Dancing with the Lion: Rise
The story of Alexander before he became “the Great.”
Finished with schooling, Alexandros is appointed regent of Makedon while his father is away on campaign. He thrives with his new authority—this is the role he was born for—yet it creates conflict with his mother and Hephaistion. And when his soldiers, whom he leads with unexpected skill, start to call him “The Little King,” his father is less than delighted.
Tensions escalate between Alexandros and his father, and between Makedon and the city-states of southern Greece. As the drums of war sound, king and crown prince quarrel during their march to meet the Greeks in combat. Among other things, his father wants to know he can produce heirs, and thinks he should take a mistress, an idea Alexandros resists.
After the south is pacified, friction remains between Alexandros and the king. Hostilities explode at festivities for his father’s latest wedding, forcing Alexandros to flee in the middle of the night with his mother and Hephaistion. The rigors of exile strain his relationships, but the path to the throne will be his biggest challenge yet: a face-off for power between the talented young cub and the seasoned old lion.
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Themes: celebrity / fame, child abuse / neglect, coming of age, commitment, domestic violence, duty, family, first love, grief, legends, military, pets, power imbalance, self-confidence, self-discovery / self-reflection, slave / capture (actual - in past)
Chapter One: Regent
Water-curled hair hinted that Alexandros had come straight from a bath, and Philippos shook his head. Would he ever understand his son? Artaxerxes and the entire Persikoi army might be sitting on the palace steps, but Alexandros would probably have a bath before seeing to it. Whatever his personal peculiarities, however, he’d become a good soldier. There’d been no more rash incidents like that night in Thrakē two years ago. The army called him “Philippos’s Lion Cub” now.
He was also strong. Not tall, but strong: deep chest, broad shoulders, and sinewy thighs showing the hours he spent on horseback. Yet it had come on him slowly, letting him escape the stretched angularity suffered by most adolescents. More, he didn’t slouch. It took a man by surprise to come up beside him only to look down. At a distance, carriage, charisma, and a deep voice made him appear larger.
“I heard you got in from Thrakē yesterday,” Alexandros said. “How long are you staying?”
“Not long. I came for reinforcements; two days and we march for the Khersonesos.” He kicked out a chair for his son, who took the seat, slight frown creasing his brow. “This campaign is interminable.” No doubt the boy was planning for the muster, might even be hoping his recent summons from Mieza was to tell him he was being promoted to command a full squadron of two hundred horse. Philippos judged him ready for it, but the men wouldn’t accept him at sixteen. Of course, he was too hot-blooded to see that. Philippos had a better solution in any case, one that would placate and benefit him both. He tossed the boy a ring. “Think you can keep an eye on that while I’m gone again?”
Alexandros’s eyes widened in recognition. “The Seal?”
“Last I checked, it was.”
“Why’re you giving it to me?”
“Why does a king usually give a man the Seal?”
“To make him regent, but . . .” Alexandros’s face was a study in contrasting expressions; he would never bluff an enemy. “You’re making me . . . I’m the . . . but Antipatros—”
“Antipatros is staying behind to advise you, and Eumenes too. You’re a good leader, a decent soldier, but no administrator. Yet. That comes with experience, and I think it’s time you got some.” Picking up a stylus from the table, he turned it in his hands. “Listen to your advisors, learn to figure the treasury, judge a case, and control your mother. Above all, keep my supply lines open. This is no game. You foul up and I’ll be back here before you can spit. Antipatros will have the Seal. Understand?”
“Yes, sir.” Alexandros was so far gone in amazement, he’d forgotten to bristle at the backhanded slight to Olympias.
“Good boy.” Philippos smoothed his beard. “You’re itching for a promotion; don’t think I don’t know it.” Alexandros grinned at that. “Show me you can keep affairs straight here and I’ll trust you with two hundred horse in a battle—maybe even three hundred.” The Royal Squadron. As prince, once he was old enough, it would be his. The king stood. “Anything to say?”
He hadn’t really expected anything, so it surprised him when Alexandros spoke softly, “Thank you, Pappás.”
His son rarely called him Pappás, only Pater, Father, and Philippos hadn’t realized he’d missed it until he heard it. Then he laughed at himself. You’re a sentimental old fool. But it didn’t change the depth of his feelings any.
