Emperor Hadrian's death
"Little soul, gentle and drifting, guest and companion of my body, now you will dwell below in pallid places, stark and bare; there you will abandon your play of yore. But one moment still, let us gaze together on these familiar shores, on these objects which doubtless we shall no see again…Lets try, if we can, to enter into death with open eyes…"(1)
But Achilles' prayers were in vain and Alexander didn't get better... After my King received the answer from the Oracle at Siwah informing him I could be worshipped as a hero, or demi-god, he felt infinite better and even started to look like his old-self, making plans for his next campaign to Arabia, to subdue the Scythians, to built a new fleet of Greek-style warships. He had plans for the future, for new conquests, for new adventures and, even if our friends were already tired of everlasting glory, they felt relief watching him, once again, full with life.
My lover went as far as to ask Cleomenes, his governor in Egypt, to build me shrines in the land of the ancient pharaohs, can you believe that? It feels weird just to think about it; there was even some kind of cult established in my honor and merchant contracts were signed using my name. Anyway, by the time Alex went back to Babylon, after massacring the Cossaeans for 5 weeks and turning his sadness into anger, the Chaldeans approached again with a warning, he couldn't enter the city from the eastern side, facing the sun, or a great disaster would befall upon him, and this time Alexander truly considered not entering the city.
As months passed Alexander became more superstitious, he paid more attention to omens and signs like crows hitting each other and falling dead near him or to lions beat to death by donkeys, something he had never done before. Usually the King used omens to his own advantage or, as it happened at Gaza and at Sudracae, not hearing the warnings when they were contrary to his interests, but not anymore. Now, he was very different and, just as his friends feared, he was changing without Hephaistion.
But among all the omens and warning coming to him everyday from seers it was one prophesy that left him thinking for a long time, even if he appeared to not have taken it seriously at first…
— It was just a coincidence –was Nikandros' opinion that night, sharing the King's dinner at the palace after Alexander had made up his mind and entered the city— Apollodorus' seer took a shot and was right about Phai's death, what makes you think he is right about your death?
A day before Hephaistion's death, Apollodorus, the military governor of Babylon had received a warning from a seer named Peithagoras, telling him the late Chiliarch would die soon; then, after this first warning, Peithagoras announced the death of the King and, a very scared Apollodorus ran to tell everything to Alexander, thinking there was some kind of plot against his life.
— I never said I thought it was true, it's just…—but the King shook his head. What he was thinking was something no one but him should know, and idea born from suffering, a monstrous thing living in his mind and growing stronger at each passing day, feeding on his pain. He was not ready to share this, not now and maybe not ever but Peithagoras' had echoed in him because…— Don't mind me –he shouldn't be thinking this— Did you hear? Roxanne is pregnant; she doesn't give up the idea that, if she bears me a son I will name him my heir –he sighed, almost pitying her naivety— After what happened in India she should know better and be grateful to still have her life. Do you remember what I told you about her?
Nikandros sighed, taking a moment to choose his words.
— Alexander, you and I have never talked about your wife before –said the now hipparch as softly as he could, again the King was mistaking him for his brother; every day was more often and Nikandros didn't know what to do. His words seem to wake Alexander up.
— I'm sorry, Nick.
— It's fine –Nikandros took another gulped of wine, it was an excellent wine. He had to admit that, since he was invited at the King's table he had gained a couple of kilos, and he was not complaining. Was this what Hephaistion enjoyed at Alexander's side?
Now I understand why Phai loved him so much –he thought. Since the King began to invite him to dinner he had enjoyed a little of what his brother had lived at the side of Alexander— And I have to admit he pampered Phai a lot –that made him happy, to see his brother had such a lover, someone who had truly cared for him. To know Hephaistion had been happy meant a lot to Nikandros.
— So, what are you planning to do with her? –the hipparch took a fig.
