WORKSHOP OF THE GODS By Moon71
Summary: Hephaestion goes on a shopping trip in Ecbatana…
Disclaimer: Well, the sculptor is mine, but not much else…
Rating: T for some sexy references and a bit of statue fondling…
Dedication: This one has to belong to Barbie!
Author's Notes: Right! Where do I start? This story fits in between In The Name of Eros and The Ivory Eros. It's not necessary to read either story to read this, but it might make more sense that way! It has a complicated history…
My friend Barbara drew a beautiful picture of Hephaestion kissing the Ivory Eros, having been inspired by my story, and it ended up inspiring this story! Full circle! Even odder, while she was drawing the picture she asked me if I'd based my description of the sculpture on the Eros sculpture by the sculptor Cannova. Actually I hadn't, but his beautiful artwork is uncannily similar to the way I've described the ivory one!
The hardest part of writing this story was recapturing Hephaestion's mood as I described it before AU events in "The Ivory Eros" began. I honestly can't remember what was going through my mind at the time! Tell me what you think!!!
It was a market day and the streets were crowded, but Hephaestion had still insisted on walking, in spite of the protests of his aides and pages. Nor, despite their complaints, had he allowed a full entourage to accompany him, taking only three of his guards, an interpreter and his page Admetus. He wore his favourite Persian robes and he carried the walking stick which was the mark of his office and that was enough. He had awoken with a headache and somehow that had left him with the need to be unencumbered either by people or by objects. Admetus kept a hand on his sword and a wary eye on the people about them, but he said nothing and stayed a pace behind, and that suited Hephaestion very well; today of all days he did not want anyone fussing around him.
It was a shame, in a way, that Alexander had set him against growing his beard – with his dark hair and eyes and his heavily tanned skin, he might have passed for an ordinary Persian if he dressed down a little – but then again, his face was almost as well known as Alexander's these days, thanks to the many likenesses of him appearing across the streets, squares and palaces of Persia since his official investiture as Grand Vizier. Many were in the traditional Greek style, but Hephaestion's father had insisted in his last letter that he wanted a sculpture of him in his robes of office in the Persian fashion. And that was what he would have. Of course Hephaestion could simply have had the sculptor sent to him at the Ecbatana palace, but of late it had begun to annoy him that though anything he wanted, absolutely anything, could be his with a clap of the hands, he still could not find a way to alleviate the strange, restless discontent which had been gnawing at him since his marriage. It smacked of hubris and that in itself unsettled him. If only he could discuss it with Alexander…
He turned as he heard a squawk of dismay from Admetus. The youth was cursing under his breath and scraping horse dung off the sole of one of his boots – a brand new pair, by the look of them, Persian made, embroidered with gold. "Stop making a fuss, boy," Hephaestion snapped at him.
"Yes, Hephaestion…" Admetus mumbled, then added defiantly, "but can't they clean up after their horses around here?"
Admetus had served loyally for too long for Hephaestion to reprimand him for his familiarity, but he threw him a heavy scowl. "Shame on you… what would your father think of you fussing like an Athenian dandy? Your father, who used to make you muck out the pigs on his estate to build your character!"
Admetus blinked at him, then gave a wry smile and nodded. Satisfied, Hephaestion looked away. Admetus would never bow and scrape like a Persian – of all Hephaestion's staff, though he was almost the youngest, he remained the most unyieldingly Macedonian – except, of course, where a pair of handsome new boots were concerned! He had a stubborn streak in him, that boy – but Hephaestion could always get through to him. With Alexander, things no longer seemed that simple.
It was very unpleasant for Hephaestion to admit that Alexander had been getting on his nerves of late, but that was the simple truth. They found themselves arguing over the stupidest things, such as how Hephaestion had reassigned his eldest two pages, or why Hephaestion constantly clashed with Eumenes over trifles.
