Alexander had Bagoas wake him early so that he could breakfast with his men. Two mornings had passed since they had entered Babylon and he had not yet seen most of them. He was told the night before of Ptolemy's sickness, so he knew about Hephaestion's taking up his post. Convenient for his reluctant lover to have an excuse not to talk. He would be sure to personally greet his lover on his return that evening. He would drag him to his room to talk if he had to. But Hephaestion's childish behavior to him stopped tonight. The generals had decided to each take twelve hour shifts. Trading nights and days as time went by. He needed Hephaestion to know that he was no longer seeking out others.
Bagoas didn't believe that the king meant no morning pleasure. Just unconsenting morning pleasure. The eunuch was pleased that he was relieved of that duty, but he brought along another who was more then eager to pleasure the new king of Babylon. When they both entered the royal chambers, he couldn't help but notice the look of interest given to the new boy.
"My king, I brought along Theasis. He sometimes helps with the many duties of running the kings royal rooms. He has already prepared your bath Sire."
Alexander was already heading to the bathing area. He knew what this was about. He just had to decide how faithful to Hephaestion he was prepared to be. He knew he wanted to spend the nights in his beloveds arms. He didn't want that intimacy with any other. But when Hephaestion was not available, what was wrong with his getting his needs met? He was sorry Hephaestion had to witness his indiscretion yesterday. However there were a lot of burdens on the king's shoulders. If he could relieve himself of some pressure when Hephaestion was not around, then why should his lover care? The impersonal experience was a good way to start the day.
The hands that now washed him belonged to another harem beauty. He had impassive features. Any expression did not exist. It was for this reason that Alexander wanted him. He wanted no love or tenderness. He just wanted to get off. He pulled the boy into the water, clothes and all, turning him around to face the tile.
"Are you willing?" he asked in the boys ear.
"Yes Sire, I am here for your use."
Alexander pushed up the the robe the boy was wearing, exposing long thin legs and a young boys behind. He again took no time to prepare, he just pushed in. He did wait a moment giving the lad time to adjust before he continued. It was over in minuets.
"Get out! Get out, and leave me alone."
"Yes, my king. Should I return tomorrow morning?"
Hephaestion would be back. Alexander had every intention of waking up with his lover in his arms. He was just as unsatisfied as he was the first time he bedded someone other then his lover. The boy's ass was thin. He knew how to grip and push back against Alexander. Not like Hephaestion's hard curved bottom. Hephaestion, who couldn't get enough of what Alexander had to give him.
"No. Bagoas will tell you if I have need of you again."
"Good morning, my friends." Alexander glanced around the room. Informing himself of the faces that were absent. "Report to me."
"joy to you, Alexander. What do you wish to know," Eumennes asked.
"Tell me the where abouts of my generals. Who is where? Has there been any activity?"
"Hephaestion took my place this morning, Sire," Ptolemy said. "Last night I was very sick. I do feel a little better this morning though. He relieved Nearchus who just returned. Nothing to report from him. He has gone up to his bed."
"Craterus has also returned, Alexander," Eumennes continued. "Cleitus has taken his place. He will be relieved this evening by Ptolemy."
"And who will be relieving Hephaestion?"
"I am, Alexander," Cassander spoke up. "I will sleep for a few hours today to be vigilant in the dark."
"Keep your ears open, as well as your eyes, and listen to your senses. Your horse will alert you of danger. Did Parminion and Philotius get going alright?"
"They left with Hephaestion with over one hundred men and rode north. They will stay out several days, to be joined and replaced by Perdicus and Craterus. Everyone on rotation, Sire."
"Very good, Eumennes. I am proud of you men."
"That's fine Alexander, we are all pleased by your pride in us," Cassander provoked him. "There was one who left here this morning who was not feeling your warmth. We all enjoyed the pleasures your harem offered last night. It makes me wonder how wonderful the four boys who wore your personal colors must be. You have never even marked Hephaestion as your own."
"I would if I could." Alexander refused to let Cassander see his irritation.
"Well, it's to late now to do that anyway. Hephaestion would never wear the colors worn by so many," Cassander mocked. "I think he will soon look for somebody else to gift his body's loyalty to."
That remark troubled the king.
"You Cassander? You would like that, wouldn't you?"
"Very much. But if it didn't work out, I would know then what I am missing, and I would forever mourn his loss. Much like you will be when the glitter of your boys begin to dull."
"Hephaestion is the only one who shines for me. Why do you persist in annoying me, Cassander?"
"Enough! Cassander, for ten years I have listened to you two bicker. I grow weary of it. Quit provoking your king!"
"Ptolemy's right. get some sleep, Cassander. I have meetings today. I will be here to dine with anybody available."
Alexander left the room. He was vexed that Cassander had managed to irritate him. He had not been given any breakfast or even any tea. He had noticed that his men had already eaten. There should have been a servant there when the king entered. He would have to tell Bagoas to take care of that. The boy was becoming invaluable. Not a boy. He wasn't much younger then he and Hephaestion.