“Don’t get cocky on me, now,” he said, because he didn’t know how to say, I’m proud of you. For once, Alexandros must have recognized the real meaning instead of inventing some bedamned one of his own, and smiled. Philippos grinned back, then gestured for the boy to pull around his chair. “Let me show you my plans. You should know them.” Casually, he set a hand on his son’s shoulder. Alexandros didn’t lean away.
Alexandros couldn’t help strutting a bit when he left, and his first impulse was to find Hephaistion. Instead, he sought out his mother. She’d resent it if he told Hephaistion first. Her dislike of his friend felt to Alexandros like rejection of himself by proxy, forcing him to conceal things from her, not because he was ashamed, but because she refused to understand and he didn’t want to fight about it.
She sat in the courtyard, an abacus and wax tablets scattered on the flagstones around her. She made notes on another as he arrived, muttering about lumber from the summer’s cutting and seed for the autumn planting. She held up a finger so he wouldn’t interrupt.
Kleopatra knelt on the porch behind, hands deep in a dyeing vat. Her long braid had fallen over her shoulder, soaking the tip in dark-red water. Alexandros fished it out for her, tying it in a knot at the back of her neck. “Kleo, you’re a mess,” he said fondly. He loved her with an uncomplicated love, and sat down beside her. She pecked his cheek with a kiss.
Nearby, two serving women carded and spun, and inside the corner room, others were weaving. From the kitchen came the clatter and rattle of cooks; it blended badly with the tinkle of water in the fountain and the murmur of women’s voices. The westering sun cast long shadows, painting the world in golden greens. After a pause like an indrawn breath, cicadas began their evening music.
Finishing her sums, his mother set down the tablet and looked over at him. He rose without saying anything and thrust the hand with the Seal right under her nose. Frowning, she batted at it, then stopped, stared, and grabbed the hand to see better. “Aleko!” Leaping to her feet, she threw arms around him.
His face flamed even whilst he felt absurdly pleased with himself. “Mammá!”
Kleopatra had left off dyeing, and he rolled his eyes at her as she grinned behind a hand.
Pushing him away, Myrtalē kissed both his cheeks. “I am so proud of you! You know what this means. From now on, everyone will see you as heir.” She hugged him again and he hugged back. “This is what I worked so long to secure—against Amyntas, Arrhidaios.” She pushed him away once more to see his face. “We’ve done it, Alexandros!”
His pleasure cooled instantly. He had killed his boar at only twelve; he had fought in the front line; he had impressed his father enough to become the youngest officer in the Companions. What had she to do with any of that? He’d come to parade his success for her, not to have her steal it from him.
Yet what could he say? She’d carried him for nine months and never let him forget it hadn’t been an easy pregnancy. She’d also secured him Helanikē for a nurse and Leonidas for a tutor. Neither Arrhidaios nor Amyntas had received a noblewoman nurse nor Molossi prince for a lesson-master.
“Mammá,” he said, pulling away. “Please.” Her touch bothered him all of a sudden.
She laughed and tweaked his ear. “Young men! One minute they cuddle up like little boys and the next, they get all prickly like hedgehogs.” She sat down again and hugged herself from excitement. She was planning; he knew that look, blue eyes focused heavenward on something he couldn’t see.
Kleopatra came to embrace him, careful of her dripping hands. Next to their mother’s display, his sister’s seemed somehow more honest. His mother was wrapped up in herself; Kleopatra was thinking of him. The comparison startled him, as if he’d just seen his mother from a great height, and she looked small and diminished.
“What is it?” Myrtalē asked him. “You’re making a funny face.”
He couldn’t explain so he glanced out over the courtyard. “It’s nothing.”
“It’s not nothing; I know you too well. Why are you lying?”
Gaze flicking back, he found her frowning. Kleopatra had returned to her dye vat, silent, forgotten. He wished he could efface himself so easily, but he’d learned other strategies. Sighing grandly, he told her, “You always say I’m lying when I’m not lying.”
She looked down and the sun raised a nimbus over her yellow braids. She was lovely, like a pale rock rose. That and his guilt inclined him to make peace, until she said, “You never talk to me anymore.”
He balled his fists. “I talk. You don’t listen.”
“I don’t listen? I’ve listened to you all your life! And don’t you dare use that tone of voice with me, child.”