The last disagreement had been particularly unsettling – when Hephaestion had complained that Eumenes was deliberately making it difficult for him to access the royal diaries, Alexander had actually shouted at him, "will you shut up about Eumenes? I sent Crateros away, isn't that enough for you?"
And Hephaestion, usually cool when Alexander grew hot, exploded, "perhaps you're regretting that decision? Perhaps you're wishing you sent me instead?"
"So that's what this is about!" Alexander had retorted, "you want to go back to Macedon, do you? Or is it that being Grand Vizier isn't enough for you – you want to be Regent too?"
"Oh, don't be stupid, Alexander," Hephaestion snapped thoughtlessly.
Alexander's eyes flashed dangerously at that. "Don't you think you're forgetting your place, son of Amyntor?"
"Oh yes, you're quite right – I should have prostrated myself first!"
Hephaestion had regretted the words as soon as he had said them; remorse drove his anger away and he gazed sadly at Alexander. "Forgive me," he had whispered, reaching to take his lover into his arms, but Alexander had pushed him away, growling that he needed a drink.
That evening Alexander had sent a servant to make sure Hephaestion would join him and the other Companions for an evening's drinking at the new residence of Perdiccas, but Hephaestion was finding Perdiccas something of an irritant of late, just a little too full of himself and a little too eager to please, and felt no desire to get drunk with him so he made an excuse and left early. Alexander did not bother to conceal his displeasure but Hephaestion resolutely ignored the indignant look he was given, taking it as yet another criticism of Hephaestion's supposed arrogance. Only later had he considered that what Alexander had really wanted was for them to retire together – to end the night in one another's arms. As it was, Hephaestion spent the night with Drypetis…
When they finally arrived at the workshop, the art merchant who had recommended it came running out, barely remembering to bow low before breaking into frantic Persian, "My – my Lord Grand Vizier, Your Excellency, I – I – how can I apologise enough? I told that worthless dog of a sculptor to be here waiting for you… I shall never recommend him again, I shall see he is shunned throughout Persia, allow me to compensate you for the waste of your time…"
Hephaestion heaved a heavy sigh as the interpreter caught up with the rapid stream of words, finally holding up his hand for silence and asking in careful Persian, "do you care for sherbet?"
The merchant gazed stupidly at him for a moment, then nodded doubtfully. "Very much, Excellency… but…"
"Send one of your men to bring some for both of us," Hephaestion went on evenly, "then sit down somewhere and calm yourself. I would like to look about the studio… there are examples of his work here?"
"Oh yes, my lord Hephaestion, allow me to show…" The merchant caught the warning look from Hephaestion and quickly stood aside to let him enter, retreating to a seat in the corner.
Hephaestion wandered absently, barely seeing the works on display. All he wanted was for the man to stop fussing. He was so bored with people fussing! Drypetis, now – she didn't fuss. What a dear girl she was… how charming she had been that first night…
"I hope I have pleased you, my husband," she had said after the marriage had been consummated and the charged, slightly giddy mood between them settled to a shy, cautious tenderness.
"Of course you have," Hephaestion had answered a little awkwardly, wondering what exactly one was supposed to say to a woman on these occasions – if one was supposed to say anything at all. Drypetis' hair was long and silky, her skin was smooth and warm and carried the scent of jasmine. He liked the feel of her soft breasts pressing against his chest and the pink flush glowing through her dusky complexion and her low, gentle tones. Her Greek was good – Alexander had insisted on that when the Royal Family had first come under his protection – and Hephaestion had practised his Persian all the harder in the weeks before the wedding, but now he searched in vain to find the words to express even these simple thoughts.
Drypetis too was silent for a long moment. Then she added quietly, "I hope too you will learn to love me as I will love you."
"Love…?" Hephaestion was genuinely surprised.
Drypetis turned her large Persian eyes to meet his. "Love is all I have to offer you, my Hephaestion. Everything else that was mine already belongs to you."
"To Alexander, my dear," Hephaestion admonished gently.
