Dearest Alexander by Moon71
Summary: Amyntor, father of Hephaestion, receives a letter from Alexander
Rating: K (some small sexual references etc)
Disclaimer: Don't own it
Dedication: The idea for this had been in my mind for a while, but for various reasons I found it very difficult to write. The fact that I have is because of Dramadream10's challenge on ATG stories to write about Hephaestion's family after his death. I don't know if this is what you had in mind, but I hope you'll like this; at any rate, the story is respectfully dedicated to Dramadream10.
When death came to settle things, it was strange how many things no longer mattered. For years Amyntor had worried about Hephaestion – first about his position in Alexander's esteem, then in battle after battle, then the increasing risk he ran of dying by a traitor's hand as his power and influence grew. He had worried that Alexander, however unconsciously, would hold Hephaestion back from marriage. He had worried about what might happen to his son if Alexander was to die.
And suddenly none of that mattered. Hephaestion, his precious son, the focus of so many hopes, the subject of so much love, was gone. All that mattered, all that had to be worried over, was the safety of Amyntor's remaining family. Unable to join them within the agonising release of shared mourning, the wailing and lamenting and violent fits of tears, he had had to stay focused on the future. He had gathered his three daughters and their well chosen husbands together with his dear wife Helena and told them what he wanted.
His youngest daughter Persephone, married only a year with a baby girl, was the most dismayed. "To Athens, Father?" she had cried, "but why? It's our beloved Hephaestion who has died, not King Alexander! Surely no harm can come to us because of that?"
The elder girls, who remembered Alexander and Hephaestion as boys far more clearly, watched their father in silence as the uncomfortable realisation of what he feared dawned upon their faces. Helena had not looked at him, but she did not need to. He knew she understood. "It's only a precaution, my love," Amyntor had assured Persephone with a gentle smile, "I have had reports that Alexander has been… unwell, since… since it happened." He swallowed hard. "You know how well he loved our dear boy." At that, Persephone's dark eyes filled with tears and she turned to her young husband, who put his arm around her. "At any rate," Amyntor pressed on, fighting to ignore her distress, "until he has recovered there is always chance of rebellion, of false rumour starting a panic. Be brave, my dears," he said to all of them, "you know I cannot come with you, not yet; the gods willing, it won't be long before I can call you all home."
"I'm staying, Amyntor," Helena had said once the others had departed to their own homes. He had looked up at her, ready to argue, but one look in her eyes had silenced him.
"I am glad of it, my heart," he replied truthfully, and kissed her.
Finally alone in his study, Amyntor permitted himself to read the letter he had received that morning. He had known it would come, sooner or later. He had enough faith left for that. He had not needed to read it to make the decision to send his family away – the long silence from Alexander even after others had written to tell Amyntor of Hephaestion's death had told him more than the worrying but sketchy reports of Alexander's violent grief ever could.
He read the letter with stinging eyes and an aching heart.
To Dearest Amyntor, son of Demetrius, father of Hephaestion
I write to you now not as King of Macedon, Hegemon of Greece, Conqueror of Persia, Pharaoh of Egypt, Son of Zeus Ammon or any possessor of glorious titles, but as Alexander, who dearly loved your son. And it is as Alexander, lover of Hephaestion, that I must express my deepest shame and regret at having not written sooner. I know they have written to you in my place. But it is not their duty; it is mine. I have no doubt they made fine excuses for me. But there are none.
They tell me I have been unwell, but I find it hard to believe in anything they do and say of late; they look at me strangely and I hear them whispering behind my back. To my face they heap honours and praise upon my Hephaestion. They make sacrifices to him. They repeat flattering stories of him and have likenesses made; the stories are enchanting and the images are beautiful but the comfort they offer only fleeting.
Perhaps I have been ill; I do not remember. All I know is that I have recently awakened, as if from a dream, in Babylon, before the funeral pyre of your beloved son.
In life I would have conferred endless honours upon Hephaestion – I would have given him Persia, had he agreed to accept it from me. But be assured, son of Demetrius, I have made every possible arrangement for his precious shade. No expense was spared at his funeral. I know this, yet I cannot now recall how it was. Several of Hephaestion's most loyal and valued men have assured me they have written in detail of the obsequies, so let me tell you what I do know and have done. A blood sacrifice was made to Hephaestion in a war with the fearsome tribe of the Cossaeans. Be assured vengeance was had upon the accursed physician who failed to care for him – and upon the god who failed to watch over him. I have made great plans to erect a magnificent monument to Hephaestion, the like of which the world has never seen, in beautiful, triumphant Alexandria in Egypt. The Cavalry unit Hephaestion commanded will bear his name and carry his banner, but no-one will assume his office of Chilliarch – there is no other man I would trust with it.
