KOTTABOS! By Moon71
SUMMARY: Alexander and his friends at Mieza play their first drinking game.
DISCLAIMER: I don't play drinking games.
RATING: Harmless really except for lots of kissing as per the rules of this game.
DEDICATION: For Edeline – a bit of teenage angst, fun and romance, inspired by your charming story, to brighten up the winter gloom (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, that is... wouldn't want to be accused of being "hemispherist" or anything...)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: First of all, a massive, huge thank you and un mare di baci to Barbara for suggesting such an excellent idea! Second – doing a bit of searching, I found more than one explanation for how Kottabos was played, varying from naming your latest crush to kissing him, and also what was done with the cup. Being a writer not an historian, I've allowed Hector to twist the rules to get the result he wants. Well, bless him, he didn't get much of a run for his money.
EXTRA NOTE: To all my dear friends with LJs - I have finally set one up under the same penname, but its empty until I get organised. I will eventually upload all my old stories to it, and will provide a link in one of the communities... give me time, I'm rubbish at these things... and yes I know, the notes are almost longer than the story...
I had to tell him. I was going to tell him. Today. Right now. This minute.
Alexander. I have something very important to say to you.
No, that sounded stupid.
Alexander, you have to know that I…
Alexander, I like you much more than any of the other boys at Mieza…
I like you more than any boy I've ever met…
Yes, that was better. But then what?
I want to be your lover?
Did that sound right? He was a prince!
I want to be your beloved?
But I was older than him… though not by much. Some of the older boys, not the ones at Mieza, but Alexander's friends back in Pella, said it didn't matter that much. Besides, I wasn't completely sure what a lover did to a beloved… I'd heard things, but there were supposed to be right ways and wrong ways, and then there were wrong ways that some people said were right, if you did them in certain ways, or with certain people… If I said I wanted to be Alexander's lover, would he expect me to know what I should do to him? Or if I was the beloved, would he know what he was suppose to do to me? And what was a beloved supposed to do when the lover was doing whatever he was doing to him? Someone had said that a beloved wasn't supposed to do anything, just have things done to him. But they'd also said that the beloved had no business putting himself forward – it was up to the lover to court him! So if Alexander was to be the beloved, he could be waiting for me to court him! But if he was to be the lover, would he be angry with me for forcing the issue?
My head had begun to ache; I even felt a little nauseous. Best to start all over again. Keep it simple.
Alexander, I really, really like you, and I'd like us to be lovers. Would you like that too? What do you think?
Better…! Let the prince make the decision!
My restive wanderings through the gardens of Midas halted abruptly as I saw him, sitting on a bench, his golden hair glinting in the evening sunlight as he bent over his reading. Standing there, unnoticed as yet, gazing longingly upon my precious Alexander, I knew exactly what I wanted to say.
My dear Alexander… there's no-one like you in the whole of Macedon… maybe in the whole world. You're so brave and clever and so good at everything and you're so, so pretty… I feel so warm and happy whenever I see you… please tell me if you feel the same way…
"Alexander…" I began in a feeble croak, then cleared my throat and started again.
But just then, Hector, the youngest son of General Parmenion, appeared down the opposite path and called to Alexander, who looked up eagerly and beckoned him over. Drawing Hector down onto the bench, Alexander slipped his arm around the younger boy's shoulders and began talking quickly and softly to him. I strained to hear what was being said, but I couldn't make out the words. My heart squeezed painfully as I saw Hector's arm slide easily about Alexander's waist, the two boys bending their heads together as they whispered. Presently, Alexander gave an audible sigh and rested his head against Hector's shoulder.
Infuriated to find tears stinging my eyes, I fled back to my room.
What a bitter place Mieza suddenly seemed to me, after for so long being my Elysium. The boy I cared for so much didn't care for me; he cared for another. Well, why shouldn't he? I tried to be reasonable. Hector was the son of a powerful family; his father was arguably King Philip's best General. Compared to him I was an outsider, a nobody whose father was owed a favour by the King.
But it was worse than that. Not only would Alexander and I never be lovers, but now he had begun avoiding me – as if he already knew what I'd planned to ask him and was embarrassed because he couldn't return my feelings or annoyed by my effrontery. When I did see him, more and more often it was in the company of Hector, sometimes arm in arm, frequently whispering urgently to him. I tried to be happy for him – Hector was a friendly, attractive, fun-loving boy, full of mischief and clever new games, never hesitating to share any treats sent to him by his parents or gossip provided by his elder brothers and sisters. Who was more deserving of Alexander's affection? But whenever I saw them, I felt sick with jealousy. The fact that Alexander and I shared a room made it so much worse; a week after I'd seen him with Hector in the garden we were hardly speaking.
