Dancing with the Lion: Rise

Dancing with the Lion: Rise

Author: Jeanne Reames

The story of Alexander before he became “the Great.”

Finished with schooling, Alexandros is appointed regent of Makedon while his father is away on campaign. He thrives with his new authority—this is the role he was born for—yet it creates conflict with his mother and Hephaistion. And when his soldiers, whom he leads with unexpected skill, start to call him “The Little King,” his father is less than delighted.

Tensions escalate between Alexandros and his father, and between Makedon and the city-states of southern Greece. As the drums of war sound, king and crown prince quarrel during their march to meet the Greeks in combat. Among other things, his father wants to know he can produce heirs, and thinks he should take a mistress, an idea Alexandros resists.

After the south is pacified, friction remains between Alexandros and the king. Hostilities explode at festivities for his father’s latest wedding, forcing Alexandros to flee in the middle of the night with his mother and Hephaistion. The rigors of exile strain his relationships, but the path to the throne will be his biggest challenge yet: a face-off for power between the talented young cub and the seasoned old lion.


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Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:

Emotional Abuse
Explicit Violence
Sexual Assault

Chapter One: Regent

Water-curled hair hinted that Alexandros had come straight from a bath, and Philippos shook his head. Would he ever understand his son? Artaxerxes and the entire Persikoi army might be sitting on the palace steps, but Alexandros would probably have a bath before seeing to it. Whatever his personal peculiarities, however, he’d become a good soldier. There’d been no more rash incidents like that night in Thrakē two years ago. The army called him “Philippos’s Lion Cub” now.

He was also strong. Not tall, but strong: deep chest, broad shoulders, and sinewy thighs showing the hours he spent on horseback. Yet it had come on him slowly, letting him escape the stretched angularity suffered by most adolescents. More, he didn’t slouch. It took a man by surprise to come up beside him only to look down. At a distance, carriage, charisma, and a deep voice made him appear larger.

“I heard you got in from Thrakē yesterday,” Alexandros said. “How long are you staying?”

“Not long. I came for reinforcements; two days and we march for the Khersonesos.” He kicked out a chair for his son, who took the seat, slight frown creasing his brow. “This campaign is interminable.” No doubt the boy was planning for the muster, might even be hoping his recent summons from Mieza was to tell him he was being promoted to command a full squadron of two hundred horse. Philippos judged him ready for it, but the men wouldn’t accept him at sixteen. Of course, he was too hot-blooded to see that. Philippos had a better solution in any case, one that would placate and benefit him both. He tossed the boy a ring. “Think you can keep an eye on that while I’m gone again?”

Alexandros’s eyes widened in recognition. “The Seal?”

“Last I checked, it was.”

“Why’re you giving it to me?”

“Why does a king usually give a man the Seal?”

“To make him regent, but . . .” Alexandros’s face was a study in contrasting expressions; he would never bluff an enemy. “You’re making me . . . I’m the . . . but Antipatros—”

“Antipatros is staying behind to advise you, and Eumenes too. You’re a good leader, a decent soldier, but no administrator. Yet. That comes with experience, and I think it’s time you got some.” Picking up a stylus from the table, he turned it in his hands. “Listen to your advisors, learn to figure the treasury, judge a case, and control your mother. Above all, keep my supply lines open. This is no game. You foul up and I’ll be back here before you can spit. Antipatros will have the Seal. Understand?”

“Yes, sir.” Alexandros was so far gone in amazement, he’d forgotten to bristle at the backhanded slight to Olympias.

“Good boy.” Philippos smoothed his beard. “You’re itching for a promotion; don’t think I don’t know it.” Alexandros grinned at that. “Show me you can keep affairs straight here and I’ll trust you with two hundred horse in a battle—maybe even three hundred.” The Royal Squadron. As prince, once he was old enough, it would be his. The king stood. “Anything to say?”

He hadn’t really expected anything, so it surprised him when Alexandros spoke softly, “Thank you, Pappás.”

His son rarely called him Pappás, only Pater, Father, and Philippos hadn’t realized he’d missed it until he heard it. Then he laughed at himself. You’re a sentimental old fool. But it didn’t change the depth of his feelings any.

“Don’t get cocky on me, now,” he said, because he didn’t know how to say, I’m proud of you. For once, Alexandros must have recognized the real meaning instead of inventing some bedamned one of his own, and smiled. Philippos grinned back, then gestured for the boy to pull around his chair. “Let me show you my plans. You should know them.” Casually, he set a hand on his son’s shoulder. Alexandros didn’t lean away.

***

Alexandros couldn’t help strutting a bit when he left, and his first impulse was to find Hephaistion. Instead, he sought out his mother. She’d resent it if he told Hephaistion first. Her dislike of his friend felt to Alexandros like rejection of himself by proxy, forcing him to conceal things from her, not because he was ashamed, but because she refused to understand and he didn’t want to fight about it.

She sat in the courtyard, an abacus and wax tablets scattered on the flagstones around her. She made notes on another as he arrived, muttering about lumber from the summer’s cutting and seed for the autumn planting. She held up a finger so he wouldn’t interrupt.

Kleopatra knelt on the porch behind, hands deep in a dyeing vat. Her long braid had fallen over her shoulder, soaking the tip in dark-red water. Alexandros fished it out for her, tying it in a knot at the back of her neck. “Kleo, you’re a mess,” he said fondly. He loved her with an uncomplicated love, and sat down beside her. She pecked his cheek with a kiss.

Nearby, two serving women carded and spun, and inside the corner room, others were weaving. From the kitchen came the clatter and rattle of cooks; it blended badly with the tinkle of water in the fountain and the murmur of women’s voices. The westering sun cast long shadows, painting the world in golden greens. After a pause like an indrawn breath, cicadas began their evening music.

Finishing her sums, his mother set down the tablet and looked over at him. He rose without saying anything and thrust the hand with the Seal right under her nose. Frowning, she batted at it, then stopped, stared, and grabbed the hand to see better. “Aleko!” Leaping to her feet, she threw arms around him.

His face flamed even whilst he felt absurdly pleased with himself. “Mammá!”

Kleopatra had left off dyeing, and he rolled his eyes at her as she grinned behind a hand.

Pushing him away, Myrtalē kissed both his cheeks. “I am so proud of you! You know what this means. From now on, everyone will see you as heir.” She hugged him again and he hugged back. “This is what I worked so long to secure—against Amyntas, Arrhidaios.” She pushed him away once more to see his face. “We’ve done it, Alexandros!”

We?

His pleasure cooled instantly. He had killed his boar at only twelve; he had fought in the front line; he had impressed his father enough to become the youngest officer in the Companions. What had she to do with any of that? He’d come to parade his success for her, not to have her steal it from him.

