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Will Adams - Daniel Knox 01 - The Alexander Cipher

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Will Adams - Daniel Knox 01 - The Alexander Cipher

    The events and characters in this book are fictitious. Certain real locations and public figures are mentioned, but all other characters and events described in the book are totally imaginary.

Copyright ? 2009 by Will Adams

    All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Grand Central Publishing

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our Web site at www.HachetteBookGroup.com.

First eBook Edition: March 2009

    The Grand Central Publishing name and logo is a trademark of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

ISBN: 978-0-446-54437-5

Contents

Copyright Page

Acknowledgments

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

    Chapter Thirteen

    Chapter Fourteen

    Chapter Fifteen

    Chapter Sixteen

    Chapter Seventeen

    Chapter Eighteen

    Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

    Chapter Twenty-one

    Chapter Twenty-two

    Chapter Twenty-three

    Chapter Twenty-four

    Chapter Twenty-five

    Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-two

Chapter Thirty-three

Chapter Thirty-four

Chapter Thirty-five

Chapter Thirty-six

Chapter Thirty-seven

Chapter Thirty-eight

Chapter Thirty-nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-one

Epilogue

For my parents

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

    This book has been over a decade in the contemplation and writing, and during that time I‟ve received help, encouragement, and advice from a great many peopletoo many to acknowledge individually. But I would particularly like to thank my UK and U.S. agents, Luigi Bonomi and George Lucas, and my editors, Wayne Brookes and Jaime Levine, both for seeing something they liked in the original manuscript and for helping me make it better. I‟d also like to thank Colin Clement for correcting my worst

    excesses about life and archaeology in Alexandria and Egypt. It goes without saying that where any mistakes remain, they are mine alone.

    After Alexander the Great‟s death in Babylon in 323 BC, his body was taken in a magnificent procession to Egypt for eventual burial in Alexandria, where it remained on display for some six hundred years.

    Alexander‟s mausoleum was considered a wonder of the world. Roman emperors including Julius Caesar, Augustus, and Caracalla made pilgrimages there. Yet, after a series of earthquakes, fires, and wars, Alexandria fell into decline and the tomb was lost.

Despite numerous excavations, it has never been found.

Prologue

The Libyan Desert, 318 BC

    THERE WAS A FRESHWATER SPRING at the lowest point of the cave, like a single black nail at the tip of a twisted, charred, and mutilated leg. A thick layer of lichen and other scum clotted its surface, barely disturbed in centuries except to ripple and shiver at the touch of one of the insects that lived upon it, or to dimple with bubbles of gas belched from deep beneath the floor of the surrounding desert.

    Suddenly, the skin burst and the head and shoulders of a man erupted from the water. His face was turned upward, and instantly he gasped huge heaves of air through his flared nostrils and gaping mouth, as though he‟d been underwater beyond the limit of his endurance.

    There was no light at all in the cave, not even a phosphorescence of water, and the man‟s relief at surviving his underwater flight quickly turned to distress. Had he merely exchanged one mode of death for another? He felt around the edge of the pool until he found a low ledge. He heaved himself up, twisted around to sit on it. Almost as an afterthought, he reached beneath his soaking tunic for his dagger, but in truth, there was little danger of pursuit. He‟d had to fight and kick his way through every inch of that watery escape. He‟d like to see that fat, sword-wielding Libyan try to follow; for sure, he‟d cork in the passage, and it wouldn‟t spit him out till he‟d lost some flesh.

    Something whirred past his cheek. He cried out in terror and threw up

    his hands. The echo was curiously slow and deep for what he‟d imagined to be a small cave. Something else flapped past him. It sounded like a bird, but no bird could navigate in such darkness. Perhaps a bat. He‟d certainly seen colonies of them at dusk, swarming the distant orchards like midges. His hopes rose; if these were the same bats, there had to be a way out of here. After surveying the rock walls with his hands, he began to climb the gentlest one.

    He wasn‟t an athletic man, and the ascent was nightmarish in the dark, but at least the rough walls offered good holds. Each time he reached a dead end, he simply retreated and found another route. Hours passed, and more hours. He grew hungry and tired, but he didn‟t allow himself to give up, and finally he reached a precarious ledge high above the cavern floor, just wide enough for him to kneel. He crawled forward and upward, the rock face to his left, nothing at all to his right, only too aware that a single mistake would plunge him to certain death. The knowledge didn‟t impede him but rather sharpened his concentration.

    The ledge closed around him so that it felt as if he were crawling inside the belly of a stone serpent. Soon the darkness wasn‟t so complete as it had been, and then he emerged shockingly into the setting sun, so dazzling after his long blindness that he had to throw up a forearm to protect his eyes. The setting sun! A day at least had passed since Ptolemy‟s ambush. He inched closer to the lip, looked down at nothing but a sheer cliff face and certain death. He looked up insteadstill

    steep, but manageable. The sun would soon be gone, so he began to climb at once, looking neither down nor up, contenting himself with progress rather than haste. The last glow of daylight faded as he reached an overhanging brow. He steeled himself and committed to it, hauling himself up with his fingernails and palms and elbows, scrabbling frantically with his knees and feet, scraping his skin raw on the rough sandstone, until finally he made it over and rolled onto his back, staring thankfully up at the night sky.