“Then don’t talk to me like I’m six. I’m a man now.”
Her eyes widened. “A man? You’re Hephaistion’s boy. You may wear the Seal but I wonder which of you will sit on the throne? You might fit on his lap.”
“Mother!” Lightness filled his head and humiliation crushed his chest. “Some things are none of your business.”
“Oh, I think it’s all Makedon’s business when their prince lets another man rule him.”
Enraged, he stepped forward until he stood over her. “But it’s all right if a woman does? That’s what you want, isn’t it? You snapping Fury—” His fist came up and she shrank back.
Appalled, he stopped. What was he doing?
“Go ahead. Hit me.” Although she cringed, she looked not the least afraid. “Call me a Fury, claim fury’s madness.”
But he wasn’t his father and she wouldn’t win so easily. “Stop trying to turn me against Hephaistion.” Spinning on his heel, he stalked away. Finding a storage room downstairs, he violently pulled the curtain to, then wrapped arms around his chest and dropped his head.
She bound him to her one moment, pushed him away the next, applauded, then shamed him. It tore his very heart and he didn’t understand her, nor what she wanted him to be. How could he be anything with her always there behind, telling him how much she’d done for him? She’d given him birth, secured him special tutors, even set him above his rivals with a bloodline that made him doubly royal. As if, without her, he was nothing.
Was it true? Alone, would he achieve nothing? His father on one side, his mother on the other. Was there nothing to which he could put his own name? Bringing a fist to his mouth, he bit down on the index finger until the pain spread and his shaking stopped. Then he took the fist away to examine it curiously, like some odd fish dredged from the depths. Teeth marks tattooed the knuckle and the finger was swelling. Shaking his head absently, he left the closet. Kleopatra was waiting on the other side.
“What?” her brother asked as soon as he saw her, but she thought the question as much surprise as reproach.
“Are you and Hephaistion really . . .?” she trailed off, hoping he’d deny it.
“Lovers?” he snapped. “Yes.”
Kleopatra looked away to conceal disappointment, but wasn’t surprised. During geometry lessons, she’d gathered something deep lay between them. She’d just chosen to ignore what was obvious. Hephaistion was in love with her brother, not her. Nor had her rational mind ever believed her father would marry her to Amyntor’s son anyway; he wasn’t important enough.
Unfortunately, crushes weren’t rational, and disillusionment lay heavy in her belly like unleavened dough. She had to struggle to keep her lip from trembling. “You know what they’ll say,” she warned, because she was feeling spiteful even if she didn’t want to, and she was angry with how he’d treated their mother.
“I’ve heard it all already. But Akhilleus was the beloved of Patroklos.”
“They don’t care, Aleko. They need to see you rule alone. Show them that and they won’t mark anything else. That’s all Mammá meant.”
“That’s not all she meant, and you know it.” His jaw ground in rage. “She wants to claim everything, like I’m . . . an extension of her. And she resents Hephaistion because I love him. She’s not first with me anymore.”
“You’re still first with her. I’m not and never will be.”
Alexandros’s expression turned stark. “She loves you, Kleo, and Thessalonikē too.”
“I know she does. But we don’t secure anything for her.” Kleopatra understood the realities of being a royal wife. One day, she might have a son and daughter of her own, and that son would be first with her, as well, of necessity. She just hoped she could make it less obvious. “I reckon we all depend on you.” Tilting her head, she struggled to see it from his side. “That must be an awful burden.”
“I was born to it.”
“Do you ever wish you weren’t?”
“You’re very philosophical for a girl.”
Irritated, her brow went up. “Is that a compliment, an insult, or avoiding the question?”
“Maybe a bit of all three?” He took a few steps backwards, then halted. “You made me think, not just react. So yeah, being philosophical is a compliment. You’re the most level-headed of us all, and it’s not just Mammá who loves you, sister-mine. I do too.” He departed.
It was still a diversion, but at least a kinder one.
After a week, Hephaistion was certain Alexandros was avoiding him. Most of the army and all their friends had gone to war with Philippos, yet he’d stayed in Pella for Alexandros’s sake, foolishly supposing he might be wanted, only to find he had nothing to do. The prince was too busy, or pretending to be, to spend time with him, so he spent his days wandering the city with his hounds, or meeting with Kleopatra to discuss mathematics, an elderly serving maid or little Thessalonikē as chaperone. These days, he saw more of Alexandros’s sisters than of Alexandros. Kleopatra was clever company, just not the company he wanted.
