DISCORD IN LOVE
SUMMARY: Alexander has arather unsavouryrival for Hephaestion's affections
AUTHOR'S DISCLAIMER: Not movie-based; I based Hephaestion's physical description (and general gorgeousness) on Judith Tarr's Lord of the Two Lands just because the idea for this occurred when I was reading it. I haven't borrowed any other elements of her most excellent novel and no copyright infringement is intended, but I do recommend it to all fans of Alexander and especially to all fans of Hephaestion!
WARNING: Rated ADULT (M) for reasonably graphic sex scene (skip over it if you don't like it…)
NOTE: I don't want to spoil the story, but I also don't want to assume everyone knows the Greek myths off by heart, so I've included a glossary at the end!
I first caught sight of him at Troy. What was left of it by that time. Which, after the events I had set in motion, wasn't much. Many of the Gods and Goddesses gathered to watch the spectacle; I declared myself bored with the whole affair - happy occasions are not for me - but as there was to be a party afterwards and for once I was invited, I couldn't quite resist. As Goddesses go I am not popular, but since the wedding of Thetis, and the havoc I managed to wreak among Gods and Goddesses and mortal men and women alike, I had rather come to relish any social slights as opportunities to do what, after all, I had been born to do. Spread discord. All the same, it was Ares who asked me, and since War and Discord tend to walk hand in hand, he has always treated me amicably. So I decided to go.
And as I watched, I fell in love.
Eros and Aphrodite maintain they had no hand in it, but I don't believe it. How else could it have happened? Eris, Goddess of Discord, falling in love! The idea is absurd! This is Aphrodite's revenge, she has never forgiven me for pointing out in front of Athene and Hera that she only won that beauty contest by offering the highest bribe! Whatever the truth, I fell in love with him the moment I saw him running naked around the tomb of Patroklos, his deep red-bronze hair garlanded with flowers, his long, lithe body gleaming with oil, his beautiful face almost childlike with joy. It was all I could do not to swoop down and snatch him from his mortal realm. What did stop me was how, when the race was over, he had run, laughing, into arms of…
Into the arms of that little yellow haired upstart! That spoilt, stunted braggart, making so much of his descent from Achilles and Herakles and his divine parentage! So Zeus had been with his mother! Half the men who fought at Troy could boast divine fathers or mothers! I simply couldn't see what the other Immortals saw in him. Ares loved him because of his warmongering, Athene for what she perceived as his understanding of the wisdom of warfare, Apollo for his bravery and prowess, Artemis for his love of hunting and his relatively chaste behaviour, Aphrodite for his romantic good-looks. Good looks! What was he next to him, him with the glistening copper curls and liquid dark eyes, the straight nose and oval face, more beautiful than Narcissus himself!
So disconcerted was I by what I felt that I had to withdraw from the company of the Gods before the party had even started. Only Ares expressed disappointment when I made my apologies, he had great hopes for that blonde one, the one they called Alexander; he believed he could generate as much slaughter and bloody mayhem as his namesake who had brought destruction to Troy, and he wanted to make plans with me. But I couldn't think about war, about chaos on a mass scale; all I could think of was how to cause discord between that Alexander and his best friend and lover, the exquisite Hephaestion, son of Amyntor.
I worked on it throughout Alexander's campaigns. Thebes I had no hand in, Ares took care of that himself, in his rather clumsy way, simply blinding Alexander to mercy and boiling his blood. But after Troy I began paying attention. For form's sake I spread a general discord amongst his soldiers and camp-followers from time to time; I caused friction amongst his enemies only to keep Ares happy, causing Darius to mistrust Memnon's good advice. Once in a while I got more directly involved and slipped into the body and mind of a mortal – I persuaded Philotas to keep quiet about the conspiracy against Alexander; I even jumped from one of Alexander's generals to the other at lightning speed, whispering words of ambition and bloodlust into their ears until they almost bullied Alexander into executing him and his father, not because I had anything much against them, but simply because it would hurt Alexander and, I hoped, would push him further and further into madness.
