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The Inconstant Hour

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There is no greater fortune than regaining a treasure feared lost or broken.  There are men who say I am most fortunate (or most highly favoured) but it is far simpler than that. I am. I am. I do not say, I, too, am Alexander or he, too, is Hephaistion, but we are students of Aristotle, if we admit it or not. One soul in two bodies.


“You are his little shadow,” I said. I was not jealous of the eunuch. It was a truth that required repetition and that was the key to learning, as I had been told when I was a boy stumbling with my Greek in distant dusty hills.  “Do you know what friends are?”


Bagoas looked up at me. He was beautiful and Alexander was a magpie who loved beautiful things. Bagoas was sullen, too, his lips cast into full petulance by the flickering light of the candles. He was not a student of Aristotle. He was his own bright, burning soul and if he was Alexander’s warmth and balm, he was my warmth and balm. I had learned, many years ago, that I could not be everything to Alexander. Bagoas had not learned.


I picked up a cask of wine and poured myself a healthy measure.


“That’s Al’skander’s,” said Bagoas.


I raised an eyebrow. I knew that I looked imperious, arrogant even, but this boy rather deserved it. It was hard to think of him as a man, which was, perhaps, my own failing. I sipped the wine. “He will be here soon,” I said. Alexander was speaking with Ptolemy and I was not jealous of that or, perhaps, it was simply an easier jealousy to dispel. In that instance, I was the usurper and not the usurped.


Perhaps Bagoas didn’t understand, though Alexander said that the young Persian was gifted with great insight and intelligence. I had wanted to make some comment about the eunuch’s clever tongue but I had always known not to tease Alexander about Bagoas., or even speak about him unless at all necessary. Yes, we still had our secrets, though we were grown men now. We were scarred but beautiful, still, and it had not taken the quarrel with Eumenes to teach me that my life and death were ever in Alexander’s hands.


“I know,” said Bagoas. “He will need his bath.”


I smiled. I could not help it.  I had come to learn a great deal of the Persian ways and I knew they still thought us dreadful barbarians, for all our crude beauty. “He will. I will send for you later.”


Bagoas stiffened. He was not mine to dismiss. Oh, I was not jealous of the eunuch.


“Very well. Remain.” Alexander’s dismissal would hurt him more.


Alexander returned, Apollo or Ra, come to cast light in the dark places. He was smiling.  Bagoas was dismissed.


“Do not look so smug, Hephaistion.”


I buried my nose in the hair at the back of Alexander’s head. “You cannot see my face, Alexander.”

He drew me around in front of him. I dropped to my knees before him, though sometimes this displeased him. He placed his hands on my cheeks and I rested my forearms on his thighs. We looked at each other and it was like Mieza (though we were grown men now, and scarred, and beautiful).

Since the trouble with that fool Eumenes, I had feared Alexander lost to me. He had passed judgement on my actions where such a thing had previously been unconscionable. I shall not commute it. Here, amongst the ramparts of Ekbatana, and in the surrounding grass-lush mountains, we had rediscovered each other.


He told me of his snake, Tyche, the fortune that had found him when he was four years old. He could not recall what had become of the snake. I pressed my lips to his bare knee and told him that my fortune had found me when I was six and I had gotten a clip around the ear for my troubles.


“And an earful of crude language,” he murmured, his fingers clenching and relaxing in my hair, as though I were Oxhead or honoured Peritas. To my credit, I did not think of Bagoas at this time. I was Alexander’s right hand, and his left hand. He was before me and behind me. All others, from the eunuch to Roxane were fair-weather travelers, unused to weathering Alexander’s storms.


Alexander and I had grown nostalgic during our reconciliation. The pain of remembrance was all the sharper when neither of us had recognised the gulf between us. I shall not commute it. He would have put me to death for my pride and I had no intention of dying for his pride. The gathered Macedonians and Persians heard and it took the better part of the summer for us to regain our equilibrium. He, too, was Hephaistion, and the gathered Macedonians and Persians knew it better than we did.


There was no gulf, now. Even Achilles and Patroklos had argued, after all. Fight, or do not fight; it was all much the same on a sandy plain in Troy as in the grasslands near Babylon.


Sometimes, I thought that we were not like Achilles and Patroklos, at all. We were more like the Dioscuri; identical though we were not sprung from the same egg. Shells cracked underfoot, ground into sand and soil and we were Macedonian.  He was immortal Pollux and I was mortal Castor and we would tarry together in Hades or Olympus or on these sun-warmed hearthstones.


“How I chased you,” I said, wistfully, as though I were an old man, of ninety years.


Alexander buried his hand in my hair and drew my head up so I could do nothing but look at him. He smiled at me, so brightly, and we were teenagers and not generals or kings. The scent of the land in Ekbatana was rather different than the sweet smells in Mieza, where the bubbling laughter of the springs sang in every blade of grass. It had not mattered today; we had lain together, careless with our armour, in this place, and the foreign sun shone overhead and warmed our marred skin, puckered and pitted with fresh fingernail crescents.


“I have never doubted you, Hephaistion,” he said. He did not need to say anything further; to doubt me was to doubt himself. I surged up to kiss him and I was his warmth and his balm, and he was mine.


He, too, was Hephaistion.