— At the moment nothing, Hephaistion's funeral will be in a couple of days and I have no head for her now, I'm too busy –answered the King— I will wait until spring next year and then move to Arabia. If it were for me I will go before but I still have things to do here. Antipater sent Cassander in his place to see me and there is quiet a number of foreign delegations asking for an audience with me. Aki helps me a lot but…
— Phai was the one who used to do this, wasn't he? –guessed Nikandros and the King nodded slowly.
This is so difficult…maybe Peithagoras is right. He has to be! After all, it was almost as if he had read my mind –thought Alexander.
— Since Cassander arrived he has been a constant headache –the King continued— He does nothing more than complain and went as far as to laugh when people prostrate in front of me –just to remember that made him angry again. He had been so infuriating to hear Cassander laughing that he had stood up, taken Antipater's son by the hair and beat his head against the wall.
Phai would have been furious with me –thought Alexander— I know, he always said I had to control my temper but…I can't.
— Cassander didn't take part in the campaign, he came straight from Macedonia, it's not that surprising he found shocking, or funny, to see people prostrating in front of you –said the hipparch— I have been here since the beginning and I still find that a little absurd…sorry.
Alexander said nothing and they continued eating, sharing the same couch, something that was still very weird for Nikandros. The hipparch took another sip of wine when he felt the King taking him by the arm, he turned and opened his eyes in astonishment when Alexander left a soft kiss on his lips.
— I want you to come with me to Arabia, Phai –the King whispered— I can't go alone.
Nikandros froze for a moment, not knowing what to say, how to answer something like that. Many times he had asked himself what could he do. Play along? No, that was not fair, not for him, for Alexander or even to the shade of his brother— I have to be honest –and with that in mind, he pushed the King softly away from him. Nikandros tried to hold his gaze but failed miserably.
— Alexander, look at me –the hipparch asked, it may be cruel what he was about to say but it was necessary. He understood better than many what was the King feeling, he had own Hephaistion's heart, he had been loved by him, and to lose his brother…But this couldn't go on— Hephaistion is dead and I am not my brother…
— I know, but still, I want you at my side, leading the hetairoi cavalry –and with those simple words the King destroyed Nikandros' illusions of going back to Pella. How could he refuse when the King himself was asking, promoting him?
What am I going to do? –he thought, knowing perfectly well what was Alexander looking for and not knowing he would be capable of granting that wish— Vashti is not going to be happy –maybe he should send her to Pella, she and the girls could keep his mother company— Mom is devastated –they had received a letter from her, and even if Antigone didn't want to worry her sons and daughter they knew she was extremely sad.
Nikandros, Berenike and Lysanias had talked about it and Berenike was thinking very seriously to go back home to stay with their mother— Perhaps the girls would be able to cheer her up —he would talk to his wife but, what about the King?— I will do my best to keep him company, I'll do it for you Phai.
— Aki, you have been working really hard –said Alexander. They went out to ride, something that had made the Prince extremely happy especially since the King was looking happier, he had even joked with his guards on the way here.
Thank you dear Zeus, thank you for letting dad smile again –he prayed.
— I am not a child anymore, dad –answered Achilles— And I am your heir, I think is my duty to help you.
— You are the best son a father could ask –Alexander spoke from the bottom of his heart and his words made the Prince blush— You are old enough to command a cavalry squadron –he continued— You'll have your own unit when we march to Arabia.
— I thought you were leaving me behind to be your regent –said Achilles.
— That was before…before your father died –sadness was still evident in his voice every time he spoke of Hephaistion's death— I don't want to be alone.
The Prince understood and nodded slowly.
— I will be honor to lead a cavalry squadron –he said.
They rode for a while in silence, now that spring had come the weather had improved tremendously and the gardens were once again full with life. Birds singing could be heard everywhere filling the place with their sweet melodies.
— Did I ever tell you how was that Phai and I met? –asked the King suddenly.
— No –that was half true, Alexander had never told him this story but he already knew it from Hephaistion. But Achilles judged his adopted father wanted to talk and had no heart to say otherwise— How it happened?