My greatest triumph was when I managed to get into Alexander himself, pushing him so hard that he murdered his friend Cleitos. Ares wasn't happy about it, he admired Cleitos and didn't see any profit in killing him. But there was great satisfaction in it for me, and I needed a victory, however minor, over my rival. Everything else I had done to pull him away from Hephaestion had failed – continued to fail, long after Cleitos' death.
I really thought Bagoas would be perfect. No-one could rival Hephaestion's perfection, but the boy was beautiful, young, exotic and talented. As soon as he surrendered to Alexander I went into action. I persuaded Eros to help me by offering to cause discord between a nymph he liked and her shepherd lover. He agreed to shoot Alexander through the heart with one of his arrows and make him fall in love with the Persian eunuch with me insisting the resulting discord between Alexander and Hephaestion might generate a civil war. But when Eros fired the arrow it only struck Alexander in the groin! The treacherous brat insisted Ganymede had jogged his arm in vengeance for losing at knucklebones yet again, but I caught him and Aphrodite giggling together when my back was turned. So, as it turned out, Alexander did start an affair with Bagoas, but continued in love with Hephaestion.
By the time Alexander got his army stranded in the desert, I had already resolved several times to kill the blonde runt once and for all, justifying his death by the trouble it might cause but secretly planning to make Hephaestion his successor – with me as his counsellor, of course. I even spat poison into the water his sickeningly faithful soldiers had gathered for him in a helmet and nearly choked on it myself when the great show-off poured it away into the sand.
I planted the idea of marriage in his mind – three times! – only to find Hephaestion, my Hephaestion – backing him up against his disgusted generals! Ares thought the Susa weddings a stroke of genius, guaranteed to lead to more war, but Aphrodite poured cold water on the idea by daring to suggest that in the long term, it might lead to greater love between conquerors and conquered, just as Alexander dreamed. I even made sure Alexander picked Drypetis, who was young, pretty, virginal and adoring, in the hope Hephaestion would awaken to women and lose Alexander in the process. And he has come to care for her, I see, he is gentle and tender with her when he goes to her bed. So much so I was ready to slip into her body and let him enjoy the lovemaking of a Goddess, but Aphrodite, damn her, caught me at it and shooed me away, insisting Discord had no business with love. Not even my pointing out that Drypetis didn't even worship her stopped her interference!
Yes, her interference – I finally see it, fool that I have been! Every plan run aground by her meddling! I started arguments between Eumenes and Hephaestion, only to have Alexander smooth it over. I generated hatred between Hephaestion and Crateros to the point where they and their men were ready to start a private war, and really thought I'd succeeded when I fanned the flames of Alexander's temper and out came that remark, "You are nothing without me!" Days later they were back in each other's arms – thanks to the damnable Goddess of Love. I caught her at a Staff Briefing of all things, sitting between the sulking lovers; I saw her lean over and kiss Alexander's lips, then Hephaestion's. I saw them turn to each other, confused, beguiled, smiling shyly. Forgetting all propriety, the great conqueror broke up the meeting early, sent all of his officers away, then, coy as a virgin nymph, sidled over and sat in Hephaestion's lap. And, worst of all, apologised for his poor choice of words! When I challenged Aphrodite, she insisted it had been on Hera's order, knowing that of all the Goddesses, Hera is the only one I fear.
