King Philip of Macedon sat at the large table in his room listening to his Treasurer explaining that he owed Demaratus of Corinth 50 talents and that there were only 30 talents left in the treasury.
"Pay Demaratus 20 talents then," Philip said.
"Philip, that won't leave enough to pay for the grain shipment that's coming in," the man said. He was plainly getting very stressed.
"Give Demaratus 10 talents, promise him first settlement out of the next delivery from the silver mines, and a goodwill payment of 5 talents. And earmark a talent for yourself," Philip said, just to have the thing settled.
The man brightened, though he still looked anxious as he gathered his scrolls and tablets together and left.
Philip stared in bewildered frustration at the lists the man had left him, trying to understand who he owed what to. Campaigning in Thessaly this summer had been an expensive business. He needed to find a new Treasurer who wasn't afraid of money or creditors. Or more money.
There was a tentative knock at the door.
"Come in," Philip said in relief.
Lanike, young Alexander's nurse, came into the room. She was seven months pregnant and had been crying, and her eyes were still damp.
"Lanike, come in, what is it?" Philip said, coming round the table and holding out his arm to usher her to the chair in front of the table.
She sat down and looked up at Philip, fresh tears welling up in her eyes. Philip's heart contracted in protest. He always felt so guilty when a woman cried, even if he wasn't the man responsible for the tears.
"It's Alexander, Philip," she said. "I just can't cope with him any more."
A sob shook her and she looked down at her hands, twisting the fabric of her dress.
"Why? What happened?" Philip asked, desperately not wanting to become involved, and just beginning to wonder why she had come to him.
"He's a dear little boy, Philip, but he's just so naughty," Lanike said, looking up at him with tears on her eyelashes. "He won't do what he's told. And with a new baby coming, I just can't manage him any more. He keeps running off, and he hides in the soldiers' latrines because he knows the maids won't go in there and fetch him out. And by the time they fetch me, he's run off somewhere, like the stables, and he'll get himself hurt by the horses, or fall off a wall or something. And he's just getting too strong for me to carry back."
"What does his mother say?"
Lanike avoided his gaze. "He's not like that with his mother. Olympias thinks he can do no wrong. She thinks we exaggerate and don't know how to handle him. He's not a bad boy, Philip," Lanike said, raising her eyes again to his. "I love him dearly, but he's just running wild, and I can't manage him on my own any more. He needs a firmer hand."
"Where is he now?" Philip asked, feeling the beginnings of anger that it had got this far that he had to deal with his three year old son's behaviour.
"My brother Cleitus has taken him down to the horse pond to look at the foals."
"It sounds like we need to find him a tutor who can take him off your hands during the day, Lanike. Someone who can take him places and tire him out."
"Yes," Lanike said, looking up hopefully. "I am sorry, Philip. He's such a sweet boy at times and at other times he can be such a little monster. But I do love him dearly."
"I know, it's not your fault. He's a little young for a tutor, but maybe it's time. Come," Philip said, moving with her to the door. "You go and have a rest, and I will go and see what he's up to."
By the time Philip made it down to the horse pond, trailed by a couple of guards, a small crowd had gathered, with Alexander at the centre. Cleitus was there, as was General Parmenion and two or three of his officers, along with a couple of grooms and a stableboy, all looking down with amused indulgence at the small figure of Alexander. He was holding centre stage like a diminutive king, and Philip's anger moved up a notch.
"Gentlemen," Philip said as he stood, hands on hips, looking down at Alexander. "Has my son been entertaining you? Alexander," he said, looking at his child who was no longer the baby Philip had left at home in the spring.
Rebellion was threatening in Alexander's eyes and the set of his round lips at no longer being the centre of attention. He had had a summer of unchallenged dominion, but he decided to keep silent, having already felt his father's heavy hand a day or two ago for answering him back.
Philip let go of his eyes and turned to Parmenion.
"Alexander was telling us which of the foals yonder are going to make good cavalry horses," Parmenion said, indicating the foals and their dams grazing on the slope across the pond.
"Was he?" Philip said, looking down briefly at Alexander.
