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The Venetian Betrayal
Author:Berry, Steve

The Venetian Betrayal by Berry, Steve

 

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

BABYLON

 

MAY, 323 BCE

 

 

 

ALEXANDER OF MACEDONIA HAD DECIDED YESTERDAY TO KILL the man himself. Usually he delegated such tasks, but not today. His father had taught him many things that served him well, but one lesson above all he’d never forgotten.

 

Executions were for the living.

 

Six hundred of his finest guardsmen stood assembled. Fearless men who, in battle after battle, had surged head-on into opposing ranks or dutifully protected his vulnerable flank. Thanks to them the indestructible Macedonian phalanx had conquered Asia . But there’d be no fighting today. None of the men carried weapons or wore armor. Instead, though weary, they’d gathered in light dress, caps on their heads, eyes focused.

 

Alexander, too, studied the scene through unusually tired eyes.

 

He was leader of Macedonia and Greece, Lord of Asia, Ruler of Persia. Some called him king of the world. Others a god. One of his generals once said that he was the only philosopher ever seen in arms.

 

But he was also human.

 

And his beloved Hephaestion lay dead.

 

The man had been everything to him—confidant, cavalry commander, Grand Vizier, lover. Aristotle had taught him as a child that a friend was a second self, and that had been Hephaestion. He recalled with amusement how his friend had once been mistaken for him. The error caused a general embarrassment, but Alexander had only smiled and noted that the confusion over Hephaestion was unimportant for he, too, was Alexander.

 

He dismounted his horse. The day was bright and warm. Spring rains from yesterday had passed. An omen? Perhaps.

 

Twelve years he’d swept east, conquering Asia Minor , Persia, Egypt, and parts of India. His goal now was to advance south and claim Arabia , then west to North Africa , Sicily, and Iberia. Already ships and troops were being amassed. The march would soon begin, but first he had to settle the matter of Hephaestion’s untimely death.

 

He trod across the soft earth, fresh mud sucking at his sandals.

 

Small in stature, brisk in speech and walk, his fair-skinned, stocky body bore witness to countless wounds. From his Albanian mother he’d inherited a straight nose, a brief chin, and a mouth that could not help but reveal emotion. Like his troops, he was clean shaven, his blond hair unkempt, his eyes—one blue-gray, the other brown—always wary. He prided himself on his patience, but of late he’d found his anger increasingly hard to check. He’d come to enjoy being feared.

 

“Physician,” he said in a low voice, as he approached. “It is said that prophets are best who make the truest guess.”

 

The man did not reply. At least he knew his place.

 

“From Euripides. A play I much enjoy. But more is expected from a prophet than that, would you not say?”

 

He doubted Glaucias would reply. The man was wild-eyed with terror.

 

And he should be scared. Yesterday, during the rain, horses had bent the trunks of two tall palms close to the ground. There they’d been roped, the two lashings intertwined into a single binding, then fastened to another stout palm. Now the physician was tied in the center of the V formed by the trees, each arm secured to a rope, and Alexander held a sword.

 

“It was your duty to make the truest guess,” he said through clenched teeth, his eyes tearing. “Why could you not save him?”

 

The man’s jaw clattered uncontrollably. “I tried.”

 

“How? You did not give him the draught.”

 

Glaucias’ head shook in terror. “There was an accident a few days before. Most of the supply spilled. I sent an emissary for more, but he’d not arrived by the time…of the final illness.”

 

“Were you not told to always have plenty available?”

 

“I did, my king. There was an accident.” He started to sob.

 

Alexander ignored the display. “We both agreed that we did not want it to be like the last time.”

 

He knew the physician recalled, from two years past, when Alexander and Hephaestion had both suffered fever. Then, too, the supply had run low, but more had been obtained and the draught relieved them both.

 

Fear dripped from Glaucias’ forehead. Terrified eyes pleaded for mercy. But all Alexander could see was his lover’s dead glare. As children, they’d both been students of Aristotle—Alexander the son of a king, Hephaestion the heir of a warrior. They’d bonded thanks to a shared appreciation of Homer and the Iliad. Hephaestion had been Patroclus to Alexander’s Achilles. Spoiled, spiteful, overbearing, and not all that bright, Hephaestion had still been a wonder. Now he was gone.

 

“Why did you allow him to die?”

 

No one but Glaucias could hear him. He’d ordered his troops only close enough to watch. Most of the original Greek warriors who’d crossed with him into Asiawere either dead or retired. Persian recruits, conscripted into fighting after he’d conquered their world, now made up the bulk of his force. Good men, every one of them.

 

“You’re my physician,” he said in a whisper. “My life is in your hands. The lives of all those I hold dear are in your hands. Yet you failed me.” Self-control succumbed to grief and he fought the urge to again weep. “With an accident.”

 

He laid the sword flat across the taut ropes.

 

“Please, my king. I beg you. It was not my fault. I do not deserve this.”

 

He stared at the man. “Not your fault?” His grief immediately evolved into anger. “How could you say such a thing?” He raised the sword. “It was your duty to help.”

 

“My king. You need me. I am the only one, besides yourself, who knows of the liquid. If it is needed and you are incapable, how would you receive it?” The man was talking fast. Trying whatever might work.

 

“Others can be taught.”

 

“But it requires skill. Knowledge.”