Ptolemy had realised immediately that the great man had sown seeds of war with those three words and he suspected that he had done so deliberately so that none would out-shine him.
‘Never underestimate a man who feels that he is alone against the rest of the world.’
‘Can imagine being in control of such a haul. I’m sure I can; it’s always easy to be generous with other people’s money,’
‘Master, it is the only money one should be generous with; to be generous with one’s own is an act of folly and the sign of a weak man.’
‘Alexander was always generous with his and I wouldn’t call him weak.’
He bent to pick up the coin and held it up to Thais’ face. ‘It’s one of the pieces that I had minted with Alexander’s face on it a couple of years ago.’
She took it from his fingers. ‘The first time that a mortal had ever appeared on a coin; it made you look as if you were his rightful heir, a masterful stroke.’
‘After all, knowledge is power.’
‘Which was that he could not pass the title on; only the king could do that.’
‘But I was his son!’
Nicanor raised both his hands to quieten Kassandros. ‘You’re not listening to me, Kassandros: he could not pass the title on, only the king can do that.’
Kassandros frowned; a spasm of pain passed across his face and he suppressed a groan. Slowly the implication of what Nicanor had said percolated through his mind. ‘In that case, he didn’t have the power to pass on the regency to Polyperchon.’
‘Nor could he have passed it on to you; only the kings can do that and, seeing as neither king is fit to rule, they cannot appoint their own regent and without a regent these kings cannot rule. It’s a paradox.’
Olympias sat and unconsciously scrumpled the letter in her hand. The regency! Power once again at last. And then it hit her, her true desire: To meet my son’s son and to see how much of the father is retained in the child. Yes, Great Mother, you are right: of all things, that is my greatest desire.
‘Have you read The Last Days and Testament of Alexander?’
‘I used to be an actor. Of course, I read anything and everything about me.’
‘Then obviously you know what part you are meant to have played in Alexander’s death.’
‘Meant to have played? Ptolemy, I played no part in Alexander’s death, I simply procured a certain poison for Kassandros and in return received a great deal of money. What he did with the poison after the exchange had been made was nothing to do with me.’
‘So you don’t deny getting the poison for Kassandros?’
‘Of course not; I don’t shy away from things I’ve done.’
‘So would you be prepared, for a substantial fee, naturally-’
Ptolemy inclined his head. ‘Naturally. Would you be prepared to go to Olympias and tell her that what is written in The Last Days and Testament of Alexander is the truth: Kassandros did get the poison from you.’
‘But I had no idea at the time what he wanted it for.’
‘Until I connected three facts: Kassandros arriving in Babylon bringing a poison that I had procured for him; that his half-brother, Iollas, was Alexander’s cup-bearer and mixed his drinks for him; and then Alexander’s death a few days later. There can be no doubt that it was Kassandros who was responsible for her son’s death.’
Olympias reached out and cupped the boy’s chin, raising his gaze to meet her own; she surveyed him for a few moments and then nodded, her lips pursed, as if she had just confirmed what she already suspected. ‘You have the look of your father, child, but it is stained by your mother’s colour.’ She looked down her nose at Roxanna, as if she were a slave barely worthy of notice, and then back to Alexander. ‘Tell me your name, child.’
‘A…A… Alexander.’ The voice was almost inaudible.
Olympias slapped him across the cheek. That is not how the true Alexander says his name. ‘Tell me it again, child, this time as if you mean it.’
Alexander recoiled and turned to his mother, who reached up the steps to collect him.
‘Leave him! The child must speak for himself and stand on his own feet and not cling to the skirts of his mother. Say your name, child.’
Alexander looked at Roxanna, who encouraged him with a nod; he turned back to Olympias, pulled himself up as tall as his slight stature would allow and puffed out his chest. ‘Alexander.’ The voice was clear and loud.
‘That’s better; we shall make a king out of you, despite the barbarian colour of the vessel that bore you.’
‘No queen lets herself become a prisoner; any status you thought you had back in Macedon, you have left there. Here you are nothing but what I say you are.’
‘Sometimes I don’t even know whose side I’m on or, more to the point, sometimes I don’t even know if there are opposing sides or just too many women wanting to influence things.’
Nicanor snorted in disbelief. ‘You can’t see what you’re doing, can you? My brother has many failings, one of which is that he is very hard to like, even by his own family. But when he comes in triumph to Pella and puts your head on a spike people are going to worship him, love him, call him their saviour for ridding them of the foulest monster to have ever been given life. You’re turning Kassandros into a nice man.’