Title: Forgotten Lakes
Fandom: Alexander (Historical. Not bloody movie.)
Rating: PG-13 for slash. No longer implied
Pairing: Alexander/ Hephaestion
Summary: Alexander newly baffled by the onset of a new emotion, attempts to tame it.
A/N: The final chapter! Some would say it's been too long in coming, but here it is. I'm sorry if nobody likes it, and indeed it is very different from what I had planned originally, including the fact that the rating has not changed. It's shorter than the others- I felt this story was beginning to drag, that I was spinning it out for too long, and it was becoming very tired and stale. So I present the End.
Warnings: None for this chapter really.
Thanks for reviews to: Moon71, bob and - I appreciate it very much
Hephaestion warmed his hands on a cup of steaming wine. "When?" he said numbly.
His father sighed. "In the last few months. I noticed at first she would be more absent minded, would forget a needle she had just set down, or sit in reverie for half an hour and not notice a thing, but I barely heeded it. Then she began complaining of headaches, but not one physician could cure them. it was then I began to worry. But still I made excuses for her;- she was tired, she was ill, over-strained. Until one morning she woke and did not know my face. She screamed at the strange man beside her, and it was hours before recollection returned." He had the compassion not to give Hephaestion the details; of the slow fumbling way his mother talked, and worst of all her entirely lucid periods, in which she was aware that her mind was slipping from her grasp, and there was such dread and fear in her face that even her beloved husband could not comfort her.
Unconsciously Hephaestion shook his head. "Is there nothing anyone can do?" he asked hopelessly, already knowing the answer within his own soul.
"Nothing," was the reply. Amyntor was surprised at how calm and resolute his voice was. "All we can do is make her at peace in these final days, love and respect her as we have always done. Look after her in the way she has always looked after us."
Hephaestion nodded, and stared at the ground. "How did she burn her hand?"
"The maid was lax. Your mother attempted to lift a kettle from a burning fire. She held it so tightly it burnt her." More than anything he could see how that little anecdote had affected Hephaestion. Calmly he pre-empted the next question of his son. "The physicians say they have seen other cases like this. When it is at this stage, the patient has weeks to live, sometimes days." He hesitated, then in a rare enough display of emotion he clasped his son's shoulder. "I am glad you have returned." He nodded and then left the room, his once upright frame now bent a little from care.
Hephaestion stared at his hands, almost unable to understand what he had been told. There was a soft step at the door. His mother stood there; as frail and ethereal as he had first seen her. The impression did not dissipiate as she walked further into the room, but he realised with a shock of relief that she was lucid- her eyes were clouded but that was better than the frank unknowing gaze she had first presented to him. Instantly he stood, and took her hand, aware how frail she truly was; like a bird in both appearance and movement, and guided her to a seat. She sat there with her hands folded in her lap. "Hephaestion my dear," she finally said, and the words were a shock in the quiet silence of the room. He refused to look at her. "Don't be sad," she whispered finally, her words not a platitude but a command.
Hephaestion drew in a breath. "Why not?" It was on the tip of his tongue to say what he really thought. Was he supposed to be joyous watching his beloved mother's mind crumble, and watch her bear awful pain?
She drew in a deep sigh. "My boy, you have the whole of life ahead of you. You have your beloved one by your side, your youth and strength and beauty. Oh heart when you are my age; you will look back and understand how precious even these moments are." She fumbled for his hand. "You're my warrior son," she said and her words were affectionate. "Did I tell you that you were even as a child? That while Lysander drew and wrote from when he was a small boy, you would spend hours with your wooden sword or the kitchen knives. You could almost ride before you could walk." Her eyes drooped slightly. "I'm very tired," she said quietly.
Shaking his head Hephaestion looked at her, but already her eyes looked vacant and empty, her face vacuous- even if it was more peaceful. The servant-girl came quietly in, and took her mistress's arm, sparing a respectful nod for Hephaestion. His mother turned gladly to this obviously familiar presence and sufficed herself to be led from the room. Hephaestion stared bleakly after her. A knock came at the door, and one of the small pages of the palace stood there trembling. He thrust a note at Hephaestion, then stood there obviously waiting for a reply. Numbly Hephaestion opened it. Inside there was a note from Queen Olympias bidding him to come to the palace at his leisure. Tired and heartsick as he was Hephaestion knew that 'at his leisure' meant 'on the double.' He told the page that he would come as soon as possible, and splashing cold water on his face, he stared bleakly at the beaten metal that served for reflection. He felt older now than he had ever felt before.