Yet what could he say? She’d carried him for nine months and never let him forget it hadn’t been an easy pregnancy. She’d also secured him Helanikē for a nurse and Leonidas for a tutor. Neither Arrhidaios nor Amyntas had received a noblewoman nurse nor Molossi prince for a lesson-master.

“Mammá,” he said, pulling away. “Please.” Her touch bothered him all of a sudden.

She laughed and tweaked his ear. “Young men! One minute they cuddle up like little boys and the next, they get all prickly like hedgehogs.” She sat down again and hugged herself from excitement. She was planning; he knew that look, blue eyes focused heavenward on something he couldn’t see.

Kleopatra came to embrace him, careful of her dripping hands. Next to their mother’s display, his sister’s seemed somehow more honest. His mother was wrapped up in herself; Kleopatra was thinking of him. The comparison startled him, as if he’d just seen his mother from a great height, and she looked small and diminished.

“What is it?” Myrtalē asked him. “You’re making a funny face.”

He couldn’t explain so he glanced out over the courtyard. “It’s nothing.”

“It’s not nothing; I know you too well. Why are you lying?”

Gaze flicking back, he found her frowning. Kleopatra had returned to her dye vat, silent, forgotten. He wished he could efface himself so easily, but he’d learned other strategies. Sighing grandly, he told her, “You always say I’m lying when I’m not lying.”

She looked down and the sun raised a nimbus over her yellow braids. She was lovely, like a pale rock rose. That and his guilt inclined him to make peace, until she said, “You never talk to me anymore.”

He balled his fists. “I talk. You don’t listen.”

“I don’t listen? I’ve listened to you all your life! And don’t you dare use that tone of voice with me, child.”

“Then don’t talk to me like I’m six. I’m a man now.”

Her eyes widened. “A man? You’re Hephaistion’s boy. You may wear the Seal but I wonder which of you will sit on the throne? You might fit on his lap.”

“Mother!” Lightness filled his head and humiliation crushed his chest. “Some things are none of your business.”

“Oh, I think it’s all Makedon’s business when their prince lets another man rule him.”

Enraged, he stepped forward until he stood over her. “But it’s all right if a woman does? That’s what you want, isn’t it? You snapping Fury—” His fist came up and she shrank back.

Appalled, he stopped. What was he doing?

“Go ahead. Hit me.” Although she cringed, she looked not the least afraid. “Call me a Fury, claim fury’s madness.”

But he wasn’t his father and she wouldn’t win so easily. “Stop trying to turn me against Hephaistion.” Spinning on his heel, he stalked away. Finding a storage room downstairs, he violently pulled the curtain to, then wrapped arms around his chest and dropped his head.

She bound him to her one moment, pushed him away the next, applauded, then shamed him. It tore his very heart and he didn’t understand her, nor what she wanted him to be. How could he be anything with her always there behind, telling him how much she’d done for him? She’d given him birth, secured him special tutors, even set him above his rivals with a bloodline that made him doubly royal. As if, without her, he was nothing.

Was it true? Alone, would he achieve nothing? His father on one side, his mother on the other. Was there nothing to which he could put his own name? Bringing a fist to his mouth, he bit down on the index finger until the pain spread and his shaking stopped. Then he took the fist away to examine it curiously, like some odd fish dredged from the depths. Teeth marks tattooed the knuckle and the finger was swelling. Shaking his head absently, he left the closet. Kleopatra was waiting on the other side.

***

“What?” her brother asked as soon as he saw her, but she thought the question as much surprise as reproach.

“Are you and Hephaistion really . . .?” she trailed off, hoping he’d deny it.

“Lovers?” he snapped. “Yes.”

Kleopatra looked away to conceal disappointment, but wasn’t surprised. During geometry lessons, she’d gathered something deep lay between them. She’d just chosen to ignore what was obvious. Hephaistion was in love with her brother, not her. Nor had her rational mind ever believed her father would marry her to Amyntor’s son anyway; he wasn’t important enough.

Unfortunately, crushes weren’t rational, and disillusionment lay heavy in her belly like unleavened dough. She had to struggle to keep her lip from trembling. “You know what they’ll say,” she warned, because she was feeling spiteful even if she didn’t want to, and she was angry with how he’d treated their mother.

“I’ve heard it all already. But Akhilleus was the beloved of Patroklos.”

“They don’t care, Aleko. They need to see you rule alone. Show them that and they won’t mark anything else. That’s all Mammá meant.”

“That’s not all she meant, and you know it.” His jaw ground in rage. “She wants to claim everything, like I’m . . . an extension of her. And she resents Hephaistion because I love him. She’s not first with me anymore.”

“You’re still first with her. I’m not and never will be.”

Alexandros’s expression turned stark. “She loves you, Kleo, and Thessalonikē too.”

“I know she does. But we don’t secure anything for her.” Kleopatra understood the realities of being a royal wife. One day, she might have a son and daughter of her own, and that son would be first with her, as well, of necessity. She just hoped she could make it less obvious. “I reckon we all depend on you.” Tilting her head, she struggled to see it from his side. “That must be an awful burden.”

“I was born to it.”

“Do you ever wish you weren’t?”

“You’re very philosophical for a girl.”

Irritated, her brow went up. “Is that a compliment, an insult, or avoiding the question?”

“Maybe a bit of all three?” He took a few steps backwards, then halted. “You made me think, not just react. So yeah, being philosophical is a compliment. You’re the most level-headed of us all, and it’s not just Mammá who loves you, sister-mine. I do too.” He departed.

It was still a diversion, but at least a kinder one.

***

After a week, Hephaistion was certain Alexandros was avoiding him. Most of the army and all their friends had gone to war with Philippos, yet he’d stayed in Pella for Alexandros’s sake, foolishly supposing he might be wanted, only to find he had nothing to do. The prince was too busy, or pretending to be, to spend time with him, so he spent his days wandering the city with his hounds, or meeting with Kleopatra to discuss mathematics, an elderly serving maid or little Thessalonikē as chaperone. These days, he saw more of Alexandros’s sisters than of Alexandros. Kleopatra was clever company, just not the company he wanted.

His relationship with Alexandros fluctuated like the moon. Sometimes Alexandros’s affection was a wild animal that had to be coaxed to hand; at others, he was an overeager puppy. Hephaistion had learned to read the emotional weathervane and act accordingly. Yet Alexandros had never before ignored him.