It was later then Alexander had intended, by the time he again entered the dining hall. He sensed the difference immediately. Craterus, Perdicus, and Nearchus were facing Ptolemy and Cassander. Those two were dressed in full armor, ready to leave for patrol. Alexander knew that on this night it was more then that. He recognized the soldier standing with them. Tolus. Cleitus's man. For a moment Alexander wished he didn't have to hear the news he was about to hear.
"Alexander," Nearchus moaned softly. Alerting the others of his presence.
"We were just coming to find you," Cassander said quietly.
"But you needed to talk it over first how best to give me the news." Alexander turned to his oldest general. "Tell me the news that everyone else seems to already know."
Craterus looked at the boy. Reminding him of Phillip at that age.
"General Cleitus has found the horses and bodies of the unit belonging to General Hephaestion. All the bodies found appear to be dead, Sire. Cleitus sent Tolus back with the news."
Alexander swallowed bile. His skin grew clammy and he felt cold in the evenings heat. He reached for a chair when he felt his legs begin to tremble. It was Cassander who steadied him and helped him to sit. Cassander who had tears in his own eyes, that he refused to wipe.
Alexander looked at Tolus.
"Have you seen the body of General Hephaestion yourself?"
"There were ten bodies, Sire. General Hephaestion's was the only one not found, when my lord Cleitus bid me to send for you."
Alexander rose swiftly from his chair.
"Imbeciles! Why do you scare me like that? No body means he might not be dead. Ready my horse. I ride with you. Tolus, you will lead Generals Cssander and Ptolemy and myself to the sight. I'll get my armor. Cassander we will need more men."
"Already seen to, Alexander."
"Craterus, you, Perdicus and Nearchus will stay here. Better have your men ready to arm. We don't know how vulnerable to attack we are."
"Sire, are you sure you should be riding out at night?"
"I have to." Alexander turned to go when he was stopped by Nearchus.
"Alexander, I need to go with you."
"The place of ambush, Sire. My men and I were all over those rocks. I'm the one who told Hephaestion to stop there. I had promised him it was safe. It is my fault, Alexander."
Alexander felt numb. Maybe that news may affect later. Not now.
"Let your guilt go. We need you here." Alexander tried to smile. Tried to stay strong. "Hephaestion is not dead, General. Although you may wish he was when he comes back. I expect he will give you latrine duty upon his return."
It was almost dark by the time Alexander rode into Cleitus's makeshift camp.
"I'm glad you are here," Cleitus said, approaching the riders. "I don't have enough men to seal the area. Cassander get your men patrolling the area. Ptolemy, you had better do regular patrol. I have torches made using the clothes of the persian dead, and plain tree branches. Hephaestion carried enough oil for two nights."
Alexander who had dismounted and was standing beside the tall general, reached for the mans arm.
"Cleitus, you found Hephaestion's body then?"
"No, not yet, Alexander."
"You'll maybe be thanking somebody. I don't know if it's Zeus's doing though. Come my friend. I will show you."
Cassander and Ptolemy started to direct their men. Ptolemy to search the perimeter and Cassander to patrol the camp and the rocks around them.
Alexander followed Cleitus to a large clearing, torches all around, keeping it lit. Fortunately with more soldiers it made attack less imminent. Bodies were being wrapped in linens and put into the wagon Tolus had brought.
"The attack was here," Cleitus said pointing to another clearing a few feet away. "I thought that Hephaestion would have checked the area. I was mad that he would allow an ambush. Then I learned from one of the Persian men that was still alive at the time, that there are trenches and tunnel's all over these rocks. I've covered the openings to this area, and I have men posted. It's how bandits have operated for years in these parts."
"Is the rebel still alive?"
"No, he met with an accident. However we found one of Hephaestion's men still alive. He was the last to see Hephaestion. Wait till you hear the tale he tells."
Alexander's eyes narrowed menacingly, angered that Cleitus would keep this news from him for even a moment.
Cleitus welcomed the kings anger. An angry Alexander was better then a king in despair.
"I had to give him time to get stitched up, Alexander."
"I don't care if his guts are laying in the sand. Take me to him!"
The torches revealed the mayhem that had taken place. Hephaestion's men were a mix of Macedonian and Egyptian. Hephaestion being the only general to take on the training of the Egyptian to their way of fighting. This was supposed to be an easy mission. No one really expected that there would be an encounter this close to Babylon. If Hephaestion had brought the men he was used to. Men who were used to fighting together, would they all be dead? Alexander saw the bodies of the Persian rebels lined up on the other side of camp. Over thirty. Someone kicked a little ass, he thought proudly.
Alexander studied the boy that Cleitus led him to. A one time page of his lovers. He had seen battle several times. Hephaestion cared for this boy, who came from his homeland. Athens. Greek, like Hephaestion. Alexander was relieved that he would have some good news to tell his lost lover when he found him.
