GOLD AND SILVER by MOON 71
SUMMARY: When Alexander behaves badly, his nurse Lanike thinks up a very unusual punishment…
DISCLAIMER: I take no responsibility for Alexander's bratty behaviour – who am I, Queen Olympias?!
RATING: Utterly harmless, unless you cry when you read Andersen's fairytales.
DEDICATION: For Arlad, for so many kind and supportive reviews!
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This story has two inspirations. One is one of my all time favourite Alexander novels, Naomi Mitchison's delightful The Young Alexander the Great, in particular one scene where he takes his temper out on Hephaestion, leaving Aristotle to mediate between the two dear friends. It's a very sweet book and I recommend it, even if its written for children – there are many adult ones a lot worse! (No copyright infringement intended – this story is not based on her book, only inspired by it.) The second inspiration was Norrsken's equally delightful Alexander tales – she has brought a wonderful new dimension of magic and wonder into our Alexander fiction world!
She would have guessed something was wrong even if her brother had not warned her in advance. The little prince held himself stiff and cold and uncharacteristically silent as she undressed and bathed him; normally he was full of chatter and mischief, wriggling out of her grasp and trying to hide from her or making elaborate excuses not to go to bed. Now his pale face was flushed and his eyes were very bright and if she had not known better she would have feared he was coming down with something. But in Alexander such symptoms were usually caused by an affliction of the mind or the soul, not the body.
She remained quiet until his bath was completed; only as she rubbed him with scented oil and dressed him for bed did she ask casually, "did you have fun today?"
Alexander stared resolutely over her shoulder as she combed the hair back from his face. "I suppose so," he said sullenly.
"I hear my Cleitos was teaching you and your little friends to throw the javelin…"
"They're not my "little friends", Lanike," the child corrected her pedantically, "they're my …., my Companions, just like Father has his. One day they'll serve as my Generals."
"Whatever you say, my love," Hellanike murmured airily, "what does a silly woman like me know about men's matters, after all?"
"Nothing," was the ungracious answer.
Hellanike's brows rose, but she kept her tone light. "So how did you all do? Which one of your little – ah – which one of your Companions threw the best?"
Alexander lowered his eyes and began to chew his lip. "Perdiccas was good," he conceded slowly, almost reluctantly, glancing over his shoulder to where his young body-servant, Actaeon, waited in attendance.
Hellanike nodded, rising to hand the bottle of oil to Actaeon and wiping her hands on the cloth he held out to her. Dismissing him with a discreet nod, she busied herself with turning down Alexander's bed and arranging the fur blankets. "And what about your friend… the one you're always talking about… oh, what's his name… Hephaestion…? How did he do?"
"I'm not always talking about him!" Alexander's voice rose sharply, "I don't even like him!"
"You seemed to like him this morning," Hellanike offered innocently.
"Well I don't like him now! He's not my friend, he's a liar and a cheat and a stupid baby and I hate him!" Alexander threw himself petulantly down onto the bed. His nurse watched him without interrupting, knowing she would now hear the story whether she wanted to or not. "Cleitos was showing us how to throw the javelin at a target," he began in a breathless rush of words, "Perdiccas tried and he was okay but Cleitos said he wasn't strong enough in the arm yet and then Leonatus tried and Cleitus said he was very strong, because he's really good at wrestling, but he wasn't paying enough attention to hitting the target and then Hephaestion tried and he hit the target right in the middle first time and everyone said it was beginners luck but Cleitos said there was no such thing and I tried and I couldn't hit it the mark as closely as he could and then Cleitos made Hephaestion do it again because he said he wanted to show the rest of us what Hephaestion was doing right and he hit the mark again and I said he must have done it before and he said he hadn't and I said that he was a liar and a cheat because no-one was that good first time and he said I was only mad because he was better than me at something and then I did get mad because he shouldn't talk to me like that and I… slapped him. Across the face."
Alexander broke off at last, panting softly, eyeing Hellanike to see what her reaction would be. When she simply waited expectantly, he resumed at a slightly reduced pace, "but he didn't try to hit me back or fight me or anything, he just started to cry… like some stupid baby!" The memory of it seemed to disturb Alexander; his smooth young brow wrinkled in perplexity. "Anyway, the other boys said Hephaestion was stupid to cry and I was right to hit him and he shouldn't answer me back and say horrible things to me because I was his Prince… but Cleitos just put his arm around Hephaestion and said I was a… a "spiteful little bastard" and my Companions were "just a bunch of little arse-kissers.'"
