They didn’t like her. No, it was more than that: they hated her. She knew that. Roxane’s eyes flashed in temper and her lips were set in a straight line. Her steps were short, quick, the heels of her shoes clicking loudly on the marble floors as she retraced her way down the corridor that led from the central courtyard to her private apartments. They might dislike her; they clearly resented her. But they’d best show her the respect due her position. She was his wife, after all: his only wife.
The door slamming shut heralded her return to her own quarters. She waved away the attendants who came scurrying at the sound, though the speed of their response appeased. At least here she was not openly slighted. She poured herself some wine and passed through from her private reception room to the patio beyond, where she rested on a bench at the edge of the fountain, trailing one hand in the water. Endlessly the water cycled round the basin and up through the statue to be poured out through the jug it held: useless statue of a useless foreign goddess. When Roxane had been assigned these quarters she’d been told it was a fertility goddess. All the statues in this harem were supposed to be of fertility deities! Much good that seemed to do. This one looked particularly vile. (Just how many breasts could one woman have on her body?) She was sure that witch Sisygambis had decided to assign her this section of the women’s palace because no one else wanted to live with that horrible statue.
Despite her dislike of the private garden’s statuary, the faint current of the water swishing round her hand soothed. Alexander would be joining her tonight. He had sent word; and he always kept his promises. The unhappy droop to her mouth relaxed and her frown smoothed out as sunshine and rare solitude worked their magic on Roxane’s temper. She had so few opportunities to be alone. When her mother first came to tell her that Alexander was negotiating with her father, it was not something she’d ever thought would be an issue. She’d never been alone in all her life; how could she have realised privacy would become essential? It hadn’t been at first. In fact, in those early months of marriage when they’d always been on campaign, she’d had so few attendants that it had felt quite strange. But at least those she’d had had been her own women, known to her all her life. People who knew how to prepare her favourite foods; people who understood her. People she could speak to in the language of home. Gradually, however, her own people had gone. She had more attendants here than ever before, but they were all strangers. And all chosen by Sisygambis. That latest woman who’d been assigned just yesterday – she was sure she was a spy. It wasn’t enough that she had to hear them sniggering and tittering and making fun of her when she tried to join them in the main hall. Now she had to put up with foreign ways in her boudoir. And if so much as one of them gave her a sly look....
Roxane found herself tense again, and deliberately tried to breathe slowly and deeply, forcing herself to relax. First her toes, then ankles, now thighs.... She took a deep mouthful of wine and held it on her tongue, savouring the rich flavour. A butterfly fluttered to rest on one of the carved stone flowers at the side of the fountain. She smiled, touching the blue butterfly ornament in her hair. It had been Alexander’s latest present. She would wear it tonight when he came to her, to please him; and she’d put on her most enticing perfume. A smile broke over her face as she planned. She would make this an evening to remember. It was just the right time of the month; and if there was one thing she knew well it was how to whet her husband’s appetites.
She rose from her seat with a determined air, and went in search of assistance.
“Call the cook to me,” Roxane ordered. “I want to make sure the menu is just right for tonight.”
She reclined on a gold brocade chaise, for his arrival, carefully positioned to show off her full breasts and shapely legs. Elegant and restful the pose, one who didn’t know better would think she had been there for hours, instead of mere minutes. Roxane held both hands out in welcome as he entered, smiling happily as he came straight to her, then lifting herself into his embrace, hugging him back joyfully as he kissed her deeply, and picked her up to swing her in a circle.
“Come my lord,” she said, when he set her back down. She tugged his hand and led him through an archway to an inner room. “I have ordered all your favourite foods; and you can tell me all about your day as we eat. I will wait on you myself.”
“Minx!” Alexander grinned when he saw what she had done. The table was heavily laden with ample food in braziers to keep it warm. Only one place had been set; but the bench before it was wide enough for two. He knew what was coming, and would play his assigned role. After seating himself on the purple velvet cushion, he lazily reached for a dish, only to have his hand batted away gently.
“It is my pleasure to serve,” Roxane said, as she selected a tasty morsel of chicken from the platter he had reached for, and brought it to his lips. “I am your obedient wife.”