It was my fault too, I knew it. I was avoiding him. But I didn't know what to say to him! Should I ask him if Hector was really now his beloved? Did I really want to know? Besides, what if Hector wasn't his beloved yet! What if Alexander told me he wanted him, what if he asked for my help in courting him! And yet if he really was my friend, shouldn't I try to help?
"It's all going wrong," I said aloud as I made my way from my lessons, back to the living quarters, "It's all going wrong…"
"….did you say something, Hephaestion…?"
I blinked and looked across at Alexander. He moved so quietly I hadn't heard him approach. "No. No, nothing," I said quickly, then took a deep breath and began, "Alexander, I wanted to…"
"Come on, " he cut in as if he hadn't heard me, "Hector has been sent a gift of lovely sweet wine by his father, he's going to share it with us and…" he glanced over his shoulder, then dropped his voice to a whisper, "and teach us a new drinking game! He says Philotas and the others play it at Court!"
I could barely suppress a groan. A drinking game – probably some nonsense with humiliating forfeits and embarrassing confessions. It was the last thing I was in the mood for. I tried to ignore the warmth of Alexander's hand on my arm as he pulled me indoors, and the fact that this was the first time he had sought me out in what seemed ages. "I'd… rather not, Alexander," I said dully.
I saw a frown crease his pale brow. He glanced at me, then glanced away. "Hephaestion, I…" Then he smiled in that way I couldn't resist. "Please come, Hephaestion. It won't be so much fun otherwise…"
What could I say to that? I followed him meekly.
"Kottabos!" Hector clapped his hands triumphantly as he and Antipater's son Nikanor balanced a javelin between two stools, then balanced a shallow wine cup on the javelin. "There," he said, "no-one breathe on it!"
"I've heard of this," Perdiccas declared, "you've got to…"
"Yes, yes," Hector interrupted, "first you've all got to drink three cups of wine, one after the other…"
"Hang on," Perdiccas tried again, "that doesn't sound right…"
"We have to get in the mood first or it isn't funny," Hector told him, "here, I'll be Ganymede tonight…!" he laughed so uproariously at his own joke that I began to wonder if he'd helped himself to a few cups before the rest of us arrived, but he poured the wine with a steady hand. At first I sipped at the clear white wine without relish, though it was sweet and good and had been well chilled, but soon I began to drink greedily, the better to soothe my nerves. I had quickly stretched out on Nikanor's bed with his brothers Cassander and Iollas and Alexander's cousin Leonatus before Alexander had picked his place, not sure whether I wanted to avoid reclining next to Alexander or was more afraid he would try to avoid me.
Soon enough, the boys around me were all giggling stupidly, nudging each other and cracking dirty jokes. I noticed Alexander drank with particular speed and kept glancing at Hector. I began to feel sick, and not just from the wine. The room was too hot and the air thin with so many of us crammed together.
When he had poured us each a third cup, Hector told us, "now you mustn't finish it completely, leave a little in the bottom. Now when you're ready, you have to flick drops of wine from your cup and try to hit the cup on the javelin. If you knock the cup down…"
"I do know this!" Perdiccas blurted out, sloshing wine all over Hector's bed in his excitement, "you're supposed to call out the name of your beloved! You're supposed to say – "
"No, that's not how you play this game," Hector put a hand over Perdiccas' mouth before the other boy could continue. "In this version, the one who knocks off the cup gets to kiss the boy he likes most!"
"Oh no…" I groaned, too dizzy to realise I'd said it aloud.
"What's the matter, Hephaestion?" Leonatus laughed and punched me on the arm, "afraid you're not pretty enough to get a kiss?"
I felt my face grow hot as the others jeered at me; glancing uncomfortably about me, I accidentally met Alexander's gaze. "Why don't you go first, Hephaestion?" he asked.
I couldn't help glaring at him, but I did as I was told. Clumsily I flicked some drops of wine at the cup, but none of them hit home.
"That was useless, Hephaestion!" Hector cried indignantly.
