The triumphant final volume in the epic series - a series of monumental battles, fascinating history and action-packed adventure.
The vast and deadly conflict between Alexander the Great's former generals as they battle for control of his empire has reached a tense stalemate. No one seems able to strike the decisive blow.
But with everything in the balance, a secret emerges: hidden in the remote mountains is a young man who could change everything: Herakles, the son of Alexander.
Whoever aspires to Alexander's mantle must now control his one legitimate heir - or destroy him - and a war being played across the known world is set for its final, bloody conclusion. As the rival armies converge on the village of Ipsus, twin monarchs Satyrus and Melitta know that they too must gamble their own lives and the survival of their Black Sea kingdom on the outcome...
Release date: August 28, 2014
Print pages: 444
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Tyrant: Force of Kings
Airyanãm (Avestan) Noble, heroic.
Aspis (Classical Greek) A large round shield, deeply dished, commonly carried by Greek (but not Macedonian) hoplites.
Baqca (Siberian) Shaman, mage, dream-shaper.
Chiton (Classical Greek) A garment like a tunic, made from a single piece of fabric folded in half and pinned down the side, then pinned again at the neck and shoulders and belted above the hips. A men’s chiton might be worn long or short. Worn very short, or made of a small piece of cloth, it was sometimes called a ‘chitoniskos’. Our guess is that most chitons were made from a piece of cloth roughly 60 × 90 inches, and then belted or roped to fit, long or short. Pins, pleating, and belting could be simple or elaborate. Most of these garments would, in Greece, have been made of wool. In the East, linen might have been preferred.
Chlamys (Classical Greek) A garment like a cloak, made from a single piece of fabric woven tightly and perhaps even boiled. The chlamys was usually pinned at the neck and worn as a cloak, but could also be thrown over the shoulder and pinned under the right or left arm and worn as a garment. Free men are sometimes shown naked with a chlamys, but rarely shown in a chiton without a chlamys – the chlamys, not the chiton, was the essential garment, or so it appears. Men and women both wear the chlamys, although differently. Again, a 60 × 90 piece of cloth seems to drape correctly and have the right lines and length.
Daimon (Classical Greek) Spirit.
Ephebe (Classical Greek) A new hoplite; a young man just training to join the forces of his city.
Epilektoi (Classical Greek) The chosen men of the city or of the phalanx; elite soldiers.
Eudaimia (Classical Greek) Well-being. Literally, ‘well-spirited’. See daimon, above.
Gamelia (Classical Greek) A Greek holiday.
Gorytos (Classical Greek and possibly Scythian) The open-topped quiver carried by the Scythians, often highly decorated.
Himation (Classical Greek) A heavy garment consisting of a single piece of cloth at least 120 inches long by 60 inches wide, draped over the body and one shoulder, worn by both men and women.
Hipparch (Classical Greek) The commander of the cavalry.
Hippeis (Classical Greek) Militarily, the cavalry of a Greek army. Generally, the cavalry class, synonymous with ‘knights’. Usually the richest men in a city.
Hoplite (Classical Greek) A Greek soldier, the heavy infantry who carry an aspis (the big round shield) and fight in the phalanx. They represent the middle class of free men in most cities, and while sometimes they seem like medieval knights in their outlook, they are also like town militia, and made up of craftsmen and small farmers. In the early Classical period, a man with as little as twelve acres under cultivation could be expected to own the aspis and serve as a hoplite.
Hoplomachos (Classical Greek) A man who taught fighting in armour.
Hyperetes (Classical Greek) The Hipparch’s trumpeter, servant, or supporter. Perhaps a sort of NCO.
Kithara (Classical Greek) A musical instrument like a lyre.
Kline (Classical Greek) A couch or bed on which Hellenic men and women took meals and perhaps slept, as well.
Kopis (Classical Greek) A bent bladed knife or sword, rather like a modern Ghurka kukri. They appear commonly in Greek art, and even some small eating knives were apparently made to this pattern.
