This short story is intended to be part of a longer Illyrian fic. My Muses brought it forward when they became inspired by Stella's Exiles. Read and enjoy!
TEMPLATE: Title: A Night In Illyria (1/1)
Category: Love/Friendship/Adventure story
Date: May 2007
Feedback: Yes, on and off list, as you please.
Archive: Yes, but please tell me first.
Disclaimer: I don't own them. This is for entertainment only, and for my deep interest in Alexander and Hephaestion, their times and great adventures.
Beta: Denise. Many thanks for interesting discussions and suggestions. You sure make my stories a far better read.
Summary: Alexander and Hephaestion experienced hard times during their Illyrian exile. There were some memorable moments, though.
A Night In Illyria
A cave in the Illyrian wilderness, 338 BC
It was a cold winter night high up in the Illyrian mountains. Hephaestion kept his silent vigil, guarding his important ward. The fire was flickering, its flames leaping and casting shadows all over the stony walls of the cave. Outside, the winter night was cold and merciless, and its bitter cold was seeping into their humble dwelling. Once they lived in a palace, once they had friends and family, once they had great expectations. One moment, one exchange of hard and insulting words had changed all this. Now they lived in a cave high up in the Illyrian mountains. Food and comforts were scarce. They had warming furs and wood for their fire, and just enough to eat, sometimes not even that. Their faithful horses Bucephalus and Castor were sharing their bitter exile, and also their dogs, Peritas and Pollux.
He dearly missed his friends and family, his secure home at the Second Hill, his kind and loving animals and his military exercise at the Macedonian cavalry. He had been a junior cavalry officer with a promising career. The King was looking with favor upon him, and he had expected to be amongst the crack troops embarking on the Persian Conquest. Now he had been cut off from all of his former life, with bleak expectations to ever regain what he had lost.
It was all worth it, though. His Beautiful Golden One slept calmly now, wrapped in his warming bear and wolf furs. As long as they were together all was well. He would never desert his friend, and certainly not now, when he was in disgrace, cut off from all his former glory and great expectations. Alexander had been very ill of late, and he was now slowly recovering from the insidious illness that had plagued him these long and anguished weeks. Even in his weakened condition he radiated that golden strength and security that seemed to be his very own. He was beautiful in the orange light from the fireside. The flickering flames added an extra glow to his golden hair, and gave his pale face a warming color, resembling the roses of true health. The dark shadows under his eyes told another, more sinister story. He was pale and wan, since he had not been able to eat or drink properly during his illness. His breathing was troubling him. It came with hard and rasping sounds, and he seemed to be in pain and distress.
There came a weak moan from inside the furs, and then there was some tossing and turning. Hephaestion reacted instantly, checking on his friend. He put his hand on his troubled brow. Alexander felt a bit cooler now. Perhaps his fever was breaking. Maybe all the vile concoctions made from healing herbs were acting at long last.
"Alexander! Are you in pain? " he worriedly asked. There was no answer, but Alexander soon calmed down at the touch of Hephaestion's hands. The voice of his friend seemed to make him rest easier.
"Yes, that's better, my Dear One, " he told his friend, trying to be of comfort. "Soon I will have something that will make you feel better. "
Hephaestion turned his attention to the kettle on the fire. A succulent steak of venison was simmering in a sauce of bouillon and wine. Thyme and juniper berries added some extra fragrance and the appetizing aromas filled the whole cave. A nutritious mass of edible roots, leaves and lichen were baking in a clay pot near by the fireside. In another kettle a brew of healing herbs was simmering. It was willow and elderberry, and also some blue berries intended to help his patient regain his lost appetite. Hephaestion frowned at the concoction. Alexander was the one with the knowledge of herbs and medicine. He had managed to tell his friend what to collect, and how to prepare it, but his fever had made him incoherent, and Hephaestion hoped he had made the mixture correctly. He now stirred it with a stick, and then he turned the steak simmering in its tasty bouillon. Peritas and Pollux came sniffing at the kettle, curious about the wonderful smell emanating from it. Hephaestion gently smacked their muzzles.