But now I am a fool no longer. Aphrodite is my enemy! Ironic, as her interfering in the love lives of mortals has often caused so much strife that I've sometimes been tempted to enter into a partnership with her. She is not exactly in love with either Alexander or Hephaestion; she is, or so she claims, in love with their love, for which she takes responsibility. She confessed all to me when I finally challenged her and she realised no amount of pretty tears or delicate swoons would save her. It would seem that as a precocious brat, Alexander had constantly sacrificed to Zeus to make him the greatest General and King who ever lived. But then he had seen Hephaestion for the first time and decided that as this youth was the most beautiful person in the world, he should by default belong to Alexander, and sacrificed all of his childhood toys and keepsakes to the boy-god Eros to guarantee it would be so. Had I been human, I would have vomited when Aphrodite told me. "Eris," she sighed, smiling doe-eyed at her stupid curly-headed son, "you're not a mother… you just don't understand…"
Tonight I watch them, just as I know she does. I haven't given up. As Hephaestion, who has just returned from yet another of Alexander's endless missions, bathes with the assistance of one of his body-servants, I try to think of last minute ways to ruin his plans. For his own good, of course. I try to conjure desire for the young slave but I am not good at seductions. Then I decide to whisper a whim into his ear. He smiles, pleased, and as the slave dries him off, gives him his instructions. The slave puts away the lavish Persian robes he had earlier prepared and returns with a plain chiton so silvery white it is almost blinding. Hephaestion puts it on after his slave has rubbed scented oil into his magnificent body, then ties a delicately woven gold band across his brow. He looks as fine as Apollo himself and I smile to myself. Perfect!
He positively swaggers down the corridor, so pleased is he with his own preparations, so elated with thoughts of the coming evening. It is to be a surprise; he has told Alexander he was exhausted and would call upon him the next morning. The temptation was too much – I tried to inspire lust for Bagoas in Alexander in the hope Hephaestion would find them together, but Aphrodite struck the boy down with a stomach ache and then cast him into one of her luxurious sleeps. Even my attempts to lure Alexander to the harem fell flat – he had plenty of time to gratify any desires for his wives and Bagoas combined while his beloved was away.
Hephaestion hesitates, wondering if he should knock; my last shot. Let him wonder if he will find Alexander alone. But then Aphrodite, that interfering bitch, brushes past him and fills him with images of a naked Alexander lying waiting for him on a couch! Of course after that he can't get into the room fast enough!
When he entered the room, Alexander isn't naked; actually he has been fretting with warring desires, to call for Hephaestion, to let him sleep. His face lights up as Hephaestion walks in. Then he takes in Hephaestion's outfit and frowns. "I thought you liked the Persian robes I gave you," he says without thinking. Yes! Here we go!
"I love them, when I want to be the Grand Vizier," Hephaestion replies smoothly, "but tonight I just wanted to be your Hephaestion… like I was back in those happy days in Mieza."
Damnation! Alexander grins wickedly at him. "Just like you were in Mieza? When we were fresh boys and thought nothing of making love three or four times a night…?"
They do not touch yet, enjoying the anticipation. One final try! I whisper in Hephaestion's ear again. "Tell me, Alexander," he says on my advice, "will you give me a kiss if I prostrate myself before you…?"
The jibe should have provoked Alexander horrendously, but I catch sight of him in the glass behind him and see – yes, clearly see – Aphrodite there, caressing his shoulders and hair, driving all thoughts but love from his mind. "You're very saucy tonight, my beloved," he notes, "such insolence demands stern punishment!"
And then, frisky as a boy, he grabs Hephaestion and tosses him onto the bed, clambering up onto his large, strong body like a climber scaling a mountain and pinning him down with a triumphant smile. Slowly and with great satisfaction he leans down to claim his reward, a long, deep kiss from Hephaestion's lips. He will grant himself many more rewards this night.
Alexander thinks much of his own self-sacrificial nature. He takes great pride in his ability to do without the things he wants most. When he lies with Bagoas or some other more transient infatuation, he finds amusement, pride; relaxation. He is the king, the dominant male, and they know it. With his wives he can practise a tender benevolence and convince himself he is fulfilling his duty as a ruler, as a man. In all these encounters he remains slightly detached. As such he has gained a reputation for his moderation in matters of pleasure. Only Hephaestion knows otherwise. Only Hephaestion feels the full force of Alexander's passion because Hephaestion is his heart's desire, not just his body's.
Alexander cannot give into this desire as often as he would like because he is afraid it will master him and be his ruin. Each time he has to send Hephaestion away he considers it a triumph over his own weakness because he yearns to have his friend close to him at all times, even experiences moments of choking panic when he is not within reach; would keep him at his side every hour of the day if it could be done. While Hephaestion is gone Alexander torments himself with fantasy, jealousy, fear and doubt until he borders on madness. All so that when the beloved returns, Alexander is worthy of the wanton, abandoned pleasure and joy he will feel.