His relationship with Alexandros fluctuated like the moon. Sometimes Alexandros’s affection was a wild animal that had to be coaxed to hand; at others, he was an overeager puppy. Hephaistion had learned to read the emotional weathervane and act accordingly. Yet Alexandros had never before ignored him.
They’d been together a year, a long time for boys their age. Leonnatos was on his second lover since Perdikkas and Derdas had been through seven. Hephaistion could’ve had a new boy with each new moon, had he wished; in the gymnasion, others sighed when he passed. Yet his affections were constant. He wanted only Alexandros. But what if Alexandros no longer wanted him? Left to his own devices, Hephaistion fretted, doubt fermenting in his belly like yeast, making a small, soft, sick knot. He could neither eat nor sleep. Finally, unable to bear more, he decided to push matters to a crux.
The afternoon was drizzly, fog clinging to the hills and dulling the light, making slick the stone paths of the city and muddying tempers too. Hephaistion entered the megaron where Alexandros held court. Strolling along the peristyle perimeter, he pretended to study shields hung on the wall for decoration. They’d been taken in Philippos’s various battles, a nice reminder to visiting embassies: sarissai waited behind Philippos’s treaty offers. Alexandros sat at the front in a chair placed before his father’s oakwood throne, hearing legal cases. If he’d seen Hephaistion enter, he made no sign.
Did you really expect that he would? Hephaistion chided himself.
The case before the prince was typical: some trivial matter blown all out of proportion, the true trouble concealed under layers of petty recriminations. Hephaistion had often mediated sibling quarrels and had learned early how to recognize when only the top of the rock showed. Here, the opposing parties told a story of sheep stolen and pasture invaded. Alexandros listened, tapping the knuckles of his left hand against his lips, expression intent. When he gave his attention, he gave it all, burning like a torch. He could incinerate a man with the force of his gaze.
Now, as plaintiff and defendant finished their accusations, he leaned back to cross ankles, looking supremely annoyed. Pointing to the one who’d taken the sheep, he said, “Return his ewe, Lakio.”
“He can’t!” Sarpedon exclaimed. “The son-of-a-nanny-goat slaughtered it!”
“O Zeu! Why didn’t you say so in the first place?” Heaving a great sigh, he gestured to the defendant. “Pay him for it, then.”
Deciding that Alexandros had missed the heart of the trouble, Hephaistion moved to the crowd edge so he could step out front. The movement caught Alexandros’s eye, and Hephaistion jerked his chin towards the door, then left. After a few moments, Alexandros joined him in front of the secretaries’ alcove wedged beside the staircase.
“What d’you want?” The prince stood with feet splayed, fists on hips. His right eye appeared very black, outweighing the blue like an unbalanced scale.
Leaning into the wooden banister, Hephaistion spoke low for a measure of privacy from the men at their desks. “Making Lakio pay may settle matters this time, but they’ll be back in a month over another sheep or a cow or something equally stupid.”
“Back off, Amyntoros. I didn’t ask for your opinion.”
Hephaistion stared. What in the world? “You’re making a mistake, Aleko.”
“And what would you do about the problem?”
Hephaistion kicked away from the banister; they’d be nose to nose if Alexandros were taller. “Think, would you? This case isn’t over a sheep. It’s about the fact Lakio’s field once belonged to Sarpedon’s family. Go and ask how often Sarpedon’s flocks have ‘wandered’ over a two-cubit stone fence into Lakio’s cattle field.”
“How do you know these things?” But Alexandros didn’t question the truth of it. Among Hephaistion’s other useless diversions, he collected gossip. The boys might call Harpalos a rumormonger, but Hephaistion knew more house-scandals than Harpalos ever would; he just didn’t go about telling everybody everything he knew. Harpalos collected gossip because it got him attention; Hephaistion collected gossip because he disliked being caught by surprise.
Now he just shrugged. Frowning severely, Alexandros left. Hephaistion crossed the foyer to listen at the hall doors. Before long, he heard Alexandros ask the men what Hephaistion had told him to ask. Hephaistion smiled.