Hellanike's eyes grew very wide. That was a part of the story her brother had chosen to leave out when he had come to her in the late afternoon, in a sour mood, to declare that Prince Alexander was a spoilt brat and Hellanike was a silly, sentimental, soft-headed woman to complain about Leonidas, who in Cleitos' opinion didn't beat the boy nearly hard enough. She quickly recovered herself however, ushering Alexander into bed and pulling the covers over him. Though his skin was hot, he was beginning to shiver. She had never known such a sensitive child – sometimes it made him almost unbearably loveable, with his grave, thoughtful little ways; but sometimes it was rather frightening. Loving or hating – he did both to such passionate extremes; his slender little body hardly seemed strong enough to contain the violent emotions that raged like stormy winds inside it.
"Well, never mind," Hellanike said at last. Drawing across the bowl of cool water infused with lavender and herbs she had told Actaeon to prepare, she wrung out the soaking cloth within it and gently dabbed at Alexander's forehead and cheeks. "Close your eyes now, dear heart," she soothed, "and I'll tell you a story."
"I'm too old for stories," Alexander replied petulantly, "and anyway, I've heard all your stories hundreds of times!"
"You haven't heard this one," Hellanike responded confidently. "This one is about Apollo and his sister Artemis, and how they had a competition."
Alexander frowned, but then closed his eyes and prepared to listen. Hellanike made herself comfortable in a chair by his bed and began.
"Once, Apollo went to see Hephaestus, the blacksmith god, in his workshop, to ask for some spare parts for his chariot. As Hephaestus was working, Apollo noticed the beautiful golden maidens Hephaestus had forged to wait upon him. Secretly he was both impressed by the other god's skill and jealous that he had created something so clever. So he declared to himself, "I can make something even better. I can make a boy – a boy so beautiful that everyone will love him." And he did! He mixed together sunshine and yellow honey and fire and gold and created a Golden Prince."
Hellanike stopped for a moment, watching Alexander's face. When she did not continue he didn't open his eyes but only murmured, "go on…"
Smiling faintly, Hellanike took a sip of the watered wine Actaeon had thoughtfully left her. He was a good boy, she mused absently; she ought to commend him to Queen Olympias. "Well, of course everyone clustered around the Golden Prince – he was almost as beautiful as Apollo himself and people came from all over to bask in his warmth and light and to flatter him and praise his beauty so that he would reward them with the sunlight of his smile and let them come closer.
"Apollo was so proud of his creation that he took him to show his sister Artemis. When she saw him, she was as impressed, and as envious, as Apollo had been of Hephaestus. And she thought, "I am as clever as my brother, and just as good at hunting and all sorts of sports, so I shall make a boy of my own." And so she did. She mixed together moonlight and silver and sweet white wine and spring water, and created a Silver Boy." Hellanike stopped to take another sip of wine. "Of course she showed him to Apollo; he congratulated her but was secretly pleased, because he didn't think the Silver Boy was nearly as grand as the Golden Prince, and told his boy so when Artemis wasn't listening. This made the Golden Prince feel very happy – he was used to being loved more than anyone else and he didn't like to think that the Silver Boy might be prettier than him…"
A faint frown twitched across Alexander's brow, but he did not comment.
"Soon enough," Hellanike continued, "Artemis and Apollo thought it might be fun for the Golden Prince and the Silver Boy to meet, so they brought them together. As soon as he saw him, the Silver Boy fell deeply in love with the Golden Prince…"
"Fell in love?" Alexander spoke up for the first time in a tone full of scorn. "Ugh! That's soppy, Lanike!"
"Perhaps you're right," his nurse conceded, getting to her feet and noisily pushing back her chair, "anyway, it's time you went to sleep…"
"No! Not yet…" Opening his eyes, Alexander caught hold of her wrist. "Finish the story first…"
Hellanike pretended to hesitate, but then she retook her seat. "Where was I? Oh yes. Of course the Golden Prince loved the Silver Boy too, but he never told him so, because he couldn't understand him. Unlike everyone else, the Silver Boy didn't seem to want to bask in his light and warmth, and he didn't say flattering things to him. When the Golden Prince asked him why, the Silver Boy just smiled and said that he had his own light; he didn't need anything from the Golden Prince except his love and friendship. The Golden Prince became curious. What light did the Silver Boy have? During the day he didn't seem to shine at all. When he asked the Silver Boy about it, he told him to wait until Artemis had replaced her brother Apollo in the heavens and the world was dark. So that's what the Golden Prince did. And there he saw the Silver Boy, indeed shining with his own cool silver light. At first the Golden Prince was relieved – it wasn't hot or bright or fiery like his own light, and nobody could keep warm by it. But people were still drawn to it – only instead of trying to make use of it, they simply stared quietly at the Silver Boy, entranced by his silvery beauty."