Olympias was exactly as he had seen her last- her hair not one whit less lustrous, and her face not even a little more lined. The queen has always overawed him, and his flowers to her had been less from love or friendship than an unconscious tribute to power, and because his mother had taught him that to give was honoured in the gods' eyes. She had never been less than gracious to him, and he had often felt even as a child speculative eyes weighing him up. Now that he was older he understood why. Queen Olympias was like a wolf; as sleek and groomed as a woman and yet with savagery in her heart, like a lioness devoted to her only cub. He knew he must have been found worthy in her eyes, or neither him nor his family would have found it expedient that Hephaestion be a compatriot of Alexanders.
Now as he looked at her he could see objectively traces of Alexander. Alexander had always resembled his father in stature if not in build, and all praised his resemblance to Philip. As Hephaestion gazed at the queen though, he realised for the first time that Alexander resembled her, and in more than just looks. Their eyes were the same; thick lashed and heavy and yet penetrating, and there was more than a passing similarity in the set of their jaws, and the strength of the nose. It was perhaps this more than anything that made him look at her without fear. She gestured for him to sit. "Hephaestion," she said slowly, with the slightest accent on the last syllable, and smiled at him disconcertingly.
He sat after bowing respectfully. "Most honoured Queen," he greeted her, and she received this with the smallest twitch of her lips in amusement.
"How is my son?" she enquired. "His letters are singularly unilluminating. It would seem that the Greek Aristotle however skilled he may be in philosophy, is inadequete to the task of teaching young men the art of writing a good letter."
Hephaestion considered. "Alexander is very well. He speaks often of you and fondly, and Aristotle thinks his studies are going very well."
Olympias laughed, a delighted chortle; deep and rich and throaty. "Hephaestion you should be a diplomat," she crowed, and she moved closer. There was a scent about her at once woody and rich, and Hephaestion swallowed nervously. "Now be honest with me." She had the same trick as Alexander of capturing a person's eyes, and commanding their attention and obedience, and Hephaestion shifted slightly in unease. "Is he a worthy friend?"
There was a moment of utter silence as Hephaestion tried in vain to look away, bewildered by the question that had been asked of him. "I don't understand," he said in bemusement.
Olympias smiled, not looking away. "I've watched you Hephaestion. Alexander writes of nothing else in his letters than about you. About what you do, what you think, what you say. The friendship he holds for you, what esteem he holds you in. What I want to know is do you feel the same to him."
Hephaestion answered without pause. "Of course I do. More than anyone."
"Then I can trust you," Olympias replied smoothly. "Hephaestion you must be aware that Alexander has not expressed an inclination to wed. As his friend it is your sacred duty to speak to him on this matter. I am not a tyrant. I do not expect him to wed without preference or indeed to wed now. He is young; there are years to come. But I am merely his mother. How can I tell my son this? But you, you are his closest friend, the friend of his heart."
"I.." Hephaestion began then stopped. Aristotle's voice echoed quietly in his head. Though it may hinder your rise to better things I tell you never to lose sight of what is right and true- and the courage and conviction to voice your opinion. He continued more firmly. "I can't." He met the Queen's eyes squarely. "That's not my place to tell Alexander that. It's because I'm his friend that I can't." He looked down and flinched, expecting the full force of the Queen's legendary anger. What came was almost worse.
Olympias sighed prettily,
and looked at him. "Would you deny Alexander the chance of
finding someone by his side. My son is brilliant, but we lesser
mortals know these things. Alexander if left to his own devices will
find no-one at all, will not even search. All I ask is that you help
him see such a possibility. There can be no reason for you not
wanting to do this." She watched the young man's face with
impartiality. He was very good, she had to concede that more through
natural talent than cultivation- his blank features almost defeated
even her skill in reading faces. But Olympias was not a young maid,
and she was a mistress of
cunning. Even if Alexander refused a good woman to espouse and have progeny with, Olympias was not going to forfeit her privilige of chosing his beloved nominally at least. Alexander was calfstruck with Hephaestion, that much was more than obvious, and in her subtle way she understand that Hephaestion was the only one whom Alexander would allow to sway him. Even if they loved each other, Hephaestion would remember her words in later years, and ensure that Alexander did his duty. She trusted in this with all her instinct, and with her terrible capacity for patience- the understanding that it often takes years for plans to materialise, she was willing to wait.