Subsequent inquiry turned out the tale of a four-generation feud, and Alexandros bullied the two into an agreement. For a portion of wool, Sarpedon’s sheep could share pasture with Lakio’s cattle. Simple enough, but neither would have bent his stiff neck to suggest it. Hephaistion heard Lakio say, “It’s the principle of the thing!” and laughed softly to himself. Principle had nothing to do with it.
“Never do that to me again.” Alexandros shoved aside the curtain separating the private bathing room from Alexandros’s bed chamber. Hephaistion looked up from where he sat in the terra-cotta bathtub. Stalking over, Alexandros grabbed a sponge to scrub Hephaistion’s back.
“Are Lakio and Sarpedon happy?” Hephaistion asked.
“Shut your mouth.”
“Just trying to be attentive to my regent’s needs.”
“You’re trying to stick in your long nose.”
“But you took my advice.”
“You were right, peoskephalas.” Dickhead.
“And you can’t stand it, can you?” Hephaistion twisted to look at his friend. Alexandros didn’t answer, just stepped away. “Aleko, what’s gnawing at you?”
“Horse shite!” Standing, Hephaistion snatched a towel to dry his chest, then tossed the cloth across his back perfunctorily before climbing out to dress. Alexandros pushed the tub over to the drain and let the water flow out the plug at the bottom into the pipe that would carry it beneath the palace. Emptying the tub was slave’s duty but Alexandros preferred doing slave’s duty to calling in a slave. Privacy mattered to him, a peculiarity they both shared. Their friends thought them strange.
Turning back, Alexandros leaned against the tub. “Look, the Seal is on my hand. I have to prove I know how to use it, which I can’t do if everybody thinks you’re the one sitting on the throne.”
“By the Twin Brothers!” Too irritated for a moment to go on, Hephaistion wrapped the towel around his waist. Living around Alexandros was like building one’s house on the side of a volcano: the ground was extraordinarily fertile but the explosions devastating. “I don’t want your confounded throne. Not everybody does. Some of us have a normal man’s ambition: good land, good horses, good harvest. So I gave you advice today. What of it? You got them to agree to a compromise. I don’t have your patience.”
With exaggerated care, Alexandros rearranged sponges and oil pots on a table. “You’re deliberately missing the point. I’m prince regent, not your boy.”
Thunderstruck, Hephaistion dropped the towel. “What?”
“I can’t be seen to come and go at your whim.” Alexandros spoke to the shuttered window. Sunlight stabbed through the slats.
Dressing silently, Hephaistion couldn’t have forced words past the lump in his throat even if he’d had words to say. Throwing on his cloak, he walked out. He walked a long time, all night. The next morning, he packed bags, bridled Brephas, and left for Europos.
Occupied first in the audience hall, then with dispatches in his father’s study, Alexandros was shocked to learn that Hephaistion had left Pella. He wrote a letter with his own hand, not wanting the contents known to a clerk. It took seven tries in wax to get it right—to explain, berate, cajole—before committing it to papyrus. Hephaistion was touchy. But they were going to get this matter settled once and for all.
Alexandros had the letter sent before supper and the reply came back at dawn, riding a sandy-bay stallion. Eumenes knocked on the door to the king’s study where Alexandros was receiving his daily morning briefing from dispatches, scouts, and his advisors on security matters. “Hephaistion is here.” Distaste colored his tone. “He said to tell you he awaits your pleasure in the megaron.”
And that was just how he’d have phrased it too. Alexandros grinned in spite of himself and wished he’d been there to hear Eumenes’s reply. “Thank you.” The secretary disappeared.
Alexandros let Hephaistion wait until the briefing was over—not so long—then took a back route to enter the hall through a side door. Arms crossed, slouching, Hephaistion stood at the room’s center facing the throne, packs at his feet on the black-and-white pebble-checkered floor. Alexandros took a moment just to admire him, then said softly, “Hephaistion,” and had the satisfaction of seeing him start. Evidently, he’d expected Alexandros to make an entrance of his own.
