Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: Alexander (the Great)
Genre: AU, Drama
Rating: M / FRM
Characters: Alexander, Cassander, Hephaistion, Ptolemy (, OC).
Summary: When sent off to meet and negotiate with a foreign leader, Hephaistion soon realises that things are about to get very difficult – not only to his king, but to himself as well. Soon Alexander himself learns of the insult made against him – both as a man and as a king.
Warnings: Slash, violence, death, rape.
Beta: Leonida (huge thanks for betaing this story – and for all the great reprimanding and schooling you have given me ;) I will be a lot better writer when I learn to please your eye!)
Dusk would fall in a matter of hours. The Western Sky was already showing familiar shades of approaching sunset, but there would be still plenty of time before the light would vanish behind the horizon. Approaching the main camp of Alexander from the north, their shadows cast long on their side, a group of riders galloped their way over the terrain, heedless for the need to rest.
They rushed into the camp, ignoring the central guards who shouted for them to halt. Trusting they would be identified as fellow soldiers, the riders made their way toward the centre of the wide camp, and their destination.
Reaching the tent where Alexander held a meeting with his generals, the small cavalry troop halted and dismounted. Before most of the men had touched the ground with their feet, the leader of the group was making his way towards the shelter he knew his king was occupying at the moment.
Inside the tent, the leisurely discussion of future tactics halted when the commotion outside seemed to change. Alexander frowned, looking away from his companions, trying to catch a glimpse of the world beyond the brown fabric. Soldiers standing in the doorway shifted nervously, and it was not hard to guess someone was approaching – someone in a hurry, yet unexpected by the men watching the entrance.
“Halt!” one of the guards shouted.
“I demand to meet king Alexander at once,” another voice spoke. “My news is of extreme importance –”
“The king is holding a meeting with the Companions” the guard answered gruffly. “You must wait.”
There was a short pause, then the arrival’s voice rang out, lower yet far more threatening. It had a shivering undertone, which made Alexander take a step closer in both dread and curiosity. It did not take long, however, before he was already advancing the entrance with all his speed. “I have a message which Alexander has to hear immediately. Let me pass, or I swear you wish you had when the king’s wrath reaches you for holding me idle and waiting,” the arrival said. “For the king does not take well being forced to wait for information as vital as this – especially when it has anything to do with lord Hephaistion…”
The cavalry commander had barely finished when Alexander reached the doorway. He did not bother to scold the guard, so frightened the man was when he jumped aside from his lord’s way. “What of Hephaistion?” Alexander demanded. “What news do you carry?!” Of the man’s earlier choice of words, aside his tone and looks, Alexander could tell the news was grim. Dread rose within him, his heart beating harshly against his ribs.
The troop commander bowed, but knew that was all of the formalities anyone wished to see at the moment. A shadow cast over his face – one that hadn’t passed since he had left the walls of Rhadia behind – seemed to darken. “There is no actual message from Hephaistion, my liege…” the man hesitated either unsure how to break his news or more likely what his tidings would provoke.
“Speak,” Alexander commanded, his eyes solely on the man before him. He knew people were gathering around them, generals drawing near to hear the words. He paid no attention to this, his need to hear of his friend too powerful.
“As planned, lord Hephaistion approached the lord of Rhadia. He took part of the army with him to the city, leaving the rest of us to wait and rest. Only few hours later, the gates of the city were closed…” He swallowed, taking a deep breath. “Of what we heard from the local warriors, our men within the city was killed. They emphasised the point by throwing bodies over the walls.” A wary look was directed at Alexander’s face. “There is no absolute proof, but we were told the members of the escort with lord Hephaistion were killed, and the general himself taken captive…”
No one dared to look Alexander in the eye at that moment. The mere sight of him was enough to make many take a step back – anyone who valued one’s life. Silence filled the entire camp, yet the news spread out quicker then the desert wind.
