HEPHAESTION GOES HUNTING! By Moon71
SUMMARY: Newly arrived at the Macedonian Court, Hephaestion decides a hunting expedition is the ideal opportunity to establish his place in Prince Alexander's wolf pack…
DISCLAIMER: Oh, get on with you… all right, all right, not mine!
RATING: K-T for sexy stuff, boys messing around etc…
DEDICATION: To my friend Fredericka, for such a wonderful gift, and for so much encouragement.
NOTES: Certain bits of this story remind me a bit of my story Loving Hephaestion, but I hope it's sufficiently different enough to justify its existence! I wanted to write a realistic story about boys being boys on a hunting trip with the kind of problems boys at that age might have faced.
I would particularly like to thank Norrsken for inspiring me to write a story in an outdoor setting with details of outdoor life, after her many delightful Illyrian and animal stories. And to apologise for the unintentional theft of a wild boar…
Since starting on Alexander stories I have constantly reassessed which of Alexander's future "Companions" might actually have been "Mieza boys" and which would have been quite a bit older – the cast of this story represents the latest reshuffle and is in great part the result of chatting with many friends!
NOTE TO ALL DEAR FRIENDS: Will be away for a few days, but promise to reply to all messages next week!!!!
What can't be cured must be endured. That saying, a particular favourite of my nurse Aithra who kept an impressive arsenal of such sayings, never seemed more true to me than the day I set out on the hunt with Prince Alexander. Much as I hate to admit it, Aithra is usually right and I had in fact already learned the wisdom of this particular maxim at a very early age. My father's work, a mixture of diplomacy and covert intelligence gathering for King Philip of Macedon, meant that we travelled frequently – often to Athens, but also to Thebes and Sparta, or back north to the more wild environs of Illyria, Epirus and Thessaly. As much as was possible my mother and sisters accompanied us, for my father has always been a man who loved the company of his family, but if it wasn't safe for the women, he still took me and my pedagogue.
It was an interesting, sometimes exciting life but it could also be lonely and difficult. I was never a loner by choice and I craved the company of boys my own age, but to get what I wanted meant that each time we moved to a new place I had to go through the trial of being what I learned to think of as a new wolf seeking entry into a well established pack. And as is the nature of wolf packs, to earn one's place one had to be prepared to give and take a few bites, some of them quite vicious.
Actually with my father's help I had become rather good at it, had even tried to look at it as a challenge which I likened to the Labours of Herakles. So when my father called me to him one day and told me of the greatest upheaval I was yet to endure, I reassured myself that I was ready to meet this new Labour fearlessly. I was nearly fifteen. Macedon was my home, but I had spent so little time there that I had few friends and little practical experience of what it meant to be a youth of the Macedonian nobility. My father saw a chance to address that problem when King Philip announced he was sending Alexander and his friends to study away from Pella, in a school to be run by the philosopher Aristotle.
It was a brilliant opportunity, not only to study with a man who had sat at the feet of Plato, but to work my way into the Prince's set and befriend boys who, was Alexander to become king, would surely become his Companions and hold powerful positions in the Macedonian army. The school, to be based at Mieza, would serve as preparation for the next step forward for high born Macedonian youths – to enter the School of Royal Pages and serve King Philip himself. I was ready for that – I was even quite excited about it. Though I would miss my family, I looked forward to being settled and having the chance to spending more time with other boys and forging some enduring bonds of friendship at last.
Even so, I couldn't help a strong twinge of apprehension when I woke on this particular morning and remembered where I would be spending the night – out in the forested hills above Macedon, in the company of King Philip's son Prince Alexander and his friends. The hunting trip was a three day affair, organised by Alexander's tutor, his kinsman Lysimachus, and involving only six boys besides Alexander and myself, all of whom would be studying with us at Mieza. I told myself it would be good fun, but I really did not know what to expect – I had not spent much time with these boys yet, nor grown completely used to Macedonian ways, and I had never been hunting in my life, let alone camped out in the wilderness. There were wolves and bears out there, even lions. What if something tried to eat me? The other boys would surely sense my fear, notice my inexperience… if the wild animals didn't eat me alive, my companions surely might…
"Hephaestion?" My father's voice broke in upon my thoughts. "Aren't you going to finish your breakfast?"
I looked down at the porridge, bread, cheese and fruit set before me without much relish. "I'm not really hungry, Father," I said quickly, trying to sound cheerful, but it was impossible to hide from his penetrating gaze. He studied me for another moment, then leaned back in his chair.
"So what did you make of Antipater's sons?"