Hephaestion would perhaps prefer Alexander to come at him with less passion but more frequency, yet he does not let him have it all his own way. Sometimes he lets his own needs override those of his king and will come to him without being asked. On these occasions it is Hephaestion who dominates, taking love from Alexander slowly, tenderly, adding a few sophisticated touches. I like it when Hephaestion's rules apply; Alexander becomes curiously pliant and submissive, enjoying his lover's beauty with an almost childlike wonder, acknowledging his own defeat, his helplessness, his inferiority. In these moments it is as if he finally accepts his true place in the scheme of things – the place I would have put him, had I the power – subservient to Hephaestion. Now if he would only stay that way permanently, acknowledging his status as a lesser-being and stepping aside to allow his lover to be King, I might actually have learned to like him!
Such thoughts could drive me to a powerful rage, leading me back each time to my failure to persuade my love of his true destiny – to slay the pretender and take his rightful position as King. The glory we could have shared – I could weep with frustration! I even suggested he could keep Alexander as a concubine if he couldn't face killing him, but the bad dreams my whisperings gave him were so distressing that Morpheus himself complained to Zeus and I was threatened with being barred from Olympus for all eternity.
Alexander has divested Hephaestion of his clothes; Aphrodite and I both gasp at the beauty of that golden body. Alexander does more than gasp; he runs his hands over it possessively as he might a new map of his ever expanding territory. He kisses him upon the hips, the belly, the chest, the neck, working his way back to the mouth he craves, still tantalising himself, still holding back. Hephaestion remains still, as he might if being pawed experimentally by a wild bear, knowing a sudden movement will unleash a savage attack. Only when Alexander's lips crush down on his does he slip his arms about his lover, stroking soothingly even when Alexander grabs him by the hair.
"Tell me you love me," he growls fiercely into Hephaestion's face.
"I love you… I love you…!"
"Only me? Tell me you love only me!"
"You… are my only love…!"
"You won't leave me?" Alexander's voice is now trembling with emotion, "oh, my beautiful love, swear you'll never leave me!"
"I swear it, my beloved! In Aphrodite's blessed name!"
"Ah…" I scowl as I hear Aphrodite's happy sigh. "How sweet they are, Eris, how sweet…!"
Anger rumbles in me like thunder. She knew I was here all the time! If I had a golden apple now I would stuff it whole down her throat – with the names of Athene and Hera carved into it!
Alexander's kisses are more ravenous than before, he is bruising Hephaestion's lips, but his lover does not care, he would give his life a hundred times to see Alexander in such ecstasy, he is Alexander and Alexander is he, and not only is the world at their feet but they have each other too. He could not be where he was without Alexander – in the heat of passion those words do not sting – but nor would Alexander have survived and flourished without Hephaestion's constant love. A hundred Bagoases and a thousand Roxanas backed by an army made up of Crateroses, Cleituses and Perdiccases could not have achieved what Hephaestion has alone. His proud musings, and my enjoyment of them, are cut short by Alexander sliding back down his body to kiss and caress his manhood, treating it with the same reverence he lavishes on the gods. Some of the gods. He strokes Hephaestion's strong thighs, squeezes his bottom. "I want you… need you… I have to have you…!" he pants.
"I am yours… yours…"
"You are mine… no-one deserves you but me… you are too beautiful to belong to any lesser man…"
The arrogant little runt!
"I am yours, only yours…" Hephaestion reassures him. Such praise amuses him, touches his heart, but bounces off his ego - unlike that twit Narcissus, he can barely see his own beauty, let alone fall in love with it.
