The words of Philip's regent were echoing loudly in Alexander's ears as they flowed though the conference room, the Macedonian king of less than a year listening as intently as he could manage. He sat at the head of the long table, the room barely larger than the length of the piece of furniture, which was occupied by all of his trusted friends and generals.
Antipater sat a few seats down; Ptolemy and Parmenion flanked either side of Alexander at the table. Cassander was in the room, as well as Craterus, Cleitus, Peridiccas, Leonnatus, and Attalus. And of course, Hephaistion, sitting near the far end of the table with the appearance of listening attentively to Antipater's lecture.
One of the things he had promised his men since his ascension to the throne mere months earlier, it was that they could always speak freely, and that he would hear their concerns. He almost began to regret that promise, however, upon hearing the words that Antipater spoke.
"You've spoken, Alexander, of the intent you have as the war leader against the Persians to move upon them with haste. Gods know that the Corinthian League wants it so. I'm just expressing my concerns about possible consequences," the older man said.
Alexander fought the urge to rub his head to expel the steady aching that was beginning just behind his fair eyebrows. They had spent the previous hours discussing the financial troubles associated with any attempted war with Persia, as his father had left the Macedonian treasury noticeably drained. The last thing that Alexander needed that day was to get into an argument with his regent.
"Your concerns are understood, Antipater, and duly noted. However, I wouldn't think it prudent to be concerned with such things at this time," Alexander supplied. "Persia has my full attention right now; Persia is my chief concern."
"But my king," the aging man put in, his brow furrowing in worry. Alexander fought another unsuitable urge—that to noticeably sigh. His men rarely referred to him with such formality, and when they did, it was usually because they wanted to assure him that they meant no offense in what they were to say, that they still respected him, and remembered his authority over them.
"With all due respect, I don't think that you understand the enormity of this situation. This is not a squabble with the Illyrians or an uprising in Thebes. It isn't going to be as easy as crossing the Ister and getting surrender from all their leaders. This is meant to be a war, and as such, you have no idea how much time it will take. It could be years before you come back to Macedon—or gods forbid it, you could die in this war. Are you really willing to chance such a thing without an heir?"
Alexander's eyes traveled across the men sitting at the table, finally locking with Hephaistion's blue orbs at the end of the table. While Hephaistion's face was nearly impassive, save for the tiniest discontented twitch of his lips, his eyes were expressive enough for Alexander to tell that he wasn't happy. Despite the fact that they had both known that this would come up eventually, it seemed troubling to his lover.
Alexander tore his eyes away after a moment, knowing that if he didn't, he would find himself lost within their depths. They were still at a meeting, and it wouldn't do for the king to lose focus. Alexander knew that.
"That is precisely the reason I feel it unwise to do so at this point. I know this will be a war, and since this is the case, I have no time to sit at home holding marriage feasts and awaiting the birth of children," Alexander replied, trying to keep irritation from his voice. It was his ambition, his goal, his destiny to march into Asia—he wouldn't let anyone impede upon that. He had dreamed since his boyhood of seeing distant lands, of conquering.
"It is wise advice, Alexander," Ptolemy interjected. "If anything were to happen to you while in Persia, it would send the empire into chaos if you have no heir."
"Yes," Antipater agreed. "You must think of Macedon—"
"I am not thinking of only Macedon, but of all of Macedon and all of Greece as a whole," Alexander interrupted. "What good would it do Greece to sit about choosing wives and holding ceremonies? There is a war impending now, and as you've said, the Corinthian Council wills it. To delay the inevitable will ultimately be detrimental to Macedon."
"To go to war without an heir may prove to be even more detrimental to Macedon," Antipater argued.
Alexander nodded thoughtfully, his fingers steepled beneath his chin. "It may," he granted. "And if it does, it will be because the gods will it."
Alexander stared thoughtfully out of the window of his bedroom, taking in the quickly darkening grounds of his castle at Pella, knowing consciously that soon, he may not be looking at these grounds for a long time. He watched the actions of those nearby with reverence; a pair of soldiers making their way across the grounds, two young boys playing with a dog, a young man sitting back against a tree, observing the sunset. Though it was tranquil outside, Alexander's mind was in chaos.
He understood the concern of his men—Antipater and Ptolemy were perhaps the two who had the most loyal opinion. If he were to perish in Persia, Antipater, as regent, would be the first to profit from it—possibly Ptolemy as well, what with the rumors of his parentage.
Yet Alexander's dreams stretched further than Macedon, further than a wife and children. He knew that as a king, he would take a wife one day, produce and heir, and do all the domestic things expected of him. That seemed so irrelevant with the prospect of war with Persia threatening; his dreams were beginning to be realized, and the last thing he wanted to concern himself with was all that nonsense. He had time enough to become his father—he had time enough to marry a thousand wives if he wanted, but the prospect seemed absurd to him at that time.
Many assumed that he lacked an interest in women; his mother had certainly believed so when she had sent the hetaira to him at eighteen. He hoped, still, that it had surprised her when he had proven not so incapable of lying with a woman as Olympias had obviously grown to believe. He knew that point of view was not an uncommon one; his relationship with Hephaistion was much debated, though confirmed to few.
