They had stripped Hephaistion, then washed his body, combed his hair, shaved his face and rubbed acrid smelling oils in to his skin. Enayat had lifted him, while Kamous had pulled a swathe of dirty blue silk around Hephaistion's hips, tying it over at the front and placing the remaining fabric between Hephaistion's legs.
They positioned him on the bed, Hephaistion unable and unwilling to protest, his mind was spinning, Alexander was before him. "Alexander," he murmured and laughed as the image before him smiled.
Finally, a cloak was draped over Hephaistion's right shoulder, hiding the damage done there, but not the bruising to the rest of his body.
Kamous rubbed his hands, placing oil beside the bed before he left the room.
"You feel no pain?" Enayat laughed. "You could escape now, Hephaistion. There are no guards. Nozar knows you have had the haoma, he knows you will go nowhere. Perhaps you will not even feel the blade at all tonight."
Hephaistion smiled. He was trying to stay in this pain-ridden world, fighting to ignore the golden dreams that tried to pull him under.
Enayat got up from the bed and walked over to the shutters, throwing them open and leaning out to look along the alleyway. "The street is busy," he observed. He turned back to Hephaistion. "You should get your first customer soon. Kamous and I will take money from the merchants first, and then leave you to the beggars before Faramin or Nozar discover what we have done." He looked out of the window and smiled as he saw Kamous step out, begging for business.
A wealthy merchant had found his way in to the alley, his guard, swathed in robes of the nomad, stood close to him, his hand on his scimitar. The merchant shook his head. Enayat tensed. They should not be using Hephaistion for profit, if they were discovered Faramin would have their heads. If he had to take a risk he wanted as much profit as possible. The merchant looked wealthy, but he was walking away.
He gave a little cheer as Kamous ran after him, turning him around, pointing to the window. Enayat stepped back, not wishing to be seen. Smiling. Kamous was good. He heard his voice, keeping up a constant banter, getting nearer.
The merchant spoke. It was about money, the quality of the whores. He was saying that the place looked filthy and he would not wish to step inside of it. Kamous gave in a little, to keep the merchant's interest, but not enough to lose a healthy profit. He was saying he had the whore of a king, Enayat cringed to hear it, but Kamous named no names. The merchant protested, saying that he had been told that before, that Kamous was fooling him. It sounded as if he were leaving. Kamous told him to come see, that the deal could be done once he saw the boy.
Enayat heard them coming up the stairs. He laughed out loud. "Time for you to earn me money," he said, stepping forward and waiting for the door to open. He glanced over at the Macedonian, he was staring at the cracked ceiling, murmuring a song.
The door opened and the merchant stepped in, pulling back the robes around his head and screwing up his nose against the stench and the baseness of the room. His guard stepped in, apparently mesmerised by the sight of the man upon the bed. He stepped over to him, his hand reaching out to touch.
"Who is to have him?" Enayat asked, confused as the merchant stepped back towards the door.
The guard knelt down by the bed, caressing Hephaistion's face, then looking down he pulled back the cloak. Enayat and Kamous looked at each other, the guard had seen the damage, it might affect the price. Perhaps the guard was to take him after all.
"Alexander," Hephaistion murmured.
"No, not Alexander," Enayat said, giving a false laugh. He was concerned about the price.
The guard stood up and pulled back his robes to reveal a handsome face, with golden hair and deep grey eyes. "You would be the mistaken one," Alexander said calmly, freeing the scimitar and striking out at Enayat. He caught him in the throat, silencing the interpreter for good.
At the same moment, Tabal, who had been disguised as the merchant, stepped forward and cut Kamous' throat. He then stepped back and closed the door, putting a bar down to secure it.
Alexander returned to Hephaistion, kneeling by his side, once more. "Hephaistion," he murmured, his hand reaching up to touch his face.
Hephaistion glanced once in Alexander's direction, and then looked up at the ceiling. He laughed. "When the summer is done, I will keep you warm, through the winter nights, I will be with you," Hephaistion sang. It was an old love song Alexander would sing to him back at Mieza.
Alexander put his hand to Hephaistion's forehead, feeling for fever, but there was none, as far as he could make out. "Hephaistion," he whispered, and leaned forward to kiss his lips.
Hephaistion responded for a moment, but then pulled his head away, and put up his left hand to Alexander's chest, attempting to fight him off. "No!" he cried out.
Alexander looked to Tabal, who stepped forward, holding Hephaistion's head still while he looked into his eyes. Then Tabal stepped back and searched about the room, quickly finding the silver flask. "Haoma," he said. "It is made from a plant. If you drink it you lose your mind….for a time, see what is not there. It would make him accept whatever happens."