I brightened, glad he was not going to force me to admit my apprehensions. "I'm not sure yet…" I admitted, then considered the matter thoughtfully. One of the best things my father had taught me was how to assess the characters of those around me, through quick but careful observation. It had made adapting to my ever changing world so much more endurable and given me a badly needed advantage each time I had to break into an established circle of friends. There was something else I had learned, though – adults had a habit of forgetting that children had their own sets of rules to live by, their own codes of honour to be observed. Telling tales on boys I hoped would be my friends was strictly forbidden. "Cassander, the eldest one, seems the cleverest," I said at length, "though Nikanor is the friendliest. Iollas seems a bit sickly," I added, deciding there was no treachery in stating the obvious, "he coughs a lot and he's very thin. I'm surprised they're letting him go hunting at all!"
My father stroked his beard thoughtfully. "Don't dismiss him too lightly, Hephaestion. Iollas reminds me of a boy I once knew in Athens. He was always coming down with some illness or another and I can remember the women constantly shaking their heads and prophesying he wouldn't see out his fifth birthday… then his sixth… then his seventh… the last time I met him his wife – the daughter of a very rich landowner - had just borne his ninth child and he had just landed himself a very powerful appointment in the Athenian government!"
I considered my father's words thoughtfully, managing to swallow a few mouthfuls of porridge as I did so. There could be something in what he had said – Iollas was a bit weedy, but he was polite, observant and attentive to the of the needs of others, qualities I already knew could be just as effective as skills in riding or wrestling or throwing the javelin if used wisely. He was slighter and fairer than his brothers and his rather misty blue eyes were very pretty; with my growing awareness of the ways of adults, I could easily see him catching the eye of a well placed man.
I had quite enjoyed observing him and his brothers the day before when we had gathered to prepare for our excursion – I decided that Nikanor, the youngest one, had the sweetest nature; with his thick red hair and his chunky figure, he seemed the archetypal Macedonian boy, a bit thick, perhaps, or maybe just too easily distracted, but ready to spring into action when the situation demanded it. Cassander, the eldest, was the most enigmatic – his eyes were paler and colder than Iollas' but they glinted with intelligence. He was the handsomest of the three with a evenly proportioned physique and wavy dark brown hair. I decided he deserved closer observation.
"And what," my father presently continued, "did you make of young Alexander…?"
That made me hesitate. I looked down into my porridge bowl and thought how best to answer the question diplomatically. "I… don't know, yet," I said at last, "he was nice to me when we met…" I did not want to add what I suspect my father had already guessed – that Alexander was proving something of a disappointment…
Perhaps it would have been different if I had not met King Philip first. My father was anxious for me to meet him – or, perhaps more accurately, for him to meet me. My father always talked both admiringly and affectionately of the Macedonian king and he had seemed almost as excited as I was when he had the chance to show me off to this man he thought so well of. I had carefully rehearsed my polite greeting for the audience, but the moment Philip entered the scene I was struck dumb.
He wasn't as tall as my father, or, I secretly thought, as handsome, though he might have been without the scars of war and the ugly mesh of discoloured skin where one of his eyes had been. But his presence seemed to fill the room, vital and masculine and compelling. So, I thought might Herakles himself have looked after all of his Labours, his voyage with Jason and his many other trials, just before he became a god. As I stood there, gaping like an idiot, Philip smiled at me, ruffled my hair and spoke to me in clear, refined Greek, welcoming me back to Macedon. I can hardly remember what I mumbled in reply, only the touch of his warm, calloused hand upon my cheek which made my heart beat very quickly.
"You do your father credit, boy," Philip grinned, his deep voice sending shivers down my spine, "the young men of Macedon won't know what's hit them!" With a sly look at my father he added, "he's every bit as handsome as you were at that age, Amyntor!"
My father laughed wryly. "You flatter me, Philip. Hephaestion gets his charms from his beautiful mother!"
Before I could think of something suitably incisive and precocious to contribute, the interview was over and I was packed off to the care of a servant who would take me to Prince Alexander and his friends. I felt a little hot and dizzy as I followed the servant down the corridor; my sexual awareness had ripened over a year ago and even before that I was prone to violent crushes on attractive older men, but I had never come across one so overpowering as King Philip. I even found myself envying my father's easy closeness to him; they had met when they were probably no older than I was now and I wondered if my father had once felt as I did just then. Then I remembered I was about to meet Philip's son, and felt a new rush of excitement. I had heard that Alexander's mother Olympias was in her own way just as formidable as Philip; I had even heard the servants whispering that she might be a witch. My head filled with images of Medea, of Circe…
But then I had been brought to Alexander practising with the javelin out in the Courtyard and been instantly disillusioned. I had been expecting a young Herakles, capable of strangling serpents with his bare hands, but this small golden haired child who would hardly come up to my chin standing on his toes seemed more like the type of comely youth who Herakles would abduct and have his way with. Rather than let him lead this hunting expedition I thought his parents would be well advised to lock him away in some dark labyrinth so that mighty Zeus couldn't see him and carry him off to Olympus to take up where Ganymede had left off.