"Arto, tell the king what you told me."
"Hello, Sire." Being Hephaestion's page he had heard and seen many things. He always blushed and stammered in the kings presence. "I am sorry, my king. I wish I were able to better protect General Hephaestion. I scouted the rocks myself. I didn't see anything. It is my fault, Sire."
"It seems to be many person's fault, except those who did the killing. Spare me this and tell me what you saw. Hurry soldier."
"We were eating, Sire. Hephaestion kept looking towards the rocks. I did too. There was nothing there. But Hephaestion made us mount up. He kept urging us. The rest of the soldiers were skeptical. But I know my master. I trust his instincts."
"It's probably what saved you," Cleitus mused. "Continue, boy."
Arto's voice faltered during the rest. The memory to fresh to not feel the pain
"Most of us fell in the first minutes, Sire. Hephaestion's horse moved. It saved him from a spear. He yelled for us to move. But, it was too late. They rose right out of the rocks. They were upon us like that." The boy snapped his fingers. "Hephaestion fought hard. He killed at least several men, Sire," The boy said proudly of his general. "I killed three myself."
"You said most were killed in the first minutes. There are thirty bodies over there."
"There were two other men alive for a few minutes. They killed five or six. But it was the tall one that came to help Hephaestion, that killed the rest."
"Who do you mean? Who came for Hephaestion? How do you know this?"
"I was still fighting then, so I saw him first. Hephaestion's back was to me for a moment. There were at least five men on him. I saw this man rush by me. He was tall. Muscular. He had long blond hair flowing under his helmet. This is why I am hurt."
"What do you mean?"
"He ran by me, not caring whether I was tiring or not. He was intent upon Hephaestion. It was his purpose. I could see that. Feel it, even. I thought he was a god coming down to help one of their own. That thought made me hesitate. Hence the sword wound. The soldier who inflicted it, didn't know that it glanced off my armor, into my shoulder. He left me to go and help his people fight Hephaestion and the god."
"Why do you insist that he is a god?"
"I think he was. Is. You should have seen him, Sire. He fought like he was Achilles. When the last man was dead, they took off their helmets and faced each other, and...."
"I....it...they both looked so beautiful. I am sorry, Sire. I know that Hephaestion is...But this man....He...Anyway, I was watching them when three more men jumped out from the rocks. One man knocked Hephaestion off the cliff. Down there,Sire."
"Hephaestion fell off the cliff? Where is this warrior?"
"That's the funny thing, Alexander."
"This is not funny to me. Finish the story, please." Alexander was wondering if he would ever get the full tale from the impressionable boy.
"Tell me the rest. Now!"
Arto hurried to get the rest out. "After he killed the three men by himself, he went to the cliffs edge to look down. He looked devastated. He backed up a few steps and made to jump off the cliff. It's suicide. I called out for him to wait. I know he heard me, I saw him hesitate. Sire, it's over one hundred feet down. He took a running leap, and threw himself off the cliff. I crawled over to see what happened. I saw him in the water, fighting the current. It is so swift, he was already almost out of sight. I can't believe he lived through that jump. Hephaestion might have also. I saw no sign of his body on the rocks. The warrior jumped in to save Hephaestion. I've never seen anything like it."
Cleitus made the obviously tired boy lay down to sleep. Alexander thanked him briefly and walked to the cliffs edge, where the boy saw Hephaestion and his savior go over. He took a near by torch and threw it over the side. Intently watching it's progress. Illuminating the straight cliffs to the rocks and water below.
"I want to go down there." Alexander told Cleitus, who had come up to stand beside him.
"I know you do. But Alexander, they are both way down stream by now. It's dark and we can't see anything. I can't let you go down with rebels all around us. We can go at first light. We will ride along the cliffs edge until we see a path, or bodies. We can always send down a rope."
"Why would he jump off the cliff to save Hephaestion?"
"I would. Why would he?"
"I don't know. We can ask him, when we find them. It happened some hours ago. Maybe they are already making a camp, waiting for us."
Hephaestion and this blond god, who had jumped off a cliff to save him. Alexander knew it wasn't the time for his jealousies to arise. For some unfathomable reason this man scared him.
"Try to sleep, Alexander. One of my men made you a bed by a low fire. My men are all around you. It's safe. We will find him, my friend."
Alexander lay down, facing away from the fire. He welcomed the heat, yet he didn't want Cleitus's men watching his face. He and Hephaestion have had many near death experiences in the past. Both have had to fear for the other. Before though, they always had their love to cling to, in order to get them safely home. With all that Alexander had put his lover through the last couple of days, had Hephaestion lost hope for his lover to find him? Or had he turned to the blond warrior for comfort? Another Achilles to take his Patroclus. Alexander closed his eyes, praying for his lovers safety. And praying for Morpheus to take away his fears.