Thanks to the author and folks at Night Shade Books, here's an excerpt from David Constantine's The Pillars of Hercules, which will be released in a couple of weeks. For more information about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
You can also visit David Constantine's official website here.
Here's the blurb:
Alexander, Prince of Macedon, is the terror of the world. Persia, Egypt, Athens . . . one after another, mighty nations are falling before the fearsome conqueror. Some say Alexander is actually the son of Zeus, king of the gods, and the living incarnation of Hercules himself. Worse yet, some say Alexander believes this . . . .
The ambitious prince is aided in his conquest by unstoppable war-machines based on the forbidden knowledge of his former tutor, the legendary scientist-mage known as Aristotle. Greek fire, mechanical golems, and gigantic siege--engines lay waste to Alexander's enemies as his armies march relentlessly west--toward the very edge of the world.
Beyond the Pillars of Hercules, past the gateway to the outer ocean, lies the rumored remnants of Atlantis: ancient artifacts of such tremendous power that they may be all that stands between Alexander and conquest of the entire world. Alexander desires that power for himself, but an unlikely band of fugitives--including a Gaulish barbarian, a cynical Greek archer, a cunning Persian princess, and a sorcerer's daughter--must find it first . . . before Alexander unleashes godlike forces that will shatter civilization.
The Pillars of Hercules is an epic adventure that captures the grandeur and mystery of the ancient world as it might have been, where science and magic are one and the same.
“And has he told you what he plans to discuss?”
Eumenes turned to find himself looking up at the chief marshal Hephaestion, whose annoyed face was almost as red as his hair. It was plain just how much the question was costing Alexander’s lover—particularly given the disdain he bore for Eumenes. They all despised him, of course—a mere Greek amidst the elite of Macedonia. Even though his father had been a guest-friend of Philip, even though he’d been brought up in the royal court—none of that mattered to the Macedonian generals. And they found it all the more galling that Alexander found his secretary’s mind so useful. All paperwork, all logistics, all bureaucracy passed through the hands of Eumenes.
But not all confidences.
“He hasn’t,” said Eumenes. The two men continued to walk down the temple’s torchlit corridor, past a series of carved stone crocodiles, guards trailing a respectful distance behind them. “Though I assumed he’d told—”
“Assume nothing,” snapped Hephaestion.
Eumenes nodded tactfully. He couldn’t even begin to fathom the complexities of Hephaestion’s relationship with Alexander, though he had no reason to believe it was immune to the tension that had been gripping the prince lately. But if Alexander was keeping secrets from the man who both shared his bed and headed his network of spies, then that fact boded less than well for the upcoming conference. All this flashed through Eumenes’ mind in an instant, and then he instinctively steered the conversation toward safer ground.
“Meleager,” he said.
“What about him?”
“Just got word he won’t be attending. Craterus has him consolidating our forces south of the city.” Hephaestion nodded at this; Eumenes could almost see the wheels turn within his mind as he mulled over what Craterus was up to. Hephaestion’s relations with Alexander’s other chief marshal were even worse than his relations with his secretary, though Eumenes could practically read Hephaestion’s thoughts on this particular matter: that Craterus’ power-play wasn’t a threat to himself, was instead simply designed to keep out of the room a man who was a particular favorite with the infantry, and with whom Craterus had clashed on more than one occasion. Even better, with Meleager absent, everybody could cast aspersions at him behind his back. Hephaestion nodded to Eumenes; understanding passed between them. They headed through an archway into the records chamber.
The Egyptian scribes who populated that chamber had already been moved elsewhere and replaced with Eumenes’ own. They were still setting up shop, though, unfurling scrolls and dispatches, supervised by a man with a copper-toned beard and nervous disposition. He waved a casual greeting.
“Harpalus,” said Eumenes.
Alexander’s treasurer nodded. “A relief to see you,” he said. “I was afraid the conference had already begun.”
“He hasn’t even left the steps yet,” said Eumenes.
Harpalus raised an eyebrow.
“Though he seems to have finished bringing justice to the captured Athenians,” added Eumenes.
Harpalus nodded. Had Hephaestion not been present, Eumenes knew that he would have said something cynical. Harpalus was a born accountant—his mind was all logic and numbers, which was probably why he was the only one among Alexander’s entourage with whom Eumenes could let his guard down. But right now, with Hephaestion standing there, Harpalus had to content himself with business.
“The priests have cooperated totally,” the treasurer said. “Their scribes have been showing me the account ledgers.”
Eumenes frowned. “What about the real ones?”
“Ah. Those too.”
