Roxana took a little comfort knowing that she and her child were both safe and reasonably comfortable here in the Amphipolis’ hilltop fortress, an old castle built on a high bluff above the sweeping curve of the Strymon River. Its high ashlar walls commanded a view of prospects on every side, and, on a clear day, distant landmarks like the cloud shrouded peaks of Mount Athos were visible. From her window, in a room high up in a tower, she could look outover the river delta. The wide prospect from the heights stretched before her. The view of the mountains exalted her with a feeling of freedom. Kassandros had said he wanted her and the child to feel ‘at home’ in Amphipolis. The irony was, she had left the confines of the harem and the hostile halls of Pella for anew kind of prison -- one where Kassandros was her warden.
Sadly, she turned away from the window and went back to her loom in front of the hearth. Her chamber was furnished with the few possessions Kassandros had allowed her to bring. The only furniture were the two divans ornamented with jasper and carved ivory, draped with Persian weavings she had brought from the East, and a table of cedar wood on which she had placed fresh sprigs of myrtle in terra-cotta vases. She had hung bundles of herbs to sweeten the musty air. Two lamps burned in bronze holders near the couch where she rested on a heap of tasselled cushions. Amphipolis had once been ruled by the Greeks so the rooms had mosaic tiled floors and colourful hand-woven hangings covered the stone walls.
She had not expected to stay here long, so she made do as best she could, and had tried to remain dignified and agreeable. Each day she dressed most extravagantly in gowns made of fine silk that had come from the Land of Encircling Ocean, or flamboyant Soghdian dresses of brilliant hues, heavy with embroidery and sewn with glittering coins and luck charms. What few pieces of jewelery she wore was all that remained of her wealth, the rest had been left behind in Pella or lost after she’d been captured at Pydna. Her most treasured possessions were a dazzling pair of diamond earrings Alexander had brought from India, and the rubies her father had given her as a wedding gift. She wore them day and night like a talisman to ward off misfortune.
As she sat idly at the loom she caressed the facets of the rubies, feeling warmth in her fingertips, her mind drifting back to the day so long ago that her father had placed them around her neck and kissed her. “Remember who you are,” he had said. ‘You are Roxana, my Little Star, daughter of Oxyartes. Never forget this.”
Tears welled in her eyes. She thought of all the years gone by, the tragedies and sorrows of her life, how she had fought to try and keep her dignity and protect her child. Now she wondered what would become of them. Who was there left who would help them and save them from their enemies. She rubbed her hand across her eyes and straightened her shoulders. In front of her, on the looms, was the half-finished garment she was weaving for her son. She stroked the fine linen threads. She had dyed them herself from mulberries gathered from trees in the castle courtyard. She sighed, and picked up the spindle, and began to weave but as always, her interest in the task waned and she got up again and went back to the window, to look out toward the sea and the surrounding mountains.
It was loneliness that brought her spirits down most of all. At first some of the soldier’s wives had come to visit, making her feel welcome with their gifts of simple homespun cloths and treats of home-baked sweets. Perhaps from suspicion, and lack of experience co-mingling with women who were below her royal station, she had made it clear to them that she was the queen mother and held herself aloof, regarding them as nothing more than the servants who had once served her. After all, who could she trust? She was so used to the intrigues of the harem that she trusted no-one. The women soon withdrew their acts of hospitality. Now she regretted this lapse in her own judgement, finding herself quite alone. Although she tried to make amends, it was too late. She had insulted their dignity.
Now, aside from occasional visits with the Aristonous, the garrison commander, in which the main topic of discussion was the companionship of their sons, Roxana wiled away her time at the loom, cloistered in her room alone and regretful. She was glad, at least, that her child had a worthy playmate, and all the benefits of a being under the guardianship of a man who had been a loyal companion of his father. She saw little of Iskander who spent most days with Orion at the gymnasium or sometimes, accompanied by Aristonous, learning to ride and hunt and even to use weapons.
Iskander, like herself, had borne their confinement stoically, scorning all semblance of fear. Kassandros had assured them that they were not ‘prisoners’ but were being held for ’protection’. He had promised to provide a tutor for the child, but it was almost summer and none had arrived. Iskander had already begun to lose his skill in Greek, the language of the court, and spoke in the coarse Doric patois of Aristonous’ son, even forgetting his refined manners. And although she insisted he wear beautiful clothes suited to an imperial child, he would came back to her each night so soiled and tattered from rough play that it brought tears to her eyes. What would happen when the day came for him to ascend the throne?