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Marcus Pailing - The Wreathed Bull


Marcus Pailing, U.K.


The Wreathed Bull


Completed - now looking for an agent




first person, one-volume novel from the point of view of Callisthenes, written as his "defence" as he awaits being sent back to Greece to be tried. The story effectively starts with Philip's assassination, and ends roughly with Alexander's taking of the Aornus Rock. The story maps Callisthenes' change of stance from almost idolising Alexander, to complete disillusionment with him... Alexander sort of ends up as a baddy ...

Not everyone was pleased to hear that Alexander had been declared the son of Zeus. I was surprised, though, to find that Parmenion was not amongst those who objected, or at least there was no indication that he was. It was Philotas who appeared to lead the discontent.

Of course, Philotas did not voice his grievances to Alexander, because he was never direct like his father. He always had that sneer on his face, so his expression did not change when he heard the soldiers gossiping about their god-begotten king. I heard about his dissenting attitude from Krateros. Krateros, who had never loved Philotas anyway, came into the mess hall one day, in the palace we had taken over in Memphis. He looked around and saw that, as well as myself, Ptolemy, Perdikkas, Lysimachos and Erigyios were the only ones in the room. He double checked, to make sure there was nobody lurking in the shadows, and then beckoned us to join him.

We gathered round expectantly, for Krateros had a glimmer in his eye and a sly smile on his face that promised some sort of scandal. Ptolemy made some joke about his having seduced somebody’s wife, or son; to which Krateros gave a wolfish grin.

“Not quite,” he said. “But I think this is even better. Now, I trust you all, both to support me and to keep absolutely quiet about what I am going to tell you. At no cost, for the time being at least, must Koinos or the sons of Andromenes hear about it. Do I have your oaths on that?”

We willingly gave him our sworn words, calling Themis as our witness, not to betray his trust – none of us was going to miss the chance to hear what he had to say next.

“It is about Philotas, isn’t it?” I said, however: I could not help but display my cleverness and quick deduction, even if it meant spoiling his story.

Krateros blinked in surprise, a sure way of showing that I was right in my assumption. This made the others look at me in awe.

I smiled – smirked is probably a better word. “Koinos married Philotas’ sister, remember? And Amyntas has always been a good friend of his. Even if the other sons of Andromenes are not particular friends of Philotas, you could not risk Attalos, or young Polemon knowing, for they would too easily let slip something to Amyntas.”

Perdikkas nodded. “I have to hand it to you, Kallisthenes, that had not occurred to me. But why Philotas and not, say, Parmenion?”

I looked at Krateros with an eyebrow raised, looking for confirmation as I replied: “Because, were it Parmenion, Krateros would not be telling any of us.”

Krateros spread his hands. “You are the cleverest man amongst us, Kallisthenes. I will give you that. But, you still don’t know what I have to say…”

He waited, his feral grin still twisting his face, as the others clamoured for him to tell us. I would not join in like a rowdy schoolboy, but sat back calmly, perhaps a little piqued that my small moment of glory had passed.

“All right, all right,” cried Krateros, flapping his hands to make them calm down. He took another look around, then leaned in towards us and spoke in a low voice. “You remember that Philotas picked up that woman after Issos? Antigone her name is. she was a slave of one of the Persians and was liberated in Damaskos after the battle. She’s a fairly high-born young woman, it turned out, from Pydna, reduced to slavery through her father’s debt, or something like that. Anyway, well-born or not, she was quite happy to become a mere mistress to Philotas. No offence to your Thais, Ptolemy,” he added with a slight frown – he had no desire to offend his friend.

Ptolemy made a dismissive noise. “None taken. Thais is a professional, we all know that. She gets paid well, and she is good and intelligent company. No need to try and pretend otherwise.”

“Anyway,” continued Krateros. “Recently Antigone has been looking around for some friends: she has precious few and desperately wanted someone to talk to other than Philotas. Which I can understand – gods, the way he goes on sometimes! She was in the market place a few days ago and she got talking to my… companion, Stratonike. Well, you know Stratonike, she’ll talk to anyone. I sometimes have to remind her that I pay for her exclusivity.”

“Pah!” snorted Perdikkas. “Don’t be ridiculous. Stratonike won’t even look at another man, and I dare say she’d continue like that if you ran out of money.” “Nice to hear you say that,” said Krateros, slightly sheepishly. “I wouldn’t like to put her to the test, though.

“Anyway, that’s by the by. Stratonike invited Antigone back to my lodgings for a women’s chat, and Antigone really let her tongue run away with her. She must have been so pleased to have an audience, someone who actually listened to her.” Ptolemy laughed and nudged Perdikkas. “In other words, you got Stratonike to befriend Antigone, to try and dig up some dirt on Philotas. Stratonike could make a statue talk, she’s that good.”

“So, Krateros,” I said, trying to steer them all back to the point once they had finished laughing about that woman’s powers of persuasion. “Did you get any dirt?”

“I most certainly did,” replied Krateros, the wolfish grin back on his face.

Philotas, so we heard, liked to impress his mistress – well, what man does not? But when he had had a few drinks, it turned out that the commander of the hetairoi was inclined to boast rather too much about his feats and his importance. None of which came as a great surprise to me, and in the first place I really did not understand why Krateros should have found this of such interest, except to provide some amusement at the expense of his rival. After all, if a soldier has killed a man, he will always tell his mistress he has killed two; if he slays a mountain lion with a spear, the woman will hear that he did it with his bare hands. Everybody does it, I am sure.

