Rating: PG-13? shrugs
Fandom: Alexander (historical not movie)
Pairing: Mention of Alexander/ Hephaestion, Alexander/Statira, Hephaestion/Drypetis
Summary: Drypetis, the overlooked wife of Hephaestion, tells her side of the story.
Dedicated to: Lysis who wrote an excellent fic about Drypetis and Hephaestion's marriage which I was fool enough to find after I'd written this one dammit.
My mother shook me urgently one morning. "Wake child," she instructed me, and as- bewildered, I tumbled from my bed, my mother and a half a dozen courtesans surrounded me in a flurry of perfumes and silks until my head spun, and I merely wished to fall back asleep. A servant tugged at my arm, and I allowed her to remove my clothing and then to bathe me in the warm scented water that had been drawn for me. I was shaking more than a little bit. The last time such a fuss had been made over my preparations had been when I was twelve, and arrangements had been made for my possible betrothal. Who could be so important as to merit this? A shudder went through me, and I felt cold. The barbarian lord. It could only be him. Having never seen him I did not know whether the rumours were true but if even a quarter held a grain of truth then... despite the warmth I began to shiver. A barbarian who looked like a lion, and who fought as though Gods ranged themselves in support beside him. Such a man would be neither gentle nor kind. I had heard horror stories of the Macedonian's ignorance and brutality, and knew full well that the reason I had neither been presented to Alexander, nor allowed to walk alone, had been to protect me from the advances of men who would neither know nor care of my status. My servant patted me dry, babbling inanely about getting dressed fast. My mother had chosen the red and gold robe, my second-best. My best would serve as a wedding dress. I clenched my teeth and prayed to the heavens for strength. The servants murmured of my beauty as I was clad in whispering silks and led by the hand as though to a sacrificial altar. My vision blurred but I forced my feet to keep on walking. The great brutalizer was waiting for me.
I don't think I'll ever forget that first sight of Alexander the Conqueror. He was sitting there on a throne which neither belonged to him, nor ever should, and he didn't even see me. He was talking to the man at his side, and it was so different from the instant attention that my presence would have signified to any other suitor, that every bone in my body rebelled. I was trained in perfect obedience no matter what my husband chose to do with his time, and I knew that that training would never, could never be broken. But that didn't mean that I hadn't been hoping. I'm not even sure for what. A husband who would love me perhaps, who might even listen to me. From the first time I looked at him, my heart sunk in my breast. And I did not even know at that moment in time except through vague rumour and gossip what his proclivities were.
I presented myself to him in the proper manner, crouching low. My mother had retreated one step as was proper. This was my test, and I must bear it alone. Once this was finalized, if he chose then I should see no one again. Naturally not even the worst tyrants did such a thing, but with such a man who knew? I bit my lip so hard that almost rushed to the surface, when I heard his carefully worded command to rise. His emphasis on words was ... odd. And after a moment I understood why. He was repeating a carefully learnt speech of general welcoming. Then with much stumbling and hesitation betraying his unfamiliarity with our language, and twice asking clarification of a particular term from the man next to him he told me that he was bestowing me in marriage to his 'dear friend and companion Hephaestion,' and that my sister would wed him at the same wedding. I felt as though the breath had left my lungs in an instant. Shame at my assumption swept through me at first, then absolute relief. 'Hephaestion' whoever he might be could be just as cruel if not more so than Alexander, but at least I would not have to lie in the tyrant's bed.