"You didn't even try," Alexander added, and I was surprised and confused to hear the disappointment in his voice. When I looked at him, he turned away. Perdiccas had his go next, though he was so busy insisting Kottabos wasn't played like this that he missed completely too. Leonatus tried after him, but he had drained his cup so thoroughly there were no drops to flick and he insisted on having a refill so that he would be ready for the second round. Then it was Hector's turn. I saw him wink at Alexander as he took careful aim. I felt my stomach tighten, hardly realising I'd sunk my teeth into my lower lip until I tasted the saltiness of blood mixing with the sweetness of the wine.
With a deafening clang, the cup hit the floor. The other boys cheered loud enough to wake the school stewards. "Go on then, Hector," Perdiccas called, "if you're making up the rules, who would you like to kiss?"
"I'm not making it up!" Hector protested, then a slow grin spread across his face. I found I was actually holding my breath.
"Nikanor!" Hector declared.
Cassander stirred next to me. "Now hang on one minute…"
"Oh, shut up, brother," Nikanor chuckled, crawling forward on his bed to accept Hector's enthusiastic kiss.
I released my breath at last, feeling giddy, the cheering of the boys around me jarring on my ears. I couldn't help looking at Alexander, who was watching Hector and Nikanor with an anxious, wistful expression. When Cassander finally prised the two boys apart, Hector, blushing pink, refilled the cups of those who had already played and set the cup back on the javelin. My eyes were burning as I stared down into my cup, torn between relief that Hector had not asked to kiss Alexander and pity for the boy I thought so very much of. Surely it was cruel of Hector to organise such a game and then pick another beloved? Could he really be so indifferent to my beautiful Alexander?
"My turn," I heard Alexander say.
"No, it's my turn next!" Nikanor protested.
"No it isn't!" both his brothers snapped, pushing him back down.
"Yeah," Leonatus slurred, downing his fourth cup, "we all know who you're going to kiss, son of Antipater!"
"Maybe he'll change the rules again," Perdiccas added, "this time if Nikanor wins he gets to put his hand up Hector's – "
"Shut up, Perdiccas!" Cassander snarled.
Alexander ignored them, slowly putting his finger into his cup. I could see Hector grinning across at him, licking his lips in anticipation. Perhaps I'd misjudged him – perhaps he was the sort of boy who liked having others fighting for his attentions.
I jumped as I heard the cup strike the ground, wanting to cover my ears when I heard my friends cheering. Well of course Alexander would win; he was perfect at everything, even stupid drinking games. I wondered if I could get out of the room before it came time for him to kiss Hector. Gazing frantically around to see if anyone was watching me, I saw Hector still smiling. "Go on, then, Alexander," he called, and to my fury he looked right at me. "Name the one you love and give him a kiss!"
"Just a minute! You never said anything about love…!"
"Oh shut up, Perdiccas! Well, Alexander?"
Alexander lowered his eyes. Unwillingly I stared at him. The flush on his cheeks was so becoming, the teasing little smile curving his lips so sweet, I just couldn't bear the thought of his caring for someone else the way I cared for him…
"What - ?" I blinked stupidly, honestly thinking someone was trying to get my attention. The next thing I knew the others were pushing me forward, slapping me on the back and shouting my name. Only when Alexander stepped towards me, smiling shyly, did I realise it was actually me he had picked. The next thing I knew his hands were upon my shoulders and he was standing on his toes to kiss my mouth. I was too stunned to enjoy it, let alone return it. All too soon the warmth of Alexander's lips was withdrawn and I was looking down into anxious grey eyes.
There was so much I wanted to say to him then, but not here, not now, not in front of our friends. But I had to do something, anything to show what this meant to me. So I leaned down and kissed him.
"Cheat!" Perdiccas cried, "you haven't had your second go yet!"
"Oh do be quiet, Perdiccas," I heard Hector sigh. I turned then, expecting to see unhappiness on his face. But he just winked at me. When I saw Alexander briefly give his hand a grateful press as he slid back next to him, I understood it all.
I was in a deliciously light and happy dream as I reclined back next to Cassander who handed me my refilled cup with an amicable grin; I hardly noticed the others take their turns until Cassander nudged me and told me it was my turn again. I looked at Alexander, clenched my jaw, took aim, and flicked wine at the cup. It wobbled, tipped, and clattered to the ground.
"Alexander!" I cried, before anyone had time to ask.