Machaira (Classical Greek) The heavy Greek cavalry sword, longer and stronger than the short infantry sword. Meant to give a longer reach on horseback, and not useful in the phalanx. The word could also be used for any knife.
Parasang (Classical Greek from Persian) About thirty stades. See below.
Phalanx (Classical Greek) The infantry formation used by Greek hoplites in warfare, eight to ten deep and as wide as circumstance allowed. Greek commanders experimented with deeper and shallower formations, but the phalanx was solid and very difficult to break, presenting the enemy with a veritable wall of spear points and shields, whether the Macedonian style with pikes or the Greek style with spears. Also, phalanx can refer to the body of fighting men. A Macedonian phalanx was deeper, with longer spears called sarissas that we assume to be like the pikes used in more recent times. Members of a phalanx, especially a Macedonian phalanx, are sometimes called Phalangites.
Phylarch (Classical Greek) The commander of one file of hoplites. Could be as many as sixteen men.
Porne (Classical Greek) A prostitute.
Pous (Classical Greek) About one foot.
Prodromoi (Classical Greek) Scouts; those who run before or run first.
Psiloi (Classical Greek) Light infantry skirmishers, usually men with bows and slings, or perhaps javelins, or even thrown rocks. In Greek city-state warfare, the psiloi were supplied by the poorest free men, those who could not afford the financial burden of hoplite armour and daily training in the gymnasium.
Sastar (Avestan) Tyrannical. A tyrant.
Spola (Classical Greek) Body armour of leather. Herakles in heroic depiction has a spola in the form of a lion’s skin, but soldiers might wear anything from a light leather tunic to stiffened abdominal protection and call it a spola.
Stade (Classical Greek) About 1/8 of a mile. The distance run in a ‘stadium’. 178 meters. Sometimes written as Stadia or Stades by me. Thirty Stadia make a Parasang.
Taxeis (Classical Greek) The sections of a Macedonian phalanx. Can refer to any group, but often used as a ‘company’ or a ‘battalion’. My taxeis has between 500 and 2,000 men, depending on losses and detachments. Roughly synonymous with phalanx above, although a phalanx may be composed of a dozen taxeis in a great battle.
Thorax/Thorakes (Classical Greek) Body armour – literally, that which covered the abdomen. Could be bronze, quilted wool or linen or a mixture of textile and metal armour; could also refer to a leather armour like a spola. The so-called ‘muscle cuirass’ forged by the armourer to look like the male abdomen was one form, and probably the most expensive.
Xiphos (Classical Greek) A straight-bladed infantry sword, usually carried by hoplites or psiloi. Classical Greek art, especially red-figure ware, shows many hoplites wearing them, but only a handful have been recovered and there’s much debate about the shape and use. They seem very like a Roman gladius.
It should have been the day of his greatest triumph.
Stratokles was dressed in his very best – a chiton with flames of Tyrian red licking up the shining white wool from the hems, themselves so thick with embroidery that the gold pins that held it together were difficult to push through the cloth. Over his shoulder hung a chlamys of pure red-purple, embroidered in gold, and on his brow sat a diadem of gold and red-purple amethysts, worth the value of a heavy penteres all by itself, without reckoning the other accoutrements he wore – gold sandals with gold buckles, gold mountings on the dagger under his armpit, gold rings on his fingers.
The extravagance of his costume was matched – or exceeded – by every other person in the temple of Hera. Despite being Herakles’ foe, Hera was well represented at Heraklea, and her temple shone with white marble columns and magnificently painted statues. The vault of the portico had inlaid panels of lapis with bands of hammered gold around every panel, so that the recessed coffers seemed to radiate light. Cunning engines – engines that Stratokles had devised himself – allowed alternating coffers to be opened or shut, allowing rays of the sun to fall straight to the temple’s polished, inlaid floor.
And standing on that floor were the guests; the wedding party of the bridegroom. They stood in shadow, carefully arranged by Stratokles with due concern for precedence. They represented a dramatic shift in policy and five tense months of desperate diplomacy; Stratokles had had to sail a stolen warship through Demetrios’s siege lines at Rhodes, and later he’d had to ride across Greece with his mistress, Amastris, Queen of Heraklea, in his arms.