    Kelonymus had never claimed to be brave. He was a man of healing and learning, not war. Yet he still felt the silent reproach of his comrades. “Together in life, together in death” had always been their vow. When Ptolemy had finally trapped them, the others had all taken without qualm the distillation of cherry laurel leaves that Kelonymus had concocted for them, lest torture loosen their tongues. Yet he himself had balked, swept by the terrible fear of losing the wonderful gift of lifethe

    sight, the smell, the touch, the taste, the glorious ability of thought. Never again to see the high hills of home, the lush banks of its rivers, the forests of pine and silver fir! Never again to listen at the feet

    of the wise men in the marketplace. Never to have his mother‟s arms around him, or tease his sister, or play with his two nephews! So he had only pretended to take his poison. And then, as the others died around him, he‟d fled into the caves.

    The hilltop he‟d reached was sheer only on one side, and the descent was simple enough with the moon to light his way. But as he made his way down, he began to realize just how alone he was. His former comrades had been shield bearers in Alexander‟s army, dauntless lords of the earth. No place had felt safer than in their company. But he was no soldier himself; he was here only because his beloved brother Akylos, the man Kelonymus looked up to above all others in the world, had summoned him from Macedonia to help with this single task. And now that he had lost his brother and his comrades, he felt weak and fragile, adrift in a land of strange gods and incomprehensible tongues. He walked down the slope, faster and faster, the fear of Pan welling in him until he broke into a headlong run, only to stumble in a rut and fall hard onto the compacted sand.

    He had a growing sense of dread as he pushed himself up, though at first he wasn‟t sure why. But then shapes began to take form in the darkness around him. When he realized what they were, he began to wail. He came to the first pair of crucifixes, where he found his comrade Bilip on one, the same Bilip who had carried him when his own strength failed him outside Areg; and opposite him, Iatrocles, a kindly man with a never-ending supply of wondrous tales of distant lands. Cleomenes and Herakles were next, their shins and wrists nailed to the crudely cut wood with fat iron spikes, splinters of bone showing through the bloodied skin. No matter that they had already been deadcrucifixion was the

    Macedonian punishment for criminals and traitors, and Ptolemy had evidently wanted it known that that was what he considered these men. Yet it wasn‟t these men who had betrayed Alexander‟s dying request regarding his burial. It wasn‟t these men who had put personal ambition above the wishes of their king. No. These men had merely sought to do what Ptolemy himself should have done: build Alexander a tomb in sight of the place of his father.

    He looked down the avenue of crosses ahead. Something about their symmetry caught his eye. They were in pairs. All the way along, they were in pairs. Yet their party had been himself and thirty-three others. An odd number. How could they all be in pairs unless someone else had gotten away? Hope fluttered weakly. He began to hurry down the horrific corridor of death. Old comrades on either side, yesbut not his brother.

    Twenty-four crosses, and none his brother‟s. Twenty-six. He prayed

    silently to the gods, his hopes rising all the time. Twenty-eight. Thirty. Thirty-two, and none his brother, and no more crosses! He felt an exquisite euphoria, but it lasted only a moment. Like a knife plunged between his ribs, he realized the diabolical plan that Ptolemy had hatched, why he had taken Akylos‟s body away with him. He cried out in anguish and rage, and he fell to his knees on the sand.

    When his anger finally cooled, Kelonymus was a different man, a man of purpose. Fixed and certain. He had betrayed his oath to these men once already, but he wouldn‟t betray it again. Together in life, together in death. Yes. He owed them that much, whatever it took.

Chapter One

The Ras Mohammed Reefs, Sinai, Egypt

    DANIEL KNOX was dozing happily on the bow of the dive boat when the girl came to stand with deliberate provocation, blocking the afternoon sun. He opened his eyes and looked up a little warily, because Max had made it clear that she was Hassan al-Assyuti‟s for the day, and Hassan

    had a proud and thoroughly warranted reputation for violence, especially against anyone who dared tread on his turf. “Yes?” Knox asked.

“So are you really a Bedouin?” she gushed. “I mean that guy Max said

    like you were a Bedouin, but I mean you don‟t look it. I mean, don‟t get me wrong, you kind of look it, I mean your complexion and your hair and eyebrows, but—”

    It was no surprise she‟d caught Hassan‟s eye, thought Knox, as she rambled on. He was a sucker for young blondes, and this one had a charming smile and startling turquoise eyes, as well as an attractive complexion, with its smattering of pale freckles and pinkish hints of acne, and a slender figure perfectly showcased by her lime-green and lemon-yellow bikini. “My father‟s mother was Bedouin,” he said to help her out of her labyrinth. “That‟s all.”

    “Wow! A Bedouin gran!” She took this as an invitation to sit. “What was she like?”

Knox pushed himself up onto an elbow, squinting from the sunlight. “She

    died before I was born.”