Alexandros indicated the half-open door behind him, and Hephaistion retrieved his packs, allowing himself to be led up to the storage room that housed Euripides’s library. Instinct had guided Alexandros’s choice; instinct served him best with Hephaistion. When they arrived, he lit a pair of lamps whilst his friend looked around. Hephaistion had never seen this place. Before Mieza, Alexandros hadn’t known him well enough to trust him, and since, Alexandros hadn’t had much time to come here himself. But no one would bother them here; they could say what they needed to. He closed and barred the door.
Crossing to the honeycombed wall full of Euripides’s book-scrolls, Hephaistion picked through them. His black braid swung heavy between his shoulder blades, and Alexandros wanted to stroke it. Hephaistion made him want things he barely knew how to articulate.
“So this is where you got it,” Hephaistion said.
Alexandros pulled his attention back to the matter at hand. “Got what?”
“The play you brought out to the dormitory: Arkhelaos.”
“Yes, this is where I got it. And the others I loaned you.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about this place?”
Alexandros almost said, I didn’t think about it, but that would start a fight. Hephaistion wanted to fight; Alexandros could feel it radiating off of him like heat from stone. “I’m telling you now.”
Hephaistion put the scroll back. “You organized it.”
“You’re the neatest person I know.”
Alexandros smiled. “I hate disorder almost as much as I hate insubordination.”
Ignoring that sally, Hephaistion tugged his cloak tighter about himself. “It’s as cold as a Fury’s tit up here. But you never feel the weather, do you?”
Alexandros wondered if that had two meanings. He knelt by a chest. “Come here, I want to show you something.” If he were to reveal this place, he might as well reveal it all. “Look,” he said, opening the lid. Inside, armor gleamed. “When I was younger, I used to dress up in this and pretend to be Akhilleus.”
Hephaistion bent to retrieve an antique Illyrian helm, turning it in his hands. The bronze was dingy but the fancy gold tooling around the edges and the high chestnut horsehair crest would suit him. “Put it on,” Alexandros said. Hephaistion glanced over but Alexandros nodded. “Go ahead.” Straightening, Hephaistion set it over his head with a sort of dazed solemnity. Alexandros followed him up with his eyes. “You look like The Rider.” The horseman hero of the Thrakians and Paionēs.
Tearing off the helm, Hephaistion turned away. “Don’t mock me.”
Silent, back to Alexandros, Hephaistion picked at the leather straps. They were old and rotting.
“Take the helmet,” Alexandros said. “Clean it up and wear it for me.”
Spinning around, Hephaistion gaped. “This is a king’s helm!”
“Yes.” Alexandros stood too. “It belonged to Alexandros the Golden.” King during the Persian Wars. “But my father has a helmet and so do I. That one is yours.”
“By what right do you give this to me? If it was Alexandros’s, it’s your father’s to give.”
“Finder’s rights.” Alexandros smiled. “No one’s used it in over a hundred years. You gave me back my sword; let me give you the helmet in its place.”
Hephaistion blushed. Even in the dim attic storeroom, Alexandros could tell. “You shouldn’t have given me your sword.”
“I know, but I felt badly. I had nothing for your birth day.”
“Maybe I didn’t want anything but your presence!” Hephaistion tossed the helm on a couch. “I’m not after your gifts or favors. Or your throne.”
Stalking over, Alexandros grabbed his shoulder to spin him around. “Look at me!” Hephaistion’s face was a mask; all the hurt hid in black eyes sharp enough to flay a man’s soul. It was time to end this. Avoiding the issue wouldn’t solve it. “Never skulk into court and interrupt me again.”
One of those fine, straight eyebrows rose. “Even if I know something you ought to?”
“That wasn’t why you interrupted. You interrupted to prove you could. You say you don’t want the throne, and I believe you. But you do want to rule the man who sits in it.”
“That’s not so! You’ve been ignoring me for over two weeks and I wanted a reason.” He turned his back. “Are you tired of me?”
Alexandros wanted to yell but kept his tone level, sublimating his own fear that Hephaistion would leave him. “I won’t fight with you, Phaistas. I’m going to tell you how it is. If you can live with that, we’ll stay together. If you can’t, we don’t belong together.” Hephaistion didn’t move. “Are you listening?”
“I am prince. At the moment, I’m also regent. I can’t have the people thinking I’m just another man’s boy. Apollon witness, you know that.” Hephaistion had twisted his head sideways so that Alexandros could see his profile. He looked pained. “And I have not been ignoring you. I’ve been doing my duty. I don’t have the time to spend with you now that I had at Mieza. Get used to it. This is the way it’s going to be from now on.