"That's why there were no guards," Alexander said, turning back to Hephaistion, who was singing the song again. He took his dagger and cut the cloak in to strips of cloth. Then with Tabal's help he carefully tied them in place around Hephaistion, securing his right arm to his side, so that no more damage could be done before a surgeon could examine it.
He checked for further injury, his temper roused by the cuts and bruises. Then he saw the damage done to Hephaistion's feet, how badly bruised they were. "He will not be able to walk," he said to Tabal, vowing to kill whoever was responsible.
Tabal handed Alexander a robe he had taken from Enayat's body. Alexander lifted Hephaistion up in to a sitting position. Hephaistion laughed and put his left hand up to Alexander's face, kissing him and murmuring his name. He spoke of Aristotle, of threats made by Olympias, that he would ignore them, take the risk, to be with him.
Alexander fastened the robe around Hephaistion, pulling his left arm through the sleeve but wrapping it around his right. With a look to Tabal, he lifted Hephaistion upright, then pulled the hood of Enayat's robe up over Hephaistion's head, before pulling the swathes of fabric over his own head and face, to disguise himself once more. Then he lifted Hephaistion up, into his arms, as Tabal opened the door and led the way, down the stairs and outside, in to the street.
They received curious glances, but Tabal kept up the charade of an angry merchant whose servant had drunk too much, and when he was sober he would punish him severely. This caused some laughter, nobody gave them a second thought after that.
They did not have far to go, before another nomad stepped up to lift Hephaistion from Alexander's arms. "You found him then," he said, looking at Alexander and smiling.
"Where, the people we asked, said he would be, Ptolemy. What about you?"
Ptolemy nodded his head to where a camel train and the nomads with it, rested in the morning sun. "Nobody has bothered us. Entering the city as a camel train was a stroke of genius, Alexander. Leonnatus is ready."
Alexander looked down at Hephaistion. "Take care of him," he whispered. He went over to another of his men, pulling off the robes as he did so, to reveal his chiton and breastplate beneath them. The man handed him his sword and Alexander turned to look up on to a rooftop. "Leonnatus!" he cried, and Leonnatus stood, with a burning arrow ready in his bow. He fired the arrow high in to the air and it hit where it was intended, igniting the banner that hung above the main entrance, a beacon to the waiting army.
"Follow me!" Alexander called and twelve of the men, who had also disrobed to their chitons, ran after him towards the main gate.
The guards there were shouting amongst themselves, pointing to the banner, not sure how it ignited. Then they stepped back, seeing the army appear over the horizon, in a seemingly unstoppable formation, outnumbering the soldiers in the city.
Suddenly mobilised, they hurried to close the gate, calling the alarm, causing people to scatter.
"Alexander," called a guard, pointing in the distance, looking around to see Alexander himself. He looked in stunned amazement and wondered what sort of man could appear from nowhere. Too shocked to fight he fell to his knees and dropped the scimitar in his hand. "Alexander," he murmured.
Fearing for their lives, the other guards dropped their weapons, surrendering to Alexander. The gates remained open. A steady thunder was heard on the horizon and Alexander's cavalry stormed through the gate and in to the city.
Seleucus saw Alexander. "You have him?" he asked, he had led Bucephalus and threw the reins to Alexander.
Alexander grinned. "Yes, I do."
Seleucus matched the grin, waiting for Alexander to leap on to Bucephalus' back, before raising his sword and following him into the city.
Ptolemy had chosen a quiet street, to wait and guard Hephaistion. He wanted to be fighting, but was set to his task of defending Hephaistion, if only by staying out of harm's way.
As Tabal and Astyoche stood guard, Ptolemy crouched down to examine Hephaistion, who was sitting upright, leaning against a wall. The proof of torture was all too evident. Ptolemy winced as he saw the broken shoulder, running his fingers along Hephaistion's jaw, seeing the bruises. His body was covered in cuts and bruises.
As he checked Hephaistion's ribs, Hephaistion laughed, lifting his hand up to cup the back of Ptolemy's head. "Alexander," he breathed, leaning forward and kissing Ptolemy in an open invitation.
Ptolemy pulled back quickly, almost overbalancing and falling over. He quickly glanced at Astyoche and Tabal, only to see them hiding their laughter. Standing upright, he brushed at his chiton, flushing because the kiss had made his body respond to it. He looked down at Hephaistion, seeing him with new eyes.
"Haoma," said Tabal, he shook his head and laughed at Ptolemy.
Astyoche grinned, but a warning looked from Ptolemy made him lose it.
It would not be long before Alexander would return, they just had to wait.