They’d been together a year, a long time for boys their age. Leonnatos was on his second lover since Perdikkas and Derdas had been through seven. Hephaistion could’ve had a new boy with each new moon, had he wished; in the gymnasion, others sighed when he passed. Yet his affections were constant. He wanted only Alexandros. But what if Alexandros no longer wanted him? Left to his own devices, Hephaistion fretted, doubt fermenting in his belly like yeast, making a small, soft, sick knot. He could neither eat nor sleep. Finally, unable to bear more, he decided to push matters to a crux.

The afternoon was drizzly, fog clinging to the hills and dulling the light, making slick the stone paths of the city and muddying tempers too. Hephaistion entered the megaron where Alexandros held court. Strolling along the peristyle perimeter, he pretended to study shields hung on the wall for decoration. They’d been taken in Philippos’s various battles, a nice reminder to visiting embassies: sarissai waited behind Philippos’s treaty offers. Alexandros sat at the front in a chair placed before his father’s oakwood throne, hearing legal cases. If he’d seen Hephaistion enter, he made no sign.

Did you really expect that he would? Hephaistion chided himself.

The case before the prince was typical: some trivial matter blown all out of proportion, the true trouble concealed under layers of petty recriminations. Hephaistion had often mediated sibling quarrels and had learned early how to recognize when only the top of the rock showed. Here, the opposing parties told a story of sheep stolen and pasture invaded. Alexandros listened, tapping the knuckles of his left hand against his lips, expression intent. When he gave his attention, he gave it all, burning like a torch. He could incinerate a man with the force of his gaze.

Now, as plaintiff and defendant finished their accusations, he leaned back to cross ankles, looking supremely annoyed. Pointing to the one who’d taken the sheep, he said, “Return his ewe, Lakio.”

“He can’t!” Sarpedon exclaimed. “The son-of-a-nanny-goat slaughtered it!”

O Zeu! Why didn’t you say so in the first place?” Heaving a great sigh, he gestured to the defendant. “Pay him for it, then.”

Deciding that Alexandros had missed the heart of the trouble, Hephaistion moved to the crowd edge so he could step out front. The movement caught Alexandros’s eye, and Hephaistion jerked his chin towards the door, then left. After a few moments, Alexandros joined him in front of the secretaries’ alcove wedged beside the staircase.

“What d’you want?” The prince stood with feet splayed, fists on hips. His right eye appeared very black, outweighing the blue like an unbalanced scale.

Leaning into the wooden banister, Hephaistion spoke low for a measure of privacy from the men at their desks. “Making Lakio pay may settle matters this time, but they’ll be back in a month over another sheep or a cow or something equally stupid.”

“Back off, Amyntoros. I didn’t ask for your opinion.”

Hephaistion stared. What in the world? “You’re making a mistake, Aleko.”

“And what would you do about the problem?”

Hephaistion kicked away from the banister; they’d be nose to nose if Alexandros were taller. “Think, would you? This case isn’t over a sheep. It’s about the fact Lakio’s field once belonged to Sarpedon’s family. Go and ask how often Sarpedon’s flocks have ‘wandered’ over a two-cubit stone fence into Lakio’s cattle field.”

“How do you know these things?” But Alexandros didn’t question the truth of it. Among Hephaistion’s other useless diversions, he collected gossip. The boys might call Harpalos a rumormonger, but Hephaistion knew more house-scandals than Harpalos ever would; he just didn’t go about telling everybody everything he knew. Harpalos collected gossip because it got him attention; Hephaistion collected gossip because he disliked being caught by surprise.

Now he just shrugged. Frowning severely, Alexandros left. Hephaistion crossed the foyer to listen at the hall doors. Before long, he heard Alexandros ask the men what Hephaistion had told him to ask. Hephaistion smiled.

Subsequent inquiry turned out the tale of a four-generation feud, and Alexandros bullied the two into an agreement. For a portion of wool, Sarpedon’s sheep could share pasture with Lakio’s cattle. Simple enough, but neither would have bent his stiff neck to suggest it. Hephaistion heard Lakio say, “It’s the principle of the thing!” and laughed softly to himself. Principle had nothing to do with it.

***

“Never do that to me again.” Alexandros shoved aside the curtain separating the private bathing room from Alexandros’s bed chamber. Hephaistion looked up from where he sat in the terra-cotta bathtub. Stalking over, Alexandros grabbed a sponge to scrub Hephaistion’s back.

“Are Lakio and Sarpedon happy?” Hephaistion asked.

“Shut your mouth.”

“Just trying to be attentive to my regent’s needs.”

“You’re trying to stick in your long nose.”

“But you took my advice.”

“You were right, peoskephalas.” Dickhead.

“And you can’t stand it, can you?” Hephaistion twisted to look at his friend. Alexandros didn’t answer, just stepped away. “Aleko, what’s gnawing at you?”

“Nothing.”

“Horse shite!” Standing, Hephaistion snatched a towel to dry his chest, then tossed the cloth across his back perfunctorily before climbing out to dress. Alexandros pushed the tub over to the drain and let the water flow out the plug at the bottom into the pipe that would carry it beneath the palace. Emptying the tub was slave’s duty but Alexandros preferred doing slave’s duty to calling in a slave. Privacy mattered to him, a peculiarity they both shared. Their friends thought them strange.

Turning back, Alexandros leaned against the tub. “Look, the Seal is on my hand. I have to prove I know how to use it, which I can’t do if everybody thinks you’re the one sitting on the throne.”

“By the Twin Brothers!” Too irritated for a moment to go on, Hephaistion wrapped the towel around his waist. Living around Alexandros was like building one’s house on the side of a volcano: the ground was extraordinarily fertile but the explosions devastating. “I don’t want your confounded throne. Not everybody does. Some of us have a normal man’s ambition: good land, good horses, good harvest. So I gave you advice today. What of it? You got them to agree to a compromise. I don’t have your patience.”

With exaggerated care, Alexandros rearranged sponges and oil pots on a table. “You’re deliberately missing the point. I’m prince regent, not your boy.”

Thunderstruck, Hephaistion dropped the towel. “What?”

“I can’t be seen to come and go at your whim.” Alexandros spoke to the shuttered window. Sunlight stabbed through the slats.

Dressing silently, Hephaistion couldn’t have forced words past the lump in his throat even if he’d had words to say. Throwing on his cloak, he walked out. He walked a long time, all night. The next morning, he packed bags, bridled Brephas, and left for Europos.

***

Occupied first in the audience hall, then with dispatches in his father’s study, Alexandros was shocked to learn that Hephaistion had left Pella. He wrote a letter with his own hand, not wanting the contents known to a clerk. It took seven tries in wax to get it right—to explain, berate, cajole—before committing it to papyrus. Hephaistion was touchy. But they were going to get this matter settled once and for all.