Alexander's frown had deepened; he was watching Hellanike with wide, wary eyes, as if he already knew what would happen next. Seeing the flush darken on his cheeks, she wiped them gently with the cool cloth once more and stroked his hair. "When the Golden Prince saw how the Silver Boy was adored, he grew angry. He thought his friend was showing off, and had only invited him to see his light because he thought it was better than the Prince's. So the Golden Prince took the Silver Boy down into some deep caves, telling him that he wanted to show him some magical crystals which grew there and that they need not be scared because the Prince's golden light would make the caves as bright as day. They walked for a very long time, until the Silver Boy was very tired and wanted to rest. As soon as he had fallen asleep, the Golden Prince left him alone there in the darkness."
"No…!" Alexander whispered plaintively.
Hellanike pretended not to hear. "The Silver Boy awoke to find himself alone in the dark. Without the Golden Prince, he did not cast enough light to find his way out, and he was lonely and frightened. He waited for the Golden Prince to come back for him, and when he didn't the Silver Boy began to cry. For after all, he had never tried to outshine the Golden Prince, only to match his light in the hope that the Golden Prince would return his love." She hesitated, swallowing hard as she saw tears welling up in Alexander's grey eyes, but forced herself to continue. "Artemis heard the Silver Boy crying and took pity on him. She guided him out of the cave, but when they saw her brother's chariot and horses appearing over the horizon and she was about to retire, the Silver Boy began to cry once more and told her he didn't want to see the Golden Prince again because he thought the Golden Prince must hate him to treat him so cruelly. So Artemis took away the silver and sweet white wine and spring water and left only the moonlight."
"And… wh-what about the Golden Prince - ?" Alexander asked in a choked voice.
"Well," Hellanike sighed, "of course he missed his silver friend. He was tired of people saying nice things to him and agreeing with everything he said just so they could use his warmth and light and he began to wish the Silver Boy was there to tell him the truth. So finally he decided to go back to the cave to find him. Of course he wasn't there! The Golden Prince was angry and upset and he refused to let anyone bask in his light until they found the Silver Boy. So everyone hurried around, searching for Artemis' child, and soon enough they found him in a meadow filled with flowers of the kind which only give out their scent at night, gazing thoughtfully up at the stars. When the Golden Boy heard this, he ran straight to where they told him his friend was."
"And he found him…?" Alexander asked anxiously, no longer giving any pretence of indifference.
Sadly Hellanike shook her head. "He was there, of course, but the Prince couldn't see him. Because now the Silver Boy was only moonlight, and moonlight can't be seen when the sun is shining, so whenever the Golden Prince got close to him his light made the Silver Boy disappear. So he never saw him again."
That final sentence was enough. As soon as Alexander realised there was to be no other ending to the story, he burst into a full flood of tears, curling up onto his side and pushing his fist into his mouth to stifle his sobs. Calmly his nurse rose, kissed his golden curls and leaned over to extinguish the lamp. "Sleep well, my love," she murmured, padding softly across the floor to her own bedchamber where her brother Cleitos was sprawled gracelessly across her bed.
"Any luck?" he grunted.
"Oh do get up, you great oaf," she scolded, pushing him off the bed and shaking down the sheets, "if you're going to do that at least brush the dust off your clothes and take your sandals off! And don't use profanity in front of your sister," she added when he muttered a curse and stumbled to his feet, "or in front of the Prince and his little friends! If the Queen complains to me she's heard Alexander using words like – like "bastard" and "arse-kisser" don't think I won't tell her who he learned them from!"
"All right, all right," mumbled Cleitos, moving towards the door, "but did you have any luck?"
Hellanike smiled enigmatically. "Come the morning, we'll see. Health to you, my brother," she added, turning her back on him.