Alexander’s eyes were distant; his face pale and strained. He did not mutter anything akin to “how dare he?”. Seemingly, the lord of Rhadia had dared – to doubt that fact was out of question. Alexander said nothing for a moment; he did not move, did not breathe, his mind going over and over the letter that even now lay on his desk in his own tent. Hephaistion, too, had read the parchment. Neither of them had suspected the man actually be bold enough to defy Alexander’s power. Now the worst possible scenario had taken place, and the young king could only deal with the aftermath. No, not the worst. You cannot know that yet, he told himself. The worst possibility was that Hephaistion was dead. His strong, beautiful friend, who had never questioned his plans – other than when needed, and Alexander himself did not find the will in himself to do that. However stupid and arrogant the foreign lord might be, he couldn’t be dim-witted enough to kill the representative of Alexander. And in the case he was…
Alexander ground his jaws together and counted to five – a habit both his mentors and Hephaistion had tried to teach him to use when his temper was about to flare. Not that he usually had to use the method: Hephaistion was usually there, by his side, to calm him with his mere presence. Adamant to restore his friend to his rightful place, Alexander nodded at the cavalry commander who was still standing before him. The man no doubt was prepared to instant death, for delivering the news, and seemed bewildered when he was wordlessly dismissed. Turning to his Companions, Alexander buried the anger roaring in him for a later use. “Prepare the army to move out. The entire army. Call for the nearest groups and tell them to join us as soon as possible.”
“Alexander…” Ptolemy began, receiving a stare so cold and hot at the same time it made the man halt for a moment. “The night is approaching. We cannot make far in the darkness, you know this,” he stated when found enough courage to speak. “Plus, when the men are rested, and the camp sufficiently packed, we can move a lot faster.” He – nor any of his companions – did not try and talk Alexander out of his plans. They knew it would be futile, at best, knowing that when Hephaistion was involved, their friend and lord was determined to take action. If the army would not follow, Alexander would no doubt ride out alone.
With an unhappy nod, Alexander succumbed to this. He saw the wisdom of Ptolemy’s statement.
The camp was a buzz of movement within moments, riders set out to deliver the changed plans, soldiers preparing for a swift march. It would still take them some days to reach the city of Rhadia, and all of them knew the distance would be crossed with a gruelling pace. All rest they could get now would be of use.
Alexander strode to his own tent as soon as he had delivered all the necessary orders. He ushered out all the servants and slaves, closing the flap as soon as he was alone. He stood there for a long moment, clutching the fabric in a rigid grip. Before he could tear the entire tent down, he let go, and went to his desk. Numb fingers caught the letter, send to him a little over a week ago. The piece of paper that had began all this… He lifted the parchment from the surface, eyeing it, the hand-written lined blurring in his eyes. Slowly, his hand drew into a fist, crumpling the letter still in it. Perhaps he could shove this false pretence of friendship down the Rhadian lord’s throat, when he finally came face to face with the man… The thought gave him a small amount of satisfaction, but it did not dull the pain and worry over his beloved Hephaistion.
The door of the throne room banged open, an alarmed advisor rushing in. Mazaces lifted his gaze, an annoyed frown appearing on his features as he looked at the panting man before him. “What is it?” he asked, tone bored and full of dislike of this hasty entry.
“My lord, Alexander’s army is here,” the advisor stammered when he had gathered enough of his breath. “The entire army, some say! Thousands and thousands of men, just outside our gates. The are surrounding the city, and building up –”
Mazaces leaned forward, motioning the man to stop his now frantic speech. Alexander was here. It was nothing he had not expected. The only thing that surprised him was that the king arrived so soon – and perhaps that he came with such force. But a man like him does not take any offence lightly, he mused. And Alexander… he is a prideful man, I have heard. Such humiliation as what his little negotiation-party went through shall not go overlooked. He was not afraid, however. He was safe here, within his walls. The dogs could bark and gnaw at the stones, but would not get in.
“They are building up catapults and siege-towers, my liege,” the advisor tried again, nervously fingering his long robe. “It is only a matter of time before they break into the city…”
“And this is the kind of attitude I am supposed to defy the great Alexander with…” Mazaces muttered as he rose from his royal seat and made his way to the wide doors. His advisors followed close on his heels, knowing better than to open their mouths again. Mazaces had always been a man of swiftly shifting moods, and none wished to risk his ire at a moment like this.