"It's my fault, Philip," young Cleitus said as he stood on the other side of Alexander. He was looking rather sheepish at being caught nursemaiding the young prince. "I was telling him what to look for in a good colt."
"He's got a good eye," Parmenion added.
"Well, I'm very pleased to hear that, Alexander," Philip said, looking down at his small son. "Don't you think it's time we went and found your mother, and told her all about it? Come." He held out his hand to Alexander.
Alexander's round little face was set with temper and determination.
"Alexander," Philip said warningly.
"No! I want to stay here!" Alexander's voice rose.
"Alexander, behave yourself. If you come along now, you can come back tomorrow." Philip stuck out his hand authoritatively for Alexander to take.
"No! I won't!" Alexander cried, backing up, his elbows sticking out and his head coming forward as he yelled at his father.
"It's alright, Philip," young Cleitus said as Alexander backed into him. He laid his hands lightly on the child's arms. "I'll take him back. Alexander, let's go find Lanike."
"No! Go away!" Alexander cried, squirming and elbowing Cleitus off him.
"Lanike's had quite enough of him," Philip said. "Come along, Alexander." He bent and caught hold of Alexander's arm.
"No!" Alexander screamed, dancing in temper. He raised his little fist and advanced on Philip, pummelling his ribs. "Let go! I hate you! Go away!" Trying to break free, he kicked Philip's shin.
Philip grabbed him and picked him up. "Stop it!" he yelled at his son.
Squirming and screaming, Alexander kicked at his father and pummelled Philip's face and head with his small fists. "Go away!" he screamed. "Go away and never come back! I wish you were dead!"
His flailing fists caught Philip's blind eye and, infuriated, Philip caught his son around the ribs, took a few steps and threw the child into the pond.
Philip's heart stopped as he realised what he'd done, but even as Alexander hit the water, he was wading in after him. Before Alexander had surfaced, Philip grabbed him in the knee-deep water. He pulled Alexander up in a great swoosh of water and held him until he saw Alexander gasp in shock and take a great breath. Philip clasped the white-faced, sopping child to him and turned to wade out of the water.
Parmenion and the others had waded in calf-deep to help, but they followed Philip out as he set Alexander on his feet, took the saddlecloth one of the grooms was holding out and wrapped the warm woollen cloth around the wet child.
"It's alright, it's alright," Philip said quietly, over and over to Alexander as he picked him up. He pushed the long wet curls back from Alexander's chilled face and kissed his cheek. Gods, he was so stupid!
Suddenly, he realised that Alexander hadn't started crying and calling for his mother. He smiled at Alexander. "Who's my brave boy?" he said encouragingly, hoping to keep him calm.
Alexander's eyes reacted and some life came back into his shocked young face.
"Let's go find you some dry clothes," Philip said in friendly fashion, beginning to walk back from the pond, trailed by the others. "Are you hungry?" he asked, wanting to get Alexander talking. He didn't think horses were a good topic.
"Yes," Alexander said.
"What would you like? What's your favourite food?"
"Raspberries. I like raspberries. And cream."
"Good. We'll see if we can find you some warm bread and milk from the kitchens as well."
"We can pick the raspberries," Alexander said in his light, carrying voice. "I know where they grow."
"We'll have to get the cream from the kitchens. Maybe they'll have some raspberries too so we don't have to pick them."
Philip had now reached the stable block and he headed into the nearest tack room, much to the consternation of the stableboys within, who hopped off stools at the King's entrance into the dim room smelling strongly of leather, oil, hay and horses.
Philip stood Alexander down on the floor and asked one of the boys for a dry blanket. He stripped the wet clothes and sandals from Alexander, rubbed his wet hair and wrapped him up again in the rough warm horse blanket. Philip threw the wet clothes at a stableboy and told him to go get the prince some dry clothes.
The minute the boy left the tack room, Philip knew the wet clothes would bring the womenfolk running.
However, by the time they arrived Philip was sitting on a bench outside the kitchen, Alexander on his lap while Philip held a bowl of raspberries and cream for him. Alexander had a spoon in one hand and a chunk of bread in the other. He was alternately feeding Philip and himself, shoving large spoonfuls into Philip's mouth and getting cream in his beard. Parmenion and his officers were sitting nearby, eating raspberries and cream and drinking cider.