And a very excited Alexander told him about that day at the horse fair, about Hephaistion's hatred towards him, how he had won his heart, about Mieza and about everything he could think about. The Prince was happy hearing him talking with such passion and said not a word, listening with all his attention— Maybe all of us are wrong and dad will be able to overcome this, he just needs time.
Alexander went to see Hephaistion for the last time; he needed to be there, to say good-bye before his funeral, before the fire claimed that body he had worshipped night after night for 19 years. It pained him to see a man as beautiful and strong as his beloved cold and still over the flowerbed in that garden, his eyes forever closed, his mouth with no more words left…He stood at his side and took his hand, missing terribly that creamy skin that made his finger tips throbbed in desire, missing his warmth and his loving words.
— I…missed you –a tear slid down his cheek and the King's voice trembled— I missed you so much that…there are times when I hear the door opening and I expect to see you entering my room, mornings when I open my eyes, so sure that I'll find you at my side that, when I remember you are gone its like feeling my heart tearing apart…—he squeezed his cold hand— I don't know if I will be able to do this…to no longer see myself in your eyes, so full of love…with you died the best of me…how can I keep on living? I can't do it!
Alexander spent the night there, crying until he had no more tears, until the sun came and with it the reminder that it was time, time to deliver Hephaistion at the gates of the underworld, to never see his beautiful face ever again.
I'm sure you have heard tales about my funeral pyre, about its magnificence and exorbitant cost. Well, I never saw it, obviously, but Chrysaor told me about it and I heard tales. It was an ostentation beyond everything you can imagine, and my "body" was placed at the top.
"Alexander collected artisans and an army of workmen and tore down the city wall to a distance of 10 stades. He collected the baked tiles and leveled off the place, which was to receive the pyre, and then constructed this square in shape, each side being a stade in length. He divided up the area into 30 compartments and laying out the roofs upon the trunks of palm trees wrought the whole structure into a square shape. Then he decorated all the exterior walls. Upon the foundation course were golden prows of quinquerremes in close order, 240 in all. Upon the catheads each carried 2 kneeling archers 4 cubits in height, and (on the deck) armed male figures 5 cubits high, while the intervening spaces were occupied by red banners fashioned out of felt."
"Above these, on the second level, stood torches 15 cubits high with golden wreaths about their handles. At their flaming ends perched eagles with outspread wings looking downwards, while about their bases were serpents looking up at the eagles. On the third level were carved a multitude of wild animals being pursed by hunters. The fourth level carried a centauromachy rendered in gold, while the fifth showed lions and bulls alternating, also in gold."
"The next higher lever was covered with Macedonian and Persian arms, testifying to the prowess of the one people and to the defeats of the other. On top of all stood Sirens, hollowed out and able to conceal with them persons who sang a laments in mourning for the dead. The total height of the pyre was more than one 130 cubits. All of the generals and the soldiers and the envoys and even the natives rivaled on another in contributing to the magnificence of the funeral, so, it is said, that the total expense came to over 12, 000 talents." (2)
They all stood there, surrounding the funeral pyre in an overwhelming silence, watching how the flames consumed everything, the ominous cracking of the wood, the heat hitting their faces. Xsayarsa cried as hard as Berenike, Kyros was inconsolable and no matter how many times Glycon repeated it was not his fault he was unable to forgive himself. Achilles cried silently, standing at Alexander's side, the flames reflected in their eyes.
It was now, only now, that the King was able to accept Hephaistion was dead. He had prayed day after day for a miracle, had begged the Gods to bring his beloved back, no mattered how, he just wanted to see him again, to hear his voice…why had they refused to hear him? It took Alexander months to understand his soul mate had abandoned this world, to understand there would be no miracle, that there was no mistake. Hephaistion was dead there was nothing more. And, as the flames danced in front of him, the hollow in his heart transformed into deep despair.