But he’d pulled it off, and the reward stood at the head of the procession. Lysimachos, Satrap of Thrace. Soon to be King of Thrace. One of the leading players in the war for Alexander’s empire – a near neighbour, and a dangerous professional soldier with all the resources of the Thracian silver mines and the Thracian war-tribes at his back. And at his back, Cassander, King of Macedon, still, despite the best efforts of Antigonus and his son Demetrios, the lord of most of Greece. And just behind him, Amyntas, brother of Ptolemy of Aegypt. And behind him, resplendent in purple and gold, stood Seleucus’s brother Philip of Babylon. Together, the four men represented the alliance that faced Antigonus, lord of Asia, and his son, Demetrios the besieger. Stratokles had arranged to bring them all here, to Heraklea, to celebrate the marriage of his carefully fostered pupil, Amastris, who stood almost alone in a shaft of golden sunlight that he had carefully arranged to fall like the benison of heaven on her golden head. She looked like Aphrodite come to earth, dressed in a long chiton of shining gold embroidery over linen so fine that the sun shone straight through it. And Amastris had the body to bear the scrutiny of the most critical of men.
And the mind to use that body as she needed, to accomplish what she desired for the good of her city, and her own power.
Stratokles watched her with approval – approval and a distant tinge of desire. He’d loved her from their first meeting, but the years had mellowed his love into a kind of golden servitude. She rewarded him with trust and a thorough practice of the principles he instilled. And money. Stratokles was now a very rich man.
It should have been the day of his greatest triumph.
But the woman standing at Cassander’s elbow was not his wife, Penelope. Nor the woman most Macedonians accepted as his mistress: Euridyke of Athens. The woman on his arm was a courtesan named Phiale, and when her downcast eyes flicked up to touch Stratokles’ eyes, it was like the lightest possible cut from a razor-sharp xiphos at the start of a fight.
Stratokles had used Phiale – years before – in a failed plot to assassinate Ptolemy of Aegypt. The irony – and this wedding was full of historic irony – was that Stratokles had undertaken the assassination of Ptolemy at Cassander’s behest, to win favours for Stratokles’ beloved home city, Athens.
But the world had turned, and Cassander and Ptolemy needed each other against the power of Antigonus.
Stratokles struggled to remember how he had used Phiale and whether she had cause to hold it against him as he crossed the floor to her. He had warned her to leave Alexandria – that Leon the Numidian would certainly catch on to her eventually.
Why, then, did she look at him with such hate? Odd. But Stratokles had long since learned to attack a dangerous opponent and never leave one behind him, so he crossed the floor to her in a few strides, noting the averted glances of the courtiers around her.
‘Phiale?’ he said.
Cassander had stepped away from her to speak to Philip of Babylon and an older man by his side.
‘Stratokles the Informer,’ she breathed huskily. ‘What a pleasure to see you.’
Her eyes, carefully controlled, stroked him. There was no message of hate now. A far different message.
Stratokles stroked his beard. ‘We were friends, once,’ he said.
She laughed and put an arm on his. ‘Oh, my dear, we are still friends. What do you hear of Satyrus of Tanais?’
He noticed that her glance sharpened back into a sword when she said the name.
‘He remains something like a force of nature. Beloved of the gods.’ He managed a smile – there was something wrong, something he couldn’t pin down, something to do with someone he had just seen and the absence of men seeking his good will. He was isolated in the middle of his own party. And Phiale knew something.
Stratokles didn’t turn his head – but he managed to glance to his left, where the guards were. Plenty of them, good men – most men he’d picked himself. He rubbed his chin, flipped his cloak over his shoulder, and turned back to Phiale as if everything was fine.
‘Although,’ he said somewhat at random, ‘Satyrus is harmless enough,’ and saw her flush.
‘Really?’ she asked. ‘Last time you and I were friends, you wanted him dead.’
