JOY AND HEALTH by Moon 71
SUMMARY: Crateros is the friend of the king; Hephaestion the friend of Alexander. So in the king's interests, Crateros exacts a difficult promise from Alexander's friend. Or does he…?
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story came about because I mentioned the historical incident mentioned in this story to Coral Dawn and complained Qaddafi the Ripper had already written an excellent story around it. Coral Dawn asked me why I didn't write my own version - that very day, this story was conceived. However, unlike Qaddafi's my story is neither meaningful nor touching, and deserves a rating only for silliness.
DEDICATION:For Trust No-One - You deserve a dedication just for writing "Hostage" but it's also for being so supportive of my efforts! Sorry it's a bit of a silly story!
DISCLAIMER: Don't own it, any of it. Wouldn't know where to put it if I did.
There was simply no point in talking to Alexander about it. The last time he had tried, the King had listened quite patiently, then risen, kissed Crateros warmly on both cheeks and said with eyes shining with love, "you, Crateros, son of Alexander, are the beloved of the King."
"And Hephaestion?" Crateros had prompted, determined not to be distracted by Alexander's legendary charm.
At the very mention of his lover's name, the look on Alexander's face became so soft that Crateros knew he had lost even before his king replied. "Hephaestion," Alexander said dreamily, "is the beloved of Alexander." He was obviously pleased with this answer, because after that, he used it whenever disputes arose between Crateros and Hephaestion or others questioned him about his attitude to the two of them. And each time he did, the subject was considered to be closed.
So, not without some reluctance, Crateros appealed to Hephaestion himself. After Troy, he felt he simply had no choice. What an exhibition! Paying tribute to those noble heroes, Achilles and Patroklos, was highly commendable of course, but the connotations it carried and the gossip it provoked was a positive embarrassment. Crateros heard his own soldiers smirking that Alexander had followed General Parmenion's advice at last and got himself married; the impressionable young pages were wandering around for days after with misty eyes, holding hands with one another and saying how "beautiful" it had been. The fact that Hephaestion was not only a year or two older than Alexander but such a physically attractive youth made it even worse, not to mention the fact that he was as vain and haughty as an Athenian dandy, boasting about how he exchanged letters with Aristotle and Xenocrates and draping himself over Alexander's shoulder like a hetaera to read his private correspondence.
Crateros was quite certain he was doing the right thing. He loved Alexander because Alexander was his king and that love was quite unshakeable. He might not always agree with him; he certainly didn't agree with him about Hephaestion. But Alexander was his king and that was that. Whether he would still have loved Alexander if he was not his king was something he did not worry over. Abstracts were for philosophers, not soldiers.
It was his most loyal servant who he entrusted with the duty of watching out for Hephaestion that night; the man's discreet whistle brought him from the early dawn shadows in time to see Hephaestion emerging from Alexander's tent. Really, it was too undignified – one of Alexander's favoured officers slipping out of his tent in the early hours like a courtesan! Not that there was anything very subtle about Hephaestion's departure; once he had put some distance between himself and Alexander's dwelling his face formed into a gormlessly happy grin, just like that of a man who – Crateros nearly choked on his own bile – a man who had just got laid.
"I want a word with you, boy," Crateros growled, seizing Hephaestion's arm in a crushing grip as the young man swaggered past him, looking like he owned the world and knew it loved him. Hephaestion didn't shove him off like a real Macedonian; he merely gazed disdainfully upon him, waiting for him to go on. "It's about you and the king."
"What about us?" Hephaestion asked, sounding politely bored.
Crateros straightened to his full height. Though he was heavier of build, Hephaestion was taller. And thank all the gods Crateros had lost interest in boys years ago, because Hephaestion's beauty was quite distracting. "Don't put on your Athenian airs, son of Amyntor," Crateros grunted, determined not to let him provoke him into an argument. "What I have to say concerns Alexander's welfare. You and I might not see eye to eye on everything but I think we can agree that we both want what's best for him."
Hephaestion's expression became unreadable. "Go on."
"It's got to stop," Crateros said at last. "You and him, I mean. Now listen to me. I don't care who does what to whom when you're alone; unlike you Athenians we Macedonians aren't stuffed up our own arses when it comes to these things."
"Then I don't see what you…"
"You're too old, Amyntoros! Carrying on like that back in Mieza is all very well, but you're grown men now. It's time for you to move on. Alexander isn't just some pretty golden-haired boy anymore, he's a King and a General about to lead what might be, by the will of the gods, the greatest campaign the Greek states have ever seen. And there are probably as many men, inside and outside the army, hoping to see him fail as there are wishing him success!"
"And you think our "carrying on" jeopardises that…?" Hephaestion asked coldly.