"No, you greedy ones! Keep away from that! " he warningly told them. "You'll just burn yourselves on it - and you have already caught your own dinner! If you are good I will let you taste when it is ready. "
The dogs went sulking into a corner, but soon they went to Alexander and begun licking his hands. He managed to lift them and weakly patted the faithful dogs on their furry heads. Hephaestion smiled at this sign of recovery. He went to see to the horses. Castor and Bucephalus were sullenly munching on some moss and dry grass. It was very hard finding enough food to satisfy two big war horses, and their equine friends were so thin their ribs were almost visible. He had managed to keep them properly groomed, though, and there was a stream with clear water close nearby. Hephaestion put his hands on their withers, gently rubbing them the way they liked so very much.
"Oh, my faithful ones. I know you are starving, but we will do our very best to find some more moss and grass tomorrow, " he reassuringly told them, burying his face in the warm and soft auburn mane of his war stallion. "And, soon spring will come to all of us. Then we will have new hope and much more to eat..."
Castor gave him a probing look, filled with longing for the luxurious Royal stables at Pella. The faithful stallion didn't understand why they had ridden all this way, just to live in a humble cave up in these desolate, cold and miserable mountains. His stomach grumbled, and he remembered the taste of the fresh hay and barley in the Pella stables, the apples and honey cakes his dear Master used to feed him, and the succulent green pastures the cavalry mounts had for grazing. He let himself drift into a lovely dream of better days...
Bucephalus shared the same dream about the excellent feeding in the Pella stables. He was a huge stallion, and even more hungry than his chestnut friend. Alexander had told him there was a Bad Man separating him from his Father, wishing him and his dear Mother harm. That was the sad reason to their fall from grace. Bucephalus was just about to munch upon an especially sweet and newly baked honey cake, being offered to him from Alexander, dressed in a yellow, golden rimmed chiton. Then his stomach growled and grumbled so loudly he was taken back to reality and the heap of dry and meager moss before his muzzle. He was cold and hungry, but there was some heat emanating from the fire. He looked into it, trying to draw some more warmth into himself. His gaze fell upon his Dear Master. Alexander was sleeping close by the fireside, carefully wrapped into a heap of warming furs. He looked somewhat better this evening. The golden glow around him was stronger and mixed with the orange red glow from the fire. Bucephalus gave a satisfied snort and took another nibble at the moss. Now it tasted almost like a warm honey cake from the Pella kitchen. All was well when he was together with his Dear Master, even this bitter exile.
Hephaestion gave his Castor an extra hug before he returned to the fireside. He saw to his cooking, checked on Alexander who was sleeping peacefully, and then he sat down to rest. He looked through the opening of the cave. The wintry landscape outside caught his eye. White snow and hoarfrost rested on firs, spruces, junipers, birches and all other trees, making them look as if covered in gems and pearls. There was a wide spectrum of white glittering on the snow and ice, and deep blue, light blue and emerald green rendered extra depth to the shadows. If it hadn't been for the deathly cold of winter it could have been stunningly beautiful. A full moon soared high up in the deep blue, velvet dark night time sky, surrounded by a court of brightly shining stars. Hephaestion recognized Orion the Hunter with his dogs Sirius and Procyon helping him in his eternal hunt. He fondly remembered their namesakes, Alexander's small puppies, and their constant squabbles with his beloved kittens Achilles and Antigona. Alexander always used to tell them all the most vivid and exiting bedtime tales about the stars in the skies. Hephaestion felt a tear running down his cheek at the thought of these happier days, spent in peaceful innocence at the Pella Palace and the Keep of Amyntor. Cassiopeia the Queen and her husband Cepheus sat on their heavenly thrones and Perseus rode on his Pegasus, eager to save his beloved Andomeda from the dreaded Sea Monster. The Seven Sisters danced their merry dance below Perseus' feet, and Hephaestion could almost hear them singing a celestial chant of glorious celebration. The red star of Ares soared in the middle of the skies, beckoning to him about future glories, violence and conquests. Hephaestion made a silent prayer to the War God himself
// "Mighty Ares, God of War, please help us to survive this cold winter, this bitter exile. Let my Alexander be returned to his rightful place. We will do many great things in your honour to give you thanks " //
The red star suddenly twinkled and flared up. Ares' Heavenly namesake seemed to become even bigger and brighter. Perhaps it was just a figment of his imagination, but Hephaestion thought and hoped that his ardent prayer had been heard and looked upon with favour.