"Is that not the same thing?" Drypetis replied guilelessly, "I was there, do not forget, when he told my grandmother that you, too were Alexander… I remember how he looked at you when he said those words… and how he looked at Grandmother… as if he adored her for giving him the chance to show his love for you…"
In her own sweet, elegant, courtly way, she was telling him she knew and understood. After that, the awkwardness had faded and a new intimacy had begun. Going to her rooms was now a pleasure instead of a duty, even when they weren't making love. Her youth called to his own, made him feel young and refreshed. As much as sharing her bed, he liked to have her sit on his knee and read to him in Greek or Persian, or just listen to her talk. She admitted to being a poor scholar, too often giggling over tales of Herakles and his many loves, or asking impudent questions of her Greek pedagogue such as whether Zeus had had Ganymede castrated after he had abducted him from Troy…
Hephaestion turned sharply as he heard soft footsteps on the studio floor. A servant appeared, offering a cup of sherbet. Hephaestion sipped at the chilled liquid, at once pleased and vexed to find that it had been mixed with wine. Why couldn't things be as simple with Alexander as they were with Drypetis? Having her had not cooled his desire for the king, nor had Alexander's two new wives changed his feelings for Hephaestion – of that he was sure. And it wasn't as if Hephaestion loved Alexander any less. Yet instead of suddenly being able to spend more time together, they seemed to be further and further apart. Was this the awful truth? Were they discovering that now the Campaigning was on hold and they were free to enjoy as much time together as they liked, that they really didn't get on that well? That they had little to say to each other, that their personalities jarred?
Discarding the sherbet, Hephaestion scanned the studio sourly. Surely it couldn't be that simple – that final? He was bored with their life as it was now, he admitted that. After the return home through the desert they had all been exhausted, physically and emotionally; they had needed rest. Then they had had the Susa weddings to distract them. Only since they had reached Ecbatana had Hephaestion been conscious of boredom. But they would move on soon enough… or at least they talked of moving on… was he really so lacking in imagination that he could find contentment in no other life than constant campaigning? Wasn't there work enough in the role of Grand Vizier to sustain him? No… that couldn't be it either… it couldn't be…
It was the flash of white amongst so much bronze, marble and stone which first caught his eye, the glimmer of gold which focused his gaze. Hephaestion looked, looked away, turned back once more and stared.
A statue of Eros. There were more and more images of the Greek gods appearing in Persian marketplaces; that one should be found here was not all that remarkable. But this one, carved from what looked like pure ivory and decorated with gold, was certainly the most beautiful Hephaestion had ever seen. As if in a dream he moved towards it, half expecting those huge, delicately feathered wings to flutter in expectation, that perfectly poised head with its dreamy gaze and knowing smile to turn to greet him. Indeed, it really did seem as though the expression altered as he reached it, as if the eyes focused upon him and the lips twitched into just a slightly wider smile.
The resemblance was uncanny. As Hephaestion reached out tentative fingers to touch the ivory, he was almost certain it would be warm and soft and pulsing with life. And all at once he was no longer in Persia but back in the gardens of Midas, and Alexander was talking, talking, talking, gods but the boy could talk, (what was he on about this time? Homer? Xenophon? Socrates?) and all Hephaestion could think was how pretty Alexander looked with the sun shining on his golden hair and how strong and smooth his legs were and how soft and red his lips were and if they might taste as sweet as they looked…
Hephaestion cupped the ivory cheek and remembered how he had been unable to stop himself reaching out touch the real one that afternoon in the garden and how at last Alexander had fallen silent, at least for a moment before he asked slowly, "Hephaestion… what are you doing…?" Hephaestion had hardly heard him; now that he had finally begun, having yearned to touch Alexander for so long, he could not stop.