"If any man tries for you… if he so much as thinks of it…"
"Shh…" Hephaestion pulls himself up, cradles Alexander's head and shoulders in his lap as his lover takes him into his mouth, "peace… oh Gods… peace, beloved… the war is won… oh… there is no need to… ah… yes… yes…"
They couple at last, Alexander crying out as he possesses Hephaestion's body in a frenzy of rough thrusting slowed only by his friend's gentle but firm clasping of his hips and quiet loving whispers. Tears have begun to run down the Great King's flushed cheeks as he is caught between triumph and despair; when the climax comes it is too much for him and he falls, sobbing, onto Hephaestion's breast, still clutching at him like a miser to his chest of gold.
"Don't ever leave me…" he whimpers, "you must never leave me alone, not even in death… I must go first… I must go first…"
Hephaestion laughs softly and strokes his hair. Alexander must not be alone with his thoughts tonight, even protected within Hephaestion's arms. Let them sleep when the daylight comes, they have earned an indulgent day in bed. He silently prays to Aphrodite to charm Hypnos away from them with her great beauty, to give him the strength to love Alexander as many times as he can this precious night.
And of course the witch is only too happy to answer his prayers.
But I do not care; I do not bother to stay and watch the soppy aftermath of kissing, touching, complimenting and whispering of sweet nothings. Queen Olympias' pup has given me a new idea.
And it was a brilliant idea, better even than the golden apple! And it should have worked, would have worked if they hadn't cheated me yet again!
I didn't even have to poison him. All I did was make him think he was better, long enough to get Alexander to leave him alone. Once the pretender was out of the way, I simply whispered words of hunger in his ear until he could not resist and ordered an unwisely large meal. He was dead before his precious Alexander could get to him, which was just the way I wanted it.
I watched Alexander's insane grief with grim pleasure. Even Aphrodite could not comfort him with her silken tears. When I was ready I whispered to my rival, "but what happens now? Parted in life, you will still be parted in death! What a bitter place the Elysian Fields will be without Hephaestion's arms waiting to enfold you! Think – soon he will drink from the river of forgetfulness; he will even forget you…"
Bribing the Oracle was easy; bribing Oracles is always easy, especially when you want them to lie. And so my divine Hephaestion became a Divine Hero, snatched from Hades to the beautiful fields where heroes spent eternity duelling, preening and boasting to each other of their exploits.
At first they gave him the cold shoulder, fussing over the fact that he had not died in glorious battle, but then that soft-hearted Patroklos took Hephaestion under his wing, thanking him for his tribute to him at Troy and encouraging him to regale them with stories of Alexander's great victories. Achilles, vexed by Hephaestion's beauty, Patroklos' attentiveness and all the comparisons between himself and Alexander, continued to sulk until Patroklos won him over with stories of Hephaestion's great loyalty to his leader, best friend and lover. "You see, pleasure of my heart," the best of the Myrmidons soothed, "they were childhood sweethearts, just like us!"
It was time for me to make my move. I took the form of a young forgotten warrior slain on one of King Philip's earliest campaigns, choosing him because he was Macedonian and looked startlingly like Alexander. In my disguise I befriended Hephaestion (once I had prised him loose from Patroklos, the two of them finding much pleasure in comparing notes on what it was like to love and be loved by a half-god who could be dazzlingly brilliant and quite irresistible but also erratic and, at times, quite insane.) Not being skilled in the arts of seduction and not wanting to owe Aphrodite any favours, I fumbled along with halting attempts at courtship. It was hard work; all he seemed to think about was Alexander. But after all, I thought, in mortal terms I would have many years to play with while Alexander was off killing people and while I was winning Hephaestion away from him, I could take time searching for someone to replace Hephaestion in his affections. Bagoas probably wouldn't be enough, thanks in part to Aphrodite's meddling, but there were many handsome young men in Alexander's army. None who could rival Hephaestion, of course, but all that was needed was for Alexander to start to forget about his lost love. Once he had done so, I could reveal myself to Hephaestion, arrange a quick trip to show him just how well Alexander was managing without him, and make him realise just how lucky he was to be loved by a goddess like me.