Day after day Alexander immersed himself in a routine, trying desperately to distract himself, to stop thinking, to stop the pain. He even sailed down to inspect the lower reaches of the Euphrates, to see about the irrigation problem and to look for possible route for his fleet once the campaign against Arabia began. By the time he came back to Babylon, Peukestas was waiting for him with 20, 000 Persians ready to be incorporated in the army and Alexander began, once again, to re arrange battalions, units and squadrons.
But things were very far from being fine. I'm sure you heard of that evening of May when Alexander fell ill while holding a banquet in Nearchos' honor. What have you heard? That he was sick? That he was poison? The truth is more disturbing than everything you have heard, when I learned what I am about to tell you I was very close to throw myself to the sunrise, it was too much for me to bear…
Achilles kept an eye on Alexander the whole time. Since Hephaistion died the King had been drinking in excess but, this night, it was even worst. Alexander appeared to be having a great time but there was something worrying the Prince. He could not explain it, there was no reasonable explanation to sustain his fear, just a hunch, a feeling inside him whispering something was wrong, saying his adopted father was trying too hard to appear as if everything were fine, that he was fine.
It had been a couple of days since Achilles noticed this but he didn't know how to put his fears in words and so, he said nothing, not even to Seleucus or Demetrius— I have to take care of dad, maybe he is just sad, maybe something reminded him of daddy, maybe is nothing and I am just exaggerating.
— Why are you so serious? –asked Seleucus, leaning closer to the Prince, whispering in his ear before kissing his cheek. Achilles turned to look at him, taking a moment before answering.
— It's nothing I…I am just worried about dad –the archihypaspistes turned to look at the King, laughing with Nearchos.
— He looks fine to me.
— How fine? –Achilles wanted to know.
— Fine, I mean, he even looks happy –said Seleucus.
— He is trying too hard too look happy –said the Prince, and the archihypaspistes sighed.
— Achilles, first you were worried because Alexander was extremely sad and now you are worried because he is extremely happy –said Seleucus.
— Yes but…it's a hunch –Achilles insisted and fell silent for a moment— Maybe you are right.
The archihypaspistes kissed him and the Prince cocked his head, opened his mouth obediently. At some point Seleucus noticed Demetrius' eyes on them and, deliberately, looking only to piss the page off, slid his hand between Achilles' legs.
— You motherless dog! What is like to be the King's lover? –asked Kleopatros, laughing to a very serious Nikandros.
— I am not the King's lover.
— That's not the word out there –said Kleopatros— Why else were you appointed as hipparch of the hetairoi cavalry?
— I am not the new hipparch, it's just for a while –answered Nikandros, he really didn't want to talk about it.
— Have you slept with the King?
— Kleopatros, really, stop it. I am not Alexander's love and I am not bedding him –the hipparch grumbled.
— Fine. You don't have to yell.
At some point a half naked girl brought a large cup of unmixed wine to the King and his Companions immediately urged him to drain the cup, that could have passed for a small barrel, at once, but Alexander looked at it for a long time, ignoring the noise around him, ignoring everything, almost spellbound— There is no turning back –he thought.
Achilles stood up and Seleucus immediately asked if something was wrong but the Prince ignored him— Something is not right –he felt his heart beating faster. The King felt his son's eyes on him and turned to look at the boy, he smiled, a smile that tasted like a good-bye and drank all the wine at once. Achilles ran to stop him, not knowing why, just reacting but it was too late…and the King collapse.
May ended soon but the King's health deteriorated quickly and, for one week, Alexander remained prostrated in bed, everyday he was weaker and weaker, some days it appeared he was getting better and he even found the strength to play dice or talk to his friends, but other days he was unconscious or delirious thanks to the fever. Doctor Philip wasn't very optimistic and his high officers started to fear that the inevitable, the impossible was about to happen, that their invincible King was truly going to die.
Who decides about my time to come?
Who is able to break through the circle of life and doom?
(Epica, Design your Universe)
— Aki, I'm sorry –said Alexander with a ghost of voice, shivering thanks to the fever, pale with shadows under his eyes, looking like an old man instead of the dashing young conqueror who had made the Persian Empire kneel for him. The Prince, sitting at his side on the bed, tried his best not to cry but was failing miserably— I…I'm so sorry…son…for leaving you…
— You are not dying, dad –Achilles forced himself to smile— You have seen worst, have you forgotten? At Gaza and at Sudracae, you were mortally wounded but you survived.
— No…Aki, this time…the wound in my heart…is fatal –talk was an effort but the King needed to do this— Don't cry, this is…what I want Aki…I am a coward…I can't live without…my Phai…I tried but…please forgive me…
— What are you talking about? –asked the Prince feeling cold inside his stomach, but Alexander didn't answer, he took off his seal ring and gave it to his adopted son, squeezing his hand with his remaining forces.
— You are…a wonderful son…–the King smiled— And I am a poor…substitute of…Phai…the worst father…
— Dad, listen to me, you are not the worst father, you are a wonderful father –said Achilles with force, taking Alexander's hand— And you are not dying! –he wanted to believed his own words but the truth was very different and infinitely more cruel.
Then, the Prince thought again in the cup of wine, in the King's smile, his words and he understood everything. He turned to look at Alexander and his adopted father recognized realization in those eyes so like his own.
— Why? –cried Achilles, tears sliding down his cheeks, his trembling— Why?…dad, why?…
— Because…I can't…live without…him…
Every life, no matter now strong had been the fire burning inside, comes to an end…No matter how important the man or how great the deed, we all reach the same destination at the end of the road, but is there truly a good way to die? What is the best way to meet our end? A sudden death, just like Caesar said many years later?
Is it? Is there truly a perfect way to die? What matters is what a man, or a woman, does with the little time we have in this world, that's what makes mortals so precious, their existences are so brief that any moment counts because it can be the last. We, vampires on the contrary, are monsters, unnatural creatures, reminisces of lost glories, ruins of other times, defying the laws of nature.
How does a great man die? By his own hand like Hannibal…
"Hannibal took the cup to his lips and, while he drank deeply, he inhaled the smell of the wine. Taste and flavor were perfect. He did not find one iota of strange taste in that drink. He wondered whether the poison would have the desired effect. The Greek physician who provides it in Malaka, at the south of Hispania, said it was infallible and that its mortal capacity would remain intact for years and years, no matter how much time it had passed. But Hannibal felt nothing. That ring had traveled with him for over 35 years. Perhaps it had been too long.
[…] Hannibal looked at the sea. The tiredness seemed to seize him. He was very sleepy. So many battles, so many wars to try to rein in Rome and it was all in vain […] everything lost, everything in the past. He looked at the cup, immobile, over the table. His left hand refused to move but he took the cup y took it to his mouth. He drank on last gulp. The cup…he wanted to leave it on the table…he couldn't…it fell with a powerful clang" (3)
Or assassinated like Caesar?
"Though he fought strenuously, Caesar neither cried out nor spoke. The table went flying, scrolls raining everywhere, the ivory chair followed, and spattering drops of blood. Now some of the senators on the top tiers were looking, exclaiming in horror, but none moved to come to Caesar's aid. Retreating backwards, he encountered Pompey's plinth just as Cassius pushed to the fore, sand his blade in to Caesar's face, screwed it around, enucleating an eye and rendering that beauty nonexistent.
A furore descended on the Liberators crowded in, daggers rising and falling, blood spurting now. Suddenly Caesaer ceased to struggle, accepting the inevitable; that unique mind directed its flagging energies to dying with dignity unimpaired. His left hand came up to pull a fold of toga over his face and hide it, his right hand clenched the toga so that when he fell his legs would be decently covered. No one among this carrion should see what Caesar thought as he died, nor be able to jeer at the memory of Caesar's legs bared." (4)
Or is more befitting for a great man to die from an old age, like Caesar Augustus?
"Augustus slept badly. He suffered from stomach cramps and renewed diarrhea, and developed a high fever. Guessing what had happened, he silently thanked his wife. In the morning he called for a mirror, he looked terrible. He had his hair combed and his lower jaw, which had fallen from weakness, was propped up. He gave some orders to a military officer, who immediately set sail for the island of Plansia with a troop of soldiers. Hail and farewell, Agrippa!
A small group of notables, including Livia and Tiberius, recalled as prearranged, gathered around the bedside […] He had always seen life as a pretense, something not to be taken too seriously, and at his house on the Palatine Hill at Rome, he had had his bedroom walls painted with frescoes of the tragic and comic masks that actors wore. Their image came to his mind, and he asked:
"Have I played my part in the farce of life well enough?" (5)
Perhaps we'll never find the answer to such question…
This is the end of my tale, the end of my mortal life. Alexander was always right. We are soul mates, and my old-self, the Hephaistion who breathed and enjoyed the sunlight didn't truly die until my lover's heart stopped, that day I died for the second time. Tell me something. Did you enjoy the show?
Did you enjoy the journey that brought us to this end, to this tenth day of June of the year you now know as 323 B.C.? All of my King's high officers and friends were with him, surrounding Alexander's bed while Achilles stood at his side, sobbing, trying to be stoic and looked like the worthy heir of a Great King but failing miserably and, early in the morning, he exhaled his last breath…
New York, 2012
Zophiel fell silent. What was there to say after such story? Words failed her in that moment and, once again, the Toreador could do nothing more than stare at Hephaistion in admiration and sadness. The Tzimisce could read her confusion in her eyes and he smiled, speaking first and ending with her inner turmoil.
— You know what happened next –said the Macedonian with calm, a red tear slid down his pale cheek— You know how was that I entered the palace at night and stole my lover's body, you know the rest.
Zophiel nodded slowly, coming out from her initial shock.
— Yes…I remember –she cleared her throat and Hephaistion stood up. He was fast, on moment he was in front of her and next, he was standing at her side.
— This ends my tale, Zophiel –he looked at her almost sweetly— I promised to tell you all about my mortal life and this fulfils that promise.
That was true, but he had given her not only his story, he had shared with her a piece of his heart, of his soul, and Zophiel would never be able to thank him enough for this opportunity. The Toreador had many doubts, she was eager to know what happened then, what became of Achilles, of Hephaistion's siblings, what of Chrysaor, what about Roxanne, what about everybody!…but, watching his dark gray eyes in that badly illuminated room, Zophiel knew the Tzimisce would not tell her more, no mattered how much she begged— And I truly can't ask for more.
She stood up and smiled.
— Thank you, you…gave me much more than I have expected –said Zophiel, her voice trembling— I hope…I truly hope your plan will work and soon you would be able to see him again. You both deserve to be happy.
(1) Marguerite Yourcenar. Memoirs of Hadrian, p 295
(2) Diodorus Siculus. Book 17.110.8 and book 17.114-17.115
(3) Santiago Posteguillo. La Traición de Roma (The Betrayal of Rome), p 727
(this book is in Spanish, I translated this part so all mistakes are mine)
(4) Colleen McCullough. The October Horse, 484
(5) Anthony Everitt. Augustus, introduction.
A/N: Dear readers I know what are you thinking and the answer is NO. NO I am NOT leaving you like this. Even if Hephaistion will not tell Zophiel what happened to the rest of the characters you'll know in time about their fate. You may feel this chapter is incomplete, that we are lacking something with Alexander's death but this is because I have a plan, you'll see soon enough.
This version of Alexander's death differs a lot from real history because here the King had an heir and this changed everything. You'll understand better later, I promise.
I can't tell you how grateful I am with all of you. Thank you, thank you for all your patience and support through all these years, week after week following this story. It's NOT the end, we still have more story ahead of us but this chapter truly ends Hephaistion's story as a mortal. Thank you and see you soon!