He could not stop now either. He ran his hand along the shoulder of the Eros and recalled how Alexander had shivered slightly at his caresses. He had stroked Alexander's shoulders and arms and hands before daring to slip his arms about his waist. With perfect recollection he repeated each caress upon the ivory Eros. Only when he felt the eyes of the merchant fixed upon him did he halt, as he had done that afternoon when he had finally dared to meet Alexander's astonished gaze. Now he sheepishly withdrew his hands from the statue, just as he had from the living boy. He had not known what to expect from Alexander – the other boy had given no sign of wanting him or even being aware of desire itself. Now he could give his observer a challenging look which would send him scurrying for cover; back then he could only sit and await Alexander's judgement.
He had not waited long. All at once Alexander was upon him, knocking him flat on his back with the force of his attack, pressing passionate kisses to his cheeks, his brow, his lips. Even then Alexander persisted in talking when he should have saved his breath for loving, panting that he loved Hephaestion, loved him desperately, would love him beyond the realms of Hades; that he could not help it, that he was powerless to fight against the will of Eros… all of it sounded like more of Alexander's amiable eccentricity to Hephaestion who, fool that he had been, still thought of Eros only as a god of sexual desire, thought of the passion they shared that day as a transitory pleasure, a thing of boyhood.
Alexander's ardour stunned him that day and stunned him still – most of the time he was so restrained, so measured, so moderate… so gallant to his wives… even his affair with Bagoas seemed a token gesture rather than a real act of passion. Ah, but when Eros really took hold of him…
Suddenly Hephaestion found himself recalling with vivid clarity that wild, reckless evening he had encouraged Alexander to make a sacrifice to the god of love and miss an important Court engagement… to make love with Hephaestion instead… Alexander had almost rent the clothes from Hephaestion's body in a frenzy that seemed more like a religious ecstasy and Hephaestion, actually unnerved by the fury he seemed to have unleashed, had suspected this just might be what it was like to be ravaged by a young god. That little adventure had earned Hephaestion a whipping and Alexander many a reproachful sneer, but Alexander was unrepentant, insisting Eros had accepted their sacrifice and blessed their union…
As Hephaestion looked into the painted eyes of the ivory Eros, he thought he saw some acknowledgement of that sacrifice, some understanding, some sympathy…
"My lord Hephaestion," a quiet voice addressed him in heavily accented Greek, "please accept my apologies for my late arrival. If you are still willing to sit, I have clay ready in my studio and can begin work on the modelling at once…"
Hephaestion turned to gaze thoughtfully at the man standing before him, plainly dressed in a grubby looking smock. To Hephaestion he seemed a mass of contradictions, a figure from a dream. His accent was Persian, yet his skin was very white. It was also very smooth, completely beardless, and the look of it remarkably youthful, despite the fact that his long hair, tied loosely back at the base of the neck to fall in thick, silky waves down his back, was a dark, metallic silver. A eunuch? Anything was possible, but the pitch of his voice and the strong solidity of his movements belied it. His eyes were even more colourless than Alexander's and had an unfocused, myopic quality, as if he was only barely aware of his surroundings and it was not easy to for Hephaestion to tell if the man was looking at him or beyond him. He was small, a head shorter than Alexander at least, but like Alexander he was perfectly proportioned and able to fill a room with his presence. Were Alexander – the gods forbid it! – ever to be lost and to return to him a shade, as Patroklos had to Achilles, the apparition could surely resemble this strange creature before him now. He had not offered proskynesis or even put much conviction into his apology, but all Hephaestion found to say was, "this sculpture… is it yours?"
"Yes, my lord," the artist responded vaguely, turning his cloudy gaze upon the work slowly, almost reluctantly, as if it pained him to take responsibility for it.
Hephaestion looked back at the Eros. There were a thousand questions he could ask about it, but he did not want to. It was perfect, it was Alexander – nothing else mattered, except, perhaps, the sudden influx of feelings of confusion, anger and shame. How could he have begun hardening his heart to that beautiful boy who had loved him so utterly that afternoon at Mieza? How could he have seen the gulf widening between them and not even cared?