However, sooner than expected, they heard people running. Soldiers. The clink of armour and shouted orders, in Persian, told them that they would soon be discovered.
Ptolemy walked in to the middle of the street, his sword in his hand, ready to fight. Astyoche and Tabal stepped out behind him, standing to the left and right. They saw men turn the corner and slow up. In the centre was, no doubt, the satrap, Faramin, his face alarmed, he was red and breathless from running.
"Nozar!" the man called and a man stepped up to him, as if to protect him. At the same time Faramin spotted Hephaistion and pointed to him. He looked up at Ptolemy and smiled, licking his lips, knowing he had more men. "Alexander?" he questioned, mistaking Ptolemy for the Macedonian King.
Ptolemy looked to Astyoche. "First Hephaistion, now this," he sighed. He turned back to the satrap. "Ptolemy," he replied.
"I am Faramin, Satrap of Besipah. Hand over the whore to me."
Ptolemy looked around, as if he did not know what Faramin was looking for. "There is no whore here," he said, his voice threatening.
"Him," said Faramin, stepping forward, pointing to Hephaistion.
"He is Hephaistion, son of Amyntor. A soldier of Alexander's army," Ptolemy replied slowly.
Ptolemy tightened the grip on his sword. The satrap had nine men with him. Astyoche was a good soldier, but Tabal was weak with a sword. Faramin wanted Hephaistion as a hostage, he would need him to barter for his life.
Faramin drew his scimitar, though he held it in a way that showed he did not know how to use it. "You are outnumbered," he said, needlessly. "Must we take him by force? Or, would you rather live?"
"You are the man who had him tortured." Ptolemy stated.
Faramin smiled. "Yes. I had that honour. Now, give him to me."
"Over my dead body," replied Ptolemy.
"As you wish," Faramin said, rushing forward and sweeping his scimitar down towards Ptolemy.
Ptolemy, blocked the blow, pushing Faramin back. He was aware that Astyoche had reached for Tabal, pulling him back to guard Hephaistion; then had stepped forward to fight Faramin's men who crowded towards him. The narrow street helped, held some of the men back.
Faramin tried a different line of attack, striking his scimitar sideways. Ptolemy twisted away. He smiled, the satrap would be an easy kill. He was not prepared for Nozar, lunging forward, his own scimitar raised as Ptolemy held off Faramin. It was too late to act, but Nozar's face suddenly twisted in pain and he fell forward an arrow in his back. Leonnatus, from his vantage point, had come to Ptolemy's assistance
Nodding in gratitude, Ptolemy lunged forward and pushed his sword into Faramin's belly, before withdrawing it and going to assist Astyoche.
He heard horses behind them, he could not afford to glance back, but the Persian soldiers stopped their attack and ran off. Seleucus, gave a shouted greeting to Ptolemy as he and some of the cavalry went in pursuit, while Alexander reined to a halt.
Faramin, lay gasping for breath, his hands clutching at his stomach. "Help me," he cried, his voice mournful and weak, pleading in Greek for compassion and care. His vision blurred and then cleared to see a man crouching down by him. He had blonde hair, grey eyes, and his face was handsome, but stern. "Alexander?" he asked.
The man nodded, then inspected the wound.
"Help me, Alexander, have mercy upon me," Faramin pleaded.
Another man came in to sight. The other Macedonian, Ptolemy. Faramin saw his blood on his hand, on his sword.
"He tortured Hephaistion," Ptolemy informed Alexander.
"I know," replied Alexander, his eyes looking in to those of Faramin's.
Faramin saw greatness shine there, and he suddenly knew that Darius would be defeated. "Help me," he begged.
Alexander stood up, turning to Ptolemy. "Leave him to die," he said. "Nobody is to help him."
Faramin cried out, his hand reaching for Alexander even as he walked away. He turned his head, blinking to clear his vision. Alexander was going towards his whore. He crouched down by him, but his touch was loving, his words comforting. The whore looked in to his eyes, the haoma held him in its grasp, but he was fighting it.
"We have Mazeus, he will leave the battle," the whore said, smiling at Alexander, reaching to embrace him. He laughed then and began to sing.
He had not broken, despite all they had done. Faramin stared at the two, blinking as they merged in to one. This man was no whore. This man was a soldier, loved by Alexander. Faramin rolled on to his back, staring up at the sun. Perhaps he would do better in the next life. He took a deep breath, not realising it was his last.
Hephaistion awoke to gentle conversation, comfort and cool surroundings.
With tired eyes, he looked around to discover he was in a large room, decadently furnished. He smiled to see Alexander sitting on the large bed he lay in, propped up by soft cushions. Turning his head, he saw Ptolemy lounging on a couch, Seleucus sitting on a mountain of cusions and Perdiccas and Leonnatus leaning on the wall by open, arched windows.
