Book: The Persian Boy
Summary: Bagoas encounters Hephaistion's ghost
Note: Written for a Halloween challenge in the maryrenaultfics LJ community in which we had an hour to write a story that included the phrase: "Ghosts do not always have the best timing."
Alexander was mad with grief. The walls echoed with it. He had demolished two rooms and had started on a third. I heard a fearsome clang of metal and a shriek of ripping drapes amidst the howls and anguished sobs of an animal. He who had never before been defeated, was now brought low by the irreversible claim of death. "Hephaistion!" I heard him crying, "Hephaistion."
It ate my entrails. Filled my head with fire. I had known. But no, I didn't know, not really. Neither had he, I think.
We were all terribly afraid. And like children we hid from him. One of the guards found me curled in a ball on the floor, my hands over my ears. "Bagoas," he cried, shaking me, "you know well that things may not stand like this. We must get the body away from him or I fear he'll go truly mad when it rots. You must do something. He trusts you. Talk to him. Make him see reason."
"I don't dare; he'll kill me," I hissed. I would feign the coward when truthfully it was because I didn't want him to look at me and see the one with whom he had betrayed his beloved. I could not bear to see the hate in those eyes. Never that. I, who many years ago had so wanted to see my rival die, now had to face cold truth. I was not first in my lord's heart. That was Hephaistion's place alone. Maybe it would be better to die than live with this. I thought of poisons, daggers, anything to free my soul of this knowledge.
Eventually the cries attenuated into the silence of the tomb and a terrible thought arose within me. He would not have taken his own life? In terror, I crept to the door. He lay on the rushes in the midst of a chaos of ruined vessels, arm slung over his face, his clothes clawed half off. But I saw - there! His chest rose and fell with the breath of the god.
Hephaistion lay like marble on the bed, his cheeks sunken. His body had not been washed nor limbs folded as was right. Instead, they were flung outward as if inviting a final embrace. My thoughts crawled from imagining my lord's desperate kisses upon those cold lips. I found the guards and bid them creep in and remove the body, sent for the embalmers to freeze those fair features in resin. I saw naught of it.
That night his ghost came and stood over my bed. Ghosts do not always have the best timing and this was no exception. His face was still fair, though drawn and pale as milk, a circlet of laurel leaves on his wide brow. He blinked slowly and then spat a coin from his mouth, for the boatman Charon, so the Greeks say. His breast plate was emblazoned with black crows. It seemed he wanted to speak. I hid from him, pulled the covers over my head, shut tight my eyes. "Go away," I whispered. "I did nothing to harm you."
"But you wanted to," he said.
"Yes." You cannot lie to a ghost, however much you may wish to.
A breath of wind gently tugged the covers from my hands. I lay shaking. He sat on the bed, heavily, as was his wont for he was well-muscled, but the mattress betrayed no hint of his presence.
"I will be brief for I don't have much time," he said. "We must make peace with things unresolved before we cross the River."
I nodded. "I never knew you to waste words."
He said, "You must have known that once I hated you. But no longer. I had to share his love with many others, not only you. Long ago I realized that while he was all I wanted, his need for love was greater than I alone could provide, and that if I tried to grasp and hold him for myself, he would slip through my fingers like grain. You comforted him in ways that I could not - a balm to his fevered flesh. And in time, Bagoas, I realized that if I were to harm you, it would be as a knife in his heart."
"I owed you my life in Gedrosia," I said.
He chuckled. "I confess I did that for love of him and not for you."
"If it is confession you need," I said, "then I can tell you the dislike was mutual; I wanted to kill you. But, like you, I came to understand that if I did so, it would only destroy him, as it is doing now. You must know that I love him more than my life and would not do the slightest thing to harm him."
"Yes, that is why you must go to him now, Bagoas." He leaned forward earnestly.
I drew away, fearful of his touch. "I don't dare."
"He must live. His time has not yet come," the ghost insisted, "but he walks on the threshold. You must bring him back. He will dream of me and find you in his arms. That is my gift of love." He took my face in his hands and kissed my brow. A cool frisson of sensation traveled up my spine. "Now go to him."
"May you have peace, my lord," I said. But he was already gone.