Walking along a wide corridor, Mazaces reached an open balcony that looked over the city. The man actually took a rather abrupt, shocked halt when he arrived to the outside air, leaning heavily on the marble railing with both hands. He had known Alexander’s army was great, but… The number of the men beyond his walls was enough to throw his city down, stone by stone, until nothing stood up from the sand. “Calm down,” he murmured to himself, not bothering to keep his thought as his own. “They still have to get inside... Send all free men to the walls, and the main force to defend the palace!” he barked his orders. The advisors collided to each other in their hasty depart to carry out the orders.
“We’ll see, Alexander,” the lord of Rhadia mutter to himself, his fists clenched tight around the railing. “We’ll see…”
The very sight of the city before them made him feel sick. Alexander took one, long look at the walls, the closed gate, and told Ptolemy to break the gate. Then he strode away, not caring if Ptolemy was the right man to carry out the task; the man could delegate someone else to the work, as long as it was done. Any other day, he would have overseen the task taken care of, personally. Today, he was too distracted to linger on the matter.
Alexander entered his tent. There was time for such matters, later. Now the only thing he could put his mind on was to get inside those walls, hack down everything on his way, and have Hephaistion safe in his arms again. Or just simply find Hephaistion... Seizing the city could wait.
Grinding his jaws in frustration, he tried to keep his hands from shaking. Emotions and thoughts were ready to overrun his mind, as soon as he did not do something that demanded his full attention. Guilt, anger, a wrath so hot and all-consuming he had never felt before… And fear. He could not remember a day when he had feared more. Not even the day when his father had died compared with this gnawing coldness. Perhaps closest to this was the moment at Gaugamela, when Hephaistion had been wounded… Though that moment had been but a fleeting caress of a knife in his heart.
Today, the fear refused to pass.
Hours went past. The shadows moved within the tent, following the course of the sun. Alexander tried to force his thoughts elsewhere, or stop thinking at all, but it was no use. Even a thought of a sweet revenge he was going to cast upon the leader of Rhadia – just out of pure annoyance, if nothing else – did not make that one emotion move aside; the fear ever remained. Pressing his teeth together to a verge of pain, leaning his head on his open palms, elbows scrubbing the hard surface of his desk, he swore to the name of all Gods he would tear this Mazaces apart, even if he found Hephaistion safe and unharmed. Putting him through this myriad of emotions was too much of a torture for him to bear… or for any sane being. Once again, he wished to feel a tender, firm hand on his shoulder, Hephaistion’s voice telling him with that familiar, almost amused tone, that there was nothing to fear. To tell him stop worrying, and focus on the important matters. But his friend was not here.
“Zeus, Hephaistion…” Alexander groaned with a tortured tone, shaking his head from side to side, making his elbows hurt even more. “Next time… No! There shall be no ‘next time’, that I swear…”
“My king?” a hesitant voice asked from the entrance, a lone soldier slowly opening the flap. “Ptolemy sent you a word that the gate shall be breached at any moment…”
Alexander’s head shot up, his eyes two fierce embers. The soldier took a step back in fright, even if he knew the look of immense fury was not directed at him. “Good,” the king stated, and got up to his feet. He had grabbed his weapons and was out of his tent before the startled messenger had departed, forcing the man jump out of his way as he made his way to Bucephalus. It was a high time to act.
The gates gave in. The army of Alexander swarmed into the city before the local warriors could do much; local archers and swordsmen were lacking the training and systematic form Alexander’s men did. People – those who already hadn’t taken shelter in their houses – ran on the streets, screaming and shouting. The minute force of the defenders could do nothing to hold the invaders at bay. In less than an hour, the city was overtaken.
Of what he had learned from Rhadian prisoners, the lord himself – and most of his troops – were hiding in the palace. That thought made Alexander grimace on the inside. What kind of a man hid behind his men, lurking in some dark corner when others fought his battle? Well, it seems Mazaces fits that image only too well, he decided while standing on the stoned yard before the palace entrance. His men were taking their places and regrouping behind him, preparing for the final battle and securing the city. He did not expect this minor fight last beyond the night, yet refused to let anything slip. Any battle he fought was battle against failure; here the chance of an easy victory was likely, but he would take it before celebrating.