Crateros scowled at him. "I'll admit I've never liked you much, Amyntoros – I think you're a bad influence on the King. You're a leftover toy from his childhood; one he still clings to for comfort, and you're preventing him from facing up to his responsibilities as a sovereign and as a man. He should have married by now. At the very least he should have a mistress. If you really care about Alexander as much as he seems to think, and aren't just hanging on to him to get yourself a position in this army you hardly deserve, then you'll prove it by stepping out of the way!"
Hephaestion stared at him in silence throughout this speech, his expression still infuriatingly blank. Finally he spoke. "Don't you think the decision should be Alexander's?"
Crateros rolled his eyes. "Alexander, as you well know, is too sentimental for his own good. Twice as many heads should have rolled when he took power in Macedon – you'll see in the future if I'm not right. You can call me a brute and a butcher if you like, Amyntoros, but what I really am is a strategist, a tactician – something you're not! Oh, I'll admit you're no coward…"
"How generous of you."
"But you're not a natural military commander and you never will be! Trust me – Alexander is still very young; to most out there that means untried, uncertain, vulnerable. His still fixating on you like a witless mooncalf is just the weakness his enemies will need!"
Hephaestion's eyes narrowed as he seemed to study Crateros with disconcerting penetration. Then he shook his head. "You don't understand, son of Alexander. You simply don't have the imagination to understand what I am to Alexander or what he is to me. We complete one another, we are one soul in two…"
"Enough of the Homeric daydreams, son of Amyntor," Crateros snapped. "I don't care what you think you are; I only care about what others think of my king! Now are you going to listen to me or are you and I going to have to have this out again and again until Alexander finally sees sense? Because he will; I won't give up until he does!"
For a long, unpleasant moment the young man continued to study Crateros as if he was some specimen he was about to dissect for his old teacher Aristotle. Then all at once his shoulders slumped and his expression softened to ruefulness. "You're worrying over nothing, son of Alexander," he said in barely a whisper. "If you must know, Alexander has already decided to end the… physical aspect of our friendship. He too thinks we're too old to remain lovers."
Crateros eyed him suspiciously. "Do you seriously expect me to…"
"Ask him if you don't believe me!" Hephaestion cried with sudden petulance, "go on, ask him and have a good laugh at my expense! It's over! It's been over since we finished at Troy! That night was the last we spent together as lovers! He told me the next morning it was why he'd paid the tribute in the first place – to honour me before the army before he… had to put me aside…"
"Well, if that's true…" Crateros blinked, then gave a low growl. "Now wait one bloody minute, Amyntoros! If Troy was the end of your… liaison… what was tonight about?"
Hephaestion shrugged. "Alexander still loves me, Crateros. He still needs my companionship - someone to talk to, talk to as Alexander, not the K - "
"Yes, yes, enough of that!" He leaned closer to the younger man, wishing he didn't have such an ability for banishing all emotion from his face. "Was that really all? You and he didn't…"
"Are you calling me a liar, son of Alexander?"
"Then what was that stupid smirk for? The one you had on your face when you were leaving his tent?"
Hephaestion shrugged again, even managed a small smile. "Look at it this way. If you'd just lost a coveted position, one that made you the envy of the entire army, would you go round shouting about it? Can you blame me for wanting to keep some pride?"
Crateros scowled. "Pride is irrelevant to me, son of Amyntor, only my duty matters."
"Duty matters to me too, son of Alexander. It just happens mine is to Alexander first and the King second." Crateros could barely suppress a groan. If he had that "Alexander" and "the King" business used against him one more time he swore he would kill someone. "So now you know," Hephaestion continued quietly, "what now?"
"Nothing," Crateros replied with resolution. "As long as you stop wandering in and out of his tent at all hours - I know he can be demanding, but you'll find a way to avoid it - and encourage him to take a mistress, I'm happy to leave the nosy bastards to speculate for now. Well… I'm glad to hear this… Hephaestion," he added gruffly, wishing the boy didn't look quite so miserable. "You'll see it's for the best, soon enough. Come; don't take on so… if you'll take my advice, you'll get yourself some more suitable company! Not some pretty boy or some camp-whore, but a decent, loyal woman, someone to look after you as well as keep you warm, someone you can trust not to take off with your wages while you're off risking your neck in battle! It really is for the best, my boy," he concluded, giving Hephaestion a hearty slap on the back. "Believe me!"
Of course Crateros was suspicious at first. He continued to have his servant watch the comings and goings around Alexander's tent for a while, but the boy never once reported Hephaestion sneaking in or out. And the former lovers now behaved with becoming restraint in the company of others; their friendship remained warm, but if it went beyond that it was very well hidden. Soon enough, the general opinion around the camp was that Alexander had genuinely outgrown his adolescent affection for the handsome Hephaestion and would soon turn to younger boys or women, as was befitting his new rank. Crateros finally felt he could relax. And at last with the battle of the Granicus behind them, the army marched to Issus.