Olympias halted on the other side of the courtyard, Lanike by her side and a flock of maids behind her. Head up, she met Philip's gaze across the courtyard as if they were the only two people present. From the still protectiveness of her gaze, Philip knew she was aware that Alexander being wet was no accident.
Alexander had not yet noticed his mother as, head bent over the bowl, he was finishing the raspberries. Philip wiped his beard and watched Olympias across the courtyard. She understood. She would not humiliate the King by taking his son from his care. She turned and spoke to Lanike and then left quietly with the maids.
Lanike came across the courtyard with Alexander's dry clothes. "Alexander," she said, with a quiet smile.
Alexander looked up, and his face crumpled in protest. A wail built up in him.
"I brought you some dry clothes," Lanike said encouragingly.
"Nooo," Alexander said, swinging his legs.
"Alexander, put your clothes on, or you'll catch cold," Philip interposed, setting the bowl aside.
"I don't want to," Alexander said, and threw himself against the warmth of Philip's body.
"If you're a good boy, and put your clothes on, you can stay," Philip said.
"Philip, he's getting tired," Lanike warned.
"He'll be a good boy, won't you, Alexander?"
"Yes," Alexander nodded, and slid down from Philip's lap, holding up his bare arms to Lanike. "I love you," he told Lanike, wrapping his small arms around her neck as she bent down to him.
"I love you too, Alexander," Lanike said tenderly, kissing him as she slipped his dry clothes on.
Once she was done, Philip wrapped the horse blanket around Alexander against the cooling air and sat him on his lap again. He was feeling a mixture of guilt and responsibility for Alexander, and maybe he had something to learn about his son, about being a father, and something to prove to the women. Either way, he wasn't ready to give him up yet.
Antigonus came by and they sat and chatted about hunting on Antigonus's estate. Alexander behaved perfectly, his damp head resting against his father's chest, listening and watching. Eventually, he said, "I want to go too."
Antigonus smiled affectionately at him. "Even the bravest of boys have to wait until they're big enough, Alexander."
"And then I'll come."
They laughed and talked, Philip enjoying this novel form of attention with Alexander's presence, and feeling distinctly proud of his son. He carried him with him in to dinner, fed him from his own plate, and let him sip the wine in his cup. Alexander made a face and Philip asked for water for him instead.
He let Alexander chat unhindered with everyone around him, from Demaratus the Corinithian to the Page who brought the water. Philip was surprised he knew the youth's name, and that he seemed to have a prior acquaintance with Demaratus, asking the merchant when he was going to bring his mother the blue cloth she had asked for. Philip was surprised at the child's memory and curiosity and soon realised he needed more than the women could give him. He also needed more than a plodding twenty-year old pony to ride. He treasured the idea of getting a proper horse from Demaratus for him tomorrow, but didn't think it wise to bring up the subject now as Alexander was resting his head sleepily against his father's chest and the wine was beginning to flow among the diners.
Olympias and a maid appeared in the doorway to the dining hall shortly afterwards. She stood there, looking about the hall for a moment. Philip met her apprehensive eyes, and she took that as an invitation to enter the hall. She walked alone through the hall, ignoring the half-drunk, sprawling men and courtesans.
Gods, she was beautiful and brave, Philip thought, watching her elegant and upright form, clothed brightly in pale blue and gold, moving towards him.
She stood before him, no trace of fear or accusation in her eyes.
"Alexander," Philip said softly to his sleepy child as though the three of them were alone in the noisy hall. He rubbed Alexander's full round stomach to rouse him. "Your mother's here. It's time to go to bed."
Olympias held out her arms to Alexander, a mixture of tenderness and concern in her eyes. Alexander opened his eyes and reached for her, his small arms going around her neck. She caught his loose, sleepy body to hers, met Philip's eye with gratitude and apprehension, and carried Alexander from the hall, the child's head on her shoulder.
