About the Author
Valerio Massimo Manfredi is an Italian historian and archaeologist and was voted Man of the Year 1999 by the American Biographical Institute. Manfredi's books have been translated into several lanuages. All of this Alexander books have been blockbusting successes all over Europe.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The four Magi slowly climbed the paths that led to the summit of the Mountain of Light. They came from the four corners of the horizon, each carrying a satchel containing fragrant wood for the rite of fire. The Wise Man of Sunrise wore a cloak of pink silk that shaded into blue and on his feet he had deerskin sandals. The Wise Man of Sunset wore a crimson gown streaked with gold and from his shoulders hung a long stole made of byssus and embroidered in the same colours. The Wise Man of Midday had a purple tunic decorated with golden ears of wheat and wore snakeskin slippers. The last of them, the Wise Man of the Night, was dressed in black wool woven from the fleece of unborn lambs and dotted with silver stars. They moved as though the rhythm of their walk were marked by a music that only they could hear and they approached the temple at the same pace, covering equal distances even though the first was climbing a rocky slope, the next was walking along a level path and the last two progressed along the sandy beds of dried-up rivers. They reached the four entrances of the stone tower at the same instant, just as dawn draped the immense deserted landscape of the plateau in pearly light. They bowed and looked into one anothers faces through the four entrance arches, and then they moved towards the altar. The Wise Man of Sunrise began the rite, arranging sandalwood branches in a square; next came the Wise Man of Midday who added, diagonally, bundles of acacia twigs. Onto this base the Wise Man of Sunset heaped cedar wood, gathered in the forest of Mount Lebanon and stripped of its bark. Last of all the Wise Man of the Night laid branches of stripped and seasoned Caucasian oak, lightning-struck wood dried in the highland sun. Then all four drew their sacred flints from their satchels and together they struck blue sparks at the base of the small pyramid until the fire began to burn weak at first, faltering, then ever stronger and more vigorous: the vermilion tongues becoming blue and then almost white, just like the Celestial Fire, like the supernal breath of Ahura Mazda, God of Truth and Glory, Lord of Time and Life. Only the pure voice of the fire murmured its arcane poetry within the great stone tower. Not even the breathing of the four men standing motionless at the very centre of their vast homeland could be heard. They watched on enrapt as the sacred flame took shape from the simple architecture of the branches arranged on the stone altar. They stared into that most pure light, into that wonderful dance of light, lifting their prayer for the people and for the King: the Great King, the King of Kings who sat far away in the splendid hall in his palace, the timeless Persepolis, in the midst of a forest of columns painted purple and gold, guarded by winged bulls and lions rampant. The air, at that hour of the morning, in that magic and solitary place, was completely still, just as it had to be for the Celestial Fire to assume the forms and the motions of its divine nature. It was this nature which drove the flames ever higher towards the Empyrean, their original source. But suddenly a powerful force breathed over the flames and quenched them; as the Magi watched on in astonishment, even the red embers were suddenly transformed into black charcoal. There was no other sign, not a sound except the screech of a falcon rising up into the empty sky; neither were there any words. The four men stood dumbstruck at the altar, stricken by this most sad omen, tears welling in silence. At that same moment, far away in a remote western land, a young woman trembled as she approached the oaks of an ancient sanctuary. She had come to request a blessing for the child she now felt move for the first time in her womb. The womans name was Olympias. The name of her child came on the wind that blew impatiently through the age-old branches, stirring the dead leaves round the bases of the giant trunks. The name was: