A Sacred Taste
A/N: I am surprised to find out that most everything we have now did not escape the influence of Alexander. It is said that Alexander is responsible for spreading Citrus and Bananas to the western world.
After traveling under the heavy rain, which seemed to last forever, they had arrived at a small village in the valley surrounded by lavish green. As they approached closer, the rain subsided, and the sun started to peek its face through the crack of thick clouds. As soon as the sun came out, and the strong rays shone over the wet ground, the thick and moist hot air hit their faces.
Alexander stole a quick glance at a slender figure that had been riding beside him, and frowned. His friend's tightly set lips during the rain were now slightly open to breath in the thick air more easily, yet even with softened lines, he could see the sharp edges along the jaw lines. Hephaistion had lost a lot of weight since they left Bactria.
It was obvious that this hard campaign in an extreme environment was one of the causes, and Hephaistion was not the only one who had suffered physically, but Alexander sensed in pain that his recent marriage to Roxanne might have added further distress to the status of Hephaistion.
Even if Hephaistion tried very hard to hide it, and Alexander still put Hephaistion above all to convince that nothing had changed between them, somewhere deep inside of their hearts, both Alexander and Hephaistion knew that the change was inevitable. Although it was mere formality, Alexander now had a companion named Queen.
When Alexander's army entered the village, they were greeted with a warm welcome, and the chief of the tribe offered Alexander and his queen simple yet comfortable living quarters. Two spacious buildings hung over the gentle stream not too far apart from each other, yet lavish vegetation separated them adding enough privacy in between.
"Hephaistion, why don't you stay with me here? It is more comfortable and cooler than sleeping in your tent."
Alexander was worried about Hephaistion's deteriorating health, and wanted to keep a close eye on him.
"I would rather like to stay out there with my men. You know how I feel about receiving a special treatment from you."
"But you are special to me. Besides, I worry for you. You have lost so much weight recently."
"Nonsense. I am not the only one who lost weight. Everybody became leaner, even Nearcus, thanks to your Spartan campaign. " Hephaistion smiled at Alexander mockingly.
"But nobody lost as much weight as you did." Alexander still protested.
"Prove it to me that I lost so much weight, then." Hephaistion grinned triumphantly knowing there was no way that Alexander could prove it logically and objectively.
Alexander pulled Hephaistion by the waist and hugged him against his body.
"Look, my arms can almost wrap you around twice."
Hephaistion laughed, "Maybe that is because you lost your own belly fat?"
"I did not have a belly fat." Alexander pouted playfully pushing his friend to arms length. He took Hephaistion's hands in his, and ran his thumbs over the slender fingers. When his thumb did not register what he expected to be there, Alexander brought up Hephaistion's hands under his gaze.
"Where is the ring I gave you? You promised to keep it with you at all times."
"I do." Hephaistion freed his hands and pulled the end of a leather cord tied around his neck. A ring with a large stone of exquisite lapis lazuli dangled at the end of the cord.
"I had to take it off. It gave me bruises when I used the sword in battles." Hephaistion explained apologetically.
All of sudden, Alexander's eyes lit up.
"Put it on. You don't have to use the sword now, do you? I would like to see it on your finger."
Hephaistion slipped the ring off the cord, and put it on his finger. The ring was big, and it became so loose on Hephaistion's finger that the heavy stone turned around his finger to the other side facing to his palm.
"See? I did prove it to you. When I gave it to you, it fit on your finger just fine." It was Alexander's turn to grin triumphantly this time.
Hephaistion bit his lower lip and stared at his fingers for a moment, and then whispered.
"I am still not moving into your quarters…"
Alexander half smiled knowing so well that nothing would change his friend's mind, Hephaistion was the only one who did match him with stubbornness.
"All right, but promise me to take good care of yourself."
"Do not worry Alexander, as soon as this heat eases, my appetite would come back, and I would eat like a pig. Soon, you will beg me to go on a diet to keep my narrow waistline that you love so much. Besides, you should have more important things to worry about."
Alexander laughed heartedly, and let Hephaistion go. Yet, he could not help but worrying over him feeling something terrible might happen to his friend.
As soon as he entered his tent, Hephaistion collapsed on the cot. Alexander was right. He had not been feeling well since the night of Alexander's wedding. He had trouble sleeping through the night, he suffered from constant headaches, his belly cramped occasionally, and he absolutely did not have an appetite.
Yet, he did not want to admit it. Instead, he scolded himself for being so weak that he could not take the fact that the king must marry, and being so selfish that he could not bear the idea of sharing Alexander with the queen, even if Alexander personally told him that he loved nobody else but him. Fighting back the nausea, Hephaistion slipped into a restless sleep.
A few days later in the village on one afternoon, Alexander's concern grew stronger; he could no longer sit still to wait. Hephaistion and Perdiccas had left for the near by hills to map out their next route early in the morning. It was already mid afternoon, and there was no sign of them returning. It should not take this long; they should have been back a long time ago.
When Alexander went out of his quarters to fetch Bucephalus, he saw two horses heading back to the village just like they left this morning. The only difference was that there were two riders on one horse; Hephaistion was held in Perdiccas' arms. Alexander quickly mounted on Bucephalus, and kicked the side of the horse to meet with them half way.
Looking at Hephaistion's pale face, and searching for a wound, Alexander asked Perdiccas.
"I think it is the heat. He fainted."
When Hephaistion heard the voice of Alexander, he tried to pull himself away from Perdiccas' hold to sit straight, but he failed miserably. His head span and a wave of nausea attacked him. As soon as they arrived at the village, Alexander carried Hephaistion into his sleeping quarter, and called the physician.
Philip examined Hephaistion thoroughly. Alexander did not like the expression the physician carried during the examination.
"What is it? What is wrong with him? Will he be all right?" Alexander asked question after question impatiently.
"I do not know for sure, but I would like to talk to him when he wakes up. There is no immediate threat to his life, so it is best that he sleeps and rests. Please send someone to fetch me when Hephaistion is up."
With this, the doctor left the quarter leaving worried Alexander alone with Hephaistion. He sat by Hephaistion's bedside, and took his friend's clammy hand into his. Some time later, Hephaistion's finger twitched against Alexander's hand, and Hephaistion slowly opened his eyes.
He blinked a few times, and looked up at Alexander while Alexander called his page to get Philip.
"How are you feeling?"
"What happened?" Hephaistion's raspy confused voice followed.
"You do not remember?"
"I…I was drawing the land marks at the hilltop with Perdiccas…and … no… I do not remember after that. How did I get back?"
"Perdiccas carried you back, because you fainted. "
"Fainted…like a girl?"
Alexander chuckled at this, but added it quickly seeing Hephaistion's embarrassed expression on his pale face.
"Maybe because of the heat."
"I hear my patient has awoken. How are you feeling?" Philips entered the quarter with a smile.
"Better… I think."
"Good. I want you to answer to the few questions. It is very important that you tell me the truth, all right?"
"How long have you been not feeling well?"
Hephaistion opened his mouth to answer the doctor that it just started when he was out with Perdiccas, but when he met with Alexander's sharp gaze, he swallowed and closed his eyes before speaking. Hephaistion knew well that it was impossible to lie in front of Alexander. The king would know.
"I think it started in the morning following the wedding banquet."
"Why didn't you…" Doctor Philip stopped Alexander by placing a hand on his arm.
"Did you eat or drink anything special that night?"
"No, I don't think so…wait…one of my men had a special homemade wine. He was so adamant not to share with anybody, but he gave me a cup. I could understand his possessiveness when I had a first sip. It was an excellent wine, very smooth and sweet."
"Will you tell me the name of the soldier so that I can talk to him?"
Hephaistion knitted his brows.
"I am afraid it is not possible. He fell ill and did not make it to India."
Alexander and Philip exchanged a meaningful look.
"You don't think …"
"Well, let me ask you more questions before I draw a conclusion. When did you last urinate?"
"I do not keep a track on those things…"
"Hephaistion!" Hephaistion muttered, and Alexander scolded. "Be serious! It is important."
"Uh… I think it was last night."
"You haven't peed all day?"
Hephaistion glared at Alexander, "It's been too hot. It all turned into a sweat."
"Do you have trouble sleeping, and have headaches, too?"
Ignoring their repartee, Philip calmly interjected, and Hephaistion nodded.
"How about pain here?" Philip touched Hephaistion's abdomen over the thin cover.
"Not all the time, but once in a while."
Philip nodded to Alexander's questioning face, and continued.
"I am pretty sure that you are suffering from lead poisoning. That is why you fainted, too. Anemic is another symptom for that."
Hephaistion mumbled while Alexander's face grew pale.
"I suspect that the special wine you consumed contained a high level of lead. I have heard of this new method of making wine. They mix wine with a grape syrup called sapa to make it taste better and last longer. In a process of making sapa, they boil down grape juice in a pot. They must have used a pot made of lead."
"How can you cure it?" Alexander asked Philip although he already knew an answer.
"Unfortunately, there is no quick cure for that. Once the lead goes into the body, it is very hard to remove it. Good thing is that Hephaistion consumed just one cup, and I do not think it is a life threatening amount."
Hephaistion was relieved to know that his weakness was not because he was jealous of Alexander's queen like a woman, but because of the poison, but at the same time, a new fear rose up in his mind.
"Will I be this weak, and useless until I die?"
Hephaistion's panicking voice questioned the doctor. He could not bear the thought of becoming useless in Alexander's army and to be forced to leave his king's side.
"Like I said, there is no antidote to cure, but there are a few things you can do to improve your condition. First of all, you have to rest and take plenty of fluid. Eating well is another important thing. You should eat meat, vegetables, fruits and grains with a balanced proportion. I wish we had apples here though. Acid in the fruits helps to flush the lead out of the system. Well, as a matter of fact, any fruits would be a help for that."
"Now, Hephaistion, there is no more excuse for you to stay in your uncomfortable tent. I'll have my page move your belongings here. And Philip, let us go and search for the fruits. I am sure that we can find some here."
Hephaistion groaned, but he knew better than to protest.
The chief of the tribe guided the king and the physician into the garden, after Alexander explained their needs to him. As they walked closer, the sweet exotic smell became stronger in the air. The garden was meticulous with well maintained various trees, shrubs, plants and flowers that Alexander had never seen.
They stopped in front of a medium height tree. The glossy emerald green leaves were somewhat similar to the ones of olive trees, but they were thinner and the branches had green thorns. The buds and outer petals of delicate small white flowers were slightly tinted with purple rose color. The aroma of the flower was rich and sweet. Abundance of pale yellow green fruits with bumpy shiny skin decorated the whole tree.
Alexander picked one of the fruits and sliced it in half with his small sword. Strong sour smell filled his nostrils making his mouth water. He gave the half to Philip and licked the exposed yellow pulps of the other. It had such an intense sour taste that it made his lips pucker up.
Philip grinned widely.
"This is great. It's even better than an apple."
They moved further into the garden. A small group of strange plants appeared in front of them. Large single stemmed leaves fanned out from the top of the plant just like the ones of palm trees, only this plant's leaves were softer and the distance of the slits in the leaves were uneven. One of the plants had even a stranger thing growing from the top of it. A bunch of green fruits cascaded down like a grape with a single thick stem; however, the shape of each fruit was like fingers of a Titan instead of tiny globes.
"It is kala, a sacred fruit. We dedicate it to Buda on the days of festivals. I was planning to bring it to you when it was ripe. Unfortunately, we have only these young green ones, and over ripened ones in the kitchen at this moment."
"Can I see them, the ones in the kitchen?" Alexander's eyes shone with a curiosity.
"Yes, of course."
The chief took them back to the kitchen. As soon as they walked into the room, the unique sweet smell welcomed them. The chief approached the table and broke a fruit from the bunch, and handed it to Alexander. The slender crescent shaped fruit was protected with thick yellow skin that was partially turning into black brown.
White creamy soft fruit appeared when Alexander peeled the skin. He scooped a piece with his finger, and put it in his mouth. Strong aroma filled his mouth, and Alexander closed his eyes; there was no sourness as in most other fruits, but only sweetness.
"I think we found another perfect fruit." Alexander grinned happily while handing the fruit to the physician.
"Oh, this is so rich. You are right, Alexander. This would be perfect."
They hurried back with a basket full of newly discovered fruits.
When Alexander entered his sleeping quarter after dropping the fruits with his servants in the kitchen, he did not see Hephaistion in bed.
"Hephaistion!" Alexander called out his friend in panic.
"I am here, by the river."
Alexander walked out to the deck, which adjoined the sleeping quarter. Hephaistion was leaning against the rails with his hands spread out on the top of the railing. Gentle breezes from the river felt good in the late afternoon heat. After the resting, Hephaistion looked much better, and the color had returned to his cheeks.
"It looks like you are feeling better."
"Yes, I am, and I am ready to be released from this confinement."
"I don't know about that, but maybe you would like to join with me for a bath?"
Alexander whispered into Hephaistion's ear, and the corners of Hephaistion's lips curled up instantly.
"That sounds wonderful. I feel so sticky and dirty."
"I have a great idea. I will have them bring a bathtub out here. It is secluded enough here that nobody would bother us. Now let me take you back to the bed until the bath is ready."
"But, I am not tired anymore."
"Oh, Hephaistion, did you forget that you need all the rest you can get before the bath?" With this, Alexander pushed blushing Hephaistion back into the sleeping quarter.
Hephaistion's eyes grew wide and he halted when they came out to the deck again, where the hot bath was now prepared and ready. Thinly sliced pale yellow green fruits and bouquets of small white flowers floated on the surface of the hot water, and the pungent sweet smell traveled with a gentle breeze.
Alexander gently nudged Hephaistion closer to the tub, and slipped himself out of the chiton.
"Come Hephaistion." He helped still dazed Hephaistion undress, and guided him into the water. The aroma was more intense in the bath, and the sweet sensual smell of the flower felt so erotic.
"Uhmm… it feels so good…" Hephaistion sunk his body deeply into the water, and rested his back against Alexander's muscular chest. He closed his eyes with content. Alexander responded to him by loosely wrapping his arms around Hephaistion's torso.
"Thank you Alexander, this is such a treat."
"You have seen nothing yet." Alexander murmured while gently massaging Hephaistion's scalp and lathering down his long hair. Hephaistion moaned with delight making Alexander twitch against Hephaistion's bottom. Hephaistion chuckled softly amazed with the effect.
Light footsteps approached to make Hephaistion's eyes open. He saw Alexander's page carrying a wooden tray with two cups and a dish. The page gently dropped the tray on the edge of the water, and pushed it toward to Alexander before leaving the room as quietly as he entered.
"You don't need wine to seduce me." Hephaistion's husky voice ghosted against Alexander's mouth as he turned around in Alexander's arms to face him.
Alexander pecked Hephaistion's lips and replied.
"No, I want you to be alert, and feel every single move when I make love to you."
Alexander's word traveled down straight into his core, and Hephaistion shuddered. Alexander reeled a tray between them, and handed a cup to Hephaistion. Hephaistion drew a deep breath; breathing in a full aroma into his nostrils before taking a sip. A clean and refreshing sour taste filled his mouth.
"It's sour, but very refreshing."
Alexander chuckled and playfully kissed Hephaistion's puckered up lips.
"Now close your eyes. I have a surprise for you."
Hephaistion complied and closed his eyes with a big smile on his face.
"Now open your mouth."
"You are not going to shove anything nasty into my mouth, are you?"
Hephaistion's whispering voice was seductive. Alexander cleared his throat before finding his voice.
"Not now… maybe later … Now, keep your eyes closed and open your mouth."
As soon as Hephaistion opened his mouth, he felt Alexander push something warm and soft into his mouth. A unique aroma that Hephaistion had never tasted before dominated his senses. He squished it in between his tongue and the upper palate to have a better taste. It almost melted in his mouth. A hint of spice and honey lingered at the root of his tongue. The taste was so delightful and divine that it was addictive.
Alexander enjoyed watching Hephaistion's various expressions cross his face as he ate this foreign fruit. It changed from surprise to delight to longings; they were truly enchanting to watch.
"Do you want more?"
Hephaistion just opened his mouth eagerly. A moan escaped from the back of his throat, and Alexander hardly could hold himself back. After all the fruits disappeared into Hephaistion's mouth, Alexander scraped thick syrup with his forefinger and put it into Hephaistion's hot cave.
As soon as Alexander's finger was in, Hephaistion wrapped it with his burning tongue and sucked it hard not to waste a single drop. Alexander let out a shaky breath. He no longer could hold back. He put one hand behind Hephaistion's neck, and the other wrapped around the waist, and leaned forward to run his tongue slowly over Hephaistion's lips tasting the remaining sweet syrup. Alexander felt a small shiver run through Hephaistion's body in his arms, and pulled him closer.
He placed a firmer kiss on the soft lips and pushed his tongue through the opening. Hephaistion's tongue met with his half way only to be sucked hard by Alexander. The pleasurable taste of the fruits invaded Alexander's brain, and he was lost. He grabbed Hephaistion's thighs and Hephaistion impatiently wrapped them around Alexander's waist. A friction of each other's flesh took them to the next level of excitement.
Alexander teased Hephaistion's entrance until Hephaistion could not bear any longer.
"Please … Alexander…"
Alexander balanced Hephaistion's hip on his lap, and slowly pushed himself in. Hephaistion trembled, and they both moaned in pleasure, feeling each other's hot flesh in the most intimate way.
Soon, the chapping sounds of the water mingled with desperate moans filled the air. When Hephaistion could not control his body any longer, he arched his back; his shiny soft hair fanned out and floated on the surface of the water. Loud cries echoed over the river followed with the sounds of heavy breathing before the complete silence and stillness took over.
Alexander rested his back against the tub, and pulled Hephaistion to cradle his head against his shoulder. Hephaistion chuckled.
"If this is the treatment I should get everyday, it is not so bad to be sick."
"And I will make sure with all my power that I would be the only one who gives you the treatment."
They laughed delightfully before exchanging a gentle kiss.
A veil of night had fallen and the moon and the stars shone over them. The water of the tub was getting cooler, but the two lovers stayed in each other's arms, perfectly content, and feeling blessed to have the other half of their soul.