“Isn’t it about time we got started?” said a voice.
People said that Ptolemy’s nose was always five steps ahead of him. In truth, it was more aquiline than long, but court wags had never been known for their literal accuracy. Then again, it was an underhanded tribute to his political deftness: his ability to never get tied up in any one faction while somehow remaining on good terms with them all. But right now the expression on that hail-fellow-well-met face was more than a little puzzled.
“He’s still out on the steps,” said Hephaestion.
“The others are waiting,” replied Ptolemy.
“So let them wait.”
“We could go join them.”
“We could,” said Eumenes. He gave some instructions to the scribes, then led the top brass through jackal-painted corridors into a vaulted chamber dominated by a massive marble table. A bearded giant of a man sat at one end while a leaner man paced. They looked up as the group entered.
“So what’s it to be?” boomed Craterus. “Are we to march on Carthage?”
“Zeus,” said the pacing man, “why are you even saying such things?”
“Perdiccas here is so damn cautious,” said Craterus, warming to his audience. “All that hesitation, it’s a wonder we made it to Egypt.”
“Well, we did seize it without permission,” said Ptolemy, taking his seat.
Craterus laughed sarcastically. “Permission? From the Athenians?”
“From Philip,” said Eumenes. “We have yet to receive any word from him.”
“What can he say?” asked Craterus. “Alexander’s presented his father with a fait accompli.”
“And war with Athens,” muttered Harpalus.
“A war both of them wanted,” said Ptolemy.
“But I suspect the old man would have preferred to choose the timing,” said Perdiccas.
There was a moment’s silence.
“Doesn’t matter,” said Hephaestion. “If Alexander had failed to take Egypt on the first try, it might be a different story. But Philip’s not one to be disappointed with victory.”
“Nor am I,” said a voice.
They all rose as Alexander stepped into the room. He’d exchanged his armor for a purple cloak. Bodyguards hovered in the archway behind him.
“Leave us,” he said.
They did so, closing the doors as they went. Alexander took his seat at the table’s head, his voice almost a purr.
“Where’s Meleager,” he asked.
“He couldn’t make it,” said Craterus, seating himself with the rest of them. “Still south of the city, dealing with some Athenian stragglers.”
“He should be here,” said Alexander softly.
Craterus shrugged. “That’s what I told him.”
“No matter,” said the prince. “You can pass on our decisions to him from now on.”
Craterus nodded, faint satisfaction on his face. Alexander looked around the room, meeting each of their gazes in turn. His eyes lingered on Eumenes last. Those eyes were dikoros—“of two pupils”; one so brown as to verge on black, the other clear blue. That was supposed to be testament to his divine origins, but Eumenes had seen others with the same condition. Though he had to admit none had been so striking.
“Report,” said Alexander.
Eumenes blinked. He was used to Alexander asking him to start meetings with a summary of events, but there was something new and dangerous in the prince’s expression. Perhaps the result of so many thousands falling on their knees before him on the temple steps outside. Eumenes held Alexander’s stare while he replied.
“The Delta’s ours. What’s left of Athenian resistance is falling back on Thebes, but we’ve cut all their communications and they’re coming apart even as they retreat. We estimate at least two hundred Athenian ships have been destroyed by the incendiary that Hephaestion’s alchemists compounded back East—”
“We should call it Greek fire,” said Craterus. “Given it did such a good job turning their asses into cinder.”
Everyone laughed, but Eumenes just smiled wanly. Yet another reminder of his own Greekness—though he noted that Alexander wasn’t sharing in the mirth either.
“That’s enough,” said the prince, and the laughter stopped instantly. “Hephaestion, how much of the incendiary is left?”
“Several vats,” said Hephaestion. “But my alchemists are working around the clock to make more.”
“What about the black powder?”
“There were several instances where it detonated prematurely. A number of my men were killed. But it brought down their Pharos. A little more refinement, and I’m sure we’ll be able to use it more precisely.”
Alexander nodded, turned to the man sitting next to Hephaestion. “Harpalus.”
“What of the temple treasury?”
“Secure,” replied Harpalus. “The Athenians fled too quickly to take it with them. It remains in the custody of the priests—”
“Not for long,” said Alexander. “They’ve agreed to reimburse our expenses.”
“Which are considerable,” said Harpalus. “And likely to climb higher as the full cost of this new war comes due.”
“Don’t be so dramatic,” said Ptolemy. “Athens has far more to lose than we do. They survive on commerce. The loss of Egypt probably bankrupted half their merchants. I’d give a lot to see the hand-wringing that must be going on in that debate-club they call their Assembly.”