A little later, Philip entered Olympias's bedroom quietly. She was still up, seated with her back to him in a simple nightgown, her arms raised as she unpinned her red-brown hair. She glanced over her shoulder at her husband and desire moved through Philip. He stared at the long curve of her slender back, the hint of submissive abandonment in her upraised, slender arms.
He felt his blood rise as she dropped her arms and her hair tumbled over her shoulders as she stood to greet him. He could see the curve of her breasts and hips plainly through the thin nightgown.
There was no particular welcome or rejection in her eyes, although Philip didn't expect any. Olympias was like that, accepting with indifference Philip's comings and goings, his attentions or lack thereof. She was not a possessive wife, but that did not mean that she did not have her temper or her pride, as Philip was only too well aware.
"Is he well?" Philip asked quietly, looking towards the door which stood ajar to the room where Alexander, his baby sister and a nursemaid slept.
"He is asleep," Olympias replied quietly. She sat down again and began to comb through her hair, and Philip realised thankfully that she was not about to bawl him out about the pond. He moved to the nursery door and carefully closed it.
Coming back, he stood behind Olympias and laid a hand on her round white shoulder. "He needs a tutor," he said quietly.
Olympias glanced up at him sharply. "He's three years old," she protested.
"He's a soldier's son, Olympias, and he's going to be a soldier too. A mighty fine, brave one."
"Who?" she asked tersely.
"What about Lysimachus? He can teach Alexander to ride, take him to the kennels, the workshops, the harbour. Show him things, stretch his mind, and keep him out of trouble."
"Won't Lysimachus mind?" Olympias asked, pulling at a knot in her hair.
"No, I know him. If things get too much, he'll sit and tell Alexander stories till the cows come home. He loves nothing better than a good audience."
Philip stroked his fingers up the beguiling curve of Olympias's neck and touched her ear with his fingertips. He bent his head close to hers, reaching with his other hand to take the comb from her fingers.
"Give me another son like him," he whispered. He slid his hand inside her nightgown and began to caress her warm breast with his calloused fingers.
Olympias's body began to respond to him, her back arching, pushing her breast against his hand. Yet there was tension in her neck as he kissed the sweet-scented skin. He brought his other hand to her cheek and gently turned her face into his, capturing her lips in a long kiss.
Imperceptibly she eased back. "Your beard's scratchy," she breathed.
Philip chuckled throatily, moved his hands to her elbows and brought her to her feet as he moved around the stool. He placed one hand flat on the small of her back and the other between her shoulder blades and gently pressed her against his body. He kissed her again and this time she parted her lips for him. He delicately touched her tongue with the tip of his tongue, gently rolling her tongue around as he generated warmth under the palms of his hands, circulating slowly on her back.
She remained warm and submissive beneath his touches and Philip bent and scooped her up into his arms. He laid her on the bed, moved back and stripped off his clothes. She lay there as quiescent as an inexperienced virgin, exciting Philip with the prospect of undiscovered delights.
He lay beside her and slid his heavy hand under her nightgown, up the silken skin of her thigh to the roundness of her hip. She raised her arm, brushing the backs of her fingers against her parted lips as Philip raised her nightgown. He laid his hand flat on her belly, pressing lightly up between her breasts under the nightgown. She raised her head and arms and slid out of the nightgown as Philip lifted it from her.
She lay watching Philip with warm brown eyes as he spread her soft thighs. Gently he touched between her legs and a small sound escaped her at the touch of his exploratory finger.
Philip lay between her legs, bringing his heavy scent of muscle, sweat and hair close against her. The warm weight of his hips and belly pressed against her as his heat moved into her and Olympias's breasts rose as she caught her breath.
Philip's buttocks and thighs clenched as he began to push in and out of her warm moistness. She lay flaccidly beneath him, accepting his pleasures with small moans. She moved as his thrusts moved her, but she made no movement of her own save to clench one hand against her pillow.
Philip wanted her to move, bear down, give something back to him. Her muscles were still young and tight and with a little pressure or an upward thrust of her hips to meet him, she could heighten both their pleasure and enjoyment. He slid a hand underneath her buttock, cupping it with a squeeze, urging her but gained no response.