As though in a dream, the blue eyed man from beside the throne had his hand taken by Alexander and placed in my own. I was drawn to one side, in such a daze that I did not make the customary parting obeisance. However the king was so busy addressing his followers in his own language that he did not notice. I turned to Hephaestion, and tried to work out how to pronounce the unfamiliar syllables, in order to speak to him. I might as well have been a statue though for all the attention he paid to me. He had dropped my hand, and his eyes were trained on the king with pride in his eyes. I glanced more closely at him, seeking to read the indefinable expression on his face, but was defeated in this object by the obvious ending of the incomphrensible speech, and Hephaestion's subsequent turning to me, which wiped that strange expression from his features, leaving a non-commitally friendly smile, firmly fixed to them. Perhaps I should have been filled with rage at the fact that I a royal princess had been married off like surplus goods, but I had never expected anything else from my life. All that had changed was the man who was giving me away. Hephaestion's Persian was perfect, except for some mispronunciations and his heavy accent. He was perfectly correct and polite to me. He said a few pleasantries and was silent. I panicked. What did we have to say to each other? I knew nothing of war and weaponry and the strange harsh life of a soldier, even one so high ranking as this, and he would know nothing of more womanly pursuits and the ways I spent my days. My mind did whirl with questions I wished I could ask. How old was he, had he married before, how many women had he known? What did he seek in a wife? But none of them passed my lips.
Except one. Just one. "When will the marriage ceremony take place?"
He glanced at me as though surprised I had spoken. "A week I believe. The wedding preparations will have to be made of course." He took my elbow and steered me towards one of the open windows. We stood there in the cooler air, and I looked at this man's face, wondering what it would be like to lie beside him, to bear his children, to be his wife. I felt a weakness in my limbs, and as though he sensed something, without a word he helped me to a seat. He was handsome in a barbarian way, tall and slim, dark haired and blue eyed, and certainly his features were noble enough, yet when I looked at him I felt nothing, except a peculiar quiet seething fear, despite the way he served me with food and wine, and courteously took my arm.
I excused myself from the gathering, and walked steadily towards my apartment. My head was held as high as it could go, yet still the tears threatened to blossom, and spill down my face. I walked faster until I tore the gossamer fine threads of the robe when I stood upon it, and my hair threatened to tumble down around my face. I was fighting the tears harder, and a maelstrom of agony was filling my body until I was sure that I would tear from the weight inside me of fear and hurt. My eyes were so full of tears that I ran into someone. It was another barbarian. Blond hair, blue eyes, and again so tall. He caught me by the shoulders, and said something in their uncomphrensible language, I replied in my own. "I do not understand you. But unless you remove your hands from my person, your head shall be removed from your shoulders."
I daresay he understood only a few words, but their meaning must have got through. His reaction was not what I had expected. He threw back his head and laughed. Then in very bad, halting Persian he spoke to me. "You hurt are?" I merely glared at him, but then condescended to shake my head. He smiled, satisfied with the negative. I turned to walk away, but he followed me a pace behind.
I turned and spoke savagely. "Leave." Even if he did not speak my language surely he would understand that. He did but it did not deter him. "You protect." I ignored him, and walked the few remaining steps to my rooms, closing the door in his face, though not before he pointed at me and said "Name?"
I looked at him, and the day's frustrations welled up within me. I had never spoken to a soldier before, the very thought would have been abhorrent to my mother so I looked straight at him. "Drypetis." Then the door was closed. I went slowly towards my bed, but paused. My first impetus as I made my way here, had been to throw myself down and weep, to sob my heart out unheard by any except perhaps my servant, to give physical expression to my mental anguish, perhaps to rend my clothes, drag my fingers through the fragile silk. Yet the urge had vanished, the strange barbarian had given me something else to think about, and distracted me from what would happen in a week's time. My servant appeared silently as she always did. She was half Greek, the daughter of an artisan and she had some small command of the language, and I resolved that tomorrow I would ask her to teach me a few words. But for now... I closed my eyes and let her remove the betrothal dress, comb out my hair and then later play on a flute to calm nerves which I knew were badly shaken.
The next morning I woke with a different perspective on matters. I was a princess, and I had known from birth that I would have no choice in whom I would marry. Indeed I was lucky he was neither old nor infirm, and that he knew my language. He was not like my other suitor, an elderly man who indeed had died before my father had consented to the marriage. That had been three years ago when I was twelve, and certainly there had been questions as to why I was not married yet. I comforted myself. Hephaestion had not been cruel the night before. Of course, neither had he been the passionate lover of my dreams. The handsome young warrior of whom I would be the treasured wife. I scolded myself sharply. I was lucky Alexander was more civilized than invaders are wont to be, or else both I and my sister would be violated and , not marrying the most important people in our narrow slice of the world. I dressed in silence. Now that I had been presented to Alexander, there was no need for secrecy. And now that I was promised to the Lord Hephaestion, I assumed that none would dare approach me. I walked into the gardens, intent on the fresh air I had so long been denied. As I wandered, my mind drifted to Hephaestion. Did he feel the same way at marrying me? Was there a woman in his life already, whom he loved, and was I a d obstacle in his way to love and completion? His king had ordered this marriage, and yet there had not been so much as a sideways look in protest, and this in a court whose laxity and disrespect to their king was legendary amongst the servants and women.