‘That is the way of politics, isn’t it? And may I say how very beautiful you are?’ Stratokles smiled at her.
She returned the smile, but it didn’t touch the tiny lines at the edges of her eyes. ‘You didn’t used to be so easy about Satyrus,’ she said.
Stratokles smiled, his eyes still scanning the room over her head. What in Tartarus had happened? Running on automatic, his mind put words into his mouth.
‘He didn’t used to supply grain to Athens,’ he said. ‘This season his ships escort our ships to Athens. Hence, we are friends.’
Phiale smiled again. ‘You are selling his bride to Lysimachos and you think he’ll escort your ships to Athens?’
Stratokles smiled back. ‘I made sure he was at sea before I let the news of the wedding out,’ he said. ‘Besides – he knows. He and Amastris have been estranged for a year. I made sure of it. She doesn’t need, or want, a military master. She wants a peer.’
Phiale controlled her face. Stratokles watched her do it, and read, in the careful play of the muscles in her jaw, his own doom.
She knew something. The word peer triggered her reaction.
‘So Satyrus is on his way to Athens?’ she asked.
‘Rhodes first, and then Athens,’ Stratokles said. ‘Will you excuse me, fair lady?’
Stratokles bowed and walked across the temple portico to where his second, the Latin, Lucius, waited. Lucius was as well dressed as he, and a handsomer man. Stratokles had a magnificent physique and a strong jaw, but his face was marred by a vicious old wound that left him looking like he had a comedian’s nose rather than a human one. Lucius was handsome by any standard – but his hair was bright red and that was not accounted a mark of beauty among Greeks.
‘Something feels wrong,’ Stratokles said.
Lucius nodded. ‘No one is licking your arse, lord,’ he said.
That settled it. Crude as he could be, Lucius had hit the rivet square. On a day like this – a day that capped a generation of clever diplomacy and careful betrayal, Stratokles should have been surrounded by sycophants and flatterers and great men seeking favour.
Instead, he’d been left alone, and his involvement with the details of the costumes and the lighting and the ceremony had fooled him.
‘I’m for the axe,’ he said. ‘I can feel it.’
‘You see Phiale?’ Lucius asked.
‘Like seeing a ghost.’ Stratokles risked a glance over his shoulder. He was a realist, but his heart was pounding and he still couldn’t believe it. Why – why? Why would his beloved mistress sacrifice him? But Phiale’s controlled reactions told him an answer. His mistress was to be used, not courted. Lysimachos wanted him gone.
His glance happened to intercept that of one of the bodyguards. The man flinched – visibly. He was a man Stratokles had chosen himself – a Macedonian left behind by one of Satyrus of Tanais’s military adventures, a man who owed Stratokles his very life. And the man wouldn’t meet his eye.
‘Arse-cunt,’ Stratokles said softly. If the guards were in on it, then Amastris herself had sold him.
The wedding was heartbeats from commencement. He could see the two priestesses of Hera at the head of the procession of religious figures and Heraklean gentry, most of them awestruck to be in the presence of the leading figures of their day.
‘We need to go,’ Stratokles said.
Phiale pressured her lover’s arm gently. ‘My lord?’
Cassander turned to her, and waved at a handsome, dark-faced man by his side. ‘My lady, the Courtesan Phiale of Athens. This is Mithridates, lord of Bithynia. A new ally against Antigonus.’
‘I have long desired to be your ally, my lord.’ Mithridates looked Persian, with a long, straight nose and perfect skin. Phiale found him attractive – she wanted to touch that skin. ‘But this wedding puts your forces on my side of the Bosporus, and makes our cooperation possible. If I can evict my uncle from the throne.’
‘It was very clever indeed of Stratokles to have seen that you could be enticed to join us.’ Cassander smiled brilliantly. ‘He outdoes himself. Sometimes I think that we are all merely his puppets. Have you seen him?’ Cassander asked.
Phiale turned her head slightly. ‘There he is, lord. Talking to the red-haired man.’