He moved his hand beneath her thigh and raised it, changing his angle and the depth of penetration. His thrust elicited a sharp moan from Olympias who became limp with pleasure beneath him. It incited his muscles to increase the speed of his thrusts, nearing his climax as the pressure built within his organs.
Fire flooded through him as he emptied his seed into his wife and he held still for a long moment as a shiver ran through Olympias. They met each other's gaze wordlessly, their breathing disparate, and a gulf of incompletion opening between them.
He slid out of her and lay down on his back, his weight making the bed shift. He lay still, a feeling of dissatisfaction growing in his chest as his heartbeat slowed. He watched dispassionately as Olympias sat up, wiped herself and slipped her nightdress back on.
"Do you not like sex?" Philip asked her.
Olympias looked at him sharply over her shoulder, a frown between her brows. She seemed to search for a reply. "Did I not please you?" she asked at last.
"Yes, yes," Philip said, though both of them knew he was not entirely telling the truth. "But you do not respond to me. You let me do all the work. You do nothing."
Olympias's frown deepened. "You are the only man I have known. If you do not teach me how to give you pleasure, then how am I learn?"
"Your instincts should teach you, your own pleasure should teach you." He had never had any complaints from his other wives or lovers, but maybe he simply failed to ignite Olympias's fire. Or maybe she just didn't have any.
Olympias frowned in incomprehension. "Did I not just show you my own pleasure?"
"Yes, yes, but you care nothing for my pleasure. You don't even touch me."
Olympias stared at him blankly, the beginnings of hostility growing in her eyes. "I am sorry if I do not please you, my husband. Perhaps your new Thessalian wife can please you better."
Philip exhaled noisily. He should have known. This was the first time he had come to Olympias's bed since his return to Pella two weeks ago. He'd left it too long.
"Olympias, she is a trophy wife. You know that."
"How do you know?" Philip asked indignantly. No one had said anything to him.
"Sssh, you'll wake the children," Olympias said. She looked at him for a moment with a touch of triumph. "Nicesipolis keeps complaining about the smell of things. That's a sure sign she's with child."
Philip watched her, understanding her sense of unease. Another woman's son could threaten her position, and maybe Alexander's. On cue, a child's wail came from the other room.
Olympias was on her feet instantly, Philip completely forgotten as she headed towards the nursery.
"Leave it," Philip said. "The maid will see to them."
"He'll wake the baby," Olympias said, ignoring him and heading towards the nursery. A moment later she returned, quietly closing the door behind her, carrying a sleepy, red-cheeked Alexander in her arms. He regarded Philip with surly incomprehension.
"Is he feverish?" Philip asked, worried he'd caused harm by the dunking in the pond.
"No, just hot," Olympias said, sitting on the bed with Alexander on her lap and feeling his forehead. She reached for a cup of water from the bedside table and held it to Alexander's lips.
Alexander drank, and Olympias set the cup down, then quickly snatched up a cloth to catch the vomit as Alexander was sick.
Philip sat up, his gorge rising. Alexander seemed to have finished now and Olympias wiped his mouth, folded the cloth and disposed of it on the floor. "Does he need a physician?" Philip asked.
"No, he's fine," Olympias said, giving Alexander another drink of water. "You just gave him too much supper."
She cuddled Alexander against her for a few moments. Then, deciding he wasn't about to be sick again, settled him down in the bed, lay beside him and drew the covers closely around her child as he warmed the middle of the bed.
Philip regarded them silently for a moment, Alexander's fair-haired head against his mother's shoulder. Philip decided that he was redundant here. He didn't want to spend the night with a vomiting child.
He tried a half-smile at Alexander's sleepy-eyed face and didn't expect to get a response. He got out of bed. Naked, he moved around to Olympias's side and retrieved his clothes.
"Where are you going?" Olympias asked quietly. "There's room in the bed."
Philip slipped his chiton over his head. "I need to get some sleep. I'm going hunting with Antigonus tomorrow."
He smiled at Olympias, bent and kissed her cheek. He laid a hand on her curls. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Olympias looked at him wordlessly, and Philip left, telling himself that he would return tomorrow night. Or maybe he'd just get drunk with Antigonus instead: it would be a lot easier than understanding wives and children.