so it's a clear field for me to proceed with the novel.
Planning battles is a bit tricky. Everything needs to be choreographed and there needs to be a substantial build-up of tension. I took several days just to research and make notes, but once I got started, it went very smoothly. So I'm going to put a snippet here, a preliminary to the dramatic scene that follows. Things are heating up and I am aiming for the end of Autumn for a finish to this Homeric project. If I can keep my fingers on the keys and my mind in Alexander's world, I ought to be able to do it.
To add a bit of colour to my page, I thought I'd post a couple of the photos I took while in Athens of the Spartans who came marching into Syntagma Square one afternoon while I was browsing around sight-seeing. I heard a parade coming down the road and there were women in traditional costumes holding banners, and behind them a troop of Spartans and Greek hoplites marching toward the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the National Palace (now the government buildings.) I was impressed by their authentic costumes, even to their hair-dos and foot-wear. Quite a sight!
In this scene, Polyperchon the Regent has fled to Epiros to ask Olympias' help in taking back control of Macedon where the young queen Eurydike has seized the throne and ordered him to surrender her troops. Olympias welcomes him and throws a banquet in honour of the Regent and his generals. Roxana, the wife of Alexander, is attending but is largely ignored as the banquet turns into a war-party and Olympias and Polyperchon plan for battle.
Hour after hour Roxana had sat listening to the war talk, her gaze fixed on Polyperchon, drinking him in like honied wine. She longed to be alone with him, but dared not to allow her erotic reveries be discovered and interpreted by Olympias. An undercurrent of deep emotion swirled around her. Polyperchon paid her no heed and puzzled, feeling slighted, she tried to catch his eye seeking
reassurance. But Olympias was watching, her eyes narrowed. She studied Olympias’ face, paid heed to every word she spoke and move she made. Occasionally Olympias glanced across at her with a faint enigmatic smile, her kohl-smudged eyes hooded. Does she know of our affair? she asked herself. For surely, if Olympias did suspect, then she would be in peril.
Fear and uncertainty swept over her and as the evening progressed she felt more and more isolated. It was as if she was invisible and she felt utterly helpless, with no voice at all, reduced to no more than one of the servant maids who at least had the honour of pouring the wine. When she saw that there was no place for her there, that she had no voice in their discussions, she politely excused herself.
As she fled the banquet hall she caught a glimpse of herself in the bronze door. She paused and met her own reflection, startled at the image of the pale, harried-looking woman. Have I changed so much? she asked herself. Where is Little Star, Oxyartes daughter? What has become of her?
She went to her room where she slammed the door closed and threw herself on the bed, weeping tears of remorse.
As she lay on her bed gazing into the darkness, she heard a sound from the door.
In the dim, shadowy lamplight, she saw a man enter and recognized Polyperchon’s bulky physique. Startled, she sat up drawing the coverlets around her. She had not expected him to come. They had not exchanged a single word during the banquet.
He crossed the room and stood beside her bed. In the dim light, she could see his face, intent, stern. The sight of him filled her with excitement. He pulled her up from the bed and embraced her. She leaned into his arms, half laughing, half sighing as she drew him closer. As her mouth sought his she felt the roughness of his beard against her cheek. Being so near him, his virility and strength was almost more than she could bear. She longed to say “Make love to me, my Lord” but she dared not. It posed a danger to both of them that he had risked coming to her room. She worried lest Olympias be spying on them.
Drawing her to him he held her body against his own. “How I have longed for you,” he murmured. His tongue explored her yielding mouth. His breath smelled
of wine and she wondered if he was drunk. She could feel the tenseness in his muscles and she kneaded the small of his back. His fingers tightened around her arms. In the lamplight he looked grave, his face ashen.
She grasped a fold of his tunic. “What is it? Has Olympias made a divination for you? You look strange, my Love.” She had many questions, some too dangerous to ask. “Will Olympias lend you her army?”
“Yes. The call to arms has already gone out. Envoys have been sent to Thessally and Thrace offering terms in return for their support and we will send peace parties to our other allies because we must make sure that our backs are protected.”
Suddenly he released her and began to pace about restless as a caged wolf. “This is not a war of little consequence. These are solemn matters. It is the beginning of everything -- or the end of Alexander’s Macedon. This is a war where kinsmen will fight kinsmen.”
“When will you go?”
“We are leaving here straightaway.”
Her tears blurred the vision of his face. She clung to him desperately, wishing she could hold him there forever. “Why must you leave so soon, my Lord?” Tears spilled down her face. “Please, my Lord. I beg you to stay with us a little longer.”
He pushed her away. “I’m sorry, Little Star. I can not linger here. We must drive the young cockerel from her roost and then face the bigger beast who hounds us, Kassandros.”
“Can I come with you then?” she beseeched. Alexander had always taken her on campaign. Even Perdikkas had allowed her to travel with the army to Egypt. But this was Macedon where women did not have a place in army camps.
Polyperchon frowned. “No my Little Star. It would not be seemly and it is too dangerous. I will not risk your life or the child’s. You must wait here until I send for you to return to Pella.” He stroked her tenderly and his hand brushed her breasts, near-naked under her sheer sheath. “Then I shall make love to you. We have many years ahead, when the boy is king and I am your consort.”
She could not bear the thought of another long separation from him. Once she would have dissolved in furious tears or flown into a rage as she so often had
with Alexander. Now, just as he would subdue a skittish mare, Polyperchon calmed her, assured her that all would be well and that soon, after the war, they would be together as regent and queen.
They stood silently, face to face, gazing into each other‘s eyes. Finally he bent and kissed her forehead.. “Fare you well, my Lady, until the war is won and I return .”
He left her as silently as he had come. Aching with regret, she stood in the darkness weeping softly. “Oh, my Lord. Alexander was my greatest love. But you I need as a child needs her father. If you do not return, how will I live without you?”
The next morning, as dawn glimmered over the eastern hills, Roxana stood at the palace gate as the armed troops of Molossia and Macedon gathered in the field below. To her astonishment, in front of a platoon of Molossian cavalry astride a caparisoned black stallion, she saw Olympias surrounded by flower-bedecked bacchants playing cymbals and flutes as if she was riding to the woodlands to dance with the maenads instead of to war. The queen sat on her horse, her crimson cape flowing around her. A plumed helmet covered her bright hair and she wore a cuirass that glittered with gold rosettes. She wheeled her mount and raised her fist, shouting an order to the men. “Advance against the foe! Victory and honour!“ At her command the line moved forward, the drums marking time.
Roxana watched as the long train of men and horses make its course toward the mountain pass. She bowed her head and said a prayer to the gods she knew, the old gods of Soghdiana who once, when she was a young girl, had brought her a golden-haired warrior.
“Gods grant them victory,” she whispered. “Else all is lost!”
* * *