Alexander laughed loudly. “Any wife less obedient than you it would be hard to imagine.”
She giggled, pretended to frown, and continued to serve: lamb cooked in wine, more chicken, crusty bread, stewed apricots, dates, and ripe fresh figs.
After a while he captured her hands in one of his, saying, “your turn now,” and began to serve her, starting with the lamb, ensuring she sampled something from every course, until he finished by serving her a pastry soaked in honey. When the syrup dribbled down her chin, and he leaned across to kiss away the sticky trail, she responded eagerly. It was these moments that made everything else worthwhile.
Relaxing later on cushions laid on the patio, they counted stars. “Now that constellation is Orion,” Alexander instructed. “See his arm – there?” He pointed.
“Indeed, I see,” she replied, stroking fingers playfully up from his hand to his left shoulder, “a very firm arm: strong enough to hold an empire.”
Alexander sat up suddenly, sobered, reminded of one of his purposes in visiting this night. Roxane propped herself up on one arm and reached round his waist to hold him, cuddling close. She waited. He had played romantic games with her all evening; but she had known something was wrong. Perhaps now he would tell her. But he did not – not at first. Instead he moved to sit by the fountain, his face grave as he stared down at her. Alexander drew breath as if to speak, then did not. Finally, irritated at the prolonged silence, she spoke.
“What is wrong? Has someone rebelled?”
He shook his head. “Nothing like that.”
“Then what is wrong?” This was a nuisance. Why didn’t the man just say what the problem was?
“Nothing is wrong,” he replied. “I have simply decided it is time for me to marry again.”
Roxane’s eyes widened.
“Don’t look so surprised,” Alexander said, “you must have known I would have other wives.”
“But you have never–” There was a long pause before Roxane continued in a low voice. “Which princesses are you considering?” She thought furiously. Which ambassadors were lately arrived at Court? Was he considering someone from one of the lands to the east, or someone from one of the Greek states?
“What!” Roxane yelled, springing to her feet. “That pasty-faced fool! But you can do so much better. She has no power.”
“She is the daughter and granddaughter of kings,” Alexander spoke calmly, “and it is suitable. This will consolidate the kingdom.”
“It will reassure all the old nobility who have doubted my commitment to respect Persian customs.”
“She is weak.”
“She will quell dissent.” He continued, expanding at length about his plans for a huge wedding involving not just Stateira (stupid ninny), but also her sister Drypetis (poisonous overgrown giraffe that she was), and even more of that nasty bunch who always looked down their noses, making snide comments about her hair and skin colour, not to mention her accent.
Roxane had started to pace; she always thought better on her feet. Now she stopped still when realisation sank in. He was too calm. He had made up his mind and was simply telling her, not coming to her to discuss alternatives. Her nostrils flared with the effort of containing herself. This was that old hag’s doing. “I see.”
“I knew you would.” Alexander smiled at her.
She stared at him. Arrogant man. Yes…. She did see, even if he did not, sitting there relaxed after a wonderful meal and– Roxane’s fists clenched with the effort of stopping that particular train of thought.
“Come,” he said, “I need to be going soon; but before I leave, see what I brought you.” As he spoke he stooped to pick up the loincloth he had discarded after their meal. She watched silently while he tied it round his waist, before slipping on his rumpled tunic. He donned his belt next, before producing a fine gold chain from a small pouch fastened to it. She stood passively as he slipped it over her head; the pendant suspended from it nestled in the cleft between her breasts. Alexander tipped up her chin with one finger, and caressed her lower lip with his thumb before pressing a light kiss to Roxane’s cheek. “I must go,” he said. “Hephaistion will be waiting.”
Custom helped her now, as she saw him to the door of her quarters, and calmly closed it behind him. She looked down at his gift, now hidden by a fold of the loose linen robe she had donned at some point during their goodbyes. Her fingers shook as she pulled off the chain and held it up dangling from two fingers to examine more closely. The pendant was a huge pearl caught in a twist of gold – captured even as her father’s hill fort had been captured years ago. Eyes blazing, Roxane hurled it from her. As she turned to go to her private sleeping quarters she wondered just how soon after the wedding she would be able to poison Stateira without drawing undue attention to herself.