for not writing sooner. The army is on the move once more and my duties have increased yet again...
Barsine has now been accepted by all, at least as much as one close to Alexander will be accepted by those who wish to be closer. Alexander spent seven nights in a row with her before sending for me on the afternoon of the eighth. I made no attempt to see him during the days between – I am sure he would have received me with the greatest warmth, but I considered your advice and decided to let the King decide when the time was right. I was glad to see he looked both happy and relaxed. He told me that I was right – that Barsine was good for him. He said nothing more about personal matters between them – another man might have bragged of it, but you know that is not Alexander's way. Instead he talked about how he hoped their alliance would aid the progress of our campaigns and all the information and advice Barsine had been able to supply! I found myself feeling a great sympathy for Barsine as he talked – she is the latest to learn the battle Eros must fight with Ares for the attention of Alexander!
As for myself, I am content, thanks, in great part, to the wisdom of you, my dear father Amyntor…
There seemed no point in giving any more detail to Father of my "reunion" with Alexander – all is well, that is what he would want to hear, and the rest he will know, sooner or later, without my having to tell him.
When I arrived in Alexander's tent that afternoon, he smiled as he always does and held out his hands to me. I pressed them warmly and leaned down to place a chaste kiss upon his cheek – it seemed suddenly the right thing to do – but Alexander turned and took the kiss on his lips. Before I could draw back he had thrown his arms about my neck and suddenly we were kissing as lovers once again.
We said nothing – we did not discuss our future relations at all. When we finally parted and Alexander reclined upon his couch, calling for wine, all he said was, "I like Barsine. I could learn to care for her very much, and not just as a lover. You were right, Hephaestion; she is good for me."
"She must have been," I joked, "If she held your attention for seven nights!"
Alexander, however, did not laugh. "I needed those nights," he said, "the first night… it wasn't easy."
I began with great delicacy, "but you were able to…"
He cut me off with a nod. "Oh, yes, yes… but my thoughts wandered, sometimes. To you." He would not meet my eyes.
I thought I would have been pleased, but all I could think of was the gentle Barsine with her dark and rather lonely eyes. I told him it would take time, that Alexander would feel more eagerness for her company when he had come to know her better – as a man to a woman, not a boy to a girl. Alexander scoffed at this, making reference to the virility and the many marriages and liaisons of King Philip. When Philip had to marry for political reasons, he did not waste time dallying and romancing with his bride. "No," I said, "it was not Philip's way… but it is Alexander's…"
I was for taking supper with him and then returning to my tent, but Alexander insisted I stay. I could see his rising anxiety and realised that any objections I might make could look like petulance or churlishness, neither of which I was feeling, so I stayed the night with him and shared his bed and laughed silently at myself as I wondered if anything had really changed at all.
But, to an extent at least, I must see that change does happen. I will not deny Alexander my loving; that, as Father said, is Alexander's decision and he has made it. But I can see I must encourage him towards Barsine – he is so easily distracted by other things and I think he will neglect his duty to her if he can, impatient as he is with what he thinks is time idly spent. He must be given time and space to grow used to her, perhaps even to love her, for the benefit of us all.
For, in the end, I have shared Alexander all my life – with the demands of his parents, with the Court of Macedon, with the army, with his dreams of glory and conquest, even with his unspoken rivalry with the gods. If I can do that, and still keep his heart, then surely I can give just a little more ground to share him with the gracious Lady Barsine.