‘Herakles, how can a man live, being so ugly? You have met him, Mithridates?’ Cassander’s eyes were moving rapidly around the room. ‘What did he have to say to you, my dear?’
Mithridates bowed. ‘I have met him. My lord, I must make my introductions to Philip of Babylon. Phiale, you are the most beautiful woman in the room.’ His eyes lay on hers for a moment, and she sighed at the unexpected compliment. Mithridates stepped away into the throng, and Cassander pulled her wrist until they were beside a pillar – the closest to privacy a king could manage at the edge of a great wedding.
‘What did he say to you?’ Cassander hissed.
‘You know him, my lord?’ Phiale asked.
‘I know him, my dear. I have – hmm – made use of him in my day.’ Cassander smiled, a handsome, charming man at the height of his powers. ‘You are no friend of his, I take it?’
Phiale smiled brilliantly at Seleucus’s brother, causing the younger man to spill some wine. ‘I hate him. He used me – ill.’
‘Then you’ll be pleased to know that he’s living his last hour,’ Cassander said. He gave her a thin smile. ‘He is a dangerous man who has outlived his usefulness. He arranged this wedding, and Lysimachos wants him gone. Lysimachos wants this city and its trade and its back door into Asia to lie like a woman, ready to his will – not to have ideas of its own. Stratokles must go. He is too good.’ Cassander sighed. ‘So good that I will miss him. Even when he fails, he owns up. Few of my tools are so apt to the hand as he.’
Phiale gave Cassander a brief look. ‘And Satyrus of Tanais?’ she asked.
Cassander laughed. The Priestess of Hera was at the head of her procession, visible just across the temple portico, and the ceremony was ready. His laugh carried easily over the temple, and heads turned. ‘Lysimachos will settle him,’ Cassander said.
‘If I told you that I could rid you of him – with no repercussions?’ she asked.
Cassander kissed her. ‘Then I would love you more, if possible, than I do now.’
She smiled. ‘After the wedding, I will require a fast ship for Athens.’
‘After the wedding I had other plans for us, my dear.’ He ran a finger under her chin.
‘Does Socrates not say that the pleasures of revenge are more beautiful than the pleasures of love?’ Phiale asked.
‘Not that I’m aware of,’ Cassander said.
‘He should have,’ Phiale answered.
‘Well?’ Lucius asked. ‘Do you have a brilliant plan?’
Stratokles didn’t have the energy to laugh. He was angry, and under the anger was the start of a bleak depression. How could Amastris have betrayed him? He wanted to confront her – but that was madness. If he was wrong, she would be very angry, and if he was right, she would kill him.
‘No brilliant plan. Just start walking. Come on.’ He began to walk with a purposeful stride towards the inner temple. He was careful to keep his head down, as if he was listening attentively to Lucius.
‘They won’t just let us walk away,’ Lucius said.
‘They may,’ Stratokles opined. ‘Listen – the procession of priests is at the portico. Custom holds men rigid – better than chains. No one will interrupt the ceremony. Keep walking.’
A few steps from the inner temple – almost safe – he saw the flicker of a cloak and his peripheral vision caught a nose, an eyebrow shape.
‘Zeus Meilichios,’ Stratokles said. ‘It’s the doctor.’
Leon paused for a moment, savouring the weight of the white stones in his hand. He examined the board carefully, and then chose to make his capture rather than move. He took another white stone off the board and rattled them in his hand.
Ptolemy laughed his gruff, farmer’s laugh. ‘You know,’ he said, rolling his knucklebones, ‘I have courtiers who know enough to lose to me.’
Leon watched the king roll a four. ‘You should play with them, then,’ he said.
Ptolemy moved two stones and removed one of Leon’s black stones. He hesitated a long time over his fourth move, and finally, with enormous hesitation, he advanced a single stone. ‘It’s different,’ he said.
Leon rolled his knucklebone without a moment’s hesitation. It came up a six. As the king of Aegypt groaned, he moved his forces swiftly, isolating Ptolemy’s latest, hesitant attack, capturing two white stones, and leaving the result of the game in no doubt.