He knew then when and why it had begun. Alexander had not wanted to turn back, had not wanted the journey East to end. But more to the point, and in some ways more importantly, neither had Hephaestion. He had thrived on the life they had led, even when the hardships had been so great and the enemies within and without had pressed so close, when his duties had separated him from Alexander and men he had thought he could trust had turned against him through fear, jealousy, ambition or disaffection. He had wanted to reach the Ocean. He had wanted to know if there was anything beyond.
It had been their adventure, his and Alexander's, and thanks to those mutinous bastards it had ended ignominiously. Hephaestion of course had not been there beside Alexander when it had all fallen apart. Instead he had returned to find the decision made, to listen to the story of Alexander's supposed sign from the gods that it was time to turn back. And – absurd as it seemed, there it was – a part of him had blamed Alexander for letting it end that way, resented him for not somehow using that charm of his, that bond he had with his men, to save the day yet again.
Of course he had said nothing; had tried only to soothe and reassure. He had buried his disappointment, his frustration and anger, had not even railed against the men who had mutinied. Anything but burden Alexander with his own sense of loss. It had seemed the right thing to do at the time – but maybe he had been wrong. Maybe Alexander now believed that Hephaestion didn't care, had never cared, had expressed enthusiasm for his plans only to keep him happy. Maybe Alexander was now feeling lonely and misunderstood even by the one closest to his heart, to his mind… to his pothos. Maybe he was no more certain in which direction he should take himself and his empire than Hephaestion was. Of course Hephaestion could tell him the truth, but would that help now? Wouldn't it only add to his worries? His Alexander seemed so far away from him now; there had to be some simpler way to reach him.
"I will buy it," Hephaestion said, handing the sculptor his purse without bothering to count the gold within. The man took the heavy purse slowly in his delicate white hand without looking down at it or once changing his expression, as if the amount mattered no more to him than it did to Hephaestion. "I will return tomorrow for the sitting."
"My Lord…" the artist bowed languidly, then tilted his head very slightly to the left as if studying Hephaestion from a very great distance. Hephaestion felt a cold shiver run down his back, disturbed by conflicting feelings of desire and repulsion. He felt his skin might actually crawl if the young man touched him, yet at the same time there was an undeniable yearning to linger. "See to the details," he said quickly to Admetus. Then he beckoned to one of the guards and left the workshop without a backward glance.
Another accursed drinking party, this time courtesy of Ptolemy – another old friend Hephaestion was no longer sure he could trust. How utterly boring. He had only eaten a light meal upon his return from the workshop, but it had made his stomach sore and intensified the headache which had been slowly building all day. He felt uncomfortably hot, but when his body-servants undressed him he began to shiver and was grateful for the fur lined robe they slipped onto him, wrapping it tight about his body. To Hades with it, he wasn't going! The very thought of drinking cup after cup of unmixed wine made him nauseous.
Dismissing the servants Hephaestion sat down upon his bed and gazed across at the ivory statue which had arrived a short time after he had. The image of Eros smiled back. Gradually the cramps in Hephaestion's belly and the ache in his back seemed to fade. He knew he ought to send word to Alexander that he wouldn't be attending the party, but there was simply no way to do it without sounding petulant, and he did not feel strong enough to make the journey to Alexander's rooms himself. He thought briefly of sending for Drypetis but dismissed the idea; she was a treasure but she was not his love. The one he really wanted was the living version of that ivory statue. He wanted Alexander in his arms, in his bed. He wanted him to be utterly his Alexander, to look down into those grey eyes and see nothing but love and desire. He wanted to find the boy with whom he had once fallen in love.
Rising, Hephaestion moved towards the Eros. It smiled back at him for all the world as if it knew just what he intended and expected nothing less. Hephaestion pressed his lips to its delicately painted mouth, making a silent prayer as he did so. No, he would send no message. If all was not lost, if Alexander was still his Alexander, he would come soon enough. All of a sudden, Hephaestion was sure of it. He climbed into his bed and pulled the bedclothes up about himself, leaning back onto the pillows to where he could contemplate the artwork in perfect contentment.