Monday, June 18, 2007

King Alexander WIP

As promised, here is another (admittedly short since the rest of the chapter is still being edited) excerpt from the The Owl & the Eagle. It's from the POV of King Alexander, who is somewhat of a mysterious character in Herodotus. Is he supporting the Hellenes or the Persians...?

Summer 481 B.C.E.

King Alexander swirled his wine filled cup and watched the sun melt into the sea, the light making puddles in the dark, foaming waters beyond the strip of rocky land. Days ago it had vanished from sight, shrouded by the moon's gray pall. The eclipse had left him shaken, and then there was the letter that arrived this morning to chill his blood even more. Only two lines and full of ominous warning. Do not resist. It is futile. Were they words urging him to caution? Or telling him of his fate? He drained his cup. “There are no witnesses,” he said aloud. If they came looking for the giant, they would only find bleached bones.

He was alone on the balcony, but could not resist caressing the hilt of his sword. He was never without it. The Persians might come for him any day now, and lay the charge of murder at his feet. Sixteen charges for sixteen men. The thought filled him with dread. He knew what the Empire did with murders. He knew what it did with traitors, too. His hand tightened around the hilt. The scabbard was inlaid with gold and silver, the blade finely forged. The sword was a gift from his Persian in-laws, meant to tie the two royal houses together through the marriage of one of their generals and his sister, but really it was a fetter that bound him to their service. It was the price he had to pay to keep his secrets.

A strong wind tugged at the king's dark green himation. It was always windy on the peninsula. Here the North Wind bent blades of summer grasses in the fields and valleys, pushed at rocky hills, and ruffled the restless waters below Mt. Athos. For countless centuries Boreus had kept away pirates and invaders with his cold whispers. Once his icy breath and piercing howls gave the king comfort, but no more.

Below the palace the sound of construction shook the air, along with barked instructions and curses in a dozen different tongues. In a steady line stretching west to east towards the peninsula’s outer edge, men in dirty loincloths crouched in deep trenches, digging deep into the land, their spades biting into the stubborn clay-filled earth. Others shifted buckets of soil and silt from the earth and handed them to the people above. Their overseers were dressed in bright colored robes that glinted in the sun, whips coiled at their waist like sleeping vipers. Sliding nervously past them slaves shouldered heavy wicker baskets full of food and supplies along the work lines, stooping low to hand out wares to the workers before they stood up, warily shrugged their baskets higher onto their shoulders, and continued on. The work in this heat was unpleasant no doubt, but the king would not be sad if they all dropped like flies. The foreigners were a swarm of locus, emptying his granaries and wasting his wine and harassing his people. For two years the construction of the canal had been going on. For two years it had drained his resources and been an affront on his sovereignty. The project was nearly finished, but Alexander knew his woes were just beginning.