Alexandros had the letter sent before supper and the reply came back at dawn, riding a sandy-bay stallion. Eumenes knocked on the door to the king’s study where Alexandros was receiving his daily morning briefing from dispatches, scouts, and his advisors on security matters. “Hephaistion is here.” Distaste colored his tone. “He said to tell you he awaits your pleasure in the megaron.”

And that was just how he’d have phrased it too. Alexandros grinned in spite of himself and wished he’d been there to hear Eumenes’s reply. “Thank you.” The secretary disappeared.

Alexandros let Hephaistion wait until the briefing was over—not so long—then took a back route to enter the hall through a side door. Arms crossed, slouching, Hephaistion stood at the room’s center facing the throne, packs at his feet on the black-and-white pebble-checkered floor. Alexandros took a moment just to admire him, then said softly, “Hephaistion,” and had the satisfaction of seeing him start. Evidently, he’d expected Alexandros to make an entrance of his own.

Alexandros indicated the half-open door behind him, and Hephaistion retrieved his packs, allowing himself to be led up to the storage room that housed Euripides’s library. Instinct had guided Alexandros’s choice; instinct served him best with Hephaistion. When they arrived, he lit a pair of lamps whilst his friend looked around. Hephaistion had never seen this place. Before Mieza, Alexandros hadn’t known him well enough to trust him, and since, Alexandros hadn’t had much time to come here himself. But no one would bother them here; they could say what they needed to. He closed and barred the door.

Crossing to the honeycombed wall full of Euripides’s book-scrolls, Hephaistion picked through them. His black braid swung heavy between his shoulder blades, and Alexandros wanted to stroke it. Hephaistion made him want things he barely knew how to articulate.

“So this is where you got it,” Hephaistion said.

Alexandros pulled his attention back to the matter at hand. “Got what?”

“The play you brought out to the dormitory: Arkhelaos.”

“Yes, this is where I got it. And the others I loaned you.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about this place?”

Alexandros almost said, I didn’t think about it, but that would start a fight. Hephaistion wanted to fight; Alexandros could feel it radiating off of him like heat from stone. “I’m telling you now.”

Hephaistion put the scroll back. “You organized it.”

“Yes.”

“You’re the neatest person I know.”

Alexandros smiled. “I hate disorder almost as much as I hate insubordination.”

Ignoring that sally, Hephaistion tugged his cloak tighter about himself. “It’s as cold as a Fury’s tit up here. But you never feel the weather, do you?”

Alexandros wondered if that had two meanings. He knelt by a chest. “Come here, I want to show you something.” If he were to reveal this place, he might as well reveal it all. “Look,” he said, opening the lid. Inside, armor gleamed. “When I was younger, I used to dress up in this and pretend to be Akhilleus.”

Hephaistion bent to retrieve an antique Illyrian helm, turning it in his hands. The bronze was dingy but the fancy gold tooling around the edges and the high chestnut horsehair crest would suit him. “Put it on,” Alexandros said. Hephaistion glanced over but Alexandros nodded. “Go ahead.” Straightening, Hephaistion set it over his head with a sort of dazed solemnity. Alexandros followed him up with his eyes. “You look like The Rider.” The horseman hero of the Thrakians and Paionēs.

Tearing off the helm, Hephaistion turned away. “Don’t mock me.”

“I’m not.”

Silent, back to Alexandros, Hephaistion picked at the leather straps. They were old and rotting.

“Take the helmet,” Alexandros said. “Clean it up and wear it for me.”

Spinning around, Hephaistion gaped. “This is a king’s helm!”

“Yes.” Alexandros stood too. “It belonged to Alexandros the Golden.” King during the Persian Wars. “But my father has a helmet and so do I. That one is yours.”

“By what right do you give this to me? If it was Alexandros’s, it’s your father’s to give.”

“Finder’s rights.” Alexandros smiled. “No one’s used it in over a hundred years. You gave me back my sword; let me give you the helmet in its place.”

Hephaistion blushed. Even in the dim attic storeroom, Alexandros could tell. “You shouldn’t have given me your sword.”

“I know, but I felt badly. I had nothing for your birth day.”

“Maybe I didn’t want anything but your presence!” Hephaistion tossed the helm on a couch. “I’m not after your gifts or favors. Or your throne.”

Stalking over, Alexandros grabbed his shoulder to spin him around. “Look at me!” Hephaistion’s face was a mask; all the hurt hid in black eyes sharp enough to flay a man’s soul. It was time to end this. Avoiding the issue wouldn’t solve it. “Never skulk into court and interrupt me again.”

One of those fine, straight eyebrows rose. “Even if I know something you ought to?”

“That wasn’t why you interrupted. You interrupted to prove you could. You say you don’t want the throne, and I believe you. But you do want to rule the man who sits in it.”

“That’s not so! You’ve been ignoring me for over two weeks and I wanted a reason.” He turned his back. “Are you tired of me?”

Alexandros wanted to yell but kept his tone level, sublimating his own fear that Hephaistion would leave him. “I won’t fight with you, Phaistas. I’m going to tell you how it is. If you can live with that, we’ll stay together. If you can’t, we don’t belong together.” Hephaistion didn’t move. “Are you listening?”

“Yes.”

“I am prince. At the moment, I’m also regent. I can’t have the people thinking I’m just another man’s boy. Apollon witness, you know that.” Hephaistion had twisted his head sideways so that Alexandros could see his profile. He looked pained. “And I have not been ignoring you. I’ve been doing my duty. I don’t have the time to spend with you now that I had at Mieza. Get used to it. This is the way it’s going to be from now on.

“If you have information for me, of course I want it. But you’ll behave with the same decorum and respect the rest of my advisors show. You will not glower in corners and call me out of the room just because you can. Do you enjoy embarrassing me?”

“No.” Hephaistion frowned at the ground and almost Alexandros relented, but if he did, he’d lose this battle. Hephaistion was stronger than he knew. It all lay beneath the surface like the power of his name-god: forge-fire, earth-fire. He controlled, but did so covertly, and Alexandros suspected that half the time, he wasn’t even aware of his own machinations. That smoldering power was the source of his magnetism. To win the love of most men was easy, but to win Hephaistion . . . that was another matter entirely.

“Confound you, you’re proud,” Alexandros said. Hephaistion turned, smiling ever so slightly. He thought he was winning. The prince fired his catapult. “My mother advised me to get rid of you.”

Hephaistion’s fine nostrils flared. “So that’s why . . . The bitch! You’ve been ignoring me because of her.”

“I have not been ignoring you! You’ve been demanding attention when I’ve work to do. I shouldn’t be up here now, but you matter to me.” For the first time he looked away. “My mother meddles, but she’s right in one thing—the men have to know I rule for myself. I’m not ignoring you; I’m fulfilling my office. It’d be gratifying if you’d help instead of fight me.”