Further sleep was impossible. Gripped by the restlessness which always preceded a battle, Crateros roused his pages and had them deck him out in his armour though the sky was still a mottled purple-grey and the sun was hardly peaking above the horizon. As he left his tent and headed, almost unconsciously, towards Alexander's, he saw he was not the only one who was not resting easy. Cleitus, Parmenion, Philotas, Perdiccas, Leonatus… they were all hanging about in the chilly air, some like Crateros already dressed for the coming battle. "Is he awake yet?" Crateros asked, nodding towards the tent. Heads were shaken; shoulders shrugged.
"Oh, in the name of Zeus let's just go in, we'll freeze to death out here," snarled Cleitus. His dark eyes were flashing; Crateros could see he was hungry for the battle to commence. In the eyes of the others he saw his own more mixed emotions reflected – excitement, anticipation, apprehension… just a little fear. Well, after all, only a fool or a god surged into battle thinking himself immortal.
As they moved forward in a body the guards stepped out of the way and they entered the confines of the king's tent. He was seated at his table, eating a very sparse breakfast and sipping a cup of watery looking wine. "Joy to you, my dear Companions," he said as he rose to meet them; he smiled hospitably but there was just the faintest edge of awkwardness about him that immediately set Crateros on edge. Surely Alexander wasn't giving way to nerves? One whiff of weakness from their General and who knows what would happen amongst the men! "How good it is of you all to join me so… early," Alexander continued, still speaking unnecessarily loudly and glancing back over his shoulder as he did so. "Truly I am touched by this show of loyalty!"
Crateros watched General Parmenion and his son exchange a quick glance. Crateros had nothing but admiration and respect for the old soldier, but he never let him far from his sight, always keeping in mind just how much power and influence he had within the army. And that Philotas was every bit as vain as Hephaestion and probably not half as loyal to Alexander. "Sire…" Parmenion began.
"Health to you, Alexander, I'd better get back… to…"
At the sound of this new voice, speaking such unlikely – and inauspicious – words, all eyes turned to fix on the young man who had suddenly appeared from nowhere, tightly wrapped in a fur, yawning and rubbing his eyes. "Hephaestion…?" Philotas gasped. "What did you just say…?"
Suddenly voices erupted from every corner of the tent.
"Yes, just what in Hades do you mean by that? Why use words of parting?"
"Don't you believe you'll see Alexander again?"
"Are you trying to bring us bad luck?"
"It's a bad omen!"
"Quickly, we must send for Aristander to interpret what it means!"
"We must make a sacrifice at once!"
All around Crateros men were muttering counter-charms and making signs to ward off evil. Only he remained silent, watching Hephaestion. Alexander's favourite, rather than looking horrified by his mistake, merely became quite red in the face and glanced helplessly at Alexander, who had turned a little pink himself.
"My friends, my friends," Alexander cried, recovering himself quickly, "Hephaestion meant me no ill will! His words merely reflect his confidence in myself and the outcome of the battle! He wishes me health – a sure sign I will not only survive this battle but be victorious!"
"Victory!" Cleitus bellowed with great spirit, slapping Hephaestion on the back, and the others cheered, only Parmenion superstitiously muttering about "hubris." With a few last orders, Alexander told them to arm themselves and call the army together.
"I wonder if he had anything on under that fur…?" Philotas smirked as they made their way out.
"I'd love to have had a look," Cleitus returned with a lecherous grin, and laughter broke out among the retreating men as the tension was relieved.
"I thought they'd stopped that sort of thing!" Parmenion was growling indignantly, "Crateros told me they'd stopped that sort of thing!"
"Oh come on, if you were king, would you give up Hephaestion?" Leonnatus cried jovially.
Cleitus gave a filthy laugh. "If I was king, I'd confine him permanently to my bed!"
"Well I suppose he does serve a useful purpose in this army after all…"
"Philotas, for a serving officer you really are as bitchy as a camp-whore!"
Crateros was not laughing. He could barely find the breath to speak. "Amyntoros!" he bawled at last, as Hephaestion tried to slip past him unnoticed.
Hephaestion immediately broke into a run. "Health to you, Crateros!" he called back over his shoulder as he fled to the protection of his own tent.
"Amyntoros, you lying little bastard!" Crateros howled after him, "this isn't over, damn you to Tartarus! I swear this isn't over!"
Crateros continued to curse Hephaestion's name for a full five minutes before his soldier's discipline asserted himself. Stalking over to his troops, he tightly gripped the handle of his sword. Every Persian he dispatched today he would picture with Hephaestion's face.