Preface: This is a follow-up to "Breaking Rules," although this story isn't dependent except for background about Alexander and Hephaistion's relationship. In that story, I stated the guys were sharing digs and had been for a while. Yet we know that Hephaistion, while in Sidon, asked his hosts (who were apparently different from Alexander's) to help him choose a new king for the city. This is my attempt to explain what happened. So yeah, it's not the happiest tale.
The /R/ is for language, not sex; they're soldiers, they have potty mouths. This is probably not as bad as they'd actually be, with an f-bomb every third word.
"It's time to grow the fuck up, son."
Alexander faced off with the Old Man. "I'm not marrying the fucking queen. She has a husband, and he's still alive. I promised to give her back. If he surrenders."
Parmenion made a disgusted noise. "He won't surrender for a woman, even his wife. He probably assumes you've already eaten that dinner anyway."
"His mother can assure him I haven't. Shit. I won't commit adultery with another man's wife." Aristotle would be appalled.
"Then take the widow. Don't marry her, though. She's been through two men already and she's too old. But keeping her as your pallake"—a formal mistress—"would work. We know she's fertile. She gave brats to Mentor and Memnon both. And she speaks Greek."
"And her brother is commanding Darius's fleet. You think if I bed her, he'll surrender?"
"Not any more than Darius, but he might not hit Antigonos as hard, up in Ionia."
Alexander turned away and paced, hands on hips. They were alone in an upstairs room of the house Alexander had commandeered after Byblos's surrender. It reminded him more of houses he'd seen in Athens or Corinth, or even Ephesos or Miletos, than in Macedonia. External walls were whitewashed plaster under a red-tile roof, and wide doors caught afternoon breezes off the sea. A large courtyard held garden flowers and a pair of date palms in the center; he'd had ripe dates from the fall harvest every night since coming here. In this upstairs room, frescos of blue, red, and yellow decorated the walls, floral themes or wild-animal hunts, and there were two tables and a writing desk, plus two large chests in a corner, one full of precious papyrus, and a ceiling-high cabinet for book scrolls.
The house had been the office of the king of Byblos, or "kinglet," really. The Tyrian cities were loosely confederated, each with its own ruler, confirmed by the Persian Great King. But like the Greek cities-states, they quarreled in their mercantile ventures as often as they cooperated. Byblos monopolized papyrus, Sidon glass, and Tyre the much-sought-after purple dye. But all of them had harbors and Alexander intended to seal those harbors against the Persian fleet—either by voluntary surrender, or by siege. Byblos had been smart; they'd surrendered. Alexander hoped both Sidon and Tyre would follow suit.
This wasn't the first time Parmenion had spoken to him about Darius's women. He'd been harping on it since he'd captured them with the rest of Darius's train at Damascus, and Alexander had kept putting him off, procrastinating.
The king wasn't an idiot. He knew he needed an heir even though he'd refused to marry before embarking on the Persian campaign despite both Antipatros and Parmenion encouraging him to do so. But they'd hoped to marry him to one of their daughters, giving them a stronger hold on him, which was exactly why he'd refused. He supposed he could have married both girls; his father had married his first five wives in his first five years on the throne. But his father also hadn't had any problem keeping five wives busy, either.
Alexander liked women. He liked talking to them, more than most men did, in fact. He just didn't like fucking them. He was perfectly capable, had proved it on several occasions, but it wasn't his preference. When he'd been younger, he'd assumed that might change. Most men went from youths and boys to women, settled down, got married, had kids, maybe kept a mistress on the side or the occasional boyfriend. Alexander had figured he'd be like anybody else, albeit with more wives because he'd need to make political marriages like his father and grandfather.
Except as he'd aged, girls hadn't begun to entice him more. And when naked gymnasts or dancers appeared at supper parties, it wasn't pert, bouncing, pink-tipped breasts that caught his eye, and it wasn't images of men fucking prostitutes on wine cups that aroused him. His own, which Hephaistion had given him, was a large, tooled silver palm cup with a relief medallion in the bottom of a beardless youth climbing atop an older boy with a raging hard-on, all revealed when the wine was gone. And if the images looked a little like the two of them, well, Hephaistion—the lecher—had clearly commissioned it, not found it at market.
After his father's murder and his own rise to the throne, he'd begun to understand the parade of people through his father's bedchamber. Philip hadn't dared give too much attention to any single person, or fall in love with one who might try to exercise power over him. Alexander's solution had been to cling to Hephaistion, his old love, even if they'd renegotiated what they were doing. But somewhere in the last few years, he'd realized that his choice wasn't just because it was easier, or because he could trust Hephaistion.
Alexander preferred men. And men, too, not boys, which was why none of his Pages appealed. He hadn't wanted a boy since he'd been a boy. That wasn't going to change.
He'd thought he could put this off longer. And maybe, somewhere in the back of his head, he had still been hoping his desires would suddenly transform to meet expectations: he'd "grow up," as Parmenion had so bluntly put it.
He crossed to look out the door onto the balcony but didn't exit. He could see the sea from here, a hazy wine-deep hue in the distance. Seagulls screamed overhead and the sky was partly overcast, sun breaking through now and then to stream onto the dirty streets of the port city, flush with people going about their business. Behind him, Parmenion stayed quiet, letting him wrestle with his demons.
The Old Man could be uncomfortably blunt, but he was right. In half a year, Alexander would be twenty-five. By this age, his father had already produced two children, one a boy, although Arrhidaios had turned out unhealthy. Alexander himself had been born when his father was just twenty-six. And if he certainly hoped he'd live long enough to see more gray hair in the mirror than blond, most Macedonian kings died on the young side.