“I’m not fighting you—”

Shut up!”

His friend fell silent and Alexandros grinned despite himself. “I’m stunned. You’re learning to take orders.” Then he ran a hand through his hair. “Idoú! You’re my dearest friend, but out there”—he pointed in the general direction of the audience hall—“I’m regent, and you’re a Companion’s son. If you can remember that, we can keep our friendship.”

“Friendship. Yes.” Hephaistion’s voice was as bitter as bad grapes. “But nothing else. You made that very clear.”

Annoyed, Alexandros rubbed at his eyes. “I thought you said you wanted us to be friends foremost. Did you change your mind?”

“No.”

“Well neither have I. I’m not fickle that way. Nothing has changed; you still have first place in my heart, Philtatē.” Beloved friend. Alexandros met Hephaistion’s eyes. “But I have to keep the men’s respect. I’m prince, and one day—gods willing—I’ll be king. I can’t rule unless the people respect me.”

“What you’re saying is that if I make you choose, I’ll have lost.”

“Choose what?” Alexandros threw up his hands. “I am who I am.”

Hephaistion spoke quickly, nervously. “I need to know you’re not ashamed of me. You said it yourself: you’re prince. I don’t trust my luck in having you.”

“Your luck? I’m the one who got lucky. Kalos Hephaistion.” Beautiful Hephaistion. “You could have anyone you want.”

Hephaistion’s response was immediate, furious, and not at all what Alexandros had expected. “Why do you think that if a man’s beautiful, he can’t love like other men? I’m not made of stone! I thought you wanted me, not my face, but you’re no different than the rest: all you love are my looks.” He was crying. Tears glittered on his lashes, and unlike most Makedonians, he hated to cry before others. “For myself, I’m nothing to you.”

Momentarily stunned, Alexandros stared. Then he blew like a volcano.

“Are you dim? Did you not hear a word I just said? I could tell you I don’t care about your face, but I’d be lying. I love to look at you. But I don’t love you for your looks. Herakleis! I love your wit, your honesty, even your blasted sarcasm. You’re my other self. If you can’t tell the difference by now, you’re stupider than I ever credited you. Do you love me because I’m prince?”

“You being prince gets in the way more often than not.”

“I could say the same of your looks.”

Hephaistion’s eyebrow twitched. “Well, your father likes them pretty and dumb.”

Too startled for a moment to reply, Alexandros finally broke up laughing. “I doubt even he’d deny that. But I’m not my father, and you’re not dumb.” Alexandros ran a palm down Hephaistion’s arm. His friend smelt of wet wool and horses. “I’ve work to do. Go and unpack, then come and stand with me in the audience hall.”

He glanced up. Hephaistion’s expression was still cautious, but he inclined his head slightly before leaving.

***

The Thrakian border had always been as dangerous as dry timber in summer. Now, a patrol brought word that the Maidoi had swept down to invade Bisaltia, threatening Philippos’s supply lines. It made a tottering, delicate development, and Alexandros called a council to announce that he’d take the reserves north to meet the invasion whilst Antipatros held the Seal. He spoke quietly to the men gathered in his father’s study, he behind the big table, they in front. He hadn’t planned to use the table, but his authority needed bolstering. All the others in the room were at least thirty years his senior.

His seven advisors had the good manners not to interrupt as he spoke, but as soon as he finished, chaos erupted. “You can’t do that!” Andromenes bellowed. He was one of Philippos’s older officers. “If you take the reserves out of Pella, we’ll be defenseless. Athenai will thank you, boy! They’ll be at the gates awaiting your return.”

Andromenes wasn’t a bad officer but too mired in the past, thinking in terms of defense, not offense, which was why the king had never promoted him beyond battalion commander. Defense didn’t win battles.

“And if I don’t go?” Alexandros asked. “Let the Maidoi block my father’s supply lines?” He deliberately chose father over king for the same reason he’d decided to sit behind his father’s table. Waving the Seal in their faces might be crass, but there were subtler ways to flaunt authority.

Antipatros rose. “Andromenes, he’s right. But, son, you stay here. I’ll go.”

Having expected that protest, Alexandros had worked out an answer too logical, and too flattering, for Antipatros to protest. “You’re needed here. You have three times my experience at dealing with the Hellenes, and we’re in the middle of critical negotiations. We both know I can’t continue those alone.” To admit that cost him currency in pride, but he was smart enough to realize it was true. Besides, he’d rather go with the army. “I can lead the men while you stay to continue negotiations. It’s the sensible choice.”

“I could take the army!” Andromenes blurted.

“You’ll stay in Pella to command the palace guard.” For Antipatros, logic and flattery. For Andromenes, an appeal to pride in his military skill. “Your first point was well taken: what if Athenai does attack instead of just sink our ships and capture our messengers? Removing the army leaves the city ill defended. I’ll assign a garrison, of course, but they’ll need experience, courage, and wiliness in a commander. I’ll just be fighting barbarians. Or would you rather fight the barbarians and leave me to fight the Hellenes?” The prince lifted his eyebrows.

Surrendering easily wouldn’t do, even to Philippos’s lion cub, yet the mix of barb and compliment succeeded. Andromenes nodded finally.

“So,” Alexandros said, “it’s settled. No more objections?” He didn’t wait long enough for them to think of any. “You’re dismissed.” He had logistics to figure.

Within three days of hearing about the invasion, he marched north, soldiers following willingly. His speedy mobilization startled the invading Maidoi. Yet upon discovering Philippos the Fox was away at Perinthos and they faced a child of sixteen summers in charge of a skeleton army, they laughed and marched further south.

Then they fled.

Chapter Two: In Disgrace

Pandemonium reigned after the army’s successful besieging of the chief Maidoi stronghold. Men sang or shouted as they wobbled from exhaustion, prisoners pleaded for mercy, and the wounded moaned or cried out from the hospital tent. A pair of plodding donkeys pulled in an ambulance, bringing more. Alexandros would visit later. Right now, he was needed in the fortress above.

Fire had gutted most buildings, but the larger stone structures still stood. Maidoi bodies lay scattered, including women who’d taken up bows or swords to fight for their homes, strewn now in the dust beside their men. Impressed by their courage, Alexandros had ordered them taken alive, but the order hadn’t made it twenty feet past his mouth with the din of battle and the chaos after for an excuse. Some had their skirts up, violated. It infuriated him, but he had no way to know who’d disobeyed orders and who hadn’t.