    “Oh, I‟m sorry.” A damp blond lock fell onto her cheek. She swept her hair back with both hands, holding it there in a makeshift ponytail

    so that her chest jutted out at him. “Were you brought up here, then? In the desert?”

    He looked around. They were on the deck of Max Strati‟s dive boat, tethered to a fixed mooring way out in the Red Sea. “Desert?” he asked.

“Tch!” She slapped him playfully on the chest. “You know what I mean!”

“I‟m American,” he said.

“I like your tattoo.” She traced a fingertip over the blue-and-gold

    sixteen-pointed star on his right biceps. “What is it?”

“The Star of Vergina,” answered Knox. “A symbol of the Argeads.”

“The who?”

“The old royal family of Macedonia.”

“What? You mean like Alexander the Great?”

“Very good.”

    She wrinkled her nose. “You a fan, then? I always heard he was just a drunken brute.”

“Then you heard wrong.”

She smiled, pleased to be put down. “Go on, then. Tell me.”

    Knox frowned. Where did you even start with a man like Alexander? “He was besieging this town called Multan,” he told her. “This was towards the end of his campaigns. His men were fed up with fighting; they just wanted to go home. But Alexander wasn‟t having that. He was first up

    the battlements. The defenders pushed away all the assault ladders except his, stranding him up there alone. Any normal man would have leaped for safety, right? You know what Alexander did?”

“What?”

“He jumped down inside the walls. All on his own. It was the one sure

    way to make his men come after him. And they did, too. They tore the citadel apart to save him, and they only just got to him in time. The wounds he took that day probably contributed to his eventual death,

    but they added to his legend, too. He used to boast that he carried scars on every part of his body—except his back.”

She laughed. “He sounds like a psycho.”

    “Different times,” said Knox. “You know, when he captured the mother of the Persian emperor, he put her under his personal protection. After he died, she was so upset, she starved herself to deathnot when her

    own son died, mind, but when Alexander died. You don‟t do that for a psychopath.”

    “Huh,” she said. It was clear that she‟d had enough talk of Alexander. She rose onto her knees, placed her left palm flat on the deck on the far side of Knox, then reached across him for the red-and-white icebox. She threw off its lid and tested each of the bottles and cans inside for coldness, taking her time, her breasts swinging free within her dangling bikini-top as she did so, the nipples pink as rose petals. Knox‟s mouth felt a little dry suddenly—knowing you were being worked

    didn‟t make it ineffective. But it reminded him forcibly of Hassan, too, so he scowled and looked away. She sat back down with a thump, an open bottle in her hand, a mischievous smile on her lips. “Want some?” she asked.

“No, thanks.”

She shrugged and took a swallow. “So have you known Hassan long?”

“No.”

“But you‟re a friend of his, right?”

“I‟m on the payroll, love. That‟s all.”

“But he‟s kosher, right?”

“That‟s hardly the smartest way to describe a Muslim.”

“You know what I mean.”

    Knox shrugged. It was too late for her to be getting cold feet. Hassan had picked her up in a nightclub, not a Sunday school. If she didn‟t fancy him, she should have said no, simple as that. There was naive and there was stupid. It wasn‟t as though she didn‟t know what she was doing with her body.

    At that moment, Max Strati appeared around the line of cabins. He walked briskly over. “What happens here, then?” he asked frostily. He had come to Sharm el-Sheikh on vacation twenty years ago and had never gone home. Egypt had been good to Max, and he wouldn‟t risk that by pissing off Hassan.

“Just talking,” said Knox.

“On your own time, please, not mine,” said Max. “Mr. al-Assyuti wishes

    his guests to have a final dive.”

Knox pushed himself up. “I‟ll get things ready.”

    The girl jumped up, too, clapping with false enthusiasm. “Great! I didn‟t think we‟d be going down again.”

    “You will not join us, I think, Fiona,” Max told her flatly. “We have not enough tanks. You‟ll stay here with Mr. al-Assyuti.”

    “Oh.” She looked suddenly scared, childlike. She put her hand tentatively on Knox‟s forearm. He shook her off and walked angrily toward the stern, where the wet suits, fins, masks, and snorkels were stored in plastic crates next to the steel rack of air tanks. A swift glance confirmed what Knox already knew: there were plenty of full tanks. He felt a sudden tightness in the nape of his neck. He could feel Max‟s eyes burning into his back, so he forced himself not to look around. The girl wasn‟t his problem, and she was old enough to look after herself. He had no connection to her, no obligation. He had worked his balls off to establish himself in this town, and he wasn‟t going to throw that away just because some brat had misjudged the price of her lunch. Of course, his self-justifications did little good. He felt sick in the pit of his stomach as he squatted down by the crates and started checking equipment.

The MAF Nile Delta excavation, Northern Egypt

“HELLO!” CALLED OUT GAILLE BONNARD. “Is there anyone here?”

    She listened patiently for an answer, but none came. How odd. Kristos had been clear that Elena, who needed her help translating an ostracon, would be waiting for her in the magazine, where they stored and

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