Through the windows he could see a blue sky, with the sun high up in it. Doves flew by, their wings fluttering. Hephaistion turned back to Alexander, who smiled across at him.
"Feeling better?" he asked.
Hephaistion gazed down to see his shoulder, arm and torso were swathed in bandages, his right hand trapped against his chest. A light cotton sheet lay over the rest of his body.
"The surgeon fixed your shoulder while you were still under the influence of the haoma," Alexander explained. "You cursed us and struggled, as the bone was put back, but the surgeon says that the drug relaxed your muscles and so the shoulder went back well. It should heal without any lasting damage.
"I didn't know you could curse so well, Hephaistion," remarked Seleucus, struggling up from the cushions and coming over to seat himself on the bed, on the opposite side from Alexander.
"And Faramin?" Hephaistion asked.
Seleucus looked over to Ptolemy, who raised his hand and bowed his head, grinning. "Ptolemy killed him."
"All who harmed you are dead," Alexander added. "Even the giant."
Hephaistion nodded, then frowned, his head ached, but he understood Alexander meant Arsham.
"Perdiccas took the palace," Seleucus added, his face flushed from too much wine. "He said he almost wet himself when he saw the man running to him."
"I said nothing of the sort," scoffed Perdiccas.
"Perdiccas never likes to feel himself outmatched," continued Seleucus.
"He would have made two of me," argued Perdiccas.
"Three," said Hephaistion, and smiled.
The room went silent for a moment. Hephaistion had been tortured by the man.
"Well, I killed him," Perdiccas said.
Alexander nodded at his friends and they made their apologies and left the room.
Picking up a cup, Alexander held it to Hephaistion's lips. It contained cool water and Hephaistion drank it, greedily.
"Not too much," warned Alexander, placing the cup down.
"We have Mazeus," Hephaistion said.
Alexander nodded. "It was the one coherent think you were able to say yesterday."
Alexander smiled. "You have been sleeping the haoma off."
Hephaistion sighed, and turned to look out of the window.
"It was bad?"
Hephaistion bit his lip and nodded, not daring to turn and look in to Alexander's eyes. He could not speak of it.
Alexander gently pulled Hephaistion to him, holding him in a tender embrace, Hephaistion's head resting in the crook of his neck. He felt Hephaistion shiver, his left arm reaching around him, clinging to his clothing as if he would never let go. He felt the tears then, touching his skin. He cupped the back of Hephaistion's head, holding him closer.
"Do you want to tell me?" he whispered.
Hephaistion turned his head to the side. "In time, perhaps," he replied.
Alexander pulled back, withdrawing from the embrace. He would not allow Hephaistion to hold his emotions in. His thumb traced the outline of Hephaistion's jaw. "You are bruised here. What did they do to cause it?"
"The water board," Hephaistion replied, meeting Alexander's gaze now, for a moment. He would have looked away, but Alexander held him still.
"And you would have told them nothing," Alexander said, sure of his friend. "So how long did they persist?"
"Not long." Tears brimmed over the edge of Hephaistion's eyes, once more. "I wanted to die, Alexander," he whispered. "I thought I would never see you again in this life, and so I wanted to die and wait for you in the Elysian Fields."
"Oh, Hephaistion!" Alexander cried, renewing the embrace, his right hand rubbing Hephaistion's back in a soothing motion.
"It hurt, Alexander. It hurt so much. I was afraid, but when Enayat told me that Zahur meant to kill you…..that was when my fear was at its greatest."
Alexander sat up, carefully resting Hephaistion back against the cushions. He wiped the tears from Hephaistion's face, proud that Hephaistion would only cry in front of him and no other. "Zahur would have turned assassin?" he asked, then smiled. "I was the assassin, Hephaistion, Zahur has been executed."
Alexander frowned, then reached for a cloth that sat in a bowl of water. He squeezed the water from the cloth, then cleaned Hephaistion's face. "I have some broth prepared. Would you like some?" he asked.
"One more thing," Hephaistion said. "Darius plans to meet you at a place called Gaugamela. Faramin told me."
Alexander laughed. "Hephaistion, you must be the only man in history, who has ever been tortured and come out with more information than his captors."
Hephaistion smiled. "I hope it is far. I want to fight…..after I've had my broth."
"We will travel slowly. Take our time," replied Alexander. "After all, it is our destiny to fight that battle….together."
After Hephaistion had eaten, he rested once more. He thought that Alexander had left him, but when he opened his eyes he was still there, seated before him.
"I thought that you had gone," he said.