It was that wicked train of thought which made me greet Alexander with a smile, one which he returned with a polite address in Greek which I thought rather too formal for chatter between boys our age – this I did not care for; it seemed to single me out as different from the others and I saw Alexander's companions eyeing me curiously as they might a rare freak of nature like a two headed snake or a black dove. It seemed to set the tone of our relations for the rest of the day; the boys talked eagerly enough, but Alexander was the only one who talked directly to me…
It would take time, I told myself as I managed to get down the last of my breakfast, shoving a couple of sweet red apples into my pack before I kissed my mother and Aithra good-bye. I rode over to Pella with my father who had business with Philip that morning; seeing Alexander standing by the stables with his friends Hector and Perdiccas, I slid from the back of my horse; I had already been told we were travelling on foot and I did not want to appear ostentatious by riding up to the other boys. My father dismounted too and followed me over as one of the grooms approached to take our horses. "Joy to you, General Amyntor," Alexander called with what seemed a genuinely affectionate smile at my father, "joy to you, Hephaestion…"
My father grinned. "Look at you, Alexander," he cried cheerfully, "you've grown into a young man since I last saw you! And a most handsome one at that!"
I winced just a little at my father's over-familiar ways, but Alexander was evidently used to them too because he only lowered his head, his fair skin flushing, his smile becoming diffident. "Let me show you Bucephalus – have you heard the story of how I won him?"
"Your father wrote to me himself," my father declared, "and Hephaestion was quite enthralled to hear of it too, weren't you, Hephaestion…?"
"I…" I recognised the opening my father had created and seized it, though it was not as I would have played it myself. "Yes indeed… I've looked forward to seeing Bucephalus for myself for ages…"
We both occupied ourselves with admiring the beautiful black horse with the white blaze as the boys competed with one another to display their knowledge of horses in what I was coming to recognise as typical Macedonian vigour. Perdiccas, kin to Alexander by some connection I could not recall, was a tall, dark and slender youth, my age or perhaps a little older. As I listened to him talk I noted he was intelligent if a little pedantic; he was quick to correct Hector or me, less eager to correct Alexander, though not, I thought, because he was in awe of him. I thought my father would assess him as that sort of person who you hardly even noticed until you needed him, at which point you would find him waiting by your elbow. Hector was youngest of the boys who would be with us – a pretty one with sandy-ginger curls, playful brown eyes and an impish smile; I sensed no malice in him, but he was far sharper than Antipater's son Nikanor. He seemed to be a particular favourite of Alexander's – I noticed the warm glances the prince bestowed on him, the friendly arm about his shoulders. Hector was probably too young for those sort of feelings, but I wondered about Alexander…
I told myself this was not the time for such thoughts. Better to make sure the ground beneath my feet was steady first. I felt a small pang as my father announced that he must go. "Health to you, my dears," he said in his lazy paternal fashion, "may Artemis bring you success in the hunt… make your family proud, Hephaestion…!"
"Don't worry, General Amyntor," Alexander called eagerly, hurrying back to us, "I promise I won't let any harm come to him!"
"Thank you, Alexander," my father said with a small bow, "I'm sure you'll make me proud too…"
"Health to you, Papa," I whispered as he bent to kiss me. He looked down into my eyes for a moment, understanding perfectly, then squeezed me firmly between the neck and shoulder, a gesture I had always found reassuring.
"Health to you," he said, and started away. As I turned back, I saw Alexander watching him go with an oddly wistful look in those colourless eyes of his. Well, I reasoned, if I had a crush on his father there was nothing wrong with his having one on mine, but somehow I didn't think that was what it was. I stored the thought away for future reference.
After a few moments we were joined by Antipater's sons. Alexander greeted them affably but then caught sight of his tutor Lysimachus walking across with a taller, younger man and jogged over to meet them. Once he was out of earshot I heard Cassander sigh. "Three days," he complained wearily, "three days of being ordered around by the infant Achilles…"
"At least we won't be having lessons or be stuck in the gymnasium in this horrid heat," Iollas responded reasonably.