“Shall we move into the building?” Ptolemy asked, halting beside him. ‘To find Hephaistion’, he might have added, but it was needless. They all knew what their first priority was here: dead men could not be saved. Those alive were the ones they fought for – beyond simple vengeance.
“Yes,” Alexander said at last, and the order rang out.
The front-line of men rushed past their generals, meeting resistance only on the top of the stairs, where the Rhadians were trying to hold their posts in the middle of high pillars. The shelter became their prison when the second wave reached them. Men fell to the stones, slid down where they collapsed against the columns, blood staining the ground.
As Alexander and his companions made their way up the stairs, the king made a small effort to try and avoid the running rivulets of crimson liquid. He was not usually this mindful of getting blood on himself, but the disdain he felt towards the very existence of this city made him act in ways he normally did not. Least of all he now wanted to be stained in dirty blood…
Ptolemy’s eyes met his across the distance between them, and a silent nod passed. The general waved a group of men to follow him, and took an alternative road inside the building. They all knew that splitting forces would both enable them to bring down the last pieces of defence more swiftly, and aid them in finding Hephaistion as soon as possible. Somehow they all thought that their fellow general was in this building. If not, they would turn every rock upside down in the whole city – it did not greatly matter if they left only ruins behind. Cassander had briefly whined about this grand search for their missing companion, but he had shut up as soon as he realised Alexander would be extremely difficult to negotiate with, if anything happened to Hephaistion.
Ptolemy disappeared to another corridor, clashing sound of weapons colliding together and faint screams echoing on the stones following his departure. Alexander made his way to the main doors, fingering the hilt of his blade, eager to pull it free and sink it to the flesh that had more than just offended his pride. Determined to find the pitiful leader of this city as soon as possible and wipe off the dust of Rhadia from his hands, he headed forward, joining his men in their battle now and then, just to keep his tension at bay.
Every city, every fortress, had their own dark holes where no proper person should ever step into. Ptolemy, on the other hand, had spent almost too much time in such death-holes, watching a prisoner beaten until the required information had been spilled from broken lips. Yet today, all he hoped for was that he would not witness a familiar body here, not a beaten corpse in an enemy cell. Ptolemy was not a man who feared death, but carrying news of Hephaistion’s demise to Alexander would be… suicidal. Perhaps Crateros, who had joined him on the journey to the lower levels of the city, might take that task off from his hands, if things came to that.
Perhaps he isn’t even here. There is no way of knowing Mazaces took him below, like a common prisoner. He might be anywhere in this city – or even beyond it. The latter thought did not sheer him up, but it gave him hope. He too was close with the blue-eyed man, and the loss of him would be a blow to the Macedonian host. Hephaistion had not reached his position merely by being favoured by his friend and lover, who also happened to be his king; he had skill. And that skill was not only to control Alexander on his worst days, to be a bridge builder when argument broke between the son of Philip and his elder generals – even if that was the quality Ptolemy envied most. The man had wits, more than most of the men he commanded, which made him both a strong ally and a dangerous enemy. He knew that most of the Companions held him as a threat, and would gladly see him die on this trip, but they did not seem to sense all the repercussions this possible misfortune would cause.
His thoughts were interrupted as another wave of Rhadian soldiers attacked them around the corner, and he had to keep his focus on his opponents. The local men fought well, Ptolemy could give them that, but they lacked the heart behind their actions. Alexander’s men, however… They seemed to take their king’s anger personally, and fought like they had been insulted. Or hurt. Yet many of their fellow soldiers had died here, inside these same walls, and it was not surprising they yearned for revenge.
Men were cut down, screams alerting other soldiers on the lower levels. Ptolemy made his fighters move forward, Crateros on the other side of their group, guiding them to a more open space, knowing they would need room to manoeuvre. Rhadians came rushing towards them, slipping on their kinsmen’s blood when they came in touch with Macedonian warriors.