But best of all, son of Demetrius, let me prove to you the depth of my love for your son. I have petitioned the Oracle at Siwa to make your son a god. But the gods are jealous and resentful – I know this, why else would they take my beloved from me? They have envied me for being the one who won his love, his unbroken devotion. They have envied me his great beauty. They have envied me for being the one to love him. Thus they would not grant me all of my wishes, but have made him a Divine Hero. Yes, son of Demetrius, your son does not wander a lonely, empty shade in Hades but strides across the Elysium Fields with the great men of the Age of Heroes.
Are you satisfied now, Amyntor? Tell me you are satisfied with what I have done for your son. Tell me I am forgiven for failing him when he most needed me by his side. I left him only for such a short time; I was sure he was better… that damnable physician thought he was better!
But of course you will not be satisfied. You gave me your precious son and I failed to care for him. I promised you when we left Macedon for the Hellespont that I would protect him as I would my own brother, that whatever honours I won I would share with him, that he would stay forever at my right hand. I confessed to you on that day that he held my heart; that I felt he always would. I was not wrong.
My heart! Yes, he held it and he holds it now – there is nothing left within my breast but a cavity, a bleeding, aching wound. What magic did he use to capture me, to keep me his prisoner all these years? I took wives, I took younger lovers… I sent him away from me for months… even when my weakness and my blindness led me to act in ways and say words which should have turned even him against me, each time he reclaimed me and further tightened his grip around my heart.
The first time he took me to his bed – yes, took me to his bed, what does it matter now? He is utterly Divine, I am only a man – he called me his "golden Apollo." He was wrong. I am no Apollo. Hephaestion was the sun who illuminated my world and without him I stumble in cold darkness. I say I would have given him Persia, but in truth I never could have; to leave him behind would have made Arabia or any other conquest empty and meaningless. I think he knew it, even as he accepted the title of Grand Vizier. He knew I could never leave him behind. The separation would have killed me.
The separation is killing me now. Oh Amyntor, dear to me even as my own father, forgive me my weakness as my father never could. I cannot go on. I do not want to go on. The pain of the open wound where my heart was is too much to bear; it stabs through me with every breath, destroying my sleep, sapping my strength. They say it is not my heart but my lung, where it was pierced by Mallian arrow, but they know nothing! They tell me to drink less, but Dionysus is the only god who pities me now! Under his influence the pain ceases and the visits of Morpheus are gentle…
In these sweet dreams I see your dear son, laughing as we played our rough boy's games in the palace gardens; stern and beautiful in concentration as he listened to Aristotle's teaching, outthinking every one of us; mischief in his eyes as he tormented me with his flirting and his teasing, knowing how desperately I longed for him, only lacking the courage to take what I knew he was offering – you are the prince, his eyes said to me, you must be the one to decide when the time is right. And gods, how clearly I see him the night desire finally overcame doubt and I came willingly to his bed… How well he understood me even then – when he could have laughed in triumph, instead he comforted and reassured – he knew I was afraid such yearnings would weaken me; knew, also, that they would not, not with him. Instead of reducing me, his love gave me new strength, made me certain that whatever I wanted I could have, so long as he was there by my side.
I see him now, Amyntor, as clearly as if he was before me. I see him running at the tomb of Patroklos, naked and perfect… I see him ferocious in battle, riding at the front of the cavalry… I see him lost in childlike wonder at the extravagant and exotic world we had conquered, delighting in Persian dress and Persian ways as few others had the imagination to do… I see him standing proudly beside his bride, the Princess Drypetis, she who should have born the children to unite our blood once and for all… But perhaps I see him most clearly the day I said before the mother of King Darius, "he too is Alexander."
Yes. He too was Alexander. The other half of me.
What is wrong with them, Amyntor? Why can they not see the terrible, ugly, bleeding wound left behind when Hephaestion was torn from me? How can they expect me to recover? Surely they have seen enough wounds in battle to know that a man cannot survive torn in half!