The week was spent in frenzied preparation. Though Alexander had made grand promises of protection of the royal household, there was no denying that our income and amount of expenditure had dwindled, from the seemingly limitless hoards to the taxes of some small province. So even with the gift of silks and jewels that were bridal gifts from both Alexander and his men, the household was hard pressed for suitably splendid wedding attire, not only for me and my sister, but for those ladies Alexander had decreed also wed those men who had pleased him. Old clothing was stripped of gold thread and jewels, that we might not make too poor a showing as the remnants of Darius's irrefutably became Alexander's through the tie of marriage. Even my mother and I turned our hands to unpicking and hemming, though never before had we done such things outside of small embroidery. In keeping myself thus occupied, I diverted my mind from the forthcoming wedding night. As I tried to hem the veil in my hands though, the group of women with whom I was seated, both older and younger than I began to talk of the very thing I wished to forget about. The oldest of us already widowed twice was comforting more than one frightened , and almost against my will I began to listen.
She held her needle up like a sword. "The main thing is don't be frightened. The more frightened you are, the tenser you become, and the more you will hurt. All the men are seasoned warriors, and as such all will have bedded with others before. They'll know what to do, and no doubt will be extra gentle."
"It doesn't always hurt does it?" quavered the youngest of us all. Though she was highborn and therefore fair game for Alexander to use as a piece in his game, she was also only thirteen, and had only been ed for a year.
"No definitely not. After a little while it's even pleasurable," was the older woman's reply. At that a few of the s giggled and blushed, perhaps betraying that though not married they were not quite as ignorant as could be. I merely sunk into my own thoughts, just rousing to hear another piece of advice. "If you really feel you can't face it that night alone, then drink wine. Not so much that you are drunken, just enough so the world seems to be a little dreamy. Indeed it is possible that he too will have drunk too much, and will be unable to do his duty." The room dissolved into giggles. I looked at the tapestries, and wondered how many of the s were praying to the gods at that moment, that such a prediction come true. Aphasia certainly, and more than one of the younger 's knuckles were white.
Any man watching us work would have despaired of us finishing in time for the wedding, yet not only did we finish on time, but with time to spare for fittings of the clothes. Our finery was nothing to what it would have been, had this been a diplomatic marriage with the full wealth of Asia behind us, but we were enough to dazzle the eye and set any man's heart a-beating or so my aunt said, though the plundering of our clothes had left sad ruins behind. I had scarcely spoken to my sister since the betrothal was announced. It shames me to admit that I had avoided her as being touched with bad fortune, since she was cursed with a man who had caused the however indirectly of her own father. Now though we sat and talked as sisters should, before such a momentous day.
"You look wondrous," Statira said to me. "You are more beautiful than I ever was."
I had to smile. "That is not true. Your beauty is famed all over Asia, and you are gentle with it. Too gentle to deserve him." I reached up as she was taller than me, and adjusted the filmy cloth that covered her head. She was indeed the beautiful one of the family, tall and slender with dreamy eyes, and an unearthly air to her face, which was delicate and finely boned. I thought of my darling sister being tied to that man, and shivered in disgust. I wished we were young again, and hid in the gardens together, away from a scolding, giggling and trying not to be heard, after committing misdemeanours unbefitting to princesses, not here being married to men we despised. I had to know however if her feelings remained the same as mine. "Do you feel the same towards Alexander?"