The salvaging operation was in total disarray, officers either too timid to enforce discipline or no better than their soldiers, scrambling after petty trinkets. Alexandros wished he had brought Andromenes, or anybody with more authority than these fourth-string failures. He did what he could, sketching plans for a comprehensive retrieval and inventory. If less than half the spoils were being reported, it wasn’t worth pursuing. The Maidoi had little of worth anyway.

Yet when Alexandros passed, the men and officers stopped to clap his back, grip his arm, or just touch his cloak. He was their talisman for Tykhē, Fortune. “Lion Cub!” they called him. “Basiliskos!” The Little King. He’d marched where they’d marched, eaten what they ate, never lived better than they had, and now he’d brought them victory. He took the hands offered, smiled and said a word or two. He tried not to wonder which of them had done the raping. When he gave direct orders, they obeyed with more alacrity than he might have expected but knew it was temporary. They liked his success, but didn’t respect—or fear—him enough to follow orders when he was out of sight.

Turning a corner on the northwest side of the fortress, he found another pair of forbidden victims, lying half-in, half-out of a doorway: two young children stabbed as they’d tried to flee. He stepped inside over the bodies. The air stank of iron from blood, the furniture overturned, crockery broken—ransacked. “For what?” Alexandros asked aloud. “What could they have possibly thought they’d find here?”

No adult male body was present; they’d all no doubt died defending the fort. But Alexandros counted a grandmother, mother, toddler, and teen girl. Against his express orders, all the women had been raped, their skirts hiked or simply ripped open. Blood soaked the floor around their bodies.

Gagging, Alexandros turned away. He shook all over and needed to sort out what he felt, from fury to disgust to pure horror.

He’d seen terrible things in war. Men died; often as not, they died badly. But that was on a battlefield. These weren’t soldiers, just a family brutalized and slaughtered for no reason, and despite his orders to the contrary—right down to the toddler.

This, he thought, wasn’t animal brutality. Animals didn’t do this. This was human evil.

He paced, not looking at the bodies but excruciatingly aware of them as the bloody-mud floor sucked at his sandal-boots. After a few passes, he exited just to see the sky and breathe clean air, even while guilty for the need. The dead couldn’t escape. What had their last moments been like?

He glared at passing soldiers, half-drunk and celebrating.

Aristoteles hadn’t believed in evil as a principle. Like Platon before him, evil was simply a lack of education. After today, Alexandros disagreed. Evil wasn’t a lack of education but a lack of empathy wedded to a desire to vanquish utterly. To brutalize the Maidoi women was a foot on the necks of men already dead or dying. There was nothing of kleos—glory—in it. How could an honorable victor do such a thing? Some weight of social pressure, or just the alchemy of ugly circumstance?

Such questions made his belly roil, and this fiasco was his fault. Command involved more than winning battles. He went back inside to face the bodies. Why had he thought he could control men his father had dismissed as worthless? Here, alone but for the dead, he could admit that to himself. It was as bitter as ashes, yet he couldn’t escape the truth. There was a dead toddler sprawled on a dirt floor, staring him in the face.

He squatted down by the corpse and touched her hair, then closed her staring eyes as her blood stained the soles of his sandals. His thoughts fell into one another, tangling hopelessly. How ironic. In battle, his mind was always clear. “I will never again lose control of my men,” he said to the body.

Covering her and the rest of her family, he left, giving orders for all of them to be properly consigned to the fire. After his rounds were finished, he exited the gates and picked his way through the trees down to a little stream. Grabbing a handful of rocks, he threw them fiercely, one at a time, into the water.

***

“He recalled you.” Hephaistion was sprawled in a camp chair.

“Yes.” Alexandros turned a letter roll in his fingers. A brazier burned low in a corner and a single candelabra lit the table, casting all in shadow. “He says he’s proud and recalls me in the same breath. He wants me to send the men home, then join him at Byzantion; he’s finally declared war on Athenai.”

“You mean open war.” Philippos had effectively been at war with Athenai as long as Hephaistion could remember, but just now, he was more concerned with the prince than the king. Ever since the battle, Alexandros had been acting oddly: diffident, almost irresolute. But he hadn’t offered to talk, so Hephaistion hadn’t pushed. Something about it warned him off, like a sign or an omen.

Alexandros tossed the scroll on the table. “This is stupid! He’s jealous. I could push right up to the Ister and pull down the Tribaloi too. He can’t leave something for me to do. He has to get all the glory!”

“He did make you regent.” Irritated, Hephaistion watched huge, vague shadows chase across the canvas tent wall. “His troops are spread too thin. You know it. What if Athenai musters? If he’s declared war, they might, and you’re perfectly aware that a single garrison in Pella couldn’t hold off the entire Athenian army, never mind what you told Andromenes.”

“I know.” The brazier outlined Alexandros’s fair hair with a red nimbus. “But we need our backs secure. We need the Ister.”

Oimoi! Let it go. There’ll be other campaigns.”

Alexandros plopped down in Hephaistion’s lap, laying his head on Hephaistion’s shoulder to be petted like one of his big Molossian hounds. Hephaistion accommodated, wrapping loose curls around his fingers. “Now what are you going to name that city of yours?” He knew of course; he was teasing. But he was also nervous, wondering what the king would think. Alexandros had reclaimed the Maidoi fortress as a strategic garrison with settlers. Philippos had founded a city under similar circumstances just a few years prior, calling it Philipopolis. Before that, he’d renamed the town of Krinides to Philippi. Now Philippos’s son, in a fit of pride, had decided to name his city . . .

“Alexandropolis.” The prince laughed a little—at himself, at Hephaistion for the teasing—then stood again to walk back into the circle of light from the table candles. He used one to light other tiers, chasing the shadows into corners like disobedient children. “I guess I should start plans for pulling out.”

“It’s after midnight, Aleko. Let’s sleep.”

“No. It needs to be done; I’ll do it now. You sleep.”

“I can’t with the blamed light in my eyes!” Hephaistion joined Alexandros by the table with its maps and bits of papyrus. Philippos would have had them scattered like so many autumn leaves across the surface. Alexandros had stacked them in five neat piles.

“If you’re not going to sleep, find us something to eat. Then we’ll figure how to get this bunch of do-nothings off their arses and on the road.”

Hephaistion went to find cheese, bread, and wine, satisfied that Alexandros wasn’t truly angry. The king’s recall had promised him command of the Bottiaian cavalry squadron. Hephaistion thought that worth a curtailed campaign.

***

In two days, Alexandros had his men prepared to leave. One unit accompanied him, but most returned to Antipatros in Pella, or to the garrisons from which he’d borrowed them.

His unit arrived at Byzantion in autumn; Philippos had brought his army there after fighting unsuccessfully at Perinthos for three months. If the king were to break Perinthos, it seemed he would have to break them both.