“If you have information for me, of course I want it. But you’ll behave with the same decorum and respect the rest of my advisors show. You will not glower in corners and call me out of the room just because you can. Do you enjoy embarrassing me?”
“No.” Hephaistion frowned at the ground and almost Alexandros relented, but if he did, he’d lose this battle. Hephaistion was stronger than he knew. It all lay beneath the surface like the power of his name-god: forge-fire, earth-fire. He controlled, but did so covertly, and Alexandros suspected that half the time, he wasn’t even aware of his own machinations. That smoldering power was the source of his magnetism. To win the love of most men was easy, but to win Hephaistion . . . that was another matter entirely.
“Confound you, you’re proud,” Alexandros said. Hephaistion turned, smiling ever so slightly. He thought he was winning. The prince fired his catapult. “My mother advised me to get rid of you.”
Hephaistion’s fine nostrils flared. “So that’s why . . . The bitch! You’ve been ignoring me because of her.”
“I have not been ignoring you! You’ve been demanding attention when I’ve work to do. I shouldn’t be up here now, but you matter to me.” For the first time he looked away. “My mother meddles, but she’s right in one thing—the men have to know I rule for myself. I’m not ignoring you; I’m fulfilling my office. It’d be gratifying if you’d help instead of fight me.”
“I’m not fighting you—”
His friend fell silent and Alexandros grinned despite himself. “I’m stunned. You’re learning to take orders.” Then he ran a hand through his hair. “Idoú! You’re my dearest friend, but out there”—he pointed in the general direction of the audience hall—“I’m regent, and you’re a Companion’s son. If you can remember that, we can keep our friendship.”
“Friendship. Yes.” Hephaistion’s voice was as bitter as bad grapes. “But nothing else. You made that very clear.”
Annoyed, Alexandros rubbed at his eyes. “I thought you said you wanted us to be friends foremost. Did you change your mind?”
“Well neither have I. I’m not fickle that way. Nothing has changed; you still have first place in my heart, Philtatē.” Beloved friend. Alexandros met Hephaistion’s eyes. “But I have to keep the men’s respect. I’m prince, and one day—gods willing—I’ll be king. I can’t rule unless the people respect me.”
“What you’re saying is that if I make you choose, I’ll have lost.”
“Choose what?” Alexandros threw up his hands. “I am who I am.”
Hephaistion spoke quickly, nervously. “I need to know you’re not ashamed of me. You said it yourself: you’re prince. I don’t trust my luck in having you.”
“Your luck? I’m the one who got lucky. Kalos Hephaistion.” Beautiful Hephaistion. “You could have anyone you want.”
Hephaistion’s response was immediate, furious, and not at all what Alexandros had expected. “Why do you think that if a man’s beautiful, he can’t love like other men? I’m not made of stone! I thought you wanted me, not my face, but you’re no different than the rest: all you love are my looks.” He was crying. Tears glittered on his lashes, and unlike most Makedonians, he hated to cry before others. “For myself, I’m nothing to you.”
Momentarily stunned, Alexandros stared. Then he blew like a volcano.
“Are you dim? Did you not hear a word I just said? I could tell you I don’t care about your face, but I’d be lying. I love to look at you. But I don’t love you for your looks. Herakleis! I love your wit, your honesty, even your blasted sarcasm. You’re my other self. If you can’t tell the difference by now, you’re stupider than I ever credited you. Do you love me because I’m prince?”
“You being prince gets in the way more often than not.”
“I could say the same of your looks.”
Hephaistion’s eyebrow twitched. “Well, your father likes them pretty and dumb.”
Too startled for a moment to reply, Alexandros finally broke up laughing. “I doubt even he’d deny that. But I’m not my father, and you’re not dumb.” Alexandros ran a palm down Hephaistion’s arm. His friend smelt of wet wool and horses. “I’ve work to do. Go and unpack, then come and stand with me in the audience hall.”
He glanced up. Hephaistion’s expression was still cautious, but he inclined his head slightly before leaving.
The Thrakian border had always been as dangerous as dry timber in summer. Now, a patrol brought word that the Maidoi had swept do