A lynx came silently prowling between two junipers. She stayed, looking straight at Hephaestion with hunger in her feral yellow eyes. The tufts on her ears prickled in anticipation as she sniffed the delicious cooking fumes. He sat calmly, but then took a firebrand from his cooking fire and waved at her. She hissed at him in disappointment and then returned the way she came.
A pack of wolves came running up towards the cave. They had caught the scent of humans, dogs and horses, and most of all the delicious food simmering in the kettel. The snow fell from the trees in great, billowing clouds as they ran up the mountainside. Then they sat down, howling in disappointed anger. Hephaestion had put up a high fence, made from sharp and thorny juniper and fir branches. It was held in place by large boulders, and impossible for all hungry predators to pass through. One could open it at ease, just by removing some of the stakes, something the predators were unable to figure out. Hephaestion had always envisioned how he and Alexander went out, besieging the Enemy's cities. He had never imagined that they themselves might be besieged, both by cold, starvation and ferocious predators.
The wolves ran away, howling and intent on hunting down some other innocent victims. They were replaced by a flock of deer. Their brave leader was so very big and beautiful. He had the most impressive pair of antlers, glittering with hoarfrost. Several beautiful and adoring does surrounded him. They searched in desperation for food that was not easy to come by. Hephaestion had taken all that he could to feed Bucephalus and Castor. Moss, grass and lichen were now scarce in the vicinities of their cave. He watched the beautiful animals in admiration for a long time, almost regretting the harm he had to do to them. At long last he grasped his strongbow in careful silence and put an arrow to the bowstring, taking thorough aim. His shot was successful, a clean strike. One of the does would never more look in adoration upon her dominant deer. He saw her spirit leave her falling body and made a silent prayer of forgiveness to her. The flock ran away in terror. As soon as he had seen that all was safe he took Perditas and Pollux to bring in the doe. Now they had a greater chance to survive the coming week.
Once more he turned to his cooking. The steak of venison now was ready with its simmering, delicious sauce. He lifted the kettle from the fire, putting it on a stone shelf well out of reach for their mischievous dogs. The clay pot with the roots, leaves and lichen was ready, too. He checked on the healing concoction, giving it another stir. The blueberries and elderberries were soft and juicy now, and he took it from the fire, letting it cool down a bit before he put it in a clay bowl. He took Alexander in his lap, gently holding him and giving him some well needed support. His friend was very weak, he hadn't been able to sit on his own for many days.
"Here, my friend, " he said, holding the bowl before Alexander, letting him catch the sweet smell of the healing ingredients. "You must drink this right now. It'll make you feel better. "
Alexander's nostrils flared a bit, almost like a nervous animal. Then he calmed down and took a great gulp, almost choking himself on it.
"No, not so fast, Alexander. We are not on a drinking competition now! You must take it slowly, with great care. "
Hephaestion managed to give all of the healing concoction to his patient. Afterwards he put Alexander to rest, carefully wrapping him in his warming furs. He had regained some colour, and his breathing was coming a bit easier now. Perhaps he was mending, at long last.