Her eyes dropped, and I began to fear the answer. If even the bastion of my sister had fallen to the loathsome charms of the despot, I was truly alone indeed. She answered softly. "I have had audience with him three times. I cannot forget who and what he is, but when he speaks it is as though the gods have enchanted his tongue to speak only pleasing honey, and even those who have suffered hardship under his hands come alive, and would follow him to the gates of the underworld. And yet for me the spell lasts only as long as he speaks. Besides how could I find a man attractive when he obviously desires me not?"
I was confused. My sister was all a man could need in a wife, far more so than I- we had the same spirit, but hers was restrained by her good sense and caution, and mine tempered only by the beatings I had endured as a pert child, she was beautiful and skilled in arts of music and a thousand ladylike things, all this added to her noble bearing and , and she was the perfect spouse for a king. I voiced this to her, for afterall if she thought her husband would not desire her with all of these traits, what would mine think of me, with so few? She looked at me with a slight astonishment. "Do you not know?"
"Know what?" was my reply. I was still more confused. Yet Statia did not reply, just looked at me a little sadly.
"Suffice it to say, that my person bears no charms for him." And with that cryptic utterance, she kissed my forehead and left me to my thoughts.
The day came faster than I had thought possible, and all the brides and bridegrooms were assembled in the feasting hall. The ceremony went by in a haze. Indeed I remember little of that evening, save that my new husband and Alexander talked much together, no doubt of battle plans, and that it would appear Aleesha's advice had been taken as regards the wine. I retired before him, in order to prepare for the bridal chamber. Hephaestion did not follow for some hours. I fell asleep waiting for him, as the fire burnt down, and the sweet herbs lost their potency. When finally he entered he was obviously drunk, and there was an odd smell from him. He stripped, unaware that I could see him, though I closed my eyes never having seen a man thus before. He fell beside me and I turned to him, wishing I had indulged in the wine also. Yet when I touched his shoulder, he was asleep. I took this opportunity to study him carefully. His profile was clean and strong, and no doubt many s wished he would come to them thus. I took advantage of his state to run my fingers softly down his jaw-line.
I felt no tremor within me, no sudden shock of want, as the other women had sometimes whispered of. And when I saw the mark on his neck, a bruise newly given, I understood that he felt nothing of the same towards me. I realised that this was but a man like any other. Perhaps a man who had d and killed. Yet I felt no revulsion towards him, though not any wish for closeness either. Suddenly it did not matter. I had been given to this man as wife. All he needed to do was get me with child after all, and from all reports the act was short, a matter of minutes. Tomorrow I would insist he consummate the marriage. Tomorrow I would figure out where my new life started.
That had been my intention anyhow. When the next night came, and it was time to retire, I waited for him, rather than retire first, though annoyance flickered in his eyes. While I waited, I cast my eye around the room, seeking to discover who his lover might be. I saw no likely candidate, no woman with whom he exchanged a secret smile, or glanced to more often than most. Indeed he spent most of his time in low conversation with the king. Then finally when I had almost given up hope, he took my arm and we retired back to the chamber. We prepared separately. I began to shake. My words of the night before had been bravado, designed to convince myself I did not fear him. Now faced with the reality of that I raised my chin, despite the quailing of my stomach, as he turned away from me. "My lord Hephaestion we must consummate this marriage at least once, to lend it some credence in our oaths before the gods."
His voice was quiet, carefully studied Persian coming harder to his tongue than his native language. "I have no stomach for this."
"I am a woman my lord no different in construction from any other, and I daresay little different in the main from your lover. She may hold your heart, but I am required to at least once, share your body."
His shoulders shook in a muffled laugh. "I think you misunderstand my meaning Drypetis." I said nothing, waiting only for him. His shoulders lifted in a quick shrug, and he gently propelled me backwards to lie upon the bed. It was quick and painful, and I could not resist letting silent tears fall as he thrust and shuddered his way to completion. When that moment came, he bit his lip rather than cry out the name of the person he thought of. I do not believe he intended to hurt me, in fact I am sure he did not. Hephaestion was never a cruel man. But sometimes I regret forcing the point, when I remember the tears I shed that night. I remember clasping a hand to my stomach and praying that a life blossomed there, which would absolve me of all such duties in the future. I had had no care nor regard for babies, and yet I found myself longing one as though it was the only thing that could stand between me and such a repetition. For what man did not want an heir?