Again, forgive me my weakness, father of Hephaestion - instead of trying however vainly to soothe your inconsolable grief, I have burdened you with my own misery. But you must know, even if I never said so in clear words, that I have loved you, in my own way, almost as much as my own father. I have loved you as the father of Hephaestion, but also as the man who never hesitated to show me love, not as the son of your king, but as a boy who needed to be loved. Forgive me, but there is no one else I can turn to.
Amyntor, I want to die. Yet again, forgive me - as I try to forgive my traitorous body as it fights for life even now, leaving me wracked with pain and imprisoning a spirit which contorts in lonely misery, aching to be free. My body lives, but I want to die. Once more, a hundred times more, forgive me, but I want to die. I want to die.
When he had finished reading, Amyntor sat in silence for a very long time. Lucky Alexander, a part of him thought, able to give himself over to grief in a way Amyntor could not yet permit himself. But then he banished the thought. For someone like Alexander to mourn so wildly, so lavishly, so carelessly, the pain must be savage - a wrenching, choking, searing agony he must be desperate to relieve in any way possible. Blood sacrifices, sumptuous tributes, petitions to the gods – he was trying anything he could think of, and nothing was working. Even Dionysus, so beloved of Queen Olympias, was failing to succour him.
Amyntor took parchment and stylus and began to write.
Allow me to presume on our long acquaintance and the love you bore my son – allow me to speak to you not as a subject to his king, but as a man who once cared for a little boy. As that man, I beg you, Alexander – live!
If my pleadings cannot penetrate the terrible cloak of grief I know envelopes you now, then let me plead not in my name but in the name of my beloved Hephaestion. Think, Alexander, how he would weep to see you suffering so! Would you have him curse himself for leaving you to suffer such misery alone? Would you have him blame himself for being the cause of your destruction? The man who loved you, I honestly believe, in a way no other man ever did?
Take comfort from the gods, Alexander – all the gods, who have surely smiled upon you and your bloodline for so many generations! Do not rage at them for taking our beloved Hephaestion – how many times did the two of you ride into battle, mocking the fates, laughing in death's face? How close have you yourself come to death, in freezing rivers, in scorching deserts, by arrow, by catapult bolt, only to be snatched from death's hands by the benevolence of the gods? Hephaestion rejoiced in your every victory – he rejoiced in your very life. For him, Alexander, live!
I am an old man now, doting and foolishly sentimental. I know you are now the King of Persia, the conqueror of India… yet to me you will always be that little boy I first saw in your father's military briefings, listening so earnestly, your big grey eyes wide, taking in every detail of the maps, studying the very faces of the generals as they spoke, understanding more, I think, than any of them ever realised! How confused you seemed the first time I dared to pick you up and cuddle you – your princely dignity was offended! Oh, but soon you learned to trust your Uncle Amyntor – to seek out his embrace. You knew behind the façade of the General I was just a silly, harmless old fool.
Forgive me, Alexander. Forgive my wickedness in knowing what you needed, just as I have known what so many want, a gift of mine more valuable to your dear father than my limited military skills. You needed to be loved. I could see that in you the first time we met. That very day I went home to my little Hephaestion and knew that, were I to bring you together, he would love you and would win your love. I saw in him someone who needed to give love, who needed someone who was an equal or beyond an equal, someone to fight for, someone to protect – but also a god to worship, a dream to follow. I saw he would be satisfied with nothing less. I knew Hephaestion would have to have you as soon as he saw you and I knew you would never stand up against that.
Should I regret that now, Alexander? Should I have kept Hephaestion here at home, or sent him away to Athens to sit at the feet of some philosopher? He was born in Athens but his blood, like mine, is Macedonian as much as Greek and however much he aspired to philosophy he was a warrior, a predator, a young wolf who would go mad in captivity. His letters to me talked of the glory he shared with you – never once, no matter how difficult things were or how he might have at times feared for the loyalty of the army, of success in battle, even for your health, did he ever lose faith in you. He told me when he disagreed with you – but he told me with pride, because you allowed him to disagree. There were no doubts he shared with me he had not already shared with you.
His family live like princes on the wealth he has sent to us. His sisters, even his cousins have all flourished in prosperous and worthy matches thanks to the knowledge of Hephaestion's place in your personal esteem. Should we curse the fates now that they have turned against us, after favouring us for so long?