Ptolemy shook his head. ‘More wine?’
Leon shook his, too. ‘No. I have all my accounts to review tomorrow, and ships in the yard to inspect.’ He rose. ‘I could tell you how to play better,’ he said.
‘Bah, you could no doubt tell me how to run my kingdom better,’ Ptolemy said. ‘I recommend you don’t.’ He took a drink of wine while slaves rushed about – some getting Leon’s sandals, others his mantle.
Leon paused for a moment. ‘Did you ever think, when you were fighting in the Kush with Alexander, that someday you’d have all this?’
Ptolemy grinned. ‘Remember when Kineas took me prisoner? I didn’t know you then – were you there?’
Leon nodded. ‘I was at the fire when Philokles brought you in.’
‘There was a fine man,’ Ptolemy said.
‘The best,’ Leon agreed.
‘I think of it often. When I was taken – after the skirmish – I was sure I was for it. The locals always tortured prisoners to death – we’d find them staked out on the roads. I thought that I was a dead man – dead for nothing, in a lost campaign, in a particularly nasty way. Then Philokles picked me up, and he was a Greek, and I knew I was going to live.’ The king took a long drink of wine. ‘But if I’d been taken by your Sakje – well, it would have been pretty ugly, eh?’
Leon shrugged. ‘Hard to tell. But yes – especially young people. They like to see what they can do.’
Ptolemy swirled the wine in his golden cup. ‘I think of it often. Because – when things look bad, I think, Thank the gods, I could be old bones at Marakanda now.’
‘Very Pythagorean of you,’ Leon said.
Ptolemy shrugged. ‘I do more thinking about … about things. Old age, I guess. How’s your nephew?’
Leon’s ‘nephew’ was Satyrus of Tanais. They weren’t related in any real way, but Leon had been part of Satyrus’s father’s household, and Leon had taken Satyrus into his own household, and all the world called them uncle and nephew.
‘Thriving, since the siege. He’s up in the Euxine, seeing to his own people.’ Leon smiled. ‘I’ll change my mind to the tune of half a cup of wine.’
Instantly, a slave placed a cup in his hand.
He tasted it – good Chian wine, but nothing fancy.
‘He’s not,’ Ptolemy said. ‘Galon told me this morning. He’s headed back to Rhodes – probably there now.’
Leon, whose intelligence service was one of the finest in the world, was surprised. ‘He’s got the grain fleet? So early? Whatever for?’
Ptolemy nodded. ‘That’s just what I’m asking you. It’s not that I distrust the boy, he’s served me as if he was a subject – more loyal than half my captains. But the last time his grain fleet sailed, he landed three thousand soldiers and seized control of the Propontus for a year. Zeus – he must have made a fortune on tolls.’
Leon smiled. ‘He did. I have reason to know.’
‘So,’ Ptolemy said. ‘What’s the game this time?’
Leon stared at his wine. ‘He hasn’t told me,’ he said, and there was anger in his voice. ‘How many ships, have you heard?’ he asked mildly.
‘Forty grain ships from Tanais and Pantecapaeaum, another ten from Olbia, and fifteen more from Heraklea. The word is that he’ll take half of his grain to Rhodes and sell the other half in Athens.’ Ptolemy sat back, having delivered his thunderbolt.
‘Athens?’ Leon asked. ‘We don’t do business there now. Demetrios holds Athens.’
‘Precisely,’ Ptolemy said. ‘He’s not … contemplating a change?’
Leon sipped his wine. Ptolemy was the best dissimulator he knew – the king had played two games merely to put him at ease for this moment.
‘Poseidon,’ Leon swore, ‘I would never believe it of him.’
Ptolemy nodded. ‘Good – good. That’s what I needed to hear. Galon had a theory – I’ll tell you as one suspicious bastard to another – that when Amastris jilted him, Satyrus had to go running to the other side. She’s marrying Lysimachos – you know that.’