Alexander craved love, but not of that sort. He thrived on friendship, which was why his relationship with Hephaistion was so successful. He loved Hephaistion, and had done so long before they had become lovers. He craved the little touches, the loving looks, the caring words. He craved physical love less—that was something that Hephaistion cared for more than he—and the idea of marriage to beget an heir appalled him. Perhaps he could be like his father one day; perhaps he could grow to long for the physical acts of love and produce many heirs. But the idea that a relationship with a wife could be like that between his father and mother—that was his biggest fear.
And at that time, he was content to be held by Hephaistion, to be cared for and loved by Hephaistion. For then, he could be content with the touch of Hephaistion, and the deep caring of equals—of friends and lovers, all at once. What more could he ask for?
There was a knock on his door, startling him out of his reverie. He needn't wonder who it was for long, for a familiar voice came through the door. "Alexander?" the voice implored gently, the sound muffled a bit by the door.
Alexander smiled slightly to himself, turning back to the window as he called, "Come in, Hephaistion. The door is not locked."
He could hear the door opening, but he didn't turn around. He could sense Hephaistion's presence in the room, though his attention was still turned to the scene outside the window. The sun had nearly set already, but Alexander found himself still transfixed by the sight.
Alexander felt his lover's presence more acutely as the taller man came to the window to stand next to him, staring out at the same scene wordlessly. They stood that way for a while, waiting for the sun to set and cast the landscape into darkness. It was a few minutes after Hephaistion arrived that Alexander slid his hand into Hephaistion's, still not turning his eyes from the window. He could almost feel Hephaistion's smile as his fingers tightened around the king's smaller hand. After a long moment, Hephaistion spoke.
"You are troubled, Alexander." The words were half statement, half question.
"Perhaps," Alexander said, turning away from the window finally. "Wine?" he asked, motioning to the bottle he had had brought in earlier. Hephaistion nodded and Alexander made his way over, pouring a glass for each of them. He handed one to Hephaistion, and they both took a small sip, Alexander making his way to sit on the edge of his bed. Hephaistion followed, sitting down next to him.
"You fear the prospect of marriage," Hephaistion said, and this time there was no question in his voice, only certainty. Alexander was hard-pressed to admit that he feared anything, but Hephaistion knew him better than anyone. He had no need to lie or keep parts of himself secret from Hephaistion. He had no fear of showing weakness to Hephaistion.
"You have met my mother. You have seen my parents' marriage—my father's multiple others even. How could I not be afraid?" Alexander asked, taking another sip of his wine.
Hephaistion sighed, looking deeply into Alexander's eyes. "You are certainly not your father, Alexander, and I don't believe you ever could be. Not all marriages are quite like that of your parents."
"Ah—but do men not always marry women who remind them of their mothers?"
Hephaistion snorted into his drink, though it never struck Alexander to consider it unbecoming. "I don't think there's another woman like Olympias upon this earth," he breathed with a laugh. "And if there were, your mother would have her killed due to the competition."
Alexander's expression turned grave, though it was not because he was offended. He knew what type of woman his mother was; he had deluded himself in youth, but he saw her truly now. He'd seen her orchestrate enough murders to think it possible. Hephaistion obviously took his anger as such, though. He often spoke and acted rashly, but he regretted it more than any man Alexander had ever met.
"I'm sorry, Alexander. I didn't mean—"
"No, love. It's all right," Alexander assured the other man. "My mother is who she is—I cannot fool myself into believing she is something else. I'm mostly astounded that you seem as adamant as Antipater about this. You'd like to see me marry?"
Hephaistion sighed, taking a long sip of his wine. "What I'd like to see is irrelevant. You are king, and you can't ignore your duties. I can't say I don't think it foolish that you're willing to jeopardize your entire royal line and your kingdom, though."
The despondence of Hephaistion's tone prompted Alexander to action, taking Hephaistion's glass gently from his hand and setting them both away on the table. He moved then back to Hephaistion, resting his head in the crook of the other man's shoulder.
"But if it were up to you, what would you say?"
"I'd say that I'd like to keep you to myself. That I'll love you forever, better than any wife could. But I can't give you children, Alexander. I can't give you an heir."
Alexander smiled. "And so it shall be," he said, placing a gentle kiss to the side of Hephaistion's neck. Hephaistion's arm came around Alexander's back to settle upon his waist.
"You know that you'll one day have to marry, Alexander," Hephaistion said seriously. Alexander smiled into his lover's shoulder. Hephaistion was ever the practical one, the logical one. He could only go so far on impulse, except with the aid of drink. Alexander loved Hephaistion for that reason—for his heart, his mind.
Alexander moved from his head from its place on Hephaistion's shoulder, pulling back enough to look into the taller man's eyes once again. Hephaistion's gaze was uncertain, but he held Alexander's with the determination of a soldier. With a soft smile, Alexander reached out and cradled Hephaistion's cheek in his hand. Hephaistion leaned into the touch, drawn by Alexander's warmth and love.
"One day," Alexander agreed solemnly. "But that day is not today, and for now I grant you all my love, and I'm satisfied being just yours."
Hephaistion smiled back, and their lips met in a languid kiss, the dilemma of an heir to the Macedonian throne left to another day.