“They still hold plenty of cards,” said Hephaestion.
“Like what?” asked Ptolemy.
“The rest of the Mediterranean,” said Perdiccas dryly.
“Which is why we need to push on Carthage,” said Craterus. Eumenes abruptly realized that what had looked like a joke earlier had actually masked serious intent. He said nothing though, waiting on the reaction of others.
“That’s a thousand miles west of here.” Perdiccas was practically spluttering. “Maintaining our supply lines in the face of the Athenian navy—”
“With the Greek fire, we can annihilate that navy if it ventures too close to the shore.” Craterus looked straight at his prince. “Alexander, how else are we to finish Athens? We can’t strike at her heart directly. Her walls remain impregnable.”
“Don’t be so defeatist,” said Ptolemy.
“I’m being realistic,” said Craterus. “We have to chop off the pieces of Athens’ empire like so many limbs, and we have to content ourselves with those portions we can get at without ships.”
“We’ll have ships soon enough,” said Hephaestion. “And we already burnt two hundred of theirs in a single night.”
“But they have two thousand more,” said Craterus. “Greek fire or no Greek fire, we can’t hope to match them on the ocean.”
“Precisely why it would be rash to aim at Carthage,” said Alexander. Eumenes exhaled slowly, not realizing till that moment he’d been holding his breath. “Ptolemy’s right. Without ships, your supply line would on the knife-edge between ocean and desert.”
“But the Greek fire—”
“Doesn’t make us invincible. The Athenians could land marines in force at any point they like and long before we reached Libya, our whole army would be guarding its own supply-line. The risk of utter annihilation—”
“So what would you have us do instead?” asked Craterus, and to Eumenes it sounded almost like a challenge. But Alexander, ever unpredictable, didn’t seem to take it as such. He simply looked around the room—looked almost like he was puzzled.
“Are there no other ideas on the table, then?”
“Keep building up our navy,” said Hephaestion. “We’ll be ready within a few years.”
“Madness,” said Ptolemy. “You overestimate the difficulty of building and crewing a fleet that’s worth the name. And in a few years—”
“We may not have that long anyway,” said Craterus.
“Now that may be true, regardless,” said Harpalus.
“Exactly,” said Alexander. “Say Athens learns how to replicate the fire? Say they have other secret weapons? Their Guilds must be working around the clock to devise them. Besides”—and here he smiled a smile of pure insouciance—“we’re still young. Fame and glory are fleeting. Why wait to destroy Athens when we’re old? Why not find a way to defeat them now?”
Eumenes mulled this over. It was starting to sound like the move into Egypt wasn’t part of some larger plan. Alexander was a born opportunist, but this was taking opportunism to levels that bordered on hubris. Either that, or Alexander really did have something in mind. Eumenes hated to think of the expression on Philip’s face if his son didn’t.
“We’re heading west,” pronounced Alexander.
Everyone looked at each other. Perdiccas was the first to give voice to the resultant confusion. “Didn’t you just say that we weren’t—”
“There’s more to the west of here than Carthage.”
“Such as?” asked Ptolemy.
“The oasis?” asked Harpalus.
“The Oracle,” said Alexander. “Of Zeus-Ammon.”
“You’re going to ask Zeus what to do?” asked Craterus.
“I’m going to consult with Him. On a wide range of matters.” Alexander’s voice was steel. “That’s the real reason I came to Egypt, after all.”
The group absorbed this. Eumenes suspected he wasn’t the only one getting a sinking feeling. Not so much because an oracle couldn’t speak truth—indeed, the one at Siwah was particularly famous for combining both the Greek and Egyptian aspects of the All-Father—but because he suspected he knew what was really going on here. He locked eyes with Harpalus across the room, knew they were both thinking the same thing. Olympias. Alexander’s deceased bitch-queen of a mother. Who’d despised his father. Who’d filled his head with fantasies about how his father wasn’t really Philip—who’d hinted to him that it was Zeus instead. The victories in the East and Egypt had apparently left Alexander on the verge of believing it was true.
Now a trip to Siwah would settle the matter.
Ptolemy made a bid for sanity. “That’s three days journey through trekless desert,” he said. “A Persian king lost an entire army trying to get there a couple centuries back—”
“I’m not taking an entire army,” replied Alexander evenly. “Some bodyguards. Some cavalry. Hephaestion, of course.” He looked around the table. “And you, Eumenes.” Eumenes tried to dodge it. “Shouldn’t I be staying in Memphis to administer the business of empire—”
“The business of empire comes with me.”
It took all Eumenes’ skill to keep his face expressionless.