‘I imagine everyone in the Mediterranean knows that now,’ Leon said. ‘But he – that is, my nephew – has known that she has other interests – well, for a year. Perhaps more. Before the siege, anyway.’ He paused. ‘You know that by the terms of the truce after the siege, my nephew cannot engage in open war against Demetrios for one full year.’
‘Of course,’ said Ptolemy. ‘My brother helped negotiate it. But at the end of the year, I need him – at my side, in spirit if not in the flesh.’ The king clapped him on the shoulder. ‘With Satyrus’s fleet, the fleet of Rhodos, and my fleet, we can keep Antigonus and Demetrios at arm’s length.’ He nodded. ‘If Satyrus were to go over to Demetrios …’
Leon rose to his feet. ‘I’ll get you a firm answer, lord. But don’t accept gossip. Satyrus has never given you cause. You allow your captains to openly court Cassander and Antigonus – you allow companies of mercenaries to cross the lines when their contracts expire. By Artemis, you let your own brother flirt with Demetrios.’
‘My brother doesn’t have twenty brand-new triremes and a squadron of penteres building right here in my own port,’ the king said. ‘I’d be a lot more careful of him if he had the money and the power that young Satyrus controls now. And the name. Since the siege, your nephew has a name.’
‘I’m not voicing these suspicions anywhere but this room. Herakles, Leon! I don’t want to distrust the boy. But these are bad times. I have to raise taxes this year. Seleucus and Lysimachos want me to invade Syria. The bastards want me to take the brunt of Antigonus’s forces while they whittle down his provinces. Cassander just wants us all to die. Sometimes I wonder if I’m on the wrong side. Am I the only king who doesn’t want anything more? I want to rule Aegypt. No one could rule the whole world – not me, not Antigonus, and not Alexander.’ The king combed his beard with his fingers and a slave poured him another cup of wine.
Leon finished his wine and rose. ‘The fellahin can’t take much more taxation,’ he said. ‘Invading Syria would be a mistake. Although something might be done with the Jews. They love you – and hate Antigonus.’
Ptolemy nodded. ‘I don’t want Syria. I don’t want to raise taxes. Do you know how much the expenses of war have climbed since Alexander died?’ He looked at Leon for a long moment and then laughed. ‘Of course you do.’
Leon turned his cup over. ‘I’ll see what’s going on with Satyrus. I’m sure it is innocent.’
Ptolemy nodded. ‘I pray it is. But who takes thirty warships to do something innocent? I dread one of those lightning strokes that changes the game. Satyrus wouldn’t see himself as a third side, would he?’
Leon sighed. ‘I hope not,’ he said.
‘The doctor,’ Lucius said, drawing his blade. Two rows of columns hid them from the wedding, but the first sound of combat would break the spell, turn every head.
Sophokles of Athens, a man who studied medicine at the Lyceum, a man who accepted money to kill – quite possibly the most dangerous man in the Hellenic world. He came to a stop and leaned against a pillar, his long, festive cloak covering him – and any weapons he bore – from head to foot.
‘Stratokles,’ he said.
‘Sophokles,’ the informer nodded. ‘The blessings of Lady Hera on you and your doings this day.’
The doctor nodded. ‘And yours, my dear. Cassander has given you up – traded you like a prime slave to Lysimachos. Who has given me a good purse of gold to remove you from the game.’
Lucius had already seen the men coming up the steps.
Stratokles shrugged. ‘I won’t pretend that the whole matter doesn’t make me angry,’ he said. ‘On balance, I’ve served well.’
Sophokles nodded. He looked at Lucius. ‘Steady on, there, sir. If you threaten them, we could have trouble. Put that blade away.’ To Stratokles, he said, ‘Cassander’s decision to dispense with you threatens all of us. On the other hand, I owe you for Alexandria. You abandoned me.’
Stratokles shrugged. ‘You were in place, close to the king, and undetected. I had no way of knowing that Phiale would sell you to Satyrus and Leon. Besides, sir – this is ancient history. If you will kill me, then get it done.’
‘I don’t think that Phiale actually sold me,’ the do
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