Perinthos’s natural setting aided her defense. She occupied a peninsula off the Bosphoros, that bridgehead between Europe and Asia that divided the Aigaion and Euxeinos Seas. The peninsula was connected to the mainland by an isthmus only one furlong across. If Perinthos’s walls weren’t as impressive as her sister-city Byzantion’s, her houses were high and packed closely together. The king had kept up a barrage of missile-fire day and night, but even though he’d breached the outer wall in several places, the houses provided a multiplicity of inner walls to repel Makedonian sorties. For a while, starvation looked to succeed where force had not.

Then the Persikoi Great King intervened at the request of Athenai. Artaxerxes hadn’t needed Athenai’s clamoring to recognize Philippos’s eastward expansionism as a potential threat. He’d stirred up the Hellene city-states against their Makedonian neighbor before, keeping Philippos too busy in Hellas to move farther east. Now, Athenai’s request offered him yet another bridgehead into Hellene politics and his satraps along the Ionian coast were ordered to send food, missiles, and other support to Perinthos. Byzantion supplied officers and soldiers, and Philippos’s navy was no match for either Phoinikian or Byzantion ships. Perinthos remained uncowed.

Thus, Philippos had divided his troops to strike at Byzantion too. Normally, her famous walls were enough to deter sieges, but Philippos had siege engines equal to any wall, even this one. Moreover, Byzantion’s best generals and fighting men had been shipped south. The city found herself seriously embarrassed.

***

When Alexandros’s company rode into camp, Philippos was waiting. No smile pulled at his lips, and Hephaistion could smell trouble brewing like a thunderstorm. He glanced over at his friend; Alexandros sat stiff on Boukephalas.

“Alexandropolis?” Philippos said by way of greeting.

O Zeu, Hephaistion thought. Alexandros said nothing, dismounting to hand Boukephalas’s reins to a groom, then approach his father. He was still shorter—he would always be shorter—but they seemed more equal. “Would you like to see the plans I cut for it?”

Philippos belted him. Hard. “You arrogant brat! Who gave you permission to name a city after yourself?”

Taken by surprise, the blow knocked Alexandros back a step, and he probed at his jaw. “You did. Philipopolis, Philippi . . .”

“I am king.”

It was a challenge, a spear thrown down in front of Alexandros. Silence enveloped the watching crowd, awaiting Alexandros’s answer.

“And I’m a king’s son.”

“‘King’s son,’ is it now?” Philippos advanced on him. “Not ‘little king,’ not basiliskos? Oh yes, I heard about that. You think you can king it all you like. Well let me tell you, son, you have authority only so long as I grant it, and I tolerate insubordination from nobody, least of all from you.” He shoved at Alexandros, who stumbled, catching himself before he fell.

Unable to bear more, Hephaistion dismounted to stand beside his friend. Alexandros wore that white-lipped, wide-eyed expression that passed for humiliation with him. Sick at heart, Hephaistion wished for a way to shield him from the prying eyes of the gathered crowd. Angry or not, how could Philippos so publicly dishonor his heir apparent?

The king rounded on Hephaistion. “Where were you when he made such a stupid choice? As the elder, it’s your place to curb him.”

Hair prickled at the nape of Hephaistion’s neck. “I don’t curb him, sir. He’s not a horse.”

Before Philippos could respond, Alexandros spoke. “He warned me to ask you first.” He said it like an absolution covered in his own pride’s blood. “I didn’t think you’d care.”

“I doubt you thought of anything but hearing the sound of your own name.” He swatted at the air. “Ai! Get out of my sight, both of you.”

Hephaistion followed Alexandros to the horse lines. The prince’s face was as pallid as new-ground flour and he walked quickly, his eyes straight ahead. Hephaistion tried to think of anything to soften the blow. “You’re still ilarkhos”—commander of a cavalry squadron— Hephaistion said diffidently.

“He wouldn’t dare take that away from me.” Alexandros’s voice was so sour, Hephaistion kept further thoughts to himself.

Relinquishing their horses to the horsemaster, they headed for the tent Alexandros’s servants were setting up. Poles had scarcely been raised and most things remained in packs, but Alexandros dismissed them, then flung himself down on his little campaign cot.

Hephaistion stood helpless as Alexandros glared at the sky. Finally, he sat down on the edge of the bed. Alexandros didn’t respond. “Aleko.” Still no response. Hephaistion stretched out next to him. Side by side, they stared upward.

***

Alexandros was out of favor. If Philippos retained him on the war council, he also assigned him some of the more odious camp taskstroop discipline, drill detail, and supply—things that by their very nature all but guaranteed unpopularity. Yet instead of disapproval, he earned a name for being tough but fair, and willing to listen all the way to the end.

Hephaistion suspected the soldiers’ tolerance stemmed from sympathy. Rumor painted Philippos as jealous. Hephaistion doubted Alexandros had started the rumors, but he knew how to exploit them; if asked about the matter, he’d give a slight smile and shake his head as if he didn’t want to talk about it. The men assumed him protecting Philippos, not himself, so they tolerated his supply limits, drills, and discipline as if they were partners in some great conspiracy against the tyrant, his father.

Hephaistion, who knew the truth of it, found the whole matter disquieting. Yet he wasn’t inclined to be generous to Philippos just now. Almost nineteen and too old to be a Page, he’d been reassigned to the Europos cavalry under command of his uncle Dokidon, never mind that graduating Pages, especially the taller, stronger ones, traditionally fought in the Royal unit of Pezhetairoi infantry. King’s Boys became King’s Men, and Hephaistion realized he was being punished as well. More, his new place removed him from Alexandros’s tent and Alexandros’s company. Bunked with his three cousins, he’d rather have slept with three snakes.

At least he and Alexandros could still share supper. One evening as they sat alone over their wine in the prince’s tent, Hephaistion brought up the camp gossip. “You should stop encouraging the rumors, Aleko. They’re running like diarrhea, and stink just as badly. If you think it’ll endear you to your father, you’re mad.”

Lounging on his bedroll and cleaning nails with a dagger, Alexandros replied, “What’re you talking about?”

“You know perfectly well what I’m talking about.”

“I’d never have thought you’d take my father’s side.”

“I’m not. But let me ask this: what would your response be to a soldier who encouraged rumors against you? That qualifies as sedition, my friend.”

Leaping to his feet, Alexandros pointed his knife at Hephaistion. “You’re either with me or against me!”

Hephaistion rose too. “I can’t talk to you when you get like this.” And he stalked out.

