In this segment, Iskander (Alexander's son and only heir) is challenged to attend his first boar hunt. This is a dangerous sport and because he and his friend Orion are in the company of their unsympathetic tutor, Timon, an Athenian friend of Kassandros' who has been keeping Iskander and his mother under house arrest at the fortress of Amphipolis. With them are some guards and a group of new companions who have been chosen by Kassandros. There are many reasons why this could turn out tragically because boar hunting is an extremely dangerous sport. But Iskander is a courageous boy, and confronts the danger bravely. In those days, boys were expected to have killed a boar by the time they were fourteen, and a man by sixteen. As he is the titular king, he must rise to the occasion and show his opponents that he is just a brave as his father was.
Here's just a small segment of this chapter. (Yes, I did a lot of research about boar hunts, even watched a lot of U-tube videos about it -- modern boar hunts are dangerous enough, but can you imagine how much more dangerous they were in the ancient times?)
The hunting party, twenty of them, riding light with javelins and bows, followed the mule track that threaded along by the river. Beside them, on the other side of the river, towered Mount Pangaion, its white marble outcrops gleaming above the thick dark forest. Some goats and shaggy sheep grazed on the hillside; a herd boy's piping, like the call of a wild bird, sounded from above. Timon and two of the guards rode ahead on tall horses. The boys, riding stocky thick-maned muntain ponies followed, flanked by the guards, while the hounds ran alongside yelping with excitement.
Iskander was in high spirits astride his new chestnut pony. Orion rode beside him on his shaggy sorrel. The trackway was dank and mossy with the smell of the river and the bay and myrtle that grew along the path. Ahead of them, the river poured into a shimmering lake that gleamed darkly, ruffled with frothy wavelets. A breeze had blown up sending fluffy clouds skimming across the summit of the mountain.
The boys spurred their horses and wheeled off at a gallop, hair streaming, the horse's hooves splashing along the lake shore, calling gaily to each other until Timon and the soldiers drew them to a halt and restrained the baying hounds.
"Stop your rowdy caterwauling, or you'll scare away the boars," Timon warned. "We must be wary at all times. The boars will hide out of sight if they hear you. " He pointed through the thicket a little farther along the shore where a pair of the long-tusked hairy beasts were feeding on the marsh grass.
The burliest of the guards who was well-versed in boar hunting instructed the boys to approach stealthily. " Be careful. Remember what I have taught you. Have your knives handy to protect yourselves. If one of them is speared, keep away in case it revives. Boars have razor sharp tusks and a wounded boar will turn and charge."
He urged the boys forward in order of rank, ordering Iskander to take the lead. "Your father, Alexander, always took the first boar," he explained."It is your right."
Iskander crept through the brush toward the feeding animals, crouching low with his javelin poised. He could smell their stench and was close enough to see their coarse black bristles. The dogs began to bark frantically and raced past him, cornering one of the beasts as the other dashed into the thicket its loud squeals sending a pricking down his spine. He heard the cornered boar squeal and saw it lunge at the dogs. Behind him he heard Orion yell, "Watch out, Iskander! Aim for his shoulder!"
There was a chaos of loud yelps and shrieks as the boar tossed one of the hounds into the air and charged towards him. Iskander poised with his throwing spear, leveling it as he peered about waiting for the boar to rush out of the thicket. He remembered everything he had been shown about boar hunting, so when it lunged from the underbrush, he ran towards the charging animal, aiming the javelin at the vulnerable spot on its shoulder. He threw the spear with all his might and yelled, a shrill high ptiched yell like a battle cry. He could see its little red eyes, blazing with anger as the javelin blade struck. The boar grunted and charged straight toward him. He didn't know in that moment what he would do next, or if he expected to die. He heard Lakis shout, felt the thud as he was jostled and tripped into the boar's path.
Suddenly Orion was beside him, shoving him aside. He felt a sharp, burning pain scorch his thigh and fell backwards. Everything dazzled in his vision. When he opened his eyes again he was lying on the ground, dazed, his stomach heaving with nausea. The boar lay nearby, its legs still kicking in the death throes as the dogs circled cautiously, sniffing and wimpering.
A gabble of voices surrounded him: shouts of praise and others concerned for his well-being.
"What pluck!" "Such a swift kill!" "Are you alright, Iskander?"
He stumbled to his feet, still shaking. Blood gushed from a gash on his thigh where the boar's deadly tusk had grazed him. One of the guards knelt beside him and bound the wound with a rag. "That'll be your first battle scar, boy! Wear it proudly. It was a good, clean kill."
Iskander swayed unsteadily, feeling the blood drain from his face. He was aware of Orion yelling at Lakis who was bent over the boar tugging at the javelin.
"You pushed him! He might have been gored to death!"
Lakis looked around and retorted:" The boar charged at him. I was only trying to get him out of the way."
"You almost had him killed!" Orion shouted. He turned to Iskander, his cheeks flushed with anger. "Are you alright, Iskander? You had the kill, but Lakis interfered. He pushed you straight into the boar's path. You might have been killed."
Timon strode over, glaring under his thick brows. "What's this?" When he saw the blood on Iskander's leg he yelled, "Foolish whelp! What did I tell you? You could have got yourself killed!" When Orion protested Timon pushed him aside and put his arm around Lakis' shoulder. "Never mind, Lakis. Good boy! You did what was right -- saved him from a goring."
The other boys and some of the guards crowded around. "How lucky, he only grazed you leg! He killed one of the hounds."
"Did you see the length of those ivories? A mean beast, and a big one too!"
"You should be proud. A boar on your first hunt!"
One of the soldier's patted his shoulder. "It was a good, clean killing, boy! It would have made your father proud!"
Iskander accepted their compliments with good grace, but he heard the tallset boy, a fair-haired Illyrian, whisper to his companion: "The way he took that boar...his first one...do you suppose it was...?"
The other boy, whose father was a rich landowner from Thessaly, cocked an eyebrow. "He's the titular king. Of course it was set up for him! It wouldn't do for one of us to kill our first boar before Alexander's son got his!"
Orion, had overheard them, and dared to speak up. "Of course it was set up! It was meant to kill him!"
"Who can prove it? He tripped and fell, that is all!" the Thessalian boy retorted.
Iskander studied the faces of his companions. He saw Orion give him a secretive glance and heard the confused whispers of the other boys. Orion's accusation to Lakis resounded in his head: 'You almost had him killed!' He had counted too much on the protection of the guards who had always befriended him. He had even trusted these new companions. But now he wondered if any of them were true-hearted or were they, like Lakis, placed in his company by Kassandros for a more sinister intent?
He collected his wits and started to walk away. Timon went after him and grasped him by the arm. "You...stay here!"
Iskander jerked his arm away and stared hard at the man. Deliberatly, in fastidious Greek, he said "Take your hand off of me or you will regret it!"
He limped back toward the copse where the ponies were tethered. Orion ran after him. "Are you alright, Iskander? You should have been better protected. I should have been there..."
"You were there," Iskander said. He glanced back toward the group of his companions and saw Lakis helping the guards truss up the dead boar. "You saved my life," he said, and put his arm around Orion's shoulders. They smiled at each other.
"Iskander and Orion. We are brothers," Orion said.
"Forever, I swear it," Iskander replied. "I know i can counton you."
They spoke together in their Macedonian tongue, something Timon did not allow. Orion laughed. "You should have seen Timon's face after you walked awy. He puffed up like an adder and fairly exploded."
"I hate him!" Iskander said.
Orion frowned. "Then we must find a way to get rid of him and that filghy toad, Lakis, who tried to kill you."