It seemed that the fighting morale of the defenders had a lot to work on. The clash was over soon, the losses on the Macedonian side minor ones. Motioning his group forward, Ptolemy made his way down the corridor, and to other set of wide stairs. They met no resistance on their way down, and halted when they came to junction of several passageways. Cell doors lined the dark walls, shackles hanging unoccupied in random places. In the distance, they could hear the battle raging above.
Crateros nodded to his fellow leader, making his way forward with his soldiers behind him. They encountered Rhadian warriors after a while, the men oblivious of their presence, probably thinking their already dead companions could handle the intruders. They were disarmed without much of a fight, when they came to realise their err.
Ptolemy stepped forth, glaring at a man who seemed to be the leader among his group. “Where are the prisoners?” he asked slowly. They could waste rest of the day getting lost in the dungeons, and not find a trace of Hephaistion even if he was here. Better to ask directions, rather than run blindly in circles.
The man blinked in confusion, clearly not understanding.
“Barbarian…” Ptolemy muttered beneath his breath. He took a firm hold of the man’s shoulder, then pointed at the cell door behind his back. “Prisoner. Where?” he demanded again, hoping the Rhadian would understand. He had no time to search for an interpreter. Again a confused look, this time with a frightened hint in the wide eyes.
Crateros went to the wall, and shook the shackles hanging there. “Where?” he asked, pointing at the corridor on their right, then shook the metal restraints again, and pointed to another direction.
This time, the Rhadians seemed to understand. A small argument seemed to break between them, until the leader finished it with a look that silenced his companions. They all most likely understood they would be in trouble if they did not give information to the Macedonians. Ptolemy could only wonder if they knew their lives hang depending on the fact of what they found.
The leader pointed on the corridor on their right. Crateros nodded, then took the man to his own grip, signalling he could show the way. Ptolemy followed, not bothering to keep an eye on the other prisoners that were dragged along. His men were more than capable of taking care of them on their own. The smell of blood, sweat, dirt and death floated in the air, and he could swear he saw a rat disappear in the darkness. He did not spend time watching inside the cells: he had no desire to see a rotting body devoured to hungry mouths, or an old skeleton spread to the floor.
They halted at a door, and the leader fumbled with the bar holding the entry closed. Crateros pushed him aside, then opened the door swiftly. Ptolemy heard the man gasp, then stepped forth to see for himself. Perhaps these men were not as barbaric as he had thought: they had understood what they wanted. Or there are no other prisoners someone might miss, Ptolemy pondered, then dismissed further distraction and rushed to the dark room. It was futile to ignore the smell. Even more fruitless would have been an effort to try and believe Alexander was not going to avenge this with death. Several deaths.
“Hephaistion,” Ptolemy called out, his hands reaching out to touch the dirty, broken form of his friend. Hephaistion’s entire backside was a bloody mess, and it was no hard to guess what other torture he had been put through. The feel of his skin was both icy cold where sweat was shining on his skin and feverish at other places. “’Phaistion,” he tried again, with more force. There was no reaction, as expected, and Ptolemy allowed himself to let out a small sigh when he found a firm pulse on the other’s neck.
Crateros was by now crouching next to him, worried frown on his face. “He shall live,” Ptolemy assured his companion, then glanced at the door. Macedonian warriors did not meet his eyes, too intent to stare at their other general, wounded and still on the floor. One of the men finally looked at Ptolemy, and after receiving a nod, he turned to the prisoners. Each Rhadian was killed in silence, quickly, effectively. They perhaps deserved worse, but then again, if they did not, this death was easier than the one Alexander would have cast upon them.
As Ptolemy watched the bodies being arranged to the side of the corridor, Crateros took off his cloak and wrapped it around Hephaistion’s unconscious, naked form. The tall man lifted the limb body easily to his arms, leaving the cell immediately. None of them wished to linger in this death-hole longer than necessary, and Hephaistion needed to be attended by doctors, as soon as possible.
Making their way up from the dungeons, Ptolemy tried to decide what to say when they finally reached Alexander. When he came up with nothing that would cause his friend lesser pain – or anger – he let the matter be, and decided to let the events run themselves as the moment arrived.