"I did," Alexander replied. "I only returned a moment ago."
"I dreamt of you," Hephaistion breathed.
Alexander flushed, looked down at the rich blanket, then back to gaze in to Hephaistion's eyes. He leaned forward, kissing Hephaistion's lips briefly. "We better keep to dreams for the time being," he whispered. "At the moment it would be like making love to an Egyptian mummy," he laughed.
"You like Egypt," replied Hephaistion, reaching up to caress the back of Alexander's neck.
Alexander grinned. "That would be Ptolemy you are mistaking me for. You mistook him for me the other day."
Hephaistion let his left hand fall away, looking confused, searching Alexander's eyes for the answer.
"The haoma," Alexander said.
"What did I do?"
"You kissed Ptolemy."
Hephaistion had a look of horror cross his face, then disbelief, before a distant memory came to him.
Alexander laughed, then his face grew serious. "Hephaistion. We have something to discuss."
Alexander stood up and then called out, Hephaistion followed his gaze to see Odius brought in to the room. Odius came to a halt, head downcast, hands tied, guarded by Astyoche and Agis.
"Odius," Hephaistion said softly, causing the man to look up at him with tormented eyes.
Hephaistion looked at Alexander. "I thought you had him executed. When you didn't answer my question…I thought you'd had him killed."
Alexander shook his head. "He came close to it, believe me. I would have executed him myself. I had my hand on my sword, but Odius blurted out that you had said I would forgive him. How could I deny you? It is your choice, Hephaistion. He should thank the gods you live, otherwise I would have had him crucified already." He turned to the men. "Come here," he ordered.
Odius hesitated, then moved close to the bed, flanked by the men from the same battalion. Agis made some comment, surprised at the damage done, in awe of Hephaistion for coming through. Astyoche looked at Odius, then gave him a hefty thump to encourage him to look on what his betrayal had done.
Tears fell from Odius' eyes. He glanced, with fear, at Alexander, then looked on Hephaistion and hated himself. He lifted his hands to his face to wipe away his tears, went to speak, then shook his head. His heart would break if he tried, and yet he wanted to say something, but no words would come.
"Untie his hands," Hephaistion said.
Astyoche untied the hands, while Hephaistion turned to Alexander and asked him for a cup of wine…for Odius. Alexander did as he asked, and passed the cup to him.
"You made a choice," Hephaistion continued, while Odius drank the wine, his hands shaking as the clutched the cup tightly. "A choice that was possibly not the best one, as far as I was concerned," he said, looking down at the bandages around his body. He looked at Alexander. "But if someone had given me the choice between Philip's safety and Alexander's, I would have chosen Alexander every time, even though I had sworn to serve and protect the king." He looked back to Odius. "Because I love him, as you loved Zahur."
"Shabdiz," Astyoche corrected, and then went quiet.
Hephaistion smiled at Astyoche. "Was that his name? Shabdiz?"
Odius nodded. "I am so sorry, Hephaistion. I was a fool…"
"It is love…was love," Hephaistion interrupted. "So there will be no execution." He looked to Alexander.
Alexander smiled at Hephaistion, then leaned forward and kissed his lips. "No execution," he concurred.
Odius gave a cry and fell to the floor, Agis and Astyoche bent down to help him up. Astyoche embraced his friend, relief at the reprieve written on his face. Agis turned to Hephaistion. "I am sorry…so sorry. I said some things. I did not mean them. You are a great man." He fell to his knees, dragging Odius down with him. Embarrassed laughter came from the three, and then they all they swore allegiance to Hephaistion.
"And they say I inspire loyalty," laughed Alexander.
An eagle flew high, between the armies of Darius and Alexander. Gaugamela. It would be decided here.
Alexander looked from the eagle to Hephaistion, who sat on his horse, beside him. Hephaistion looked ahead, calm even at the site of Darius' army stretching out before them.
It had taken several weeks for Hephaistion to recover. So Alexander had slowed the march, giving his friend time, wanting him able to fight alongside him.
Odius had become Hephaistion's shadow. He had asked if he could help, and made himself invaluable, carrying Hephaistion, bathing him, shaving him, fetching and carrying, taking messages to Alexander and helping him to walk once more. Then when Alexander came to his friend and lover at night, he would disappear like the sun over the horizon.
The entire army began to gauge the battle by Hephaistion's recovery. They would crowd to watch Hephaistion's progress, judging the strength in his arm, noting when he could walk without limping. When he finally beat Ptolemy in a sword fight, they knew the battle would be soon.
Alexander smiled on Hephaistion. Hephaistion held out his hand and Alexander took it.
"To our destiny," he said, before pushing Bucephalus forward and going to address his army.