Alexander Inheritance – Snippet 19
“Kleitos,” Roxane said. “Just you.”
A man in bronze breastplate, with a steel sword at his side, made a gesture. The servants and most of the guards moved out of easy earshot. Attalus looked at the man. He was one of Alexander’s veterans, going a bit gray now, and like most of them scarred from years of fighting. He was stocky, but well-muscled, with curly brown hair. There was a curl to his lips that Attalus didn’t much care for, like he expected to be lied to and wasn’t going to believe you no matter what you said. But there was nothing for it. Roxane needed to be told. “They report that Peithon and Arrhidaeus will be forced to resign.”
There was a snort of laughter, then Kleitos said. “Excellent. Prove your validity as a seer by reporting what has already happened.”
“From five hundred miles away,” Attalus said. “They couldn’t have known when they sent word.”
“They couldn’t have,” Kleitos said, and Attalus started to stand in anger. Kleitos’ hand dropped to his sword.
“Stop it!” Roxane hissed.
Attalus got himself under control. He took a breath, then another. “I am not a liar, Kleitos.”
“And I’m not a babe, to be taken with fables and stories of magic ships from the future.”
“Neither am I, but there are too many reports from too many sources.”
“No. They all come through the signal fires and all it would take would be some prankster with more silver than sense bribing some signal man.” Kleitos sneered.
Suddenly Attalus relaxed, leaning back in his chair. “No. You’re wrong. You know that there are codes used to send the messages. The army has one, the merchants others, the civil government different codes. This latest report came through a commercial agent. A grain merchant. That means that it was encoded by his partner in Alexandria, before it was sent on signal fires. The prankster wouldn’t know those codes.”
“Unless it’s Ptolemy, playing some deep game on us all.”
Now it was Attalus’ turn to laugh. “Believe or don’t, Captain, it makes no difference to me.” Attalus turned back to Roxane. “Your Majesty, I believe that the ship is real, and I believe that the messages I have received about it are true. Your husband’s name lived on more than two thousand years into the future, and even details of the events following his death are recorded.” Attalus went on to repeat the news he had gotten from Cleisthenes, then said, “I believe its true. All of it, not just the parts confirmed.”
“It’s too ridiculous,” Kleitos insisted, then held up a hand. “It’s not you I doubt, Attalus. It’s…the world, I guess. But I think we need more before we act, if we can act at all. If we can change what is already written in the stars, we ought to be very sure before we do so.”
“Are you joining us, my captor?” Roxane asked, running a finger over the scroll work on the arm of the couch.
“For now, Majesty. At least until I get a better offer.”
“Then what do you recommend?” Attalus asked. And he couldn’t help but smile a little. Kleitos was, in his way, the quintessential soldier of Alexander the Great’s army, at least in these days after Alexander betrayed them all by dying. They didn’t believe in anything but their pay and their comrades — and sometimes not their comrades.
“You said Antipater would be captured. Wait until that happens. Wait until he arrives and gets captured. That’s not something I would guess at happening. If it happens on schedule, then we might act.”
“Act in what way?” Roxane asked. “Certainly, we can plan what to do if things fall out as the ship people say.”
“That’s a very good question,” Kleitos said. “Would you rather be in Antipater’s hands or Eurydice’s?”
“I know you don’t trust Eurydice, but will you trust me?” Attalus asked. “If I guarantee your safety, will you side with Eurydice against Antipater and Antigonus?”
“I’ll have to think about it,” Roxane said.
“More news,” Cleisthenes told Attalus, standing in the afternoon sun and looking out at the orchards. “Word of the resignations reached Alexandria. Ptolemy released the signal mirrors to Atum based on that word. It proved that the ship folk really were from the future. So he let Atum send me word to protect the queens and the kings.”
“Ptolemy did that?” Attalus asked. “He wasn’t so loyal when he arranged the murder of my brother-in-law and my wife!”
Cleisthenes was silent and Attalus took a few deep breaths of the fruit-scented air to get himself under control. He knew what the merchant wasn’t saying. Ptolemy was being invaded when he had done those things.
But it left Attalus wondering what Ptolemy was up to. He was loyal to Alexander until he died, then Ptolemy was loyal to Ptolemy and no one else. He had been so close to trying for the crown after Alexander died that Attalus had been surprised when he didn’t. When he had stolen Alexander’s body on its way home to Macedonia, Attalus had been sure that Ptolemy was making his move. That was why Perdiccas had invaded Egypt.
Then, when Ptolemy beat Perdiccas on the Nile and had him and Atalante killed, he had again passed on the regency. But, again, it was because there was enough anger in the army about him and the Macedonian troops he had killed in the fighting to make it chancy. Ptolemy wasn’t a coward, but he was a careful man. Perhaps too careful. Attalus was convinced that it was that caution, not any concern for Alexander’s family, that had persuaded Ptolemy to allow the message.
Suddenly Attalus thought he understood. Ptolemy wanted the fight. He wanted the rest of the empire under the control of a teenaged girl, a deranged king, a weak widow, and an infant king. What better way to make it fail?
Attalus started to smile. Ptolemy had finally made a mistake. He had misread the women. Roxane was cautious, possibly too cautious, but not weak-willed. And Eurydice, young though she was, could move armies with her words.
Attalus hated Ptolemy almost as much as he hated Peithon, Arrhidaeus, and Seleucus. He would love to see the bastard humbled by a couple of women.
“Go on,” he said to Cleisthenes. “Tell me everything.”
The sun was just setting as Antipater reached the north side of the river. He leaned back in his saddle and rubbed his back. At the urgent request of those incompetents, Peithon and Arrhidaeus, he had ridden ahead of the bulk of his army with only an ile of cavalry accompanying him. Two hundred fifteen horsemen, including him, Plistarch, and Cassander, his oldest surviving son. His eldest son Iollas had died at the Nile, serving that incompetent bastard, Perdiccas.
Antipater waved Cassander forward. “Camp the ile up near those trees, and have them prepare for the rest of the army.” He held up a hand, lest Cassander interrupt. “I know they’re tired. I don’t give a damn.”
“Yes, Father,” Cassander said, starting to turn his horse.
“And send me Plistarch,” Antipater said, then added loud enough for Cassander to hear: “At least he’s killed his boar.” Cassander tensed but rode back to the troops without commenting. Antipater snorted a laugh. Then he looked across the little wooden bridge. The river that ran through Triparadisus wasn’t much of one. Maybe ten feet across and four deep. But it would slow his horsemen, and when the rest of his army got here, it would slow them even more.
Not that that would matter. He reach up and scratched his beard. Not for Antipater the fad of imitating Alexander’s clean shaven face. The boy had only done it because his beard had started out a scraggly thing and he’d been embarrassed. Then it had become part of the legend, and by the time he could have grown a proper beard, Alexander couldn’t back down. Now half his generals were imitating the shaved state. No, these traitorous dogs will come to heel as soon as they are shown a firm hand. That was why he wanted Plistarch with him, even though the boy wasn’t half as clever as Cassander. He had killed his boar and the soldiers would respect that.