But when Krateros told us what Philotas had been saying, I understood. “So, he tells Antigone how important he is, how much the success of the campaign rests on his shoulders. She gasps in awe at the power of the man who looks after her, and she feels honoured, and greatly indebted to him. Of course, this means she will do anything for him – and I know about that, too, but it can wait,” Krateros added with a smirk, which had Perdikkas and Ptolemy almost salivating in anticipation.

“But then the high and mighty Philotas starts saying things that the girl thinks are a bit much. He starts to say that, actually, the army relies on him, and on his father, far more than anybody realises. Alexander is a young fool, he says, who hardly knows one end of a sarissa from the other. True, he talks well, and his youth and beauty endear the soldiers to him. But most of his talk he has learned from Parmenion and Philotas, and without them he would never know how to inspire the men to their great deeds. So much for him being the son of a god, when he would be nowhere without the mortals around him. Philotas also told Antigone that Alexander is denying Philip, which is not true, but it adds fuel to his treasonous bile.”

“Why, the little…” Perdikkas exclaimed, and Erigyios and Ptolemy growled with anger.

“Oh, there’s more than that,” said Krateros. “According to Philotas, Alexander would never even have left Makedonia without his and Parmenion’s help. It was only Philotas’ superb leadership in Thrake and Illyria that allowed Alexander to win there, and when we then went to Thebes the whole thing would have been a debacle, had it not been for Philotas. He even accused Perdikkas of jeopardising the whole siege, and it was only the charge of the hetairoi that saved the lives of you and your men; and, because of Philotas’ brilliance, happened to take the city, too.”

“I will kill him!” cried Perdikkas. “Me? Jeopardising the siege? I admit I got into trouble, but if I hadn’t taken my men to that gate, we would never have taken Thebes.”

“Don’t worry, Perdikkas,” laughed Ptolemy. “We know the truth of it. Anyway, if I recall correctly, it was Alexander who led the hetairoi in the charge, because Philotas was incapable of reacting quickly enough.”

“As Zeus and Athena can witness, that man is going to suffer for this.” Perdikkas’ eyes blazed.

“Well,” said Krateros, “it does not end there, either. Because Parmenion was the only one capable of getting the troops across the Hellespont, while Alexander fretted in his tent at the magnitude of the task…”

“…even though Philotas was with the rest of us travelling separately, to Ilion,” Ptolemy observed.

“And, at the Graneikos, the entire battle was won by Philotas’ glorious charge with the hetairoi, after Alexander, once again, had endangered himself and messed up the whole thing by rushing across the river into the spears of the Persians. He said similar things about Issos, too. All in all, he has been telling Antigone that Alexander is a mere boy, who has no grasp of strategy or tactics, who owes everything he has to Philotas and Parmenion. He would not even be king if it were not for them and their support, he tells her.”

“Well, well,” I said, having listened in silence and endured the interruptions of the others with patience. “It seems as if your Stratonike has done a very good job on your behalf, Krateros. So, what are you going to do now?”

“You sound as if you disapprove,” said Krateros archly.

I shrugged my shoulders. “No, not particularly. You know I feel the same way about Philotas as you do, Krateros, if perhaps for different reasons. But I’m just not sure what benefit all this information gives you, apart from the opportunity to snarl about him behind his back.”

Krateros rubbed his chin. “Hmm. Maybe you are right, Kallisthenes. I admit, I hadn’t really thought about it. Are you suggesting that I tell Alexander?”

I spread my hands. “You must do what you think is best, Krateros. But cursing Philotas when his back is turned will hardly justify the time and effort you and your friend have put into suborning Philotas’ mistress.”

“Kallisthenes is right,” sighed Erigyios. “Alexander has got to be told. Philotas is getting too big for his boots, and he has managed to rub us all up the wrong way. After all,” he added, shooting a look at Ptolemy. “It was he who caused some of us to be exiled by Philip, after that business with the ruler of Karia.”

“Well, we can’t be absolutely sure it was him,” Ptolemy began, his sense of fair play, as always, over-riding his other thoughts. He looked at Erigyios, then at Perdikkas and Krateros, and sighed. “But, I admit, it probably was. He does need to be brought down a peg or two.”

“Will you tell Hephaistion?” Erigyios asked. “It could be useful to have him on our side.”

Krateros frowned. It was obvious that he did not want to involve Hephaistion, not least because he even then he disliked the son of Amyntor nearly as much as he loathed Philotas. But their mutual hatred of the son of Parmenion would make them allies in this, at least, and Hephaistion would be useful in persuading Alexander to take action. “Not yet,” he said. “I shall go straight to Alexander, and I will tell Hephaistion afterwards.”

“Well,” said Ptolemy, clapping his hands on his knees. “I look forward to hearing what happens. Right now, I need to get some rest. All this talk of women spying on their menfolk reminds me that I haven’t see Thais all day. You never know who she might be talking to, and what she might be saying about me.”

I laughed with the others at that, and our little group of conspirators broke up.

Excerpt submitted to by Marcus Pailing. © Marcus Pailing.