"Rest easy, my Dear One, rest easy, " he kindly told his friend as he stroke his beautiful golden hair. "You will feel much better, come morning and bright day. "
Hephaestion turned to his own meal. He sliced the steak, poured the spicy sauce all over and put a generous helping of roots and lichen in a clay bowl before sitting down close by the fireside. He was utterly starved after all his hard work and worries, and he ate with a ravenous hunger. Peritas and Pollux came to him, waving their tails, their ears raised in anticipation and their nostrils flaring with hunger.
"Good dogs, good dogs, " he told them as he gave them a generous slice each. "You have been so very capable with your hunting and guarding all this time. I don't know how we could have managed without you. "
The dogs ate their helping as he gently patted their furry heads. Even Bucephalus and Castor looked and sniffed with some curiosity. The horses simply couldn't understand their dear Masters' curious practices with their food. Hunting down poor innocent deer, slicing them into pieces to be fried and boiled in fire and heat, and, even worse, destroying good and edible roots and leaves by putting them into hot and boiling water!
"What is this you are enjoying all by yourself? Smells like venison, cooked in a delicious wine sauce! Why don't you let me have some?"
Hephaestion almost dropped the bowl at the sound of this familiar voice. Alexander was sitting up, casting off his warming furs. His beautiful gray eyes were filled with the clear light of lucidity, and his cheeks were glowing in a healthy rosy colour. His golden hair had not been cut for a long time,and it was streaming like a warming river of molten gold down his shoulders. He had never looked more beautiful. Hephaestion thought that his ardent prayer to the God of War had been fulfilled.
"Of course I will!, "he answered with great joy. "It's just that you have been unconscious and delirious for many days, not wanting anything to eat or drink at all!"
"I cannot remember. The last I know we were hunting together down at the river..."
Alexander frowned, having great difficulties in recalling what had happened to him. Hephaestion immediately came to his side, wrapping him into the blankets and forcing him to lie down again.
"It's better you don't remember right now. I'll tell you all about it as soon as you are feeling better, " Hephaestion hushed him up. "Now you must lie down and wait while I prepare your meal. "
Hephaestion fetched another clay bowl and prepared a generous helping of bouillon with happiness and great care. He put some small slices of meat and some even smaller bits of herbs and roots into it before he started to spoon feed his patient. Alexander tried to take the bowl and feed himself, but his hands trembled so badly he had to accept the help his friend so eagerly offered.
"I want some more!, " he petulantly asked when the bowl was empty. "And, why don't you give me some of the steak? I could just feel some traces of it!"
"It's enough for now, my friend", he prudently told Alexander. "I will give you some more when your stomach can handle it. Now you must rest again, or you'll never make a proper recovery. "
Hephaestion helped him to lie down in their fur bed before finishing his own meal. After cleaning the bowls in the snow outside he put all the food away on the stone shelf and went to rest at Alexander's side, carefully wrapping the warming furs around them both. His friend felt a bit cooler to his touch. The fever had broken at long last and his breathing was coming with more ease.
"How are you this evening, " he asked as he gently embraced his friend. "It seems you are not feverish any more. "
"No, and all the pain in my chest is almost gone, " Alexander thankfully answered. "I'm so glad you are with me in this. I don't know how I could have managed without you. "
"I will always be there for you, you know that, Alexander..., " Hephaestion reassuringly told him before drifting off into an exhausted sleep.
Alexander managed to heave himself up on his elbow, taking a careful look at his True Steadfast Friend. Hephaestion was looking a bit thinner these days, and there were dark shadows under his eyes. He was pale and worn out by worries and hard work, but always so beautiful and filled with an inner calm and security. His auburn hair was falling like a warming river around his shoulders and Alexander gave it some fond strokes before he lay down, putting his arms around his friend, trying to give him some of his own slowly returning strength. Peritas and Pollux came and curled up at their sides. Bucephalus and Castor soon joined them, lying down like a warming wall against the cold.
It was a cold winter night far up in the Illyrian mountains - but the cold, ice and snow didn't disturb the faithful friends in their humble cave. They had a warming fire, warming furs and food. Most important of all, they had each other and their everlasting friendship.