Hephaestion loved you, Alexander. You have opened your heart to me, the heart I know you still have, for all it bleeds and aches! Let me open mine, bleeding and aching too! I know you never turned Hephaestion from your bed. When you became king I expected that you would – Hephaestion feared that you would. When you never did, he wrote to me, worried that he was being selfish in not stepping aside. I told him simply that it was for you, the King, to decide. But the day he wrote to me of Troy – then, Alexander, I knew you still to be the little boy who needed love, and I knew that the time Hephaestion feared would never come. As your father did before you, Alexander, you surprise, you contradict, you delight me!
Do so one more time for an old man. Write to me and tell me you have decided to live. Live, Alexander – above all, for Hephaestion – live!
Amyntor stared down at his finished letter for a long moment, not quite able to rouse the strength to read it over. Was he just a blind fool, sending fresh troops to a battle already lost? Yet he had to do something – for Hephaestion, for Alexander, for Macedon; even for himself. But perhaps most of all for Philip, that man he had admired so much, and would surely be frowning now upon Amyntor for his son's being the cause of Alexander's destruction. Don't encourage him, Amyntor, he could still hear Philip growling in exasperation as Amyntor had made a fuss of Alexander in those early years, the boy's as fanciful as a girl as it is! Amyntor had only laughed, knowing that in one way Philip was quite serious and indeed quite right; for Alexander was a prince, and princes had enemies and could not be governed by sentiment, but at the same time knowing in another way that Philip envied him. Amyntor could coddle Alexander because Alexander was not his son, because it was not his duty to harden the child against the cruelties of the world and his fellow men. It was easy to love Alexander – it was not so easy to love him, yet hold back some of that love from him in his own interest.
If Philip had managed to be hard on the son Amyntor knew he had loved so deeply, what business did Amyntor have worrying about saying things Alexander would not want to hear?
He was about to finish the last lines of the letter when he heard heavy footsteps outside the study door. A moment later it was unceremoniously flung open and General Antipater appeared, his face waxen, his pale eyes wide and haunted, his breathing irregular. Amyntor stood at once, ignoring the aching of his joints, and helped the servant who had arrived with Antipater ease the man into a chair. "Tell my servants to bring some wine, well mixed, and a cloth soaked in warm herbal water," Amyntor snapped at the servant, then turned to Antipater and looked into his eyes. And then he knew. He knew absolutely, without doubt. "He's dead, isn't he?" Amyntor asked very quietly.
Antipater gasped, nodding inarticulately. He reached for Amyntor's hand and the other man clasped it tightly.
Antipater stayed for two hours, finally recovering himself enough to begin worrying about what was to be done and insisting, as he had insisted so many times since Alexander had sent for him, that he was too old to relocate to Persia, that he was guilty of no treachery, that he had sent Cassander to reassure Alexander of that, not to avoid his own duty – that he had never avoided his duty, to Philip, to Alexander, to the gods themselves. Amyntor had nodded, stroking his hand soothingly and whispering words of comfort. He knew Antipater had never entirely trusted him, but because of the covert, shady nature of his work, not because of any real doubts about his loyalty to Macedon or any personal jealousy or dislike. But Amyntor had always been fond of him and had nothing but respect for his work; he had heard of Alexander's growing paranoia after Hephaestion's death and somewhere in the back of his mind, lost beneath the impenetrable clouds of grief, he had absently told himself he should write to Alexander in Antipater's defence. Well, that was one more thing that no longer mattered.
When Antipater finally left, Amyntor stared once again at the letter he had written, then at Alexander's letter beside it. Then he rolled the two together and flung them into the fire.
He knew Helena had entered the room even though he did not look up. Silently Hephaestion's mother approached him, watching him, waiting for his instruction. He did not want to tell her. He did not want to tell himself, for fear the grief would overwhelm him at last. This was no time to think of a laughing golden haired boy with earnest grey eyes.
"Alexander is dead," he said, turning to her at last. He longed to sink into her arms but he resisted. That too could wait. He watched with pride as she held the tears which sparkled in her eyes, stilled the trembling of her lips. "See to the last of the packing, warn the servants. We'll leave Macedon at dawn." He allowed himself the briefest luxury of a kiss to her warm, cherished lips before he turned to his desk and began to gather his papers for the journey.