***

Hephaistion didn’t speak to Alexandros for a week. Spending all his time among the common soldiers, however, he had ample opportunity to observe how insufferable the king’s newest mercenaries were. Hellenes from various city-states, they behaved well enough in the king’s presence, but out of it, displayed open contempt for the Makedonēs beside whom they fought. The fact those Makedonēs proved to be the better-trained soldiers didn’t help matters.

The mercenaries started it, or so the tale went: over a woman perhaps, or an insult, or a false boast. It didn’t matter. Someone was called to account and accounted by drawing iron. By the time Hephaistion came on it, swords were out on both sides and officers had been called, but irritated by the constant bickering between camps, they seemed more inclined to join the ruckus than quell it. Nevertheless, word was sent to the king.

Philippos arrived, cursing. From the crowd edge, Hephaistion watched him wade into the fray, grabbing men on all sides, Hellene and Makedonian both. Some he boxed on their ears like errant boys and let go; others he handed over to his personal guards: “Arrest this one!” Hephaistion was impressed. The king was towering and formidable, like a black bear cutting a swath through sapling pine. A man to be reckoned with.

Unfortunately, he hadn’t reckoned on the level of hostilities.

Not thinking, or perhaps just not caring, one mercenary hit the king in the jaw with the butt of a sword. Philippos fell flat. For the space of three breaths, no one moved. Then a riot erupted to put the former row to shame. Cries of “Traitor!” came from the Makedonēs who loved their king, and the Hellenes found themselves beset on all sides. One raised his sword to finish the unconscious Philippos but was kept from it by the press of fury-maddened soldiers, each ready to pay for his king’s safety with his own blood. Some did.

Having remained on the fringes, Hephaistion found himself caught now in the press, condemned to watch but too far back to help. So it amazed him when he saw Alexandros fight his way through, breasting the crowd like a swimmer in stormy seas, wearing the sheen of the god. None raised a sword to stop him.

If Philippos had been formidable, Alexandros was uncanny.

Grabbing a bystander’s spear, the prince ran it through the mercenary standing over the king, and the Hellenes—only half-committed to the fight from the outset—dropped their weapons. “Guard!” Alexandros shouted. Several stepped forward to herd the mercenaries and march them away. Hephaistion watched them go, then shoved and squeezed his way to the center of the crowd himself.

Alexandros had knelt over the king. “Father!” There was no response. He pulled back Philippos’s eyelids to examine the pupils.

After the noisy fight, the circle of soldiers was unnervingly quiet. A few bent to help those who’d been wounded, but the rest watched Alexandros. “He’s not dead, is he?” one asked. The man’s face said everything Hephaistion felt: fear, anger, and a dawning panic. “He can’t be dead. He can’t leave us out here without him!”

“Be still!” snapped the prince. “He’s not dead.” Sitting back on his heels, he unpinned his own cloak to spread it over his father. “Take him to his tent. Put a pillow under his head, another under his feet, and keep him warm.” He pointed to one of the Somatophylakēs, the Bodyguard, a man named Arybbas. “Find Philippos the physician.” Arybbas dashed off. The other Somatophylakēs knelt by their king. Alexandros glanced around at the crowd. “The rest of you, you’re dismissed.” Yet none moved till they saw Philippos lifted onto a hastily conscripted shield and borne back to the center of camp as the prince stalked off after the arrested Hellenes.

Left alone amid the other soldiers, Hephaistion realized Alexandros hadn’t even noticed him. That hurt.

A few officers remained to break up the crowd. “Go on! Back to your units. Everybody back to your units. We’ll announce any news as soon as the physician can say.” Hephaistion let himself be scattered with the others like a windblown leaf.

***

Later that afternoon, the Hellenes who Alexandros had arrested were tried, with the prince as prosecutor and Parmenion as judge. Because they weren’t Makedonian, they had no right to address the gathered army, which was probably to their advantage.

Like everybody else in camp, Hephaistion attended, standing near the back with the prince’s other friends. Alexandros was giving his testimony. “. . . and when I arrived, these men”—he pointed to the Hellenes chained together before the crowd—“had knocked my father unconscious and were trying to finish him off. Had it not been for the bravery of our own soldiers, the king would’ve been dead already.”

He said nothing about his own efforts, letting the crowd do that instead. “And you, Alexandros! Don’t forget yourself! You beat them back; you saved Philippos!”

“Oh,” muttered Philotas from Hephaistion’s left, “he’s not likely to forget himself.”

“Silence!” Parmenion roared, but the crowd drowned him out with, “Alexandros, Alexandros!” The prince had to wave them silent himself.

When they finally settled down, he turned to face the judge’s chair. “I ask for the death penalty!”

The crowd echoed him. “Death, death, death . . .!”

Philotas spoke again, more loudly this time. “He plays to them like a born stage First. Thettalos has nothing on him.”

“Shut your mouth!” Leonnatos rose on tiptoe to see better. “It’s his father they tried to kill.”

“Oh, please.” Philotas crossed arms. “He and Philippos have been feuding for three weeks. This sudden outburst of paternal affection is nauseating.”

“Philotas . . .” Ptolemaios warned even as Erigyios said, “Maybe he’s feeling guilty.”

Philotas just snorted.

Rounding on him, Hephaistion snapped, “Not only did I fight with my father, I ran away from home. Yet at no point did I want him dead. Love and anger aren’t mutually exclusive, you dog’s arse.”

“Oh yes!” Philotas sneered. “We can always count on you to take up for Alexandros, can’t we? Cocksucking katapugos—”

Hephaistion launched himself at Philotas, hands at his throat. Philotas smashed locked fists into Hephaistion’s sternum, knocking the wind from him and forcing him to let go.

Leonnatos and Erigyios hauled them apart. “Stop!” Erigyios said. “There’s been fighting enough today.”

Breathing heavily, Hephaistion straightened his khiton. “I see no point in continuing this charming conversation.” Turning on his heel, he stalked away.

He heard later that the mercenaries were convicted of treason. A few received pardons, but the rest were stoned outside camp. The prince didn’t attend; he stayed with his cousin Amyntas and Parmenion in Philippos’s tent until word went out that the king was awake and doing well. Wherever the prince appeared that evening, soldiers cheered. He acknowledged them, yet his face remained deeply troubled.

What should I care how he’s feeling? Hephaistion asked himself. But he did care, so he made his way to Alexandros’s tent late that afternoon.

General Details

Word Count: 99,000

Page Count: ~350

Cover By: L.C. Chase

Series: Dancing with the Lion

Ebook Details

ISBN: 978-1-62649-900-3

Release Date: 10/19/2019

Price: $6.99

Print Details

ISBN: 978-1-62649-901-0

Release Date: 10/21/2019

Price: $15.19