Sure enough Hephaestion answered. "No... no of course not. I do understand." She smiled a secret smile.
"We understand each other Hephaestion. We both want the best for my son. And we both fight to ensure he gets it." She stretched langorously. "I have heard about your mother," she remarked carefully.
Hephaestion's back stiffened subtly, and tension entered his bones. "Mother is fine."
Olympias waved her hand impatiently. "Nonsense. I have seen her. My grandfather died of exactly the same complaint." She looked at Hephaestion not unkindly. "I understand, and my love and thoughts go to her."
If nothing else, this strange and unwonted kindness from the Queen brought Hephaestion closer to tears than anything else before hand. "Thank you," he whispered through the lump in his throat. Sensing this was the moment to leave, he stood. "I shall convey both to my mother, and I am sure they will comfort her in this time." The words were hesitant, and he excused himself with a haste that would have seemed rude to any impartial observer of the scene.
Outside he breathed in deeply, and composed his face back into it's usual carelessness. He felt older, so much older as if everything had combined all at once to force him to grow up and accept what was happening to him. Suddenly he wished Alexander was there with his strength and his laughter to brighten what seemed like a bleak horizon. Leaning against the wall he sighed.
A voice eagerly called him, and amazed he turned around. Alexander was standing there, his face alight. "Hephaestion!" he called, and hurried towards the younger boy, sweeping him up in a bone crushing hug. "I thought I might find you here."
Hephaestion surrounded by Alexander's warmth had only one thought. Alexander had come when he had called. The thought filled him with an intense warmth of the spirit. Unconsciously Alexander had come on him in distress. He allowed himself to be comforted momentarily by the embrace, then pulled away. "Why.. why are you here?" he asked.
"Maybe only a few hours after you left, I was told I was to return to Pella as well. I followed and here I am. How are you?" he asked, his face scanning the other boys quickly.
"Well," stuttered Hephaestion.
Alexander was about to speak when a page boy came up to them. "Your father Lord Amyntor asks you to return home immediately," he panted his words out. Hephaestion spared him a moment's look, and then began running, as fast as he could pace himself, his mind filled with one thought. Mother. Alexander exchanged a bewildered look with the messenger boy, and then began to walk in the same direction.
Hephaestion slowed as he entered his mother's room. Amyntor was sitting there, clutching her hand in a death-grip his face pale as chalk, and Hephaestion felt his strength fail. "Is she?" he asked unable to finish.
Amyntor shook his head. "She took a turn for the worse about half an hour ago, and the physician believes she is dying."
With leaden steps Hephaestion walked forward. He stared at the quiet countenance before him- so pale and quiet that it seemed her soul had already fled, and grasped at her other hand. Her eyelids flickered somewhat, but did not open. He didn't know how long they sat there, merely holding her hand, but at some point he was aware of a warm hand on his shoulder and a comforting presence behind him. Suddenly there was a gentle pressure on his hand, and he realised Helene was trying to say something. But the words were mangled. Amyntor in agony hushed her. "I know," he whispered, and fixing her eyes on his face she smiled once. Hephaestion felt her hand go limp.
Dazedly he stood, and walked towards the door. Outside he slid to the ground, unable to express his grief. Alexander sat next to him, and Hephaestion took some comfort in his presence. After a while he mustered the strength to re-enter the room, and look at the body once more. Amyntor had left to summon the maid, and Hephaestion looked at Alexander. In the years to come he was able to pinpoint the moment he grew up, to that moment in the sick chamber when he looked at his friend and saw written so clearly the love, and the agony for Hephaestion's grief in Alexander's eyes. He didn't need to say anything, as Alexander took a trembling step towards him, everything was contained within his face, and sighing he allowed Alexander to touch their lips together, and take his hands. It was nothing more than the lightest touch, nothing more was appropriate, but it sealed them closer together than anything more passionate could have done.
As they broke apart, Alexander was still gripping his hands, and the whole world was in his eyes. "Hephaestion," he whispered.
So it's finally reached the end. Everyone clap your hands! I do plan to write more in the Alexander fandom, but this is the end of an era in their lives- their schooldays, and indeed childhood is gone now, along with Forgotten Lakes. Thanks for everyone who reviewed Forgotten Lakes. I appreciate it very much particularly Moon71 who has been a terrific help all the way along. I hope you enjoyed it, and will read my other Alexander works when they come out.