"I think it will be terrific fun!" Nikanor declared, grinning at Hector. "Alexander says Lysimachus tells the most fantastic stories!"
"Achilles and Phoenix," Cassander muttered, "I can't wait!"
Nikanor's auburn brows drew together anxiously. "I still think it will be fun… Cassander, you won't spoil it by quarrelling with Alexander again, will you?"
Cassander frowned dangerously at his younger brother, but then those ice-blue eyes of his seemed to thaw and he actually smiled, reaching out to smooth his brother's curls. "No, I won't do that," he said. I blinked in surprise at this - it seemed as though Nikanor's open-handed simplicity had its uses after all.
"Come on," Cassander continued, "let's get away from the stables before Bucephalus overhears and gives me a kick!" Turning to me with as if he'd noticed me for the first time, he added in good enough Greek, "that's a nice horse you were riding, Hephaestion – is he yours?"
"I just got him," I responded deliberately in Macedonian – I knew the language fluently but I was suddenly very aware of my Greek accent. "His name is Golden. Not a very heroic name," I pressed on, ignoring the surprised looks of my companions, "but it just seemed to suit him!"
"Well, it does describe him rather well…"
"Where are you from, Hephaestion?" Nikanor suddenly spoke up, "I thought you were from Athens! Do they speak Macedonian there…?"
And so the ice was broken, with these few at least. The last boy to join us was another cousin of Alexander's called Leonatus. He was big and blonde with the build of a young wrestler; it didn't surprise me to learn he was fond of contact sports. Initially he struck me as a typical meat-fed Macedonian, earthy and tough, quick tempered but equally quick to forgive; lacking any real imagination. But as I looked at him now, I noticed that his chiton was of very fine wool, that his boots and his belt were of highly burnished leather and the spear he carried had a beautifully carved shaft. So he had an eye for fine things…
Finally Alexander, Lysimachus and the younger man with them came across to us. Sighting them, a young groom led out a sturdy looking grey horse for Alexander's tutor to mount. When I had first seen Alexander's tutor a few days before, I had been touched by a sense of anti-climax – I had expected some terrifying Spartan warrior armed with a switch and a gorgon's stare. The man who presented himself seemed quite plain and mild, more like a kindly but rather inattentive old uncle than a dreaded task master. Later my father explained to me that this was not the notorious Leonidas but Philip's kinsman who had been responsible for the care of Alexander before the "Spartan" took over – only he wasn't a real Spartan either, he was an Epirote like Queen Olympias. I had quickly assessed and dismissed this gentle but ineffectual looking man, feeling a little sorry for him because I was certain eight spirited boys would drive him to distraction. But now as I watched him swing himself onto the back of his horse with no assistance I decided I would have to reassess him. He was past middle-age, but the muscles were still strong beneath the weathered, leathery skin and he handled the horse as only a Macedonian or a Thessalian could.
Even so, it was with a relaxed manner that he called us to order, leaving it up to the young man who was introduced to us as Crateros, son of Alexander, to inspect our kit and ensure we had bought the minimum of unnecessary luxuries. He eyed the hunting bow and the lightweight javelin my father had given me with a sceptical frown; the rest of the boys had spears of the heavy but flexible cornel wood. "You're General Amyntor's son," he observed in Macedonian. He had a deep voice perfectly suited to his stocky figure which suggested the hard won muscles of a soldier rather than the precise symmetrical proportions of a professional athlete. "The Athenian," he added. His coarse tone and probing stare suggested he had not yet decided whether he approved of me or not. As I gazed back at him with sullen defiance, he leaned closer. "Can you understand me, boy?"
It was on the tip of my tongue to snarl that I understood him as well as any other Macedonian, as much as anyone could understand his barbaric tribal dialect – I later learned he was an Orestid by birth – but two factors made the words die in my throat. One was that I was determined to be accepted as a Macedonian, not some foreign oddity; the other was that Crateros' steely gaze froze me to the spot. "Yes, sir," I mumbled.
Crateros gave a small grunt of laughter and released me from his glare. "You look a lot like your father," he said, "we'll see if the gods have gifted you his brains…!"
In fairness, he was just as strict with the other boys - he laughed at the oil Leonatus had brought to treat his leather boots and threatened to confiscate the cache of honey-cakes Hector insisted his mother had slipped into his pack when he wasn't looking. Alexander he treated with more respect; he frowned at the leather-encased scroll he found amongst the prince's provisions but refrained from comment. Alexander submitted graciously, the perfect little soldier. I saw Cassander roll his eyes and hid a smile behind my hand.
Finally with a nod from Lysimachus we were on our way.