Can you imagine the paralysing violence of my rage when I realised the trick that had been played on me? I thundered up to Olympus, wild enough to challenge the will of Zeus himself! "Years I should have had – years!" I shrieked loud enough to shame one of the furies, "and what have I had? A few cursed months! Alexander is dying! DYING!"
"That is enough, Eris," Zeus snarled, "you had no business killing Hephaestion; as it is, because Alexander was never destined to long outlive him, he will now have to die too. May I suggest in the future you refrain from interfering in matters of love and concentrate on what you were created for – the spreading of discord. That will be all."
Anger boiled in me as I saw Ganymede and Eros look up from their game of knucklebones to stick their tongues out at me. "NO! If Alexander must die I demand you send him to Tartarus! He should be chained between two rocks and flayed for eternity with a…"
"I SAID THAT WILL BE ALL!" To emphasise the point, Zeus hurled a thunderbolt at me and I fled.
Seething, I streamed down to the mortal realm below and took my place at the head of Alexander's bed with other the gods who had had an interest in Alexander, elbowing Death out of the way and casting a look at the weeping Aphrodite that sent her scurrying to hide behind Athene. Even Ares was snivelling a bit until I leaned over, took his arm and whispered something to him which cheered him up and made him nod vigorously. I leaned close to Alexander and waited for the question to be asked.
"Alexander… to whom do you leave your Empire?"
I murmured it over and over again in his dying ear, my imitation of Hephaestion's voice quite perfect.
"…To… the… strongest…" the man rasped. Before Death could stop me, I pressed my hand down over Alexander's nose and mouth. It did not take long.
Nor did setting my plan in motion. Alexander's body was barely cold before I began to do what Zeus reminded me I had been created for. I generated discord with more venomous pleasure than I ever had before; not even Troy could surpass the terror and destruction I rained down, the alliances broken, the marriages forsaken, the friendships ruined. Ares was in ecstasies as I set them all against one another, Ptolemy, Perdiccas, Seleucus, Cassander, Eumenes… how many of Alexander's precious pets were dead by the time I finished? I lost count! Not even Olympias escaped my wrath, nor Roxana, Stateira, Drypetis, Alexander's son or his simple brother. And as I did it I laughed, watching Alexander's glorious empire torn apart by the rabid dogs his generals became, destroying it as quickly as it had grown and hoping he was watching it all in agony.
Aphrodite insists he only raged and lamented briefly before forgetting everything in a comforting feast of kisses and embraces from his beloved Hephaestion. I didn't bother to go to Elysium to see for myself, I didn't even bother to react to the provocations of the love goddess. To Hades with Love! Only War can touch my heart! Let Discord reign supreme!
GODS AND GODDESSES: Eris discord; Aphrodite (a.ka. Venus) love; Eros (a.ka. Cupid) love (son of Aphrodite); Athene wisdom of war; Ares war; Apollo sun; Artemis moon; Hypnos sleep; Morpheus dreams; Hades god / kingdom of the underword; Tartarus "hell"
THE TROJAN WAR: When Thetis (sea nymph) married Peleus (Argonaut, i.e. crewman upon Jason's ship in search of the Golden Fleece), the future parents of Achilles, all the gods and goddesses were invited to the wedding except Eris. Obviously insulted, she tossed in a golden apple with "to the fairest" written upon it. Athene, Hera and Aphrodite all laid claim to it and chose a boy called Alexander (later to be known as Paris of Troy), as the most beautiful mortal man, to judge which of the three really was the fairest. All three offered huge bribes, but in the end it was Aphrodite, offering the love of Helen the most beautiful mortal woman in the word, who won the contest – and started the Trojan War.
Ganymede was also from Troy, a beautiful boy who was abducted and made immortal by Zeus to be his cup-bearer (amongst other things…) Narcissus was another beautiful youth who fell in love with his own reflection (as you do…)
OTHER NOTES: For Eros beating Ganymede at knucklebones, Achilles' parents arguing, Achilles as a baby, and the exploits of the fathers of Patroklos, Ajax and Teukros, I thoroughly recommend The Voyage of the Argo by Apollonius of Rhodes.