Most of the Rhadian resistance was met around the throne room. This did little to unnerve Alexander, however; he knew he had enough men to overtake the entire city. A little opposition would only be a hindrance on his way. Yet as soon as the wide doors leading to the hall swung open, every wasted moment turned into one of agony. On the throne, on the opposite wall from the doors, sat a man in rich robes and trying to maintain a look of authority and control. Alexander did not need names presented to know whom he was. “Mazaces…” he muttered, this time drawing his sword.
Archers prepared to shoot, also having noticed the leader of the city, but Alexander held them back. He did not plan to keep the man alive for long, but the pleasure of killing him would be his alone. The man had given him enough trouble to suffer long and with passion…
Blades clashed together, voices crying out when steel cut into skin. Blood stained the walls and rich tapestries. Floor swam with thick liquid, bodies collapsed there in ungraceful heaps. The final battle, all in all, did not last five minutes before the leaders of Mazaces’ army shouted out their surrender. Arms fell to the ground, hands lifted as a sign of defeat.
Alexander crossed the hall swiftly, his blade pressing at Mazaces’ chest when the man rose from his seat. Furious eyes met the Macedonian’s, probably only now noticing he was personally threatened. It took another moment from the Rhadian lord to figure exactly whom he was facing.
“Why, king Alexander has finally arrived,” he stated, attempting a bow, but halted when the tip of Alexander’s blade pressed more firmly against him, cutting into his robes. “Perhaps you would remove your blade?” he asked, not a single thread of respect in his voice. Fear was there, an underlying tone, yet not too overpowering. Maybe he believed he still was a master of the situation.
Either way, Alexander was in no mood for games. “I would watch myself carefully, if I were you. You have led me and my companions to misbelieve that there would be no trouble from your side when I approached. Instead, I find only hostility.”
“I am not you, Alexander,” Mazaces stated. “And as I told to your… ambassador, I merely stated I would give you no trouble. I never said I would surrender my city and riches to you, if you came to claim them. Rhadia is not as weak as the other feeble villages you have come across.”
“Nay, your city goes well below all those,” Cassander stated from his place behind Alexander. His eyes moved between the two, almost eager to see blood spilled. “Come, Alexander, finish this dog, so we can be on our way –” He did not finish when a group of warriors emerged to the hall through a side-door. They looked battle-worn and slightly pale, yet neither the general nor his lord paid a heed to them. All eyes settled on the unmoving man on Crateros’ arms.
Alexander suppressed a shout with a visible effort, pulling away from Mazaces and meeting Ptolemy on the halfway. His eyes never left Hephaistion when Ptolemy grabbed his arm and leaned closer to whisper: “He lives, Alexander.” He shook himself free, and Ptolemy let him.
His hands shook as he brushed a tendril of sweaty, dirty hair away from the face of his friend. He wished to say so many things, wield his sword and hack down all who had dared to hurt Hephaistion: for hurt the other man was, that he could see himself, even if the other’s form was wrapped tightly in a protective cloak. “Take him out of here, he needs to see a healer. Now.” Alexander’s voice was far from steady, yet none spoke against him. As Crateros, accompanied with Ptolemy, disappeared from the main doors, Alexander turned to his remaining men and generals. “Arrest every soldier within the city, and take them outside the walls. Collect the people, also, and do the same, yet keep them separated from the army. Those who refuse, kill them. Do not bother with the bodies.” The orders were firmly given, unhesitating. Turning to Mazaces, Alexander pointed at his fellow lord: “Take him with his soldiers, and keep an eye on them. Anyone who tries to escape shall be executed immediately.”
A moment of silence followed and then commanders set to work, sending a word to the city outside. All people would be collected and taken outside the walls before nightfall. Content his orders would be followed without further instructions, Alexander left the palace, willing to rid himself of the very sight of it as soon as possible.
Hephaistion was safe, the city his. Yet why he did not feel any more peaceful than before?
to be continued…
Chapter 1: Assembling Plans
Chapter 2: Negotiation
Chapter 3: A Macedonian
Chapter 4: Bow before your King
Chapter 5: Trial and Mercy