I found out of course. I was too blind and too stupid to deduce it for myself. My sister, Hephaestion, even palace rumour had placed all the clues in front of me, but I was too unwilling to see it. What was so stupid of course was I should have seen it instantly. It was not as though such liaisons were either unknown or even despised in my world, not as though I had not seen my father consort with men himself. I can only guess at what made me so short sighted. Perhaps the ing remains of a hope that perhaps something more could blossom between us. So it took something more drastic, for me to see what was right below my nose all the time. I was looking for Statira, not having seen my sister in three days. No-one had seen her though, and finally I thought of directing my steps to Alexander's chambers. The door swung open to the sumptuous room that preceded the bedroom. Two figures lay sprawled together in sleep, entwined on the bed. It was but a moment's work to ascertain Hephaestion, his nights in my bed sleeping chaste and peaceful, had familiarized me with his body. But whomsoever I had been expecting, it was not the king. In a flash all was clear to me. Hephaestion's unwillingness to use my body, his ease at being married to a random without any fore-notice. I cursed myself for blindness. He preferred men that much was obvious. And he had made no quibble the night before about his secret lover being the one who held his heart. I stepped quietly from the room, and looked around helplessly. Indeed I had married an important man. Not only a general, but one who held the king's heart in his hands. I doubted though I would be envied by any.
And yet I think that is the day I can say with certainty that I began to grow up. I was, and perhaps still am a spoilt child, but I was taught a hard and cold lesson. Love doesn't come with duty, and nothing I ever did was going to give me his love. I felt the that I knew grew within my womb, and hugged myself. I would give my love to it instead, and if he could not be my dream, then at least he should love our child.
Three months after conception I miscarried, losing my baby, and so the physician told me any chance of having another. I believe I would have thrown myself from the window had I been allowed, and indeed in one of my fever dreams I attempted to do just that. At that point a bodyguard was assigned to protect me from myself. I vaguely recognised him, but I could neither remember from where, nor bring myself to care. At some point in my convalescence, my husband left. I was healed physically, but I believe my mind was unbalanced during that time. And I blamed my husband. Perhaps that was not right of me to do so. After all it was my body that had rejected the , but I was not prepared to be reasonable. I had lost a part of me that at first I had not wanted, but which had become the world as everything else fell apart, and the dreadful keening loss filled my soul. I was nursed well enough, but that one experience made me feel physically repulsed at it ever being repeated by that man, whether to produce a child or not. As it turned out, I only ever saw him once again, and at that time he was . I cannot say I mourned him much. Perhaps I mourned him a little, for he was but a man, and the fact that he was such made him worthy of sadness at the value of life being ed away.
I stood next to the first wife of Alexander, as Hephaestion burned, and I watched her, as she watched Alexander. Her face was a mask of serenity, and she stood with her hand almost unconsciously on her narrow waist. Her husband's face was that of a man who had seen hell, and who had stood so close to the edge that it was still reflected in his eyes. More than a hint of madness shone there, something of what I had felt when I lost my child except multiplied, until he seemed barely human, as though his skin merely contained a sack of pain and longing. As the flames blazed ever higher, he turned to me, and seized my hand in a grip of iron that left bruises on my skin. He didn't seem to know what to say, and I doubted he even recognised who I was. Then his eyes cleared for a moment, and with the fierce intensity that drove men to follow him through fire, he asked me a question. "Did he love you?"
That at least was easy to answer. "No my lord." I hesitated, then added, "He told me once you were his love." Hephaestion had not said those words, but he had not denied them when I had spoken them, and I wished only to give ease to such patent suffering. I wondered if Alexander even heard me, for he let go of my hand, and crouched in the dirt like some wild animal, and I could find it in my heart to pity him, even after the ruin he had dealt me and mine.
As I stood before the man who had been my husband's funeral pyre, I prayed for him and for myself, and even a little for Alexander, that if in days to come, we were reborn in different bodies as some philosophers believed, that we would be blessed with happier times.
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