So he needed to do something about an heir, even if only a bastard stop-gap. He didn't want to, but he did a lot of things he didn't want to do. He rarely wanted to get up at dawn and go running, but he did. Every single day, he took a run, unless there was a battle in the offing. Even on the march, he'd run beside a chariot, leaping up into it now and then to rest. His men knew he could run any of them into the ground, or match them in battle stamina.
He also read all his own mail, didn't leave it to secretaries. He might not personally answer all of it, but he answered a lot, especially to officers he'd left in his rear, or to Antipatros and others back in Macedonia. It was tedious, but he did it because he knew it meant something to a man for his king to reply in his own hand. They risked their necks for him on the battlefield because he talked to them off of it.
He didn't like dealing with bureaucracy either; it was deadly boring, like this formal dinner he had to attend tonight with the Byblos City Council. Herakles save him from a bunch of dinner speeches from old men who'd done nothing more exciting in their lives than pontificate in the Assembly about their own family's wealth and influence. Yet again, it was necessary. Cities, and armies, didn't run themselves. Nor did empires. If he wanted to win one, he'd also have to manage it.
And there might be a good reason to die in glorious battle, like Achilles. No more bureaucracy.
He snorted at the thought.
In any case, and as Aristotle had taught him—and his father, too, for that matter—a successful man disciplined himself to do what he didn't want to do in pursuit of his larger goal. Alexander was a master of discipline.
Turning back finally, he uncrossed arms and approached Parmenion, who'd rested one hip on the side of a table. "I should have someone formally negotiate for me, give her a proper contract." A mistress might not be a wife, but she wasn't some common prostitute or even hetaira. "I don't want to insult her; she's a fucking satrap's daughter. Her father is with her brother and the navy, but I suppose the Persian Queen Mother could act as a stand-in."
"You want me to handle it?"
"If you would." Alexander looked up at him. The Old Man wasn't as tall as Hephaistion, or his own son Philotas, but he was still taller than Alexander even when propped on a table. Most men were. Alexander had got over it on the day they'd all passed between the halves of a cut dog and swore fealty to him as King of Macedon. "I suppose I could do it myself, but I'm under thirty. You were my father's best friend. You can stand in as my father."
Nodding, Parmenion clapped Alexander on the shoulder. "I'd be honored, son. Fuck her silly and get her pregnant. We're low on Temenids at the moment."
Alexander made a face. "Ironic, given how much fucking my father did." Which was true. With Philip's reputation one would have expected him to be swimming in offspring, legitimate or not. Instead there were just two boys and three daughters who'd made it to adulthood. A few more had died in infancy—one at his mother's own hands—but it was a thin output, comparatively.
"At least," he added, "being low on Temenids keeps down assassination attempts and civil war. I'd rather not watch my back with a brace of ambitious half-brothers like my father had to. One shit-eating cousin was plenty. Arrhidaios doesn't count."
"You've got him with you, anyway." Parmenion picked up his gold-trimmed scarlet cloak where he'd tossed it over a chair when he'd come in for his appointment with the king. Philip had given it to him years ago, marking him Second in the army, an office only a fool would kick him out of. "The army will be relieved when they know there's a bun in the oven, even a bastard. Then you can do whatever the fuck you like. Although you need to marry that little princess, sooner rather than later—maybe marry both Darius's pretty daughters."
"I'd planned on marrying one of them. Just…not yet. The elder's only nine."
Parmenion shot him an amused look from crinkled, gray eyes. Once-blond hair had gone gray, making a little fringe around an essentially bald plate. His high nose stood out like a knife. "That's not the problem. You could marry her now and say you won't touch her till she bleeds. Your father pledged himself to Olympias when she was no older. It's good royal politics. We both know why you've been putting this off."
Alexander blushed. "I'm doing my goddamn duty."
"So you are. I won't say more about it."
"But you'll still think more about it."
"I think about a lot of things I don't say. Not all of it's bad."
The king looked up sharply. "I assumed you didn't approve."
"It's not for me to approve or disapprove. At least you've got good taste."
"I don't love him for his fucking face."
Parmenion's expression turned…thoughtful. "I didn't assume you did, son. I like Amyntor's boy. He knows his place—doesn't take advantage. He's got common sense. You're loyal to each other. It might be…odd…but neither of you makes a spectacle. Although I did hear one of you yelling mighty loudly the other night. Must have been fun." Parmenion winked at him.
Blushing so hard his neck burned, Alexander ran a hand through his hair. "Is all that what Parmenion thinks, or what the army thinks?"
"It's what Parmenion thinks, and probably some of the army. But I'm not in the habit of gossiping. Ask my son if you want gossip." That was offered ruefully. Alexander thought there might be some of the same tension between Parmenion and Philotas as had existed between himself and his own father. The two weren't much alike, and Philotas was ambitious.
"You win battles," Parmenion went on. "The men know that. Keep winning and father a few sons and nobody is going to care, much, who warms your bed most of the time—at least as long as your bed partner doesn't stab you in the back."
Which was what had happened to Alexander's father.
"Hephaistion isn't insane."
"Pausanias wasn't either, at least not at the beginning."
Who drove him insane? Yet both men knew the answer. And that was why Alexander would never follow his father in his treatment of lovers.
"I'll go draw up a contract for Barsine, then let you look it over before taking it to the royal women."
"All right. Thank you."
When Parmenion was gone, the king collapsed into a chair. He had a lot of work to do, and then that blasted dinner, but he didn't feel like doing any of it.
How was he going to tell Hephaistion?
More importantly, what was he going to tell Hephaistion?